Using Confederate Photography to Recreate Fort Sumter

After thirty years of lackadaisical construction, Fort Sumter was not finished in December 1860 when Major Robert Anderson and his tiny garrison of U.S. soldiers moved in. With only about a tenth as many soldiers as the fort was designed for, Maj. Anderson immediately began efforts to make the fort defensible. The following defensive features on our diorama can all be seen in Confederate photographs taken after the fort’s surrender.

The defenders raised big guns to the barbette (top) tier of the fort, but some guns were too heavy. As a result, two ten-inch and four eight-inch Columbiads were mounted in the parade ground as mortars, cannons that could shoot in a high trajectory over fortification walls.


The garrison removed the stone flagging from the parade ground so that shells would bury themselves in the dirt and do less damage. The stone was piled in front of various areas of the fort to provide a little more protection to the men inside. In addition, traverses made of piles of dirt and other materials protected the gate and other areas of the fort.

Five machicoulis galleries were built on the barbette tier. Three projected over the gate and two projected over the right and left faces of the fort. These armored wooden boxes contained holes in their floors through which defenders could shoot or drop “grenades” onto attackers.

Machicoulis galleries collage 2


The defenders cut away a portion of the barbette tier wall and positioned a gun to cover the wharf. They also mounted two guns at the gate to sweep the esplanade and wharf.


Since the fort was so badly damaged throughout the remainder of the war, later photos show what seems to be a mere mountain of rubble. This makes the April 1861 photos indispensable in determining what the fort initially looked like as a whole.

A Priceless Inheritance


Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? Is it really important, or just sentimental?

To remember our fallen is to remember why they served. We are good at analyzing why our nation has gone to war, often identifying wrong motivations and reasons, with maybe a few good ones. But I think, at the deepest level, the average U.S. soldier over the centuries has enlisted to fight to preserve the ideals of this nation.

When you cut through the politics and propaganda surrounding a given war, you are left with the basic ideas that make this nation what it is: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We don’t always get the application right as individuals or a nation, but the bedrock of the U.S.A. is the idea that each individual has a right to live, free from oppression and able to pursue their dreams.

It is easy for us to get wrapped up in the everyday rat race, the hustle and bustle, the breaking news and fake news, the latest social media post, or the rain that spoils our vacation. Memorial Day is an opportunity to set all of that aside and think about what is important, to remember the privilege it is to live here, and to take to heart the responsibility we have in preserving our inalienable rights. These men and women served so they could hand those rights and liberties down to us. Let’s not ignore such an important inheritance.

A Tale of a Tail

Ships cats & mouse by Reb

Today’s Mewsing is a cautionary tale.  As you go through life, think before you act, because you never know who might be watching and recording your actions for posterity.

On March 5, 1862, USS Monitor sat in New York, awaiting departure for Hampton Roads, VA and her historic fight with CSS Virginia (Merrimac).  That day, the officer of the watch made a note in the ship’s log: “John Atkins deserted [and] took with him the ship’s cat and left for parts unknown.”

Now, you know that as John left with the cat, he had no idea that 155 years later, two girls with cat dioramas would trip across that record and find it hilarious.  In fact, if he had not taken the cat, we would not have noticed the quote at all—or the log’s notation might not have even made it into the book we were reading.  But he did take the cat, and now we, at least, will always remember him.

So there you go.  Be careful—you never know what posterity might discover about you!

The photo above shows two ship’s cats that Rebecca made, as well as a rat for the gray cat to stalk.  The scale is ~1:77.

Twins at Gettysburg

Since Ruth and I (Rebecca) are twins, I notice when I trip across other twins in history. In my reading about the battle of Gettysburg, I have found four sets of twins. I wonder how many more there were in the two armies. The following stories are hard for me to read, but they serve as a good reminder of what is important. We take so much for granted–possessions, friends, family, life. Take a moment to think about what is really important today.

On July 1, 1863, the 26th North Carolina marched into battle with three sets of twins in its ranks. By nightfall, after heavy fighting with the Iron Brigade, five of the six men lay dead.

On July 2nd, another set of twins advanced with the 5th Texas up the slopes of Little Round Top. As they came within 20 yards of the Union lines, one of the brothers was hit. His twin caught him and lowered him to the ground, and then a bullet struck the second brother and he, too, fell dead.

For the two of us, being a twin means having someone who shares your thoughts, feelings, and passions, and who will always understand you. I cannot imagine the anguish of losing my “other half.” What horror must the twin of the 5th Texas have felt at seeing his brother fall dead! And what must that last twin of the 26th North Carolina have felt on the night of the 1st, knowing that he was the only one remaining out of six?

If you are a twin—or even just a sibling—cherish that relationship. If you and your twin do not get along, seek out a way to heal the connection. It is a special blessing to be a twin—a blessing that can end at any moment, with the suddenness of a bullet. Don’t waste the time you have with each other.

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A Subtle Witness

In 1862, Union Gen. Philip Kearny designed badges for the men of his division to wear. The red diamonds became known as the “Kearny Patch,” and soon the entire corps wore them. When Gen. Joe Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac in early 1863, he instituted badges for all corps. Each corps had a different shape for their badge—a circle for the I Corps, trefoil (clover leaf or club) for the II, diamond for the III, Maltese cross for the V, Greek cross for the VI, crescent moon for the XI, and star for the XII. In addition, each division within the corps had a different color—red for the 1st division, white for the 2nd, and blue for the 3rd. So, by looking at a soldier’s kepi (hat), one could tell which corps and which division he belonged to.

