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President Abraham Lincoln signed The Freedmen’s Bureau Act on March 3, 1865.  That Act created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands as part of the War Department. It provided one-year of funding, and made Bureau officials responsible for providing food, clothing, fuel, and temporary shelter to destitute and suffering refugees behind Union lines and to freedmen, their wives, and children in areas of insurrection (in other words, within the Confederate States). The legislation specified the Bureau’s administrative structure and salaries of appointees. It also directed the Bureau to put abandoned or confiscated land back into production by allotting not more than 40 acres to each loyal refugee or freedman for their use for not more than three years, at a rent equal to six percent of its 1860 assessed value, and with an option to purchase. The Bureau assumed additional duties in response to freed people’s goals, namely building schools, negotiating labor contracts, and mediating conflicts. 

Lincoln supported the Bureau because it fit his plan to hasten peace and reconstruct the nation, but after Lincoln’s assassination, support wavered. The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866 provided two years of funding. During 1868, increasing violence and for a return to state authority undermined the goals of freed people and the Bureau that worked for them. The Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1868 authorized only the educational department and veteran services to continue. All other operations ceased effective January 1, 1869.

Collections at The Henry Ford help document public perceptions of the Freedmen’s Bureau as well as actions taken by Bureau advocates. Letters, labor contracts, and newspapers indicate the contests that played out as the Bureau tried to introduce a new model of economic and social justice and civil rights into places where absolute inequality based on human enslavement previously existed. The Bureau did not win the post-war battle for freedmen’s rights. Congress did not reauthorize the Bureau, and it ceased operations in mid-1872.

The Beginning
Bureau appointees went to work at the end of the Civil War in 1865 to serve the interests of four-million newly freed people intent on exercising some self-evident truths itemized in the Declaration of Independence:

That all men are created equal
That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights
That among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Engraved Copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Commissioned by John Quincy Adams, Printed 1823

With freedom came responsibility to sustain the system of government that “We the People” constituted in 1787, and that the Union victory over secession reaffirmed in 1865. Little agreement over the best course of action existed. The national government extended the blessings of liberty by abolishing slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865. It established the Freedmen’s Bureau which advocated for the general welfare of newly freed people.

Book, "The Constitutions of the United States, According to the Latest Amendments," 1800. THF 155864

Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, Proposing the 13th Amendment to Abolish Slavery, 1865.  THF118475

Expanding liberty and justice came at a price, both economic and human. Every time freed people exercised new-found liberty and justice, others resisted, perceiving the expansion of another person’s liberty as a threat to their own. The Bureau operated between these factions, as an 1868 illustration from Harper’s Weekly depicted. The newspaper claimed that the Bureau was “the conscience and common-sense of the country stepping between the hostile parties, and saying to them, with irresistible authority, ‘Peace!’.”

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“The Freedmen’s Bureau,” Harper’s Weekly, July 25, 1868, pg. 473. 2018.0.4.38. THF 290299

Economics
Building a new southern economy went hand in hand with expanding social justice and civil rights. Concerned citizens and commanding officers knew that African Americans serving in the U.S. Colored Troops had money to save. They started private banks to meet the need. The U.S. Congress responded with "An Act to Incorporate the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company." Lincoln signed the legislation on March 3, 1865, the same day he signed “An Act to Establish a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees.” Agents of the public Freedmen’s Bureau worked closely with staff at the private Freedman’s Bank because freed people needed the economic stability the bank theoretically provided.

At least 400,000 people, one tenth of the freed population, had an association with a person who opened a savings account in the 37 branches of the savings bank that operated between 1865 and 1874. This included Amos H. Morrell, whose daughter’s heirs resided in the Mattox House. Soldiers listed on the Muster Roll of Company E, 46th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry, also appear in records of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. Charles Maho, a private in Company E, 46th USCT, opened an account on August 13, 1868. He worked in a tobacco factory at the time. His brother in arms, James Parvison/Parkinson, also a private, opened an account on December 1, 1869 and his estranged wife, Julia Parkerson opened an account on May 14, 1870.

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Mattox Family Home, circa 1880

"Muster Roll for Company E, 46th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry, April 30-June 30, 1865" - Unknown - Rank 2 THF 96529

Freedmen’s Bureau officials encouraged deposits into the Freedmen’s Bank. This helped freed people become accustomed to saving the coins they earned, literally the coins that symbolized their independence as wage earners. Sadly, Bureau officials often assured account holders that their investments were safe. The deposits were not protected by the national government, however, and when the bank closed in 1874 it left depositors penniless and petitioning for return of their investments.

