1863: “How Completely Milroy Is Circumvented…”

Thursday night [March 5, 1863]

I forgot to write last night; I was so busy getting my accounts right &c. &c. After prayer meeting I went to the Sutlers, & had a very successful time at Davis; he and Manning would have sold me the whole store, & Davis brought the bundles home, under his cloak, after night. How completely Milroy is circumvented; his orders are, that no citizen shall buy without a permit, & then, only a limited amount; I have spent hundreds of dollars at the Sutlers, without any permit, & they help me to carry out my plans. After the war is over, I will publish my account of it. Continue reading

The Lighthouse Board, 1852-1910

After investigations revealed neglect and penny-pinching by Stephen Pleasonton, the U.S. Government established it’s second agency: The U.S. Lighthouse Board. This agency would oversee the administration of all lighthouses within the United States, ensuring their upkeep, creating standardized rules, overseeing keepers, and allocating funds.

The “Lighthouse Board Era” is a fascinating, expansive, and detailed time in American lighthouse history. The era lasted from 1852 to 1910; at the end the Bureau of Lighthouses took over, followed by the Coast Guard in 1939.

This blog post will attempt to give some generalized historical information about the board, proceedings, and expectations – but there’s so much amazing information we can’t cover it all in 1,000 words! Enjoy the summary… Continue reading

1862: “Now That Begins To Look Like Business”


January 18, 1862

I visited Washington to-day, through such rain and such mud, as no civilized country, save this, can sustain, and preserve its character for purity. Am back tonight. On my return, I find on my table the following:

General Order No. 11

Headquarters, &c.

When the time arrives for the troops of this Brigade to move, the following will be the allowance of the means of transportation: Continue reading

New Stuff To Take West

When Meriweather Lewis and William Clark mustered their group of soldiers and river-men to begin the trek west into the Louisiana Purchase territory, they took some new inventions with them. President Jefferson liked new stuff and even made quite a few inventions himself – however, it wasn’t Jefferson’s calendar clock or multi-letter writer that made it in the expedition’s supply bags.

Instead, there were very practical things (at least in 19th Century standards) that went along – some of them were specially designed or commissioned by Lewis.

Today we’ll explore some of the “new stuff” that went west, the purposes, and success or failure of the items.


A replica of the expedition's keelboat (photo from http://lewisandclarktrail.com/keelboat.htm)

A replica of the expedition’s keelboat (photo from http://lewisandclarktrail.com/keelboat.htm)

To get up the Missouri River, Meriweather Lewis commissioned and helped design a special boat. Constructed around a shallow keel, the 55 foot long vessel was fairly flat-bottomed, allowing it to glide along the river and hopefully not get stuck on sandbanks. The keelboat did have a sail, but its wooden decks were designed to allow poling.

Overall, the keelboat was successful. It did get stuck a couple times, but it served its purpose as a “headquarters” boat for getting up the Missouri River. After the winter at Fort Mandan, Lewis and Clark sent the keelboat back down the Missouri River since the river was getting too narrow for its passage.

Air Rifle

A recent invention intrigued Meriweather Lewis, and he had to buy one for the expedition. Using compressed air, this new rifle didn’t take a normal charge of gunpowder to fire a bullet. It seemed like a good idea, but was a little tricky to make it work properly; thus most men on the expedition carried a regular rifle or musket. The air rifle was used mostly to impress the natives, and not for hunting or defense.

Unfortunately, before the expedition officially departed Missouri, Lewis was demonstrating his weapon to a crowd of onlookers when the gun misfired and accidentally wounded a woman in the crowd.

Dr. Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush

Dr. Rush’s Pills

Though skilled in frontier “first aid” and herbal medicine, Lewis took a crash course on 19th Century medicine so he could be the “doctor” on the expedition. (The men probably wished he had skipped the formal instruction). Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia helped Lewis improve his knowledge of bleeding, blistering, and purging which were the standard practices of the medical profession at the time.

Dr. Rush had invented a really awful concoction of drugs and prepared it as pills. They were supposed to be a sort of “cure-all” for any ailment. The pills were effective, basically emptying the digestive system and supposedly purging all illness from the body. Lewis took a large bottle of this pills in his medicine chest and prescribed them for various illnesses. (I’m still wondering if he ever took one or just prescribed.)

Peace Medals 

The Casts for the Jefferson Peace Medals

The Casts for the Jefferson Peace Medals

It wasn’t really an invention, but it was brand-new item. President Jefferson had peace medals crafted and instructed Lewis and Clark to give them to the native chiefs as a gift from the “American chief.” The medals were supposed to be a symbol of goodwill and alliance.

When meeting native tribes, Lewis and Clark usually had the soldiers perform a dress parade and fire their guns. Then the commanders would make speeches about the power of the United States and the president’s desire for friendship and peace. And then it was time for presents! Peace medals, beads, tobacco, and other items.


Meriweather Lewis was in charge of most of the “packing lists” for the expedition. With a personal interest in science (and mentored by Jefferson), Lewis searched for innovative items which might be useful. Some were successful. Others were cool, but not extremely effective. Some it might have been better to just leave at home. Others were beautiful with symbolic significance.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

A Big, Long List of Supplies

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

The last few weeks I’ve been sharing details about the United States Sanitary Commission and the United States Christian Commission and their work during the American Civil War. So the natural question is: what did they bring to Gettysburg?

I Have In My Hands A List

Well, here’s a list of supplies received by 1 corps hospital during a 10 day period. Keep in mind that there were about 10 corps hospitals at Gettysburg…and smaller field hospitals too. All irreverent comments in (parenthesis) are mine and certainly not in the original list.

Dried fruit – 3,500 lbs.

Lemons – 116 boxes (time to make lemonade? No, seriously, that’s what they were for)

Preserved fish (probably dried) – 3,600 lbs.

Catsup – 43 jars (that’ll go well with hot dogs – sorry, re-enactor joke)

Pickles – 400 gallons (I’ll pass, thanks…)

Canned oysters – 72 cans

Fresh eggs – 8,500 dozen (so that’s 102,000 eggs, if I understand correctly)

Concentrated milk – 12,500 lbs.

Ice – 20,000 lbs.

Fresh bread – 10,300 loaves

Crates of medicines, such as: aloe, alum, ammonia water, calomel, camphor, laudanum, & quinine

Shirts, drawers, and other clothing – 40,000 pieces (the ladies have been busy sewing!)

Sheets, blankets, mosquito nets – 11,700

Towels and napkins – 10,000

Sponges – 2,399 (love the precise counting!)

Bandages – 110 barrels (how many in a barrel is a mysterious question)

soap – 250 lbs.

crutches – 1,200 pairs

fans – 3,500 (this is the air-conditioning, guys)

bay rum – 100 bottles

candles – 350 lbs.

(This list is from “A Vast Sea of Misery” by G.A. Coco, page xvi)

So what do you think? Was the USSC and USCC successful? My mind is spinning trying to imagine collecting, transporting and distributing all that stuff to just 1 field hospital!

Maybe the better question is what didn’t they bring to Gettysburg?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What’s your favorite item on the list?