Thursday, December 29, 2011

Page: Missouri History Museum, Love letters project

A friend of mine shared this with me and it was too good not to share with you. The Missouri History Place has/will publish a letter a week from a Missouri Union soldier to his fiancée (both natives of Northern Ireland).So we get to watch their Love story (pun intended; the soldier is James Love) slowly unfold.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Sorry, couldnt resist: South Park reenacts the Civil War

This is one reason I love the Civil War Memory blog. One of my favorite shows, South Park, did an episode years ago about a Civil War reenactment. And they get a lot of things right. You can watch the full episode at the link.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

From the Civil War Women Blog: Civil War Christmas

From the Civil War Women Blog (which I can zone out for hours reading) comes a blog about celebrating Christmas during the Civil War. Particularly in the South, which was hardest hit economicaly, families used whatever they had to make the holidays happy.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Podcast: Brown's Island Explosion

From the Civil War Center at Tredeger Iron Works in Richmond comes a series of podcasts, including this one about the Brown's Island Laboratory explosion. The Center is an awesome place, btw. I went there about 10 years ago after begging my parents to stop at some Civil War sites on the way home from the beach.

PS. Sorry about the slightly outdated entries that just got posted. Just figuring out the new Blogger app.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Civil War Trust's to-do List for the 150th Anniversary

The Civil War Trust has compiled a list of things every Civil War enthusiast should do during the sesquicentennial. How many of these have you done?

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blog: Civil War Washington DC

This is a great blog about different aspects about Washington DC during the war, which was of course a very busy place. I hope to see something about the Washington Arsenal in the future, although the penitentiary there is briefly mentioned as the place where the Lincoln assassination conspirators were kept and executed (and is supposedly haunted by Mary Surratt). Check it!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

I know, I've been quiet...

...but I have this awesome article about a "Mythbusters" type exhibit planned at the Heinz History Center, hoping to find out what caused the Allegheny Arsenal explosion, which will be really cool to see. Click below:

In other news, I will be speaking about the Allegheny Arsenal next week, Wednesday the 9th, at my alma mater Edinboro University. Time and place still TBD. But I'm very excited about this opportunity!
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Page: Civil War Kids

This is an awesome page by and for kids, encouraging them to visit and preserve Civil War battlefields. The site, by a young man named Andrew, and presumably some help from his dad, rivals those of some adults. Hopefully, this encourages the next generation to help keep battlefields alive.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blog: On Reenacting

This is another blogger who has made a rebuttal in response to the idea that Civil War living historians are vapid and are missing the point politically (read: slavery), made by president of Harvard and Civil War author Drew Gilpin Faust.

As someone who has spent the last 15 years in the hobby, this is a subject close to my heart. Most of the other reenactors I have gotten to know are like family (and in some cases, literally are). Granted, you have those who come to a reenactment here and there for no other reason to blow powder. And yes, our group has had its share of shenanigans (safely, of course). But the hobby - indeed, lifestyle - has a lot more to offer than many academic historians would like to admit.

It is not that the majority of living historians are ignorant of, or indifferent to, the politics surrounding slavery which caused the war. It is that, less than 50 years coming off of the civil rights movement (because the Civil War only created more issues of race), there is still a great deal of debate *how* to present slavery and the lives of African Americans during that time in a sensitive manner, especially in a hobby that is overwhelmingly white. So unintentionally, it is usually swept under the rug at these events. Hopefuly in time, there will be more ways of teaching slavery without being offensive.

Still, the hobby is not without merit. Yes, it is a lot of fun. While we cannot completely live as our ancestors did (although some living historians known as hardcores try in every way possible to replicate how soldiers lived, down to counting the number of stitches in their clothing), living history gives us, as well as the audience, the *idea* of how they lived. One can see the styles of clothing that they wore, the type of food they ate, even the way they talked (among first-person reenactors) - everything short of dysentery and amputations. So short of making oneself that miserable - although we've spent quite a few cold, rainy nights in leaky canvas - we can come fairly close to how they lived and raise questions among spectators. Still a more stimulating environment than the traditional books and classrooms, no? Pretty much all living historians will happily talk your ear off when asked.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Page: PA Genealogy Trails History of the Allegheny Arsenal

Here is a very well written page about the history of the Allegheny Arsenal by the Pennsylvania Genealogy Trails site. Take a look.
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Page: PA Civil War Trails, Women and the War

I've mentioned PA Civil War Trails road trips in a previous post, but it bears repeating because this page has a theme of women and the war. It gives suggestions of places to go, and the first trip - the Pittsburgh area - includes Arsenal Park, where the Allegheny Arsenal once stood. So if you never have, hop in your car and go!
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thesis: "A Memory Forgotten: Representation of Women and the Washington D.C. Arsenal Monument"

Melissa Sheets of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has written a thesis about the monument memorializing the women who died in the Washington Arsenal explosion. She concludes that the monument is sort of a medium between private grief, which was predominant during the war, and large, public, government sponsored memorial which took hold in the years following the war. She notes that 6 of the 20 victim's families opted to have their loved ones buried elsewhere. Still, the monument and the incident which prompted it are largely forgotten today.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

H-Net Conference on Women and the Civil War

Because the conference focuses on the Allegheny Arsenal explosion and the women who died there, I *need* to go. But what should I present? Help me out!
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Page: Congressional Cemetery website

