Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

UntitledIntroducing the cover of my next book, Secrets of the Gettysburg Battlefield: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History From the Civil War Battlefield. It may still get a few tweaks, but I would say this is 95 percent there. The book will be available near the end of this month, but I was excited to show you the cover.

Like the other books in my Secrets series, it’s a collection of true stories that highlight an area’s forgotten stories, and, in my opinion, sometimes, they are the most interesting stories. The purpose of the series is to bring stories to readers.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. The July 1-3, 1863, battle saw the greatest number of casualties during the war. Beyond the fighting, the battlefield is the site of many other true stories of war, legends, reconciliation, and fantasy.

  • Discover the first great battle that took place at Gettysburg.
  • Learn about the prisoners of war who were kept on the battlefield.
  • Read about the out-of-this-world visitors to the battlefield.
  • Learn about how fairy tale creatures came to life on the battlefield.
  • Discover Gettysburg’s connection to not only the Civil War but World War I and II.

Secrets of the Gettysburg Battlefield: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History From the Civil War Battlefield tells stories of dinosaurs, warriors, interesting people, and unusual incidents. These are the types of stories you won’t read about in history textbooks. Collected from the writings of award-winning author James Rada, Jr., these fascinating stories and dozens of photographs tell some of the hidden history of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

This book is the fourth in my Secrets series, joining Secrets of Garrett County, Secrets of Catoctin Mountain, and Secrets of the C&O Canal.

You might also enjoy these posts:


Read Full Post »

Note: This is the third part in a three-part series about Samuel Dana Greene and Cumberland (MD)’s connections to in the epic battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.


Samuel Greene

The nature of naval warfare had changed in the morning of March 9, 1862. The C.S.S. Virginia had retreated leaving two destroyed wooden warships behind, but also a victorious ironclad called the U.S.S. Monitor.

Because of the battle fought at Hampton Roads, Virginia, the world’s wooden navies had become obsolete.

During the battle, Cumberland-born Samuel Dana Greene had commanded the turret of the Monitor as executive officer. He had chosen the targets and fired each round. When Captain John Worden was wounded, the 22-year-old Greene took command of the Union ironclad.

Worden wrote of Greene in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, “Lieutenant Greene, the executive officer, had charge in the turret, and handled the guns with great courage, coolness, and skill; and throughout the engagement, as in the equipment of the vessel and on her passage to Hampton Roads, he exhibited an earnest devotion to duty unsurpassed in my experience.”

When Worden gave Greene command of the Monitor, Greene had moved the ship to shallow water to determine whether it could continue fighting. When the Monitor moved back into action, the Virginia was already moving toward Norfolk. Rather than pursue, Greene had returned to protect the U.S.S. Minnesota, which had been its primary duty.

The next morning as the Monitor moved through the fleet. “Cheer after cheer went up from the Frigates and small craft for the glorious Monitor, and happy indeed did we all feel,” Greene wrote.

Later the crew received a hero’s welcome in Washington City and a visit from President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

To the Union, the victory was clear; the Virginia had abandoned the battlefield. That traditionally meant the Monitor was victorious. However, the South refused to admit the loss. They claimed that when Greene pulled away to check the steering gear during the battle, the Monitor had retreated, and the Virginia had then chosen to leave to keep from being trapped by the low tide.

On March 10, Greene was relieved of command because he was thought to be too young and inexperienced to serve as captain. Greene remained with the ship as the executive officer.

The two ironclads would never meet in battle again. Only two months later, with Union troops advancing on Norfolk, the Virginia could retreat no further up the James River because the water was too shallow. She was ordered grounded and blown up to keep from being captured.

The Monitor’s fate was no better. “We returned to Hampton Roads in November, and sailed thence in tow of the steamer Rhode Island, bound for Beaufort, N. C. Between 11 P. M. and midnight on the following night the Monitor went down in a gale, a few miles south of Cape Hatteras. Four officers and twelve men were drowned, forty-nine people being saved by the boats of the steamer. It was impossible to keep the vessel free of water, and we presumed that the upper and lower hulls thumped themselves apart,” Greene wrote.

