97th Ohio soldier, hospital worker in Nashville, writes of Parson Brownlow

[Original Civil war letter from occupied Confederate Nashville, Tennessee, under the military governor, Andrew Johnson] 4 page letter with original envelope from William Henry Ruse of the 97th Ohio Volunteer Regiment to Maggie Stewart of Adamsville, Ohio. W. H. Ruse worked in a hospital (No.8) in Nashville, Tennessee (possibly as a pastor). Ruse talks of William Gannaway Brownlow’s sermon just 400 yards away (preacher and future Tennessee Governor) and the transfer of Clement Laird Vallandigham to Confederate lines (on direct orders from Lincoln)


Pleasant Sunday Eve
Nashville Tenn
May 24th1863

Dear Maggie,

I have just come in from preaching and now I am going to try to write to you a few lines in answer to yours which I received two or three hours ago. Last Sunday evening you was writing to me. It is slow work talking at such a long distance. For my part I would prefer having the distance shortened. But don’t know how to accomplish it… you say you read my letters often. I don’t think you read them as often as I do yours. For that is the way I past my time reading letters and looking at those treasurable pictures… Monday Evening May 25th.

Well as I did not finish yesterday I will now try to write a little more. It is so excessively warm today that I can scarcely write. Parson Brownlow preached in this City yesterday at 12 A.M. the Church in which he preached is not more than four hundred yards from this hospital, but I did not know he was going to preach until it was all over. I tell you I was spited. To think I didn’t get to hear him when he was so close. It was not generally made known that he was to preach till an hour or two previous to the hour for preaching… The Northern Traitor (Vallandigham) arrived in this City on last evening. On his way south of our lines. He was strongly guarded. I don’t think his punishment was half severe enough.”

Last page contains a poem about death, entitled:

“How, where and when”

(This poem has been attributed to Mrs. Abdy, 1842, Church of England Magazine, Vol. 12)

When shall I die?

Shall death’s cold hand arrest my breath?

While loved ones stand in silent watchful love to shed.

Shed tears around my quiet bed?

Or shall I meet my final doom far from my country and my home?

Or shall my fainting frame sustain the tedious languishing of pain?

Good-bye dearest.

Please write soon and often.

W.H. Ruse

Spotsylvania Court House fighting ends . . .

The NPS summary for Spotsylvania: “After the Wilderness, Grant’s and Meade’s advance on Richmond by the left flank was stalled at Spotsylvania Court House on May 8. This two-week battle was a series of combats along the Spotsylvania front. The Union attack against the Bloody Angle at dawn, May 12-13, captured nearly a division of Lee’s army and came near to cutting the Confederate army in half. Confederate counterattacks plugged the gap, and fighting continued unabated for nearly 20 hours in what may well have been the most ferociously sustained combat of the Civil War. On May 19, a Confederate attempt to turn the Union right flank at Harris Farm was beaten back with severe casualties. Union generals Sedgwick (VI Corps commander) and Rice were killed. Confederate generals Johnson and Steuart were captured, Daniel and Perrin mortally wounded. On May 21, Grant disengaged and continued his advance on Richmond.”

Here are some pictures of soldiers who fought in the battle, from an exhibition display in the visitor’s center.

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The Union wins the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863

Summary text provided by the Civil War Trust | Read more on their site

“The Battle of Champion Hill was the largest and bloodiest action of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign. Following the Union capture of Jackson, Mississippi, Grant’s 32,000 advancing Union soldiers met 22,000 Confederates under Maj. Gen. John C. Pemberton in a fierce struggle for a vital crossroads roughly halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson. Pemberton posted his divisions on high ground in a 3-mile line covering the roads from Jackson. Grant’s men moved west along the Jackson Road and met Pemberton’s men at Champion’s Hill.  Outflanked, Pemberton stretched his line to hold back the Yankees, advancing all across his front. As the Union soldiers tried to reform and consolidate their gains, they were nearly swept away by a counterattack led by a division of Brig. Gen. John Bowen’s Missourians and Arkansans. Grant ordered more men towards the hill and Bowen’s Confederates were themselves driven off, compelling a general retreat. Confederate Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman was killed while directing a desperate rearguard action that enabled most of the Confederate army to escape towards Vicksburg. The decisive Union victories at Champion Hill and at the Big Black River the next day were instrumental in forcing the Confederates out of the open and into a doomed position inside the fortifications of Vicksburg.”

This day in 1862 one of the greatest escapes in the Civil War took place

Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5th, 1839, in a slave cabin behind his mother’s master’s house on 511 Prince Street. In 1862 he escaped from Charleston harbor aboard a steamer called the Planter with his family and several friends too. The boat had to pass by five Confederate check-points and then surrender its contents to the northern Naval fleet out in the harbor where it was blockading the important southern port.

His escape succeeded and Robert would meet Abraham Lincoln personally a couple weeks later. Lincoln was quite impressed with a black man, also a slave, who had learned how to pilot and navigate the coastal waterways around Charleston. Smalls was eventually handsomely rewarded with bounty-money. Lincoln also allowed Admiral DuPont to offer Smalls the position of Captain of the Planter, though an official commission was not permitted at the time. Nonetheless, Robert Smalls became the first black Captain of a U.S. Naval vessel.

Three months later Smalls would visit Abraham Lincoln in the White House to plead the opportunity for blacks to fight for the Union. Just days afterwards Lincoln approved the raising of the first black troops in the Blue uniform and Robert Smalls was instrumental in helping to start the 1st South Carolina Infantry of U.S. Colored Troops.

Join the Robert Smalls Facebook Group

Smalls would go on to pilot the Planter for the Union cause and take place in several important engagements around Charleston and the Sea Islands. After the Civil War he was elected among a few other blacks as they became the freshman class of blacks to serve as U.S. Congressmen.

Robert Smalls’ story is an amazing one of courage, determination, sacrifice, risk and reward – from slavery to Congressman!

Charleston celebrated the amazing feat on the 150th anniversary with several community engagements. Read these articles:

See my visual guide to Robert Smalls and Beaufort

25+ pages of news coverage of the 150th Anniversary weekend in one PDF here.

A new book has just been published on Robert Smalls titled, Be Free or Die: The amazing story of Robert Smalls’ escape from slavery to Union hero, by Cate Lineberry. Order from Amazon.

Facing death rather than enslavement—a story of one man’s triumphant choice and ultimate rise to national hero

It was a mild May morning in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1862, the second year of the Civil War, when a twenty-three-year-old slave named Robert Smalls did the unthinkable and boldly seized a Confederate steamer. With his wife and two young children hidden on board, Smalls and a small crew ran a gauntlet of heavily armed fortifications in Charleston Harbor and delivered the valuable vessel and the massive guns it carried to nearby Union forces. To be unsuccessful was a death sentence for all. Smalls’ courageous and ingenious act freed him and his family from slavery and immediately made him a Union hero while simultaneously challenging much of the country’s view of what African Americans were willing to do to gain their freedom.

After his escape, Smalls served in numerous naval campaigns off Charleston as a civilian boat pilot and eventually became the first black captain of an Army ship. In a particularly poignant moment Smalls even bought the home that he and his mother had once served in as house slaves.

Be Free or Die is a compelling narrative that illuminates Robert Smalls’ amazing journey from slave to Union hero and ultimately United States Congressman. This captivating tale of a valuable figure in American history gives fascinating insight into the country’s first efforts to help newly freed slaves while also illustrating the many struggles and achievements of African Americans during the Civil War.

Gen J.E.B. Stuart dies from his mortal wounds at Yellow Tavern, on May 12, 1864

“The Battle of Yellow Tavern was fought on May 11, 1864, at a vital crossroads in Henrico County, only six miles north of the Confederate capital of Richmond during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Part of Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864, the cavalry battle resulted from Philip H. Sheridan’s quest to track down the famous Confederate trooper J. E. B. Stuart and “whip” him. Stuart, like Robert E. Lee, preferred to be on the offensive and immediately set out after Sheridan, but by the time he caught up with him at an inn called Yellow Tavern, his outnumbered force was hard-ridden and tired. The Confederate cavalry fought hard for a full day, and as Stuart rode up and down the front lines in the driving rain to rally his men, a Michigan sharpshooter shot the general in the side. Fitzhugh Lee then took command, but was forced to withdraw. Stuart died the next day . . .”

Text excerpted above and full article from The Encyclopedia of Virginia

See this article by The Civil War Trust too.

Yellow Tavern Illustration

An artist’s rendering of the Battle of Yellow Tavern depicts the opposing forces engaged on horseback. While much of the fighting along the Telegraph Road between Lomax and Merritt was dismounted, the climax of the battle prior to Stuart’s wounding was characterized by mounted charges and counter-charges.

Stonewall Jackson died May 10, 1863

Stonewall Jackson died on May 10th 1863 at a field hospital near Guiney Station, VA, about 30 miles from Chancellorsville where he was taken from the battlefield on the evening of May 2nd after having been accidentally shot by fellow Confederate soldiers tragically.

Jackson would spend his remaining days bed-ridden in Thomas C. Chandler’s plantation office, having refused an offer from Chandler to use is personal residence.

At first it seemed he might recover nicely from the wound, just losing his left arm. Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire. But his situation turned mortal as the days wore on. He had symptoms of pneumonia and complained of a sore chest. Since he was carried roughly from the battlefield, even being dropped from the stretcher at one point, it was thought by the doctor that his chest pain was related to the rough escort to the field hospital. He died of complications due to pneumonia on May 10th.

His final words, spoken in a delirious state were:

“Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.”

He may have been dreaming of his childhood home at Jackson’s Mill. Upon learning of Jackson’s death Robert E. Lee told his cook William:

“William, I have lost my right arm,” and “I’m bleeding at the heart.”

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The plantation office building, site where Stonewall Jackson died (Guinea Station, Virginia)

“Death removed him from the scene at the apogee of a military fame enjoyed by no other Civil War figure. His passing at a high point in Confederate success was the greatest personal loss suffered by the wartime South. Jackson became the first icon, the ultimate offering for the Southern cause. Death at the hour of his most spectacular victory [Chancellorsville] led to more poems of praise than did any other single event of the war. Jackson was the only dead man to be pictured on Confederate currency – and his likeness graced the most expensive note: a $500 bill.”

– [Robertson, Stonewall Jackson, 1997: ix].