Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 16, 2014

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On Sunday I was honored to give the address at the 45th Annual Dick Dowling Statue Ceremony in Houston. It was a fine time, full of good cheer and warmth despite the rain (which I understand to be traditional to the ceremony, as well).

I had the opportunity to meet several descendants of both Dick Dowling and John Thomas Browne, the former Houston mayor and veteran who inaugurated the tradition of cleaning the statue every St. Patrick’s Day back in 1905. I would like to thank my hosts, the Miggins family, for the warm welcome I received and for the many years of work they’ve put into this project. Houston and Texas owe them a great deal.

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Descendants of Dick Dowling gather for the placement of a memorial wreath.
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Larry Miggins, founder of the annual statue ceremony, reflects on his tenure. Color guard from the John Bell Hood SCV Camp of Galveston.

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Sunday’s ceremony, like the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, was dedicated to four Houston firefighters — Matthew Renaud, Robert Bebee, Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan — who lost their lives last year in a tragic event. The ceremony was also dedicated to Houston Fire Captain William Dowling, who was severely injured at the same time but survived. Captain Dowling, I understand, is a distant relation to Dick Dowling, which would not be a surprise, given the long family ties to HFD. Dick Dowling was one of the original members of Houston Fire Company No. 1, organized in April 1858. And it was Mayor “Honest John” Browne who, in 1895, oversaw the transition for the fire department from a volunteer force to a professional, paid city fire department.

Although I had not attended this event previously, I did know that lots of folks attend every year, and probably know Dick Dowling as well as one of their own family. As a result, I decided to pull back the focus of this address a little, and look more broadly to the reaction of Irish immigrant communities to secession and the coming of the war.

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Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms

The story of Irishmen in the American Civil War is one that gets a lot of attention. The fighting withdrawal of the 69th New York at First Manassas, the courage of the Irish Brigade at Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg, and the absolution given by Father Corby on the second day at Gettysburg are all well-known and rightly-revered stories.

The Irish immigrant Union soldier is a fixture, a stereotype, in popular culture, as well. In the film, Gangs of New York, one of Martin Scorsese’s long camera sequences follows a group of young Irish men tramping down the gangplank of their immigrant ship, being forced to make their mark on enlistment papers, being outfitted with a blue uniform and musket, and herded back onto a military transport headed for the South, with little idea of what they’re getting into. (One of the newly-enlisted Union soldiers inquires where they’re going, and when told Tennessee, asks, “where’s that?”) That was not the reality for most men, but it is a popular notion, deeply embedded in the remembrance of the war, and one played up at the time by Southerners, where newspaper editors and fire-eating orators heaped scorn on what they described as Lincoln’s “Hessians.” And then there’s Buster Kilrain, the one fictional character of Michael Shaara’s novel Gettysburg, whose iron determination and quiet advice to Colonel Chamberlain helped save the Union left flank on Little Round Top, in the face of repeated assaults by equally-determined Alabamians. Buster Kilrain is now such a fixture in the mythos of Gettysburg that visitors to the national cemetery there routinely ask staff members for directions to his grave.

All told, immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other nations made up about a quarter of the Federal army during the conflict, and nearly half of wartime enlistees in the Union navy.[1] The story of the Union war effort in the Civil War is one best told with an Irish brogue, or perhaps a Prussian akzent.

But the role of immigrants in the Confederacy’s war effort is less well known, less understood. In Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, about three-and-a-half percent of the soldiers were foreign-born, but half of those were native Irishmen. A majority of the foreign-born troops in Lee’s army were from Deep South states, and they were, on the whole, older than their native-born counterparts. They were quick to volunteer, as well; eighty percent of immigrants who served under Lee through the war enlisted in 1861, compared to just over half of those who were native southerners.[2]

Across the South as a whole, foreign-born free persons made up only a tiny fraction of the overall population, but here in Texas foreign-born persons constituted about one person in ten. The proportion was even larger in the cities, where the opportunities offered by fast-booming trade and commerce attracted men and women from foreign shores. If you were to walk the muddy streets of Houston in 1860, on the eve of the war, three free persons out of every ten had emigrated from some foreign land, and in Galveston the proportion was even higher – about forty percent of Galveston County residents were making their home in a country other than the one of their birth. One Irish-born Texas soldier, Walter Paye Lane, who had been born in County Cork, achieved the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army near the end of the war.[3]

