In late 2010, having volunteered to assist Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California, with research in pro-secession activity in California, director Susan Ogle handed me a list of names, places and events for possible investigation. One of those names was that of Dan Showalter, a California politician turned Confederate cavalry officer of whom I'd never heard.

Becoming fascinated just after reading the barest outline of Showalter's life, the next year found me hunting down everything I could find about this largely forgotten character. When I had finished my research -- which included the discovery of several previously unpublished items as well as obtaining the only known photograph from a Showalter descendent -- I had so much material that Susan exclaimed, "You've got a whole exhibit right here!"

And with her guidance, on November 5, 2011, co-curated by myself and Susan Ogle, my "Dan Showalter: California's Arch Rebel" exhibit went on display at the Drum.

Now being slated for removal in August 2012 in that ongoing round of ever-successive new exhibits that mark good museums, I've started this website as a place where, over time, I can memorialize and expand upon all the material accumulated on this remarkable Californian.

Hope you'll return often as this website expands and enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013


Just thought I'd put up a little update on things for anyone -- is there anyone? -- who might actually be following this blog.

Gene Armistead and I continue to make progress on The Book. It goes in fits and starts around all of the necessities of life and labor, but it's progressing. There should be some really great history in this book -- I'm surprised at how much information there really is on a seemingly obscure historical character, and how more keeps popping up! A work like this, dealing with a man whose story literally spans states and even countries, would have been tremendously difficult to put together not that many years ago; it's truly amazing the information we still come across thanks to the Internet.

And descendants! I am continually amazed at the contacts I've made through this whole process. Gene, of course, is one of those who I most likely never have met had it not been through Internet publication of this blog and the earlier publication of the Drum Barracks exhibit from which this blog stems. But thanks to the Internet, I've now had contacts from descendants from no less than five Showalter lines, from F.E. Kavanaugh, from Lt. Chauncy Wellman, and two from Miss Anna Forman (later Mrs. Peters). It really is remarkable. So a big shout out to Susan and John, Ed, Kenton, Bob, Fannie, Shirley, Larry and Bruce!

Gene and I think there will really be some remarkable history -- and some ground-breaking history -- in our work, so we're really looking forward to completing it and getting it on to a publisher. We're very fortunate in that we've had expressions of interest early on from two publishers, so it looks like this thing may actually happen. I will periodically update as progress continues.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Big Announcement!

THE BOOK! That's right, THE BOOK!

I mentioned some time ago that I'd been contacted by Southern California historian Gene Armistead. In the time that's passed we've struck up such a good friendship and realized that we both share such a pathological love for research that I posed the big question, Gene has foregone writing the article for which he'd originally contacted me for material, and we are now solidly at work to co-author what will undoubtedly be the authoritative work on Dan Showalter.

I can already tell you that there will be some important, perhaps even startling new information based on recent research. And we've even come up with yet another photo of Ol' Dan, so there will certainly be worthwhile reasons for taking a look at the book if and when it is published (we're hoping next year, 2014).

In the meantime, given the tremendous amount of work that I'm now finding goes into planning and writing such a tome, please forgive me if there are few or any new postings between now and when it's finally done. I don't seem to have a flood of interest in this blog anyway, but if someone out there really has been frantically checking in in anticipation of a next posting -- please forgive.

But do keep checking in because I'll certainly post periodically on the book's progress!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Need I Say More?

Just came across another newspaper clipping that I really have to post in light of my recent discussions about what really happened at Palmito Ranch. This one is so good that I'm going to blow it up here so it can be read just as it appeared in the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph of October 5, 1864:

Even discounting for hyperbole, I think it should now be obvious that Dan Showalter has come down through history with the proverbial "bum rap," and one that would seem to be completely undeserved. Ditto with his regiment, the 4th Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade, at least as to those of its members who remained loyal and under Showalter's command throughout.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"My Dear Friend Anna"

I seem to be in another of these periodic moments when unexpected things come flying at me. By that, I mean the sudden connection with descendants of the various dramatis personae in the life of Dan Showalter and, more and more it seems, obtaining old, never published family photos.

