Windsor Mansion and the Battle of Port Gibson, MS. 1861-1863

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This stately mansion built near Port Gibson was completed in 1861

and was the largest columnar based house in Mississippi. After overseeing construction of the $175,000 structure for  2 years, Smith Coffee Daniel ll (age 34) died of either malaria or yellow fever just a few weeks after it was completed. 

During Grant’s campaign in 1863 in his attempts to take Vicksburg there were many failures including his idea to land troops at Grand Gulf about 10 miles up - river from Windsor. From there he successfully moved down river to Bruinsburg landing where some 17,000 Union soldiers were ashore and marched right past the Windsor mansion. It turns out that many of these men would ultimately find their way back to Windsor as it was used as a Union hospital. There is no known photo of Windsor. The sketch was made by a Union soldier who was there.

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The battle of Port Gibson erupted early on May 1, 1863

as the Union soldiers encountered Confederate soldiers in the craggy,  overgrown tangle around Port Gibson shortly after midnight. After a brief lull, the battle roared to life once more at dawn. Confederate Gen. Edward Tracy was killed while directing the defense of the right flank from McPherson's attacks. The battle continued for most of the day as successive Confederate lines buckled under the weight of the Union advance.  A counterattack was repulsed in the late afternoon and the Southerners were forced from the field.  The Battle of Port Gibson firmly secured a Union beachhead east of the Mississippi River and enabled Grant to push east unopposed toward Jackson and ultimately to Vicksburg. 

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The ultimate fate of the four story Windsor Mansion

was sealed on Feb 17, 1890 when it was engulfed in flames and Ms Catherine Daniell was found helplessly beneath an Oak tree at a safe distance. The house and all of its contents was reduced to ashes except for the columns that still stand. It is one of the most heavily visited tourist sites in Mississippi. 

The oak tree under which Catherine stood is most likely the one shown here. It is an old live oak whose age far surpasses that of 156 years since the days of its construction and the ravages of  the Civil War. The pen was constructed from a dead limb taken from this tree. 

the Bloodiest 3 days of the Civil War July 1-3, 1863

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It was late in June of 1863

when Lee’s confederate forces were entering Pennsylvania. This was his second invasion of the North. The earlier foray ended in a bloody stalemate at Antietam creek at Sharpsburg, Md. on Sept. 17th  1862. Lee’s goal was to completely surround Washington D.C. and scare and threaten the Federals enough to ultimately grant independence to the Confederacy. Many of his troops were hungry and ill- equipped . A group of Confederates entered Gettysburg seeking shoes and where they soon ran into the forward arm of the Union army led by General John Buford. 

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No one expected

or planned for a major battle to break out at Gettysburg but the inevitable happened. Confederate General Heth’s Division soon overwhelmed the Union troops as they fled through the streets of this small country town. What followed during the 3 days battle was the costliest of all battles in our history with 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured. No one doubts that Gettysburg was a Union victory. 

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Presently there are three huge sycamore trees

located on Baltimore Pike (one  shown in the photo)  that witnessed all of the events of 3 days battle at Gettysburg  during the Civil War. Of course, this includes the witnessing of Abraham Lincoln as he passed down Baltimore Pike when he was there to dedicate the military cemetery on Nov 19, 1863. Wood from one of these trees was supplied to me by Wm Hewitt of Gettysburg,  Pa. 

The Battle Of Champion Hill Mississippi

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The May 16, 1863

Battle of Champion Hill was the largest, bloodiest, and most  significant action of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign. The troops met in a  fierce struggle for a vital crossroads roughly halfway between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. The field was dominated by bald Champion Hill, from which Confederate artillery opened fire on the Union army. The first Federal  assault on the hill drove the Southerners back with bayonets and clubbed muskets.  

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As the Union soldiers

tried  to reform and consolidate their gains, they were swept away by a  counterattack led by John Bowen’s Missourians and Arkansans. Ulysses S. Grant ordered more men towards the hill and Bowen’s Confederates were themselves driven off, compelling a general retreat. Ultimately there was a Union victory at Champion Hill which was instrumental in forcing the Confederates out in the open field and into a doomed position inside the walls of Vicksburg. 

