April 6, 2014

Death and the Civil War

"The Soldier's grave" (HW, 11/5/1861)
Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin comments on a recent article, "The Great Exaggeration: Death and the Civil War," by Nicholas Marshall in the Journal of Civil War History.  Marshall reappraises the significance of the Civil War death toll, arguing that it wasn't all that different from death before and after the war.  After reading the article, I have major issues with the statistical framework used in his analysis and found the assertion that one single statistic (i.e., number of deaths) does not give a full picture of societal ramifications to be somewhat obvious.  Furthermore, it was jarring to see assertions like "dying of disease in a camp must have seemed distressingly normal" [p. 16] appearing in an academic publications without any evidence or exploration.  I was going to comment on Kevin's blog, but instead will use this post to give some thoughts on the topic and connect them to Lancaster and the 79th Pennsylvania.

The article's main argument is that the variability of the death rate was not all that different from pre-war levels.  Unfortunately, the author has no sense of the very important relationship between population size and the variability of the death rate.  Of course the variability of the death rate will be higher for smaller cities and very low nationally -- the variability of the death rate should decrease with population size.  Raw annual changes in the percentage of people who die mean nothing if you're not comparing populations of similar size, and Marshall is comparing that of single cities or states with changes in the national rate.  He should have known that something funny was going on when the death rate in Chicago jumped by 300% one year.

He also claims that drops in the male survival rate for the 1860s decade was not significant because, well, it's still within the range of 1/4 and 1/5 -- whatever that means [p. 12].  [Interesting side note: did the female death rate during childbirth increase during the 1860s due to war's claim on medical resources?]  We have measures of statistical significance for a reason -- just because you're writing history doesn't mean that you shouldn't use them!  

Even within this "change in death rate" framework, there are two other problems: (1) the high casualty rate lasted for three or four consecutive years and was not just a one-year fluke; and (2) although the war spanned four years, combat casualties were concentrated over three years.  For Lancaster, it was really 2 years and 9 months (Seven Days Battles in June 1862 though Battle of Bentonville in March 1865).  This would make the spike in the death rate look more dramatic, and possibly better point out the scope and scale of the war's trauma.

By the way, I never placed too much stock in the whole "if the death rate was extrapolated to today's population..." meme as a teaching tool; I think the stats speak for themselves.  For example, Lancaster County had a population of 116,000 according to the 1860 census.  From my knowledge of Pennsylvania volunteer companies recruited in Lancaster, I'd guess around 10,000 men served as soldiers and approximately 1,500 died.  The 79th Pennsylvania (9 out of 10 companies from Lancaster) accounts for 268 of those deaths -- which I believe to be reasonably accurate based on reviewing rosters -- according to Dyer (1908).  Having these numbers on a county level seems to give better intuition about how death affected a community than national statistics.  

Regardless of this considerably flawed statistical analysis, the article does touch on an interesting issue -- the response to death fit into prewar and postwar traditions and did not reflect a fundamental shift.  This is an interesting hypothesis to investigate.  In my research, I was struck by one particular example that demonstrates how Civil War death fits into an existing framework.  When Emanuel Rudy of Company A, 79th Pennsylvania, died a couple days after the Battle of Perryville of a wounded from that battle, hospital steward and newspaper correspondent John B. Chamberlain wrote a letter that appeared in the October 24, 1862, Daily Inquirer:
Poor Emanuel Rudy, whom I reported as wounded in the groin, in the list of Company A, has since died.  Poor fellow, I was with him to the last moment.  His death strangly reminded me of the last verse in Mr. Norton's "Bingen on the Rhine" that I loved to declaim semi-monthly in my school boy days at the Lancaster High school:  
His trembling voice grew feint and hoarse...[continues to quote the poem's last verse]
The point is that Chamberlain relied on an English poet's words about the death of a soldier with the French Foreign Legion in Algiers to make some sense of Rudy's death.  A comprehensive look at how the literary and artistic tools for confronting death before the war transferred to the war could be very interesting, if not already done.  In particular, I always pay special attention to wartime tombstones in cemeteries as they often offer an artistic richness that shows how people dealt with death during the war, and am curious to know more about that subject.  A comparison of different religious newspapers and the ideas (or lack thereof) from religious thought leaders could be particularly illuminating.

Gravestone of Capt. John H. Dysart, Co. C, 79th PA
Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA
However, the poem and the topic of cemeteries point to a way in which death was experienced very differently during the Civil War.  Namely, there was no body to bring home to bury.  Considering Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, how many bodies of the 26 soldiers who died during the war were brought back to Lancaster?  As far as I know, zero.  Almost all are in military cemeteries from Louisville to Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta to Andersonville to Bentonville, and some even suffered unknown fates on the battlefield and presumed dead.  As evidenced by its prominence as a topic in almost every letter after the Battle of Perryville, the inability to bring bodies home for burial significantly frustrated pre-war death rituals.  In response, more public forms of commemoration in Lancaster (e.g., Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Lancaster, erected 1874) and more national ideas about death and sacrifice took hold.  This is basically the premise of the PBS documentary from last year, I believe.

