Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did the Florida Civil War Governor Commit Suicide or Not?

Dale Cox over at the Civil War Florida blog has posted what he considers evidence that Florida governor John Milton did not commit suicide. Read his full post here. This of course flies in the face of nearly 150 years of belief that Milton killed himself in the face of certain Union victory.

Cox's claim that Milton was dead before the fall of Richmond is true but of little importance in the debate in my opinion. It was clear by April 1, 1865 that the war was over for the Confederacy. It was only a formality and waiting for generals to surrender their armies. I would find it hard to believe that Milton thought the war effort would continue long. The inaccuracies in reporting can be explained away several ways. Perhaps editors didn't hear of this news until after the fall of Richmond and thus made an assumption (perhaps a logical one) that Milton killed himself after hearing the bad news. It is also possible that reports were written this way in order to sell newspapers. Journalistic sensationalism didn't start in the 20th century.

The Milton family has for years proclaimed John Milton's death to have been an accident. Their claim is that he was gathering his rifle to go bird hunting and when he accidently dropped it the rifle went off killing him instantly. This is certainly a plausible story and similar accidental shootings have happened hundreds of times since Milton's death.

As Cox shows in his post an article in a local Florida newspaper confirms the accidental death story. The story in the April 3, 1865 West Florida News says: A TRAGIC ACCIDENT!Gov. Milton has been killed by the accidental discharge of a gun. The Governor was in his home when he retrieved a shot gun in expectation of an expedition to shoot birds. The gun discharged and the Governor was killed.

For Cox this account and the oral history told by family confirm for him that the death was accidental and not suicide. He further bolsters his belief by stating that Milton could not have been buried St. Luke's Episcopal Church Cemetery had his death been by suicide.


Here are my issues with this theory. Family lore and oral history always have to be taken with a grain of salt. No family wants to have the stigma of suicide attached to them. This would particularly be true for a prominent family such as that of Milton. It would certainly be more honorable in the eyes of the family to proclaim that the death was an accident while preparing to go hunting. In addition, any concerns regarding where the governor could be buried would be set aside by proclaiming the shooting to be an accident. There appear to have been no other "witnesses" to this event other than Major William Milton, the son of John. His claim certainly should be questioned. My concern regarding the Florida newspaper article stems from the same concern. Was this a story planted by the family in order to save face? You can't brush aside the death of the governor of the state. It appears that no other news outlets picked up this accidental death story instead. Now of course newspapers in the Confederate states were nowhere near as common as those in the Union states. That COULD explain part of the fact that the accidental death story didn't take hold as opposed to the suicide story.

I don't think there will ever be a definitive answer on the death of John Milton. Supporters on both sides can point to evidence and make their case. What is known is that in the days leading up to the end of the war Florida governor John Milton died under what can be considered mysterious circumstances. For those who now study the war they will have to determine for themselves what they believe.

Some sites such as the NPS give the death of Milton little coverage and do not dip into the controversy. Ridgeway Body Murphee in his Ph.D. Dissertation, discussing the leadership of Milton and Joseph Brown of Georgia, covers the controversy slightly but does not take a definitive stand either way. An online tribute to Milton and some genealogical information can be found here. A search of online book sites does not turn up a biography of John Milton.

*I have tried to load a photo of John Milton but for some reason Blogger is not letting me add photos. Please click here to be taken to the Florida State Archives page and see a portrait of Milton.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Civil War: The Untold Story DVD Release

Narrated by Emmy® and Golden-Globe nominated actress
Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey)
DVD Debut on April 29, 2014 from Athena
Brand new documentary explores the battles that defined the Civil War;
Release coincides with its premiere on public television
“First rate…compelling” —James Lighthizer, President, Civil War Trust
“If Ken Burns thoroughly covered Gettysburg and Antietam in his landmark series,
Wheeler invites viewers to more thoughtfully consider Shiloh and Vicksburg.”Denver Post
 Silver Spring, MD –Providing new insights into the causes of the war, as told through the lens of the Western Campaign, the ground-breaking documentary Civil War: The Untold Story debuts on DVD on April 29, 2014 from Athena, an RLJ Entertainment, Inc. (NASDAQ: RLJE) brand. Narrated by Emmy® and Golden-Globe nominated actress Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey), the stunning 2013 production, set to air on PBS stations in Spring 2014, uses dramatic battle recreations, compelling archival imagery, 3-D maps, and insightful interviews with top Civil War scholars in this five-part series to show why the West played such a vital part in the outcome of the war. Focusing on the often overlooked battles of Vicksburg, Shiloh, Atlanta and more, the series also explores the issue of slavery and the surprising roles that African-Americans played in the conflict. The DVD 2-Disc set includes five episodes, plus rare archival footage from the 50-year anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg (14 min.), and 12-page viewer’s guide (276 min., plus bonus, $49.99, AcornOnline.com).
In this revealing documentary from the award-winning producers of Life after Katrina, Homes of the Underground Railroad, How the West Was Lost, and many more, Elizabeth McGovern recounts how the struggle between North and South—long defined by battles like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Bull Run—was quite dependent on events in the lands then known as “the West.” Although often overlooked, the western theatre—between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River—saw some of the conflict’s bloodiest encounters, such as Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chickamauga. It featured iconic leaders like the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman as well as the Confederacy’s Albert Sidney Johnston and John Bell Hood. This series also tells inspirational and untold stories of African Americans—from enslaved to emancipated, to fighting for their freedom.
Episodes: Bloody Shiloh; A Beacon of Hope; River of Death; Death Knell of the Confederacy; With Malice toward None
Bonus Features: Rare archival footage from the 50-year anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg (14 min.); 12-page viewer’s guide with a map, a timeline, profiles of Westerners who played major roles in the conflict, and articles on African Americans fighting for their freedom and Texas in the Civil War
Street Date: April 29, 2014                                SRP: $49.99                  UPC: 0-54961-2234-9-7
DVD 2-Disc Set: 5 episodes – Approx. 276 min., plus bonus – Documentary - SDH Subtitles - Contains disturbing images
An RLJ Entertainment, Inc. brand (NASDAQ: RLJE), Athena releases provide an authoritative and entertaining learning experience through high quality, informative, non-fiction programming. Athena’s 2014 releases will include: Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey, Secrets of Ancient Egypt, The Science of Measurement, Talks About Nothing, The Story of Medicine, Civil War: The Untold Story, Theatreland, The Rise of the Nazi Party, Alexander’s Lost World and David Suchet: In The Footsteps of St. Paul. Athena DVD sets are available from select retailers, catalog companies, and direct from RLJ Entertainment at (888) 870-8047 or AcornOnline.com.

Preorder on Amazon here: Civil War: The Untold Story

Thursday, April 3, 2014

New History Press Title Deals with Perryville

Here's a new release from the History PressManey's Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Perryville (Civil War Sesquicentennial)

On October 8, 1862, forty thousand Union and Confederate soldiers clashed at Perryville, Kentucky, in the state’s largest Civil War battle. Of those who fought, none endured as much as the Tennessee and Georgia soldiers who composed Brigadier General George Maney’s brigade. The Confederate unit entered the fray to save other Southern regiments and, in doing so, experienced deadly resistance. Many of those involved called the brigade’s encounter the toughest of the Civil War, as several of Maney’s regiments suffered casualties of 50 percent or greater. Despite relentless fighting, the Confederates were unable to break the Union line, and the Bluegrass State remained in Federal control. Join Kentucky Historical Society’s Stuart W. Sanders as he chronicles Maney’s brigade in the Battle of Perryville.

Meet the author
June 1 at 2:00 p.m. @ Jack Jouett House (Versailles, KY)
 June 5 at 7 p.m. @ Hoosier Blue and Gray Civil War Round table (Mt. Auburn, IN)
July 8 at 7:30 p.m. @ Harrodsburg Historical Society (Harrodsburg, KY)
August 21 at 7 p.m. @ Oldham County Historical Society (LaGrange, KY)
Monday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. @ Boyle County Genealogical Society at the Boyle County Library (Danville, KY)
Additional events TBA.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What to Do with Extra Research

While doing research for my book, St. Augustine and the Civil War, I came up with a good amount of information that didn't get included for whatever reason. I have been trying to figure out what to do with it and have decided to use some of it here.

One of the things my wife and I did was to document all known Confederate graves in St. John's County. Using a list from the Sons of Confederate Veterans we photographed all the known burials and recorded GPS coordinates. This information was not included in the book mostly due to space constraints. In addition, is that list something a book buyer is interested in spending money on. So the photos are now sitting on my hard drive and the coordinates sit in a folder. It's time to start doing something with them.

I am going to do some very basic research on these men and report the findings here. With few exceptions these men were privates. There are no high ranking officers (we're not going to include William Loring here). Chances are there is not going to be a large amount to be found about these men. It is also unlikely there will be photos of the men but we just never know. No matter what I can find they do deserve a level of recognition and I am going to try and do that.
If you have a Confederate relative buried in St. John's County please feel free to get in touch. I would love to see what information you have and if you are willing then share it with others.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Review--A Quaker Officer in the Civil War

Carisio, Justin. A Quaker Officer in the Civil War: Henry Gawthrop of the 4th Delaware. Charleston: The History Press. 2013. 157 pages, 137 pages of text. Notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos. ISBN 9781609497514, $19.99.