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The Champion home

was used by General Grant as headquarters during the battle. Near the home in 1853 Matilda Champion planted as series of live oaks. One still stands but it died in the 90s. Sid Champion V is shown near the dead witness tree with Gary Strobel . The live oak wood is lovely and nicely figured and many pens have been made from it. Syd is considering turning over Champion Hill to the Civil War Trust or the Federal Government to be made into an ancillary arm of the Famous Vicksburg Battlefield  site. 

Battle Of Chancellorsville, Va April 30 to May 1-3, 1863

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Union General Ambrose Burnside

lasted only a single campaign and that was at Fredericksburg, Va in late 1862. General Joe Hooker was the energetic replacement who Lincoln thought could get the job done. By late April of 1863 some of his army had crossed the Rappahannock above Fredericksburg with the idea of encircling Lee’ army. Lee then split his army into three units. General  Early to keep an eye on Fredericksburg and Lee to the northwest to face Hooker’s main thrust. Meanwhile, the plan was to have Stonewall Jackson’s corps to make an unheard of 12 mile march around to the backside of Hooker’s army which was mainly posted at a small crossroads village known as Chancellorsville. 

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Surrounding this area

was an entanglement of brush, vines, scrub and thickets known as the wilderness. Stonewall attacked and surprised Gen Howard’s corps. Stonewall was killed, but the entire battle was a resounding success for Lee. It gave him the impetus needed for the eventual invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania  by mid- year. This area would again be the site of the Battle of the Wilderness as Grant faced Lee at the beginning of the Overland campaign in 1864. 

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The trees of Chancellorsville

received many thousands rounds of ammunition during both battles there. It turns out that relic hunters target witness trees having lead encased in them since such items command a high price, but they are now hard to find. I acquired a piece of pine (Chancellorsville) from Cary  Delery of New Orleans who had obtained it from another dealer years  before. This is the second pen in the collection with an actual bullet in the wood. The bullet is a 58 cal round ball probably from a Union rifle. Interestingly, the bottom part of the pen is also made from a piece of yellow pine that served as a floor wedge in the Miller-Kite house at Conrad’s store, Va (in the Shenandoah Valley) where General Stonewall Jackson had his headquarters (during part of the Valley Campaign) and one morning was found asleep on the floor. Both top and bottom pieces of this pen are dedicated to General Stonewall Jackson. 

Gettysburg and the Honey Locust Tree

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It was near this tree

in the Gettysburg cemetery on Nov 19th 1863, just a few months after the bloodiest 3 day battle in America, that Abraham  Lincoln, feeling not well, delivered his Gettysburg address. It took just over 2 min and was only about 260 words in length and was essentially finished before many people even knew that he had spoken. 

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The speech

did not garner much attention during his lifetime but is now recognized as one of the most important speeches in the history of our country. It was given at an appropriate place at an appropriate time and this slowly growing honey locust tree witnessed all of the events. 

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From President Lincoln's

speech to the death and carnage that took place just a few months before on cemetery ridge at Gettysburg. At this point in time the war may have reached its turning point. The pen is one of the prettiest in the entire collection. 

Gettysburg and the Trostle Farm

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The house and barn

standing today are the original structures of the battlefield from 1863. The Trostle house was used as a hospital, The barn still bears a scar of the battle - a hole near the roof-line through which a cannonball passed on July 2nd, after Union Gen. Dan Sickles egregiously moved his 3rd Corps forward to form a salient at the Peach Orchard not far to the west.  

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Along the road

in front of the house stands a monument for the 9th Massachusetts  Battery. The battery stood its ground here, allowing other units to retreat safely back towards Seminary Ridge sustaining huge losses. 

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This Pen

was made from the swamp white oak under which Sickles had his headquarters. 

2nd Battle of Sabine Pass Texas

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In September of 1863

With a de facto French government under Maximillian south of the Rio Grande, the Confederates hoped to establish trade between Texas and Mexico to obtain much needed  supplies. The Lincoln administration, sought to establish a military presence in Texas to discourage Mexican influence. South of Beaumont, Texas is a lake with a river exit (Sabine pass) to the Gulf of Mexico. In the early morning of September 8, 1863, a Union flotilla of four gunboats and seven troop transports steamed into the Sabine River with the intention of reducing Fort Griffin outside of  Sabine City and landing troops there. As the gunboats approached Fort Griffin, they came under accurate fire from the old and big guns there. 

