"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Want a real taste of what life was like for soldiers during the Civil War? I know of no better way than to provide a recipe or two taken from the records of the day.
6 pieces hardtack
1 cup milk
¾ pound salt pork
1 large onion,
peeled and sliced or chopped
4 large potatoes,
sliced or diced
2 cups water
2 cups corn,
kernels sliced off cob (about 2 ears)
1¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon paprika
Soak hardtack in milk. (Skim off weevils and
other objectionable matter. You may want to start this the night before,
depending on age of hardtack.)
When they are
softened, cut salt pork into cubes and brown over medium fire. Add onion and
cook until soft.
and water and cook until potatoes are soft, or at least tender.
hardtack and milk, then add remaining ingredients. Stir and cook to almost
boiling, and serve at once.
(For those of you wanting to try this, here's a recipe for hard tack. You'll have to make this first and let it get good and stale!
" Mix 5 cups of flour to 1 cup of water containing a 1/2-tablespoon of salt. Knead into a dough and roll out to 3/8-inch thickness. Cut into approximately 3-inch squares and pierce each with a fork or ice pick several times. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or until slightly brown."
Sounds really yummy!)
One head green cabbage
pepper, ground red pepper
Cut the salt
pork into small cubes.Slice the cabbage and onions (approximately ½ & ½) If
you use canned tomatoes, open the can. If not, cook them well ahead of time.
Fry the salt pork in a large, hot, cast iron pot until
well browned. (Do NOT drain).Turn the heat down. Add cabbage and cook until
wilted. Add onions and cook until wilted. Let cook approximately 1 hour (low
fire). Add tomatoes to more than cover. Simmer. You can't really overcook this
dish. The flavors will blend nicely the longer it cooks.
seasonings. Be sure to taste after adding each time. It takes the seasoning a
few minutes to make themselves known. Better to add too little than too much.
People can add more at the table if they wish.
After approximately 2-3 hours, start
tasting. . . . It's the cook's sworn duty to taste test!! If you feel really
brave, offer a spoonful to someone else.
AULD REEKIE COCK-A-LEEKIE
This is an old Scotch-Irish recipe much favored by
soldiers for obvious reasons.
single-malt Scotch whiskey
4 pints water
1 tablespoon dried
1 teaspoon brown
1 3-pound boiling
chicken, giblets removed
3 slices streaky
1 pound shin of
2 pounds leeks,
chopped (white and pale parts only)
1 large onion,
salt and pepper to
Mix the whiskey with the water, tarragon and sugar. Place
the chicken, bacon and beef into a large bowl andpour the whiskey marinade
over. Leave to marinate overnight.
Next day, transfer mixture to a large soup pot. Add the
leeks (reserving one) and the onion, and season to taste. Bring slowly to a
boil, cover, and then simmer for 2 hours, or until the bird is tender. Skim off
excess fat from the liquid.
Remove the chicken from the pot,
skin, remove bones and cut meat into pieces before returning to the pot (cut up
the shin of beef, if necessary). Add the prunes and remaining sliced leek and
simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
Grape, Canister, Shot, and Shell
As in any such tumultuous event, accounts of the battle at
Secessionville on 16 June 1862 differ according to the position and emotional
involvement of the observer. In the ensuing days, each officer submitted to his
immediate superior a report of the actions of the men under his command.
Understandably, these accounts tended to emphasize the hardships faced by each
unit and the courage with which the men met their particular challenge. The
Confederates, for example, reported three distinct assaults; the Union
commanders regarded it as one sustained attack that came in waves only because
the front was too narrow to allow simultaneous troop movements. When one reads
all of the official reports, however, certain points become clear.
The Union forces obeyed orders to form their lines in
silence during the night. Each man was to carry sixty rounds of ammunition but
to advance with fixed bayonets and unloaded rifles, since surprise was the key
to a successful attack. The regiments lined up in this order: the Eighth
Michigan, the Seventh Connecticut, the Twenety-Eighth Massachusetts, the
Seventy-ninth New York, the Hundredth Pennsylvania, and the Forty-Sixth New
York. General Wright's division was on the left to protect the leading troops
from a flank attack. They were ordered to remain one-half mile to the rear and
to provide support. The troops assembled at various times between 1:00 A.M. and
3:30 A.M. They were to move at daybreak.
