Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Franklin County Soldiers Memorial Hall

I was "wandering around" the Library of Congress digital collections when I happened to discover a group of unique stained glass windows in a Grand Army of the Republic hall in Hampton, Franklin County, Iowa.

Franklin County Soldiers
Memorial Hall
Nearly twenty years after the Civil War, the people of Franklin County, Iowa decided to  build a memorial honoring the Union war heroes. They wanted to recognize the 169 men from the county who fought in the war and especially the 44 soldiers who died in the conflict.

The Iowa General Assembly voted to allow each county to levy a tax, not to exceed $3,000, for a memorial or a building. The people of Franklin County chose a building. The City of Hampton provided the site and, with the addition of private contributions, the county completed the Franklin County Soldiers Memorial Hall in 1890.

The building is a unique, octagon-shaped structure in the Gothic Revival style. It contains ten marble tablets with the names of Franklin County Civil War soldiers engraved on them. The seven (six  shown here) arched, stained glass windows each have a different motif, incorporating Civil War themes relating to weaponry and the soldiers' gear that were used in the war. The Union Soldier on Guard statue atop of the building is made of white zinc and it was purchased for $170 from the Graves Registration Bureau in Washington, DC.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Philadelphia National Cemetery and Camp William Penn

Philadelphia National Cemetery
The Philadelphia National Cemetery was established in 1862. Initially, the cemetery was made of graves from ten different Philadelphia area cemeteries. In the late 1880s, the national cemetery was consolidated and reestablished in a single location to provide a dignified burial place for the Union soldiers who died in the Philadelphia area. Today, the national cemetery contains the remains of more than 12,000 veterans from the Civil War and later conflicts, along with spouses and dependents. The cemetery is located about twenty-two miles north of downtown Philadelphia.

Union soldiers who died in one of the many Philadelphia-area hospitals were interred in soldiers’ lots in ten different cemeteries throughout the city. These grave sites were collectively known as the Philadelphia National Cemetery. In 1881, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended the establishment of a single national cemetery in Philadelphia. Meigs feared that the opening of new streets through the city’s cemeteries would disturb the graves of the Union dead. Under special authority from Congress, the military acquired 13.3 acres in 1885 to re-establish the Philadelphia National Cemetery at a single location. Shortly after the purchase of the property, remains were removed from the various soldiers’ lots and reinterred in the new site. 

View of Exterior Wall
The layout of the Philadelphia National Cemetery is different from the other national cemeteries constructed following the Civil War. Instead of a formal regimented site, the Philadelphia National Cemetery design is suggestive of a natural park environment. The cemetery's roads curve around the property and highlight the natural groupings of trees. A low finely cut and dressed stone wall topped by wrought-iron fencing built around 1885 surrounds the cemetery. 

In 1940, the cemetery’s old, narrow main gate was replaced by a wider one for vehicular traffic. Four-foot-wide pedestrian gates are located on either side the vehicular gate. The materials and design of the gate maintain the design of the perimeter wall with finely cut and dressed stone piers and wrought-iron fencing. The only two buildings on the cemetery property are a utility/storage/restroom facility built in 1936 and a rostrum or stage constructed in 1939. The rostrum features a semi-circular stone base with Doric columns that support a flat roof. 

The cemetery contains several commemorative monuments. The largest, standing twenty-feet tall, is a three-sided, intricately detailed, marble pedestal surmounted by an eagle that commemorates the lives of 169 soldiers of the Mexican-American War. In 1911, the US government erected the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the cemetery’s Confederate section. The granite block monument commemorates the 184 Confederates whose unidentified remains were reinterred in the cemetery. Nearby, a flat stone memorial is dedicated to the 224 Confederate soldiers who died in the Philadelphia area during the Civil War. Another memorial marker honors the American patriots of the Battle of Germantown in 1777. In 1928, the citizens of Germantown erected the granite boulder with bronze plaque describing the Revolutionary War battle that occurred near the national cemetery. 

National Cemetery Marker
Three illustrated historical markers are located in the national cemetery. Now efforts are underway to erect a fourth marker to honor the more than 1,000 black Civil War soldiers and sailors buried there and "to inform the public of their existence and their great sacrifice." Most of these soldiers died at Camp William Penn, which was located about one mile from the national cemetery. 

Camp William Penn Marker
Camp William Penn was the first training camp dedicated to African Americans who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. Some 11,000 free blacks and escaped slaves were trained at William Penn including 8,612 from Pennsylvania. 

The camp was built on land owned by Union League member Edward M. Davis, the son-in-law of abolitionist Lucretia Mott. The thirteen acres where tents were stationed prior to the construction of the facility’s wood buildings were adjacent to Mott’s “roadside” estate, which was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. As the black regiments drilled with target practice, hand-to-hand combat and parading, they sometimes saluted Mott as she watched from her porch. 