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The fort’s small force of 49 men

under command of Irishman Lt. Richard W. Dowling disabled two ships, captured the gunboat Clifton with about 200 prisoners, and forced the Union flotilla to retire. The Confederate defenders suffered zero casualties and Union operations in the area ceased. The heroics at Fort  Griffin - 49 men stopping a Union expedition - inspired other Confederates and became known as one of the most lopsided battles of the war. It is the only case in the entire Civil War that the Confederacy awarded the Davis medal to any of its fighters. 

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There were no trees at Fort Griffin

but a few hundred yards away, in the town of Sabine Pass there exists an old live oak that seems to qualify as a witness tree. In this area the trees are stressed and grow slowly usually at the rate of only 8-10 annual rings per one radial inch. This tree could easily  be 180 yrs old. The people in Sabine pass, at the time of the battle, helped Richard Dowling and his crew handle all of the prisoners that were captured on the Union boats. The tree or one  of its ancestors witnessed the battle of sabine pass.  

The Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia September 18-20, 1863

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President Lincoln pressed

Union General W.S Rosecrans to take all of the Eastern Tennessee area from Confederate influence in  mid- 1863. Rosecrans finally moved and had a successful Tullahoma campaign and continued by forcing confederate Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga. Bragg regrouped and was determined to retake Chattanooga. He was reinforced with Virginia divisions. Ultimately, a fatal mistake was made by Rosecrans, believing a gap existed  in his line, ordered General Thomas Wood’s division to fill the gap. Gen Wood followed orders knowing that it was a mistake. 

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The egregious move allowed

Longstreet’s men to crush  the Federal line. Union General Thomas’s men took command of Horseshoe Ridge and held out for an additional day, but ultimately the entire Union army retreated back to Chattanooga and the Confederates ended up surrounding it. Chickamauga was a Confederate victory, but one of the bloodiest battles in the entire war, in fact it is ranked number two in lives lost. Two months later, Grant would retake Chattanooga. 

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A few years after the battle

the forest was harvested in the main battlefield site, thus no witness trees remained. But, presently on a golf course located on Cannon Drive adjacent to the Chickamauga National Park battlefield is a huge Shumard oak tree. The Confederate troops participating in the battle would have had to cross Chickamauga Creek near and around where this oak tree now stands. It is very likely that this is a witness tree and a pen made from a dead stem is part of the collection. 

The Hanging Tree Fort Blair Kanasas

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Some of the bloodiest chapters of the

Civil War were written in Kansas and Missouri  where irregular combatants fought. The fighting and deprecation's in  this area started shortly after passage of  the Kansas/Nebraska act in 1854.  On October 6, 1863 William Quantrill and his men, having sacked  Lawrence Kansas, happened upon a Federal post  (Ft Blair) at Baxter Springs, Ks. Defending the post were parts of the  3rd Wisconsin Cavalry and the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry.

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Quantrill attacked suddenly

surprising the Yankees, who suffered heavy casualties before  barricading themselves inside the earth-and-timber fortress. Soon union  General James G. Blunt appeared, commander of the  forces in Kansas, who was in the process of moving his headquarters  from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Fort Smith, Arkansas Blunt spotted Quantrill’s men but mistook them for Union troops because many were dressed in captured Yankee uniforms. Quantrill attacked, and the scene turned into a massacre.  

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Today at Baxter Springs stands the

reconstructed Ft Blair with nice signage giving details about the battle. At the base of this sign once stood a giant example of one of this nation’s greatest and most beloved trees- an American Elm. Its classic  umbrella canopy shaded the troops  of Ft Blair but it also played a role in vigilante justice. The cause of death of the tree was most likely Dutch Elm disease which was  accidentally introduced to this country from Europe in the 1930s and it  quickly spread throughout the entire range of the elms. A slowly rotting trunk is all that presently remains of this important  tree. A small piece of it was enough to allow me to make the pen for the  collection.