This has happened again. I've now become acquainted with one Larry Vermeulen, the great-great grandson of none other than Anna Forman, the young woman to whom that wonderful letter of February 1864 was written by Showalter -- the one that she never received, but has been consigned to posterity, by virtue of it being recovered from the body of the Confederate spy, shot by Union soldiers, who had been entrusted with carrying it back to California from Texas. I refer you to my earlier postings for the text of that magnificently impassioned letter.

Anna, about ten years after the date of that ill-fated letter, married a J.D. Peters (actually Giuseppe di Pietri). Mr. Peters was the wealthy owner of a steamship line. Twenty-two years Anna's senior, he died in the early 20th century, leaving Anna a well-to-do widow who spent her time between living in an elegant San Francisco hotel and her father's home in Stockton, California. She died in 1921 in San Francisco. She was the founder of the Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Stockton. She was born in Vandalia, Illinois, in September of 1845 -- so was only 18 years old at the time of Showalter's letter.

And now, as best I know for the first time ever outside of family records, courtesy of Mr. Vermeulen, is the copy of what appears to be a newspaper photo from an old Vandalia, IL, newspaper with none other than Anna Forman Peters to the left of her aunt, Tabitha Booth:

As best I know, this is the only known photo of Mrs. Peters.

Another surprise: With the help of fellow historian and friend Gene Armistead, it appears that there may actually be a second photo of Dan Showalter! Inquiry has been made and I am awaiting reply as to the availability of a copy and permission to publish. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Palmito Yet Again

Now and again, I'm finding, it really is good to get back to old materials and read them yet again. After coming across that exculpatory first-person account in the Austin newspaper about what really happened on that fateful September day in 1864, I happened across the regimental return for that month -- with a startling discovery!

In that the report is not too lengthy, I will transcribe it here:
Note: At 6 O'clock P.M. 6th of Sept. 1864, the Reg't then stationed at Camp Palmeto on the Rio Grande River & 10 miles above its mouth, was attacked by the forces of the Mexican General Cortina from the Mexican side of the River with artillery. The Enemy's battery being out of range of small arms & there being no means of crossing the river to reach it, the Reg't held its position under fire until 1 o'clock P.M. when the Yankees from Brazos Santiago with about 500 Cavalry & 7 pieces of artillery advanced on the East side of the River and attacked the Camp from that direction. The position being no longer tenable, the Reg't fell back in the direction of Brownsville seven miles when the advance of the enemy was checked. On the 9th, the Reg't reinforced by Giddings Batt. attacked the enemy four miles abov & forced him back to this point. On the 11th, with other of the Expeditionary Forces under command of Col. Giddings, drove the enemy from this point, the Yankees retiring to Brazos Island & the Mexicans, who had joined them, to the Mexican side of the River. The Reg't then reoccupied this position, where it has remained quiet to the present date.

So this begins to look less and less the sudden cannonading taking the hopelessly drunk commander by total surprise that has been the version handed down through time. We now have Cortina's barrage beginning in the evening three days before Murrah's Rangers arrive, with that colorful account of extreme rain and flood conditions.

We now have 19 hours of overnight bombardment from across the river, immediately after which the Union attack begins, effectively surrounding Showalter's troops on September 7th. This means it was another two days, apparently of continued fighting to withstand the Union and Mexican advance, before reinforcement arrived, first, we know, by Murrah's Rangers, who met Showalter's troops still engaged, and then Giddings' troops later on the 9th. Even then, it took the reinforced regiment another two days, until the 11th, to retake their position on Palmito Hill.

I think the evidence becomes more and more convincing that this was no panicked fleeing of troops because of a commanding officer so drunk that he could not exercise command. This sounds like a protracted and heavily fought battle which ultimately led to no loss of territory. I become more and more convinced that Gen. Drayton had some ulterior motive in his ultimatum to Col. Ford that Showalter be court-martialed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Recent contacts and new photos

One of the most exciting things about having done this research on Dan Showalter has been those folks who have contacted me "out of the blue" with new tidbits of information or, even better, previously unknown photographs of the dramatis personae in the Showalter saga. While I made the initial overtures in contacting Showalter descendent Bob Showalter which ultimately led to the finding of that wonderful, and only known, photo of Dan Showalter, these next folks I will be mentioning found me, on way of another.

