Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May Birthdays

Abram Piatt, born May 2, 1821
Abram Sanders Piatt was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Benjamin McCullough Piatt of Ohio and Elizabeth Barnett of Virginia. He was 40 years old when the Civil War began.

Albion Tourgee, born May 2, 1838

Albion Winegar TourgĂ©e was born in rural Williamsfield, Ohio on May 2, 1838, the son of a Methodist farm family that migrated to the Western Reserve from Massachusetts. He was 23 years old when the Civil War began.

Wilmer McLean, born May 3, 1814
Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814 in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 47 years old when the Civil War began.

Montgomery Meigs, born May 3, 1816

Montgomery Cunningham Meigs was born in Augusta, Georgia on May 3, 1816. He was the son of Dr. Charles Delucena Meigs and Mary Montgomery Meigs. His father was a nationally known obstetrician and professor of obstetrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 45 years old when the Civil War began.

Jean Davenport, born May 3, 1829

Jean Margaret Davenport was born May 3, 1829, in Wolverhampton, England. She was 32 years old when the Civil War began.

Lorinda Anna Blair Etheridge Hooks, born May 3, 1839
Lorinda Anna Blair was born May 3, 1839 in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of her parents. She was 22 years old when the Civil War began.

Martin Delany, born May 6, 1812
Martin Robison Delany was born free in Charles Town, Virginia (later West Virginia) to Pati Peace and Samuel Delany. Although his father, Samuel, was an enslaved carpenter, his mother was a free woman and a seamstress. He was 49 years old when the Civil War began.

"Madame Restell" (Ann Trow Lohman), born May 6, 1812
Ann Caroline Trow was born in Painswick, Gloucestershire, England. Her father, John Trow, was a woolen mill laborer. She was 49 years old when the Civil War began.

Cyrus Pringle, born May 6, 1838
Cyrus Guernsey Pringle was born on May 6, 1838 in East Charlotte, Vermont. He was 23 years old when the Civil War began.

John Wayles Jefferson, born May 8, 1835
John Wayles Hemings was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on May 8, 1835, the first son of Eston Hemings, a former slave who was seven-eights of European descent, and Julia Ann Isaacs, the mixed-race daughter of a wealthy Jewish merchant. John is believed to have been the grandson of Sarah ("Sally") Hemings, a slave, and her master, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. John was 26 years old when the Civil War began.

John Brown, born May 9, 1800
John Brown was born May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut. He was the fourth of eight children of Owen Brown and Ruth Mills Brown. He died more than a year before the Civil War began, at the age of 59.

Belle Boyd, born May 9, 1843
Isabella Marie Boyd was born in Berkeley County, Virginia, the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. The Boyds and the Glenns were well-known families of the area. Belle's grandfather, James Glenn, served in the Revolutionary War and was presented several awards by General George Washington for outstanding service. Members of the Boyd family were merchants and owned several general stores in the area. She was 18 years old when the Civil War began.

John Sherman, born May 10, 1823
John Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio to Mary Hoyt Sherman and Charles Robert Sherman, a justice in the Ohio Supreme Court. He was the eighth child in the family that would eventually number eleven children: six sons and five daughters. He was 39 years old when the Civil War began.

P.B.S. Pinchback, born May 10, 1837
Pinckney Benton Stewart was born May 10, 1837, in Macon, Georgia, the eighth of ten children of Eliza Stewart, a former slave, and Major William Pinchback, a planter and her former master. They lived together as husband and wife, but interracial marriage was forbidden by state laws. P.B.S. Pinchback was 24 years old when the Civil War began.  

Zebulon Vance, born May 13, 1830
Zebulon Baird Vance was born at the family homestead along Reems Creek in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the third child and second son of eight children. His parents were David Vance II and Mira Margaret Baird Vance. Vance was named for his maternal grandfather, Zebulon Baird. He was 31 years old when the Civil War began.

William Seward, born May 16, 1801
William Henry Seward was born in Florida, New York on May 16, 1801, the fourth of six children born to Samuel Sweezy Seward and his wife Mary Jennings Seward. At the time there were only a dozen buildings in the village of Florida. The Seward house consisted of 5 rooms on the main floor with a staircase leading to a large loft made up of 2 bedrooms with sloping walls and a large chimney. The Sewards owned three slaves who lived in the kitchen and the attic above it. He was 60 years old when the Civil War began.

Margaret Fuller, born May 23, 1810
Sarah Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, the first child of Timothy Fuller, an attorney, and Margaret Crane Fuller. The Fullers were descended from Thomas Fuller, a pious and poetry-writing Englishman who settled in Salem in 1638. Timothy’s father, a clergyman, had opposed the signing of the United States Constitution on the grounds that it condoned human slavery. She died 11 years before the Civil War began, at the age of 40.
Joe Davis dies in a fallApril 30, 1864

Jefferson Davis's third son, Joe, died at five years old as the result of an accidental fall from the east portico of the Confederate White House.  He had celebrated his 5th birthday less than two weeks before his death.

Joseph Evan Davis was born on April 18, 1859 Washington while his father was serving in the Senate. Davis proclaimed his new son "a very fine one" and named the boy for his eldest brother and his grandfather. Varina protested, for she deeply resented Joseph Emory Davis. She confided to her mother, however, that the boy did bear a resemblance to his namesake uncle, which she hoped he would outgrow.

Little Joe was described as exceptionally bright, and he was apparently the best behaved of all of the Davis children. 

But his life ended tragically with a fall from a White House porch on April 30, 1864. Rumors persist that he was pushed by older brother Jeff Jr., but there is no evidence to support this story.

According to contemporary accounts, the accident took place at some point between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., while neither parent was at home. A servant discovered Joe lying by the pavement onto which he had fallen from a height of about fifteen feet. His sister, Maggie Davis, ran to the neighbors for help, and Jeff Jr. enlisted the aid of two people passing by on the street. One of these men, a Confederate officer, wrote that Joe's "head was contused, and I think his chest much injured internally."

The child apparently died about the time his parents reached the house. His father refused to see visitors and could be heard pacing all night.

Funeral services were held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on May 1, and Joe was buried at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, where the rest of his immediate family would eventually be interred.

On June 4, 1864, President Davis received a letter from Hollywood informing him the lot in which his young son rested, was now his free of charge. The letter went on to state that if the President wished another unsold lot in the cemetery, instead of the one selected under trying circumstances, he was at liberty to exchange. The Davis family chose to exchange lots to what is now known as Davis Circle.

Richmond children collected 40 dollars in May 1866 to buy a monument for their former playmate's grave. 

Young Joseph and his stone were moved to Davis Circle in 1893.

There are no known likenesses of Joseph Evan Davis, in large part due to the scarcity of photographic materials during the war. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

James McCune Smith, born April 18, 1813

James McCune Smith was born free in 1813 in New York City, New York; his mother, Lavinia Smith, was a slave from South Carolina who had been brought to New York by her master.  
New York state had passed gradual abolition in 1799; children of slave mothers were born free, but had to serve an indenture until early adulthood. New York finally abolished all slavery in 1826.  His mother achieved her freedom later in life; she said she was a "self-emancipated woman." 

His father was Samuel Smith, a white merchant and his mother's master, who had brought her with him to New York from South Carolina.  James grew up with his mother. As an adult, James Smith alluded to other white ancestry in his mother's family, saying he had kin in the South, some of whom were slaveholders and others slaves.

African Free School (AFS) #2, New York City
Smith attended the African Free School (AFS) #2 on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, where he was described as an "exceptionally bright student".  In the course of his studies, Smith was tutored by Reverend Peter Williams, Jr., a graduate of the African Free School who had been ordained in 1826 as the second African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. Williams founded St. Philip's African Church in New York City.

Peter Williams, Jr.

Upon graduation, Smith applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but was denied admission due to racial discrimination.

He was 48 years old when the Civil War began; he would die five months after it ended.

University of Glasgow
Reverend Williams encouraged Smith to attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He and abolitionist benefactors of the AFS provided Smith with money for his trip overseas and his education.  He sailed in 1832, at the age of 21.  Smith kept a journal of his sea voyage that expressed his sense of mission. After arriving in Liverpool and walking along the waterfront, he thought, "I am free!"

Through abolitionist connections, he was welcomed there by members of the London Agency Anti-Slavery Society. Smith enjoyed the relative racial tolerance in Scotland and England, which officially abolished slavery in 1833. While in Scotland, Smith joined the Glasgow Emancipation Society and met people in the Scottish and English abolitionist movement.

