Monday, December 27, 2010

Function & Fashion in Civil War Camp Dress?

War-time or peace-time, every era had its "look." for information

The Camp Dress

Great addition for reenactors, custom-made camp dress

New discoveries add to Civil War knowledge base

Civil War message in a bottle decoded 147 years after it was written.

Courtesy Jessica James, historical fiction author

Hard to believe that we are still making discoveries about the Civil War when we are just months away from commemorating the 150th anniversary of its start. The latest discovery is the deciphering of a message in a bottle that was intended for a Confederate general.

In the encrypted message, a commander tells Gen. John Pemberton that no reinforcements are available to help him defend Vicksburg, Mississippi.

"You can expect no help from this side of the river," says the message, which was deciphered by codebreakers.

The text is dated 4 July 1863 - the day Vicksburg fell to Union forces.

The bottle, less than two inches in length, had sat undisturbed at the Museum of the Confederacy since 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege.

Earlier this year the museum's collections manager, Catherine Wright, decided to investigate the wrapped note it contained.

When Wright found that the message was coded, she asked retired CIA codebreaker David Gaddy crack it - which he did in several weeks. A Navy cryptologist later confirmed the interpretation.

The code is called the 'Vigenere cipher,' a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an 'a' would become a 'd' — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.

The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.

The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

McClellan's Words on Lincoln

Alexander Autographs
George McClellan complains about Abraham Lincoln!

This pithy but pointed letter is up for auction today--December 16th--from Alexander Autographs!

IMPORTANT: THIS LOT IS MISIDENTIFIED AS LOT 42 IN THE PRINTED CATALOG. IT WILL BE CALLED AS LOT 41 AT AUCTION Superb content A.L.S. 2pp. 4to., on "Head-Quarters Army of the Potomac" letterhead, Berkeley, July 26, 1862 to New York financier William H. Aspinwall (1807 - 1875) , marked "Private" continuing his litany of complaints against the Lincoln administration and assuring his correspondent that he would not resign his commission just because Halleck had been appointed General of the Army. McClellan had held the same post from November 1861 to March 1862 when he was removed by Lincoln ostensibly in order to allow him to concentrate on leading the Army of the Potomac. McClellan writes, in most part: "...I hope you did not understand my [last] letter as conveying the idea that I would regard Halleck's appointment to the chief command as a cause for my resignation - it is the loss of the command of the Army of the Potomac which I regard (in the event of its occurrence), as forcing me to leave the service - for I think therefore that my usefulness would be at an end. Halleck was here last night - I think he will cordially support me, so far as least as the Govt. will permit. I assure you that I will not resign in a fit[?] - but will weigh the subject well before acting. I now believe that Halleck will do his best to assist me, & that we will cordially cooperate for the common good. You may be assured that I prefer my country's good to all other considerations - that no sacrifice will be too great for me that will tend to save my country -- I know in my own conscience that I have not for one moment regarded my own interests since I reentered the service - such shall my conduct be to the end. Allow me again to thank you for your kind offer to be my Banker - I do not now need assistance, or I would without hesitation call upon you -- but I am as grateful for your offer as if I had availed myself of it. I wish my faith in the administration was greater - but it seems to me that they are not equal to the irascible rebels on concentrating all their troops from the South upon Richmond - the conscription is being pushed with the utmost energy - we are doing nothing -- half way measure prevail. God help our poor country!..." Amazingly, despite the lack of results on the Peninsula, and continual delays thereafter, McClellan remained in command of the Army of the Potomac for another four months. It was McClellan's failure to pursue Lee aggressively after Antietam, that convinced Lincoln to finally remove him from command. Ex. collection of Harold C. Brooks. Light toning at folds, else very good to fine condition.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Porter in the Press

As he develops the topic "Porter in the Press" [working title] for Strawbery Banke Museum's forthcoming exhibit catalog, Salem State University Professor Dane Morrison uncovered the following telling comment:

The Providence Post says Fitz John Porter has fought more battles, won more victories, and possesses more brains and patriotism, than every man of the court which tried him, and the hounds who assailed him.
---The Laconia Democrat, 13 February 1863

Monday, December 6, 2010

Some reading
short, clear piece on Porter's career, pre and post Civil War

Friday, December 3, 2010

Discovery of Fitz John Porter USA Sword!

