Alabama: New Details Learned of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

HUNTSVILLE — Robert Smalls achieved so many amazing deeds during his life, it’s understandable why much of his heroic history is unknown, even to his descendants, Benjamin and Mary Smalls of Huntsville.

The couple was among about 150 attending a public lecture on Robert Small’s life, presented by Kraig McNutt, a Civil War historian, writer and historic preservationist. He was the guest of the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table on Thursday.

Kraig McNutt surprised Benjamin and Mary Smalls with a historic page from Harper's Weekly detailing how their ancestor escaped from slavery during the Civil War. (Paul Huggins/

McNutt spent an hour describing how Robert Smalls went from “spoiled” house slave in Beaufort, S.C., to a brilliant and daring leader in his early 20s, after working his way up from unloading ships at the docks to piloting riverboats.

Among the more historic achievements surrounding Robert Smalls life that ended in 1915:

  • Successfully commandeering a Confederate steamship and taking his young family past six enemy forts to freedom.
  • Receiving $1,500 and personal congratulations from President Lincoln for confiscating the Confederate ship.
  • Successfully urging Lincoln during another visit to form an all-black military unit, eventually the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Infantry.
  • Being the first black man to command a U.S. Naval vessel (though not officially commissioned).
  • Buying the Beaufort house of his former master during a federal tax sale in 1866.
  • Becoming the first (one of four simultaneously) black man elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1877. A seat he held five straight terms.
  • Having the first U.S. warship to be named for a black man, the LSV-8 MG Robert Smalls, commissioned in 2004.

“I learned a lot. “I didn’t know of the Gullah culture he grew up in,” Mary Smalls said in reference to the African-American community that developed in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. “I have never been to Beaufort, but we’re planning to go now.”

Beaufort, a small city outside Charleston, was where Robert Smalls spent formative years of his youth in love with the water, McNutt said. Born April 5, 1839, he was a house slave for John and Henry McKee, as was his mother, Lydia. His mother worried her son was living such a soft life, he wouldn’t desire freedom, so she persuaded her master to send him at age 12 to Charleston to learn hard work on the harbor docks.

From the dockyards, Robert Smalls matured quickly, moving up to the position of foreman at age 18, managing men twice his age and eventually “wheelman,” steering ships from the pilot house around Charleston Harbor, McNutt said.

Already equipped with a vast knowledge about Charleston waterways growing up, Robert Smalls was able to land a job steering a Confederate riverboat, The Planter, in the early part of the war, and soon he was hauling war materials and placing mines around the harbor, always with the supervision of Confederate officers.

He not only knew the waterways, but also memorized the Confederate passwords and signals for getting past sentry guards and forts, and perhaps most important, memorized the location of floating mines he helped place, McNutt said.

“He even knew how to wear the hat and do the walk and the gait of the white captains,” McNutt said in reference to Robert Smalls’ ruse portraying a Confederate boat captain during his nighttime escape.

After a close call passing Fort Sumter, he said Robert Smalls piloted The Planter to safety with the Union Navy and proudly handed over The Planter with the message, “My name is Robert Smalls, and we have some guns for President Lincoln.”

News quickly spread of Robert Smalls’ escape, and it stunned the country to learn a illiterate former slave could devise such a brilliant and detailed scheme, McNutt said,

Robert Smalls’ escape would be an amazing achievement on its own, McNutt said, but the man deserves great credit for hard work and determination throughout his life.

He was willing to carry guns and bows for his master as a boy, just so he could spend more time around the water in Beaufort; he held multiple jobs as a teen and young man that gave him an informal education of the world; and valuing education, he pushed legislation as a congressman that made public school mandatory in South Carolina.

His achievements also served as an inspiration to others, McNutt said, adding he believes Robert Smalls proved to Lincoln that black men would make outstanding soldiers for the Union Army. And an incident in Philadelphia where Robert Smalls was forced to get off a streetcar because he was black helped spur city leaders there to pass anti-segregation laws, he said.

“These are really amazing things. You can’t make this stuff up,” McNutt said.

Benjamin and Mary Smalls said they were inspired to want to learn more about their ancestor, and McNutt gave them a little more incentive by surprising them with a gift, an authentic portion of Harper’s Weekly magazine with the full-page story on how Robert Smalls pulled of his brilliant escape plan.

-Paul Huggins,


Arkansas: Civil War Markers Updated

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A Civil War battle took place in the Ozarks 150 years ago this month: The Battle of Springfield.

Read More: The Battle of Springfield, 150 Years Later

A series of events this week includes several lectures and a Lincolnimpersonator on Wednesday night.

Now a century and a half later, the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation is updating 12 Civil War markers around town.

“People are interested in their history,” says Jim Cox with theWilson’s Creek National BattlefieldFoundation. “Having the Battle of Springfield fought downtown on January 8 of 1863 is a draw for those who are interested in their history.”

In the future, the foundation is hoping to make the markers app friendly by allowing smart phone users to get more info about the battle


South Carolina: Lecture Series Features Walter Edgar and Top Civil War Scholars

The University of South Carolina will launch an evening series featuring Walter Edgar, historian of the American South, and top Civil War writers and scholars who will discuss the historical events of 1863.

“Conversations on the Civil War, 1863” runs Jan. 17-Feb. 21, with sessions taking place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursdays in the Campus Room of Capstone House. The series is free and open to the public, but requires registration. To register, contact the Institute for Southern Studies at 803-777-2340 or via email at

Each session features Edgar and a scholar who will discuss a range of topics including the Emancipation Proclamation, the military campaigns in the summer of 1863, diarist Mary Chesnut, the impact of the Civil War and Gettysburg.

“All historians agree that 1863 was the critical year of the American Civil War. The issues ranged from the battlefield to the home front. In my conversations with these scholars, we will deal with all of these issues,” said Edgar, the Claude Henry Neuffer Professor of Southern Studies Emeritus.

The series schedule:

– Jan. 17 — Thavolia Glymph, associate professor of African and African-American Studies at Duke University and author of “Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household.” Glymph will discuss the Emancipation Proclamation, how it “led the ‘Union war’ to become a war to end slavery,” and how “it would forever change the character and meaning of war.”

– Jan. 24 — Mark M. Smith, USC’s Carolina Distinguished Professor of History and author of “Listening to Nineteenth-Century America” and co-editor of “The Handbook of Slavery in the Americas.” Smith will delve into the ways people — soldiers and civilians — experienced Gettysburg. Smith, whose work examines history through the senses, will discuss the sounds, smells and other profound ways people were shaped by the bloodiest battle in the Civil War.

– Feb. 7 — Winston Groom, author of the book, “Forrest Gump,” for which the blockbuster movie is based, and multiple books on the Civil War. “I hope to give the audience a sense of what the war was like for ordinary Southern people. For the first time, Northern troops besieged a Southern city. In the aftermath, Vicksburg in 1863 would have been an excellent time to have stopped the war,” Groom said.

– Feb. 14 — Stephen Wise, director of the U.S. Marine Corps Museum and author of “Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War.” Wise will discuss the summer military campaigns of 1863, with focus on the campaign directed at Charleston Harbor. He said, “The fight for Charleston introduced a new era of engineering and gunnery. It was a testing ground for African-American troops, and tremendously impacted life in Charleston and the Palmetto State.”

– Feb. 21 — Julia Stern, professor of English and American Studies at Northwestern University and author of “Mary Chesnut’s Civil War Epic,” will “unpack the way in which at levels domestic, historical and epic, Chesnut’s literary genius uniquely illuminated the greatest conflict of the American 19th century.”

Edgar retired from the university last May after 40 years of teaching and service. He is an acclaimed writer and editor of more than a dozen books, including “South Carolina: A History,” regarded as the definitive book on the Palmetto State’s history, and “The South Carolina Encyclopedia.” He hosts the popular “Walter Edgar’s Journal” on S.C. ETV Radio.

