Virginia: Civil War Soldier’s Letters Return Home
DANVILLE, Va. — For 150 years, the letters written by a Confederate soldier — Pvt. Joseph Payne — back home to his wife in the Whitmell community of Pittsylvania County were carefully stored by descendants who had since moved to Michigan.
Now those letters, as well as other family correspondence and records, have returned to the South, as a donation to the Danville Historical Society.
Sarah Latham, president of the society, said Payne’s letters to Delphia Jane Payne tell about his travels, what was happening in the war effort and talk of normal, everyday things like crops and their children — but they also show his growing loneliness and fear that he would not survive the war.
“These letters reach across time and they grab you,” Latham said. “You know there’s an American soldier sitting in Afghanistan feeling the same thing.”
Payne marvels at how lush Pennsylvania is, with ample corn and wheat at affordable prices, compared to poor crop production in the South at the time.
Payne did not return home, dying of wounds he received in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The donation came from the Rev. Clinner Mitchell and his wife, June. Mitchell grew up in Whitmell but moved to Michigan in the 1950s, carrying the family history with him.
Mitchell’s paternal great-grandfather, David Mitchell, also fought at Gettysburg, but came home and ultimately married one of Payne’s daughters. The correspondence was been stored until Clinner and June Mitchell decided they needed to be returned to their home, Latham said.
Latham said it will be a while before the collection is ready to public display. The papers are being scanned — the Mitchells asked for a copy as part of their deal with the Danville Historical Society and also will be offered to the Library of Virginia for its Legacy 150 collection of Civil War memorabilia.
The letters, written is the fancy script of the day, are taking some time to decipher as well. Latham said Payne was obviously literate, since he could write, but was not well educated, based on the number of spelling — many words are spelled phonetically rather than correctly — and punctuation errors that make the paperwork challenging to transcribe.
Florida: Battle of Ballast Point Re-Enacted
ST. PETERSBURG — History buffs took part in the 15th annual Battle of Ballast Point Civil War Re-Enactment at Fort De Soto Park Sunday.
The event was hosted by the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Re-enactment Regiment, in cooperation with the Pinellas County Parks Department and Fort De Soto Park.
Sunday was the last day of the three-day event that featured Union and Confederate infantry, artillery and civilians.
The Battle of Ballast Point took place in Tampa on Oct. 18, 1863. A Union raiding party landed at the current intersection of Gandy Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard and marched 14 miles up the Hillsborough River to what is now Lowry Park and burned two blockade running ships, the Scottish Chieftain, and the Kate Dale, owned by the future mayor of Tampa, James McKay.
The Confederates caught up with the Union forces and the Ballast Point battle ensued. Union soldiers came under direct fire as they boarded their dinghies in a tactical retreat. Both sides suffered casualties.
Mississippi: Battle of Okolona Remembered
CHICKASAW COUNTY, Miss. — The sounds of rifles and heavy artillery filled the air Sunday as hundreds of Civil War re-enactors recreated what is known as the Battle of Okolona.
Though this battle ended with a Confederate victory in 1864, it was one of many forever in time etched in history as part of our country’s deadliest war.
“It’s the one war or conflict we were involved with that happened on our soil. This isn’t Normandy,” said Duffy Neubauer, Civil War re-enactor. “We didn’t go to Europe. This is in our backyard.”
The re-enactors that come in from all over the Southeast say there is no greater feeling knowing you are teaching the next generation about the importance of history and what life was like on the battlefield during the Civil War.
“We’d like for people to know about history and America 150 years ago was like Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Andy Anderson, Civil War re-enactor/organizer. “They fought one another tooth and nail and burned up a lot of the country from one end to the other.”
People who came to watch said there was no better way to learn about history than to see it first hand.
“It just really brings it home and the sights and the sounds and the smells,” said Nedra Mitchell, Civil War enthusiast. “I think there is no better way to learn history than to experience it.”
“It was really cool just to kind of see — go back in history and to see how these things happened — and it makes it more real life to come out here and see it first hand,” said McKenzie Buckner, Civil War enthusiast.
Those who participated in the Battle of Okolona’s 150th anniversary said there is so much this country can still learn from that period.
“The Civil War is the turning point in this country,” said Neubauer. “If you look at anything that is a current situation today, it has a stem coming out of the Civil War.”
“If you don’t learn from the past, you’re condemned to repeat the same mistakes people have done in the past,” said Anderson. “We should be a strong, united nation and not fight one another. We need to get along.”
In April, organizers plan to hold a rededication of the Okolona Confederate Cemetery where about 800 soldiers were laid to rest.
Illinois: Milliken Students Immerse Themseves in Civil War History
DECATUR, Ill. — The Confederate states went to war with the Union over state’s rights.
At least that’s what Lindsay Tipsword, a 2011 graduate of the Lutheran School Association in Decatur, says she and many other downstate schoolchildren were taught. “Our state is split,” she said. “Philosophically, Southern Illinois is still largely a part of the South.”
That insight is not something Tipsword learned in a classroom, however.
A secondary education and social sciences major, Tipsword was one of seven Millikin University students who traveled to Charleston, S.C., during the last two weeks of their winter break in January to earn college credit by experiencing the culture.
All the students were taking a brand-new immersion course on the American South before and after the Civil War and taught by Dan Monroe, associate professor and chairman of Millikin’s history department. Many were also taking another taught by Bobbi Gentry, assistant professor of political science, on the politics of the South.
The small, intensive classes are offered both during the holiday and summer breaks, and immersion director Randy Brooks, dean of arts and sciences, said they not only let students earn extra credits but also let instructors try new subjects and approaches.
About one-quarter of this winter’s immersion offerings were travel courses that gave groups of faculty and students the chance to learn in such far-flung places as Europe, Africa and South America.
Monroe said he believes Southerners have been slow to accept that their forefathers fought a war to preserve slavery and white supremacy because of the intense interest in heritage and historical preservation that goes along with an agrarian society.
“Most people want to think well of their ancestors, and there’s a certain pride in being the underdog and fighting against what they perceive as a superior force,” he said.
Ian Connor, a senior history major from Arcola, said it amazed him to see how much people in Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War started, remain so connected to that time period.
“If you have 10 Southern men in a room, odds are two or three of them still have a Confederate uniform,” he said. “But if you ask people in Illinois, odds are we don’t have a Union uniform in our closet or anything.”
Gentry, who is originally from Charleston, S.C., said the culture in the South has also been shaped by the decades of poverty that followed the collapse of reconstruction efforts in the 1890s.
Stops included Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, Middleton Plantation and the Charleston School of Law, where Debra Gammons, director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives, told the group that she experiences more prejudice for being a woman than she does for being black.
Students also said the tour given at the plantation soft-pedaled how slaves were treated, that they repeatedly heard the Civil War referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression,” and that the prevalence of Southern hospitality cannot be overstated.
Other students on the trip included William Harms, a senior communication major from Benson; senior history majors Joseph Kuczynski of Algonquin and Thomas Wieneke of Issaquah, Wash.; and Olivia Waszczuk, a sophomore biology major from Roselle.
Max Couch, a senior history major from Bolingbrook, added that the food was fantastic, especially the ubiquitous sweet tea and the shrimp and grits.
“You can learn only so much in a classroom,” Couch said. “I didn’t see the poverty or the typical redneck hillbilly kind of thing I expected. It was more upscale and very nice.”