Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Possum is not so bad."

Tuesday, January 31, 1864, in the Trenches

We have been told the most monstrous lies. The newspapers have said that Hood and Price were winning great victories. Hood was poised to cross the Ohio and take the war into Yankeedom. Taylor was poised to join Hood in this movement. All this is a pack of lies. Hood has been whipped and nearly destroyed at Nashville. Price is used up and might not ever fight again. Where Taylor is is anyone's guess.
General John Bell Hood
Major General Sterling Price.

Major General Samuel Curtis, who defeated Price.
Major General George Thomas, who broke Hood.

Lieutenant General Richard Taylor

All we know is whatever is in front of us. We can trust nothing else and no one else.
Except our own Lee, of course. He has not and would never mislead us. Lord, give us Spring and let us 
out of these works. We need to show the Yankees that every gain they make elsewhere can be undone here, by us.

The Commissary has not done well by us so we must trust in our own devices. Hancock and Castles have been boasting that they were good possum hunters back home. We have all grown tired of this bragging but it was White who challenged them to make good or be quiet. We are fortunate that they both rose to the challenge. They said that the rest of the mess, less Terry and Vincent, go forth and forage whatever fixings might be eaten with possum. While the four valiant possum hunters pursued their quarry, Will Crenshaw and myself found some very frozen wild onions. Troy Crenshaw said he might know where he could, "obtain," was the word he used, a sweet potato or two.

Hancock and Castles certainly have a knack for finding the wintering possum in his burrow. They brought back two, neither very large but no one complained. Terry and Vincent were put to skinning while White melted snow for water to cook with. Troy did, indeed, find two sweet potatoes and we asked no questions. One after another, the skinned possums were fried in their own fat of which there was plenty, along with the onions. The potatoes were boiled with a smart bit of rice that Hancock had. We mixed in some corn meal to thicken the pot. Possum is not so bad. We ate every part of the meal and pronounced it first rate. We hope to get some more.


I Send You These Few Lines

Tooms and his pads have every right to be angry at the newspapers. I cannot say whether the papers were deliberately lying or just incompetent but either way, they got it so very, very wrong. The Richmond Dispatch of January 16 reported that Hood had been defeated at Nashville but offered no details. The same paper, of the 19th, quoting a Charleston paper, said that Hood's losses during the entire Tennessee campaign were only 8,000 and that he still had plenty of artillery. On the 25th, the casualties for the battle of Nashville the previous month were reported to be 4,000 and that the retreat was, "masterful." 

The truth, which will become common knowledge at some point, is that Hood lost half his Army of Tennessee for the campaign as a whole and was given a proper smashing by Thomas at Nashville. Hood and what was left of his army retreated to Tupelo, Mississippi. His losses in artillery amounted to 65 of 124 guns. Counting the loss of horses, wagons, supplies and manpower, these were losses that the Confederacy could not afford to lose. By the time Tooms and his pads learned the truth, Hood had resigned command.

"Pap" Price fared no better. Union General Curtis ran him into the ground in several states, including Kansas. Price started his campaign with 12,000 men and ended with 6,000. Confederate offensive operations west of the Mississippi were finished for the duration of the war.

For those of you readers who have a taste for possum, just Google, "possum recipes," and enjoy yourselves. And yes, possums are greasy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"We fear that Lynn has taken French leave."

Friday, January 20, 1864, Trenches.

Spring can not come too soon. We are mightily tired of the rain. The works do not drain well and in some places, the standing water is above one's ankles. The forward rifle pits are somewhat better but
that is not much. When it rains, we get wet. When it snows, we get wet. When the snow melts, the water runs into the trenches and we get wet. As there is no more close firewood to get, we must be miserly with what we have. Becoming completely dry in our little cabins is no longer possible.

There is talk of some of us getting leave. The entire company would be happy to be sent to the far tip of Florida where it is warm. We fear that Lynn has taken French leave. Lynn had been detailed to work in Richmond on something or other. We understand that two months ago he was ordered to report back to the company but no one has seen him. If true, I hope that he is somewhere, cold, wet, hungry and miserable. If he is caught, he will be shot as a deserter. I will gladly shoot him myself.

That puffed-up crackpot that tried to trick us into paying for his flying ship is still here, talking to whoever cannot get out of his way fast enough. We see him going through the camps, usually being escorted by an officer. It is too bad that the army does not allow insane folks to join. We would strap him up with rope or cables and let him use all his hot air to float above the Yankee lines. If he were shot down, there would be no great loss.

It was seen fit by some very senior officers to issue orders that whenever we were not on some work detail, we were to drill several times a day. We would gladly do as they have ordered if they will give us enough rations to do so. Our own officers are not too diligent about enforcing the order and good for them. I suppose that their own rations are not much different than ours. 