“Conversations on the Civil War, 1863” is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and its Institute for Southern Studies. For more information, visit the Institute for Southern Studies online at


Tennessee: Rural Rhythms to Release Special Civil War Album

Nashville, TN — Rural Rhythm Records is proud to present a special event album God Didn’t Choose Sides: Civil War True Stories about Real People, Volume 1. The album release date is February 12, 2013 on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The album’s cover art is a painting by Hongmin Zou titled “Resurrection Morn”.

"Resurrection Morn" by Hongmin Zou is artwork for the album cover.

There have been hundreds of books, movies and songs created about the battles, presidents, generals & heroes as told in our history books about the Civil War. However, rarely do we hear the stories on a personal level of the unsung heroes who gave their lives or had their lives totally turned upside down during the War Between the States, which has had such an important impact on our American culture and historical foundation. Such people like Carrie McGavock, “Tod” Carter, John P. Parker, Jennie Wade, Amos Humiston, Nancy Hart, John Burns, Andrew Jackson Andrews and more.

God Didn’t Choose Sides isthe first release from a new series of albums that focus on the common men – and women who were thrown together into the realities and horrors of war and displayed amazing acts of kindness, selflessness, faith, love and brotherhood to their fellow Americans.

Project creator Sam Passamano, II explains: “Even as a young child I have always been drawn to the events and people during the Civil War, probably because of the importance these years had on our American history and culture. Being a second generation record executive and the president of Rural Rhythm Records I have had a dream for a long time to do a different type of Civil War album project. There are many songs available about the popular military commanders, battles and the politics, but I wanted to focus on real stories about the common soldiers, citizens, slaves and immigrants whose lives, and the lives of those around them, were changed forever because of the Civil War … these true stories and people should not be forgotten or lost through the years”.

This new music series combines today’s top artists with new original songs written by some oftoday’s top songwriters, bringing to life real stories about important people, places and events during the Civil War. Produced by Steve Gulley, God Didn’t Choose Sides contains songs written by top Country, Bluegrass & Roots music songwriters; Paula Breedlove, Mark Brinkman, Brad Davis, Ray Edwards, Mike Evans, Terry Foust, Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford with performances by #1 hit artists including Marty Raybon, Russell Moore, Ronnie Bowman, Lonesome River Band, Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Carrie Hassler, Bradley Walker, Tim Stafford, and more. In addition, a who’s who list of award winning musicians were chosen to accompany these top vocalists including; Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey, Justin Moses, Tim Stafford, Alan Bibey and Mark Fain.

“God Didn’t Choose Sides has been a labor of love having taken over two years to create songs that would be worthy of the project. The songs not only had to be historically accurate, but would have to bring the soul, heart and emotion of these incredible people and times to life through music. All of the songwriters cared deeply about the songs and I can tell you we laughed, cried, felt humbled and had many bouts with chill bumps creating them. When you add many of the best vocalists on the planet and an incredible cast of musicians, the result is a magical, emotional and extremely powerfulf”
– Mark “Brink” Brinkman

Accompanying the 13 song album is an extensive 16 page booklet filled with historical notes, photographs and lyrics on the songs. The historical content supervision and photographs for the album project was provided by the Carol Campbell and Michelle Gantz at Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum of Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN and the historical booklet notes were provided by Jamie Lynn Brinkman.

“I’m Almost Home” was written by Steve Gulley and Tim Stafford and performed by Steve Gulley. The song has been sent to radio stations and is available now on AirPlay Direct. The song is about Theodrick “Tod” Carter who grew up in the quiet village of Franklin, Tennessee. In the Spring of 1861, Tod left a promising law career to follow his older brother into the Confederate Army. In 1864, Tod found himself only a few miles from home. Energized by the thought of seeing his family, Carter volunteered to lead the 20th Tennessee Infantry in a charge toward the Union lines entrenched just south of Franklin, shouting “follow me boys, I’m almost home!” Tod was mortally wounded in the battle yards from his doorstep. His father found him, and after three years away from home, he died in his front parlor surrounded by his family.

“This project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my musical career. It really serves as a group of portraits based on real-life events that help to define a unique, ironic, divisive time in American history. What I love about the music and group of songs is the fact that they are documented, real stories about real people, their struggles, faith and triumphs. Collectively, they form a snapshot of true Americana that allows you to not only hear, but see and feel every emotion in every song. I’m so proud to have helped create this great historical work of music.”
– Steve Gulley, Album Producer/Featured Performer

This story and eleven other true stories about real people during the Civil War is what comprise God Didn’t Choose Sides. Rural Rhythm has set up a dedicated page for God Didn’t Choose Sides which includes interviews about the album and additional content relating to the history behind the songs, songwriters, performing artists and musicians.

God Didn’t Choose Sides tracks:

  1. “I’m Almost Home” – Steve Gulley
  2. “A Picture OF Three Children” – Russell Moore
  3. “The Legend Of Jennie Wade” – Lonesome River Band
  4. “Christmas In Savannah” – Dale Ann Bradley
  5. “Providence Spring” – Tim Stafford
  6. “Old John Burns” – Rickey Wasson
  7. “The Lady In Grey” – Ronnie Bowman
  8. “Last Day At Vicksburg” – Bradley Walker
  9. “Rebel Hart” – Brad Gulley
  10. “Carrie’s Graveyard Book” – Carrie Hassler
  11. “The River Man” – David Adkins
  12. “God Didn’t Choose Sides” – Marty Raybon
  13. “There Is A Fountain” – Gap Creek Quartet (Dale Ann Bradley, Steve Gulley, Don Gulley, Vic Graves)


City of Memphis Won’t Reinstall Forrest Park Marker

Memphis chief administrative officer George Little said Thursday the city will not return a half-ton Forrest Park marker to the park until the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Shelby County Historical Commission receive a permit through the Downtown Memphis Commission.

Little said a letter from the former Memphis Park Services director approving the marker in 2011 did not constitute formal approval for the marker or its design. Like signage for The Pyramid’s planned Bass Pro outlet, any concept and design must be approved by the Downtown Memphis Commission before it can be placed on Downtown property, he said.

A granite marker that used to reside at Forrest Park now sits in a shed at the city's General Services Operations Center on the east side of Overton Park. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is trying to get the city to return the 10-foot-long marker.

“Clearly there are some deep passions about this,” said Little. “This is about the proper protocol being followed.”

The park is named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Little ordered the marker removed by a city crane without warning and placed it in storage at a city storage facility in Overton Park. It was not damaged during the removal or storage process, he said. The marker, which cost $10,400, including installation, was placed in May and dedicated in July in Forrest Park, which is owned by the city but maintained by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Mayor A C Wharton said Thursday he agrees with Little that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Shelby County Historical Commission did not follow through after getting initial approval from Memphis Park Services

Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said the park is considered part of Downtown, which he said covers a six-and-a-half mile radius from the actual Downtown area.

While the marker simply says “Forrest Park,” it sparked protests by Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey, who objected to it on grounds that it drew attention to the park’s statue of the Confederate general. Bailey has repeatedly asked that the statue be removed. In 2005, Morris said Bailey succeeded in getting a recommendation passed by the Downtown Memphis Commission’s predecessor, the Center City Commission, asking the city to rename Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park as promoting offensive stereotypes from the Civil War era. Former Mayor Willie Herenton rejected the commission’s suggestion, saying, “Digging up and moving graves or renaming city parks is not the proper way of dealing with this issue. We do not need another event that portrays Memphis nationally as a city still racially polarized and fighting the Civil War all over again.”

Lee Millar, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Shelby County Historical Commission, said the groups worked personally with former park services director Cynthia Buchanan. “The groups relied on her as a city director to have the proper guidance based on her approval and that of her staff and administrators.”

