Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Curious Civil War Career of Ebenezer Allen

Most cities obtain their names from early settlers in the area or distinguished residents. However, the namesake of Allen, Texas never lived or visited the North Texas city. According to the City of Allen website,
The original township of Allen was located along the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, which was built in 1872. J.P. Morgan and Company acquired the railroad in 1877; Southern Pacific bought it in 1883. In 1918 the railroad built a freight and passenger depot in the Allen Central Business District. 
Collin County Station website reports, "Allen was founded in 1870 as a railroad stop for the Houston and Texas Railroad, connecting the railway with nearby farms." 
Anson Jones
Fourth President of Texas

This brings us to the question of who or what is the "Allen" of Allen, Texas. The Texas State Historical Association provides the following biography.

ALLEN, EBENEZER (1804–1863). Ebenezer Allen, early state official and railroad promoter, was born in Newport, New Hampshire, on April 8, 1804. Allen migrated to Texas in the 1830s. He became attorney general of Texas under Anson Jones in December 1844, served a while as secretary of state, and assisted Jones in framing the terms of annexation to the United States. He was attorney general under Governor Peter Hansbrough Bell from 1849 to 1853. In 1848 Allen was instrumental in securing the charter for the Galveston and Red River Railroad Company, and in the 1850s he was a promoter and manager of the Houston and Texas Central Railway. He supported secession and entered the Confederate service at the outbreak of the Civil War. He died in Virginia in 1863.
The brief bio reveals that Mr. Allen contributed to the State in many ways. However, the story really becomes interesting when he entered "Confederate service."
ENGINEER BUREAU, August 20, 1863.
Lieut. Gen. E. KIRBY SMITH, Comdg. Trans-Miss. Dept.:
GENERAL: I have the honor to send you the following list of men, who, by the wish of the honorable Secretary of War, are to be employed in your department on the special service of destroying the enemy’s property by torpedoes and similar inventions, vis: John Kirk, Charles Littlepage, John Silure, Robert Creuzbaur, E. Allen, W. D. Miller, and C. Williams.
These men should each be enlisted in and form part of an engineer company, but will, nevertheless, be employed, so far as possible, in the service specified above, and, when the public Interests in your judgment require it, details of additional men may be made, either from the engineer troops or from the line, to aid them in their particular duties. Their compensation will be 50 per cent. of the property destroyed by their new inventions, and all the arms and munitions captured by them by the use of torpedoes or of similar devices. Beyond this, they will be entitled to such other reward as Congress may hereafter provide.
Your obedient servant,
Lieutenant- Colonel and Acting Chief  of Bureau. 
Secretary of War
Alfred Landon Rives
in the 1850s or 1860s
This letter raises the questions of what a lawyer was doing in an engineering company? Perhaps this is not Ebenezer Allen, but some other Allen.  This is only reference in The Official Records of the War of Rebellion for Allen and the rest of his colleagues. As Chief of the Engineer Bureau, Rives' name appears on many documents concerned with constructing defenses, obtaining supplies, and other military engineering activities. There are only a few references to "torpedoes" in the Official Records. This should not be surprising considering the secret nature of these activities. These men were charged with  "destroying the enemy’s property by torpedoes and similar inventions" in other words sabotage. It is not a great leap to assume their activities might have involved spying.

The next curious development in Allen's life is his unexpected death in Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond in 1863
Ed Bryan of the Allen Heritage Guild provided a copy of the account of Ebenezer Allen’s death that appeared in the October 16, 1863 edition of The Richmond Examiner under the headline, “Sudden and Mysterious Death.”

Yesterday, about the hour of noon, a gentleman named Colonel Allen, (and concerning whom nothing more is known up to last night,) entered the Gem Saloon under the Linwood House with some friends, and partook of breakfast in their company. Wine was called for and passed around, and the company left, the gentleman named retaining his seat at the table. In a short time, one of the servants notified Mr. Gough, one of the proprietors, that the gentleman had turned blue and that he must be dying. An investigation revealed that he was really dead, and Dr. Slack, a physician who happened to be in the house, pronounced death the result of disease of the heart. Acting Coroner Sanxay was notified and reviewed the body but did not deem an inquest necessary. The body was removed by an undertaker to the corner of Franklin and 18th Street, where friends of the deceased can apply today for further information. The deceased was apparently about 40 years of age, dressed well in citizens' clothes, and had the appearance of a speculator.  
Battle of Galveston - January 1, 1863
According to an announcement of Allen's death published in the December 5, 1863 edition of the Galveston Daily News,

We regret to note the death of Colonel Ebenezer Allen of Galveston, of appoplexy [sic], in a restaurant in Richmond on the 20th ult. He was buried by the Masonic Fraternity, much respect being paid to his remains.
There are no records of where Allen was buried.

Allen's death and possible "disappearance" of his remains raises suspicions of foul play.
  • Who were the friends who ate breakfast with Allen?
  • Why did Allen remain after his friends left?
  • Why did the Acting Corner Richard D. Sanxay decide not to perform an autopsy?
  • Why is there no information about where his remains are buried?
Sanxay had some difficulties in a trial when he served as both coroner and judge in the case Forde vs. The Commonwealth. There is a Dr. Henry Richmond Slack (1835-1890) of Georgia. Could he be the "Dr. Slack" who happened to be in the Gem Saloon? It appears that the Gem Saloon was damaged during the April 15, 1865 in Richmond.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Samuel Howe and Autism in Early America

Samuel G. Howe
Samuel Howe and his wife, Julia Ward, are known to students of the Civil War as supporters of abolition. Samuel secretly raised funds for John Brown's violent guerrilla campaign against slavery. After she visited Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November of 1861, Julia composed a set of verses that became the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Samuel's greatest achievement was founding the Perkins School for the Blind in 1832.  Howe was the Watertown, Massachusetts school's first and long-time director and designer of its revolutionary curriculum. He believed that blind people can and should be educated. He believed that all people can be improved, including those with physical impairments.