Henry Gawthrop was a young man who despite his Quaker upbringing volunteered to fight in the Civil War, serving in the 4th Delaware Co. F. Members of the Quaker faith were torn between their religious views of pacifism and also their belief in abolition. Those who chose to fight risked being outcast from their church though this seems to have seldom happened.

Carisio relies heavily on the words of Henry Gawthrop. Gawthrop wrote many letters home and also a journal which he transcribed into a memoir many years after the war. As has been pointed out elsewhere there is a lack of material on the Fourth Delaware so this document written by an officer of the regiment is extremely valuable.

Gawthrop served as 1st LT in the brigade and was later  brevetted to the rank of Captain. and at one point during the war served as assistant inspector general for the 1st Brigade, 1st division, 4th corps.

Much of the early part of the war saw the 4th serving in guard duty around Washington D.C. By June 1864 the regiment had been moved and was located near Bethesda Church, near Richmond. It was here that they came under their first heavy fire of the war and suffered 40 killed and wounded. Just two weeks later they were again in battle this time suffering over 100 casualties including Lt. Gawthrop who suffered  a wound to his head that caused considerable blood loss and kept him from the regiment for nearly two months.

Overall Gawthrop was shot three times during the war with the fourth being the most critical. At Five Forks he was shot through the ankle which required the amputation of his foot. This wound would cause him problems through the rest of the war and ended his active participation.

This is a valuable piece of work in that it covers many aspects of the war. For much of their early enlistment the 4th was not active. This allows us to learn about the day to day life of soldiers. Why did they enlist, what training did they receive and others aspects are covered. The 4th went through a period of negativity as the promised bounties were not paid promptly. The 4th had to deal with contrabands while serving around Washington D. C. It was here that they attempted to educate the newly freed children. The men had concerns about what their fellow soldiers were doing to private citizens property. If southern homes and cities were burned and looted what would southern soldiers do to northern property. If you are looking for an in-depth look at the Quaker religion and the war this is probably not the book for you. Somewhat surprisingly there is little discussion of religion.

Well written and thoroughly illustrated the book includes many maps drawn by Lt. Gawthrop himself. I would have liked to have seen modern maps to compare with these soldier drawn ones but that is really just a small quibble. Strongly recommended for anybody interested in Delaware in the war and those interested in the Petersburg campaign. A good read for those interested in the Civil War.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review--The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet: A History of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse

Taylor, Thomas W. The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet: A History of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. Allandale: Self Published, 1993. Bibliography, b/w photos. 53 pages. ISBN 9781885853004.

   Lighthouses have continued to hold the interest of a large number of Americans. Just look at the number of items available for sale with lighthouse images on them. The image doesn't even have to be a real lighthouse to make it sell.

In The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet, author Thomas W. Taylor gives a very brief introductory history to the tallest lighthouse in the state of Florida. Brevity is both a blessing and a curse.

The brevity of the book is a blessing in that it can be easily read in one sitting. For those looking for just a brief primer on the lighthouse this is perfect. There is not a large amount of detail to bog a reader down. There are some photos included with quality varying probably due to the original. I think this brevity is the goal of the book and if so it succeeds.

For those looking for more in-depth information however this is not going to satisfy. While the "killer inlet" legend is discussed there is more to be told and the stories included could have been told in more depth. The first lighthouse from the 1830s receives a brief discussion. The building of the current tower is covered but again there could have been more. I would have liked to know more about the keepers. There is a nice listing of keepers and assistant keepers that I found to be valuable but more information on these men would have been appreciated. The daily life and chores of keepers receive brief mention but a discussion of these chores and the isolated life that the keepers led early in the lighthouse's history should have been included. The lives of children receive mention but again the history of these youngsters would have put a lot of insight into what it was like to live the life of a keeper and family. A more technical covering of the types of lights should have been included. The electrification of the tower and the effects of it are only glanced at as is the importance of the tower during World War II. The story of the tower being reactivated seems to have needed a more in depth discussion.

For what it is this booklet covers the basics. I doubt many readers, including many who say they are interested in lighthouses, would be looking for too much more. There is however a segment of the market that would appreciate an updated and more in depth treatment of this Volusia County landmark. From what I have found this may be the only work on the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse around. As for availability it is a bit tough to find and does not appear on the website for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. If you live in Volusia County check your local library or request it through inter-library loan.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Releases from Southern Illinois University Press

I recently received the Spring and Summer 2014 catalog from Southern Illinois University Press. As of this afternoon this catalog isn't available online yet but I am sure it will be shortly. I did notice a small handful of titles with interest.

Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman written by Joseph R. Fornieri. 
The political genius of Abraham Lincoln remains unequivocal. As a great leader, he saved the Union, presided over the end of slavery, and helped to pave the way for an interracial democracy. In his speeches and letters, he offered enduring wisdom about human equality, democracy, free labor, and free society. This rare combination of theory and practice in politics cemented Lincoln’s legacy as one of the most talented statesmen in American history. Providing an accessible framework for understanding Lincoln’s statesmanship, this thoughtful study examines Lincoln’s political intellect in terms of the traditional moral vision of statecraft as understood by the  political philosophers Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. The enduring wisdom and timeless teachings of these great thinkers, author Joseph R. Fornieri shows, can lead to a deeper appreciation of statesmanship and of its embodiment in Abraham Lincoln.

Statesmanship, Fornieri posits, is a moral greatness that stems from six virtues: wisdom, prudence, duty, magnanimity, rhetoric, and patriotism. Drawing on insights from history, politics, and philosophy, Fornieri tackles the question of how Lincoln evidenced each of these virtues. Through close textual analysis of Lincoln’s speeches and writings and careful consideration of relevant secondary literature, Fornieri reveals Lincoln to be a philosopher statesman in whom political thought and action were united. Lincoln’s character is best understood, he contends, in terms of Aquinas’s understanding of magnanimity or greatness of soul, the crowning virtue of statesmanship. True political greatness, as evidenced by Lincoln, involves both humility and sacrifice for the common good.

With the great philosophers and books of western civilization as his guide, Fornieri demonstrates the important contribution of normative political philosophy to an understanding of our sixteenth president. Informed by political theory that draws on the classics in revealing the timelessness of Lincoln’s example, his interdisciplinary study offers profound insights for anyone interested in the nature of leadership, statesmanship, political ethics, political history, and constitutional law.

Lincoln's Campaign Biographies written by Thomas A. Horrocks. 
During the 1860 and 1864 presidential campaigns, Abraham Lincoln was the subject of over twenty campaign biographies. In this innovative study, Thomas A. Horrocks examines the role that these publications played in shaping an image of Lincoln that would resonate with voters and explores the vision of Lincoln that the biographies crafted, the changes in this vision over the course of four years, and the impact of these works on the outcome of the elections.

Horrocks investigates Lincoln’s campaign biographies within the context of the critical relationship between print and politics in nineteenth-century America and compares the works about Lincoln with other presidential campaign biographies of the era. Horrocks shows that more than most politicians of his day, Lincoln deeply appreciated and understood the influence and the power of the printed word.

The 1860 campaign biographies introduced to America “Honest Abe, the Rail Splitter,” a trustworthy, rugged candidate who appealed to rural Americans. When Lincoln ran for reelection in 1864, the second round of campaign biographies complemented this earlier portrait of Lincoln with a new, paternal figure, “Father Abraham,” more appropriate for Americans enduring a bloody civil war.  Closing with a consideration of the influence of these publications on Lincoln’s election and reelection, Lincoln’s Campaign Biographies provides a new perspective for those seeking a better understanding of the sixteenth president and two of the most critical elections in American history.

Lincoln and Religion written by Ferenc and Margaret Szasz.
Abraham Lincoln’s faith has commanded more broad-based attention than that of any other American president. Although he never joined a denomination, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Spiritualists, Jews, and even atheists claim the sixteenth president as one of their own. In this concise volume, Ferenc Morton Szasz and Margaret Connell Szasz offer both an accessible survey of the development of Lincoln’s religious views and an informative launch pad for further academic inquiry. A singular key to Lincoln’s personality, especially during the presidential years, rests with his evolving faith perspective.

After surveying Lincoln’s early childhood as a Hard-Shell Baptist in Kentucky and Indiana, the authors chronicle his move from skepticism to participation in Episcopal circles during his years in Springfield, and, finally, after the death of son Eddie, to Presbyterianism. They explore Lincoln’s relationship with the nation’s faiths as president, the impact of his son Willie’s death, his adaptation of Puritan covenant theory to a nation at war, the role of prayer during his presidency, and changes in his faith as reflected in the Emancipation Proclamation and his state papers and addresses. Finally, they evaluate Lincoln’s legacy as the central figure of America’s civil religion, an image sharpened by his prominent position in American currency.

A closing essay by Richard W. Etulain traces the historiographical currents in the literature on Lincoln and religion, and the volume concludes with a compilation of Lincoln’s own words about religion.

In assessing the enigma of Lincoln’s Christianity, the authors argue that despite his lack of church membership, Lincoln lived his life through a Christian ethical framework. His years as president, dominated by the Civil War and personal loss, led Lincoln to move into a world beholden to Providence.