The Congressional Cemetery website has a number of contemporary newspaper articles about not only the cemetery, but also the Washington Arsenal explosion. The all-female victims of the 1864 explosion were buried here and later honored with a monument.
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Article: "Civil War reenactors immerse themselves in time period"

An article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from almost two weeks about about Civil War reenactors and their passion and devotion to their hobby. I know a couple of the living historians featured, and I disagree 100% with opinions that living history has no value to the profession or to education. This is what piques people's interest and spurs them to study history more in depth. It also creates a more lasting impression among spectators about how life was then. And it's fun, of course.
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Article: The Forgotten Fighters

My sister, In the Swan's Shadow, found another great article about prominent women of Richmond during the Civil War, including Phoebe Yates Pember, the Jewish matron of Chimborazo Hospital; Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a servant of the Davis family who served as a Union spy; and Mary Ryan, the 18 year old Irish immigrant whose actions caused the explosion at the Confederate Laboratory in 1863.
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Page: Virginia United Daughters of the Confederacy erect monument to victims of Brown's Island explosion

This is from the site for the Virginia division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 2001, they erected a memorial to the female victims of the explosion on Brown's Island in 1863.
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Page: Historical Marker Database, Confederate States Laboratory in Richmond

Another great link from the Historical Marker Database about marking the place of the Confederate States Laboratory in Richmond. Sort of strange that Brown's Island, once a place of destruction and tragedy, is now a place for concerts and festivals.
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Page: Historical Marker Database, Women War Workers

The Historical Marker Database has an excellent page about the contributions of women war workers at Washington Arsenal (now Fort Lesley McNair) and in particular, the explosion there in 1864. It details what happened that day and where the marker can be found (inside the fort).
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blog: The Story of Sallie Ann Jarrett

This is a blog written by my sister a couple of years ago about the mascot of our adopted regiment, the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, Sallie Ann Jarrett. Sallie was a Staffordshire terrier (a.k.a. pitbull) who was given as a puppy to the regiment while they were training in the spring of 1861. She faithfully followed the 11th wherever they went, even into battle, even - sadly - to the death at Hatcher's Run in 1865. The men of the 11th remembered her loyalty to them on their monument at Gettysburg, where today, visitors leave doggie treats for her. The story of Sallie is one of the best known animal stories of the Civil War, and can still bring a tear to the eye.
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Monday, July 11, 2011

G&K Paranormal Group: Allegheny Arsenal

For those of you interested in all things paranormal, here is a page by the G&K Paranormal Group out of Butler, Pa. They recently captured a shot at dusk at the magazine of the Allegheny Arsenal, getting a human figure that wasn't there before. Hmm...
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blog: Evangelicals, Republicans, and the Civil War

From the New York Times Opinionator blog, this blog talks about how evangelical Protestants made up much of the early Republican party. During the early to mid-19th Century, evangelicalism was undergoing a surge of popularity known as the Second Great Awakening. Many evangelicals were antislavery, anti-Catholic (as many arsenal workers were), and anti-Mormon, and ultimately, many of them joined what would become the Republican party. Of course, Abraham Lincoln, a moderate, became that party's first president, which many Southerners took as a sign that slavery - and their way of life - was about to be destroyed. However, there were many evangelicals in the South too, so we cannot say that they all shared the same views.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some pictures from the Arts and Heritage Festival

This past weekend was our annual Civil War encampment at the Arts and Heritage Festival at Twin Lakes Park, Greensburg PA. Members from various other groups were represented as well: Knap's Battery, 1st West Virginia Light Artillery, 1st Virginia Cavalry, Blue and Gray Brigade, Keystone Regiment. Here are a few pictures from it, taken by my good friend (and cousin) Lee Miller. And as always, we had fun with our mountain howitzer, as you can see, as a tribute to the 11th's fallen captain.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Video: Death and Mourning in the Civil War

Excellent video about mourning and the concept of "the good death" during the Civil War by the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA. Awesome place, btw. I have a book about mourning featuring their collection on the subject that I bought on my first visit there when I was 16.
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Link: Death, Disease, and Mourning in antebellum Louisiana

While we are on the subject of mourning during the Civil War, I found this fascinating page about death, disease, and mourning in antebellum and wartime Louisiana, with relevant artifacts pictured.

What does mourning have to do with women in arsenals, you may ask? Well, after catastrophic explosions in some of them, the family members of the deceased - and surely, much of the community where they occurred - were plunged into mourning. Since much of those women who worked in arsenals were of the lower classes, their families would likely have kept with social expectations of mourning as best they could, perhaps dying their dresses black and buying as much crepe as they could afford. However, if such women needed to work to support their families, many of them could not stay home as long as their upper-class sisters and needed to get back to work (family members often worked together at the arsenals).
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Mourning during the Civil War era

I would like, if I may, to blog about another of my pet projects: mourning during the Civil War/Victorian era. My interest in the subject began when I was about 13. At the time, my brother-in-law portrayed an undertaker in our Civil War living history group, complete with a pine box. After a battle one day, he collected a "corpse." I was with him and someone asked "Is that your mourner?" And on the way back, I "wept" over the body. Combine that with someone long with "goth" interests, and you've got a passion with this subject.

