Yorkers fought (& died) in the Mexican War: Part 1

"Attack on Chapultepec, Sept. 13th 1847--Mexicans routed with great loss" - E. B. & E. C. Kellogg, Library of Congress

“Attack on Chapultepec, Sept. 13th 1847–Mexicans routed with great loss” – E. B. & E. C. Kellogg, Library of Congress

Thousands of books have been written on the American Civil War, including hundreds and hundreds of personal diaries, memoirs, and journals from the soldiers and civilians who were eyewitnesses and/or participants in the bitter conflict. Many of the senior leaders of the Civil War armies were veterans of the Mexican War, a confrontation which sparked far fewer written accounts and modern books.

One eyewitness account which has recently been republished (2010, University of Tennessee Press) is J. Jacob Oswandel’s personal reminiscence, Notes on the Mexican War, 1846-1848. The original book dates from 1885. Oswandel, a native of Mifflin County, was a 21-year-old soldier in the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers during the war with Mexico. He and his comrades served in the army of famed General Winfield Scott.

During his time in the army, he served alongside eight soldiers who hailed from York County.

Here are some of Oswandel’s post-war remembrances of his long-ago comrades.

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Lincoln used prominent anti-slavery bishop to influence British opinion

McilvaineDuring the first half of the 19th century, citizens in the young country of the United States of America found plenty of topics of dissension. Besides fighting British, Native Americans, North Africans, and Mexicans in military conflicts, residents quarreled on the home front about such diverse subjects as Federal power (banking, tariffs, taxation, etc.) versus state power, the merits of temperance and the influence of alcohol, the right to vote for free blacks and women, infrastructure improvements, and public schools. But perhaps the single most divisive issue of the period was slavery. Hot topics ranged from westward expansion of slavery and passage of a gradual emancipation on a state level to a full-blown and immediate unconditional national emancipation and complete abolition of the institution.

The abolitionist movement progresses in many forms, from small independent local advocates to national anti-slavery societies and conventions. Fiery newspapermen such as William Lloyd Garrison and a host of others (black and white) stirred the pot, while nationally known speakers toured the country espousing their respective views. Often they met with violence and abuse, both verbal and physical, in their efforts. Abolitionists were run out of some towns, including the Reverend C. J. Hutchins here in York PA whose southern-sympathizing Presbyterian congregants disagreed with his occasional anti-slavery messages.

One of the most active religious leaders in the anti-slavery movement was Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine, an Ohio-based evangelical author and preacher in the American Episcopal Church. He was also an emissary of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, who used the bishop’s frequent ties to the United Kingdom to benefit the Union war effort and to foster support among the international denomination, including for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Largely overlooked in modern histories, McIlvaine’s efforts have essentially been forgotten by most students of the period. But, that has been nicely rectified by a new book by Richard W. Smith, a retired professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.

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New book on famed Admiral David Farragut

Farragut and family

David Glasgow Farragut is a revered name in 19th-century United States Naval lore. Largely forgotten today by the general public other than Civil War buffs, in his day Farragut was one of the most well known American military figures. He is one of only 53 people to ever be pictured on U.S. paper currency and was featured on two U.S. postage stamps. A town in Tennessee is named in his honor. The Navy named two separate classes of destroyers for Farragut, who was the very first man in the U.S. Navy to hold the ranks of vice admiral, admiral, and rear admiral, and remained on active duty his entire life, a career that spanned sixty years. He was one of a select few officers who fought in both the War of 1812 and the American Civil War.

With all of his accolades, honors, and service to his country, it is not surprising that a number of authors have written biographies of Admiral Farragut over the years. Most date, however, from more than 100 years ago, with the exception of books by Russell Shorto in 1991, Bruce Adelman in 2001, and R. Conrad Stein in 2005. Now, retired New Jersey business writer Robert L. Caleo has joined the ranks with his relatively short, but eminently readable and enjoyable tome entitled Farragut and Family: The Making of an Elder Hero.

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First-person presentation by Michael Sipes as CSA Gen. Jubal Early

SipesLiving historian Michael Sipes will be the featured speaker at the May 20, 2015, monthly meeting of the York Civil War Round Table. He will present a first-person impression of Confederate Brigadier General Jubal A. Early, who figured prominently in the Civil War history of York County when he led more than 6,600 soldiers into the region from June 27-30, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Sipes’ presentation is entitled “The Army of Northern Virginia’s 1863 Campaign North into Pennsylvania: Viewpoints on the Movements of the Second Corps.” Early’s force was one of three divisions within Lt. General Richard S. Ewell’s Second Corps, the advance element of the Army of Northern Virginia. Early’s division headed east through Gettysburg and York on its way to the covered bridge at Wrightsville while Ewell led the other two divisions and a brigade of cavalry through Chambersburg and Carlisle toward Harrisburg. Sipes will discuss these respective movements.

