Saturday, August 31, 2013

Point Lookout cemeteries — Civil War prisons, part 2

Around 4,000 Confederate soldiers (4,500 total including one nurse) died at Point Lookout prison camp during its two years of operation.

The dead were originally buried in five cemeteries: one for Union soldiers on the Potomac River side, two for Confederates in the middle, the "Collored Burying Ground" just above the peninsula, and another one in the middle for  smallpox victims of all races and politics.

Maryland's Confederate memorial
A year after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Government gave up the lease to the point and tried to straighten up the neglected cemeteries. Some of the Union names had been lost to sand and erosion. The unknown were reburied with the known in their own enclosure, and later moved to a national cemetery (Arlington, I believe, but can't find the source).

The other four graveyards were consolidated on the Chesapeake Bay shore. The government bought that plot of land in 1867. The Confederate dead were moved two more times, along with a marble monument erected by the state of Maryland, eventually winding up in a mass grave in the nearby town of Scotland.

At least the government marked the grave, now on federal property, with an impressive monument and the earliest known names (NPS website).

Beitzell's book adds many names from other records. A simple wooden enclosure at the cemetery houses a binder with an updated list (look near the base of the flag).

Only tiny contraband flags to honor the dead
Because I grew up in our modern United States, I didn't notice at first that Confederate soldiers are buried under the flag of the "enemy." The War was doubly awful because people on both sides were Americans. What more appropriate place for a Confederate flag (or even both flags) than over those who died under it?

But a group of POW descendants noticed, and figured out a way to honor the dead.

The Descendants of Point Lookout POW Organization bought a piece of land right at the entrance to Point Lookout and built a Confederate Memorial. On private property.

Please excuse the plexiglass glare.
Beneath each of the original southern state flags is a plaque with a diary or letter excerpt from one of that state's POWs. Memorial bricks pave the ground, and the base of the statue houses an original "bean pot" from the prison camp.

I walked around and read some of the signs. As I read, fascinated by history about black soldiers and especially photos, I noticed a flyer next to the photos on the announcement board. The DOPL organization had scheduled a memorial service on Saturday. I would still be in town.

Thomas Maness didn't die at Point Lookout, but for the first time in my life, I realized I was the descendant of a POW.

Next (Sept. 20), part 3: A modern memorial

Monday, August 26, 2013

Point Lookout — Civil War prisons, part 1

I've seen Point Lookout many times as a beach, a lighthouse, and the end of the road on the Southern Maryland peninsula. This time, I saw it through Civil War history.* Why? Last year, DNA confirmed that Thomas Swain Maness really was my great-great-grandfather. While visiting friends in Maryland, I remembered that Thomas was a prisoner of war at Point Lookout.

After the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, thousands of prisoners were marched or shipped to makeshift prisons that quickly overfilled. At Point Lookout — officially Camp Hoffman — the prisoners were crowded into tents on the beach, surrounded by a wooden palisade (upper right in the picture).

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Local history books paint Point Lookout as a concentration camp, with suspected motives of killing off the enemy. The tents were never replaced by buildings in the camp's two years of operation. Prisoners slept in outdoor temperatures with little firewood and inadequate clothing (some with only their underwear, some with no shoes). The beachfront water was bad and the camp's commander was accused of withholding rations. He refuted this, of course, and northern papers reported healthy conditions. Different sources agree that of more than 50,000 prisoners, around 4,000 died.

Hammond General Hospital dominated the tip of the peninsula. When a smallpox epidemic raged through the camp, a second hospital was built just for smallpox victims, doctors, and nurses from the Sisters of Charity. 

Oral history claims that Thomas Maness "was a nice boy before the War," but came back to North Carolina with a mean streak. Could Thomas' prison experience have contributed to that change as much or more so as the horrors of the battlefield? I wanted to know more. I stopped at all the historical markers on the peninsula, including the reconstructed Fort Lincoln. I visited the museum, which sells reprints of Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates, a reference book I'd glanced at in the Leonardtown Library. I couldn't find Thomas in the index, but this wonderful reference is an anthology of contemporary sources. Diaries, letters, newspaper articles, prisoner art, maps and a few photos. Daily life in the camp, written by those who lived it. I didn't have Thomas' timeline with me, but the detailed diaries could tell me what the weather was like while he was there. 

