******************* THE ELUSIVE SEAL **********************
One of the great mysteries to come out of the Civil War was the story of the lost Great Seal of the Confederacy. Engraved in silver and measuring four inches in diameter, the seal became the most highly prized artifact in Richmond, Virginia. The seal portrays George Washington in the center, using his birth date, February 22, as the official founding date of the Confederacy. The motto "Deo Vindice" (With God As Defender) reveals the South's conviction that their cause was just.
At the end of the Civil War, a State Department Clerk named William J. Bromwell was in possession of the Confederacy's state papers. With the idea of selling the papers to the U. S. Government, Bromwell hid them in a barn in the Washington area for several years. In 1868, Bromwell employed an attorney, John T. Pickett, to approach the U. S. Secretary of State regarding the purchase of the papers. However, it wasn't until 1871 that Congress finally appropriated $75,000 to buy the papers.
Secretary Seward appointed naval lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge to accompany Pickett and authenticate the papers. Selfridge confirmed that the papers were indeed the papers of the Confederate Government and they were shipped through Canada to Washington on July 3, 1872. But what was not delivered was the Great Seal of the Confederate States of America. Pickett chose to present this to Selfridge as a token of his appreciation. Both men agreed that Pickett's generosity should forever remain a secret. And it almost did. Bromwell, under a storm of criticism in the South, traveled to London, where he died broke and alone in 1875. Pickett succumbed in 1884, taking his secret to his grave.
In 1912, Gallard Hunt, chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress painstakingly analyzed the Pickett Papers and arrived at the conclusion that the seal was in Selfridge's possession. To persuade the retired old sailor to give up his prize, Hunt threatened to publish the details of his findings. Selfridge finally admitted that he had the seal and agreed to sell it for $3,000. Hunt found willing donors and was able to raise the funds, but with the stipulation that the seal be presented to a public institution in Richmond.
Upon its authentication, the Great Seal of the Confederacy was presented to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, where it remains today for all to appreciate a greater understanding of our history.
************** THE NOT SO COMMON SOLDIERS *****************
During the Civil War, many foreign-born soldiers answered the call to arms on both sides. The Union Army had over 200,000 volunteers of German descent, 150,000 Irishmen, 50,000 Englishmen, 50,000 Canadians, as well as the French, Italians, Scandinavians and Hungarians. The 15th Wisconsin, composed of Scandinavians, had 128 men with the first name of Ole.
Fighting for the Confederacy were 15,000 to 20,000 Irishmen, as well as Germans, Englishmen, French and Italians.
Of these foreign-born soldiers, none were as renowned in battle as the fighting Irishmen, the most famous being the Irish Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher. At Fredericksburg, the Irish Brigade went into action on Dec. 13th with 1,200 officers and men; when it was formed on the morning of the 14th only 280 were present - a high price to pay for their valor in battle.
Read more about the battle at Fredericksburg in "Battles and Leaders," in our Library section under "Books" or at this URL: http://www.ehistory.com/uscw/library/books/battles/index.cfm
But among the "not so common soldiers" were other units whose reputations were earned by their uniqueness. These too deserve honorable mention among the 3,000 units that fought in the Civil War.
*Read more about units of the Civil War in our Features section or at this URL: http://www.ehistory.com/uscw/features/regimental/index.cfm
***************** "IOWA'S "GRAYBEARDS." *******************
In 1861, 45 years was the legal age limit for regular military service. Yet there were men whose patriotic sense of duty would not allow them to sit idly by while their sons went off to fight the war.
These were the men that made up the 37th Iowa Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, also known as "Iowa's Graybeards." A stipulation for becoming a member of the unit was being forty-five-years of age or older. The majority of the unit was in their 50's, but one recruit, Curtis King of Muscatine, Iowa, was eighty-years old. Among the 914 officers and men mustered into the 37th, they sent 1300 sons and grandsons into military service.
Volunteering for three years of service, the unit's ranks were depleted by illness after serving guard duty at Rock Island prison. Transferred to Memphis in June of 1864, their ranks were further depleted by the dangerous assignment of guarding military supply trains. Required to ride perched atop the cars of the train, they were made easy prey for partisans and bushwackers. Reassigned to guard duty in Indianapolis in August of 1864, the unit was divided up, not to be reunited again until a reunion in May of 1865.
***************** THE COMPANY OF GIANTS *******************
Dubbed the "biggest Yankee in the world," David Van Buskirk held the distinction of being the tallest Union soldier to serve during the Civil War. From Gosport, Indiana, David was the eldest of ten children and was said to measure 6' 10-1/2" tall in his stocking feet. He weighed 380 pounds. At a time when Lincoln, standing at 6' 4", was considered unusually tall, David was considered a giant. Even more unique than David's stature was the company he became a member of. The Monroe County Grenadiers was composed of 105 men, all of whom were 6 feet tall and over. They would make up Company F of the 27th Indiana Infantry, commanded by Colonel Silas Colgrove. David Van Buskirk would be elected as 2nd Lieutenant. In March of 1862, the 27th Indiana would be reorganized into the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, of Banks's V Corps.
In fighting near Winchester in late May of 1862, members of the 27th Indiana, including David, were captured by rapidly advancing Confederates. David was imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. When rumor spread of the capture of the "biggest Yankee in the world," CSA President Davis himself came to see Van Buskirk. It was after this visit that an enterprising Confederate officer came up with an idea to cash in on their captured prize. At night, David was removed from the prison and taken to a room in downtown Richmond where people would pay money to come see him on exhibit. Although it must have embarassed the gentle-natured David, he did benefit from his captors by receiving more food than the other prisoners. In fact, upon his exchange in September of 1862, he had gained twenty pounds, weighing in at 400.
David was promoted to Captain of Company F shortly after his return to the 27th Indiana. In a twenty-five-hour forced march to reach Gettysburg, it was said that David wore out five horses. In September of 1863, the 27th was reassigned to Maj. Gen. George Thomas' army in the West.
In April of 1864, suffering from increasing attacks of rheumatism, David resigned his commission and returned to his wife and six children. The 27th Indiana occupied the city of Atlanta until the end of the war. David's 14-year-old son, who was also considered tall, managed to join the 115th Indiana late in the war, but never saw any fighting.
David Van Buskirk died on August 12, 1886, after a long sickness with blood poisoning. A special casket had to be constructed for him and a window in his home enlarged to accomodate it. His body was escorted by the local branch of the G. A. R. to the cemetery, where the tallest Union soldier was laid to rest.
********************** DOGS OF WAR ************************
"The battle waged fiercely in the sultry heat of July 1, 1863. At the end of the Union battle line atop Oak Ridge near the Pennsylvania hamlet of Gettysburg, a small dog took her position, barking as loudly as she could at the Confederate enemy who could not hear her above the fusilade.
The dog named Sallie had been given to the 11th PA Infantry when she was a puppy, and had become a comrade-in-arms, enduring the tedious marches, the heat, cold and wet of camp life, and now, the danger of battle. Sallie was said to hate three things: Rebels, Democrats and women."