Anyway, I recently purchased an awesome book by Maureen DeLorme, "Mourning Art and Jewelry." It is richly illustrated and detailed, with mourning art, photography, jewelry, and ephemera dating back to the Medieval period. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Some might ask why people during the Victorian/Civil War era were so elaborate in their mourning, including dressing in varying degrees of black (and lavender and grey) for certain periods of time, post-mortem photography, and hair jewelry/wreaths. Firstly, this was an era (roughly 1837-1901, Victoria's reign) with a high child mortality rate (so much so that babies often weren't named til they survived their first year) and a high mortality rate overall, with poor sanitary conditions that led to diseases that could carry off several family members at a time. Then, of course, there was the Civil War, where 620,000 men (2% of the entire population) died. It was during the war that the funerary industry took off because so many men died so far from home and their families wanted them buried nearby. This necessitated embalming bodies, where before, most people were laid out in the parlors for a few days and were then buried in a churchyard or at home.

Secondly, in 1861, Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert died, and she wore mourning the rest of her life. The whole court followed her example for a time, with elaborate clothing and crepe. With men dying in the Civil War at the time, women on the other side of the pond followed her example and dressed in as much black and crepe as they could afford, even dying their best dresses black if need be. In mourning for a deceased husband, a widow was expected to dress in mourning, gradually incorporating other colors and non-mourning jewelry, for 2 1/2 years. For other relations, it was dressing this way anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 years, depending on the closeness to the deceased.

Also, one must remember that because death was so much a part of everyday life that Victorians talked about death as openly as we talk about sex today. With them, it was the opposite. Today, most deaths occur at a hospital or nursing home and not at home so we are that much more removed from it.

There will be more related blogs to come...I can go all day on this!
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Heinz History Center's Civil War Page

This is the page for Heinz History Center's Civil War events and exhibits (including the recent stop by the Civil War 150 Road Show). Keep checking back for new events and exhibits...I know I will.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Article: Affairs in Rebeldom: Story of an Illinois Scout

Here is another New York Times article about a scout from the 113th Illinois Regiment doing some reconaissance in Mississippi and Alabama in early 1863. If anyone knows about anything about the second Jackson Arsenal explosion occuring that February, please send it to me. Because I can't find any mention of it beyond this article.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

New York Times article: Southern Arsenals and Armories

This is a New York Times article listing the Southern arsenals and armories in existence as of February 1863. Thing is, there were other facilities for cartridge making, and some women did it at home. Got to keep digging...
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A listing of federal arsenals at the time of the Civil War

This is a listing of federal arsenals in existence at the time of the Civil War. I need to find out to what degree women were involved at each of these...and the Southern arsenals I will link to in a moment. I've got my work cut out for me.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

New York Times article about the Jackson Arsenal Explosion

This is one of the few primary sources about the Jackson Arsenal (well, one of the few sources period) that I've been able to find thus far. It is an article from the November 23, 1862 New York Times, a reprint from a Southern newspaper

I found another Times article from 1864 interviewing an Illinois soldier. According to that article, during the Vicksburg campaign of the previous year, a shell hit the arsenal again and killed 126 people. I need to explore that incident more before I post anything about it...
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

National Archives Mid-Atlantic Division Online Exhibit: Blasting Through the Silence: Allegheny Arsenal Explosion and the Creation of Public Memory


I am so excited that the Mid-Atlantic division of the National Archives in Philadelphia has put together this online exhibit about the Allegheny Arsenal explosion and its legacy. It is very well-done, and the painting at the beginning is especially striking. I still need to hit them up for primary sources about it one day. It presents sources that lets the reader be the judge about what caused the explosion.
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Article: The Most Appalling Disaster: Jackson, MS Arsenal Explosion

Until now, I had no idea an arsenal in Jackson existed, let alone that an explosion took place there. But that it did, and I will have to add this to my ever-growing pile of research. This incident, which took place November 5, 1862 in an old schoolhouse that was used for the making ("choking" was it was often called) cartridges. The accidental explosion killed 34 people, about half women and girls. Over the years, this has largely been forgotten, but hopefully I can find all I can about it for my work. H. Grady Howell has done an excellent job here.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Check out my Facebook page!

Go here, like it, all that fun stuff. Tell your friends too!
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Article: Public Education and the National Park Service: Interpreting the Civil War


This is an excellent article my sister found about an issue all Civil War historians, as well as the National Park Service, face: how to interpret slavery and its related politics as the root cause of the war. It is baffling that until the late 1990's, the NPS avoided any mention of it as the cause at its Civil War sites (makes me wish I had paid closer attention, as an 8 year old, at my first trip to Gettysburg). And it is still a point of contention to this day, the sesquicentennial.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Civil War Road Show!

The Pennsylvania 150 Civil War Road Show made its inaugural stop in Pittsburgh this weekend at the Senator John Heinz History Center. Besides the 53 foot exhibit trailer, there was period music, living historians (some of whom I know), and tintype photography demonstrations. All in all, it was a great time, and I encourage everyone to go when it makes a stop in your county in the next few years. These pictures are in reverse order because that's what Blogger likes to do.

Some photos and artifacts inside the trailer.

A comic-strip sort of thing about the real-life mascot of our adopted regiment, a Staffordshire terrier named Sallie Ann Jarrett, who is honored at Gettysburg.

Some minie balls, a belt buckle, and a horseshoe. Some artifacts, such as these, were real while others were reproductions.

Some Grand Army of the Republic artifacts.

One of the stereoscopes of John Burns, the only known civilian to have joined in battle at Gettysburg.

A collage of period photographs taken in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

Part of the entrance path.

The outside of the trailer. Where it was parked is the site of the former Fort Pitt Foundry, where the Rodman gun was developed (the largest in the world at the time) as well as many material contributions to the war effort.