Camp William Penn
Churches and women’s groups in the Philadelphia African American community brought supplies to the soldiers at Camp William Penn. David Bustill Bowser, a black artist who painted Abraham Lincoln and John Brown, designed the colorful regimental flags. The flags often depicted the soldiers in combat and in gleaming uniforms, sometimes protecting America’s “Lady Liberty.” The Ladies Sanitary Commission of the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and other women’s groups provided food, cloth, medical supplies, clothing, and toiletries for the soldiers. The groups also raised funds by holding fairs and bazaars and they nursed sick and injured soldiers. They coordinated transportation for weekend visits to Camp William Penn where the soldiers could be seen parading, often in full military dress, to the drums and horns of bands. 

Flag Raising at Camp William Penn
The Union League, an exclusive club of white men formed to support Lincoln and the Union, donated up to $100,000 to establish Camp William Penn. The Supervisory Committee to Recruit Officers for Negro Troops, which included many members of the Union League of Philadelphia, established the Free Military School for the Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops in Philadelphia. The officers recruited to command the US Colored Troop (USCT) regiments were white and were screened to determine their fitness to train black soldiers. The Third Regiment USCT was the first regiment trained at Camp William Penn in the summer of 1863. 

Frederick Douglass spoke to the Third about their importance in the Civil War as some of America’s first black federal soldiers: 

The fortunes of the whole race for generations to come are bound up in the success or failure of the 3rd Regiment of colored troops from the North. You are a spectacle for men and angels. You are in a manner to answer the question: can the black man be a soldier? That we can now make soldiers of these men, there can be no doubt! 

The Third was not allowed to parade through Philadelphia upon departing camp for fear of racial animosity spurred by the spectacle of blacks in uniform carrying weapons, would go on to participate in the siege of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina. 

Today, only a few remnants of the camp still exist, including its restored front gates. Neighborhood groups are planning a museum and other tributes to the camp’s legacy.

Both of these efforts are well-worth supporting.

Many thanks to Edward McLaughlin who provided copies of documents and images.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Union General Gouverneur Warren by Donald R. Jermann

The Battle of Five Forks
Union General Gouverneur Warren describes Union General Warren's fall from grace at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia. Shortly before the end of the Civil War, General Phil Sheridan relieved Warren from command. General Warren spent the next fifteen years requesting a board of inquiry, which he hoped would vindicate his conduct.

Three-fourths of Jermann's book is dedicated to testimony given in the Court of Inquiry. Warren died before the Court concluded that Sheridan was justified in removing Warren.

The first part of Union General Gouverneur Warren is devoted to an examination of events leading to the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia and the actions of Warren's Fifth Army Corps in the engagement.

General Gouverneur Warren
At the heart of Sheridan's displeasure and his reason for removing Warren was the late arrival of Warren's troops. Whether he was justified in this action is the key question Warren sought to address in the Court of Inquiry. Another related, but critical, issue is whether Warren was competent to command an army corps. General U. S. Grant's assessment was that after Warren received a an order he would consider "how the balance of the army should be engaged so as to properly cooperate with him." When Warren decided to execute an order, "he would go in with one division, holding the others in reserve until he superintend their movements in person." In Grant's view Warren could "accomplish anything that could be done with a small command."

Jermann cites two deficiencies that Warren had as a leader.
Warren was far smarter than average, knew it, and acted accordingly. Consequently, when receiving an order, he tended to believe that he had a better assessment of the situation, and modified it. When executing an order, he tended to believe that he could do it better than his subordinates and hence was reluctant to delegate authority.
Grant's evaluation suggests that Warren was a victim of Peter Principle in that he was promoted beyond his capability. However, this conclusion is rooted in Warren's inability to delegate authority.

General Phil Sheridan
In my opinion, Warren demonstrated the behavior of a "typical engineer." Being afflicted with the same career choice and traits, I believe that Warren was more a victim of these handicaps than the size of his command. He probably micromanaged all of his commands.

Captain Jermann's military career enhances the value of his examination of Warren's performance at Five Forks. This is worthy addition to his other books: Civil War Orders Gone Awry and Fitz-John Porter, Scapegoat of Second Manassas. Captain Donald R. Jermann served more than thirty-two years on active duty in the Navy covering World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He also served as a senior executive in the Department of Defense and lives in Laurel, Maryland.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Recognizing the Roots of Racism

In the December 4, 2106 The Dallas Morning News, Chris Vognar reviewed two books that explore the "resurgence of white nationalism." Vognar says that the "white supremacy" ideology has been an integral part of our country since its foundation.  The two books profiled are: Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning and Carol Anderson's White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. The authors write that the white rage stems from "racist policies and self-preservation of the ruling class" (Kendi) and "the trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement" (Anderson).

The ideas expressed by the authors help explain the resurgence of white supremacy that coincided with the election of Barrack Obama. Anderson writes that the election of a black president "was a catalyst for a level of voter suppression activities that had not been seen so clearly in decades." Her comments echo those expressed in Ari Berman's Give Us the Ballot, White Rage.  Berman examines efforts to suppress black voting.

These books help explain the rise in "white nationalism" and "white supremacy" and should be read by all Americans who want to gain a better understanding of their roots. As Vognar concludes, "Recognizing the roots makes it easier to identify - and to stand on the right side of history.

I present these books to emphasize that the issues that gave rise to the American Civil War are still present and that their prominence today is part of an "historic continuum" that "ebbs and flows." Only by understanding the history of racism in America can we hope to overcome its threat to our nation.