Virginia: Confederate Marine Re-enactors Join Appomattox Show

APPOMATTOX, Va. — Friday evening’s wind blew, catching the Confederate Marine flag at the head of a recreated Civil War campsite and whipping it about.

The six tents surrounding the flag were securely staked in the ground, ready for the weekend-long encampment at the Museum of the Confederacy.

JILL NANCE | The (Lynchburg) News & Advance Austin Stephens and other kids on the Confederate side yell "bang" as they pretend to shoot their toy muskets during a Civil War battle reenactment on Tuesday at the summer camp at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

JILL NANCE | The (Lynchburg) News & Advance
Austin Stephens and other kids on the Confederate side yell “bang” as they pretend to shoot their toy muskets during a Civil War battle reenactment on Tuesday at the summer camp at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Re-enactors lounged on wooden chairs, talking among themselves and with museum guests. William Wallace, the Great Dane of one of the re-enactors, galloped around the grassy site wearing a bandana with the stars and bars.

Canvas tents faced each other creating a “company street” between the rows, leading from the fire pit near the artillery display to the officer’s tent. Each flap was open allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of what a soldier in a long stop during the war would call home.

This weekend, the accommodations also are the homes of seven or eight re-enactors where, rain or shine, they will be for the Appomattox site’s first encampment, portraying members of Company B of the Confederacy’s Marine Corps and a soldier’s wife.

“If people want to learn about the Confederate Marine Corps, this is the place to do it,” said Richard Doran, the first lieutenant and commander of the group.

Re-enactor Tom Crawford agreed.

“In two hours, you can probably pick up a whole semester of knowledge and it’s not nearly as expensive,” he said.

The topics discussed will come from the visitors and their interests. Doran said he hopes to teach any children drill tactics the Confederate soldiers used.

Since each member of the team has a specialty, like artillery, military techniques, or nautical history, he expected people to leave well informed on life at the time. Among the group are a retired Marine and published Civil War author David Sullivan, who affectionately is referred to as “the great sage” by his comrades.

“I don’t think anyone will come out of this with a question this organization can’t answer,” Doran said.

Most of the re-enactors said they hoped the visitors will learn about the Confederacy’s Marine Corps, something few people know about.

The Confederacy’s Marine Corps was considered an elite branch, with only 1,200 serving throughout the war. It had no more than 540 men at any given time. The Navy had about 6,000 and the Army had about 750,000 men in their ranks, Sullivan said

Confederate Marines were renowned for their discipline and ability to carry out missions in small groups on land, which was not common practice before then. After the war, federal officers interviewed them so they could use those tactics in the future, Crawford said.

The Marines were influential in a lot of military engagements throughout the war, both on land and at sea, including Sayler’s Creek, Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Hampton Roads. They also were involved in blockades.

“We were in just about every battle if you think about it,” Crawford said. “We were small in numbers but we made a big impact.”

The Confederate Marines’ training and “esprit de corps,” or sense of pride and honor they held for the group, set them apart from the other military branches.

They would train Monday through Saturday and had tough punishments. Many young men didn’t like the strict discipline and would desert. If they were caught, they would be shaved and branded with the letter D on their cheek, Sullivan said.

“Those that accepted the discipline and training made good Marines and would usually serve for life,” he said.

While they led a more disciplined life, the Marines had some luxuries other Confederates didn’t, such as shoes, government-provided uniforms, heated barracks, fruits, vegetables and bread.

Josie Butler, the museum’s education services manager, said the Marines were selected as the site’s first encampment partly because it is not a widely discussed part of the war.

“We wanted to make people aware that the Confederate States had a Marine Corps and were very much a part of the Civil War,” she said.

The Gammon family was among the visitors to discover the encampment Friday evening.

“I had my eyes opened a little bit,” Wayne Gammon, of Oregon, said. “It wasn’t something I was aware of before.”

He and his wife were at the museum with their son, Chuck, and his family from Lynchburg. They said the encampment was a welcome surprise, adding it was nice to see how the men lived during the war.

Chuck Gannon said the encampment helped him to imagine how the area must have looked nearly 250 years ago, when the fields were covered in tents, horses and wagons.

“It’s a deep sense of history,” he said. “There’s just so much of it.”

Shana Gannon, of Lynchburg, said she thought the re-enactors complemented the museum well, adding a nice dimension to help her and her children understand the war .

“You sometimes forget that it was real people,” she said. “Seeing it brings it to life.”

-Katrina Koerting,


Texas: Civil War Atrocity Forgotten by Texas History

BANDERA, Tex — In one of the darkest episodes in Bandera County history, eight travelers were killed by Confederate soldiers 150 years ago under an oak tree — seven hanged one by one with a horsehair rope and the other shot.

The motive behind the July 25, 1863, slayings south of town still is being debated, as is the fate of a teenage boy who was riding with the doomed party, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

In this July 21, 2013 photo, Hanging Tree Ranch owner Phil Watkins speaks during the 150th anniversary ceremony marking the July 25, 1863 killing of eight men, seven of the men were hanged and one was shot, at the site of a communal grave near the presumed Hanging Tree, also called the Tragedy Tree, on the Hanging Tree Ranch south of Bandera, Texas. In one of the darkest episodes in Bandera County history, eight travelers were killed by Confederate soldiers 150 years ago under an oak tree, seven hanged one by one with a horsehair rope and the other shot. (AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Edward A. Ornelas)

In this July 21, 2013 photo, Hanging Tree Ranch owner Phil Watkins speaks during the 150th anniversary ceremony marking the July 25, 1863 killing of eight men, seven of the men were hanged and one was shot, at the site of a communal grave near the presumed Hanging Tree, also called the Tragedy Tree, on the Hanging Tree Ranch south of Bandera, Texas. In one of the darkest episodes in Bandera County history, eight travelers were killed by Confederate soldiers 150 years ago under an oak tree, seven hanged one by one with a horsehair rope and the other shot. (AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Edward A. Ornelas)

One account casts the victims as well-provisioned German immigrants, intent on avoiding service in the Confederate army and headed to Mexico to wait out the Civil War.

Another describes the group, which included three men who already had fought for the South, as traveling to the border to buy livestock to take back to their homes near Georgetown.

An Indian raid initially was suspected, but an investigation led to charges against the soldiers, who escaped prosecution.

What is known is the travelers arrived in town with a lot of money — $900 — which was gone when their bodies were discovered.

“The final outcome was definitely robbery and murder,” says Stanley Sawyer of Denton, whose great-great-grandfather, William M. Sawyer, was the lone victim who was shot.

William’s brother, C.J. Sawyer; and William’s brother-in-law, George Thayre, were among the seven who were hanged. “It’s a big incident in our ancestry,” said Stanley Sawyer, 77. “At this point, I don’t think we’ll ever really know what the real story is.”

To mark the anniversary and share their stories, Sawyer joined other descendants and history buffs at a recent memorial ceremony beside the mass grave off FM 1077.

Nearby stands the presumed Hanging Tree, also called the Tragedy Tree, a large oak that still appears stout despite some leafless limbs.

They’ll discuss differing accounts of where the victims were headed, of what provoked the cold-blooded slayings and how authorities responded.

“We’re going to tell the stories that have been passed down, but we’re not going to vote on which is the most likely,” said Phil Watkins, who owns the ranch and organized the anniversary event expected to draw 200 people. “We may hear another story come Sunday.”

The travelers came from Williamson County and, after spending a few nights in Bandera, set off without incident for the border.

After passing Hondo, they were tracked down and surrendered to 25 soldiers led by Maj. William J. Armstrong, who reportedly promised the suspected “bushwhackers” they’d get a fair trial back at the soldiers’ fort in Kerr County, Camp Verde.

“All went evenly enough until the second night on the return trip, when while in camp … some of Alexander’s men wanted to hang the prisoners,” wrote the late J.M. Hunter, a local historian and author, in an account published in the San Antonio Express on Jan. 29, 1922.

When Alexander didn’t object, some dissenting soldiers headed out for the fort 17 miles west to report their comrades’ plan for extrajudicial executions.

Daybreak saw Alexander and some soldiers pass back through town — hauling the victims’ horses and wearing some of their clothes — en route to their fort.

Soon after, a local man, Joseph Poor, rushed into town to report discovering the bodies.

“I have seen many foul crimes in my time, but this was the most revolting that I ever knew,” recalled George Hay, then 86, in the 1922 article.

He found rope still around the necks of seven men, having been cut off after each was hanged, and William Sawyer face-down with a gun ramrod protruding through his torso and stuck in the ground.

“It was with great difficulty that I drew out this ramrod,” Hay said.

Although just a lad, John Pyke distinctly recalled Poor sounding the alarm about a deadly Indian attack, having mistaken the ramrod in Sawyer’s corpse for an arrow.

Pyke said in the 1922 article that those rushing to the scene found the dead men’s pockets empty.

“We dug a shallow grave, laid the dead men into it, spread blankets over them and covered them up the best we could with dirt and stones to keep the wolves from getting into the bodies,” he said. “A 16-year-old boy who was captured with the men was spared for the time being … but as he was never heard of again, it is supposed that he, too, was killed.”

The crime created “a great deal of indigestion” among local citizens, Amas Clark, 94, said in the article, but they were powerless to do anything.

“The murdered men were strangers, peaceably passing through the country. They had committed no crime that I know of and should not have been molested,” Clark said in the article. “After the war, diligent efforts were made to apprehend the guilty ones and bring them to justice, but without success.”

A local grand jury indicted Alexander and his men in 1866 on charges of murder and highway robbery, but by then the suspects were gone.

The slayings occurred less than a year after the August 1862 Battle of the Nueces, when mounted Confederate troops attacked an encampment of Unionists that included many German intellectuals from the Hill Country who were headed for Mexico.

The battle in Kinney County left 19 Unionists and two Confederates dead, and eight wounded Unionists later were executed.

German Hill Country residents long viewed the battle as a massacre. A monument in Comfort commemorates the dead.

In Bandera County, a headstone was added at the Hanging Tree grave around 1900 and fencing was added about 1950. The burial site on The Hanging Tree Ranch was overgrown with weeds when Watkins bought property in 1981.

“Over the years, we’ve tried to keep it clean and respectful for them, and have always allowed family members to visit,” said Watkins, a lawyer from San Antonio.

Above the names of the deceased (C.J. Sawyer, W. M. Sawyer, George Thayre, William Shumake, Jack Whitmire, Jake Kyle, John Smart and Mr. Van Winkle), the stone marker bears this inscription: “Remember friends, as you pass by: as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you soon will be: prepare for death and follow me.”

-Zeke McCormack, San Antonio Express News


Mississippi: Chicksaw Bayou Battle Site Future in Doubt

JACKSON, Miss. — On a wet, gray day in late December, nearly 300 Americans were killed just north of Vicksburg, and another 1,100-plus were injured.

Today, it is largely forgotten, commemorated only by a single, badly scarred historical marker standing on U.S. Highway 61 Business.

The event was the Civil War’s battle of Chickasaw Bayou, a failed attempt by Union forces in late 1862 to capture the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg. While there are efforts to remember and preserve the events of the Union’s successful Vicksburg campaign of the summer of 1863, there is little talk or plans for doing the same at Chickasaw Bayou.

Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi, William Redish Pywell,1864.

Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi, William Redish Pywell,1864.

“It is an extremely significant battlefield,” said Bill Hawke, director of the American Battlefield Protection Program, “and it deserves preservation.”

The only reminder of the action is the lone marker on U.S. 61, which has been hit by vehicles and re-erected so many times it only stands a few feet tall now.

However, preservation of the site would face steep challenges. And, in a twist of irony the nature of the terrain and annual flooding, which played a major role in shaping the fight in 1862, today serves as both enemy and protector of the battlefield.

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou represented the Union’s first attempt at taking Vicksburg, which by the winter of 1862 had become the key to controlling the Mississippi River. Federal Gen. William Sherman, with a force of 30,000-plus men, steamed out of Memphis, headed for the Yazoo River, in late 1862, planning to attack Vicksburg from the north. They landed in the Mississippi Delta opposite a high ridge known as the Walnut Hills.

The federal forces found an extreme landscape of sloughs, bayous, lakes and swamps. Disembarking on Dec. 26, it took three days for the Union army to slog a mere mile or so to get into position, giving the Confederate general and future Mississippi State University president Stephen D. Lee time to receive reinforcements and arrange his defenses atop the near-vertical Walnut Hills.