He studied and graduated at the top of his class. He obtained a bachelor's degree in 1835, a master's degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837. He also completed an internship in Paris.  Dr. Smith then traveled home to New York, sailing on a second choice of a ship after being denied passage on the Canonicus because of his race.

Upon his return to New York City in 1837 with his degrees, Smith was greeted as a hero by the black community. He said at a gathering, "I have striven to obtain education, at every sacrifice and every hazard, and to apply such education to the good of our common country."  

He was the first university-trained African-American physician in the United States. During his practice of 25 years, he was also the first black to have articles published in American medical journals.  In 1840 he wrote the first case report by a black doctor, which his associate John Watson read at a meeting of the New York Medical and Surgical Society. (It acknowledged Smith was qualified, but would not admit him because of racial discrimination.)  Soon after, Smith published an article in the New York Journal of Medicine, the first by a black doctor in the United States.

He established his practice in Lower Manhattan in general surgery and medicine, treating both black and white patients. He also started a school in the evenings, teaching children. He established what has been called the first black-owned and operated pharmacy in the United States, located at 93 West Broadway.  His friends and activists gathered in the back room of the pharmacy to discuss issues related to their work in abolitionism.

Gerrit Smith
Smith was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and worked effectively with both black and white abolitionists.  He maintained a friendship and correspondence with Gerrit Smith that spanned the years from 1846-1865.

In 1843, he gave a lecture series, Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Races, to demonstrate the failings of phrenology, which was a so-called scientific practice of the time that was applied in a way to draw racist conclusions and attribute negative characteristics to ethnic Africans. He rejected the practice of homeopathy, an alternative to the scientific medicine being taught in universities.
At Glasgow, Smith had been trained in the emerging science of statistics. He published numerous articles applying his statistical training. For example, he used statistics to refute the arguments of slave owners, who wrote that blacks were inferior and that slaves were better off than free blacks or white urban laborers. To do this, he drew up statistical tables of data from the census.

After getting established, in the early 1840s, Smith married Malvina Barnet, a free woman of color who was a graduate of the Rutger Female Institute.  They had seven children.  Five survived to adulthood: James, Maud, Donald, John and Guy. Their sons married white spouses; Maud never married.

When John Calhoun, then Secretary of State Senator from South Carolina, claimed that freedom was bad for blacks, and that the 1840 United State Census showed that blacks in the North had high rates of insanity and mortality, Smith responded with a masterful paper. In "A Dissertation on the Influence of Climate on Longevity" (1846), published in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, Smith analyzed the census both to refute Calhoun's conclusions and to show the correct way to analyze data. He showed that blacks in the North lived longer than slaves, attended church more, and were achieving scholastically at a rate similar to whites.

Thanksgiving Dinner at the Colored Orphans Asylum
In 1846, Smith was appointed as the only doctor of the Colored Orphan Asylum (also known as the Free Negro Orphan Asylum), at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Before that time, the directors had depended on pro bono services of doctors.  He worked there for nearly 20 years. 

Colored Orphans Asylum
The asylum had been founded in 1836 by Anna and Hannah Shotwell and Mary Murray, Quaker philanthropists in New York.  Trying to protect the children, Smith regularly gave vaccinations for smallpox.  Leading causes of death were infectious diseases: measles (for which there was no vaccine), smallpox and  tuberculosis. 

In addition to caring for orphans, the home sometimes boarded children temporarily when their parents were unable to support them, as jobs were scarce for free blacks in New York. Waves of immigration from Ireland and Germany in the 1840s and 1850s meant there were many new immigrants competing for work.

In the 1850 census, the Smith household included four older women: Lavinia Smith, age 67 (his mother); Sarah Williams, 57; Amelia Jones, 47; and Mary Hewlitt, 53, who were likely relatives or friends. 
Each member of the household was classified as mullato.  They lived in a mixed neighborhood in the Fifth Ward; in the census, nearly all other neighbors on the page were classified as white; many were immigrants from England, Ireland, and France.

In 1850, as a member of the Committee of Thirteen, Smith was one of the key organizers of resistance in New York City to the newly passed Fugitive Slave Act, which required states to aid federal law enforcement in capturing escaped slaves. As did similar groups in Boston, his committee aided fugitive slaves to escape capture and helped connect them to people of the Underground Railroad and other escape routes.