Greene was ordered to the U.S.S. Florida as executive officer and later transferred to the U.S.S. Iroquois. Following the war, he served as an instructor at the Naval Academy.

Though he had a successful career, his failure to sink the Virginia and the Confederacy’s unwillingness to admit the defeat of the Virginia seemed to haunt him. In 1885, Greene wrote a lengthy article about his experience on the Monitor, and shortly before it was published, he committed suicide by shooting himself.

However, history remembers Greene better than he remembered himself. In 1918, the Navy launched the U.S.S. Greene, which would serve until the end of WWII.

In 2002, the Monitor’s turret and other artifacts, including the remains of two of the lost seamen, were recovered in a Navy salvage operation and are on display in the U.S.S. Monitor Center in the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

You might also enjoy these posts:


Read Full Post »

Note: This is the second part in a three-part series about Samuel Dana Greene and Cumberland (MD)’s connections to in the epic battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.


Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Monitor. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The crew of the U.S.S. Monitor wasn’t sure what they would find when they steamed into Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862. The sounds of thunder they had heard were now believed to be the sounds of cannon booming during a great battle.

The crew suspected what the C.S.S. Virginia could do, but the report sounded like tall tales. An iron hull that the largest cannonball only bounced off of? A ram that would sink a warship in a single blow?

Impossible. Yet this was a new age, an age in which iron could float and, as the crew was about to discover, fable could become fact.

“As we approached Hampton Roads we could see the fine old Congress burning brightly, and soon a pilot came on board and told of the arrival of the Merrimac, the disaster to the Cumberland and the Congress, and the dismay of the Union forces,” Monitor Executive Officer Samuel Dana Greene wrote in an article in The Century Magazine in 1885.

Born in Cumberland, Greene had entered the navy as an “acting midshipman” in 1855 at the age of 15. He volunteered for duty on the Monitor and because of the shortage of junior officers in the navy, he was made executive officer. Greene’s assigned crewmen to their watches and quarters. He was also gunnery officer and trained the crew on the two Dahlgren guns in the turret.

The U.S.S. Minnesota had been headed to assist the U.S.S. Cumberland and the U.S.S. Congress in their losing battles against the ironclad Virginia, resurrected from the sunken U.S.S. Merrimack. The Monitor dropped anchor beside the Minnesota to give the wooden ship the protection of the Union’s hastily built ironclad.

In August 1861, the Navy Department had solicited ideas for ironclad vessels and selected John Ericsson‘s unique design. The ship had been built in less than 100 days. When in the water, the ship’s deck rode only a foot above the water. One Confederate naval officer described the Monitor as a cheese box on a shingle.

Early tests of the ship’s abilities hadn’t been heartening, but it was the Union’s only hope to stand against the Virginia which had so easily proved victorious over two wooden ships on March 8.

“Between 1 and 2 A. M. the Congress blew up, not instantaneously, but successively; her powder-tanks seemed to explode, each shower of sparks rivaling the other in its height, until they appeared to reach the zenith — a grand but mournful sight. Near us, too, lay the Cumberland at the bottom of the river, with her silent crew of brave men, who died while fighting their guns to the water’s edge, and whose colors were still flying at the peak,” Greene wrote.

The Confederate sailors celebrated their victory throughout the night and in the morning, headed toward the Minnesota to sink it as well. The Virginia came within a mile of the Minnesota and opened fire.

The Monitor moved alongside the Virginia, swiveled its turret so the twin guns faced the Virginia and Captain John Worden ordered, “Commence firing!”

“I triced up the port, ran out the gun, and, taking deliberate aim, pulled the lockstring. The Merrimac was quick to reply, returning a rattling broadside (for she had ten guns to our two), and the battle fairly began. The turret and other parts of the ship were heavily struck, but the shots did not penetrate; the tower was intact, and it continued to revolve. A look of confidence passed over the men’s faces, and we believed the Merrimac would not repeat the work she had accomplished the day before,” Greene wrote.

