January 30, 2012

A Letter of Introduction: Dispatches from Company 'Q'

I have the pleasure of introducing my readers to a new blog by a seasoned blogger and writer, Jeff B. of the 2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry. He's currently writing a Civil War based blog that focuses on the military side of reenacting and history.

For those of you who do not know Jeff, he is a Northern cousin of my Southern Civil War persona. In his real life he is a photographer, artist and writer. He has always had an interest in history.    

He just started reenacting last year and is still learning but is anxious to share his knowledge with  newer recruits. He has been doing a lot of good research and I expect to see some great contributions in the future.

His blog was half intended to be a companion blog to mine, covering the areas of reenacting that I don't cover as often, but I have no doubt that it will stand on its own. it's nice to think of them as "sibling sites."

Dispatches from Company 'Q.'

*****A word of caution to my younger and lady readers: My cousin Jeffery has been spending much of his time around soldiers and has picked up quite a few ungentlemanly habits, such as foul language. Please skip his blog if it offends you.   

Please check out his blog and don't forget to snag his blog buttons:

January 26, 2012

Marching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

"Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." - Henry David Thoreau

I am a big Thoreau fan, even if he is considered one of the biggest lazy bums in American history. Thoreau, generally remembered as the recluse who lived in a shack in the woods, who everyone studied back in 10th grade English class, is rarely remembered for anything else.

Thoreau did move to a cabin in the woods for 2 years of his life; he built his own house, grew his own food and perfected the art of cheap entertainment. He wrote that his goal in moving to Walden Pond was to live an experiment in simplicity and introspection but, it was also a place to give him time to write a book and escape local gossip. At the time, he could not hold a steady job and had little luck in relationships and was mourning the death of his brother.  

 Despite popular myth, he was not a hermit. He had frequent visitors to the cabin such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcott family and even invited people to stay with him. Many people mistakenly think that he was being hypocritical by having guests and accepting food from others. However, his goal was not self-sufficiency in its entirety but an attempt to demonstrate how far societal norms deviated from the necessaries of life. He showed that a man can live working one day a week and enjoying the remaining six, which was his goal. While not having a tremendous impact during his lifetime, his works went on to inspire many influential people, like Mahatma Gandhi, specifically, Civil Disobedience.

Every once in a while I will pick up Walden. Many of his thoughts ring true, even if they are the ramblings of a societal reject. Perhaps living a “solitary life” really did give him the wisdom he sought. I was particularly enthralled with the quote above recently. I have a few friends who recently feel that they are behind the societal norms in their lives. Some are behind in school, some are behind at work and some are behind at love. I myself thought that it was awful when people would ask me the inevitable question, “So, when are you getting married?” only to realize that it’s a different kind of awful when people stop asking as if you've "peaked." :D

I feel that this generation, and succeeding ones, has an increasingly difficult time with society’s timeline for we see everyone’s timelines plastered on the internet (thanks social networking.) We see practically everyone we’ve ever met, graduating, getting married, having children, succeeding in all parts of life and feel discontent with ours.
We also live in a world where few things are what they seem. We compare ourselves to the mirages we see. We don’t see what goes into making a beautiful actress. We look at her and feel inadequate. We don’t see the make-up or airbrushing. We hear a singer and don’t hear the digital enhancement. We just wonder why we’re off. There are many naturally beautiful women and amazing musicians but we spend a lot of time filtering fact from fiction.
It is the same on a personal level for us. Facebook, blogs and websites erect an imperfect cloak upon the lives of others, leaving only glimpses of perfect lives through the holes. It is hard peeling truth from the lie which we are shown.

We should follow our “own drummer” despite naysayers and gossips or what we think everyone else is doing. The world has taken to measuring success and happiness by money because it is an easy universal standard. But money is a poor indication of happiness. Everyone has their own goals, dreams and standards of success. The “good life” of one man in a prison sentence for another, so why do we place these men on the same measuring tape?     

This post is dedicated to my friends who should enjoy life as each journey is different and they are not comparable. Make choices that are right for you

January 21, 2012

Riddles for Colonial Children

From the "Seven Bridges of K√∂nigsberg" problem to modern day Sudoku, problems, riddles, conundrums, and puzzles have been entertaining people for centuries. 

In 1778, the successors of John Newbery's bookshop offered the public "Food for the Mind: or, A New Riddle Book," assuring its readers that this book would be up to the standards of John Newbery's publications. John Newbery had been the leading publisher of children's books. Books specifically for children were relatively rare at the time.

The riddles in this book are intended to be read by one person to another person or group as the images give away the answer. Imagine, children playing with their siblings. :D The riddles aren't amazingly clever and some lines are added just to fit the rhyme schemes. 