While tracking down the two swords mentioned in Porter's 1901 will, I found his US Army sword available for purchase. It is almost certainly one of the swords he leaves to his sons. This is a highly significant acquisition for SBM and for Portsmouth, akin to bringing Leonard Cotton's firebuckets back to SBM. With the assistance of the FJP team and colleagues, SBM has now purchased this fine, rare and highly significant "talisman" of Porter's life.

Please follow these pages for further information.

Kimberly Alexander, PhD.
Chief Curator
Strawbery Banke Museum

Information kindly supplied by arms expert and auctioneer, Michael Simens:

Every once in a while we get lucky. I found this little beauty being ignored at a recent auction over the summer. Sometimes it pays to know of little variations of things, or at least the people that know them. This particular sword is extremely rare. It is a first pattern, Regulation 1860 Staff & Field Officers sword. These were listed in the regulations as to be made with a polished wood grip. Only 500 or so were made and they are quite rare today. In addition, it is inscribed "F. J. Porter, USA" on its counterguard. For those not in the know, "USA" did not stand for "United States of America" at the time, it stood for "United States Army". This was a no-brainer as our Porter was the only officer of that name in the US Army at the time these swords were initially produced. In a nutshell, Porter, who was a graduate of West Point and a decorated hero in the Mexican War was recognized as one of the finest Union Generals who served in the early part of the Civil War. After it's start, Porter became chief of staff and assistant adjutant general for the Department of Pennsylvania, but he was almost immediately promoted to colonel of the 15th Infantry on May 14, 1861. In August, he was promoted to brigadier general, backdated to May 17 so he would be senior enough to receive division command in the Army of the Potomac, newly formed under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. Soon Porter became a trusted adviser and loyal friend to McClellan, but this association with the soon-to-be-controversial commanding general would prove to be disastrous for Porter's military career. Porter led his division at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at the Siege of Yorktown. McClellan created two provisional corps and Porter was assigned to command the V Corps. During the Seven Days Battles, and particularly at the Battle of Gaines' Mill, he displayed a talent for defensive fighting. At the Battle of Malvern Hill he also played a leading role cementing his reputation as a superb commander on the battlefield. For his successful performance on the Peninsula he was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 4, 1862. In one of the biggest controversies of the War, he was basically kicked out of the Army based on the testimony of political enemies of General George B. McClellan in January 1863. After years of struggle, a bill passed the Congress to restore Porter to his regular army rank of Colonel, dated to May, 1863. These historical facts can be studied on the net. The sword is in very fine condition. When I bought it, it was missing its drag from its scabbard. I had the same pattern of sword (but from the 1870's) in terrible, rusted condition and transferred the drag to this sword. It matches perfectly, but should be replaced with an earlier type.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New York Times

Are you following the New York Times series on the Civil War? Below find a link to an article by Tony Horowitz which I found very instructive and thought provoking.



Gettysburg Address

On this day in 1863, President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

West Point Research Trip- Pat & Don Reporting

Photographs from the West Point Archives: General Porter's funeral procession outside Trinity Church, NYC and General Pope's order books from headquarters during the battle of 2nd Manassas.

Friday, 17 September 2010

We arrived at the USMA Cadet Library for our research right on time. The current library is all new to us. It was still under construction when we retired from West Point in 2006. It surely is a grand building. We wended our way up stairs and elevators, through hallways and foyers until we reached Room 314. Waiting for us was a cart with a huge variety of materials! We got right to work searching through the books and papers carefully laid out for our use.