Perkins School for the Blind
Based on his success with blind students, Howe decided to prove that "so-called idiots" could learn and deserved a school to provide this education. In 1846, Howe supported by friends in the Massachusetts legislature, decided to conduct a survey of "intellectually impaired" people "to ascertain whether anything can be done for their relief."

Research conducted by authors John Donvan and Caren Zucker, for their book In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, suggested that autism was the diagnosis for the symptoms reported in Howe's surveys. Howes' 1848 "Report Made to the Legislature of Massachusetts upon Idiocy" includes "signals of classic autistic behavior so breathtakingly recognizable to anyone familiar with the condition's manifestations that they cannot be ignored." Howe and his colleagues surveyed 474 people in 63 towns. The 45 pages of data include numerous measurements and evaluations of intellectual and verbal capacities. Based on his findings, Howe estimated that Massachusetts had 1,200 "idiots." Howe believed that "No person familiar with these cases would be likely to mistake them for idiots."

Julia Ward
The State of Massachusetts appropriated $2,500 for Howe to admit ten mentally disabled students at Perkins. He proved that they could be educated and established the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded."

In his 1848 report, Howe expressed that his data would be used by future generations to understand mental disabilities. He wrote, "Science has not yet thrown her certain light upon its remote, or even proximate causes."

(Source: "Autism in Early America," John Donvan and Caren Zucker, Smithsonian, January-February 2016, 114-121.)

For more information on Autism, please visit the following sites:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mercy Street on PBS

Clara Barton Home
PBS presents Mercy Street about nurses in the American Civil War. Mercy Street "takes viewers beyond the battlefield and into the lives of Americans on the Civil War home front as they face the unprecedented challenges of one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history."

Mansion House
(Courtesy of PBS)

Mercy Street is set in Virginia in the spring of 1862. It follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict: Nurse Mary Phinney, a staunch New England abolitionist, and Emma Green, a naive young Confederate belle. The two nurses collide at Mansion House, the Green family’s luxury hotel that has been taken over and transformed into a Union Army hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria was the melting pot of the region: with soldiers, civilians, female volunteers, doctors, wounded fighting men from both sides, runaway slaves, prostitutes, speculators and spies. The intersection of North and South in the small occupied town "creates a rich world that is chaotic, conflicted, corrupt, dynamic and even hopeful — a cauldron within which these characters strive, fight, love, laugh, betray, sacrifice and, at times, act like scoundrels." This series is about "the drama and unexpected humor of everyday life behind the front lines of war. It’s a fresh twist on an iconic story, one that resonates with larger themes we still struggle with today." PBS created a website for the series with extensive background information:

Surgeon's Tent Placard
The About page contains brief introductions to the series:
  • Preview: Coming in January
  • Preview: There is Mercy
  • Redemption Day
  • Mercy Street Behind the Scenes
  • Historical Accuracy 
The series contains six episodes:
  • The New Nurse
  • The Haversack
  • The Uniform
  • The Belle Alliance
  • The Dead Room
  • The Diabolical Plot
The uncover history page includes:
  • Behind the Lens: A History in Pictures
  • Real People and Places
  • Footnotes 
  • Resources for Teachers
Please check your local listings for schedule.

The following web sites provide other information on Civil War medicine:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

General Sherman Begins a Southern Tradition

On November 15, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman began the Savannah Campaign, better known as Sherman's March to the Sea. The campaign was conducted in accordance with Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 120.

The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, apples, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

This provision directed his troops to strip the land of food for the soldiers and forage for the animals. This stripped the land from Atlanta to Savannah of sustenance for Confederate civilians and soldiers.His forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted the Confederacy's economy and its transportation networks. 
After the Union troops destroyed the land, the surviving Southerners found that Sherman's men had taken property and supplies of food including livestock. The citizens, many of whom were homeless, faced a slow death from starvation. However, the Union soldiers had left silos full of black eyed peas.

Since Sherman's troops had taken all of the livestock, the supplies of black eyed peas used to feed the animals was useless. The Yankees left it in the silos to rot. Other stories say Sherman's troops also left salted pork. 

However, the black eyed pea had nutritional value that could sustain the starving populace. One cup of peas contained 130 calories, 17% of daily potassium requirement, 28% of daily fiber, 23% of Vitamin A, 18% of calcium, and 18% of magnesium. Sixteen cups of the livestock feed provided over 2,000 calories.  >

Southerners viewed the discovery of supplies as a great stroke of luck. The peas helped them survive the ravages of the Union troops. Their good fortune came as Sherman arrived in Savannah on December 21, 1864 and the year concluded. It was only natural for the peas to be associated with luck, new beginnings, and prayers for an end to the hardships of the Civil War.

Black-eyed peas were also given to slaves, as were most other traditional New Year's foods. One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on January 1, 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. From then on, peas were always eaten on the first day of January.

Others say that since the south has generally always been the place for farming, black-eyed peas are just a good thing to celebrate with in the winter. Not many crops grow this time of the year, but black-eyed peas hold up well, were cheap and just make sense.

The oldest explanation for this tradition is the tradition dates to ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs, it was believed that eating a meager food like black-eyed peas showed humility before the gods, and you would be blessed. The Babylonian Talmud instructs the faithful Jews to eat black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashanah. They  believed eating black-eyes demonstrated their humility and saved themselves from the wrath of God.