A fly.

A brass Napoleon (I believe)

One of the road show trucks.

The trailer again.

What I could get of the 105th Pennsylvania Wildcat Band.
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

PA 150 Civil War Road Show, starting this weekend

This is the link from Heinz History Center for the kickoff weekend to PA 150's Civil War Road Show, which will stop in every county in the state from now until 2015. There will be living history demonstrations (always interesting to be on the other side of that for once!), period photography demonstrations, music, exhibits, a chance to talk about them, and more. Admission is just $5 this weekend, which also gets you into the Fort Pitt Museum at the Point in Pittsburgh. They have French and Indian War-era living history and such of their own going on this weekend too. Oh, and moms get in free on Sunday! It would be a great way to spend the day with her (my own mother has other plans, but I will be going with my sister, who is a great and busy mom).

I highly recommend that everyone goes to this, even if you would rather wait for it to hit your own county. But this weekend, you can see and do it all!
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pennsylvania Civil War Trails

This is the VisitPa site for Pennsylvania Civil War Trails. It points out the various sites throughout the state that played some part in the war. It also offers road trip ideas if you want to hit several of these sites in a day (or 2, or 3). I highly suggest checking it out!
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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Article: New Threat Looms on Civil War battlefields

You know, it's bad enough when battlefields are threatened by another Wal-Mart (because the world needs more of those, right?) or a casino. But a power plant overlooking the Monocacy battlefield? I sincerely hope that these plans are shot down. It is said that Civil War battlefields are lost at an acre per hour.

The History Channel is doing something that I can finally get behind: the Give 150 project. Go to to give $1.50, which will go directly to the Civil War Trust and the National Parks Foundation.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

From another great blog: "Women and Girls in the Brown's Island Explosion"

This is a well-written post from another excellent blog, Civil War Women Blog, about the Brown's Island explosion. After reading this article, take a look at other entries. The topics range from famous Civil War women to the more obscure, such as general's wives. I'm sure you too will spend hours reading it.
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Article: Ten Common Myths About Women in the Civil War and How to Dispel Them

I found this article fascinating. It is written by Jane E. Schultz, professor at Purdue and author of "Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America" and dispels ten common misconceptions and generalizations about Civil War women. So it is useful for us writers and researchers.
PS - Happy Easter, dear readers!
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Mary Surratt: Victim or Villain?

While we are on the subject of Mary Surratt and "The Conspirator," I will post a couple of posts that my sister and I collaborated on about two years ago in her blog. As I have mentioned, my original paper on her is only in hard copy form now. But I will first post Part 1, written by Melissa (In the Swan's Shadow):

And here is Part 2, written by myself. The original can be found here:

Mary Surratt was arrested on the night of April 17, 1865, along with her daughter Anna, her niece, a young female boarder, and Lewis Powell (alias Paine). Before being taken away, Mary requested a moment to pray in her parlor. Upon searching the boardinghouse, detectives found some pieces of incriminating evidence, such as bullet molds and a carte-de-viste of John Wilkes Booth on the mantle.

After her arrest, Mary was first incarcerated in the Old Capitol Prison, Carroll Annex. Then on April 30, she was transferred to the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary, where the seven other conspirators to be tried were imprisoned. Initially, her cell had only a straw pallet and a bucket for furnishings, but these conditions were later somewhat improved due to her failing health as well as her gender.

The trial of the conspirators began on May 9 in one of the administrative buildings of the Penitentiary. A Military Tribunal of nine men was to decide the fate of these eight conspirators. Mary was represented by two young lawyers appointed for her. Most of the testimony regarding Mary Surratt was favorable; many witnesses attested to her devout nature and kindness. Her daughter Anna also claimed on the stand that her mother had poor eyesight, which could explain why she had failed to recognize Powell on the night of their arrest. Mary – dressed in black and wearing a veil – sat silently through the trial, occasionally waving a fan.

Two witnesses ultimately sealed Mary Surratt’s fate. The first was John Lloyd, to whom Mary had leased her tavern. Lloyd claimed that she had reminded him about the “shooting irons” and other supplies several days before, and on the day of, the assassination. One of Mary’s lawyers, Frederick Aiken, attacked the validity of his testimony because Lloyd was known to be a drunk.

The other damning witness was Louis Weichmann, one of Mary’s former boarders and a War Department clerk, who had gone to Surrattsville with her the day of the assassination. Mary ostensibly was going to Surrattsville in order to collect a debt owed to her . . . in a buggy that Booth rented for her. Weichmann claimed that he had seen Booth give Mary the package he wanted her to deliver to Lloyd, which turned out to contain Booth’s field glasses. He further stated that Booth, Herold, Paine, and Atzerodt had met at Mary’s boardinghouse multiple times. Weichmann claimed that he had told Mary that he was concerned, and she dismissed him, saying that the men were armed because they often rode through the country and needed such protection. There has been some speculation that Weichmann sold Mary out not only to get a better government job, but also because he resented John Jr. – an old schoolmate - leaving him out of participating in the kidnapping plot.

The trial continued until June 30. All eight conspirators were found guilty for their roles in the assassination. Three were given life sentences in the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys; another was given a six-year sentence there. The remaining four – Herold, Atzerodt, Powell, and Mary – were sentenced to be hanged. The Commission relied heavily on the testimony of both Lloyd and Weichmann in order to convict Mary. However, five of the nine members of the Commission signed a document for President Andrew Johnson, recommending Mary’s sentence be commuted to life imprisonment on account of her age and sex. Johnson claimed that he had never seen this document, and maintained that Mary deserved her sentence because she “kept the nest that hatched the egg” of the conspiracy. He believed that if Mary’s life was spared, men would hide behind women to commit crimes.