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One-cent piece.  Minted in 1868. THF 173625 (front) and THF 173624 (back)  

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Three-cent piece (made of nickel). Minted in 1865. THF 173623 (front) and THF 173622 (back).

The U.S. Congress authorized the Bureau to collect and pay out money due soldiers, sailors, and marines, or their heirs. Osco Ricio, a private in Company E, 46th U.S. Colored Infantry, who enlisted for three years in 1864, but was mustered out in 1866, made use of this service in his effort to secure $187 due him.

Freedmen’s Bureau staff mediated between freed people and employers, negotiating contracts that specified work required, money earned, and protection afforded if employers reneged on the agreement. A blank form, printed in Virginia in 1865, included language common to an indenture – that the employer would provide “a sufficiency of sound, wholesome food and comfortable lodging, to treat him humanely, and to pay him the sum of _____ Dollars, in equal monthly instalments of ____ Dollars, good and lawful money in Virginia.”

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Freedman's Work Agreement Form, Virginia, 1865 Object ID  2001.48.18. THF 290704

Another pre-printed form reinforced terms of enslavement, that the work should be performed “in the manner customary on a plantation,” even as it confirmed the role of Freedmen’s Bureau agents as adjudicator. Freedman Henry Mathew, and landowner R. J. Hart, in Schley County, Georgia, completed this contract which legally bound Hart to furnish Mathew “quarters, food, 1 mule, and 35 acres of land” and to “give. . . one-third of what he [Mathew] makes.” This type of arrangement became the standard wage-labor contract between landowners and sharecroppers, paid for their labor with a share of the crops grown on the land.

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Freedman's Contract for a Mule and Land, Dated January 1, 1868. THF 8564 

Many criticized sharecropping as another form of unfree labor rather than as a fair labor contract. Close reading confirms the inequity which often took the form of additional work that laborers performed but that benefitted owners. In the case of Hart and Mathew, Mathew had to repair Hart’s fencing which meant that Mathew realized only one-third return on his labor investment in the form of a crop perhaps more plentiful because of the fence. Hart claimed the other two-thirds of the crop plus all of the increased value of fencing. 

Isaac Yarbro/Yarbrough, private in Company E, 46th USCT, negotiated a contract with A. H. Elliott of Ouachita County, Arkansas, on January 1, 1867. Elliott furnished land, stock, and farming tools. Yarbrough furnished labor and his own rations. After marketing the cotton crop, the contract stipulated that Yarbrough would receive one third “of the cotton made by him as compensation in full for his labor and rations furnished by him.” Furthermore, Yarbrough, when not occupied making the cotton crop, would “do any other work that A. H. Elliott may see proper to have done on his plantation and without farther compensation.”

Education
Freed people wanted access to education to learn what they needed to make decisions as informed and productive citizens.

Harper’s Weekly, a New York magazine, often featured freedmen’s schools that resulted from a cooperative agreement between the Freedmen’s Bureau and the American Missionary Association (AMA), based in New York. A reporter informed readers on June 23, 1866 that “the prejudice of the Southern people against the education of the ‘negroes’ is almost universal.” Regardless, freed people needed schools, teachers, and institutes to train teachers. The Freedmen’s Bureau and its partners committed their resources in support of this cause.

Commentary accompanying an illustration of the “Primary School for Freedmen” indicated that the school building was dilapidated and owned by someone who wanted rid of the school, but the students were eager to learn and as capable as other students of their age in New York public schools.

“Primary School for Freedmen, in Charge of Mrs. Green, at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Harper’s Weekly, June 23, 1866, pg. 392 (bottom), story on pg. 398. THF 290712

School curriculum often emphasized agricultural and technical training. The “Freedmen’s Farm School,” located near Washington, D.C., also known as the National Farm-School, taught orphans and children of U.S. Colored Troops reading, writing and arithmetic, standard primary school subjects. Students also cultivated a one-hundred-acre farm. The combination compared to a new effort launched with the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 to create a system of colleges, federally funded but operated at the state level to train students in agricultural and mechanical subjects. The combination could help students realize the American dream – owning and operating their own farm. While the system of land-grant colleges grew steadily during Reconstruction, the freedmen’s schools faced opposition locally and at the state level. Increasingly educators turned to philanthropists to fund education for freed people.