The result was a sharp, bloody Union defeat in a disjointed assault made on Dec. 29. For the Confederates, who only had roughly 13,000 men, total casualties were 207, while the federals counted 208 in dead alone. Another 1,005 Union men were wounded and 563 missing for a total of 1,776 casualties, more than eight times those of the Rebels.

Finding prospects for future success as scanty as dry land on which to operate, Sherman began the fallback to Memphis on Jan. 2, 1863.

Parker Hills says the significance of the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou cannot be understated.

A 32-year military man who retired as a brigadier general in the Mississippi Army National Guard, Hills currently operates Battle Focus, a Clinton-based leadership training company designed for warfighters and corporate leaders alike. He provides tours of the battlefield to clients as well as interested tourists and is a prominent expert on Chickasaw Bayou.

“The loss at Chickasaw Bayou directly led to (Gen. U.S.) Grant’s other unsuccessful attempts to take Vicksburg,” Hills said, referring to the late-winter/early-spring Yazoo Pass and Steele’s Bayou expeditions, which were also defeated as much by the nightmarish Delta terrain as by Confederate defenses.

“And the lack of success in those operations led to Grant’s successful campaign and capture of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863.

“Grant’s Vicksburg campaign has been called the greatest offensive ever waged on American soil. I used the campaign to train my officers when I was in the military. I still use it today at Battle Focus,” Hills said.

Despite its acknowledged significance, the only reminder of the action is the lone marker on U.S. Highway 61 Business, which has been hit by vehicles and re-erected so many times it only stands a few feet tall now.

Hills is not the only one who sees the importance of battle, including the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program. It ranks the Chickasaw Bayou battlefield, the core of which is within walking distance of the Vicksburg National Military Park, with a preservation priority of “B.”

“‘A’ sites are those such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg,” Hawke said. “‘B’ is still a high ranking, though; it is very significant.”

Actually preserving the site would be difficult. The battlefield, except for the position of the Confederates atop the Walnut Hills, floods at least once annually, and in fact is flooded now during the historically dry summer. The site is in private ownership, requiring a displacement of residents if the entire arena of operations were preserved.

Hills also said the roads are so bad that a bus cannot navigate them.

“It is absolutely prime farmland because of the flooding each year, but has little use beyond agriculture. (And) nobody wants to displace folks off their land,” said Hills, adding that an Indian mound that was a key feature of the battle “currently has a Quonset hut on top of it.”

The unattractive land, however, is also helping protect the site. Hawke said a concern in protecting battlefields is that a developer will come in and buy it. But, developers have been held at bay by the flooding and terrain. A prior study found that of the battlefield’s total theatre that encompasses nearly 23,000 acres, more than 15,000 acres remain undeveloped.

The site’s future, thus, remains in flux.

“There is little or no talk of doing anything with the Chickasaw Bayou site,” Hills said. “The whole area from King’s Crossing to Old Highway 61 needs to be preserved.”

But perhaps the adage is true everyone loves a winner. Even Sherman himself seemed to write off Chickasaw Bayou in his report and perhaps set the course for its uncertain future:

“I reached Vicksburg at the time appointed, landed, assaulted and failed.”

-Wally Northway, Mississippi Business Journal


Mississippi: Battle of Vicksburg Remembered

VICKSBURG, Miss. — Two men dressed as Confederate soldiers and a woman wearing a long gown chat in front of the Old Court House Museum as a small boy looks on.

“We’re here to show locals that there’s a Confederate presence in town; to reassure them,” says one of the men to the woman. “I’m 1st Corporal Brian Nobles of the 46th Mississippi Infantry and this here’s Private Gary Randall. The boy’s name is Bradley.”

It’s fitting that reenactors would be here. The court house was built between 1858 and 1860, and witnessed the battles that took place all around the city as well as in its heart during May and June of 1863. The story of Vicksburg, after all, must be approached from many angles: its importance to the North and to the South, the city and its citizens, and the military campaign.

Re-enactors at Vicksburg.

Re-enactors at Vicksburg.

Vicksburg National Military Park

At the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature on the continent. At the start of the war, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened northern commercial interests.

President Abraham Lincoln told his civilian and military leaders, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.”