Immigrants, or the sons of immigrants, have always made up a sizable proportion of this nation’s fighting men in all our wars since 1861; military service has long been the way newcomers have proved their patriotism and themselves to their new countrymen. In the South as in the North, Irish communities formed their own militia companies. These included the Emerald Light Infantry of Charleston, the Jasper Greens of Savannah, the Emerald Guards of Mobile, the Shamrock Guards of Vicksburg, the Montgomery Guards of New Orleans, and of course, Dick Dowling’s own Jefferson Davis Guard of Houston.[4]

Confederate soldiers had many individual reasons for enlisting, but Dowling and other Irishmen may well have seen the South’s secession through the prism of the ongoing struggle against the British Crown. The Montgomery Guards of New Orleans, for example, carried their Confederate flag on a pike alleged to have been used in the Irish uprising of 1798. Dick Dowling himself was an enthusiastic secessionist, having petitioned Texas Governor Sam Houston to convene a special session of the legislature to respond to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860. Houston refused, and was ultimately deposed as governor, but by then Dowling and the Davis Guard were off on an expedition to the mouth of the Rio Grande, to seize Federal property and arms along the border with Mexico.[5]

The majority of Irishmen who entered Confederate ranks, though, probably didn’t serve in companies or regiments composed of their Hibernian brethren. Much more typical is the case of John Thomas Browne, a native of Ballylanders, County Limerick, recently profiled by an Irish colleague of mine, Damian Shiels. Browne’s family emigrated to New Orleans in 1851, when John was only six. His father died soon after, and John’s mother Winnifred eventually moved the family to Houston. They were there in 1860, when fifteen-year-old John was clerking with the Houston & Texas Central Railroad.  When the war came he enlisted in the Second Texas Infantry but, perhaps because he was sole adult male in his household – keep in mind he was only sixteen when the war began – he was detached from the unit and assigned to work as a fireman on the railroad. It was hard, dirty, exhausting work, but nonetheless essential to the war effort.

After the war, Browne worked at a variety of jobs before going into a partnership with Charles Bollfrass to form a wholesale and retail grocery in 1872. At the same time he was building the business of Browne & Bollfrass, John Browne was also embarking on a political career, serving on Houston City Council before serving as mayor from 1892 to 1896, during which tenure he established the Houston Fire Department as a paid, professional force. “Honest John” Browne went on to serve twice in the Texas House of Representatives. When he died in 1941 at the age of 96, John Thomas Browne was said to be the last living Confederate veteran in Texas.[6]

John Browne left another important legacy, one that we celebrate here today. Because it was John Browne, the “Fighting Irishman,” who established the tradition of the annual cleaning of this monument in 1905, in a 109-year-old chain that remains unbroken to this day.

So while we gather today to commemorate Dick Dowling and the Davis Guards, let us also remember the other men, Sons of Erin like John Thomas Browne, whose military service earned neither medals, nor fame nor glory. They were men – some very young – who enlisted for reasons as varied as they themselves were, but yet with a common purpose, to serve their adopted nation and their fellow citizens, native-born and immigrant alike.

This is their monument, too.


[1] Michael J. Bennett, Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War (Raleigh: University of North Carolina, 2005), 12; Dennis J. Ringle, Life in Mr. Lincoln’s Navy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 12.
[2] Joseph T. Glatthaar, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011), 57-58; ibid., 62-64.
[3] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1959), 173-74.
[4] Earl J. Coates, Michael J. McAfee and Don Troiani, Don Troiani’s Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 2002), 39; Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1943), 109-110.
[5] David T. Gleeson, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2013), 43; Michael Dan Jones, Dick Dowling and the Jefferson Davis Guard: Irish Patriots, Confederate Heroes (Michael Dan Jones, 2013), 35; ibid., 49-50.
[6] Damian Shiels, Irish in the American Civil War, “John Browne of Ballylanders, Co. Limerick: Confederate Veteran, Mayor of Houston, Texas,” September 20, 2013. http://irishamericancivilwar.com/2013/09/20/john-browne-of-ballylanders-co-limerick-confederate-veteran-mayor-of-houston-texas/.

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Did the Union Blockade of the South Really Work?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 9, 2014

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Craig Symonds recently gave an interview with the Walter Edgar’s Journal show on South Carolina ETV, discussing the naval war in 1864. Symonds has a recent book out, The Civil War at Sea, that I’ve not read, but his 2008 work, Lincoln and His Admirals, is very good.

This entire interview is worthwhile, but I liked Symonds’ response to the (seemingly) simple question, “did the blockade really work?” Turns out, ain’t so simple:
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SymondsThat’s a great question, “did it work?” And it depends on what you mean by work. Did it affect the Confederacy’s ability to conduct this war, did it affect the attitude of the people who had to sustain that war, and the Davis administration and his war policy, and I think the answer to that is yes.
 
Most historians who try to grapple with this issue do so by appealing to statistics, to numbers. And, I know you had Steve Wise on this program not too long ago, and Steve has done probably the best accounting of the number of ships that engaged in blockade-running. There were some sailing ships early in the war, but by 1862 it was evident that sailing ships just weren’t going to be able to do it, so steamships had to be the way this got done, if it got done at all.
 
And Steve counted up and there were three hundred and one steam-powered ships that actively participate in blockade-running in the section of the war we’re interested in, in 1863 to 1864. And of those, they made an average number of runs of four, in other words, two in, two out, and then they either retired on the wealth that they’d accumulated or decided to go into some other business. So, if you add all that up you can calculate that there are about fifteen hundred different attempts to run the blockade, and over a thousand of those were successful. So statistics would suggest that between two-thirds and three-quarters of all attempts be steam-powered ships to violate the blockade successfully did that. So how effective was [the blockade]?
 
On the other hand, there’s another way to turn that statistical coin over, and look at it from another point of view. Of those three hundred and one ships, two- hundred and eighty-two of them were [eventually] captured or destroyed by running aground and being wrecked on the coast. So it’s also true that roughly three-quarters of all the ships that tried to violate the blockade were [ultimately] captured or destroyed. So both of these statements are true. Three-quarters of all ships that tried to run through it made [on any given attempt], and three-quarters of all the ships that tried to run through were destroyed. Statistics are not always as helpful as you think they might be.
 
But here’s the statistic that I appeal to most often. And that is, if you take the twelve-month period prior to Fort Sumter, and calculate the total number of ships that came out of southern ports, the ports belonging to the states of the Confederacy, and the tonnage of goods, and compare that with the twelve months after Fort Sumter, and this was when the blockade was in its weakest state, it declined by more than 90%. So a number of ships that tried made it, but lots and lots and lots of ships never tried, because the blockade was there.
 
So what kind of impact does that have, cumulatively, on the attitude of those running this war? We see it, particularly in 1864, the year we’re really interested in tonight, because by 1864, now the blockade is really becoming pretty restrictive. And affecting not so much the Confederacy’s ability to have shoulder weapons and saltpetre and cannon shells and the fundamental tools of the army, but on all of the other parts of a nineteenth century economy, and this has kind of a wasting effect. It affects inflation, it affects of course, by then inflation was affected by Confederate paper money as well, so this is a double whammy in terms of the domestic economy of the Confederacy.
 
And the wives and children and families left behind, of all those soldiers fighting at the front, were feeling this rather desperately, and I know the tradition is, “oh, we just toughed it out,” but soldiers who would get letters, and I’ve seen thousands of these saying, “Jake, we can’t eat. We shall die if you don’t come home. Jake, you must dessert and come home, or we shall surely perish.” That’s a rough paraphrase of thousands of letters. So what cumulative effect does that have on the Confederacy’s ability to sustain the war?So it’s not measurable, I think, just by how many ships violate the blockade, or whether indeed the Confederate armies had enough wherewithal to sustain battle – they did. But [the blockade] had a sort of cumulative, wearing effect on the society as a whole, and how you calculate that statistically, I think is impossible. But I believe that it had a significant impact.​
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“Shelling of the batteries at Galveston by the United States war steamer South Carolina, on Monday afternoon, August 5th, 1861.”Frank Leslie Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War (New York, NY: Mrs. Frank Leslie, 1896)
 
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Friday Night Concert: Cash and Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 7, 2014

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“Sunday Morning Coming Down” is one of Johnny Cash’s best-known songs, and (for my money) one of the most evocative ever recorded — both sad and optimistic at the same time, if that makes any sense. It was written by Kris Kristofferson, who said not long ago that “I’m just real grateful for that song because that opened up a whole lot doors for me. So many people that I admire, admired it. Actually, it was the song that allowed me to quit working for a living.” It’s a great interview.

Y’all have a great weekend.

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Cousin Katie’s Platform

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 4, 2014

As many of you know, the race to be the next Governor of Texas is one of the most closely-watched in the country right now. Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in the state’s history, has declined to run for another term. Although we’re still the midst of the party primaries right now, it’s looking like Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) will be squaring off against State Senator Wendy Davis (D) come November.

There haven’t been many competitive female candidates for governor in Texas over the decades. There was Ann Richards, of course (served 1991-95), and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson served two non-consecutive two-year terms in the 1920s and 1930s. Although Ma Ferguson was Texas’ first female governor, she’s not generally thought of as a trailblazer for women, having entered politics after her husband, Governor Jim Ferguson, was impeached and made ineligible to hold public office in the state. Ma campaigned explicitly on the platform of “two governors for the price of one.”

Then in the early 1970s there was Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, who twice sought the Democratic nomination for governor, but was defeated both times by Dolph Briscoe, who went on to win the general election. This was at a time when both the Democratic and Republican parties were in transition, and statewide office in Texas has increasingly been a Republican prerogative ever since.

KatieSo with that as a little bit of background, I was surprised to learn not long ago that Katie Daffan (right, c. 1906) ran briefly for governor in 1930. Oddly, an important fact like that doesn’t appear in her Handbook of Texas biography. Cousin Katie, who I’ve mentioned frequently here, was my grandmother’s first cousin, although Katie was some years older. My mother knew Katie when she was a child and Katie was in her mid-fifties, about in the same period she ran for governor. My mother thought the world of Cousin Katie, who seems to have been a sort of Auntie Mame character to her, who took her on shopping trips to Houston, where Katie was literary editor for the Houston Chronicle at the time, and generally indulged her in all sorts of ways my grandmother wouldn’t.  Katie apparently cut quite a figure; my mother recalled that Katie had apparently decided that the styles of her young adulthood in the 1890s were just about right, and wore them for the rest of her life. The dresses were not a particular challenge, because those could always be made up from old patterns, but she never could figure out where Katie got new, high-button shoes decades after they went out of style.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Katie Litty Daffan was the living embodiment of the the Lost Cause and Confederate memory in Texas in the first part of the Twentieth Century. She served five terms as president of the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was Secretary (and only female member) of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, served for seven years as Superintendent of the Confederate Women’s Home in Austin. She enjoyed considerable success as an author and newspaper columnist, writing a textbook that was used for many years as a standard text in public schools across the state.

Katie was married, very briefly, in 1897 to Mann Trice, the Texas State Assistant Attorney General. That marriage folded within a few months, though, and Katie resumed using her maiden name, and never remarried. Katie died in 1951, at age 76, when she was hit by a car while walking home from an all-night diner at 4:30 in the morning. She walked in the middle of the street because there weren’t any streetlights and the sidewalks were broken and uneven.

At any rate, I came across this newspaper item outlining Katie’s platform for her campaign. It’s full of happy bromides that few would challenge — who doesn’t endorse Texas having “a good highway system”? — but it’s quite a collection of positions that certainly don’t line up easily with either of today’s two major parties. Dallas Morning News, March 25, 1930:

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Formally announcing her candidacy for the Democratic nomination of Governor, Miss Katie Daffan of Ennis Monday made public the platform on which she will make the race. She stresses liberal State assistance for Confederate Veterans, their wives and widows and adequate appropriations for the Confederate and Confederate Women’s Home.
 
“I wish in the beginning,” Miss Daffan said, to express my appreciation and respect for the present executive of our State, Governor [Dan] Moody, and of those executives of our State, now living, who have preceded him in office. Each one has left the imprint of his service upon the heart of Texas. Each one has served our State to the highest point of his ability and strength and Texas praises, as she remembers, the loving service of each one.”
 
If elected Governor, Miss Daffan said she will do all possible to see that the laws are obeyed “in the spirit and in the letter.” She believes the Governor should not interefere with nor dictate to other officers of the government, but “attend very closely to the business of the office to which elected.”
 
To Help Education.
 
“Opportunity will be sought and sacrifice made, of necessary, to promote the substantial progress of education in our State,” the platform says, mentioning all phases of education and advocating increased pay for instructors. Conferences with the State Department of Education and the Texas State teachers’ Association would be invited to see how best the schools may be served. The best textbooks possible are advocated with special accuracy insisted on in matters of biography and history.
 
No religious tests shall be required of those seeking appointive office, Miss Daffan says, except the acknowledgement of the existence of a Supreme Being.
Miss Daffan would have laws passed making exempt from taxation farm homes, not to exceed $4,000 in value, and the home of every widow which does not exceed in value $5,000. She would favor a tax on luxuries, including tobacco, toilet articles and perfumes.
 
Labor would be given such legislation as is needful. For farm relief, laws are suggested requiring crop rotation and diversification.
 
Better price for farm products are advocated. Special care will be given toward a solution of this problem, Miss Daffan says.
 
Placing of the State prisons on a self-sustaining basis is urged, along with a “firm, impartial business management.” No stand is taken on any of the proposed prison sites, Miss Daffan saying her prison plank “will solve the problem, wherever our prison is located.”
 
Justice and mercy both will be invoked, the candidate says, in reference to the issuance of pardons.
 
Opposes State Road Bonds.
 
Miss Daffan does not favor the issuance of State highway bonds at this time, advocates a reduction in the tax on cars, the retention of the 3¢ gasoline tax, the barring of extra-wide vehicles from the roads and the steady building of a good highway system. She also urges especial attention to the mapping of airways and building of airports.
 
Establishment of more State parks, playgrounds and recreation centers is urged. An athletic commission is advocated, to serve without salary, to have general supervision over clean sports and games.
 
Assistance to World War veterans, wherever possible, is urged. Miss Daffan favors taking the best of care of those in various eleemosynary [charitable] institutions.
 
Miss Daffan closes her announcement by appealing to the women of the State to support her cause, so that she can aid in bettering conditions, and by appealing to men to vote for her, promising, with their assistance, to place Texas in the forefront of all States.
 
“We begin our journey forth with faith in our hearts,” Miss Daffan says in her closing paragraph, “and love combined with faith, was we approach our “lions of difficulty” we find them chained fast, unable to disturb or destroy. A voice in my heart calls, ‘Go on.’ It is a still, convincing, ever-present voice. It is too persistent to be set aside. I accept the call and offer myself, my service, my heart’s strength and life work to my native State, one and indivisible in the glory of its past and the greater glory of its present.”
 
Miss Daffan is president of the Texas Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy.

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In the end, Katie didn’t file the paperwork for the Democratic primary, so her name never appeared on the ballot. There ended up being twelve candidates in the primary anyway, and Ross Sterling went on to win the general election that fall. He was succeeded two years later by — wait for it — Ma Ferguson again.

As far as I know, Katie never offered any specific reason for not following through on her announced run for Texas governor, choosing instead to publicly thank her friends and supporters once the filing deadline for the primary had passed and she was officially off the ballot, in early June. A bigger question, that I can’t answer, is why she announced for governor in the first place. It’s yet another curious story about Cousin Katie that leaves as many questions as it answers. Wherever she is, though, I’m pretty sure Katie’s still enjoying the attention.

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Friday Night Concert: Ralph Stanley, “The Vacant Chair”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 28, 2014

Another track from the new album, Divided and United.

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Was Rock Island the “Andersonville of the North”? Um, No.

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 24, 2014

Over at The Historic Struggle, Rob Baker notes that today is the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Camp Sumter, better known today as Andersonville. Camp Sumter is the most infamous of all prisoner of war camps on either side during the Civil War.

One thing that is sometimes heard is that Rock Island was “the Andersonville of the North.” That assertion is something that interested me personally, since once of my relatives spent almost eighteen months there in 1864-65, a period that includes almost all of Rock Island’s time as a PoW camp. It was a terrible experience, made worse by the vindictiveness of Union authorities who ordered a reduction in rations in retaliation for the treatment of Union PoWs in the Confederacy, specifically at Camp Sumter.

But was Rock Island objectively as bad as Andersonville? I recently watched a documentary, The Rock Island Civil War Prison: Andersonville of the North? (available for purchase here, or streaming here), that laid out some of the data. The documentary is pretty good, although it has an “unfinished” or “almost there” feel to it; there were several subjects barely touched upon that would justify its expansion to a full hour, instead of just 30 minutes. Nevertheless, it’s worth your time if you have an interest in CW prisons.

The documentary specifically challenges the claim that Rock Island was the “Andersonville of the North.” Taking a lead from that, I looked up some detailed numbers, broken out by month, that show the actual rate of deaths among the prisoners at the two camps, by month. Numbers for Rock Island are available for its entire existence from its opening in late 1863; Andersonville opened a few months later, and most of the prisoners were evacuated from the site in the fall of 1864. Although Andersonville remained in operation until May 1865, the vast majority of deaths among its prisoners occurred between February and November 1864. Death rates are calculated by comparing the number of fatalities with the prisoner population for each month:

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Click the little one to get a big one. You can download a spreadsheet of the numbers here. Rock Island data is from the Appendix of Otis Bryan England’s A Short History of the Rock Island Prison Barracks (Revised Edition) (Rock Island, Illinois: Historical Office, U.S. Army Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command, 1985). Andersonville data is from p. 321 of John McElroy’s Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons (Toledo: D. R. Locke, 1879).

Of course, there’s a simpler way to look at this: more men died at Andersonville than were imprisoned at Rock Island during its entire time as a Civil War prison camp.

So where did this “Andersonville of the North” nonsense come from? The phrase doesn’t show up until the 1940s, and I suspect that, like so many other cherished themes about the war, it originated with Margaret Mitchell, who had Ashley Wilkes survive imprisonment at Rock Island. In Gone with the Wind, Chapter 16, she wrote:

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Ashley was not dead! He had been wounded and taken prisoner, and the records showed that he was at Rock Island, a prison camp in Illinois. In their first joy, they could think of nothing except that he was alive. But, when calmness began to return, they looked at one another and said ‘Rock Island!’ in the same voice they would have said ‘In Hell!’ For even as Andersonville was a name that stank in the North, so was Rock Island one to bring terror to the heart of any Southerner who had relatives imprisoned there.​

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No question, Rock Island was a bad place to be, with much unnecessary suffering. But it was not the horrific place Andersonville was, by any objective measure. Mitchell’s plot also underscores her shoddy research in this area: Rock Island was a camp for enlisted men only, and Ashley Wilkes was an officer.

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Witnessing History from Third Base

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 23, 2014
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Larry Miggins (No. 4) playing opposite Jackie Robinson of the Montreal Royals, April 18, 1946.

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Last weekend I was treated to a wonderful lunch with the organizer of the annual Dick Dowling Commemoration, Patrick Miggins, and his parents, Larry and Kathleen. Larry established the event 44 years ago, but the annual cleaning of the statue goes back more than a century, to the original installation of the statue at the old Houston City Hall in 1905. That tradition was established by Mayor John T. Browne (1845-1941), himself a former Confederate veteran who had been part of Dowling’s wedding party after the war. Browne passed along the tradition of caring for the statue to former City Councilman Tom Needham, who in turn passed it along to Larry Miggins in 1963.

What I didn’t know until we met was that Larry was a professional baseball player in the late 1940s and early ’50s, diving his time between the majors and the minors. Although he was signed straight out of high school by the New York Giants, he entered the Merchant Marine instead and, after World War II ended, played for the Jersey City Giants and the Houston Buffaloes in the minors, and spent two seasons with the Buffs’ major league parent, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Larry Miggins didn’t have a very long baseball career, it was memorable — he went to high school with Vin Scully and worked out with Honus Wagner.

One of Larry’s more notable games, though, occurred on April 18, 1946. That was the day Larry’s Jersey City Giants took the field against the Montreal Royals, and their new player, a former Negro Leaguer named Jackie Robinson. The Royals were affiliated with Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers, and 1946 would be a try-out season for Robinson, and two black pitchers, John Wright and Roy Partlow, for the majors. It was the first time an African American player took the field as a member of a professional team affiliated with any of the majors:

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Card“His first time up, he grounded out,” Miggins recalled. “Then he hit a home run over the left field fence, which showed he was a pull hitter. His third time up, he dropped down a bunt and beat it out because I was playing back like the manager told me to do.
 
