Artifact of the Month: A Union private’s silk curtain from General Bragg’s carriage

This silk curtain from the North Carolina Collection Gallery dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. It hung in Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s carriage but somehow ended up in the hands of a Union private in mid-1863. To know the story, read on…

As mentioned in the post about the Braggs of North Carolina, Braxton Bragg of Warrenton began his service for the Confederate States Army in Louisiana. On February 6, 1861, he was appointed commander-in-chief of Louisiana’s state army with the rank of brigadier general. A month later, Bragg assumed command of the Confederate holdings at Pensacola, Florida. After the onset of war with the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, more soldiers arrived in Pensacola, and Bragg was in command of nearly 7,000 troops needing to be organized and trained. Bragg’s work with the new soldiers impressed President Jefferson Davis, who sent some of the troops to Virginia and replaced them with new volunteers needing training. According to Samuel J. Martin’s General Braxton Bragg, C.S.A., the Secretary of War promoted Bragg to the rank of major general in October and expanded his command to the holdings at Mobile, Alabama.

In February 1862, Confederate forces withdrew from Pensacola as Federal troops continued to attack. Bragg and his 10,000 troops were sent to the Mississippi-Tennessee border where General Sidney Johnston and his regiments were marching after engagements with Union Generals Grant’s and Buell’s armies. Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard, Leonidas Polk, and William J. Hardee also marched to the area of Corinth, Mississippi. There, Bragg was named one of the three leaders of the Army of Mississippi, and he was also appointed chief of staff with the responsibility of training the troops. On April 3, 1862, the Army of Mississippi headed northward into Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh began on April 6.

Considered a Union victory, the two-day battle resulted in a total of over 1,700 dead and 8,000 wounded as well as thousands of missing. Nevertheless, at its end, President Davis promoted Bragg to the rank of general, making him one of seven to attain the rank within the C.S.A. After moving his troops to Chattanooga, Bragg marched north into Kentucky. On October 8, 1862, Bragg’s troops fought in the Battle of Perryville. Considered a victory in different ways for each side, there were over 500 Confederate dead, over 2,600 wounded, and 250 captured. Bragg had failed to push the Federal forces out of Kentucky, but a few weeks later, President Davis gave Bragg control of the Department of East Tennessee. Bragg then assumed the role of head of the Army of Tennessee.

Bragg established his headquarters at Murfreesboro. On December 31, 1862, his troops engaged with those of Union General Rosecrans in the Battle of Murfreesboro. After 10,000 of his soldiers were killed, wounded, and captured, Bragg ordered a retreat south to Tullahoma nearer the Alabama border. Outspoken criticism of the general was widespread throughout the citizenry of the C.S.A. as well as the officers and other men of the army. In response, Bragg sought to reorganize and ready his men for another campaign. President Davis wanted to remove his old friend from the command of the Army of Tennessee, but this did not happen due to a variety of circumstances. In late June 1863, General Rosecrans sent his army into central southern Tennessee to battle again with Bragg, who was convinced to fall back further south in order to better protect supply lines. As Rosecrans pursued, Bragg decided on July 2, 1863 to retreat further south for a better tactical position. Disliking the position, Bragg then ordered his troops to march eastward to Chattanooga, giving up central Tennessee to the Union.

On July 5, 1863, Union Private Samuel Patton wrote a letter to his wife, Nellie, in which he states: “Gen. Bragg in his hasty retreat was compelled to leave his private carriage and retreat on horseback, though it is said his health is so poor that he looks like a ghost. The carriage is built in the style of those used by the ‘upper ten’ in large cities and probably cost about a thousand dollars before the war commenced. It was built in New York City. I took off one of the silk curtains from one of the windows, wrapped it in a newspaper, and sent it to you by mail. I should like to know if you get it.” Nellie did indeed receive the silk curtain, and Patton’s nephew, S.A. Slemmons, inherited it. On January 20, 1938, The Wooster Daily Record in Ohio published an article (shown below) including a transcript of the letter. Slemmons’ great-grandson William Race, a professor in the Department of Classics here at UNC, later inherited the curtain and donated it to the North Carolina Collection. The curtain’s dimensions are 19″ x 23″. It has survived for almost 150 years, and its incredible story adds to the strength of the collection here at the NCC.