The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday the 20th at the York County Heritage Trust, 250 E. Market Street in downtown York. Free street parking is available, and there is no charge to attend this presentation. The public is welcome!

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Some York Countians fled as Rebels approached in June 1863

Photo of a child taken by C. E. Wallin in downtown York between 1863-65

Photo of a child taken by C. E. Wallin in downtown York between 1863-65. Author’s CdV collection.

In mid-June 1863, more than 6,600 Confederate soldiers approached York County from the west. Their commander, Major General Jubal A. Early, was a West Point graduate, a veteran of the Mexican War, and one of the Confederacy’s more aggressive generals. He had a vitriolic, mean streak, and rumors abounded that the Virginian planned to apply the torch to a Pennsylvania town in retaliation for perceived Northern atrocities committed in the Old Dominion. Other tales circulated that the unpredictable Rebels were thieving giants, that they ate children, and had horns (they were “teufelen,” or devils).

Hoping to protect their families, livestock, horses, and possessions, many residents of south-central Pennsylvania headed for safety. Most went across the Susquehanna River at the various bridges and ferries.

Some headed south to Maryland or east to Lancaster. Others headed for Harrisburg.

“The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming!” was the cry of the day.

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Gettysburg’s summer programs begin June 6

Gettysburg Ranger program

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New book on alleged Lincoln conspirator John Surratt

SurrattMany Americans are aware of the role Mrs. Mary Surratt reportedly played in the Lincoln assassination. The military tribunal hearing the case convicted her in being involved in the heinous crime, though her exact role is debated. She reportedly helped hide “shooting irons” for the plotters and gave general aid, shelter, and assistance to Booth and his accomplices. She was convicted and hung along. Robin Wright portrayed Mary Surratt in the 2011 film, The Conspirator.

Some historians believe that Mrs. Surratt was in reality being used as bait to draw her son, John Surratt, back to the USA to face trial in her stead. Surratt allegedly was one of the masterminds of the earlier plot to kidnap the president and may have been one of Booth’s closest confidants among his motley gang.

Author Michael Schein tells the story of Surratt and his mother, and the government’s case against them, in his fascinating new full-length biography, John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away.

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One-tank road trips: Rock Run / Stafford (CSA General J J Archer’s birthplace)

IMG-20150507-00077James J. Archer, a lawyer and officer in the U. S. Army during the Mexican War,  later served as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He was born in this house, the Carter-Archer Mansion, which is preserved today as part of the Rock Run Historic Area of the Susquehanna State Park north of Havre de Grace, Maryland.

Archer, seized at Gettysburg on July 1 by a member of the Iron Brigade, was the first general officer captured during Robert E. Lee’s tenure as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. He would be transported to northwestern Ohio, where he was imprisoned in the Johnson’s Island prisoner-of-war camp in the midst of Lake Erie. It was a far cry from his days growing up in his parents’ “Stafford” estate.

The Rock Run area is open to the public to walk and tour the grounds. The mansion is open on weekends during the summer season.

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One-tank trips: Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal lock at Havre de Grace MD

IMG-20150507-00074In the early 18th century as the population of the United States moved ever westward and new inland communities formed,  businessmen wanted faster and more reliable methods of transporting goods, cargo, and people rather than crude country roads hacked out of the wilderness. Over time, even as roads improved, this need continued, as did the need to provide water-born transportation routes along non-navigable rivers such as the rock-strewn Susquehanna in New York and Pennsylvania.

Canals seemed a logical solution, albeit time-consuming to build and maintain. Eventually, a network of canals crisscrossed many areas, including York County, PA. The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal ran from Wrightsville in east-central York County paralleling the west bank of the Susquehanna southward to Havre de Grace, Maryland, at the opening to Chesapeake Bay.

On a recent visit to Havre de Grace to speak at a Civil War event, I took the following photographs:

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Full division of troops occupied York’s Camp Scott in May 1861

Camp Scott 1Pennsylvania and Ohio troops at Camp Scott in York, Pa. – May 25, 1861 (Harper’s Weekly)

Camp Scott, named for army commander General Winfield Scott, was located at the intersection of E. King Street and S. Queen Street in York, Pa., on the fairgrounds. Within a month of the beginning of the Civil War, thousands of new troops occupied the barracks and tents.

The townspeople were very supportive of the soldiers, bringing food and other delicacies and housing some of the men when the camp was flooded because of heavy rain and melting snow in April. The camp brought a boost to York’s economy as soldiers and officers shopped in the local stores, had their photographs taken at a variety of studios, ate and drank at taverns, and used other town services and merchants.

By late May, the individual Pennsylvania infantry regiments had been organized into a full division, with three brigades.

Here is the order of battle (OOB) for that division, as taken from the May 23, 1861, Philadelphia Inquirer.

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