Posts Tagged ‘Civil War History’

What does Cairo have in common with the Mississippi River?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo

Civil War era image of USS Cairo

The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairowhich remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.

In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.

It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.

An Unlikely Survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn

Monday, April 26th, 2010
Comanche, the only U.S. Army survivor in the Battle of Little Bighorn, photographed in 1887

Comanche, the only U.S. Army survivor in the Battle of Little Bighorn, photographed in 1887

There were many notable characters that history has documented from the Battle of Little Bighorn.

First, there was the notorious Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, a former Civil War hero with an ego and recklessness that led him and his men to complete defeat in Montana. As the military leader of the U.S. Army’s 7th Calvary, he led 263 soldiers and various personnel into Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne territory on June 25, 1876, with tragic results.

Then there was Crazy Horse, a well-respected Oglala Lakota warrior who was instrumental in the defeat of Custer. He led a surprise attack with more than 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne fighters against Brigadier General George Crook’s own force of 1,000 and his allied crew of 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors. This separate conflict, called the Battle of the Rosebud, meant that Crook could not join the 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn and left Custer without enough men. The result was only one survivor.

The only survivor of the U.S. 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn was actually a horse of mustang lineage named Comanche. A burial party that was investigating the site two days later found the severely wounded horse. He was then sent to Fort Lincoln, 950 miles away, to spend the next year recuperating from his injuries. Even though the horse remained with the 7th Calvary, it was ordered that he never be ridden again and be formally excused from all duties. The horse’s primary responsibility going forward was at formal military functions where he was draped in black, with stirrups and boots reversed, at the head of the Regiment.

Comanche eventually died at the age of 29 of colic on November 7, 1891. The officers of the 7th Calvary wanted to preserve the horse, so after the taxidermist completed the project, Comanche was put on display in the Chicago Exposition of 1893.

Today, you can visit Comanche at Dyche Hall at the University of Kansas. The Museum of Natural History at the University now keeps him on display to the public in a  humidity controlled glass case.

Who is your favorite famous horse from history? Share Below.

Photo: Historic Savannah

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
Victorian Homes in Savannah

Victorian homes in Savannah

There are few southern cities that survived the Civil War as well as Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1733, the city has seen its fair share of tragedy, including fire, war, disease, and its unique connection to voodoo culture. As a result, the American Institute of Parapsychology named Savannah “America’s Most Haunted City” in 2002.

But Savannah is more than spooky ghost stories. Despite its colorful past, it is recognized as one of the most historically preserved cities in the United States thanks to a caring community who pride themselves on old fashioned southern hospitality. There are over 40 blocks of gorgeous architecture with 150-year-old oak trees and Spanish moss hanging over cobblestone streets.

The city is also well known for having a thriving art culture, largely due to the creative students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for the more traditional art fan, there are the Telfair Museums, comprising of the Telfair Academy, the Owens-Thompson House, and the Jepson Center. The Telfair is the oldest art museum in the South and was founded in 1883. The museum has now expanded into three buildings and represents art from the 19th century to the contemporary arts.

Experience art and history in Savannah for yourself! Book your Springtime in the Old South tour by December 26 and save $200 per person

Which Southern City is your favorite?

Shiloh in Pictures

Friday, June 19th, 2009

To scroll through the images click the play button or place your cursor over the right hand side of the frame to make the photos move automatically. All photos were taken by Tour Manager Betsy Brand, Program Operations Assistant for Smithsonian Journeys, while out on Civil War: Shiloh and Brice’s Crossroads May 6-10, 2009.

The Battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6-7, 1862 between Confederate troops, led by Generals Johnston and Beauregard, and the Union forces, led by Maj. General Ulysses S. Grant just outside of Savannah, Tennessee. After the first day of battle, the Confederates gained considerable ground, making successive defensive stands at Shiloh Church, the Peach Orchard, Water Oaks Pond, and the now famous Hornets’ Nest (named for the sound of bullets flying through the air). Upon nightfall, the fighting ended with Grant’s troops strongly positioned at Pittsburg Landing along the Tennessee River with Maj. General Don Carlos Buell coming in for reinforcement.

After losing General Johnston to a leg injury the previous day, Beauregard planned to finish the Union front, unaware of the arrival of Buell. However, it was Grant who attacked at dawn with 54,500 men to the Confederates increasingly weakened 34,000 who, despite counterattack efforts, were forced to withdrawl south to Corinth, Mississippi. At the end of the two days of bloody battle both sides had combined losses of 23,746 men killed, wounded, or missing, more casualties than any previous American war.

Click here to learn more about our Civil War journeys, led by military historian Ed Bearss.

Interview with Ed Bearss

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Smithsonian Journeys travelers have enjoyed exploring the past with Civil War historian Ed Bearss, walking the battlefields in real time, picnicking where Union soldiers did, and walking the trails of everyone from presidents to political prisoners. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ed on Smithsonian tours for many years, and, as the Smithsonian Institution prepares to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday, I recently sat down with Ed to talk about Lincoln’s time in Washington. – Patrick Wagner

Patrick Wagner: Lincoln was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1846 when he was 39 years old. What was his experience as a freshman congressman in Washington, D.C.?

Photo: Robert C. Lautman and the Todd family photo album

Photo: Robert C. Lautman and the Todd family photo album

Ed Bearss: Lincoln spent two sessions in the 30th United States Congress. In the first session, he was accompanied by his wife Mary Todd and his son Robert. En route to Washington, they made a lengthy visit with Mary’s family in Lexington, Kentucky, where Lincoln got better acquainted with Mary’s father, stepmother, and other Lexington friends. But for his second session of Congress, Mary Todd did not come to Washington. For this trip, Lincoln lived in a modest rooming house with other members of Congress and took his meals at a common table in the establishment. (more…)