His fourth time up, he got another hit, and then he dropped another bunt in front of me, because I was still playing him back – which I never did again.”
 
For the day, Robinson had four hits in five trips with a homer, four runs scored, four runs batted in, two stolen bases and two forced balks in Montreal’s 14-1 win over Jersey City.
 
It was an auspicious debut in a career – and a life – that continues to amaze and inspire.
 
“Jackie Robinson led the league in hitting that year,” Miggins said. “Then he went to the Brooklyn Dodgers and was rookie of the year. He became the Most Valuable Player of the league, beat the Yankees in the World Series and went on to the Hall of Fame … “
 
At this point in the story, Miggins paused for dramatic effect – or, as it turns out, comic relief.
 
“And he was able to do all that because I played back and gave him two hits in that first game,” he said, breaking into laughter. “I got him off to a great start.”

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The Montreal Royals walloped the Jersey City Giants that day, 14-to-1. When the Royals finally got back to Montreal for their own home opener, there were 14,000 people in the stands.

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Kathleen and Larry Miggins at the Dick Dowling Ceremony in 2012. Photo by Katie Oxford via HoustonCultureMap.com.

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Larry met Kathleen McMahon in 1952 while on a road trip with the Cardinals, while she was working at the Irish consulate in Chicago. Her parents in Ireland were none too impressed with the prospect of them getting married and moving to Texas.   “When I moved to Houston my parents were so scared. They said, ‘you’ll be living in a covered wagon. How will you get to Mass?’”

Covered wagon or not, Larry and Kathleen managed, in the process raising 12 children and 35 grandchildren. Larry retired after 21 years as the chief of probation and parole for the U.S. Southern District of Texas.

What wonderful people, who are still giving to their community. Thanks for the great time, folks. I look forward to seeing y’all around again soon.

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Sources: David Barron, “Best Seat in the House for History,” Houston Chronicle, April 12, 2013; Katie Oxford, “A Gullywasher Couldn’t Stop this Annual Irish Fete,” HoustonCultureMap.com, March 15, 2012.

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Florida’s Lost Fort Caroline Found — In Georgia

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 22, 2014
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Re-enactors fire a rifle salute to a tall ship on the St. Johns River as it passes by Fort Caroline during Sail Jacksonville in 2004. Via Jacksonville.com.
 

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From Heritage Daily:

 
In an announcement likely to rewrite the book on early colonization of the New World, two researchers today said they have discovered the oldest fortified settlement ever found in North America. Speaking at an international conference on France at Florida State University, the pair announced that they have located Fort Caroline, a long-sought fort built by the French in 1564.
 
“This is the oldest fortified settlement in the present United States,” said historian and Florida State University alumnus Fletcher Crowe. “This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.”
 
Announcement of the discovery of Fort Caroline was made during “La Floride Française: Florida, France, and the Francophone World,” a conference hosted by FSU’s Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and its Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution. The conference commemorates the cultural relations between France and Florida since the 16th century.
 
Researchers have been searching for actual remains of Fort Caroline for more than 150 years but had not found the actual site until now, Crowe said. The fort was long thought to be located east of downtown Jacksonville, Fla., on the south bank of the St. Johns River. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located just east of Jacksonville’s Dames Point Bridge, which spans the river.
 
However, Crowe and his co-author, Anita Spring, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Florida, say that the legendary fort is actually located on an island at the mouth of the Altamaha River, two miles southeast of the city of Darien, Ga. Darien is located near the Georgia coast between Brunswick and Savannah, approximately 70 miles from the Jacksonville site.​
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When told of the discovery of Fort Caroline near Darien, Zombie Colonel James Montgomery announced his intention to burn that, too.

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GeneralStarsGray

Friday Night Concert — “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 21, 2014

“Lay ’round the shack, ’til her husband comes back. . . .”

With the Yes Ma’am String Band in (where else?) New Orleans.

I think those are sparks coming off that steel guitar at the end.

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GeneralStarsGray

Hunley on the Road

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 18, 2014

Blog reader Woodrowfan passes along this image, another way to remember Hunley:

UHaulHunley

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GeneralStarsGray

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