Routes of the Underground Railroad
During the mid-1850s, Smith worked with Frederick Douglass to establish the National Council of Colored People, one of the first permanent black national organizations, beginning with a three-day convention in Rochester, New York. At the Convention in Rochester, he and Frederick Douglass emphasized the importance of education for their race and urged the founding of more schools for black youth. Smith wanted choices available for both industrial and classical education.  
Frederick Douglass
Douglass valued his rational approach and said that Smith was "the single most important influence on his life."  Smith tempered the more radical people in the abolitionist movement and insisted on arguing from facts and analysis. He wrote a regular column in Douglass' newspaper, published under the pseudonym, 'Communipaw.'

Opposing the emigration of American free blacks to other countries, Smith believed that native-born Americans had the right to live in the United States and a claim by their labor and birth to their land. He gathered supporters to go to Albany and testify to the state legislature against proposed plans to support the American Colonization Society, which had supported sending free blacks to the colony of Liberia in Africa. 

Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, lifelong friends, imagined a bright future for black Americans.  Garnet, born into slavery, stressed emancipation as a spiritual process — lifting the soul into a full recognition of its power to do good. McCune Smith, born free, argued that in overcoming their oppressors black Americans would "purify the Republic" and become the great artists, writers, orators, and voices of conscience in the United States. Smith and Garnet split over African colonization in 1859-61 but reconciled by the end of the Civil War.

Henry Highland Garnet
In 1852, Smith was invited to be a founding member of the New York Statistics Institute.  In 1854 he was elected as a member by the American Geographical Society, founded in New York in 1851 by top scientists as well as wealthy amateurs interested in exploration. The Society recognized him by giving him an award for one of his articles.  He also joined the New York Historical Society.  

Smith wrote an introduction to Frederick Douglass' second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). It expressed the new independence in African-American accounts of  slavery, compared to earlier works, which had to seek approval for authentication from white abolitionists.  

My Bondage, My Freedom, with introduction by Smith
In 1859, he published an article using scientific findings and analysis to refute former president Thomas Jefferson's theories of race, as expressed in his well-known Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).

By 1860, Smith was doing very well; he had moved to Leonard Street within the Fifth Ward and had a mansion built by white workmen.  His total real property was worth $25,000. His household included a live-in servant, Catherine Grelis from Ireland. 

In July 1862, Smith presented the trustees of the orphan asylum with 5,000 acres provided by his friend Gerrit Smith. The land was to be held in trust and later sold for benefit of the orphans.

The Riots of New York: The Mob Lynching a Negro
In July 1863, during the three-day New York Draft Riots, in which most participants were ethnic Irish, rioters attacked and burned down the orphan asylum. 

Rioters Burning the Colored Orphans Asylum
The children were saved by the staff and Union troops in the city. During its nearly 30 years, the orphan asylum had admitted 1310 children, and typically had about 200 in residence at a time. 

New York Riots, 1863
After the riots, Smith moved his family and business out of Manhattan, as did other prominent blacks.  Numerous buildings had been destroyed in their old neighborhoods, and estimates were that 100 blacks were killed in the rioting. No longer feeling safe in the lower Fourth Ward, the Smiths moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

He died two years after the riots on November 17, 1865 of congestive heart failure on Long Island, New York.  He was 52 years old.  He died five months after the end of the Civil war and  nineteen days before ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which abolished slavery throughout the country. 

He was buried at an unmarked grave in Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn. 

Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York
Smith was survived by his widow, Malvina, and five children. In the 1870 census, five years after Smith's death, Malvina and her four children were living in Ward 15, Brooklyn. All were listed as white. The Smith children still at home were Maud, 15; Donald, 12; John, 10; and Guy, 8; all were attending school.

James W. Smith, who had married a white woman, was living in a separate household and working as a teacher; he was also classified as white.

Smith's children did not promote their father's legacy.  Apparently members of the family all lived as white persons afterward, and were not involved with the African-American community.

Greta Blau of New Haven, Connecticut, came across her family connection while taking a course in the history of blacks in New York City. It was there that she came across the name James McCune Smith, which rang a bell. The name was inscribed in a family Bible belonging to her grandmother, Antoinette Martignoni.  Blau concluded that after Smith's death, his surviving children must have passed as white, and their children and grandchildren never knew they had a black forbear, let alone such an illustrious one.

