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July 2013

Mary Surratt’s Execution

On July 6 1865, Mary was informed that she would be hanged the following day. She then wept up until her final moments, and was joined by a priest and her daughter Anna. The night prior to her execution, Mary was up all night praying and refused breakfast the next morning. Her family and friends were ordered to leave her at 10am on July 7th. She spent her final hours with her priest.

As Mary walked up the thirteen steps to the gallows, she needed the support of two soldiers. The gallows themselves were on a ten foot high platform. Mary wore a long black dress and veil. In addition to those who were in charge of the execution and officials, one hundred additional spectators with tickets were present to watch the hanging. Mary Surratt’s last words were spoken to a guard as he placed the noose around her neck. She spoke, “please don’t let me fall”.

All four conspirators were dropped approximately 6 feet, but Herald and Powell did not die immediately as Surratt and Atzerodt did. Mary supposedly gagged as she died hanging in the noose. The bodies hanged for 25 minutes before they were examined and pronounced dead. Today, Mary Surratt’s body rests in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC. Her headstone simply reads, “Mrs. Surratt”, and the man who may have sealed her fate, John Lloyd, rests in the very same cemetery.

The Crater

July 30, 1864

Union forces explode a mine in the Confederate defences of Petersburg, Virginia, during the 9-month siege of the city. Federal units charge into the crater created by the blast but the Confederates press counter-attacks by firing down into it, causing severe numbers of casualties. The Union troops were defeated in what General Grant called ”the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war”.

This week in the Civil War for July 28, 1863

Robert e lee
General Robert E. Lee (Painting Credit / Rick Timmons)

Barely a month after his army's defeat at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee offered to resign 150 years ago this week in the Civil War. Lee, whose military leadership was being questioned after the heavy casualties at Gettysburg, was under the spotlight of trenchant criticism in Southern newspapers. Lee only recently had said he alone shouldered any blame for the defeat — that in a letter days earlier to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

On Aug. 8, 1863, Lee again wrote Davis, this time offering to resign. "I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army. I have seen and heard of expression of discontent in the public journals at the result of the expedition. I do not know how far this feeling extends in the army ... I, therefore, in all sincerity, request Your Excellency to take measures to supply my place."

Davis declined to accept the offer. In fact, Davis responded that he could find no other "more fit to command" and a general who also had the confidence of his troops.

From: ABC New Go and the Associated Press

Coffin from Civil War uncovers mystery

Smithsonian / AP Anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide, right, and Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, center, and others, examine the remains of an iron coffin at the museum in Washington.

The rusty iron coffin stubbornly resisted hammer and chisel as researchers in a warm Smithsonian laboratory sought a glimpse of an American who lived more than a century and a half ago.

An electric drill, its orange cord snaking around the pre-Civil War artifact, finally freed the lid.

"This is a person and we want to tell this person's story. She is our primary obligation," anthropologist Doug Owsley said as the lid was lifted to reveal a young body wrapped in a brown shroud.

The scientists hope to identify the remains so they can have a properly marked grave. In the process, they have a chance to learn about mortuary practices of the period, what disease and trauma people may have suffered, their diet, past environments, clothing and perhaps even social customs.

Based on the small size, they had expected the coffin to contain a female body. On examination, it turned out to be a boy, about age 13.

Read the full article at NBC News

Tom Bruce, WWII veteran and son of Confederate cavalryman, dies at 88

Thomas Newton Bruce of Knoxville, a decorated World War II veteran and the son of a former Civil War soldier, died Saturday. He was 88.

Mr. Bruce was born in Morristown to a 77-year-old former Confederate cavalryman. Levi Bruce served with the 7th and later the 11th Virginia Cavalry through fighting in what is now West Virginia. Tom Bruce was just 6 when his father died in 1930.

“The only thing I can remember distinctly about my father is when he bought me a bicycle once,” Mr. Bruce told the News Sentinel in a 2010 interview. “My mother had his sword and a picture of Robert E. Lee he had framed, but she sold them one piece at a time for enough money to get by.”

Read more at: Knox News

This week in the Civil War for July 21, 1863

4.1.Copy-of-Picture-069-hwsept2762p613-confederate-armyArt from Crossroads of war

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, his bloodied forces still retreating after their defeat at Gettysburg, was confronted by harassing Union forces that followed his columns in pursuit this July week in 1863.