A major discrepancy in the accounts concerned the time at
which the attack actually began. General Stevens reported that they moved
before dawn. "It was," he said, "a very dark and cloudy morning.
I moved at 4 o'clock. It was so dark that one man could not follow another except
at very short intervals, it was much darker than on usual starlight
nights." Colonel Joseph R. Hawley, Seventh Connecticut Infantry, whose men
were near the forefront of the advance, maintained that he was able to see
clearly for a distance of over 75 yards when the attack began. Most accounts
place the time of the attack between 4:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M.; observers
variously described the morning as overcast, cloudy, or foggy. The question of
available light became important in later attempts to understand what went wrong
with the attack, for surprise was only possible if the approach were made under
cover of darkness. On 16 June 1862, at latitude 33 degrees, sunrise occurred at
4:51 A.M. More significant, the beginning of morning nautical twilight, which
permits observation of objects on the ground at 400 yards, came at 3:45 A.M. It
seems evident that the approaching forces would have been easily visible from
The Union forces faced a march of two miles. The front was
approximately 200 yards wide, narrowing to some thirty yards in front of the
earthworks. The ground was sandy and ridged by old cotton furrows and stubble.
Trisecting the field over which the Union army had to march were two ditches
lined with hedgerows that provided some meager cover. On either side of the
approach to Battery Lamar (Tower Fort), pluff mud and salt marshes lined the
narrow finger of navigable ground.
General Isaac Stevens described it this way: "The front
on which the attack occurred was narrow, not over 200 yards in extent,
stretching from the marsh on the one side to the marsh on the other. It was at
the saddle of the peninsula, the ground narrowing very suddenly at this point
from our advance. On either hand were bushes on the edge of the marsh for some
little distance. The whole space at the saddle was occupied by the enemy's
work, impracticable abatis on either hand, with carefully prepared torus
de-loup on our left and in front a ditch 7 feet deep, with a parapet of
hard-packed earth, having a relief of some 9 feet above the general surface of
the ground. On the fort were mounted six guns, covering the field of our
approach. The whole interior of the work was swept by fire from the rifle pits
and defenses in the rear, and the flanks of the work itself and the bushes
lining the marsh on either hand were under the fire of riflemen and
sharpshooters stationed in the woods and defenses lying between the work and
the village of Secessionville."
Although technically outnumbered, the Confederate troops
possessed a tactical advantage by virtue of their strongly entrenched position.
The Confederates themselves, however, were not at all sure that their defenses
would prove adequate. Although they were aware that attack was imminent from
their observations of Union troop movements, they were not yet fully prepared
for battle. On the night of 15 June, they had stationed pickets 800 yards in
front of the earthworks to alert them to any advance. Most of the rebel
soldiers had worked through the night on the entrenchments. They had not fallen
asleep until 3:00 A.M. Then, at 4:00 A.M., the pickets were captured, and the
defenders found themselves rudely awakened and plummeted into battle. The Union
army had begun their attack in what should have been an opportune moment when
the Confederates were still sleep-logged. The Eighth Michigan under William
Fenton was first out, designated, according to Patrick Brennan's study of the
battle, to serve as "bait" in the "forlorn hope" that they
might attempt such a daring assault and live to tell about it.
The original 500 men stationed on the earthworks were armed
with an eight-inch Columbiad loaded with grape and canister, two rifled
24-pounders, two 18-pounders, and a mortar. Defensive forces were not complete
until the arrival of General Evans, leading the Pee Dee Battalion, the
Charleston Battalion, and the Louisiana Battalion. These troops had not moved
until alerted by the first sounds of gunfire; encounters with their own troops
further delayed the Eutaw Battalion along the way.