If the author thought the picture was unclear, the answer was written as in this example, "eyelids." 


Unfortunately, the author didn't identify this one with words. This one is a complete puzzle to me. Maybe it will be really obvious to someone else. I have a couple of theories of what it might be, but don't want to tarnish fresh eyes. 

These riddles seem like they would be fun  for colonial children to read to each other in the schoolyard. I remember having my friends and I playing puzzle games at recess in elementary school. This is one of those times when you realize that human nature changes very little from generation to generation even if the situations seem completely different.

January 17, 2012

Trip to Antietam

This past trip, I finally got to visit Antietam. It was my first time going and although it was very windy, we still got to see everything we planned to. I was very excited to finally get to see this battlefield, as it was a battle that my Civil War ancestor fought in. He was in the 124th Pennsylvania which fought there only six weeks after enlisting.

We took with us an excerpt of a journal from a Sergeant in the 124th, Charles Broomhall. He was in a different company from my ancestor but their experiences were probably similar. The boys in company D are familiar local names. In fact, I work at the house of company D's 1st Lieutenant.

The journal, while probably based on a real journal, reads more like memoirs and may have been in the process of being prepared for publication.

For September 17th 1862, he wrote:

" At the commencement of the battle at day dawn, our boys had been listening to the stray shots on the edge of the 1st named woods called the East Woods, the rebels had come through the corn and deployed pickets on the edge of the East Woods. Our pickets were deployed in the edge of this woods, consequently, at daylight the two picket lines found themselves face to face and that caused the suddenness of the onset. Our brigade was about √¶ of a mile to the right and rear, and our regiment was brought up to near the clear sod field first spoken of while shot and shell went fluttering over our heads like partridges for sound. We were soon formed in line of battle at right angles to the turnpike and also at right angles to the lines which were doing the fighting, about 700 yards distant. A good number of wounded were now passing to the rear and this was the first sight of battle we had seen and the blood also, and it shook the nerves of some of the boys. The shells crashing through the trees and fluttering overhead as well as the musketry in advance of the left, all contributed to mark the time, and place, fixed in one's memory forever. We now advanced to the edge of the cleared field adjoining the cornfield. There we halted for a few minutes, our right resting on or a little across the pike and in a small grove. Here old Gen. Mansfield rode up to Gen Crawford who was within a few feet of me, and told him to hold this woods as we were hard pressed on the center. Fine old man that was the last I ever saw of him, as he was shot a few moments after, but we advanced with fixed bayonets across this open field on the cornfield, with a great hurrah, and as our regiment was a large one compared with those of a year old, the rebels got out of that corn in a hurry across the fire into a field near J.  Miller's barn and into the woods a little further to the South, but they had been roughly handled before we got to this part of the field we now advanced into this cornfield and were halted. Our company was among the rebel wounded. We got the order to lie down. I was so close to the rebel wounded, one in particular, that I had to separate myself from the company. One man was moaning and asking for water. Ben Green gave him some, had to pour it down him. I hadn't a drop in my canteen. The poor fellow said he was from South Carolina and had been forced into the war. He died while we laid there."

Taken from in the Sunken Road
 His journal is very interesting and descriptive, especially his details about the physical landscape. Not having seen the field before, I would never have believed it was so hilly. Broomhall elaborates " We marched over a most circuitous, rough, hilly road," which was an understatement. It was chilling reading his account. The battlefield is small but well worth the visit. It seems insane that any fighting could have taken place there at all. 

A larger excerpt of his diary about the battle of Antietam can be read at History Lost and Found. It was transcribed by Carolyn Ivanoff. 

January 12, 2012

Trip to Gettysburg

This happens to me a lot: Sometimes I have so much fun, I have nothing to write about. At first, this may seem counterintuitive but thinking deeper on it, it makes a lot of sense. If you are too busy having fun, you are not thinking about how you are going to write about the fun you just had.

We all know people who are good storytellers, who can make the mundane seem extraordinary. You know that person who can write about something with such imagination and passion that you'd believe that the thing that they just did was the most interesting thing in the world? You might even wish you were with them. Until you remember that you were with them and it was really boring. I'd like to call this the Facebook Effect, as this seems to be the case with a lot of the content on Facebook, but I feel I've been harsh to Facebook as it tends to unfairly represent all social media. Many sites refer to this "everyone is having more fun than me" sensation as the "fear of missing out."

This is the opposite of that. This is when you experience and learn so much that you don't even know where to begin. You have so much to say that words fail you. In time, I'll be able to sieve my experiences and write about them, but right now, I am overloaded with Civil War bliss and can't think of anything to write. Normally when this happens, I just post photos.

