Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spies, Blockade Runners, and Secessionists on the Shore in 1863

Written by Kellee Blake

The Eastern Shore’s blockade runners “are having a high holiday, and the secessionists growing saucy,” grumbled Union General Robert Schenck in 1863. He was right. The canoes of Virginia’s Eastern Shore deftly slipped back and forth across the bay to Northumberland, Mathews, and other Western Shore counties as part of a complex aquahighway system bound for Richmond. On the land, clandestine supply arteries carried goods and munitions from points north, south, and distant east to waiting water transport
across the Bay.

Who was willing to run the blockade and why? Was it money? Patriotism? Both? Were they “serving” the Confederacy in lieu of uniformed action? Shielding another from inculpation? Whatever their reasons, the contraband activity reached its zenith in the summer months of 1863 when nearly all of the Shore’s occupying troops, commanded by General Henry Hayes Lockwood, were called away to fight at Gettysburg.

Though far away, the Battle of Gettysburg would fall hard on the Shore. At least one Shoreman was killed and others wounded fighting for the Confederacy. On the Union side, many of Lockwood’s Maryland soldiers battled against their neighbors, schoolmates, even brothers at Gettysburg. The death and destruction were overwhelming in the thick July heat; fury and bitterness would return to the Shore with these men.

During the three day battle, Henry Lockwood distinguished himself at Culp’s Hill, then briefly served at Harper’s Ferry before returning to the Shore, “the fleshpots of Egypt.” By now, Lockwood’s heart was greatly hardened against the Shorespeople and he determined they would more fully share in “the burden of this war.” The once conciliatory general now proclaimed the Shore to be a place of no “real” loyalty as he declared the blockade running would end. Lockwood and Schenck buttressed their coast guard and established a new paid network of spies and informants. Who were they?

Meanwhile, the Confederate demand for men and goods was exponentially increasing. Soldiers wrote to families on the Shore of their colleagues’ suffering for want of necessities. Even General Robert E. Lee called for the Shore’s continuing help in conveying, “goods from Maryland or Accomac, as it is to our benefit, and furnishes necessary articles to soldiers and citizens.” How would they answer his call? Find out the rest of the story with us.

~ Excerpt from the 2013 Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society Newsletter

It was a Hot and Miserable Summer in 1861….

written by Kellee Blake

At Ker Place on Tuesday, August 30, at 7:00 pm, historian Kellee Green Blake will share true stories of the Shore from the momentous summer and early fall of 1861. This will be the first in a series of lectures planned by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The Historical Society’s new exhibit of local Civil War artifacts coupled with the Virginia Historical Society’s Panel exhibit will be the perfect backdrop for attendees to spend a night immersed in an exciting chapter of our past.

During this talk, Mrs. Blake embraces questions that Shoremen were asking themselves during the hot and miserable summer of 1861- where crops rotted in the fields and lighthouses stood dark. The Shore was awash in rumor: rumor that the Federals would soon invade; rumor that the Confederate Army would come from Norfolk to reinforce them; rumor that the enslaved people planned a mass exodus. The people of the Shore did not know what to believe or which neighbors to trust. Those on Chincoteague and the islands poised themselves for an attack from either side. Others dared believe for freedom. Loyalties on the Shore were passionately divided, local leaders burned in effigy, and Shoremen vigorously collided in this period characterized as a “reign of terror.” In truth there were many small battles on the Shore, many quiet human struggles no less worthy of our notice. Who would ultimately prevail? Who would win this “war” on the Eastern Shore?

The answers will surprise you and transform your thinking about the vital role of these uniquely positioned Virginia counties- Accomack and Northampton. The days of believing that little happened here during the war are at an end.

Ms. Blake is the retired Director of the National Archives – Mid Atlantic Region in Philadelphia. She is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of Mary Washington College and received her graduate degree in American History from Villanova University. She has processed, researched, and administered thousands of documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries including the papers of Aaron Burr, Roger Taney, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, H. R. Haldeman, and the Robert Kennedy Assassination Files. Kellee has been a regular speaker at national genealogical and historical conferences and is the author of multiple articles on wartime loyalties, the law practice of Abraham Lincoln, and the Federal Census. She has been working on a book about the Federal occupation of the Shore for the better part of four years. Kellee and her husband Tom divide their time between an 18th century home in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, and their cottage on Hunting Creek.

Excerpt from the 2012 Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society Newsletter