The New York Herald published a
lengthy eyewitness version of the battle, which the New
Castle Courant later reprinted. Their correspondent wrote: "The
forces of General Stevens were formed in perfect quiet at his outer pickets at
2 1⁄2 yesterday morning. The men fell promptly into line, having been at that
hour first apprised of the movement they were to undertake. The morning was
cold, and the entire sky was overcast with black, heavy clouds, so that in the
darkness the task of maintaining silence and avoiding confusion was one of no
little difficulty. We moved at half past four, no accident occurring to
interrupt our progress. Colonel Fenton's brigade consisting of the Eighth
Michigan Volunteers, under Lieutenant Colonel Graves; the Seventh Connecticut,
under Colonel Hawley, and the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, under Lieutenant
Colonel Moore—was in the advance.—Colonel Leasure's brigade comprising the
Seventy-ninth Highlanders, under Lieutenant Colonel Morrison, the Hundredth
Pennsylvania, under Major Leckey, and the 46th New York, Colonel Rosa—was in
support, together with Rockwell's Connecticut Battery, Captain Sears' company
of Volunteer Engineers, and Captain Sargeant's company of Massachusetts
cavalry. A storming party consisting of two companies of the Eighth Michigan,
led by Lieutenant Lyons, Aid-de-Camp to General Stevens, with a negro guide was
in the extreme advance."
General Stevens led his forces very quietly as far as Rivers
Causeway, where he stopped to let stragglers catch up. Shortly thereafter, they
ran into Confederate pickets from the Charleston Light Infantry. The Charleston
paper the next morning reported, "The enemy, about daylight Monday
morning, made a sudden move upon them, capturing some three or four and driving
in the remainder. The alarm was immediately given, but the enemy had also
pushed rapidly forward and had got within three hundred yards of the battery .
The New York Herald
correspondent made the encounter sound more dramatic: "Our route lay over
an extensive cotton field, or rather a succession of cotton fields separated
from each other by hedges and ditches. The ground was broken by these ridges
peculiar to the plantations in this vicinity, and the passage over the uneven,
billowy surface, marching as we were upon the 'double quick' was excessively
fatiguing; yet we moved forward very rapidly. Although our line was formed
within rifle shot of the enemy's pickets so quietly were the troops maneuvered
that they were ignorant of it, and a rebel lieutenant and four privates were
surprised and captured.—Orders had been given to move forward by the flank,
regiment following regiment. In no event were we to fire, but to press on and
forward into line by regiments. When the enemy should open upon us, we were to
use the bayonet on him and endeavor if possible to gain possession of the
"These orders were faithfully executed. Reaching the
open fields about a mile from the rebel fortifications, Fenton's brigade
directed its attack against the right, and Leasure's against the left of the
work. These two brigades now pushed forward with great rapidity, the regiments
keeping within supporting distance of each other and the Michigan regiment
keeping close to the storming party.
"Inside the fort, confusion reigned for a few minutes
as sleeping Confederate soldiers came awake to the reality of a battle already
in progress. Captain R. L. Crawford, of the First South Carolina Volunteer
Infantry, described the scene: "I suppose by the time you get this, you
will have seen an account of the battle day before yesterday. We had a hot time
of it for about 3 or 4 hours. The battle commenced about 5 oclock in the
morning and lasted until 9. The enemy had for nearly two days and a night been
fighting our batteries at Secession Ville. Finding that they could not silence
them, they finally concluded to take them by storm. They ceased firing about 8
oclock at night. When the firing stopped, Col Lamar ordered his men, who wer
nearly exhausted from the long continued fight, to go into the rat holes and
rest. Pickets wer then thrown out, and every thing thought to be secure.
"Next morning however they were completely surprised.
The enemy passed our pickets and advanced under cover of a thick skirt of
woods, and when the sentinel at the Fort discovered them they wer not more than
a hundred yards off, he fired his gun and gave the alarm. Capt Reid [sic] who
was in command of one of the companies ran out, and to his utter surprise found
the enemy in strong force about forty yds from the fort, he immediately leveled
our piece and fired into them. By this time one of the sergeants had got to
another gun, but was unable to sight it, he called to Capt Reid to send some
one to sight his gun, he jumped to the gun saying he would do it himself, just
as he was getting the piece into position, he was shot through the head, the
sergeant was also severely wounded. By this time Col Lamar had got to another
gun and fired it with his own hands, he too was wounded in the face and back of
the neck. The whole command was now in the fort but as they had no small arms
and the Yankees had begun to come up the breast works their condition was truly
critical. Determined however not to give up their works they gathered the large
sticks they use to put their pieces in position, and succeeded in clubbing them
back as they would come up. they must have done good work from the quantity of
brains which I saw on the breast works."