Wharton said the marker drew attention to itself and to the approval process partly because of its placement along busy Union Avenue in the medical center. “When you put it right up front on one of our busiest streets for all the world to see, it strikes a different note.”

-Memphis Commercial-Appeal


Franklin Battlefield Preservation Footprint Growing

FRANKLIN, Tenn. — The site often mentioned in Franklin battle reports, the land where the Carter Cotton Gin stood, will soon become a part of the growing battlefield preservation footprint in Franklin.

At presstime the closing on the Cameron Strip Center, known locally as the Domino’s strip, was expected to be accomplished by the end of the year.

The current retail center will be eventually torn down and the land restored to its battlefield appearance. Franklin’s Charge, the coalition made up of local Franklin nonprofits, has committed to raise $500,000 of the $1.8 million purchase price.

Franklin’s Charge is working with state matching grants and the Civil War Trust to buy this critical piece of core battlefield. The Trust has proposed that the city allocate $250,000 for the project, which the Trust will match.

The Trust is also involved in two additional purchases of property in the Carter House area which, with the Domino’s site, will total 1.6 acres for $2.2 million.

According to the Trust, funding will come from $1,020,540 in matching grants from the Tennessee Transportation Enhancement program and the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, $500,000 from Franklin’s Charge and $350,000 in gifts and pledges from two major private donors. The Trust’s share is $339,000.

It was in the strip mall area where Confederate forces under Gen. John Bell Hood almost broke the Federal lines in the Nov. 30, 1864, battle that left Hood with six generals dead and his army a shell of what it once had been.

For all practical purposes the Army of Tennessee, after suffering severe losses at the hands of the Federals who were dug in along the lines that include the Domino’s strip, ceased to exist as a viable threat to the Union in the Western Theater.

Franklin’s Charge board member Julian Bibb said, “This project will be the centerpiece of a greatly enhanced Civil War offering when we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin in 2014.”

It is hoped that the commercial strip will be removed by then. And some are hopeful that a cotton gin will be built and interpreted by 2014 as well.

Officials believe additional properties may become available as preservation momentum grows. Already, combined with other adjoining purchases in recent years, a “ground zero” park in Franklin is emerging.

Until 2005, there was very little interest in, and little to see of, Franklin’s Civil War past other than the Carter House and the Carnton Plantation.


Civil War Photos Solicited

The Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville will host two Civil War events on Saturday, Jan. 26.

The first, “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee,” is an initiative to create an online archive of Civil War photographs, documents and artifacts to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The second is a free workshop on Civil War era photography presented by the Vacant Chair Photography Studio of White Bluff, Tenn.

The “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee” event will take place 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Archivists and curators from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee State Museum will scan or digitally photograph original Civil War memorabilia owned by local residents for this new exhibit. Some of the items will be featured in the exhibit. The archivists will not actually take possession of the items from their owners.

Individuals may call 615-741-1883 or to schedule a reservation with the archivists. Reservation forms and available times may be found at

“This is an important project for the Tennessee State Library and Archives,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “The Civil War was a major event in our state’s history, so we need to take appropriate steps to make sure these treasures are properly preserved for future generations.”

Attendees at the event will receive copies of the digital photographs and tips on how to preserve their Civil War memorabilia.

Archivists plan to visit all 95 of Tennessee’s counties in search of material for the exhibit, which will commemorate the Civil War’s 150th anniversary.

The free workshop Civil War era photography, focusing on the wet plate/collodion process, will take place 9:30-11 a.m. The presenters from Vacant Chair Studio will discuss the history and role of photography in the mid-1800s. They will explain the process and exhibit examples of the images created. Because seating is limited, reservations are required and can be made by phone 615-741-2764 or by email

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is located next door to the State Capitol at 403 Seventh Ave. North. Parking is available in front, on the side, and in back of the Library and Archives building.


