This weekend I will be participating in the 2012 Battle of Anderson Civil War Reenactment, Anderson County, South Carolina.
I will be fighting in the Palmetto Partisan Rangers (as dismounted cavalry) giving the impression of my great, great, great, great uncle Bird S. Mayfield–a sergeant in the 18th South Carolina volunteer Infantry. (He was from Anderson, SC.) . I am quite excited as this will be my first living history or reenactment event. I can only imagine the emotions I will experience portraying my relative who was in fact from Anderson and alive on May 1, 1865, when the real Battle of Anderson took place. It was merely a skirmish in Anderson, SC three weeks after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Bird surrendered along with his regiment at Appomattox and was not at Anderson, but returned home to live with his widowed mother and remaining siblings. He lost his father John Mayfield and brother Sanford due to camp disease. His other brother William survived the war and lived until 1908 in Anderson, SC. I will be literally living history.
On the night of 17 February 1864 just offshore Charleston, SC, a small Confederate secret weapon made its way toward the vastly larger warship, the USS Housatonic. The Housatonic soon met the latest advancement in military technology–a working submarine.
Housatonic received a deadly lesson in Southern engineering as the submarine H. L. Hunley rammed Housatonic in the stern and backed away. As the Hunley backed off, she triggered a torpedo which exploded 100 pounds of black powder into Housatonic’s hull.
Housatonic lost 5 men and sank quickly. The action was quick and quiet. Other Yankee ships had no idea the Housatonic had sank. It was not until she sent out row boats over two miles away that anyone knew of the action.
The Hunley disappeared into the night on her way back to Charleston, but not before signalling the Confederate gunners at Battery Marshall that she had destroyed her target and simultaneously completed the first submarine attack mission in history. We know the signal was sent because of Marshall’s commander. He stated specifically that Hunley sent signals from over 4 miles out and they were received.
The South was not the only side to witness the signals. A Yankee lookout, an African American, Robert Fleming also swore to having seen from the rigging what he called “blue lights” in the direction the Hunley disappeared shortly after Housatonic went down.
The famous “blue lights” were the final contact with Hunley before she vanished until 1995.
Shortly before the Hunley was found, historical authors began the myth that the blue lights were none other than two blue lanterns or blue calcium lights. This is impossible, for several reasons.
1. The idea of a blue calcium lantern is faulty simply because such a device could never fit in Hunley’s hatch. The blue calcium lantern was a much larger device mounted on ironclads and used as short range search lights. It was so large it had to be mounted on a swivel pole on deck.
2. A blue-lensed lantern was the worst possible signal device for a naval vessel. The British had tested colored lanterns not long
before and determined the color blue to be the worst possible color next to black. Also, the distance of 4 miles was impossible for a blue-lens lantern to reach. Battery Marshall could not have possibly seen one.
Confirming this to be true, the lantern found in Hunley was clear; no blue lens. The lantern in Hunley was not used to signal Battery Marshall.
x-ray image of lantern found in Hunley
3. The word “blue light” in 1860 did not refer to a lantern or necessarily a blue light at all. The US and CS Navy manuals define “blue light” as “a bright burning pyrotechnic flare used for signals.”
So, the “blue lights” described by Housatonic lookout Robert Fleming may not have even been blue! How can this be? The recipe for blue light had once included ingredients that gave off a bright blue, but due to expense and complications using the ingredients, they were omitted. By 1864, the name for the once blue-shining flares had not changed in the manuals or in sailor jargon.
Here are two videos by the Sons of Confederate Veterans medical doctor Christopher Rucker, who made the first known discovery of this great blunder in historical books, documentaries, museums and even Hollywood.
“Burning Blue Light”
“How to Make Blue Light”
Dr. Christopher Rucker’s Article on the Blue Lantern Myth
Notice the 4 black males and 2 black females listed on lines 27 – 32. As a now, I have not identified them as slaves for sure, but it is interesting to note the property of value of John’s estate to be quite high for 1860. He may have been wealthier than I had previously believed. I will search this lead out to discover if he was a plantation owner. He had many children and the black folks listed here have a plot of real estate listed as theirs. (This could be a slave garden, but sounds much too valuable to be one.) This is yet another great find and I will publish any findings connected to it ASAP.
Greenville Army Air Base was the third major military installation in Greenville, South Carolina and was operational from 1942-1950, when it became Donaldson Air Force Base. During the Spanish-American War, Greenville was home to Camp Wetherill, and World War I brought Camp Sevier to the Greenville suburbs in what is today Taylors.
TO READ MORE: CLICK: http://greenvillearmyairbase.yolasite.com/
It came to my attention this evening that my great, great, great, great grandfather Van Lawhorne Laboon was a private in the 7th South Carolina Infantry. Now this might seem mundane, but pairing that information with some additional findings shows that he served under Joseph Kershaw and James Longstreet. Furthermore, his finger was shot off while defending the Stone Wall at Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg, VA, 1862.
Here’s the neat thing I put together tonight: his regiment, the 7th, was stationed next to the 2nd SC–famous for the heroic Richard Kirkland or “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” It is extremely likely that Van looked out on the slopes of Southern Fredericksburg and watched Kirkland give water to the Union wounded!
That’s pretty special to me, as I have been a long time fan of the story. I can only imagine of how moving the sight would have been then, it was certainly no less moving when I stood behind the stone wall in 2011. Just to know that your DNA carrier was there over 150 years ago; it’s an almost spiritual feeling that I can only try to explain. Those who have traceable ancestors often talk about this unique experience of being connected to the past. It is a privilege shared only by those trace their past and appreciate it. I hope all of you one day can experience it as well, as it makes history literally come alive for you.