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Human Interest Stories of the Civil War: Part 1

Scott L. Mingus, Jr. and Dr. Thomas M. Mingus have written an interesting collection of true incidents, anecdotes, and human interest stories from the American Civil War. The authors both hold masters degrees in history and have had a life-long love for military history in particular, sparked in part by their family heritage and years of miniature wargaming.
The Cannonball blog will periodically present sample of some of the stories from this book, which is available directly from the authors (click here to send an e-mail requesting an autographed first edition copy for $14.95 plus $3 s/h) or from amazon.com.
With this being the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, here are some selected stories from the first year of the war, 1861.

Years of miniature wargaming helped nurture a love of history for the Mingus clan.
During the early days of the rebellion, the border state of Maryland was divided in loyalty, with almost as many (or more) Southern sympathizers as Unionists in many places. The Federal government moved quickly to maintain control and arrested large numbers of openly secessionist leaders. Smuggling became a popular vocation, and clandestine Rebel sympathizers developed clever ways of moving war materials, weapons, ammunition, and goods into Northern Virginia for distribution to the fledgling Confederate armies.
A funeral procession from Baltimore reached the heavily guarded Long Bridge at Washington, D.C. that led to Virginia. Everything seemed normal to the sentries–the horse-drawn black hearse carried the deceased in a sealed coffin and a series of carriages followed with curtains closely drawn to shield the mourners, with sad-faced drivers “looking solemn as owls.” Seemingly, there was nothing out of place or extraordinary about the somber caravan as it prepared to cross the Potomac River.
The armed guard at the Washington end readily waved the procession onto the bridge, although it did flash across his mind that perhaps this was another Rebel scheme. The next sentinel was much more suspicious and called out, “Halt!” Instantly the look on the hearse driver’s face alerted him that something indeed was wrong. “Open the hearse!” the soldier ordered as he leveled his musket. By now, the rest of the funeral party realized that their chicanery was about to be discovered. They abandoned their carriages and scrambled back into the city as fast as their legs could take them. Unable to catch them, the sentinel summoned the other guards. Together, they opened the coffin to find it was packed full of shiny new muskets, a commodity of extreme use to the gathering Confederate army.

Bronze plaque at the Manassas National Battlefield. This week marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run.
Marching off into the unknown and heading into a raging battle for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Eagerness, nervousness, anxiety, fear, and adrenaline rushes all intermix in the soon-to-be combatants. One young Confederate provided a detailed glimpse into the soul-chilling experience of “seeing the elephant:”
“As we disembarked from the cars on that Sunday morning, July 21, 1861, the distant booming of cannon fell upon our ears, and we realized that now we were indeed on the fiery edge of battle. We had orders to cast off our knapsacks that we might march unimpeded to the field. Leaving them in a pile by the roadside under small guard, we were soon marching at the double quick for Manassas. Our pulses beat more quickly than our feet, as we passed on, the sounds of battle waxing nearer and nearer every moment. It was a severe test of endurance, for the field was six miles away, and the heat of that July day was very exhausting. The weather had been very dry, and the dust rose in clouds around us, as we double-quicked on–so thick was it that I distinctly remember I could not see my file-leader.”
“We were by and by near enough to hear the rattle of the musketry, and soon we began to meet the wounded coming off the field in streams, some limping along, some on stretchers borne by their comrades. Stern work was evidently right ahead of us, and it did not steady our nerves for our first battle to be told, as the wounded told us, especially those whose wounds were slight, that it was going very badly with our men at the front. At length the dreadful six-mile double quick march was over, and the firing line was right in front of us.”
At last it was time for battle. In the excitement and confusion of his first engagement, a Rebel named George Lemmon fired his musket too close to his comrade Nick Watkins’ head. The bullet exploded out of the barrel and pierced a hole into Nick’s cap, fortunately missing his head. Casually and with steel nerves, Watkins turned and calmly stated, “George Lemmon, I wish you’d look where you’re shooting–I’m not a Yankee.”

Co-author Dr. Tom Mingus stands to the right in this photo taken at the Bull Run battlefield.His nephew prepares to “fire” the cannon. Perhaps another generation of Civil War buffs is in the making?
Stealth and secrecy became staples of the war when trying to send materiel or information across the enemy’s lines. Smuggling soldiers and civilians became quite creative in these potentially dangerous missions, which could result in being arrested for abetting the enemy. Unfortunately for one Southern-sympathizing young lady early in the war, these covert patriotic acts did not always accomplish their goal.
A few Massachusetts soldiers were searching the train cars for contraband goods when they spotted the young lady carrying a large basket by her side. It was overflowing with delicately manicured sandwiches and savory slices of sponge cake. After lifting the basket from the woman, the Union soldiers were surprised to discover its unusually hefty weight. They probed further into the basket to investigate the source of the unnatural weight and found a large number of shiny brass buttons intended for Confederate military uniforms.
Human Interest Stories of the Civil War was published by Ten Roads Publishing of Gettysburg, Penn., and is available at selected book stores in the Gettysburg and York areas, as well as from the authors.