Texas: Civil War Shipwreck Revealed by Sonar

"The Fatal Chase"

On Jan. 11, 150 years ago, the Hatteras, under the command of Hommer Blake, tried to prevent a Confederate commerce raider, the Alabama, from running a blockade set up around the port of Galveston, Texas (map). Woefully outgunned—as shown in the painting at left—the Hatteras was blown full of holes and sank to the bottom, taking two men in the engine room with her.

Archived documents state that the two crew members who died were Irish immigrants, Delgado said. They may have joined the U.S. Navy to gain citizenship, or to escape harsh economic times, he speculated.

“And they paid the full measure for their service. Did they set out to die in a burning, steam-filled engine room? No, but they stayed at their station.”Severe storms, such as 2008’s Hurricane Ike, have moved sand off of the shipwreck that sank during a battle exactly 150 years ago, on January 11, 1863.

Resting in 57 feet (17 meters) of water, the shifting sands enabled archaeologists to go in with high-resolution sonars and map newly uncovered parts of the wreck.

The resolution is so good, “it’s almost photographic,” said archaeologist James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Delgado and his collaborators have also produced fly-through animations of the historic site and war grave.

“You literally are giving people virtual access to the incredible museum that sits at the bottom of the sea,” he said.

Jane J. Lee, National Geographic


Virginia: Civil War Exhibit Opens at Lynchburg Museum

The Civil War exhibit, “An American Turning Point: Waging War,” opened at the Lynchburg Museum on Saturday and will be on display through May 5.

The exhibit, courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It focuses on technology, weaponry and leadership, as well as how Virginia became the major battleground of the war.

Since the Civil War initiated vast changes in technology and invention, the exhibit explores the use of balloons, railroads and communication devices. Visitors will be challenged to text on their cell phones to see if they are as fast as the telegrapher who took 54 seconds to send the message that President Lincoln had been shot.

Also included is an exhibit on James Hanger, one of the first amputees of the Civil War and founder of a company that still produces prosthetic limbs today. A compass used by Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss, who mapped the Shenandoah Valley for General Stonewall Jackson, also is on display.

Notable artifacts include items recovered from the USS Monitor shipwreck, a pocket watch owned by Stonewall Jackson, maps, photographs, JEB Stuart’s revolver, and an octant, a navigation device used on the CSS Virginia.

Also included are weapons showing the evolution of firearms from smoothbore muskets to Sharps carbines to Spencer repeating rifles. Original art depicting the battle between the Monitor and Virginia by Xanthus Smith is included as is the well-known portrait of General Jubal Early by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster.

The exhibit opens Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Court Street museum. At 10:30 a.m., Exhibition Coordinator Andy Talkov from the Virginia Historical Society will lead the inaugural tour of the exhibit. Lynchburg Museum System members will be admitted free.


Jefferson Davis Highway Marker Nominated for Historic Status

When you drive along Jefferson Davis Highway south of Richmond, Virginia, you may pass a historic marker along the way. The marker along US Route 1 doesn’t explain that you’re passing a historic site; it may be considered a historic landmark itself. The National Park Service (NPS) is officially announcing on Monday, Jan. 14 that it is considering adding the marker to the National Register of Historic Places.

So maybe next time you’re driving by, you might want to stop and take a look. NPS received the nomination last fall for the commemorative marker, which was placed along the highway (US 1) in Chesterfield County by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) as a reaction to the naming of the Lincoln Highway.

The marker stands at Falling Creek at Falling Center, Wayside.

NPS is taking comments on the nomination until Jan. 29. Send them to National Register of Historic Places, NPS, 1849 C St. NW, MS 2280, Washington, DC 20240; fax 202-371-6447. For details, see

UDC placed a series of commemorative markers along Rt. 1 in Virginia between 1927 and 1947. UDC wanted to memorialize Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The nominated marker lies between the northbound and southbound lanes of Rt. 1. UDC placed it in 1933. It is made of granite and stands 49” tall with a bronze plate on top.

For details on the historic context of this and the other UDC markers, see