At the table next to us was a Lt. Col. researching material for his dissertation in History. His topic is how West Point graduates of the 19th century applied their knowledge acquired at West Point as cadets and their experiences in the military to civilian jobs in New York City after leaving the military. Wow!! He overheard us talking with the librarian, Peggy, about Porter and what we hoped to accomplish. He immediately struck up a conversation with us and we found out, not surprisingly, one of the West Point graduates he was researching is Fitz John Porter! We started sharing information, told him ALL about Strawbery Banke and our 2011 exhibit and then we all shared the materials supplied by the library for our respective research topics. He is most interested in our exhibit for 2011. Of course we made certain to give him the web site address for Strawbery Banke so he can keep up with our activities and the blog about Porter.

Peggy, the librarian, was most accommodating making copies of materials for us and allowing us to take photos of others too fragile to copy. We actually found the order book that General Pope used at the battle of 2nd Manassas...some written in his own hand. We were able to touch and hold these 2 small volumes...and it was beyond words! The dates of the order books were 25 August 1862 to 2 September 1862. We saw orders written by Pope and his chief of staff regarding some troop placements, supplying wagon trains with ammunition and supplies and having others ready to move out the injured during the battle.

Other letters and correspondence were sent to Fitz John Porter from Joshua Chamberlain written in his own hand, General James Longstreet and General Daniel Butterfield. We made photos of these and some of them were photocopied. Many letters expressed feelings of sympathy to Porter regarding his treatment after 2nd Manassas. Many were written in the 1880's. Former officers of both armies were very disheartened about the way Porter was arrested, court martialed and subsequently cashiered from the Army.

We saw many photos in the files as well. One that we took a photo of was a picture of Fitz John Porter's funeral procession in NYC in May 1901 outside of the Trinity Church. We also recently discovered that Joshua Chamberlain was a pall bearer at Porter's funeral. Several other photos depicted Porter in the field at his headquarters with other officers and even with President Abraham Lincoln! It was so exciting to be able to not only see these photos but actually hold them and take photos of them...without a flash of course. We can't wait to share what we have already found on our journey!! And we still have another research appointment on Monday, 20 September 2010 at the research annex.

Oh...everyone we meet is so interested in Strawbery Banke and what we do. (But we talk it up all the time anyway...even when I recently broke my ankle I was telling the x-ray technician during my x-rays, and later the orthopedic doctor, about Strawbery Banke. I really need to get those business cards done.) We are telling them what we and the other staff members do at the Banke. Everyone is really impressed with and interested in our museum and projects and many go to the web site to check it out before we even leave our research area! They are quite interested how we are integrating a US Army Civil War Officer with a background of a maritime community.

More will follow after the next research session.

Your intrepid travelers...

Don & Pat Trefethen

Monday, September 13, 2010

Civil War Roundtable- Recent Event & Contact Information

Meeting: Friday, September 10, 2010
The Civil War Roundtable of New Hampshire will feature at our next meeting, a very special guest:

Patrick Falci who portrays General A. P. Hill. The topic will be “Up Came Hill: A.P. Hill at the Battle of Sharpsburg.”
Mr. Falci portrayed Gen Hill in the movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals and was historical consultant on both for director Ron Maxwell.

Our meeting begin at 7:15 with coffee at 6:45. We meet at the Epping Town Hall in Epping, NH and are open and free to the public.

Details at: or email or call 978.994.4717

The CWRT of New Hampshire is a non-profit organization.