An important figure in the later life of Dan Showalter is Finis Ewing Kavanaugh, the New Mexican physician, Indian fighter, territorial legislator, horse racer -- et cetera, et cetera -- who served as Showalter's second-in-command in the 4th Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade -- and also ended up Showalter's killer in that Mazatlan bar brawl. For what In my research, I have been hugely indebted to Fannie Kavanaugh Smith, descendant through FEK's (as we've come to address him) brother (please forgive, Fannie, if I've got the lineage wrong!) for both information and, yes, another only known photograph, this one found by her at, and published here with permission of, the University of Southern Mississippi:

Is this a fantastic old carte de visite or what? Fannie and I have recently been mulling over when this photo might have been taken. There are few clues. For one, if you look closely (remember, you can click on all of these photos and get larger views), FEK has his major's star on his collar -- but no black facing, which was the official collar for surgeons in the Confederate Army. Senior surgeons were often moved to brigade command and given additional line officer duties, which would imply this photo is from his 4th Texas Cavalry days -- but the reverse of the card implies an earlier date:

Granted, the penciled-in date is speculative by its very notation, but Kavanaugh's signature (?) is preceded by "Sr," for surgeon. Before his more active duties in 4th Texas Cavalry command, he indeed was the regimental surgeon (military records show the shift as of March 1864) -- but when would he have been in New Orleans? This may well have been following the battle at the Sabine Pass in early 1863 -- it is known he fought there as well as Showalter -- since that is right on the Texas-Louisiana border, but why, then, no black collar facing? Although it is known that uniform regulations were often more or less disregarded the farther west one went during the war. But at least as far as known postings and areas of action, the 4th Texas Cavalry, during its existence, was never really anywhere near New Orleans. So the mystery continues.

We'll save the historical discussion of FEK's interactions with Showalter until further posting(s).

Returning to the topic of folks popping up out of nowhere, I was just very recently contacted by one Gene Armistead from California. Gene is a fellow historian of California and the Southwest in the Civil War, with several publications along those lines. I can certainly recommend taking a look at his great article on the California Military Museum site about the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, the only California militia group to go into the Confederate Army as a unit -- apparently the 3rd Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade! And then there's this about a truly obscure, but most interesting, topic, "Horses and Mules in the Civil War."

Gene contacted me about use of the Showalter photo for an article he is presently writing about the capture of the Showalter party in its first attempt to leave California for Texas in November 1861. I will certainly post notice of this article on this blog when it is published.

But one good turn leads to another, as they say. Gene then put me in contact with another new friend, Shirley Anne Wellman South. I provide this decorous appellation because Ms. South is the descendant of none other than Captain Chauncey Wellman -- commanding officer of the Union troops that captured Showalter and company on that late November day! As with Showalter himself and Bob's descent through his brother Elihu, Shirley is the great-great granddaughter of Capt. Wellman's brother Samuel. And with a double relation on top of that: Her antecedent Samuel and Capt. Wellman were married to sister!

Along with this new introduction came yet another previously unseen photo. Here is Capt. Chauncey Wellman in a photograph taken prior to the Civil War, when he was still a sergeant:

Ironically, at the time this photo was taken, Sergeant Wellman as posted in the Indian Territory -- where the newly formed 4th Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade, was first posted upon its formation.

Did these guys know how to wear uniforms or what?

I want to again thank all of these folks -- Bob, Fannie, Gene, Shirley -- both for their wonderful contributions and for their acquaintance and friendship.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Really Happened at Palmito Hill

If you search for material on Dan Showalter online, you generally come away with the idea that, regardless of how he might have begun his military career, he ended up a dissolute and drunken marauder. But once you dig a bit deeper, particularly when reading Col. RIP Ford's account, sketchy as it is, of Showalter's court martial following his retreat from Palmito Hill on September 9, 1864, questions arise as to just how justifiably was Showalter brought up on charges.

In my last posting, I argued the position that, in reality, Showalter's reputation -- as well as the reputation of his 4th Texas Cavalry itself -- may have been undeservedly damaged. Even though Ford's assessment of Showalter's character later in life was qualified by saying "When not under the influence of liquor," there seem too many loose strings to draw such derogatory conclusions as to his character as have generally been drawn.

But then, the wonder of the Internet is that new material continually arises. Over the last few months -- yes, I still periodically hunt down whatever new information I can find on Ol' Dan -- I came across the tremendous find of a contemporary Texan newspaper which sheds all sorts of new light on that fateful day at Palmito Hill.