Cover, “Schools for Freedmen,” Harper's Weekly 1867 bound volume (Vol. 11) -- March 30, 1867 issue (“Freedmen’s Farm School, upper right image, page 193) THF 290709

Struggles
The individuals appointed to direct the Freedmen’s Bureau often had military experience. Brigadier General Oliver Otis Howard served in the Union Army and gained a reputation as a committed abolitionist if not a strong officer. President Andrew Johnson appointed him the first Commission of the Bureau, and he remained in that position until the Bureau closed in 1872. Two years later Howard lamented lost opportunities: “I believe there are many battles yet to be fought in the interest of human rights”….“There are wrongs that must be righted. Noble deeds that must be done.” 

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O.O. Howard calling card and letter, in 2007.0.1.1 - Autograph album - "Ada Dewey Autograph Album, 1874-1875". THF 228573

Many shared Howard’s frustrations with the lack of public support for freed people’s goals. They also resented the obstructions that thwarted those goals. Newspaper reporting, such as the regular features in Harper’s Weekly, emphasized the good work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, but reporting also threatened projects aimed at sustaining the momentum.

Henry Wilson, a Republican Senator from Massachusetts, sought equality for African Americans. He took a correspondent to the Republican, a newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts, to task for publishing misinformation about the extent of congressional fundraising for political purposes, and for downplaying the need for sharing facts with voters, especially the 700,000 Southerners newly enfranchised after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Wilson explained that hundreds of thousands of documents, possible through the congressional fundraising, could educate voters about issues and prepare them for the upcoming election. Without donations from U.S. congressmen, Wilson believed such efforts would fail.

Letter from Henry Wilson to Sanborn [probably Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, then a correspondent with the Springfield [Massachusetts] Republican newspaper], October 6, 1870  

The End
The short life but complicated legacy of the Freedmen’s Bureau leaves much to ponder. The Bureau, as a part of the War Department, and then an independent national agency, mediated local conflict and supported local education. This occurred at an exceptional time as the Union began rebuilding the nation in 1865. Then, the Republican party interpreted the U.S. Constitution as a mandate for the national government to protect civil rights broadly defined. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, incorporated newly freed people as full citizens. Most believed that the Bureau had no more work to do, and Congress did not reauthorize it after July 1872. Those who favored the Bureau lamented its abrupt end and believed that much remained to be done to open the American experiment in equal rights to all.

Debra Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

Sources and Further Reading

  • African American Records: Freedmen’s Bureau, National Archives and Records Administration
  • Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard (1999)
  • Cimbala, Paul A. The Freedmen's Bureau: Reconstructing the American South after the Civil War (2005)
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (1988).
  • Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (1979).
  • McFeely, William S. Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen (1994).
  • Osthaus, Carl R. Freedmen, Philanthropy, and Fraud: A History of the Freedman's Savings Bank (1976)
  • Oubre, Claude F. Forty Acres and a Mule: The Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Land Ownership (2012).
  • Washington, Reginald. “The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research,” Federal Records and African American History (Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No. 2)

Civil War, African American history, by Debra A. Reid

”We are Bound for Glory with a Fair Wind, Nothing but Working and Fighting Ahead.” – Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Lt. Col., 9th USCT, between Hilton Head, South Carolina and Petersburg, VA, 1864

The American Civil War was the seminal event affecting daily life and ideals about freedom and citizenship during the 1860s and beyond. People coped with the reality of war-time devastation in a variety of ways. As the Civil War generation passed during the late 1920s and 1930s, when the collections of The Henry Ford were forming, the sacred family mementos that associated with personal memories of pride, honor and glory became part of this great museum of the American experience. Even though The Henry Ford is not a military history museum, the collections are rich with Civil War photographs and letters, battlefield relics, and even a medal of honor. The war is deeply imbedded in the collective memory of 19th and early 20th century Americans, and it was so often included in the “archives” of their lives that, by default, their mementos became part of our collections. 

Henry Ford’s own interest in documenting the lives of his parents and his own childhood and young adulthood, caused him to collect his own family’s rich Civil War stories. Two of Henry’s mother’s brothers, John and Barney Litogot, served in the storied 24th Michigan. John was killed near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Barney survived to fight in many battles, including Gettysburg. He also served in the honor guard at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.

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John and Barney Litogot at the time of their enlistment, August, 1862. THF 226852

The variety of Civil War objects in the collection is amazing, and represents both Union and Confederate perspectives. 

Keeping troops in the field proved challenging for the Confederacy and the Union. A broadside confirms pay scales for Union troops and employees of the United States Army. 

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Recruiting Broadside, United States Army, c1863. THF 8551

Lackluster enlistment, however, prompted both armies to institute conscription. The Confederacy did this in April 1862 and the Union followed in March 1863.

The U.S. Army issued broadsides to recruit soldiers, including men of African descent, after passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. One broadside in the collection depicts a white male standard bearer front and center and elevated above others in the scene. He is armed with a sword and the banner, “Freedom to the Slave.” To the left sits a public school and a black man reading a newspaper rather than manning the plow. This implied that education and literacy could free people from manual labor. To the right, a black soldier aids black women and children recently freed from the shackles of slavery while black troops fight in the background. 

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“Freedom to the Slave. . . Fight for the Stars and Stripes,” 1863-1865. THF 118383

Black men had opportunities to serve in the Union forces before the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, in May 1862, General David Hunter, in command of occupying forces in Hilton Head, South Carolina, organized the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. He acted without permission of the War Department and reputedly impressed men enslaved on plantations in the occupied territory into service. This sparked controversy about whether contraband of war, the enslaved in occupied territory, could, or should, serve in the military. The regiment disbanded in August 1862

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Wood Engraving, First and Last Dress Review of 1st Regiment South Carolina (Negro) Volunteers, 1862. THF 11672.

The Militia Act on July 11862 made it legal for the U.S. President, as commander in chief, to accept “persons of African descent” into the Union military or navy. The Militia Act authorized their pay and rations equivalent to that of soldiers already serving, but instead of $13 per month, they received $10 per month, with the remaining $3 paid in clothing). It also allowed persons of African descent to work for the Union, performing camp service and building fortifications.

Union officers reorganized the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry in November 1862, in conjunction with the Port Royal Experiment to redistribute lands on the Sea Islands of South Carolina to the formerly enslaved. Company A, under command of Charles T. Trowbridge, became the first official regiment of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) on January 1, 1863, the same day that officials read the Emancipation Proclamation for the first time, in Beaufort, South Carolina, on Port Royal Island, just south of Fort Sumter. The First South Carolina was renamed the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry in 1864 and remained in service until January 31, 1866.

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"Dress Parade of the First South Carolina Regiment (Colored) near Beaufort, South Carolina," 1861-1865. THF 8221

Stories of tragedy and triumph abound in the history of the USCT, including experiences lived by residents on our own Susquehanna Plantation.

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Susquehanna as it appears in Greenfield Village today. THF 2024

Morris Robertson, an enslaved carpenter, left Susquehanna and enlisted with the Federal Army on October 25, 1863. He became a member of the 9th USCT, Company C. This regiment was organized at Camp Stanton, Benedict, Maryland, from November 11 to December 31, 1863. They saw service in South Carolina and Virginia, including Petersburg and Richmond. Following the end of hostilities, the regiment was moved to Brownsville, Texas, where it remained until September 1866. The 9th was ordered to Louisiana in October and mustered out at New Orleans, November 26, 1866. Sadly, it was in Brownsville, Texas, very near the end of his term of service that Morris Robertson died of cholera on August 25, 1866. We would like to think that Morris’ brief time of freedom, though under frequent periods of extreme danger, gave him some joy.  It is troubling to know that though free, he would never see his family again.

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Service Record for Morris Robertson from the Company Descriptive Book. (Library of Congress)

Other objects in the collections document USCT in several other states, and confirms their service across the Confederate States from Virginia to south Texas. Examples include the 54th Massachusetts, perhaps the most well-known USCT regiment. It received national media attention in July 1863 for its “gallant charge” on rebel-held Fort Wagner, on Morris Island in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor.

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Lithograph: GALLANT CHARGE OF THE FIFTY FOURTH (COLORED) MASSACHUSETTS REGIMENT / On the Rebel Works at Fort Wagner; Morris Island near Charleston, July 18th 1863, and the death of Colonel Robt. G. Shaw. THF 73704 

USCT saw action in the Gulf of Mexico. Evidence includes a portrait of J.D. Brooker. Inscriptions on the back of the photo matte indicated that Brooker served with the Corps d’Afrique, 79th Regiment of Infantry. U.S. Army recruiters worked at the parish-level in occupied Louisiana, to attract volunteers. Troops saw heavy action during the Port Hudson campaign, May through July 1863. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks praised the Corps--"It gives me great pleasure to report that they answered every expectation. In many respects their conduct was heroic. No troops could be more determined or more daring."

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Portrait of J.D. Brooker, soldier with the Corps d'Afrique 79th U.S. Colored Troops from Louisiana. THF 93151  

Fragments of “our flag” were glued to the back of J.D. Brooker’s portrait.

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THF 93152

Collections include portraits of white commanding officers of black troops.

Union Army Colonel Bernard Gains Farrar, who assisted in the siege of Vicksburg, recruited African-American troops from the area after Vicksburg fell. He commanded the 6th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery. 

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Portrait of a Union Army Colonel Bernard Gains Farrar, 1862-1864. THF 6229

Lieutenant Andrew Coats, served with the 7th Colored Infantry Regiment and as Acting Assistant Adjutant General for the District of Florida. In 1864, the 7th Colored Infantry Regiment was part of the 10th Army Corps, located in the area of Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina.

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Portrait of Lieutenant Andrew Coats, 7th Colored Infantry Regiment, 1864. THF 57539

Americans of African descent remained the fulcrum around which debates about status and citizenship revolved. An 1864 print by Currier and Ives, conveyed this debate graphically as a contrast between the George B. McClellan, the Democratic presidential candidate, who wanted to restore the Union, but not abolish slavery, and the incumbent, Abraham Lincoln, author of the Emancipation Proclamation. If McClellan won the election, the CSA president, Jefferson Davis, would slit their throats. If President Lincoln retained his seat, black soldiers could stand at Lincoln’s right hand, defending the Union of States against CSA president Davis, in rags and on his posterior and held at bay by Lincoln. Black soldiers, however, remained culturally distinctive in the Currier and Ives depiction, as the dialect in the captioning re-enforced.

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“Your Plan and Mine,” Political Cartoon, Presidential Campaign, 1864. THF 251879

Our collections also document post-war service of USCT. The Muster Roll for Company E, 46th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry confirmed the presence of men serving in the Regiment between April 30 and June 30, 1865. It also included names of at least fifteen men who had been taken as prisoners of war and men who had been discharged and deceased. The roll may have been used to keep track of soldiers after the war, perhaps for pension applications. Some annotations are dated 1885 and 1890. The Company E, 46th Regiment USCT saw action in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta.

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Another muster roll, confirmed the presence of thirteen soldiers in Company G, 25th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry, on April 12, 1865. Col. F.L. Hitchcock, commanding officer of the troops in Fort Barrancas, Florida, signed the roll. It includes details about each soldier:

Name; Rank; Date mustered in; Place mustered in; Mustered in by [name]; How long in service; Hair color; Eye color; Complexion color; Height (feet and inches); Where born; Age; Occupation; Pay information.

The 25th Regiment USCT was on garrison duty at Fort Barrancas, Florida, when these soldiers were recruited, and remained on garrison duty until December, 1865, never seeing action. During the spring and summer of 1865 about 150 men died of scurvy, the result of lack of proper food. Col. Hitchcock wrote:

"I desire to bear testimony to the esprit du corps, and general efficiency of the organization as a regiment, to the competency and general good character of its officers, to the soldierly bearing, fidelity to duty, and patriotism of its men. Having seen active service in the Army of the Potomac, prior to my connection with the Twenty-fifth, I can speak with some degree of assurance. After a proper time had been devoted to its drill, I never for a moment doubted what would be its conduct under fire. It would have done its full duty beyond question. An opportunity to prove this the Government never afforded, and the men always felt this a grievance."

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Muster Roll of 13 Soldiers in Company G, 25th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry, April 12, 1865. THF 284824

As we pause to celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday with its origins linked to the Civil War, we need to pause to also honor all those who have given their lives in service, and all those who have, and continue to, serve to protect our freedoms. Americans did not agree on the meaning of freedom during the 1860s, and the evidence indicates that Americans of African descent were not given their freedom by white Americans. They fought during the Civil War to attain it.

Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford. Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

Civil War, by Jim Johnson, by Debra A. Reid, African American history

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The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, GAR) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union.  In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts.  The GAR scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group.  In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.

We’ve just digitized over 30 GAR badges, medals, and insignia from our collections, including
this badge from a 1908 encampment at Toledo, Ohio.  Browse all of the digitized GAR-related artifacts by visiting our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

medals, Civil War, digital collections

Objects in museum collections often tell rich stories—but sometimes you have to search for them.

A few months ago, The Henry Ford’s staff came upon an intriguing object in our collection—a late 19th century painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument in Gettysburg, Penn. In this painting, the figure of a soldier at the top of the monument gazes out over the field where this famed Civil War unit fought fiercely on July 3, 1863, helping to assure Union victory on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Detail of Jessie’s signature on the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument painting.

We thought this painting would be a perfect choice for our upcoming Civil War Remembrance Weekend in Greenfield Village! The theme of this year’s display of objects from The Henry Ford’s collection was Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War. And 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Yet we knew virtually nothing about the painting—how could we tell its story to our visitors? The signature of the artist provided an intriguing clue. It read “Jessie C. Zinn/Gettysburg Pa.” But who was Jessie Zinn? And why did she choose this subject to paint?

Our search for answers to these questions took us from internet sources like Ancestry.com to places like Gettysburg and Williamsport, Penn., and Dallas, N.C. Along the way, we found helpful librarians and museum curators who provided information and gave us further leads for our search. To our great surprise, one of these leads put us in contact with Jessie’s grandson, Lawrence Lohr! Even more surprising, Mr. Lohr lived only about 30 miles from The Henry Ford.

Jessie Zinn’s grandson, Lawrence Lohr, pays a visit to The Henry Ford’s conservation lab to see his grandmother’s painting.

It was exciting for The Henry Ford’s staff when Mr. Lohr paid us a visit to view his grandmother’s painting in mid-April. We had managed to learn quite a bit about Jessie in the previous couple of months. But Mr. Lohr shared photos of Jessie and rich stories that could only have come from family.

Here are some of the things we learned about Jessie Zinn.

Jessie Cora Zinn and Luther Lohr (shown in center) on their wedding day, July 14, 1891, at her parents’ home in Gettysburg. (Image courtesy of Lawrence Lohr)

Jessie had a very personal connection to the Battle of Gettysburg—she was born on a farm near the town the day after the battle! From 1868 through 1876, Jessie’s father ran a store in Gettysburg. The Zinn family then lived on an Adams County, Penn., farm for a few years, returning to Gettysburg by the late 1880s. Jessie moved to Dallas, N.C., in September 1890, where she served as head of the art department at Gaston College for Girls. Here, Jessie met Luther Lohr, a professor at the college, whom she married in July 1891 in Gettysburg. Luther then attended the Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, graduating in 1894.

Jessie and Luther Lohr with their children, 1905. (Image courtesy of Lawrence Lohr)

In the early 1900s, Jessie and her young family—children Minnie, Lawrence, Elida, and Edmund—lived in Williamsport, Penn., where Luther served as minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Jessie Zinn Lohr died in Williamsport in 1905 of a kidney ailment. Then Jessie came back “home” to Gettysburg, where she was buried in the family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.

But what of Jessie’s evocative painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? A number of the surviving veterans of this brigade, also known as the “Wolverine Brigade,” were present at the dedication of the monument on June 13, 1889. Jessie Zinn likely created this painting of the monument soon after.

Did a proud Michigan Cavalry Brigade veteran ask the 26-year-old Gettysburg artist to paint it? Did Michigan veterans commission the artwork to hang in their local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) Hall? And, if so, how did the client find out about Jessie’s skill as an artist? We don’t yet know. But we do know that Jessie painted one other Gettysburg battlefield scene of monuments near where Pickett’s Charge took place. And Jessie’s brother Merville ran the Gettysburg Hotel. Could a visiting Michigan veteran have seen that painting hanging in the hotel and then asked the Jessie to create one of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? An interesting idea to ponder.

If you come to the Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village on Memorial Day weekend, you will see Jessie’s painting on exhibit in the Pavilion. And perhaps stand in the shoes of the unknown individual--Michigan Civil War veteran or not—who, by commissioning this painting, desired to have a tangible reminder of the valor and sacrifice of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade’s men to gaze upon.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life

Civil War, paintings

Henry Ford 150 Years Chrome SealDid you know that Henry Ford’s uncles fought in the Civil War? In fact, John and Barney Litogot served with Michigan’s most celebrated regiment, the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, part of the famed “Iron Brigade.”

The Litogot Children

John and Barney were Henry Ford’s mother’s brothers. But the four Litogot children spent only their earliest years together—both of their parents had died by 1842. So the young Litogots, who also included oldest brother Saphara, were divided among friends or relatives. The youngest child, 2-year-old Mary (Henry Ford’s mother), was adopted by Patrick and Margaret Ahern, a childless couple living on a Dearborn, Mich., farm. While all the Litogot children found homes in Wayne County, they likely saw each other infrequently as they were growing up.

This photograph of John Litogot was probably taken soon after he enlisted in August 1862 (Object ID 64.167.1.454, Gift of Ford Motor Company).

Off to War

The Litogot brothers, 27-year-old John and 24-year-old Barney, enlisted in the 24th Michigan in the summer of 1862. John went as a paid substitute for another man. Barney left a wife and infant son. Soon after the Litogots joined up, the brothers headed to a photographer’s studio to pose together in uniform. When Barney and John left Detroit with their regiment for Washington. D.C., the 24th was briefly assigned to aid in the defense of the nation’s capitol. By mid-December, their unit was at Fredericksburg, Va., preparing for battle.

John Litogot’s first battle was also his last. He was killed on Dec. 13, 1862, the second day of the battle of Fredericksburg, hit by a cannonball when the 24th came under attack from Confederate artillery. John was buried where he fell, and later moved to Fredericksburg’s national cemetery.

Barney sat for this photograph in a Springfield, Ill., studio in the spring of 1865, about the time that the 24th served as honor guard for Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in Springfield (Object ID 64.167.1.455 , Gift of Ford Motor Company).

Barney continued to serve with the 24th through Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (where he was wounded in the arm), the Wilderness (where he received a hand wound), Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. At war’s end, one of his regiment’s last duties was to serve as honor guard at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in May 1865.

During “Michigan Day at Gettysburg” on June 12, 1889, survivors of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry gathered at on the Gettysburg battlefield to dedicate their regiment’s monument. Then they posed for a photograph with the monument. But Barney is not pictured among those veterans, having died of tuberculosis in 1873.

So where was Henry Ford during the Civil War? Henry was born on his family’s Dearborn farm on July 30, 1863, about four weeks after his uncle Barney fought at Gettysburg. Henry never knew his uncle John, who lost his life at Fredericksburg the December before Henry was born.

Join us this Memorial Day Weekend to reflect and celebrate with our annual Civil War Remembrance program.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life

Civil War

Sweet muster

August 27, 2012 Think THF

Last Saturday and Sunday was the second annual 1812 Muster at Greenfield Village, and it did not disappoint. Having enjoyed the event last year, we were eager to see what the second year brought.

For visitors familiar with the very large Civil War encampment and muster that is part of the Civil War Remembrance weekend, this event is on a smaller scale but still chock full of fun and information.

A reenactor demonstrates a musket from the period – explaining the difference between guns used during the War of 1812 compared with the Civil War.

The Porches and Parlor district of the village was bustling with activity. The living quarters for the reenactors – aka tents – were set up on stretch of green between a few of the historic homes. Throughout the district, there were demonstrations and merchant tents that gave us a glimpse of life in the early 1800s.

The milliner fits a handmade hat on a visitor.

We enjoyed visiting the merchant tents. The millinery was an active spot with many hats to try. There was a men’s hat maker, pewterer, a textiles’ seller and a wax portrait artist.

Textile reproductions were displayed and available for purchase.

This hat maker is demonstrating how men’s felt hats were made by stretching the material on hat blocks.

Left: A pewterer uses authentic molds and pewter-casting processes to create coins, buttons, spoons and other small items. Right: this artisan explains the process of creating intricate miniature bas-relief wax portraiture.

My six-year-old daughter Lillian was completely taken with the beautiful wax portraits displayed and made by Donna Weaver. Ms. Weaver gave Lillian a business card so we could look at some more of the portraits online. Throughout the day, Lillian clutched that card, calling it her “ticket” to the Internet. We’ve since visited and admired the work on the site three or four times.

The surgeon demonstrates on my husband Richard the process of bleeding a patient, a common practice during the time. The kids watch and are duly grossed out.

We spent the most time in the surgeon’s tent. The presenter was so well informed and had a large display of instruments, tinctures and other treatments that would have been used during the War of 1812.

The doctor demonstrates how leeches and wet cupping were used for medicinal bloodletting.

My children and others were eager to enlist and participate in the children’s recruitment.

Ten-year-old Henry signs up to enlist in the military.

After receiving their enlistment papers, new recruits were ordered to visit the doctor who would declare if they were fit for duty.

Left: The doctor determines that Lillian has enough teeth to successfully tear open a paper musket cartridge. Right: Doing a quick eyesight check, he asks a young recruit, “How many fingers do you see?”

Once they passed medical inspection, recruits were issued their muskets and some instructions.

Left: A commanding officer talks to his newest troops. Right: The guns were bigger than (some of) the soldiers.

It was a perfect day to learn some early 19th-century military drills.

Recruits listen carefully to instructions as they learn about formations.

Tactical drills and cannon firing was part of the military demonstrations during the 1812 Muster.

In addition to all the good stuff outside, the Luther Burbank Birthplace was repurposed into a display venue for some rarely seen artifacts of the era that are part of the collections at The Henry Ford.

This lusterware pitcher and other rare artifacts from the Collections at the Henry Ford were displayed at the Luther Burbank Birthplace.

Items displayed included muskets and military artifacts, clothing, needlepoint and artwork and other household items.

Left: Gentlemen’s clothing items from the Collections included outdoor and dress attire. Right: A ladies’ at-home dress and a dress for a child.

Rounding out events were lectures, period music, a fashion show and cooking demonstrations.

It was a great day. Be sure to check out more photos of the event on The Henry Ford’s Facebook page.

Civil War

1812 soldier marching through Greenfield Village

We’ve seen some excellent reenactments and military drills for that conflict when visiting Mackinac Island, which is always interesting. But I will say, there is something so engaging to me when ordinary folks take a break from 2011, pack up their treasures and come together to set up a camp and participate in little muster on the side. This truly is an example of history coming alive. And as a family, we continue to be inspired and learn so much from it.

Mother and child, circa 1812.

The campsites and demonstrations were set up near the Porches and Parlors area of the village and were quite modest compared with some of the campsites we’ve seen at the Civil War encampment. The fact is, there are many more organizations and groups that come together to take part in Civil War reenactments. There isn’t quite the network of 1812 reenactments, but after talking to some of the participants, the numbers appear to be increasing. Most of the participants hail from the Midwest, one of the primary theaters of the war.

My nine-year-old son, Henry, enlisted as a soldier. Again. It was his second enlistment this week.The doctor at the encampment quizzed Henry on his heath and physical capabilities, after passing that, the enlistment officer gave him his papers. He was then issued a musket.

New recruits learn the ropes.

The Captain who trained the new recruits was really fun. The kids enjoyed his instructions and sound effects as they learned the procedure for (pretend) loading their (pretend) muskets. Actually, just watching most of them figure out left from right was entertaining. A ragtag group to be sure.

And. (Drumroll, please). There was a canon. We always look forward to the canon. That demonstration was also up near the Porches and Parlors, so we got a good close look. And boy was it was loud. Ear-plugging, heart-thumping loud. Henry loved every minute of it, and by the expressions of the bystanders, he wasn’t the only one.

A young visitor tries on a feather embellished bonnet.

With my daughters, I admired the Grecian-inspired women’s fashions of the late Federal era. In comparison with the corsets and layer upon layer of garments of the Civil War times, these walking dresses seemed almost practical. (At least they could fit through a doorway.) Although some women at the encampment were dressed in fine silk fabrics, most were wearing muted lightweight cottons. If you’re a Jane Austin fan, the Federal era in the U.S. is similar to the Empire style clothing in England with high waists and long flowing skirts. If you like Emma, you’ll love these gowns.

Father and son, Chuck and Wilson LeCount. Wilson is a 3rd-generation reenactor in the LeCount family.

I asked a few participants what first inspired them to take part in these kinds of events. Some were reenactors for other time periods, the Civil War, colonial times and the Revolutionary War. Others had family that reenacted. We met a pewter smith who started collecting metal forms 40 years ago but only recently decided to participate at events like the one in the village. It was his second. He had some beautiful buttons, spoons, coins and other various items.

I met Chuck LeCount who came from Rochester, New York, to participate. Chuck was just 15 when he decided he wanted to participate in reenactments for the Revolutionary War, he talked his parents into it and continues the tradition with his wife and son, Wilson.  Wilson also drums for a fife and drum corp. Turns out, Chuck is a director for the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester. It has a large historic village much like Greenfield Village, complete with teams. His interest in living history as a teen led him to a profession he obviously loves. (I’m sure not unlike so many of the folks who work at The Henry Ford.) Meeting him made me take more seriously my son’s comments when we left the event, “Okay, mom, that seals it. I’m doing that. No matter what.” Maybe this wannabe will end up becoming a reenactor after all. Inspired once again at The Henry Ford. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

A family shares music of the period with their group Fiddlesix.

 

Civil War