Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bloody Shiloh

I had the honor to lead a tour of Shiloh National Military Park for the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table on April 14th.  I enjoy leading these tours.  I first visited Shiloh Battlefield in 1969 when I was 12 years old.  My Boy Scout troop hiked fourteen miles that day.  I don't think I remember much after the first six or seven miles!  My love for the battlefield grew through the years as I studied more about the War and later found that I had several ancestors who were there on April 6th and 7th 1862.   The National Park Service hired me during the summer of 1977 and I spent 3 months on the battlefield as a costumed interpreter giving talks and tours of the battlefield and conducting artillery and musket demonstrations.  In the years since, I've led scores of tours for Army officers, church groups, Civil War Round Tables and even one motorcycle club.  Did I mention I love that Battlefield?

Members of the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table pose in front of the reconstructed Shiloh Meeting House, from which the battle received its name.

The Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table is located in Huntsville, Alabama.  It is one of the largest in the United States. We seldom have less than 100 members present at a typical meeting.  Kent Wright, of the TVCWRT, does an excellent job of lining up our speakers and arraigning our field trips.  This outing visited Parker's Crossroads Battlefield on Saturday and I met them at Shiloh on Sunday morning for the tour there.  The anniversary of the battle (151st) was one week previous, so the foliage and greenery was similar to what it was in 1862.  We spent almost 7 hours on the battlefield and visited 12 spots on the battlefield where we discussed the tactics, weapons, personalities, successes and failures of the battle.  No matter how many times I visit, I still enjoy it.  The Round Table members made the experience even more enjoyable with their enthusiasm challenging questions!

Thanks to Round Table member Daryl Carpenter for the photos!

At Fraley's Field, where the Battle of Shiloh began on Sunday morning, April 6th, 1862
I conducted a short primer of Infantry weapons, including flintlock muskets and percussion rifle muskets.
Ruggle's Line is a favorite stop for most visitors.  53 Confederate cannon were lined up here on the afternoon of April 6th to break the Union line in the Hornet's Nest.  All of the cannon on the park are original Civil War pieces.  Many of these on Ruggle's Line are Confederate manufactured ,and very rare.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Cannon Named "Lady Baxter"

By Mark Hubbs

This month marks the 139th anniversary of the Brooks - Baxter War.  Don't feel alone if you have never heard of this event.  Except in Arkansas, it is all but forgotten.  Even there, it is seldom remembered except by ardent history buffs.

Lady Baxter at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock (photo by author)
Lady Baxter has always been my one of my favorite cannons.  She has not belched smoke and fire since 1874, and then it was not a shot fired in anger.  She has sat silent in front of the Old State House in Little Rock, Arkansas for over 139 years.

Lady Baxter began life as a Confederate copy of a United States Model 1841 "Shell Gun."  A shell gun is a Naval artillery piece that was designed to shoot explosive shells instead solid iron shot.  Essentially it is what the Army would have called a "Howitzer."

 Of course when she was cast in New Orleans in 1861, she was not known as Lady Baxter.  That would come many years later.  Most of the Lady's sisters never left the Leeds & Company foundry.  They burst during proof testing.  Only five or six of the sisters survived proofing and were soon put aboard three new Rebel ships the Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and the LivingstonAll three had been river steamers converted by the CS Navy into lightly armored gunboats.

The CSS Pontchartrain as she appeared in her previous life as the "SS Lizzie Simmons"
Lady Baxter served until late 1862 aboard the CSS Pontchartrain on the Mississippi, White and Arkansas Rivers.  Her sailing days were numbered however.  When Fort Hindman was built at Arkansas Post on the lower Arkansas River a severe shortage of heavy artillery resulted in the Pontchartrain's losing her two 8 inch shell guns and most of her crew.  They were taken off and placed in the battlements of the fort.

Learn more about the Battle of Arkansas Post here:

 In January 1863, a large naval and land force under the command of Maj. Gen John McClernand attacked Fort Hindman to neutralize one of the last Rebel strongholds that could threaten Federal use of the rivers during the upcoming Vicksburg Campaign.  It took two days of heavy shelling and an attack of over 25,000 infantry to silence the guns and force the surrender of the 5,000 man garrison. 
 Lady Baxter had finished her only big fight of the War.
The attack on Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post from a contemporary illustration
 The Union expeditionary force had no intention of occupying Arkansas Post.  They loaded their prisoners and what captured weapons that could be easily removed and departed back to the Mississippi River.  Lady Baxter and one of her sisters were left behind.  The muzzle face on the big gun was damaged and the trunnions were broken off, but it is not certain if this damage was inflicted by enemy fire during the battle, or if the retreating Federal soldiers intentionally damaged the gun before they departed.