One thing I learned from skimming the book is that Maryland, with southern sentiments, wasn't allowed to secede. The federal government couldn't afford to let the state that nearly surrounds Washington, D.C. to join the enemy, so they blocked the polling sites and threw political opponents in jail.

After reporting for several issues in 1861 on large meetings of citizens to "consider the current crisis" and signs of military presence (extracts in the book mentioned above), the St. Mary's Beacon published a letter from General Dix in November stating that anybody who "appear[ed] at the polls to effect their criminal attempt to convert the elective franchise into an engine for the subversion of the Government" would be taken into custody. In other words, you can vote, but only one way.

The Beacon continued to report on the military occupation of St. Mary's County, until about April 1862 when Federal forces arrested one of the editors and the other escaped across the river to Virginia. The following October, the St. Mary's Gazette appeared, ascribing to be "a news and advertising sheet" and to avoid politics, until "the Federal Government shall deem it no longer necessary to pursue so extraordinary a policy as to impose restrictions upon the press...."

Next, Part 2: Burying prisoners of war

* This very un-Civil War has many names among Americans, including the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression, and the War of the Rebellion. I've used the term here that's easily recognizable, less partisan, and optimal for search engines.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mendenhall Plantation Village Fair 2013

The old Mendenhall store, across the street from the house

I carted Quaker books over to Mendenhall Plantation again this year for their 11th annual Village Fair. The usual summer storm held off until evening, giving us vendors and performers great weather — cloudy with an occasional breeze.

We jumped at occasional musket booms, as a family of Revolutionary re-enactors roamed the plantation this year.

North Carolina's outdoor dramas, featuring performances about our state's history, are wonderful. So far, I've only seen The Lost Colony on Roanoke Island and The Sword of Peace at Snow Camp.

The players from Snow Camp's drama about the Underground Railroad, Pathway to Freedom, once again paid a visit to the Village Fair to share their talents. Let me tell you, these folks can sing!

Jam session on the drums

Here are photos from the Village Fair in 2012 and 2010.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Alas, Gentle Reader — Elizabeth Peters

Barbara Mertz, my favourite author — aka Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters — passed away Thursday, August 8, 2013, age 85. Not that a lady tells, you understand.

As a reader, I love her series about Amelia Peabody, headstrong, intelligent, "Take that!" woman of the late 19th and early 20th century. Amelia takes all the history, language and puzzle-solving of Indiana Jones and adds compassion, motherhood, and lots of humour as her whole family gets involved in each adventure.

As an aspiring historical novelist, I view Ms. Mertz as my role model. She began with a technical career (as did I) and published nonfiction books on Egyptology before diving into the world of fiction. Once in, she wrote so many books her publisher advised her to use different names for different genres.

Rare cover art of Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson
Divorced and determined to write, her desire for happy endings inspires me as well. She took her second nom de plume from her two children, Elizabeth and Peter. She had six grandchildren and five cats. Here's her latest newsletter, containing escapades from her 85th birthday celebration.

This Florida article, one of many remembering her today, summarizes a little of her life. The Twitterverse is thrumming with hashtags of derogatory Indiana Jones comparisons and #anothershirtruined, the latter a quote about Amelia's amnesiac husband in The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog.

My regret is that I intended to write her, to tell her how much I've enjoyed her books and to ask for an autograph. The envelopes are still sitting on a shelf. If you have someone you've been meaning to encourage or thank, Gentle Reader, I advise you to hop to it.

One thing I did do. As a used books bookseller and a "starving artist" with a tight budget, I make good use of my local library and buy bargain books. But how can a favourite author continue to crank out enjoyable books without any income? So my most recent Elizabeth Peters purchase was new from the store, small compensation for many enjoyable hours lost in Victorian Egypt.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

'Double Vision' by F. T. Bradley

Look what just arrived in the mail!


F. T. Bradley (Fleur), a fellow founding member of Wordsmith Studio, incorporates her penchant for history into middle-grades thrillers. I was intrigued by the idea of stories along the line of National Treasure for kids, and wanted to read it myself before recommending it to my young nephews. Fleur was kind enough to sign my copy of Double Vision and sent an extra one for my local library.

The second book in the series, Double Vision: Code Name 711, launches October 15.

With hints like Leonardo da Vinci, Paris, George Washington's coat, and America's first cadre of spies — I'm looking forward to a little reading!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy for myself, with no obligation other than to share the second copy. Affiliate links are included in this post.