A newspaper, not too old, has come into our hands that has given us great mirth. The newspaper carried a menu from the Spottswood Hotel for a Christmas dinner. Those in attendance feasted on Smithfield hams, stuffed young pig, veal, pickled beef tongue, potatoes, beans and pound cake. I asked everyone in our mess how they liked the dinner. Hancock said the pickled tongue was a bit tough but tolerable. Terry said the saddle of venison was cold but he did not want to appear ungrateful so he ate no more than four portions. Castles thought the filet of veal with mushrooms was first rate but that the stuffed turkey tasted gamey. No one liked the pickled beets. The pound cake and custard were enjoyed by all. Denton said that he would ask for a new jacket as his was too small to fit around his belly. After a good round of merriment, we settled down to our supper consisting of wild onions and corn meal.

After supper, the Dandy Eights met at the request of Brother Troy Crenshaw. Grand High Noble Master Possum Vincent called the meeting to order. Brother Crenshaw observed that within the Mess, only one member was titled. He suggested that the Grand and c. needed assistance and called upon all Dandy Eights to assume some suitable position with an appropriate title. This suggestion was met with approval whereupon the Grand and c. called for a meeting of the committee of the whole.

Brother Castles was voted to be the Deputy Grand and c. Brother Hancock was voted the Under Deputy Grand and c. Brother Terry and Brother White are now the Three-Ring and Two-Ring Possum, respectfully.  Brother Troy Crenshaw and Brother Wilson Crenshaw is our Possums-at-Large. Yours truly has been honored with the title of Honorable Pencil Possum. It is all good fun and helps us forget certain things.

Through long hours of long and hard work, we have become quite expert engineers. We could trade places with moles and no one would notice the difference. We have laboring on these works for some weeks and we will continue to do so through the winter. Our existing works are getting stronger and the works are being extended to our right every day. That Grant keeps trying to get around our right to destroy the railroad. So, to protect the railroad which is the lifeline of the army, we continue to dig.

We deepen the trenches so that very little of us are exposed to Yankee fire. Some are so deep that we can not return fire over the top so we have built dirt steps against the trench wall so that we might quickly step up, aim our muskets over the top, fire and duck back down before getting shot. At least that is the theory. In some places, there are holes burrowed into the trench walls that face away from the Yankee lines so that a cannon ball has little chance of coming through the entrance and disturbing someone's sleep. These holes generally hold but one man but some others hold a half a squad and have fireplaces with barrels for chimneys. If we must stay here through the winter, we might as well make the best of it. Once Spring arrives, we will come out of our holes and go after the Yankees again.

We try very hard to make things difficult for the Yankees who may try to assault our works. There is much debris in front of our works. It is easy work compared to building chaveau-de frieze, logs with pointed sticks upon which we hope Yankees will impale themselves. These friezes are helpful, we suppose but we cannot help but think that they would better used as firewood. There is what might be called a moat during the days of knights and castles.

Every so ofter, an officer or two from the Engineers comes to pay us a call but not of the social sort. We are not so bothered by them now as we used to be. We have too much experience at digging to be called fresh fish. I dare not spend much more time at this diary. It is again our turn to pull picket duty. Each of us will take a chunk of firewood with us to keep warm while in the rifle pits. We care not that the fire and smoke will reveal our position to the Yankees. We would rather be warm.

I Send You These Few Lines

The Lynn that Tooms mentions who he thinks may have taken French Leave (deserted) is J.R. Lynn. He has been detailed away on special duty in Richmond some months ago. The regimental muster rolls for November and December of 1864 show him released from this detail on November 21and missing since. Rooms and his pads assume that Lynn has taken his leave of military service.

What Tooms and his pads do not know is that Lynn is captured at Bever Church, SC on February 23, 1865. Lynn disappears from Confederate records but Union records show him as being taken prisoner during Sherman's Carolina Campaign. If Lynn did desert, it did him no good. Still, it's better than being executed by firing squad.

The airship Tooms refers to was mentioned in the last diary entry. What may sound more fanciful is the idea of a Confederate helicopter. A loyal rebel from Alabama, William C. Powers, invented a helicopter and built a model of same. The model is currently housed in the National Air & Space Museum.

The menu comes from the Spotswood Hotel, then located at the southeast corner of 8th and Main in Richmond. Several hotels in Richmond advertised in Richmond newspapers like the Dispatch that there would be special holiday fare served to soldiers but I've found no evidence that this particular bill of fare was offered to the soldiers. That such a meal could still be available to anyone in the Confederacy this late in the war is amazing. And if this feast was not offered to the soldiers, then shame to those who did dine.

Military engineering is an art form practiced by both sides for the entire duration of the war. Both sides became quite skilled by war's end. Military engineering had its' own set of technical terminology. The, "moat", was called a ditch. The debris, largely tree branches with sharpened smaller branches facing the enemy, was called abatis. Chavaux-de-frise is the correct spelling of the obstacle Tooms mentioned. The top of the trench, upon which a musket may be fired, is an parapet. "Bombproof" were protected areas where troops might rest or seek shelter from artillery fire. The term is not just a term. Most times, they were bombproof.

Some of the photos are of Union, not Confederate works but both sides used the same engineering manuals. These are the two engineering officers in charge of opposing works.
Brigadier General John G. Barnard
Brigadier Walter H. Stevens

Lastly, there are eight photos of entrenchments. Seven are from the Civil War. One is from the First World War. Can you guess which one it is? Check out the next Greenback Diary for the answer.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Even Hancock Thought It a Humbug."