Confederate guns on either side of the breastworks fired
down the center of the field, causing the Yankees to veer both left and right.
The New York Herald described the design of
Confederate defenses: "When within about four hundred yards of the fort a
terrific fire of grape and canister was opened on our columns from the work,
and from the woods, abattis and rifle pits on our right. Four heavy guns on the
enemy's parapet sent their murderous charges through the files of our brave
men; masked batteries, of whose existence we had no knowledge, poured their
terrible missles against us; sharp-shooters stationed all along the rebel line
selected our officers for targets, and many a gallant leader fell at their
first volley, while the men in the ranks dropped by scores."
Where do baby books come from? I get a
variation of this question at almost every talk I give. Readers want to know
where or how their favorite authors come up with their stories. At first,
I found it easy to answer. I wrote "A Scratch with the Rebels" to
tell the story of my great-uncle's Civil War regiment and their experiences.
Buet the full story is much more complicated.
interest in James McCaskey started when I was only a child. I could remember
seeing a mysterious headstone that bore the name of my great-uncle James
McCaskey, who was killed in the Civil War. It was only much later that i
returned to Pennsylvania to learn more about him. After much searching, I found
this marker in the same Pennsylvania cemetery where many of my other McCaskey
ancestors are buried. It reads:
April 12, 1839
June 16, 1862
James Island, S.C.
details are all correct; the military action on James island was the Battle of
Secessionville. The problem is that the notification of his death says
that his body was never found. The official records say that the Confederate
troops buried the Union soldiers killed in the battle (some 509 of them) in
unmarked graves on the battlefield. North Sewickley Cemetery records indicated
that the headstone was placed in 1875, after Mrs. Jane McCaskey purchased three
adjoining plots and ordered three matching stones — one for her recently
deceased husband John, one for herself, and one for her missing eldest son
James. A tombstone does not always equal a real burial, of course.
Obviously, James's headstone marks an empty grave, a not uncommon phenomenon
during a war that swallowed up so many young men on distant battlefields. The
Grand Army of the Republic honors James McCaskey's service every Memorial Day
by placing a flag on the grave site, but even their records stop short of
stating that he is actually buried there.
learned more when I discovered in my mother’s attic a small packete of letters from
Uncle James written during the war. James McCaskey was killed in the
little-known Battle of Secessionville in June 1862. I was moved by the
letter of notification written by his commanding lieutenant -- and particularly
touched when I realized that on that letter the blotches were caused by
someone's teardrops that had made the ink run.
that really got my attention, however, was written by a fellow soldier who
described the experience of the battle in a letter to his sister. It was
full of bravado -- almost exhilaration -- as he talked about those who had been
wounded or killed. He said things like, ""Not me! I didn't
duck, neither. I stood up cause I wanted to see where the bullets was
comin' from." For a long time I couldn't understand why the sister had
passed this letter on to James's parents. It didn't feel comforting to me.
It seemed almost heartless, as if the neighbor had thoroughly enjoyed his
one way or another, I've been working through those conflicting emotions of
cockiness and grief ever since. They led me to explore the Civil War
holdings of several local libraries and genealogical societies in western
Pennsylvania and in South Carolina. I discovered one treasure trove of
artifacts at Penn State, and another at the at the US Army Military History
institute. Each one took me deeper into the story. It took me twenty-five years to get it all
down on paper.
"A Scratch with the Rebels" is a story of two soldiers--one North, one South--and their experiences at a little-known early battle in South Carolina. it is also the story of an unusual Pennsylvania regiment, known as "The Roundheads."
Here are a few images to whet your historical appetite.