Antoinette Martignoni and Greta Blau with Family Bible
"I never, ever would have thought that I had a black ancestor," Blau said.  She added, "We're all really happy. ... He was a really amazing person in so many ways."

Blau contacted all the Smith descendants she could find and invited them to join her for a ceremony dedicating a tombstone at Smith's grave.  In September 2010, 11 descendents of Smith gathered at his grave in Brooklyn.

"Right now I feel so connected in a new way, to actually be here," said Martignoni, the 91-year-old great-granddaughter of James McCune Smith. "I take a deep breath, and I thank God, I really do. I am so glad to have lived this long."

Martignoni and others at Tombstone Dedication in September 2010

Greta Blau and Joanne Edey-Rhodes
Joanne Edey-Rhodes, the professor whose course led Blau to discover her ancestor, said Blau had written about Smith in her paper for the course.  "She was writing about this person and didn't realize that that was her very own ancestor," Edey-Rhodes said.

The tombstone dedication was followed by a panel discussion at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem.  Smith had been an active member of the church.  The Rev. Craig Townsend, an Episcopal priest and scholar, said Smith's faith in God bolstered his belief that human beings are equal. 

Townsend passed out copies of an 1850 letter Smith had written to a friend after the death of his 5-year-old daughter.

"After a year of ailment, at times painful and distressing, always obscure, and which she bore with childlike patience, it pleased God to take her home to the Company of Cherubs who continually do Praise Him," Smith wrote.
The Siege of CorinthApril 29 - May 30, 1862

The Siege of Corinth (also known as the First Battle of Corinth) was a battle fought from April 29 to May 30, 1862, in Corinth, Mississippi.  

Henry Halleck
Following the Union Army victory at the Battle of Shiloh, the Union armies under General Henry Halleck  advanced on the vital rail center of Corinth, Mississippi.  Almost 125,000 Union soldiers set out from Pittsburg and Hamburg landings towards Corinth.  A Confederate force of about half that size, under the command of General  P.G.T. Beauregard, waited for them, behind five miles of newly-constructed earthworks. 

P.G.T. Beauregard
After the loss at Shiloh on April 7, Confederate troops had staggered back to Corinth, leaving scattered along the roads everything from blankets to tent poles, muskets to broken wagons. Their original commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, had died in battle, and Beauregard, who had replaced him, had not inspired immediate confidence by ordering an end to the first day's attack. During that evening General Don Carlos Buell had arrived with reinforcements, and General Ulysses Grant had reorganized, and the revitalized Union army had swept the Confederates off the field on the second day.

Corinth, where the Confederate army was entrenched, was not a large city. Incorporated in 1856, it was originally named Cross City because the east-west Memphis & Charleston Railroad and the north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad were slated to intersect there in the near future.  When the Civil War began, Corinth was still a small village with a population of only 1,000.  Once the fighting started, the city became a rallying point for troops and supplies. When Albert Sidney Johnston and his army arrived there after the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, the city gained more than 40,000 new military residents, numbers of whom were already ill or became ill and died. 

Corinth resembled a huge hospital and morgue. Entrenchments protecting the city, begun under Bragg's direction prior to Shiloh, now stretched into 10 miles of mounded clay and lumber. They reinforced the natural defenses of the swamps and the flooded streams. They ran out of coffins because of the huge number of deaths, but there was always plenty of clay to dig and pile up.

Both commanders knew the importance of the coming battle. Halleck claimed that the railroad centers in Richmond, Virginia, and Corinth were "the greatest strategic points of the war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards."

Made cautious by the staggering losses at Shiloh, Halleck embarked on a tedious campaign of offensive entrenchment, fortifying after each advance.  