As the gunnery officer, he personally chose the target and fired each shot from the Monitor.

The Virginia wasn’t prepared to fight another ironclad. Its guns were loaded with grapeshot and explosive shells, which had no effect on an ironclad. Meanwhile, the Monitor was firing 168-pound balls from 17,000-pound guns.

Captain Henry Van Brunt of the Minnesota wrote, “Gun after gun was fired by the Monitor, which was returned by whole broadsides from the rebels with no more effect, apparently, than so many pebble stones thrown by a child.”

The intense firing caused so much smoke that spectators couldn’t see the battle at times. The smaller Monitor would move in close to the Virginia, sometimes even touching the other ship, and fire both guns. Then the Monitor could quickly move to a new location, swivel the turret to redirect the guns and fire again.

Inside the turret, the men, including Greene, were black with powder and nearly deaf from the sound of hits against the iron skin of turret. The turret took at least nine direct hits with the worst damage being dents.

At one point, the Monitor tried to ram the Virginia, but a steering malfunction caused the Monitor to barely miss it. In the pilot house, Worden was looking out when the Virginia fired on the passing Monitor and hit the pilot house.

Blinded, the captain was carried to a sofa and Greene was called from the turret. Greene arrived and saw the captain. “He was a ghastly sight, with his eyes closed and the blood apparently rushing from every pore in the upper part of his face. He told me that he was seriously wounded, and directed me to take command. I assisted in leading him to a sofa in his cabin, where he was tenderly cared for by Doctor Logue, and then I assumed command,” Greene wrote.

Uncertain of how badly the steering gear had been damaged, Greene ordered the Monitor to break off the fighting. When Greene found the damage was not so serious that the Monitor couldn’t fight, the ship reentered the engagement. However, the Virginia was itself retreating from the battlefield in order to keep from being trapped by a low tide.

“We of the Monitor thought, and still think, that we had gained a great victory. This the Confederates have denied. But it has never been denied that the object of the Merrimac on the 9th of March was to complete the destruction of the Union fleet in Hampton Roads, and that in this she was completely foiled and driven off by the Monitor nor has it been denied that at the close of the engagement the Merrimac retreated to Norfolk, leaving the Monitor in possession of the field,” Greene wrote.

You might also enjoy these posts:

Read Full Post »

Note: This is the first part in a three-part series about Samuel Dana Greene and Cumberland (MD)’s connections to in the epic battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.

NH 64088-KN

The CSS Merrimack sinks the USS Cumberland in 1862. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

She was a monster; a thing of nightmares. A more fitting name for the C.S.S. Virginia would have been The Phoenix, for she had been created from the ashes of the U.S.S. Merrimack.

And the U.S.S. Cumberland, which had aided in the demise of the Merrimack, would help complete the birth of the Virginia.

The Cumberland was a warship launched in 1842 and converted into a heavy sloop-of-war in 1856. Her armament consisted of 22 nine-inch guns, a 10-inch pivot guns and a Dahlgren rifle gun that fired a 70-pound ball.

When the Civil War began in April 1861, the Cumberland was docked at the Gosport Navy Yard in Virginia. Though Virginia had not yet seceded from the Union, its sympathies were with the Confederacy. The day following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the decision was made to open the underwater valves of the Merrimack, another warship, and sink her.

“I begged the captain of the Cumberland to withhold the order; for assistance might be sent, and at any time she could be sunk with a shell from our battery. But the order was given, and the Merrimac slowly sank till she grounded, with her gun-deck a little out of water,” Thomas Selfridge wrote in an 1893 article in The Cosmopolitan. He served as a lieutenant on the Cumberland.

The next day the order came to abandon the shipyard. Nine ships, or one-quarter of the U.S. Navy according to Selfridge, were burned and an immense amount of weapons and munitions were left behind for the Confederacy.