Grove Farm, FJP HQ and Confederate Hospital

A bit further down Sharpsburg Pike from Pry Farm is the Grove Farm, known as Mt. Airy which was FJP's Headquarters and hospital for the confederates. Lincoln spent time here during his for day visit and Sharpsburg residents, including one of the Grove's daughters, recalled his presence and kind, gentle interaction with the Confederate wounded. Contrary to some opinions, it is here, behind Mt. Airy (rather than Pry Farm) that the famous photographs of Lincoln and his commanders were taken.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pry Farm, General McClellan's HQ at Antietam

Dane and I spent time at the little visited Pry Farm and barn on the way to Antietam Battlefield. This was McClellan's HQ and also the Union hospital, where rows of Union soldiers were tended to in the barn. Its location on steep rise makes it possible to survey the area for miles around. In the late Maryland summer (August 28, 2010) the fields were dry and crackling, crickets and grasshoppers chirped loudly, air was hot and humid, grass broke under your feet. There was little in the way of tree cover in the farming area from Boonesboro to Sharpsburg. On arrival, we heard a banjo jam session coming from the barn and were invited in. Living in history does not get much better than this. The stillness of our morning there is what I remember as a child growing up nearby. The carnage in front of Dunker Church, the Sunken Road--all landmarks which still exist as they did while the savage battle was under way. The Pry Family was uprooted from their farm and lost virtually everything to the Union troops--their livestock, hay and foodstuffs, for which they received little compensation many years later.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Pat and Don Report on 2nd Manassas Discoveries

Today (Sunday, 29 August 2010) Don and I went to Manassas. We have only toured the 1st Manassas battlefield in the past. The Park Service has finished an older farm (Brawner Farm) at the beginning of the 2nd Manassas battle site with a really neat fiber optic light map showing how the battle progressed. It was very interesting and helped us understand the battle before we left for the field. We watched it twice! There are a few other info panels in the building including one about our buddy FJP. We began our tour but had some questions so we went back to the main building at Henry Hill. This is where we got the best information yet...
A very knowledgeable and helpful park ranger was there and we told him we were beginning research on Porter and started talking with him. We told him why we were researching and for whom. He spent quite a bit of time with us going over reproduced maps of the battle and showing us on the maps where things happened and why. We were unfortunately too late for a battlefield walk over the area Porter fought. We talked more and told him about the exhibit for next season. He was very interested. I told him we're still early in our research and didn't have any leads yet on any items or artifacts that were Porter's. He then told us that in 1947 Porter's granddaughter donated/gave some items that had belonged to her grandfather to the Park Service at Manassas!!!
The ranger (Hank Elliott) told us the park supervisor was in his office and they have some papers related to Porter's court case (later one), letters from Grant and McClellan, portraits of Porter, his official and original West Point Commissioning papers (commissioning him as a 2ndLT) received when he graduated from the US Military Academy in 1845 and a pair of his field glasses!!! We don't know when Porter used the field glasses but they have them there in the vault. Ranger Elliot asked the supervisor if it would be possible for us to do some research there for our exhibit and we were told yes...and we can most likely go into the vault with the supervisor and see the papers, portraits, glasses, etc. and even hold them!! Ranger Elliot is quite knowledgeable about Porter and has done a great deal of research about him. He helped with the new exhibit at the Brawner Farm and did the Porter panel in there. He told us that when we return to research he would personally take us on a tour of the areas Porter was in when he was there at Manassas. He says a lot of them are gone...lost to development...and some are on private land. But we will certainly take him up on his offer. He said for us to send him an e-mail before we go there so he can schedule it.
Hank also gave us the names of a couple of other men who have researched Porter or 2nd Manassas. One is John Hennessy who is the Chief Historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP. He worked at Manassas in the 1980's and is still a ranger. He has done in depth studies of Porter and is currently writing about him to put in a new guidebook Manassas is writing. Another Porter scholar is Brian Burton. He wrote a very good book called "Return to Manassas"...about 2nd Manassas. He is in the process of writing a scholarly biography about Porter.
So...other than that we have had a great time in Gettysburg. We are now...obviously...planning a return trip to Manassas and a trip to Fredericksburg. Not sure how soon...but we'll be doing this.