So, with some knowledge of statistics and the social mechanics of death in one particular Northern community, I find Marshall's characterization of recent scholarship on death and the Civil War as built on a "great exaggeration" to be unconvincing.  Although there are many interesting questions on this subject left to explore regarding the broader context of death in that era, I estimate current scholarship to be more or less on the right track.

March 23, 2014

The Grand Welcome Home

Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
On the evening of March 5, 1864, any soldiers of the 79th Pennsylvania who reenlisted as veterans were relieved of picket duty near Tyner's Station, about ten miles east of Chattanooga.  Early the next morning, they left camp and marched to Chattanooga, where they waited for a day before boarding a train for Loiusville.  The journey to Louisville took three days, and the 79th Pennsylvania passed many regiments that had just completed their furlough and were heading in the opposite direction.

The regiment arrived in Pittsburgh on the night of March 13, and were treated to splendid supper before boarding another train for an overnight journey east.  March 14 was spent completing to journey to Harrisburg, where the regiment spent a day preparing for their return to Lancaster by tending to some long overdue personal grooming.  Although the food in Harrisburg was worse than what they got on the front lines, the state legislature acknowledged the regiment's presence by unanimously passing resolutions offered by State Senator Benjamin Champneys of Lancaster.

At 7am on Wednesday, March 16, the 200 or so returning veterans of the 79th Pennsylvania boarded a train bound for Lancaster.  They arrived at the Dillerville Yard, where a procession formed led by the 79th Pa's former Lieut. Colonel, John H. Duchman, and marched through town to take part in a grand collation at Fulton Hall.  The citizens of Lancaster were certainly prepared for the 79th Pa's return.  The Daily Evening Express reported:
Upon their arrival [at Dillerville], the veterans were met and welcomed by an immense crowd of their fellow citizens, and the streets through which they passed were thronged with men, women, and children.  The display of bunting was magnificent, and reminded us of the patriotic uprising in 1861, when the demand for flags could not be supplied.  The Reception was altogether a magnificent affair, and the veterans after what they witnessed that day can have no doubt of how deeply the People sympathizes with the gallant defenders of the flag of the free.
The officers and men of the 79th looked like veterans as they are.  Their soldierly deportment in marching was noticed by every spectator.  There was not as much noisy enthusiasm as many expected to witness.  the regiment is under strict military discipline, and of course the men received all greetings with the dignity of military silence.  The general joy at welcoming home the gallant survivors was mingled with sadness at the memory of the lamented dead.  Many once familiar faces were missed from the veteran ranks; and as the torn colors of the regiment passed along, riddled by the deadly missiles of many a battle, we saw the tear start to eyes unused to weep.
At Fulton Hall, five long tables that stretched the hall greeted the veterans.  Dr. Henry Carpenter gave a greeting and Rev. F. W. Conrad of Trinity Lutheran Church gave a prayer before Mayor George Sanderson gave a lengthy welcome speech.  Private Edwin K. Martin of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania gave a response on behalf of the regiment, and collation concluded with music by the Fencibles Band and the Glee Club.

The joyous occasion was not without controversy, as could be expected given the deep divisions that existed between Lancaster's borderline peace Democrats and its pro-Lincoln Republicans.  Rather than describe it in detail, I'll defer to William T. Clark's diary entry for the day:
Took train at apptd. time, met committee on reception at Dillersville (one mile north of Lancaster). We disembarked, marched, halted, Artillery firing as salute to us. Procession formed at 10½ A.M. lead by (our former Lieut. Col.) John H. Duchman. Copperheads following their Copperhead leader. Marched through the different streets of town. Saw many friends. Stacked arms in front of Fulton Hall. Were marched in where a fine collation was spread. This has been done by deception on the part of Copperheads, only a few Patriot Daughters being among them. The Hon. Copperhead Mayor of Lancaster made a speech of welcome which greatly belies his former actions toward all soldiers. Col. H. A. Hambright made a few remarks excusing himself by saying he never made a speech. Ed Martin responded in behalf of the 79th P.V.V. in a splendid speech cutting Copperheads & all others leagued with Treason right & left. It gave many of them the short coughs & made them generally uneasy. We then ate heartily of the dinner prepared. An hour afterwards we fell in & drilled in Centre Square more than an hour, when we returned to the Hall, marched to the upper story, stacked arms & are given leaves of absence untill the 20th when we must answer to our names & receive our furloughs. 
For further information, see:

March 14, 2014

Horse and Buggy CDV from Gap, Pa

Location: Gap, PA, USA
CDV of Horse and Buggy by W. H. Heiss taken in Gap, Pennsylvania (vws)
CDV Backmark
For the second time in a week, an interesting transportation-related photograph from Lancaster County appeared on Ebay.  First, there was a carte-de-visite of a locomotive built at the Norris Locomotive Works in Lancaster City in 1867, which I wrote about in a post earlier in the week.  Then, an image of a horse and buggy carrying two men in front of a barn appeared.  Fortunately, I was able to purchase both, and I look forward to doing more research about them and using them to tell the story of life in Lancaster County during the 1860s.