Not only did the North need to regain control of the lower Mississippi River to enable agricultural products to reach world markets, but control of Vicksburg would split the South in two.

David Maggio, a licensed tour guide at Vicksburg National Military Park possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the battle, the men who fought here and the park. He explains that this was the stage that was set when Major General Ulysses S. Grant launched his Union Army of the Tennessee on a campaign to take control of Vicksburg.

Maggio says the Confederate Army knew the North would attack sooner or later and had nearly a year to prepare. The Confederate Army not only had the advantage of time, under the leadership of Lt. General John Pemberton, but their defenses were built on a ridge top surrounding the city, giving them the advantage of being able to see their enemy’s approach.

“There weren’t any trees here when the battle took place,” said Maggio. “This was pasture and farm land.”

In May and June of 1863, Grant’s army converged on Vicksburg. Maggio explains that as visitors drive through the park, the red signs represent Confederate lines and blue signs represent Union lines. “They were only a quarter of a mile to a half mile from each other when they fought.”

In the end, the Confederate defenses were so great that Grant simply prevented supplies from entering the city forcing the Confederate army to surrender on July 4, 1863. The Mississippi River was now firmly in Union hands; the Confederacy was successfully split in half.

Maggio paints a vivid portrait of what happened during the spring of 1863 and explains the history of the national park, the monuments, and their placement, and offers interesting antidotes about the men who fought here and what happened to many of them after the war.

Beyond the Battleground

Perched on one of the highest hills in Vicksburg is the Old Court House Museum, operated and maintained by the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society. It is an ideal location for preserving the heirlooms of this city with its high-ceilinged rooms and ornate interior. It was named one of the 20 most outstanding courthouses in America by the American Institute of Architects.

During the Civil War, the building was the target of Union shelling but suffered only one major hit.

Inside are relics from Vicksburg’s citizens including Confederate flags, the tie worn by Jefferson Davis at his inauguration as Confederate President, exquisite  collections of fine portraits, china and silver, and antique furniture. Antebellum clothing fills one room and others are dedicated to the Civil War.

There are nine rooms on two floors filled with thousands of historic pieces.

Make sure and check out the gift shop which offers authentic Civil War relics along with other souvenirs.

When you go:

Guided tours:

Licensed National Military Park Guides offer visitors the unique opportunity to explore the battlefield and city with a professional, who has excellent knowledge of civilian life, and the siege and defense of Vicksburg. Tours are based on two hours in length and are easily arranged for individuals, families and groups. Reservations are suggested and preferred; 601-636-3827.

Where to stay: 

Anchuca, a Choctaw Indian word meaning happy home, is one of Vicksburg’s most historic antebellum homes.

Built as a modest house in 1830 by J.W. Maulding, it was completed by Victor Wilson in 1847. Joseph E. Davis, brother to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, died here in 1870 at the age of 87. Most notably the balcony was the site where Jefferson Davis greeted neighbors and friends while visiting his brother in 1869.

This Greek revival landmark is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to being open for tour, it also serves the community as an elegant bed and breakfast inn.

Anchuca is located at 1010 First East Street. For more information call 888-686-0111 or visit the website at

Additional information:
Old Court House, 1008 Cherry Street; 601-636-0741;

Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; 800-221-3536;

-Marilyn Jones,


Louisiana: New Book Details Creole/Cajun Canonniers

UL Press has just released a massive tome on the Donaldsonville Canonniers, a militia company composed of Creole and Cajun citizens-soldiers that organized in Ascension Parish before the Civil War.


“Gallant Creoles: A History of the Donaldsonville Canonniers” by Michael Marshall relates the early history of the group but focuses primarily on its role in the Civil War when it was known as the Donaldsonville Artillery, one of the conflict’s most active units.

They served as part of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and participated in many important battles, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.

Following the Civil War, the Canonniers reorganized in 1875 for federal service and served in the Spanish-American War before disbanding in 1898.

In addition to detailed information about the unit — much of what has never been published before — the book includes detailed biographies on members that will thrill Louisiana genealogists.

Marshall is retired from the New Orleans Police Department and is a former high school history teacher and Marine. His ancestors served in the Canonniers.

When he realized little was written on the unit, Marshall spent 27 years compiling information for this book.

-Chere Coen,