Pat and Don Reporting

First Battle of Manassas pictured above

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy Birthday to Fitz John Porter, 31 August 1822

In 1862, Porter had little time with Battles at Antietam and Manassas to contemplate his 40th birthday.

Next year in late August (2011) we will be celebrating Fitz John Porter's birthday with a full weekend encampment on the grounds of Strawbery Banke Museum. Follow us as the details unfold!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Visit to Antietam Battlefield

Hi there-

Dane and I will also be traveling--to Antietam Battlefield--so will share notes and finds from the visit. I grew up not far from there so it will be interesting to visit with a different perspective. Will also check out the records of nearby St. James School regarding students leaving to fight for both Union and Confederacy. Mason-Dixon line just minutes away. Hope also to visit Harper's Ferry and Sharpsburg.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pat and Don hit the road in search of Porter's past!

Two dedicated Civil War historians and Strawbery Banke Museum interpreters, Pat and Don Trefethen, depart on 25 August for Gettysburg. They will then visit Manassas on 29 Sunday. Follow this blog for photos of their trip to this critical place in Porter's life.

In mid- September, they will take a research trek to West Point, where Don was an NCO...Master Sergeant...for almost his entire 30 year career as well as being a drummer in the Hellcats...the USMA Band group attached to the cadets at West Point. They also hope to locate both Porter's grave in Brooklyn and his home in Morristown, NJ.

This knowledgeable and energetic team have already started research and design for a Porter walking tour of Portsmouth, which will be added to the Museum's tour roster for the season.

Happy trails!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fitz John Porter exhibit to open May 2011

Fitz John Porter (31 August 1822-1901)

Strawbery Banke Museum is pleased to announce that "Fitz John Porter: Portsmouth's Own Hero and the Scandal of the Civil War" will open to the public on May 1st, 2011 in the Museum's Rowland Gallery and will culminate with a birthday party for Fitzy with a full weekend encampment at Puddle Dock in August.

Fitz John Porter, a Civil War hero born in Portsmouth who was involved in one of the most infamous scandals of the Civil War. Porter fought for the Union Army at the Second Battle of Bull Run where he was wrongly court martialed for insubordination and spent the remainder of his life fighting for vindication. The life of Fitz John Porter and his court martial case bring to mind several important themes that will be addressed for the exhibit. Perhaps the most important facet of Porter’s character lies in the idea of his heroism. We hope to answer the questions: What does it truly mean to be a hero? How did Porter’s pursuit of justice make him heroic? Another prevalent theme in Porter’s life revolves around political rivalry. The exhibit will stress the importance of politics, government, influence, and reputation during Porter’s time. Finally, in keeping with Strawbery Banke’s focus on local and regional history, we will emphasize Porter’s ties with Portsmouth and the seacoast region. Additionally, to supplement the exhibit we are planning a walking tour to Porter’s nearby equestrian monument and former home in Portsmouth. And in order to attract Civil War enthusiasts on a broader scale, in the summer of 2011 Strawbery Banke will host a weekend-long encampment of Civil War reenacters right on the museum grounds.

If you would like to get started, we suggest reading "The Court Martial of Fitz John Porter" by Michael Haydock in American History Magazine

For information contact:
Amy Moy, Director of Marketing, 603.433.1102
Dr. Kimberly Alexander, Chief Curator, 603.422.7526
Tara Vose, Collections Manager, 603.422.7526

Planning Team
Dick Adams, Civil War Historian
Bill Hallett, NH Civil War Roundtable
Elizabeth Kachavos, Exhibit intern, Georgetown University
Dr. Dane Morrison, Professor of History, Salem State College
Dr. Rick Schubart, Bates-Russell Distinguished Faculty Professor
Department of History, Phillips Exeter Academy
Don Trefethen, Civil War Historian, SBM interpreter
Pat Trefethen, Civil War Historian, SBM Interpreter
Will Twombly, Exhibit Designer
Strawbery Banke Museum Staff