Sunday, January 8, 1865, Petersburg Trenches

It is becoming ever more difficult to get enough firewood to keep us warm. The easy wood has already been cut. To get more wood, we must go further afield. It is enough to expect the horses to pull the wagons short distance when unloaded let alone fully loaded over several miles in their present condition. The horses eat just as we soldiers do, very badly and they show it worse than we do. We predict that shortly, the horses will give up and we will pull sleds of wood ourselves. We will then eat the poor horses. Spring cannot come too soon.

All of us in the Dandy Eights Mess are sick. The sneezing and coughing are incessant. None of us are fit to work a johnny detail. Even so, we are not exempt from picket duty or any other duty. If we did not pull our turn, someone else would have had to do it instead and since the entire regiment is sick, nothing would be gained. Sickness or not, each of us must do his duty.

The brigade was called upon to assemble for some unknown purpose. We thought that perhaps the Yankees were trying again to get by us and get at the railroad. We dismissed this theory early since if it were true, we would have heard the long roll. We did as our officers said and assembled around a gentleman whom we suspected wanted to tell us something. The brigade looked quite small as did the gentleman.
U.S. Grant

We were introduced to a Doctor Davidson, who used to be in the Eleventh Mississippi. We happily thought that one of our own would inform us of some good thing to happen to us. Instead, he lectured us on a fantastic plan that had to have come from the mind of a lunatic or a rank charlatan. He proposed to build a fleet of flying birds to bomb the Yankees from the air. He was seeking support and money. He received little of either. Even Hancock thought it a humbug.

When we left him, we were little the wiser but certainly more amused. We went back to our quarters and ate what little we had

At least the Yankees are leaving us alone. They are cold and hungry, too, I hope. I wonder if they have enough firewood. I hope not.

I Send You These Few Lines

This is the first entry in the Greenback Diary for 1865 and there's something that I need to share with you readers. Years before I had any notion of writing a blog, I came across something concerning late war Confederate records. They disappear.

Beginning with the January/February muster rolls for 1865,  so many Confederate soldiers vanish from the rolls. Officers tend somewhat to still be represented past January but the enlisted ranks are very poorly represented. A good many officers and enlisted vanish much earlier than that but the disappearances become wholesale at the beginning of 1865.

I really do not know how to account for this. Fire? Flood? Strain of war? I have a list of about three dozen members of Company I, 12th South Carolina that disappear from the muster rolls in 1863 and 1864 without explanation. They do not appear on the Appomattox surrender rolls. Where did they go? Died? Deserted? Transferred? There's no telling.
Robert E. Lee

Samuel McGowan
On the other side, I have a list of about three dozen from Company I that disappear from the regimental rolls but do show up on the Appomattox rolls. The vast majority of them are last carried on the November/December 1864 rolls. One vanishes in August of 1863 and doesn't appear again until April of 1865. There's some explanation for all these mysteries but darned if I know what it is.

The reason that I bring this up is that this documentation issue will affect the blog. The very basis for the events noted in Tooms' diary comes from primary sources. When Tooms writes that Dennis Castles is furloughed or Garrett Sims dies of his wounds or S.R. Caskey is transferred to the Navy or George Cauthen is fined $2.25 for nine cartridges, it is because there is a primary source document that confirms this. This is good material and I consider myself lucky to have access to it. This blog is better off for it.

There have been times when I have taken license with persons or events and those have been noted as such. Now that 1865 is here, there will be more in the way of license. Documentation, where it exists, will continue to be noted. Although the primary sources will become thinner, there will be no need to engage in wild, fanciful stories for the sake of holding the reader's attention.

Having said that, I need to explain the Dr. Davidson, mentioned above. He is real and so is his story.
"Doctor", Roderick O. Davidson had been a soldier in the 11th Mississippi until his discharge whereupon he secured a position with the Treasury Department. While working there, he concocted a scheme to build a fleet of airships to fly over Union positions and bomb them away.

His airship, called the Artis Avis, was made of iron straps covered with white oak. The wings were feathered and moved up and down just like a bird's. It carried a crew of one and several bombs. The, "Doctor", claimed that his contraption could fly 75 miles an hour, powered by a one-horsepower engine.

Davidson visited the Army of Northern Virginia's camps during the winter of 1864-65 to try and drum up support and money for his airship. General McGowan's brigade, in which was Tooms and the 12th south Carolina, was one of the brigades that listened to the man whom was flying higher than his airship. You just can't make this stuff up.

Tooms' observation on the size of the brigade is quite accurate. At full strength, the brigade should number some 5,000. For the month of January, 1865, an inspection showed that the brigade numbered 3116 on the rolls. However, only 1898 were present. Of those, 1521 could  bear arms. So, on paper, the brigade was operating at 60% of authorized strength. But in reality, where it counted most, those who could shoot, the brigade was at 25%. Each one will have to shoot more Yankees to make up the shortfall.

I've tried a whole new layout for the new year (1865). I think I've pushed a few buttons that I shouldn't have. Any opinions or suggestions entertained. Lastly, Happy New Year.