N.C. congressmen kept sergeant at arms busy

“[In 1840], as now, violence was a common feature of American life. There were even fistfights in Congress: North Carolina Congressman Jesse Bynum crossed the chamber to ‘grossly insult’ Louisiana Representative Rice Garland,  who punched Bynum, igniting a ‘fisticuff bout’ until they were separated. …. Ten days later North Carolina Congressmen Kenneth Rayner and William Montgomery broke canes over one another’s heads.”

— From “Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress” by Joseph Wheelan (2008)

The two quoted phrases are drawn from the copious journals of Adams, who after his single term as president represented Massachusetts for 17 years in Congress.

Crusoe Island and the French Revolution

Crusoe Island detail of Columbus County map

It’s Bastille Day and we’re marking the occasion on these shores by remembering Crusoe Island.

Legend has it that the Columbus County community, which now goes by the name Riverview, was founded by French refugees from the revolutions in France and Haiti. Supposedly Jean Formy-Duvall, a French army surgeon in the late 18th or early 19th century, conspired with an execution squad to spare the lives of a small group of royalists. Formy-Duvall and his co-conspirators filled the executioners’ guns with blanks. As the guns discharged, the condemned feigned death. Formy-Duvall created fake death certificates and he and those whose lives he had spared headed for the French countryside. When the conspiracy was discovered the group fled for Haiti.

The fleeing group’s time in Haiti was relatively short-lived. A slave insurrection arose there in 1791 and many French settlers fled the island. Formy-Duvall and his group supposedly took to the Caribbean in an open boat. Sometime thereafter they were picked up at sea by a ship, which eventually dropped them on the North Carolina coast at Smithville (now known as Southport).

At this point the story becomes even more incredible. As historian Wilson Angley has pointed out in Columbus County North Carolina: Recollections and Records , for some unexplained reason Formy-Duvall and his compatriots headed inland toward swampy terrain near Lake Waccamaw. In so doing, they bypassed areas more suitable for settlement.

The location of the settlement, on a small rise of land bounded on 3 sides by the Waccamaw River and on the fourth by Green Swamp ( it’s not actually an island) left its residents relatively isolated. They survived by fishing, subsistence farming, shingle-making, basket-weaving, hunting and occasionally trading furs in the nearby town of Old Dock.

Crusoe Island’s isolation and residents’ distinct style of speech, which struck some visitors as French-sounding, led to speculation as to the community’s origins. Those supporting a tie between France and Crusoe Island also pointed to the similarity between chimneys built in the Columbus County settlement and those constructed in Normandy. Some also suggested that such common Crusoe Island surnames as Sasser and Clewis were Anglicized versions of DeSaucierre and Cluveiries. Other common names in the community–Forney, Duvall, Dubois and Dupre–also suggest a French origin.

Besides French refugees, residents were said to be the descendants of the Lost Colony, pirates hiding from the authorities, white settlers escaping pirate raids on the coast, deserters from the Revolutionary or Civil wars, English settlers and Indians who intermarried and were driven inland from the coast.

The origins of the community’s name are also in dispute. One story suggests that the settlement was named for Ben Crusoe. But there is no Crusoe listed in local census records from the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Residents have long disputed the story of French origins. They trace their ancestry to three settlers of English origins–Cornelis Clewis, Laspeyre Long and Elias Register.

The mysteries and legends tied to Crusoe Island are cited as some of the reasons that locals sought to change the name of the community. And, in 1961, the General Assembly agreed to residents’ request to rename the settlement Riverview.

While legislators may have settled on the community’s name, they were unable to certify its origins. Vive le mystere.

The Winston Cup Museum

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte, North Carolina (where it should be), but did you know that there is a Winston Cup Museum in Winston Salem? I have to admit that I didn’t–until I saw a billboard advertising it on I-40. Although it isn’t officially connected with RJR or any of that company’s affiliates, it “is a tribute to R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s 33-year NASCAR sponsorship.”

Although that sponsorship ended in 2003 (with the racing series renamed the “NEXTEL Cup Series” and now the “Sprint Cup Series”), I’m sure many long-time NASCAR fans remember their favorite driver winning the “Winston Cup.” I’m guessing this museum would be right up their alley.

Markets quake as S&P ponders link dump downgrade

— Unlike similar small-town shrines to Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, the Ava Gardner Museum is achieving at least modest success — thanks to Frank?

Confederate money had its day.

— Eleanor Roosevelt slept here, Ike and Tina fought there.

Yadkin Trail marker overgrown but not overlooked.

— Derek Jeter, 3,004 hits ago.