The horse and buggy image was taken by an itinerant photograph named W. H. Heiss, who took pictures at of his "Mammoth Photograph Wagon"  in the Lancaster County towns of Strasburg and Gap during the mid-1860s.  Because the photograph does not have a tax stamp, it was almost certainly taken before summer 1864 or after summer 1866.  A couple of his images pop up on Ebay every year.  Several that I have seen are of children with the same hoop rolling toy props as seen in the image below.

The image is also remarkable simple because it was taken outside.  I don't know if I can think of an earlier CDV taken in Lancaster outside of a photography studio, although there were some earlier daguerreotypes of Lancaster and photographer William L. Gill started making stereoviews of outdoor scenes sometime around 1866.

CDV of Two Children
by W. H. Heiss, Strasburg, 1865
(David Claudon Collection)
Unlike the "Bee" locomotive photo, it's difficult to guess what message the photograph is trying to convey.  Is the focus on the horse or the buggy, or both?  Where is the farm?  Are these Quaker farmers making a show of their prosperity?  Where type of buggy is it, and where was it made?  And, of course, who are the men in the photo?

March 9, 2014

A Locomotive Built in Lancaster -- The 2-10-0 "Bee" in 1867

Location: North Plum Street & East Fulton Street, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
Photograph of the "Bee" locomotive, built at Norris Locomotive Works in Lancaster, 1867

One of the joys of Civil War research is that any day artifacts can pop up on Ebay and send you on diverse and exciting research paths.  Such was the case a couple days ago when a carte-de-visite photograph of a locomotive built in Lancaster showed up in my Ebay searches.

The photograph shows a locomotive named "Bee" and has a backmark identifying it as a product of the Norris Locomotive Works, Lancaster, PA.  The locomotive's specifications -- "Cylinders, 20-In. Diameter, 26-In. Stroke, Driving Wheels, 48-In. Diameter" -- and the name of John A. Durgin, Constructor, also appear on the back.  There is a reference in the Locomotive Engineers Journal of 1870 to the trading of photographs among different shops, so it seems plausible that this photograph was taken to showcase the work being done in Lancaster.

Backmark of photograph above
"The Norris Locomotive Works, Lancaster, PA."
Prior to the war, the Lancaster Locomotive Works turned out engines from 1853 until it failed during the Panic of 1857 when railroads could not pay for the locomotives that they purchased.  The shops lay idle for several years until two of the Norris brothers connected to the Norris Locomotive Works in Philadelphia moved production to Lancaster in late 1863.

The facility was located in the northeastern part of Lancaster City along the railroad on the northeast corner of Plum and Fulton Streets.  By June 1865, the works produced one locomotive per week and employed 400 men in Lancaster.  A map from 1866 exists in the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia and shows the facility's six-acre layout with buildings labeled A-L that housed a machine shop, foundry, blacksmith, boiler shop, erecting shop, etc.  An article in the June 20, 1866, Intelligencer describes all of these shops in detail.       

A Lancaster boy, Henry C. Frazer (1850-1903), who apprenticed at the shop between 1865 and 1868 recalled that many of the locomotives produced in 1865 went into service on the Western Pacific Railroad in California (Railway and Locomotive Engineering, May 1902, p. 208).  In 1866, John A. Durgin became Constructor and Superintendent, and the first ten-wheeled locomotives were produced in 1867 for the Pennsylvania and the Allegheny Valley Railroads.

Focusing on these two 2-10-0 "decapod" engines, the locomotives are interesting as prototypes in the first wave of "consolidation" engines that would successfully fill the role of hauling heavy freight.  The two 2-10-0 Lancaster engines were the first of that configuration built in the United States and designed by Alexander Mitchell, who had perfected the design of the 2-8-0 engine in 1866.  Other correspondents to the Railway and Locomotive Engineering journal provided additional details about the locomotives:
Alexander Mitchell tried to advance on the consolidation with two engines called the "Ant" and the "Bee," which had five pair of drivers connected and a pony truck in front.  The engines gave some trouble on curves, so the back pair of drivers were taken out and a pair of small carrying wheels substituted, making the first of the 2-8-2 or Mikado type.  Two engines were built by the Norris Locomotive Works, Lancaster, Pa., in 1867. Quite a number of this kind of engines is now used in mountain service.  (p. 32, Railway and Locomotive Engineering, January 1907)
Lancaster's locomotive works were closed again in October 1868, perhaps testifying to the volatility of industrial growth in the Civil War era.  Surely, some of the returning veterans of the 79th Pennsylvania found employment there upon their return from the war in summer 1865.  

The Bee appears to have gone into service on the Lehigh Valley Railroad and was modified in 1883 to a 2-8-2 configuration.  The Bee's novelty attracted attention as railroad engineers reflected on their early days in professional journals in the early 1900s, and engravings from those journals document its appearance over the course of its lifetime.

1907 Railway and Locomotive Engineering
Engraving of "Bee" Locomotive

Modification Plan for the Bee, 1883-4
Locomotive Engineering, January 1898, p. 28