I finally got to do some of the historical stuff I have been wanting to do. I visit a lot of historical sites during the summer, but most of the time, it is while reenacting. Reenacting is fun, but sometimes I really just want to see the historic sites and learn about the history. There is something very special about standing on the ground where something momentous took place.

Yesterday and today, Andy and I did the full tour of Gettysburg. It is always raining when we go and we have never been able to visit all of the things we'd like to see. We normally do the "quick and dirty" tour and leave. Yes, it was raining today, but we decided we'd do it anyway. :D Gettysburg is normally a lot of fun, but we very much enjoyed getting to see much more than we normally do.

P.S. Just so this post doesn't unfairly represent our experiences, I leave the following disclaimer:  

It was cold. It was raining. I slipped on a rock near Spangler's Spring; hurting my ankle, knee and pride. Our hotel was renovating. We locked our keys in the car (and lost the spare.) We had numerous camera troubles, in particular places of personal interest, such as the monument dedicated to the regiment that Andy's ancestors were in. We spent a good 40 minutes in the muddy woods looking for a rock formation. Our directions to the hotel were wrong. :D               

January 7, 2012

Stealing History

There is a new, awful news story in my sidebar. I'm afraid that I am going to have to make "Stealing History" a regular installment on here. First there was E. Forbes Smiley, the thefts from the Wisconsin Historical Society then Lowry, now we have this man pictured at left.

On December 15, this man stole $7,000 worth of Civil War relics from The Battles for Chattanooga Museum at Point Park, Tennessee. This man opened a glass display case and stole a small display frame containing original belt buckles.  

Not much is known about the thief, although the theft was caught on camera. There is a $1,000 reward. You can view a video of the theft here. 

Many museum thefts can be solved because the artifacts taken are generally one of a kind and memorable to people who frequented the museum. The belt buckles stolen here will look little different from other Civil War belt buckles, as they were mass produced. The video is surprisingly clear, hopefully someone will be able to identify the thief before the buckles disappear.

Unfortunately, this will keep happening again and again as museums are underfunded and understaffed. Few museums can afford extra security or to track down missing objects. History pieces are poorly protected and fetch high prices as almost every history lover is also a personal collector.     

January 4, 2012

Confederate Prices "What a Dinner Cost in 1864"

When reading primary sources from the Civil War, people of the time often mention the prices of various items. Many times you can feel their astonishment such as Kate Cumming, a confederate nurse who admitted in her journal that while at a wedding she saw a gown made from Swiss muslin and could not help but wonder about the price, "The article was very scarce at present; the last I heard of cost fifty dollars per yard." She also tells of items so scare that they could not be had at any price.

However, it is very hard to put these prices into comparable terms. The blockade seriously affected the supply of many items including fabric, medicines, books, and foodstuffs. When these items became available, the prices could be high or low depending on area and scarcity. Frequently, items would be available in pockets. Milk might be available in one town and scarce in the next and the prices reflected the supply.    

The type of money also was reflected in the prices. Confederate money fluctuated frequently. Union money was more stable, but when traveling in the south, some people were hesitant to accept it.

What could $13 a month army pay buy?

- 8.67 pounds of cheese ( $1.50 a pound)
- 130 apples ( 10 cents a piece)
- 52 oranges ( 25 cents an orange)
- 13 small pies ($1 a pie)
- 17.3 pairs of wool socks ( 75 cents a pair)
- 6.5 bottles of bad whiskey, ($2 a bottle according to William McCarter in My Life in the Irish Brigade.) 
-156 Cartes de Visite ($1 per dozen at the cheapest in Philadelphia, according to West Philadelphia Hospital Register published in 1863. 
- 3.54 "dates" with a lady of the night (3 for $11 according to Hugh D. Cameron of the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry as stated in The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell by Thomas P. Lowry.)
-Soap, candles, coffee, flour, tea, and sugar in the South? Priceless. 

The prices above are generally from Northerners, traveling in the South. Due to the shortages and the inflation of confederate currency, it is very difficult to put an amount on any goods. Dolly Burge, who was living in Georgia wrote in her diary in November of 1864 that she "Paid seven dollars a pound for coffee, six dollars an ounce for indigo, twenty dollars for a quire of paper, five dollars for ten cents' worth of flax thread, six dollars for pins, and forty dollars for a bunch of factory thread." Burge was originally from Maine and was used to the prewar, northern pricing. We gain the best comparison of Confederate to Union in "five dollars for ten cents' worth of flax thread." 

There is a really interesting summary of the inflation in the Confederacy from 1861-1865 at Confederate Inflation Rates.  This site has a chart that shows the purchasing power of a Confederate dollar throughout the war.

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