 The Rebels never reoccupied Fort Hindman.  Instead, Lady Baxter and her sister were taken to Little Rock where makeshift repairs were made to put them back into combat shape.  They were soon remounted and guarding the Arkansas River at Little Rock.  There they sat until Little Rock fell in September,1863 when retreating Confederates spiked the guns and dumped them into the Arkansas River.  They lay there forgotten for eleven years.

 In 1874 fighting broke out in Little Rock and other parts of Arkansas over the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election.  The tension escalated for two years as the case see-sawed back and forth in the courts.  In April and May of 1874, Arkansas had it own little Civil War when factions of Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks raised militias to battle for the state house.  During the fighting troops loyal to Elisha Baxter remembered the old cannon dumped into the river eleven years earlier.  Soon they were retrieved and at least one was put back into fighting trim.  She was soon christened "Lady Baxter." 
Brooks troops assemble at the State House during the Brooks - Baxter War

 Lady Baxter lay in the bed of a large wagon, her muzzle pointed towards the Brooks barricades that had been set up on the streets of Little Rock.  Her new owners never fired a shell at her new enemies (and we don't know if the Baxter men even had any shells to fire!) but just the threat seemed to have an effect on the Brooks militia.  Only the intervention of President Ulysses S. Grant ended the conflict when he declared Elisha Baxter the rightful governor of Arkansas.  Grant threatened the intervention of United States troops to quell the violence of Brooks forces did not disband.  The decision came too late for the two hundred people who were killed in the fighting.  

After the War was over, and Elisha Baxter was victorious, a single blank round was fired from the old gun in celebration.  The concussion knocked out windows for blocks around.  So ended the military career of Lady Baxter.
Baxter troops boarding a steamboat before the Battle of New Gascony,
during the Brooks - Baxter War.  From a contemporary newspaper

 At sometime after the cessation of hostilities, she was mounted on a brick pedestal on the front lawn of the Old State House as a memorial to the Brooks - Baxter War of 1874. 

 She sits there still.
You can read more about the Brooks - Baxter War here:

Lady Baxter in a 1912 post card

Lady Baxter as she appears in 2013.  Photo by author

Close up of the repairs done by Confederate troops after the cannon was recovered from Fort Hindman. 
A forged iron band was added to replace the trunnions lost during the battle. Photo by author

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Bayeux Tapestry, Hand Stitched and Half Scale

This gentleman has much more patience than I!  I sew my self quite a bit to make copies of historical clothing, but I can't imagine 18 years of needle point on one project.  My hat is off to Mr. Wilkinson!
History fanatic spends 18 YEARS hand stitching his own
40ft long version of the Bayeux Tapestry

by Alex Ward, MailOnline

A determined history buff spent more than 10,000 hours over 18 years hand sewing a tapestry longer than a tennis court.
Andy Wilkinson, 51, had no sewing or drawing experience when he started the 40ft long version of the Bayeux Tapestry, a 1,000-year-old embroidery of events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.

A London Underground engineer from Chatham, Kent, he intended to make the tapestry to decorate the inside of a Norman-style tent but it quickly outgrew the space when he kept on sewing until he finished the Battle of Hastings section of the historical tapestry.

Mr Wilkinson has now been given the chance to display his 2:1 scale version at Battle Abbey in East Sussex, the site of the 1066 battle.
A member of a historical re-enactment group, he said: ‘I work a lot of night shifts and used to come home and find myself with not a lot to do for a few hours.
‘I had seen a copied section of the tapestry at a medieval fair and thought that if they can do that so can I.
‘Having never done a tapestry before, I came home and found a picture and just started to draw and sew. I had no formal training in sewing or drawing.
'I just drew the outlines of figures and animals like the horses onto a piece of calico material and then just stitched it.
‘I have a Norman-style tent and when the tapestry was under 5ft I used it in that as a screen but that was a long time ago.’
The original Bayeux Tapestry is 230ft long, is in eight separate pieces of linen and is exhibited in the Normandy town of Bayeux. The Battle of Hastings section is 80ft long.
His sewing sessions lasted from one to eight hours and he believes he has spent an average of two hours a day for 14 years on the project.
The history buff used about 30 different shades of four-ply wool and keeps the tapestry wound up like a scroll on two wooden batons.
On average, there are about 150 stitches per square inch on his tapestry.
Mr Wilkinson said: ‘I haven't been able to get it insured. I have no idea what it might be worth but given the man hours I have put in, that alone works out to about £125,000.
‘Now I've conquered this one I am not going to do another one.’
This story is re-blogged from UK MailOnline.  Read more and see more photos and video here: