Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Conjoined Twin Eng Bunker Drafted During the Civil War

Chang and Eng Bunker
Chang and Eng Bunker
In 1865, conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker were living in North Carolina when Eng was suddenly drafted to fight in the Civil War.

The Thailand natives were living in Traphill, North Carolina as naturalized citizens when the Union army raided the area and drafted some of the locals to join their army, despite the fact that many of them, including the Bunker brothers, were Confederate supporters.

Union General George Stoneman put the names of all men over 18 years of age into a lottery wheel and selected names at random. Eng's name was drawn but Chang's wasn't. Since the conjoined twins could not be separated by surgery because their livers were fused, there wasn't much that Stoneman could do. Neither brother ended up fighting in the war although both of their eldest sons, Christopher Wren Bunker and Stephen Bunker, joined and fought for the Confederacy. Both Christopher and Stephen survived the war but Christopher was captured and spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Ohio in August of 1864.


"Touring the Carolinas' Civil War Sites"; Clint Johnson; 2011

Smithsonian Magazine; The Civil War: 8 Strange and Obscure Facts You Didn't Know; November 15, 2011: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/11/the-civil-war-8-strange-and-obscure-facts-you-didnt-know/

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stonewall Jackson's Account of John Brown's Execution

Hanging of John Brown
Stonewall Jackson was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in December of 1859 when he was ordered, along with his cadets, to provide security at John Brown's execution in Charlestown, Virginia. John Brown had recently been condemned to death after his failed raid in October on Harper's Ferry in Virginia. After rumors began to swirl that some of Brown's supporters were planning to rescue Brown at the execution, Virginia Governor, Henry A. Wise, ordered 1,500 soldiers to Charlestown to make sure the execution took place.

Also present at the execution was actor and future presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth was in Virginia rehearsing for a play when he spontaneously volunteered to serve as backup in the local volunteer militia the Richmond Grays, who were also on hand to thwart any rescue attempts from Brown's supporters.

Stonewall Jackson, who was then known as Professor Thomas J. Jackson as he didn't earn his famous nickname until the first Battle of Bull Run in 1863, wrote a letter to his wife Mary Anna Jackson on the day of the execution, detailing the event. In the letter, Jackson said Brown behaved with “unflinching firmness” and hoped that Brown would be forgiven for his actions and allowed to enter heaven:

Stonewall Jackson
December 2. John Brown was hung today at about 11 1/2 A.M. He behaved with unflinching firmness. The arrangements were well made under the direction of Col. Smith. Brown's wife visited him last evening. The body is to be delivered to her. The gibbet was south east of the town in a large field. Brown rode on the head of his coffin, from his prison to the place of execution. The coffin was of black walnut, enclosed in a poplar box of the same shape as the coffin.

He was dressed in carpet slippers of predominating red, white socks, blacks pants, black frock coat, black vest & black slouch hat. Nothing around his neck beside his shirt collar. The open wagon in which he rode was strongly guarded on all sides. Capt. Williams, formerly one of the assistants of the Institute, marched immediately in front of the wagon. The jailer and high sheriff and several others rode in the wagon with the prisoner.

Brown had his arms tied behind him, & ascended the scaffold with apparent cheerfulness. After reaching the top of the platform, he shook hands with several who were standing around him. The sheriff placed the rope around his neck, then threw a white cap over his head & asked him if he wished a signal when all should be ready---to which he replied that it made no difference, provided he was not kept waiting too long.

In this condition he stood on the trap door, which was supported on one side by hinges, and on the other (south side) by a rope, for about 10 minutes, when Col. S. told the Sheriff "all is ready," which apparently was not comprehended by the Sheriff, and the Col. had to repeat the order, when the rope was cut by a single blow, and Brown fell through about 25 inches, so as to bring his knees on a level with the position occupied by his feet before the rope was cut. With the fall his arms below the elbow flew up, hands clenched, & his arms gradually fell by spasmodic motions---there was very little motion of his person for several minutes, after which the wind blew his lifeless body to & fro.

His face, upon the scaffold, was turned a little east of south, and in front of him were the cadets commanded by Major Gilham. My command was still in front of the cadets, all facing south. One howitzer I assigned to Mr. Truheart on the left of the cadets, and with the other I remained on the right. Other troops occupied different positions around the scaffold, and altogether it was an imposing but very solemn scene.

I was much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man, in the full vigor of health, who must in a few minutes be in eternity. I sent up a petition that he might be saved. Awful was the thought that he might in a few minutes receive the sentence "Depart ye wicked into everlasting fire." I hope that he was prepared to die, but I am very doubtful--he wouldn't have a minister with him.

His body was taken back to the jail, and at 6 p.m. was sent to his wife at Harper's Ferry. When it reached Harper's Ferry the coffin was opened and his wife saw the body---the coffin was again opened at the depot, before leaving for Baltimore, lest there should be an imposition. We leave for home via Richmond tomorrow.”


Virginia Military Institute: Cadets at the Execution of John Brown Documents, November 1859 – January 1860

Virginia Military Institute: The Execution of John Brown Stonewall Jackson Eyewitness Account

PBS: The Hanging

"Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson”; Mary Anna Jackson; 1895

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stonewall Jackson's Strange Habit

Painting of Stonewall Jackson's famous gesture
General Thomas Jonathan Stonewall Jackson is a Confederate icon and considered by many to be one of the best Confederate commanders of the Civil War. According to various sources, Stonewall Jackson had a number of strange habits, one of them being that he often walked around with his hand in the air to balance the blood in his body.

According to the book “Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War,” Stonewall Jackson believed one side of his body was heavier than the other. To balance the weight of his body, he would often walk around or ride his horse with his hand in the air so the blood would flow from one side of his body to the other. He believed this tactic “lightened” his arm and improved his balance.

Modern physicians suggest Jackson's feeling of unbalance may have been the result of a diaphragmatic hernia, which also gave him stomach problems and caused him discomfort while sitting.

Incidentally, Stonewall Jackson received a bullet or shrapnel wound in his hand as a result of holding it up in the air during the first battle of Bull Run. The wound was not deadly but a surgeon recommended amputating one of his damaged fingers. Fortunately, the wound healed without any need for amputation.

Stonewall Jackson later had his left arm amputated after he was shot multiple times by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. His arm was buried near Chancellorsville with a marker that read "Arm of Stonewall Jackson." Jackson survived the wounds and the amputation but died from pneumonia a week later. His body was buried in a plot at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Va before being reburied under a monument in the cemetery.
Marker for Stonewall Jackson's arm
Stonewall Jackson's first grave in Lexington

"How the North Won: a Military History of the Civil War”; Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones; 1983

"Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War”; Daniel M. Callaghan; 2006 

National Parks Traveler: Where Is Stonewall Jackson's Arm Buried?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Disastrous Dinner Party with Prince Napoleon

Prince Napoleon in 1860
After an awkward first meeting at the White House on August 3, 1861, Abraham Lincoln invited Prince Napoleon to a dinner party at the White House later that evening.

Napoleon accepted and Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, threw herself into party preparations. As a fan of French fashion, Mary Todd was ecstatic about the opportunity to impress the French nobleman and spared no expense on the event. She personally selected the menu, flowers and even the vegetables from the White House garden.

Yet, despite her best efforts, she also stumbled in her attempt to gain the favor of the prince. The night started off badly when the Marine band played the French national anthem “La Marseillaise ” upon Napoleon's arrival. As this song was written after the French Revolution for the newly formed French Republic, which the prince's uncle, Napoleon I, then overthrew during his coup de'tat in 1804, and the song was banned by the prince's cousin Napoleon III for a period of time during his own rule, it was more than inappropriate. During the dinner, renowned Union General, Winfield Scott, continued to alienate the prince when he bragged that his own military career could be compared to that of Napoleon I.

Abraham Lincoln 1861
Despite the gaffes, the prince did not let on that anything displeased him and politely ate his dinner and talked with the other guests before he gave his farewells at the end of the evening.

It wasn't until 50 years later when a French magazine published excerpts from Prince Napoleon's diary that his true feelings were revealed. Describing his hostess for the evening, Napoleon wrote:

Mrs. Lincoln was dressed in the French mode without any taste; she has the manner of a petit bourgeois and wears tin jewelry.” He also described the meal that evening as “a bad dinner in the French style.”

Napoleon was not kind to Abraham Lincoln either, describing him as:

“badly put together, in a black suit,” with “the appearance of a bootmaker. What a difference between this sad representative of the great republic and her founding fathers!” yet also stated he was “a good man, but one without greatness nor very much knowledge.”

Mary Todd Lincoln
Napoleon's Lieutenant Colonel, Camille Ferri Pisani, had much kinder words for the Confederates, whom he met after leaving Washington the next day and heading south to inspect their army. After a meeting with Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, Pisani praised Beauregard in a letter to a friend:

“He is very brave. Everything in him points to a remarkable military aptitude, if not to superior intelligence.”

Obviously enamored with the Confederates, he also praised the Confederate cavalrymen:

“Their beautiful male Virginian faces, their magnificent mounts and the boldness of their riding technique make it impossible not to admire these ragged riders.”

Yet, despite Napoleon's uncomfortable experiences at the White house, the French diplomat's bias for the Confederates and France's business connections to the southern cotton industry, which France relied on heavily for a steady supply of cotton, France never sided with either the Union or the Confederates and officially remained neutral throughout the entire war.


American Heritage; The Tour of Prince Napoleon; 1957; Volume 8; Issue 5

New York Times; a Peevish Prince, a Hairy-Handed President, a Disastrous Dinner Party; Adam Goodheart; August 2011