Soldiers were proud of their corps badges, and on the Union regimental monuments at Gettysburg you will notice crosses, trefoils, and all the various shapes. Most areas of the battlefield have only one corps badge present (Cemetery Ridge, for example, has only trefoils on the monuments), but a drive through the Wheatfield area will show the III Corps diamond, the II Corps trefoil, and the V Corps Maltese cross, all mingled together.

The monuments stand as silent sentinels now, and the fields and woods lie peaceful with only rainwater, not blood, making the ground soggy.  But pause a moment and ponder just what it means that you see more than only III Corps diamonds around you. The variety in the corps badge shapes bears a subtle witness to the chaotic battle and the desperation with which the Union generals threw every unit they could find into the fighting there on July 2nd.

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Hancock the Superb

When Gen. John Reynolds was killed on the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, the Union Army of the Potomac lost a general whom many considered the best in the army. Hearing of Reynolds’ death, Gen. George Meade knew he needed a commander on the field who would make wise decisions and lead and inspire the men. He sent for Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.

Meade was well aware that sending Hancock would ruffle some feathers. Gen. Oliver O. Howard of the XI Corps was already present, commanding the XI and I Corps after Reynolds’ death. The problem was that Howard was senior to Hancock in rank; Meade was asking Howard to follow a junior’s orders. But Meade knew the men needed Hancock.

Gen. Hancock stood an imposing 6’4″ tall and had the presence and personality to go with his size. He was well-known for his proficiency in swearing and for the spotless white shirts he wore, but this did not mean he was all bluster. One officer wrote, “One felt safe to be near him.” Another stated that even if Hancock were in civilian clothes, the men would follow his orders because of his commanding presence.

Gen. Meade’s confidence in Hancock was not misplaced. Over the course of the battle, it seemed that anywhere help was needed, Gen. Hancock was there, bringing up support–whether manpower or psychological. On July 1st, when he reached the field, Hancock worked with Howard to rally the Union troops and establish a defensive line on Cemetery Hill.

On July 2nd, Hancock sent reinforcements to bolster the III Corps line in the area of the Wheatfield. As the Confederate attack progressed up Cemetery Ridge, Hancock noticed a Confederate brigade approaching a gap in the Union line. The only Union troops nearby were the 1st Minnesota Regiment. Hancock ordered them to charge, then hurried off to find more men to plug the gap. The 1st Minnesota’s plucky charge stopped the Confederates, more by surprise than anything, and bought the needed time. That evening, when Confederates took East Cemetery Hill, Hancock sent over reinforcements to help repulse the Confederate attack.

On July 3rd, Hancock’s II Corps became the focal point of the Confederates’ great charge. At 1 p.m., over 120 Confederate cannons opened fire on the center of the Union army. Seeing the terrible pounding his men were taking, Hancock knew he had to show his men that he was there, right with them, and he must encourage them by his example. As shells exploded around him and cannonballs bounded past, he rode down the entire length of his line, calm and unflappable. When begged to dismount, Gen. Hancock replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count!” Seeing him, his men, in the words of an officer, “found courage longer to endure the pelting of the pitiless gale.”

Finally, when Gen. George Pickett’s Confederates struck Hancock’s line, Hancock saw the opportunity to flank them. Even as he rode to the left end of his corps, he remained aware of everything going on around him and sent reinforcements to the Copse of Trees to stop the Confederate breakthrough there.

While with the Vermont brigade on the left, as they moved to flank the Confederates, Hancock fell seriously wounded. If not for Gen. George Stannard’s quick work to improvise a tourniquet, Hancock might have bled to death. Despite the wound, Hancock refused to leave the field while the fighting raged.

While Hancock did not single-handedly win the battle for the Union, he, of anyone, perhaps came the closest, through his presence of mind and strong leadership.


Sgt. Murphy’s two-man charge

Sgt Murphy

Last year for St. Patrick’s Day, we Mewsed about the 69th Pennsylvania’s defense of the Angle during Pickett’s Charge. Today, we’re thinking about Sgt. Murphy of the 72nd Pennsylvania, which also fought at the Angle.

We don’t know a lot about Murphy. In fact, I’m only assuming he’s of Irish heritage because with red hair and a name like Murphy, how can he not be? Looking through Samuel Bates’ A History of Pennsylvania Volunteers and the accompanying index card files, I found only one Sgt. Murphy in the 72nd Pennsylvania, suggesting that our Murphy is Thomas Murphy of Company G. He enlisted in September of 1861 and was mustered in as a sergeant. At Gettysburg, he would have been about 24 years old.

The battle was well under way when the 72nd Pennsylvania came up from reserve and halted on the crest of Cemetery Ridge. Facing Confederates pouring over the stone wall, the Union regiment refused to advance. Their brigade commander, Gen. Alexander Webb, ordered them forward, but they would not budge. Lt. Frank Haskell, a staff officer, also urged them to charge, but the regiment was not inclined to throw themselves against three Confederate brigades. Though disorganized, the Confederates easily outnumbered the 72nd Pennsylvania, at least 4:1, and most of the Confederates were behind the protection of the stone wall.

Six color bearers fell as the regiment fought on the crest, and now Sgt. Murphy held the shattered flagstaff. At Haskell’s urging, Murphy waved the colors above his head and ran forward. One man followed him.

Halfway to the wall, the two men fell. Seeing their precious colors tumble to the ground, the entire 72nd Pennsylvania gave a tremendous yell and charged.

Murphy would survive his wounds and the war, afterwards living in Philadelphia. Thanks to his actions on July 3, 1863, as well as the similar spontaneous charge by color bearer Cpl. Henry O’Brien in the Copse of Trees, the Union counter-attack pushed the Confederates back, ending the battle of Gettysburg in the Union’s favor.