James Garfield
Rain was a major problem, resulting in a flood that carried away bridges, and creating mud that slowed road traffic to an exhausting crawl. Union General John Pope said that he almost lost his boots in slogging through the mud to get to Halleck's tent. Future president James Garfield bemoaned the "succession of heavy rains…[which] made camp life in these woods very uncomfortable.'  Soldiers had to clear numerous trees the Confederates had dropped in the army's path, and they also corduroyed roads through the swamps. It was a difficult existence. Inexorably, however, Union troops were bearing down on the Mississippi-Tennessee border in a line almost 12 miles wide. They expected a major battle soon, a repeat of the horror of Shiloh.
John Pope
Although second in command, Ulysses Grant found himself with little to do. He complained in a letter to Halleck, "I believe it is generally understood through this army that my position differs but little from that of one in arrest."  Although he was nominally vice commander, he did not have any real authority. "I respectfully ask either to be relieved from duty entirely or to have my position so defined that there can be no mistaking it," he concluded. 
Halleck feigned shock at Grant's letter, writing, '" am very much surprised, general, that you should find any cause of complaint in the recent assignment of commands. . . . If you believe me your friend," Halleck concluded, "you will not require explanations; if not, explanations on my part would be of little avail."

Ulysses Grant
Halleck's answer only added to Grant's depression, and rumors spread of his departure, although it was unclear if this meant taking a leave or resigning from the army altogether. William Sherman had become a friend of Grant's, and he now rushed to Grant's camp. He found Grant's trunks in a pile ready for shipment, and the general himself was still in his tent, packing. Grant poured out his discontent and his determination to go back to St. Louis. Sherman, who had overcome his own dissatisfaction with the state of affairs, convinced Grant to stay where he was.

William Sherman
Newspaper correspondents also felt frustration with Halleck. By early May, there were more than 30 newsmen traveling with the Union army, including some of the most famous correspondents of the Civil War years: Henry Villard, Whitelaw Reid, Tom Knox, Franc B. Wilkie, George Smalley, Albert D. Richardson and Richard T. Colburn. The army's attitude toward these reporters was hardly positive, thanks to earlier press reports criticizing Union generalship for the surprise at Shiloh. Now reporters were writing critical accounts of Halleck's slow movement toward Corinth.

Of Halleck's wing commanders, Pope proved to be the most aggressive during the campaign. Pope led the army's Left Wing and was furthest away from Halleck's headquarters.  On May 3, Pope moved forward and captured the town of Farmington only a few miles from Corinth. 

Instead of moving the Center Wing under Buell forward, Halleck ordered Pope to withdraw and realign with Buell. 

An Ohio volunteer was not impressed when he watched General Hallack on horseback "jogging along the lines with a tall army hat on."  The soldier decided that "if he had only had a pair of saddle bags, [he] would have been the beau ideal of a country doctor."

By May 4, the Union army was within 10 miles of Corinth and the railroads. The Confederates began a series of small scale attacks, keeping up a nearly constant harassment. As the Union troops moved up to a new position, they worked day and night digging trenches.  As each line of earthworks was finished, the men advanced about a mile and then started digging a new line of trenches. Eventually there were seven progressive lines and about 40 miles of trenches.

On May 7, Pope wanted to send forward a reconnaissance force to investigate the recurring rumor that the Confederates were evacuating Corinth.  Halleck agreed and offered support from Buell's Center Wing. The next day, however, he told Pope to 'avoid any general engagement' because he was not sure that Buell had received his order. It was too late, however; the Confederates had launched their own attack and were driving his pickets in, Pope said. Then he changed his mind and said he was not sure what was going on.  In fact, the Confederates had botched a planned attack and had withdrawn into their entrenchments.

The minor engagement demonstrated this campaign's lack of sustained combat, the confusion on both sides and Halleck's refusal to take any risks. He remained content with inching his completely protected three wings forward, as heavy rain kept the roads a quagmire and illness depleted his ranks. 

Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott and Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton told the president that Halleck needed more men to accomplish his task. Abraham Lincoln, who was constantly being badgered by McClellan, wrote directly to Halleck, gently reminding him that every general  "from Richmond to Corinth" believed he was "confronted by numbers superior to his own."  Lincoln added, "I believe you and the brave officers and men with you can and will get the victory at Corinth." In short, Halleck could expect no more men.

On May 13, Field Order No. 54 expelling  "unauthorized hangers on" proved troublesome. Halleck included newsmen in this definition, and a correspondent was soon ejected from his headquarters. Reporters immediately composed a written protest. Halleck insisted that he had to eject all civilians because of the many spies following his army, but he promised to work with reporters. At a subsequent meeting, however, he rejected every compromise, promising instead that his headquarters would provide correspondents with the latest news. Reporters quickly learned that this meant access to a bulletin board at Pittsburg Landing, 20 miles to the rear. All but three reporters left in disgust. Richardson cuttingly wrote, `As false as a bulletin' has passed into a proverb.'