“It was a splendid, but melancholy spectacle, and in the lurid glare, which turned night into day, the Cumberland slipped her moorings, and, in tow of the Pawnee, left Norfolk,” wrote Selfridge.

In November, the Cumberland sailed to the mouth of the James River near Newport News, but in the interim, she had fought in the bombardment and capture of the Hatteras forts. She was the last American frigate to go to battle under sail.

By this time, reports had made their way north that the Confederacy had raised the Merrimack and were turning her into an ironclad fighting ship. The Union was scurrying to build its own ironclad, but the Confederacy had a head start.

Hampton Roads, where the Cumberland was stationed was the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and from there the gateway to both the capital of the Union and the Confederacy. Union officials feared what the Merrimack, now rechristened the Virginia would do if made its way to Washington. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles ordered fleet commanders to send ships in Hampton Roads out of harm’s way. “The blockade commanders couldn’t get the ships out of the Roads in time, and on March 8, a clearly rattled Welles reversed the order. By now, it was too late. His worst nightmare was unfolding,” wrote Paul Clancy in his book Ironclad.

As the Virginia, steamed toward Hampton Roads, Union shore batteries shelled it and watched in amazement as the shells bounced off the iron hull.

The Cumberland’s crew sighted the Virginia around 12:30 p.m. March 8. At first, she was believed to be a mirage because of atmospheric conditions.

The Virginia steamed full speed toward the Cumberland. As it passed the U.S.S. Congress, it fired a broadside damaging the frigate. Then the Virginia rammed the Cumberland with a 1500-pound iron spar. Even as the ram sunk deep into the Cumberland under the waterline, the Virginia reversed its engines. The ram broke off inside the Cumberland.

The Cumberland’s crew fired upon the ship. “So furious was the Cumberland’s response that the greased sides of the Confederate battery seemed to fry like bacon,” wrote Clancy.

Protected by its iron skin, the Virginia’s guns tore up the crew and deck on the Cumberland. Yet, the Cumberland’s gunners continued firing until the guns slipped underwater.

Selfridge wrote of the crew, “They really believed themselves invincible, and indeed could they have had a fair fight would have shown themselves to be such. With but few officers, for the first time in their lives exposed to a terrible shell fire, seeing their comrades mangled and dead before them. The manner in which these decimated guns’ crews stood unflinchingly at their guns, with water pouring over the decks, the ship trembling in the last throes of her disappearance, until the word was passed from their officers, ‘Every man look out for himself,’ just before the ship went down, was not only sublime, but ought to embalm the name ‘Cumberland’ in the heart of every American.”

Seeing the fate of the Cumberland, the Congress moved into shallower water where the Virginia couldn’t follow. However, the Congress ran aground leaving the Virginia free to draw as close as it could and fire upon it until the Congress flew the white flag of surrender.

When Confederate boats approached the Congress, Union shore batteries fired upon them so the Virginia fired incendiary shells at the Congress and burned her to the waterline.

It seemed almost too easy. It had been two warships against one new, untested ship. Yet the one had triumphed with no loss of life while the Cumberland had sunk with 121 lives of 376 lost and the Congress had been burned with 240 dead out of 434.

Nothing could stand in the way of the Virginia. It could steam up the Potomac River and bombard Washington or make its way up the coastline to destroy New York Harbor. It was unstoppable.

But even as the crew of the Virginia celebrated the victory, one ship had heard the sounds of battle and even now steamed south where among the debris of battle. A David would challenge the new Goliath.

You may also enjoy these posts:

Read Full Post »

embalmingThough embalming the dead has been done for millennia, modern embalming methods that rival those of the ancient Egyptians have only been around for about 160 years.

The Egyptians were known for their masterful ability to preserve the dead, but American techniques of the 19th Century were far cruder.

According to Robert W. Habenstein and William M. Lamers in The History of American Funeral Directing (Brookfield, Wisc.: Burton & Mayer, 1995, pg. 199), one technique involved disemboweling the corpse and packing the empty body cavity with charcoal. The corpse was then wrapped in a sheet that had been soaked in alum.