The Braggs of North Carolina

Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, I heard the Bragg name often, particularly in relation to a grand home that frequently served as the site of wedding receptions. I left town seven years ago and headed north without having scored an invitation to celebrate at the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, and I had put the Bragg family out of mind. That is, until settling here in Chapel Hill. Just over sixty miles down the road sits Fayetteville and a certain large Army base bearing the Bragg family name. Confronted again with the Bragg name, I got curious about the family and the ties, if any, between the Braggs of Alabama and those in North Carolina.

The family of fourteen (twelve children – six boys and six girls) hailed from Warrenton, North Carolina, and the male members created an impressive family résumé. The patriarch, Thomas Bragg, a contractor, built the state capitol building in Raleigh after a fire destroyed it in 1830. The eldest son, John, served as a member of the House of Commons after graduating from UNC in 1924 and then moved to Alabama where he became a state representative, a Congressman, and a judge. He also built the aforementioned Bragg-Mitchell Mansion and lived there for over twenty years. The second son, Thomas, also studied law and served in North Carolina’s House of Commons before being elected governor and then a senator. In November 1861, Thomas was appointed Attorney General of the Confederate States of America. The third son, Dunbar, moved to Alabama and then Texas where he became the first postmaster of the town of Fairfield. The fourth son, William, a captain in the Confederate Army, died in 1863 from wounds received at Chattanooga. The fifth son, Alexander, followed in his father’s footsteps and designed the first brick Wake County Courthouse before moving to Alabama where he built numerous buildings. With so many examples to follow, Braxton, the youngest son, seemed destined to succeed.

The last Bragg son was born March 22, 1817. After graduating from Warrenton Academy, Braxton entered the United States Military Academy at West Point at age sixteen. He finished fifth in his class in 1837 and was commissioned with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. Bragg’s unit was involved in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War, by the end of which he had earned the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. During his military service, Bragg fought with William Sherman, Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott, and Joseph Hooker, all of whom would later fight against one another in the Civil War.

Bragg retired with his wife to Louisiana in the 1850s. When Louisiana seceded from the United States on January 26, 1861, the governor named Bragg a Major-General of the Confederate States Army. President Jefferson Davis then promoted his old friend to the rank of Brigadier-General. One year into the war, Bragg was promoted to the full rank of General. As the fifth General of the Confederate States Army, Bragg remains one of only seven to hold that position in the C.S.A.

The North Carolina Collection possesses an 1898 book entitled Military records of general officers of the Confederate States of America published in New York. This book contains portraits of and information about the commander-in-chief, generals, lieutenant-generals, and major generals of the C.S.A. The images below are of the title page and the two pages concerning General Bragg. Bragg served in various posts along the Gulf Coast as well as in Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. In 1864, he was appointed President Jefferson Davis’ military adviser. After the war, Bragg moved from Alabama to Louisiana to Texas, where he died suddenly in Galveston in 1876 at the age of 59. His body was taken to Mobile, Alabama where he was buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

This North Carolina family extended its reach well beyond the town of Warrenton and the state’s borders, and the Bragg name certainly has a new meaning for me. Stay tuned for more about General Bragg when the next Artifact of the Month entry is posted!

Behind the lines, fighting malaria with whiskey

On this day in 1863: Private D.L. Day, Co. B, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, writes in his journal at Hills Point on the Pamlico River:

“This being an isolated post and several miles from any commissary or sutler, the officers feared it would be terribly infected with malaria; having regard for the health and welfare of the men, they prevailed on our assistant surgeon, Doctor Flagg, to order whiskey rations.

“Up went the order and down came the whiskey, and now the order is to drink no more river water, but take a little whiskey as a preventive. This will prove a terrible hardship to the boys, but the surgeon’s order is imperative.

“Commanders of companies deal out the whiskey to their men, consequently, I deal out to mine, and when I wish to reward any of my braves for gallant and meritorious conduct, I manage to slop a little extra into their cups. That keeps them vigilant and interested and gallant. Meritorious conduct consists of bringing in watermelons, peaches and other subsistence, of which they somehow become possessed.”

Murdoch denies hacking link dump phones

“Colonial America’s Interstate 95.” (Or maybe I-81?)

David Goldfield gets his turn at bat in the Disunion blog.

— Alas, high-altitude vandalism didn’t end with Elisha Mitchell’s monument.

— Did I really kill half a morning reading these obsessively detailed histories of moribund malls in Eden, High Point and Hendersonville?