Confederate General Joseph Hogg,
one of many who died of dysentery
By May 25, 1862, after moving five miles in three weeks, Halleck was in position to lay siege to the town of Corinth.  Confederate morale was low and Beauregard was outnumbered two to one. The water was bad. Typhoid and dysentery had felled thousands of his men. At a council of war, the Confederate officers concluded that they could not hold the railroad crossover. Sickness had claimed the lives of almost as many men as the Confederacy had lost at Shiloh.

General Beauregard  saved his army by a hoax. Some of the men were given three days' rations and ordered to prepare for an attack. As expected, one or two went over to the Union with that news. The preliminary bombardment began, and Union forces maneuvered for position. 

During the night of May 29, the Confederate army moved out. They used the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry the sick and wounded, the heavy artillery, and tons of supplies. When a train arrived, the troops cheered as though reinforcements were arriving. They set up dummy Quaker Guns along the defensive earthworks.  Camp fires were kept burning, and buglers and drummers played. 

Quaker Gun
The rest of the men slipped away undetected, withdrawing to Tueplo, Mississippi.  Union patrols entered Corinth on the morning of May 30, they found the Confederate troops gone.

Corinth, Mississippi
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, not one of Halleck's fans, called the city's capture a "brilliant and successful achievement."  Halleck himself was thrilled with what he considered his great accomplishment. His book on military theory emphasized the importance of gaining control of strategic places; capturing armies was not important. So to him his capture of Corinth, with its strategic north-south and east-west railroads, was a major victory — no matter that Beauregard had escaped.  And he had done it all, he told his wife, "with very little loss of life….I have won the victory without the battle!"  Even more inspiring, his men had given him a nickname in honor of his achievement. They began calling him 'Old Brains,' a name he carried from that time on.

Some historians believe that the Union seizure of the strategic railroad crossover at Corinth led directly to the fall of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi, the loss of much of Middle and West Tennessee, the surrender of Memphis, and the opening of the lower Mississippi River to Federal gunboats as far south as Vicksburg. 

A Confederate army led by  General Earl Van Dorn attempted to retake the city in October 1862, but was defeated in the Second Battle of Corinth by a Union army under the command of  General William Rosencrans.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nella Larsen, born April 13, 1891

Nellallitea Walker was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 13, 1891, the daughter of Marie Hanson, a Danish immigrant, and Peter Walker, a West Indian man of predominantly African descent from Saint Croix.  Her parents separated shortly after her birth, and he disappeared from their lives. 

Her mother was a seamstress and domestic worker.  After her mother married Peter Larsen, a Scandinavian, they had another daughter together.  Nellie took her stepfather's surname, sometimes using versions of her name spelled as Nellye Larson, Nellie Larsen and, finally, settling on Nella Larsen.  When Nella’s younger sister was born, Nella herself was the only visibly black person in her nuclear family. This difficult dynamic was exacerbated by her claim that Peter Larsen was ashamed of his African American stepdaughter.

The mixed family encountered discrimination among the ethnic white immigrants in Chicago of the time.

Chicago in the 1890s
As a child, Nella lived a few years with her mother's relations in Denmark. 

At the age of 16, Nella attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1907-08, where she studied science.  The move to Nashville served to distance Nella from her family, something she welcomed because of the shame she had been made to feel during her upbringing. Regarding being seen in public with her family, she said her racial ethnicity “might make it awkward for them, particularly my half-sister.”

Fisk University
She returned to Denmark for four years, and audited classes at the University of Copenhagen.  She then came back to the United States.

She was born 26 years after the Civil War ended.

Lincoln Hospital

In 1914, Larsen enrolled in the nursing school at New York City's Lincoln Hospital and Nursing Home. Founded in the nineteenth century in Manhattan as a nursing home to serve blacks, the hospital elements had grown in importance. The total operation had been relocated to a newly constructed campus in the South Bronx. At the time, the nursing home patients were primarily black; the hospital patients were primarily white; the doctors were male and white; and the nurses and nursing students were female and black.

Upon graduating in 1915, Larsen went South to work at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she became head nurse at its hospital and training school.  While in Tuskegee, she came in contact with Booker T. Washington's model of education and became disillusioned with it. Added to the poor working conditions for nurses at Tuskegee, Larsen stayed only until 1916.

Tuskegee Institute
She returned to New York, where she worked for two years as a nurse at Lincoln Hospital. After earning the second highest score on a civil service exam, she was hired by the city Bureau of Public Health as a nurse and worked for them through the flu epidemic of 1918 and afterward.

Elmer Imes
In 1919, Larsen married Elmer Imes, a prominent physicist; he was the second African American to receive a PhD in physics. After her marriage, she sometimes used the name Nella Larsen Imes in her writing. A year after her marriage, she published her first short stories.

They moved to Harlem in the 1920s.  She and her husband knew the NAACP leadership: W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White,  Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and others.  She and Imes were socialites, both in Harlem and in white intellectual circles in Greenwich Village.  However, because of her mixed parentage, and because she didn't have a college degree, Larsen was alienated from the life of the black middle class, with its emphasis on school and family ties, its fraternities and sororities. 

In 1921 Larsen worked nights and weekends as a volunteer with Ernestine Rose, to help prepare for the first exhibit of "Negro art" at the New York Public Library (NYPL). Encouraged by Rose, she became the first black woman to graduate from the NYPL Library School, which was run by Columbia University.  

Seward Park Branch

Larsen passed her certification exam in 1923 and spent her first year working at the Seward Park Branch on the Lower East Side, where she had strong support from her white supervisor Alice Keats O'Connor. O'Connor and another branch supervisor where she worked supported Larsen and helped integrate the staff of the branches. She next transferred to the Harlem branch, as she was interested in the cultural excitement in the neighborhood.

Harlem Branch Library
In October 1925, Larsen took a sabbatical from her job for health reasons and began to write her first novel.  With the help of friends like DuBois and White, began to publish her work. In 1926, she published several articles in the magazine for African American children, The Brownies’ Book,  under the nom de plume Allen Semi (Nella Imes in reverse) In 1926, having made friends with important figures in the Negro Awakening (which became the Harlem Renaissance), Larsen gave up her work as a librarian.


She became a writer active in the interracial literary and arts community, where she became friends with Carl Van Vechten, a white photographer and writer. Van Vechten introduced Nella Larsen to his publishers, Blanche and Alfred Knopf, who later issued both her novels. Larsen and Van Vechten shared a warm friendship throughout the 1920s, when both were highly visible members of Harlem’s literary community.

Carl Van Vechten

In 1928, Larsen published Quicksand, a largely autobiographical novel, which received significant critical acclaim, if not financial success.  The novel’s main character, Helga Crane, is the daughter of a white mother and black father. She faces hypocrisy and prejudice and her efforts to fit into various white and black communities are unsuccessful. 

In 1929, she published Passing, her second novel, which was also critically successful. It dealt with issues related to two mixed-race women who were friends; each had taken different paths of racial identification and marriage. One married a man who identified as black, and the other a white man. The book explored their experiences of coming together again as adults.

Larsen and Imes were having difficulties by the late 1920s.  After discovering his ling-term affair with a white woman, she filed for divorce.

In 1930, Larsen published Sanctuary, a short story for which she was accused of plagiarism. It  was said to resemble Sheila Kaye-Smith's short story, Mrs. Adis, first published in the United Kingdom in 1919.  Kaye-Smith wrote on rural themes, and was very popular in the US.  Some critics thought the basic plot of Sanctuary, and some of the descriptions and dialogue, were virtually identical to her work.  No plagiarism charges were proved, and Larsen received a Guggenheim Fellowship (the first African-American woman to receive this award) in
the aftermath of the criticism. 

She used it to travel to Europe for several years, spending time in Mallorca, Spain and Paris, France, where she worked on a novel about a love triangle, in which all the protagonists were white. She never published the book or any other works.
Larsen, 1934
Larsen returned to New York in 1933, when her divorce had been completed. She lived on alimony until her ex-husband's death in 1942.  Struggling with depression Larsen was no longer writing (and never would again).  After her ex-husband's death, Larsen returned to nursing. She disappeared from literary circles. She lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  

Many of her old acquaintances speculated that she, like some of the characters in her fiction, had crossed the color line to "pass" into the white community.

Larsen died in her Brooklyn apartment; her body was discovered on March 30, 1964; it was believed she had been dead about a week.  She was 72 years old.

She was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Nella Larsen's Grave