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.