The condemned were not informed of their sentences until July 6, the day before their executions. At the time, few people believed that the United States Government would hang a woman. Nor did many believe that she deserved this severe of a sentence. Anna Surratt and Mary’s lawyers attempted to plead for Mary’s life before Johnson, but they were all turned away.

Anna was permitted to spend the night with her mother, as were two Catholic priests, who prayed with her all night.
The executions were scheduled for noon the next day, July 7. At 10 AM, Anna was ordered away from her mother. This final goodbye was by all accounts heartbreaking. Mary’s priests remained with her. The execution was held off as long as possible, in case a last-minute commutation sparing Mary’s life came from the White House. It never did. Mary was thus about to become the first woman executed by the United States Government.

By noon, the weather was already at least 95 degrees. Spectators climbed trees and crowded outside of the Penitentiary gates in order to get a glimpse of the execution. The four prisoners, who were still manacled, were marched outside to the gallows in the prison yard. Mary – veiled and dressed in a black bombazine dress – could barely stand, and had to be supported by two Union soldiers.

The prisoners climbed the thirteen steps of the gallows and were seated. General Winfield Scott Hancock read the charges aloud to them. Their hands and feet were bound with white cloth and white hoods were placed over their heads. Mary’s priests stayed by her side, whispering prayers. Finally, the nooses were placed around their necks. Significantly, Mary’s only had five turns instead of the usual seven because not even the hangman, Captain Christian Rath, believed that she would really be executed. Rath turned to Hancock, as if to say, “Her too?” Hancock nodded. Mary whispered her final words, “Please don’t let me fall.”

Soldiers released the front of the platform out from under the condemned, and the four dropped to their deaths. Mary died relatively quickly, while the men struggled for at least five minutes. When they were dead, the bodies were cut down and placed in simple pine ammunition chests. Glass bottles containing their names were placed beside the bodies, and they were buried right in the prison yard.

Ironically, one year later, the Supreme Court ruled that a military tribunal had no jurisdiction in civilian trials if civil courts were open, which they had been in the summer of 1865. Such a ruling would have at least saved Mary’s life. Also, it has been claimed that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton withheld evidence – namely Booth’s diary (which had been found on his person when he was cornered and killed) - from the trial that could also have saved her. The diary ultimately proved that Booth and his conspirators had initially planned to kidnap, but not kill, Lincoln. Indeed, about thirty pages are also missing from the diary.

John Jr., who was supposedly in Montreal at the time of the assassination, escaped to Europe shortly thereafter. He joined the Papal Zouaves [in Italy], but fled when he was recognized, subsequently captured in Alexandria [Egypt], and brought back to the States. His civil trial was held in 1867 in Washington [DC]. With virtually the same witnesses that had testified at his mother’s trial, it resulted in a hung jury, and he was released on bail. Some have held that Mary was arrested and tried in order to bring John out of hiding, and that the commissioners took out their resentment of being unable to capture John out on her. In 1869, Anna succeeded in claiming her mother’s body, and Mary was reburied in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington. Ironically, John Lloyd is buried within a hundred yards of her.

Mary’s guilt or innocence has long been a subject of historical debate, and probably always will be. Some have held that her execution was a result of anti-Catholic sentiment that was then prevalent in America. At the time, some of the public believed that Lincoln’s assassination was a Papist plot; Dr. Samuel Mudd, who had been tried and convicted for setting Booth’s broken leg and aiding him and Herold while were on the run, was also Catholic. It did not help that the country was in a vengeful mood after the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination.

Just before Weichmann died in 1902, he swore an affidavit on his deathbed that everything he said during the trial was true. In 1977, a “Lost Confession” by George Atzerodt surfaced, confirming her involvement: “Booth told me that Mrs. Surratt went to Surrattsville to get the guns (Two Carbines) which had been taken to that place by Herold. This was Friday.” Many historians hold that while Mary almost certainly knew about the kidnapping plot, she may or may not have known about the assassination plot. Her story continues to divide people, who argue how much she knew of the assassination plot, and whether or not she deserved to die for it.
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Movie Review: "The Conspirator"

I would like, if I may, to stray a bit from my blog's theme to another of my pet projects. I have been interested in Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the United States Government for her alleged role in the Lincoln assassination, since high school. Since then, I have written a good-sized paper and done much research on her (unfortunately, the digital copy of that paper was lost when my college laptop died; still have a hard copy, though). So as you can imagine, I was geeking out with anticipation for the release of "The Conspirator." I was unhappy that it was not playing in my hometown, but when I visited one of my college friends in Erie last weekend, she and I saw it together. It met my expectations, and then some. If you haven't done so, I highly recommend it. This film is possibly the most historically accurate one I have ever seen.

Robin Wright portrays Mary Surratt ably, as a Maryland widow who moves to Washington to support herself and her children by taking in boarders (as was common at the time) and gets swept up in the doings of John Wilkes Booth through her son John, a Confederate courier. James McAvoy portrays one of her appointed attourneys - and a Union veteran - Frederick Aiken (another of her lawyers, John Clampitt, is not included in the movie, probably to keep from bogging down the plot in too much detail). Aiken is initially reluctant to defend her, but he comes to believe in his client's innocence. Initially, Booth, John Surratt, and other conspirators seek to kidnap and ransom Lincoln. But when Lincoln proposed giving some freedmen the right to vote, Booth's plan changed to murder. How much Mary knew of either plot, and whether or not she was much involved, is still debated today. The movie is largely sympathetic to her, but it still allows the audience to judge for themselves her guilt or innocence. To experts on the subject, there are some glaring inconsistencies with the original events: the omission of Mary Surratt's other priest, the appearance of the Old Penitentiary Building (it didnt have a moat), and the appearance of some of the key players themselves.

"The Conspirator" draws some contemporary parallels about how people in power can use fear after cataclysmic events (in this case, the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination) to justify drastic measures against civilians, whether or not they be guilty.

You can watch the trailer for "The Conspirator" here:
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Monday, April 11, 2011

150th Civil War Anniversary Ceremony, live tomorrow @10AM

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, which "officially" begins the Civil War sesquicentennial. There will be a ceremony conducted at the capitol in Harrisburg, and streamed live on Representative Paul Clymer's website linked above. It begins at 10AM. I wont be able to catch it due to going to work and my lack of internet beyond my Android...but hopefully you can. Tell me how it is!
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Article: Alle-Kiski Valley Answers the call During the Civil War

Another great article from today's Valley-Dispatch (affiliated with the Tribune Review) about the Alle-Kiski Valley's Civil War experience.
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Article: Iron, Coal, Soldiers

Great article in today's Tribune-Review (my local paper) about Pittsburgh's and Pennsylvania's contributions to the Civil War effort. Check it!
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

PA 150: Pittsburgh During the Civil War

The above link is to the Pennsylvania Civil War 150's page about the Pittsburgh area during the Civil War. Though there were no battles fought here, Pittsburgh contributed heavily in manpower and materiel, and it was strategically important because of its location at the head of the Ohio River. Because of this, there was fear throughout the war of it being a target of Confederate raids or attacks. During the sesquicentennial, there will be a calendar of events pertaining to that all across the state. The page has links to local spots, including the Heinz History Center, Allegheny Cemetery, and the LeMoyne House (in Washington, Pa) - all of which i have visited. It also has links to county and local historical societies if you are curious about your own local or family's connection to the conflict and want to delve into research. So, keep checking the page for updates on things to see and do! I know i will be.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Another book worth reading: "Bloody Crimes" by James Swanson

I am over halfway through James Swanson's "Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse" after having started it last night. It deals with the dual journey of Abraham Lincoln in death and Jefferson Davis's flight and subsequent arrest after the fall of Richmond; though the two men shared a lot of similarities, they never crossed paths at all. I cannot put it down; the Lincoln assassination is another obsession of mine, Mary Surratt in particular (I may post a blog I wrote for my sister's site a while ago later). A few years back, Swanson also wrote "Manhunt" about the 12-day pursuit of John Wilkes Booth after the assassination. I was doubly excited when I read a detailed account of the Washington Arsenal explosion in "Bloody Crimes" full of good quotes about the incident. It received mention because Lincoln attended the services for the girls killed at the arsenal - more of the many deaths that touched him throughout his life.
My only gripes: lack of proper listings of the newspaper accounts about this in either the footnotes or the bibliography (6 years of college writing makes one obsessive about these kinds of things) making it harder for me to track down these valuable sources. Also, I dislike Swanson's rather harsh treatment of Mary Todd Lincoln, to whom I am mostly sympathetic; mental illness was little understood at the time (and losing three of her four sons and having her husband shot in front of her only made it worse for her).
All this aside, this book is a page turner, to be sure. I highly recommend it for a rainy day read.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Article: "Young Lives Snuffed Out in U.S. Arsenal Explosion"

Great article from the Washington Times by Martha M. Boltz about the explosion at the Washington Arsenal. *And* I've stumbled upon another awesome blog with great detail about this explosion too. Waiting to hear back from the author...will post a link to that later.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Article: Deadly Duty in the Arsenals, by the Civil War Trust

Here is an excerpt from an article about arsenal disasters and how they effected women in the Civil War Trust's publication, Hallowed Ground Magazine. Now I need to lay hands on the whole article...
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The miniseries that started it all for me...

My butt will be parked in front of the TV most of next week for this. I am posting it here because the Ken Burns series is what started it all for me, what quite literally changed my life and set me on the course I have been on for...17 years now? If you have never seen this very well done series, you should. It is full of photos and music that paint a pretty rich picture of the war. It deals a good bit with women, mostly better-known ones (i.e., Mary Chestnut, Clara Barton)...talking about their work in arsenals would have been a plus. The site for the series is pretty nifty, can even make your own clip!
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book review - Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Homefront, by Judith Giesberg

Available at Amazon:

I purchased this book a few weeks ago after stumbling upon an article by Judith Giesberg about women in arsenals (see older blog entry for link to article). It has proven to be a goldmine for me, especially about the Watertown Arsenal in Massachussetts, which i had only ever seen in passing in most sources. Not only does it cover women in arsenals in detail, but Giesberg offers a few more sort of case studies about little-known working women in the North; as she writes, working women in the South are covered elsewhere in detail.

Giesberg begins the book talking about a woman named Lydia Bixby, a woman who supposedly lost five sons to the war. President Lincoln wrote her what is probably the most famous condolence letter ever (it is read in "Saving Private Ryan"). Mrs. Bixby has been thought to be a fraud trying to get a pension, but it is more likely that she lost three sons and had been a working woman in Boston. Like most working women during the war, she receives the briefest of mentions before disappearing from history. Giesberg discusses how working women responded to the national crisis, to the extent of filling in some men's roles in order to keep farms and businesses going. By doing this, such women made society as a whole question what roles women should or would play in the future. During the mid-nineteenth century, separate men's and women's spheres were strictly defined. The Civil War raised questions about that.

The first chapter discusses through their letters how farm women in various Pennsylvania counties struggled to manage their farms while their husbands were away. Some women wrote to Governor Curtin asking to either bring their husbands home or for aid.
Another chapter describes how women - in this case, in Massachussetts - could be thrust into poverty and homelessness when their men were killed. Many officials believed, sometimes rightly, that women asking for aid were just working the system.

The chapter on women munitions workers focuses on women in the Allegheny and Watertown arsenals. After the Allegheny explosion, people tried to forget and move on. It is through the efforts of the survivors that these women were memorialized at all, often many years later. Meanwhile, at Watertown, women there petitioned authorities - over the heads of their superiors - about sexual harassment that occurred and safety violations that needed to be fixed. It was the opinion of most of the men in charge that women lost their need for "protection" from men once they entered a traditonally male workplace. Something that still goes on today...

Another chapter talks about how African American women worked to desegregate streetcars in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Streetcar travel was needed for these women to go to work or nurse the wounded. Desegregation on streetcars did occur during and shortly after the war all over the nation.

Again, I dont wish to give too much away. The main idea of this book is that working women were "bodies out of place" out of necessity during the war. Indeed, especially for lower-class families, women's work was needed for their survival. They also fought to gain some level of respect and recognition in order to best do their work, and to make sure their and their men's sacrifices were not in vain.
This book is a scholarly kind of read for anyone who wishes to know more about a tradionally marginalized group during the war. After all, a lot of accounts about women duing the Civil War are by and about the more well-to-do.
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Book review - Infantry and Industry: The Civil War in Western Pennsylvania

Available at Amazon:

When the topic of the Civil War in Pennsylvania comes to mind, most people would think of Gettysburg. Indeed, one of the most important battles of the war was fought in south-central Pennsylvania. But few people would give much thought to Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. However, this region was of much more vital importance than most might realize. Brian Butko and Nicholas Ciotola of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania - housed in the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center - have put together a collection of articles published over the years in the Society's magazine, what is now Western Pennsylvania History. These ten articles (dating as far back as 1923) discuss various aspects of Western Pennsylvania's contributions to the Civil War.

Not only did tens of thousands of men from this side of the state join the Union forces, but they and many more trained at various camps in and around Pittsburgh. One such camp was Camp Wilkins, in what is now the Strip District. It is featured in an article in this book. Pittsburgh was also a point of departure to the war in the midwest. The region also turned out many distinguished officers, including the aforementioned General Alexander Hays. The book features an article about General James Scott Negley, who had been initially successful at battles in the west, but was blamed for disobeying orders at the battle of Chickamauga, TN in September 1863. He was relieve of command the next month, but later had his name cleared.
Pittsburgh was not the only city or town effected by the war. One article does a case study of the small town of New Castle, north of the city, and its contributions in manpower and iron items. Another article shows some of the correspondence from a young "Bucktail" soldier from Warren County, Cordello Collins.
The Allegheny Arsenal has been covered almost to exhaustion in some sources (as I too will later). One article discusses Pittsburgh's contributions in guns, ammunition, supplies, and iron plating for the newfangled ironclad ships for the Union Navy. There was a constant fear during the war of Confederate raids on Pittsburgh because of all the guns and such stockpiled here, including at the Fort Pitt Foundry, located on 28th Street.
Women's contributions do not go unnoticed here. In 1864, the Sanitary Fair was held in Pittsburgh by the local chapter of the United States Sanitary Commission for the benefit of supplying soliders with food, medicine, and other necessities.
There are a few more articles in this book also; I dont wish to give too much away. This little volume should be an essential part of anyone's Civil War library, especially since it is about a place little-known for its important contributions to the war effort.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pittsburgh during the Civil War: Pictures from the Heinz History Center

I finally got to the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh today with my sister (who had never been there) to take a walk-through as well as hit up their archives for information about the Allegheny Arsenal. I did find some new information (well, new to me), but it is fairly safe to say that I have almost exhausted the information on that area. I interned at the History Center almost three years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed working in that kind of atmosphere. If only getting a job was as easy...

Here, some pictures from the Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation exhibit regarding the Allegheny Arsenal as well as Pittsburgh's involvement in the War in general. Pittsburgh was strategically important to the war effort because of its position at the headwaters of the Ohio River, which enabled supplies to be transferred to the midwest. The city's foundries and arsenal also turned out a lot of guns, ammunition, and other military supplies. So it's picture-heavy, kids.
These two dresses are in the Center's Special Collections, which has all sorts of cool items that everyday people in the Pittsburgh area from many different ethnic groups used. I am in serious lust with these Civil War era dresses, especially the green one. I would place these circa 1865 because the dresses both have a bit of a train going toward the back.

Sword made by Tiffany and Company, presented to General Alexander Hays, a Franklin, PA native who was a civil engineer in Pittsburgh, with a Zouave soldier carved into the handle.

Painting of Jane Grey Swisshelm, another Pittsburgh native who was an abolitionist as well as a journalist and nurse during the war. I believe she was the only female journalist to be present during the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators in 1865.

Broadside from the Pittsburgh Sanitary Fair in 1864. Sanitary fairs were held by chapters of the United States Sanitary Commission. This was a nationwide organization that raised money for supplies to care for soldiers, and was something with which women were heavily involved.

Martin R. Delany, a Pittsburgh native, doctor, and abolitionist who would become the highest ranking African American soldier during the war, as a major.

General Alexander Hays, whose sword is pictured above, and commanded the Third Division during the Gettysburg Campaign. He was killed during the Wilderness Campaign in 1864 and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.

Replica of a 20-inch Rodman gun. It's plastic!

Types of balls used in larger cannons, including a 20-pounder.

Information about Colonel Thomas J. Rodman, who was in command of the Allegheny Arsenal for a time before assuming command of the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts. He was also an inventor, who invented the Rodman gun represented above.

Painting of the Pittsburgh Foundry, which turned out a lot of cannon and other items during the war.

Replica of a limber chest for an artillery piece, with a lot of artillery implements that also would have been manufactured at the Allegheny Arsenal. More of these are picture below.

Some of the types of artillery shells made at Allegheny Arsenal, including spherical case shot and solid shot.

A Remington .44 revolver and some small arms ammunition that would also have been made there.

Examples of cartridges that many women would have rolled, filled, and tied off.

Two pictures of women working in arsenals, 1860 and 1861, respectively.
An example of an 1859 McClellan saddle, made at the Arsenal in 1863. Yes, it was invented by General George McClellan.

Picture of a receipt from the Arsenal.

Picture of the Arsenal front, 1864.

All in all, a very busy and productive day. Every Western Pennsylvanian - no, everyone with interest in history - should go to the Heinz History Center.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

For those who love historical cooking, living history, and the like

Here is my big sister's blog: She has done a good deal to promote my own work and helped me with the original paper (among many other things).

She is an interpreter/archivist at West Overton Museums in Scottdale, PA, and often blogs about museum events. She also does a lot of work with historical foodways and cooking from Medieval on up. (I give her props for that; my idea of cooking is heating something from the freezer. She got the cooking gene from our father where I didn't). We are both very involved in living history, both Civil War and medieval, so there are many topics within that as well. So...check it! It's a nice place to geek out.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Article by Judith Giesberg: Explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal » HistoryNet

This is a great article about women in Civil War arsenals by Judith Giesberg, from Civil War Times last April. I need to get hold of her and start digging for info about the Watertown Arsenal in Massachussetts. I definitely plan to use it in my book.

Explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal » HistoryNet
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Allegheny Arsenal today

Today, I took a trip into the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh to see the former Allegheny Arsenal grounds. Allan Becer of CMU graciously led me around, giving me some more information. We also took a trip to nearby Allegheny Cemetery, where the 78 victims of the explosion are buried, 54 of them unidentified and under their monument. There is little that remains of the wartime structures today. The US Ordnance Department abandoned the arsenal after the war and in 1900, began selling off portions of its land to the City of Pittsburgh. It served as a Quartermaster storage area during World War I.

This is part of what were the lower arsenal grounds. The land is divided by Butler Street. The lower grounds were where the barracks and quartermaster were, keeping them away from the main laboratory in the event of an explosion. To the right is a bridge over the Allegheny River.

Arsenal Middle School now stands on much of the original arsenal grounds. There is a Civil War naval cannon outfront that has nothing to do with the arsenal; it's pretty much for decoration. There were once warehouses on this spot.

More of the lower arsenal grounds across Butler Street. The brick warehouse in the background is a postwar structure. Near the front is where the great castlelike gatehouse once stood (see previous post with photo of it).

This is the powder magazine, the only building from the arsenal present during the war that still stands. Barrels of powder would be transfered from there to the labs for the day's use. It housed from 800 to 1,000 barrels of black powder. Now it houses restrooms and a maintenance shed for the nearby ballfield and playground. In front was once a pond, now filled with cement. During the explosion, before fire fighters got there, workers formed a sort of bucket brigade, dumping buckets of water from the pond onto the flames.

This big plaque is not original to the was on the gatehouse, if I remember correctly. Somehow, some guy found it, kept it for years, and then donated it. The crossed cannons is the symbol of the US Ordnance Department, and April 1814 was when building of the arsenal began. At the bottom of the guns is A.R.W., the initials of Abram R. Wooley, the first commandant of the arsenal. And I believe the number of stars around it was the number of states in the union at the time.
Plaque on the magazine memorializing the arsenal and its explosion.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission plaque to the Allegheny Arsenal.

The corner of this ballfield is most likely where the main laboratory where the explosion occured was. The lab was rebuilt after the incident, but not in the exact location as the original one. The walkways in the park seem to have been paved over the original walkways in the arsenal. Bodies of the victims were laid out on boards on the walkway beside the ballfield after the explosion so they might be identified. Apparently, body parts were being found a block or two away.

This monument is at Allegheny Cemetery, about a half mile or so from the explosion. It lists the names of all 78 victims of the explosion, the overwhelming majority being female. 54 of the bodies could not be positively indentified, so they are buried in a mass grave under here. Others are buried individually, while a good number of Irish Catholic victims are buried separately in the St. Mary's portion of the cemetery, just past the fence behind the monument. Songwriter Stephen Foster - who was well-known during the Civil War era - is also buried in the cemetery. His father was one of the founders of Lawrenceville.
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