I have found that my writing improves when i have in my mind's eye some clear pictures of the characters and locations. One of the advantages of the first edition of "A Scratch with the Rebels" was its many illustrations, even though some of them came out too small to be appreciated. For those of you who are similarly visually-oriented, I have put up a Pinterest board on the Roundheads and their experiences in South Carolina. I found the maps of the Battle of Secessionville especially helpful. They were drawn for this book by a doctoral student at the University of Memphis whose specialty was geography. You can find all forty-four illustrations here:
The story of most wars contains a little violent action, interspersed with long weeks of stand-around-and-wait. The Civil War was no exception. The soldiers joined up in August. Their first view of warfare did not occur until November, but when the time arrived, the sea battle at Port Royal Sound was one to remember. Here's a sketch that appeared in one news account:
I have not been able to find a photo of the whole Roundhead Regiment, but this picture of the 50th Pennsylvania gives us a hint of what they must have looked like when assembled. Both the 50th and the 100th were in South Carolina in 1862, so it should be a fair representation:
Then, of course, there are the individual people. We always wonder what they must have looked like. The photo below was taken in the spring of 1862 on the grounds of the Leverett House in Beaufort, South Carolina. It shows (looking from left to right) the chaplain , a staff sergeant, a slave, the commander of the regiment, the doctor, and--seated in front--the regimental nurse-matron who mothered them all. We'll learn more about her next week.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
On a muddy South Carolina
battlefield, a sergeant sat propped up against a hedge and tried to focus on
the spot where he thought his leg should be. There was nothing – only the
tattered remains of his trousers and a pool of blood that grew ever larger. The
whistle of artillery shells had stopped, and the sudden quiet was as jarring as
the previous battle noises had been. Shock had deadened the pain, so that all
he felt was exhaustion as he closed his eyes. Sgt. James McCaskey had fought
and lost his only battle.
"From behind a hedge on that battlefield, a
young Confederate private picked his way through the bodies, following orders to gather up
the abandoned weapons and tend to the wounded. Pvt. Augustine T. Smythe was
stunned by the mayhem that met his eyes, particularly the sight of a soldier
who lay with his leg shot entirely away. He whispered a silent prayer, as was
fitting for the son of a Presbyterian minister, that he would never again have
to witness such horrors.
"The Battle of Secessionville, fought out in
the early hours of June 16, 1862, on James Island, South Carolina, brought
these two young men together for a single moment. But the events of the Civil
War had been drawing them together for almost a year. James and Gus were
approximately the same age. Both were first-generation Americans, the sons of
Scotch-Irish immigrants to the United States. Both stood firm in their
Presbyterian faith, and both believed passionately in the cause of their
countries. Both wanted to enlist from the day the first shot was fired at Fort
Sumter; both had to spend months persuading their parents to allow them to join
the army. They set out for their first battle on the same day – November 7,
1861-- and both missed the action by arriving too late. Both chafed at enforced
inaction and longed to get into a real battle. Each of their Scotch-Irish
mothers might have warned her son to be careful for what he wished.
They were just two soldiers, alike in many ways
but different in the one trait that mattered on that battlefield. One was
North; the other, South. Sgt. James McCaskey belonged to the 100th Pennsylvania
Regiment, known to their comrades as “The Roundheads.” They came from the farms
of western Pennsylvania, determined to defend for all men the Calvinist
principles they most valued – self-reliance, industriousness, and liberty. Gus
Smythe served in the Washington Light Infantry, part of the 24th South Carolina
Volunteers. He was a college student from a well-to-do Charleston family and an
ardent supporter of the Confederate right to secede from a political union that
did not serve the needs of its people. This is the story of how they came to
their opposing positions, and how the Battle of Secessionville altered not only
their own lives, but the lives of all those who shared their experiences.
sheds new light on this bloody encounter by utilizing the words of the soldiers
themselves—taken from official records, local newspapers, and diaries—to
“recreate the experience of one small theater of operations in one short period
of time during America’s Civil War” (p. vii). Through her extensive
narrative, which revolves around the experiences of two ordinary soldiers, the
author provides an element that has previously been lacking in treatments of
Secessionville. This history with a “personal touch” allows the reader to
understand events as seen from the perspective of the common soldier in
addition to the vast divide between the reality of official personnel and young
men in the ranks."
--Jennifer M. Zoebelein, The South Carolina Historical Magazine,
Vol. 111, Nos. 3-4 (July--October 2010), pp. 184-186.