Now some weeks after failure to carry out his second invasion of the North, Lee's fighters had returned back over the Potomac River, withdrawing into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. There, a group of Union fighters under Maj. Gen. William H. French began attacking Confederate columns near Manassas Gap — at Wapping Heights — as they withdrew into the Virginia countryside on July 23, 1863.

The Union onslaught opened robustly but Confederate artillery pulled up and began firing back, hindering the federal fighters. The Union's badly organized attacks had to be halted by nightfall and Confederate fighters move safely beyond the reach of their Union pursuers during the early morning hours of July 24, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln had urged Union forces to urgently pursue and destroy the enemy after the federal victory at Gettysburg. But because Confederate fighters were able to escape to safety, they would be able to reorganize and fight another day — setting the stage for many more months of combat ahead in the Civil War.

This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.

From ABC News Go and the Associated Press

Incredible Bullet Struck Bible from Sailors Creek

Photo from Heritage Auctions

Nothing is more dramatic or has more appeal than a Civil War artifact that has been "touched by fire." This superb pocket bible represents the very best of such objects.

The book was in the pocket of Pvt. Edwin C. Hall of the 10th Vermont Vol. Inf. when it was struck by a Confederate "minnie ball" at the battle of Sailor's Creek on April 6, 1865, certainly preventing Hall's death. The testament clearly shows the impact of the bullet which is still solidly imbedded in it. Measuring about 3" by 4" this "Book of Common Prayer" was printed in 1850 and is typical of those carried by tens of thousands of soldiers. Inside the front cover can be seen the ink inscription "Edwin Hall/1860."

The bullet strike bent and dislodged the cover and over the years the back cover has become loose as well, but the book is essentially complete and the end of the projectile, now a light, dusty gray, is easily seen through the jagged hole that it made. The object is accompanied by the August 13, 1897 Boston Weekly newspaper in which it was wrapped more than a century ago.

Also with the bible is a wonderful letter from Pvt. Hall dated April 1, 1898 forwarding the book to a Cincinnati gentleman which reads in part "This prayer-book saved my life by stopping/a musket ball at Sailor's Creek. I hope/ you may use it in your museum. I have always put my trust in the Lord, and/he has done work always come through/for me...Edwin Hall late 5th Vermont Inf." Hall began his service in the 5th Vermont, then enlisted in Co. C of the 15th Vermont, seeing service at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Discharged in August, 1863 Hall enlisted four months later in Co. G of the 10th Vermont and was wounded at both Cold Harbor and Petersburg. He recovered from his wounds, and the near-miss at Sailor's Creek, and died at a Bennington, Vermont Soldiers' Home in 1913 at the age of 68. 

From: Heritage Auctions

N.C Wyeth and His Amazing American History Illustrations

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Photo: Wyeth in his studio, c. 1903

N.C. Wyeth was born in Needham Massachusetts, His ancestor, Nicholas Wyeth, a stonemason, came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors were prominent participants in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral histories and tradition to N.C. Wyeth and his family and providing subject matter for his art, which was deeply felt. 

Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N.C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America’s greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known. The first of these, Treasure Island, was his masterpiece and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter just as the camera and photography began to compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly. Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, “Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."-Wiki

From: The Civil War Parlor

This week in the Civil War for July 14, 1863

After one recent failed attempt to take Fort Wagner on Morris Island on South Carolina's coast, an all-black regiment formed as the 54th Massachusetts Infantry launched an all-out attack on July 18, 1863, that would inspire the 1989 movie "Glory."

Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, with many left dead and wounded as Confederates holding the fort fought back from a fort bristling with artillery. Black troops bravely headed up the parapets, even as many were mowed down by artillery and gunfire. It was one of the prominent moments when African-Americans played a major role in Civil War combat. After the bloodied, tattered regiment was turned back, other Union units also tried to take the fort and failed. Once the fighting subsided, far heavier losses were counted on the Union side with about 1,515 casualties to about 174 Confederates defending the fort.

The 54th's colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, was among the dead. Soon afteward, Federal forces would besiege Fort Wagner and force it to be abandoned by the Confederate defenders in September 1863, far later than Union generals had hoped at that point 150 years ago in the Civil War.

From ABC News Go and the Associated Press