French Develop First Effective Modern Preservation Method

Most sources point to 1836 as the birth of modern embalming. That is when Jean Nicolas Gannal, a French chemist, preserved a corpse by injecting it with six quarts of acetate of alumnia through the carotid artery. His idea was that his formula could preserve corpses for medical study.

“Very quickly, however, he realized that his embalming method would also find a market among funeral directors,” Thomas J. Craughwell wrote in Stealing Lincoln’s Body.

Funeral directors had been seeking a way that bodies could be left on display for a few days before burial. Craughwell suggests that it may have been a way to imitate the way bodies of royalty and other important people were displayed after death.

Gannal’s tests involved burying several bodies for 13 months and then exhuming them.

“When their coffins were opened, the dead embalmed by Gannal looked as fresh as the day they had been buried,” Craughwell wrote in Stealing Lincoln’s Body.

Sucquet Took Preservation One Step Further

One of Gannals contemporaries was J. P. Sucquet, another Frenchman who was also seeking an effective embalming method. His solution was to inject five quarts of a 20 percent solution of zinc chloride into a corpse through the popliteal artery. Besides preserving the body, it also gave the skin the appearance of white marble, according to Robert G. Mayer in his book Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice.

Civil War Creates American Demand for Embalming

The Civil War created a need for embalming in the United States as loved ones sought to have the bodies of their fallen sons, brothers, and fathers returned home for burial. As such, embalming was done in military camps before shipping a body home.

“President Lincoln took a great interest in embalming and directed the Quartermaster Corps to utilize embalming to allow the return of Union dead to their home towns for proper burial,” according to the Wyoming Funeral Directors Association website.

Holmes Develops an American Preservation Method

Dr. Thomas Holmes was a captain in the Army Medical Corps during the Civil War. He was assigned to Washington D.C. where it is said that he embalmed more than 4,000 soldiers killed in battle.

When Holmes realized the commercial potential in some of the methods he developed, he resigned from the army and began offering embalming to the public for $100, according to the Wyoming Funeral Directors Association website.

No War, No Need For Embalming

Following the Civil War, embalming fell out of popularity. Most people died in their hometowns where ice could be used to preserve the body until burial. Another reason for its falling out of fashion was that there were too few undertakers who could do embalming.

You might also enjoy these posts:



Read Full Post »



Gen. John Imboden

I was asked late last year to start contributing to the Wildfulness podcast, which covers topics about Mountain Maryland. I had never done one before, so I thought it would be fun. I would have time to learn a new skill without the pressure of producing a weekly show.


The story of the Confederate attack on Oakland, Md., was my first foray into podcasts.

Here’s the link to the Wildfulness blog if you would like to follow the podcast.

You might also enjoy these posts:

Read Full Post »

This is the final post in a series about the Civil War in Frederick County, Md.



Union General George Meade


Change of Command

Union Col. James Hardie arrived at the Robert McGill farm in Arcadia, Md., in the early hours of June 28, 1863.

He was under orders not to dress in uniform or tell anyone where he was going. He had been “given the necessary passes and money to buy his way to his destination if he encountered delay or opposition. If met by [Confederate Gen. JEB] Stuart and the Confederate cavalry, he was to destroy his papers, endeavor to escape, and deliver his orders verbally,” John Schildt wrote in Roads to Gettysburg.

Hardie presented Gen. George Meade with sealed orders from the War Department. Meade now commanded the Army of the Potomac. He protested his appointment, but he could do nothing about it. Gen. Joseph Hooker was no longer in command.

The formal change of command took place around noon and Hooker left shortly thereafter.

Charles Coffin, a reporter on the scene, wrote, “Gen. Hooker bade farewell to the principal officers of the army on the afternoon of the 28th. They were drawn up in a line. He shook hands with each officer, laboring in vain to stifle his emotion. The tears rolled down his cheeks. The officers were deeply affected.”

Here are the other posts in the Frederick Civil War series:

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: