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, too...you 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: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/080783307X/ref=mp_s_a_1?qid=1301192584&sr=8-1

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: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0936340118/ref=mp_s_a_1?qid=1300753978&sr=8-1

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: http://theebonswan.blogspot.com/ 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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