Witness the Weekly State Gazette published in Austin, Texas, on October 19, 1864 (above). Although a good chunk of the paper is missing in the bottom left corner of its front page, the article starting in the lower first column and continuing well into the third deals with "The Battles of San Martin and Palmetto Ranch (sic), Fought Sept. 9th, 1864; Extracts from the Journal of a Murrah Ranger, on the Rio Grande." That "Palmetto Ranch" is none other than the same Palmito Hill at which Col. Showalter and unit were besieged and for which he was subsequently court martialed, and the Murrah Rangers were one of the Confederate units ultimately brought up to reinforce Showalter's position after his troops had fled in retreat.

While we know that Mexican revolutionary general Cortina had opened fire on the 4th Texas Cavalry from across the Rio Grande, what we really don't know is that this cannonading came at a time -- and apparently in collusion with Union troops from a discussion in Ford's memoirs -- when Showalter's position was already under concerted attack by Union forces. To quote the article above:

Half an hour later a courier arrived from our front, from Lieut. Col. Dan E. Showalter, bringing the astonishing news that the Yankees, in strong force, with infantry, cavalry and artillery, were pressing upon his front and left; and that Cortinas (sic) was shelling him from the other side of the river.

So contrary to the impression that comes from Ford's minimal account, in addition to the cannonading, Showalter was already fully engaged with multiple Union units. And keep in mind that this would be from the landward side of his position, so already pushing Showalter's men up against the river -- only now to receive cannon fire from that direction as well!

Showalter's dispatches to Ford from this date are still available in Col. Ford's papers (see example in my August 8, 2012 posting). It is notable that the only dispatches sent to Ford have to do with Cortina's involvement and not Yankee engagement. Given this evidence of his heavy engagement, if anything one would expect that Showalter felt his unit was holding its own until this Mexican barrage began -- something that seems unlikely if he had been too drunk to exercise command, as charged later by Col. Ford under duress from Gen. Drayton.

So what then happened? Did the 4th Texas Cavalry just turn tail once the cannonading began and run? The Weekly State Gazette article continues:

Col. S. called for immediate relief. The order was immediately given for 300 men to saddle their horses, and go to his assistance. Unfortunately, however, our horses had all been out to grass, and at least two or three hours must elapse before they could be brought in.

At this point we hit the missing part of the article, but we now know that relief was unable to get to Showalter's men for a considerable amount of time.  In spite of the break in the text, Showalter's name is mentioned at the top of the second column, so we gain more information -- including this comment:

,,, 200 Yankees, in two bodies, had flanked him from the Point Isabel road and that he had with difficulty brought off his men."

So by this time we know that Showalter had been attacked literally from all sides, could not retreat other than to attempt escape in the direction of the Union lines because of the river, and that, apparently having gotten at least some distance from his trapped initial position, he was still battling some 200 enemy soldiers.

As if that's not bad enough, add this from the article:

Dispatching some messengers to inform this stampede company that we were not Yankees, we proceeded down the telegraph road in such a rain as has not fallen before since the days of Noah. The water along the prairie was up to our saddle-girths...

So now we not only have Showalter and men being completed surrounded with backs up against the river and with no way to go except into the Union lines -- we have torrential rain and, apparently, flood conditions!

The article goes on to describe how the Murrah Rangers engaged Union and Mexican soldiers for another extended period of time until, finally, troops under Col. Giddings arrive and stop the Yankee drive from Palmito Hill and behind Showalter's troops. Note that it is Col. Giddings who is cited in Ford's very sketchy memoirs of this date as having been sent to regroup Showalter's troops and stop the retreat. But now we know that Col. Giddings' success came only hours after Showalter's attempt to hold his position and after even the first arriving supporting troops, these same Murrah Rangers, had been driven back as well.

Given this evidence, the extremely difficult weather conditions, the 360-degree assault without open escape, and the several hours over which this whole scenario took place, can one really argue that Showalter was unable to exercise command? Perhaps especially if he had been drinking? Doesn't this account rather argue that Showalter was in a nearly impossible situation and made the most, only after hours of engagement, out of the very limited chance of removing his troops to safety?

I don't know much about Gen. Drayton, but now having come across this evidence I can't help but think that his ultimatum to Ford that either Showalter be court-martialed or Drayton would himself court-martial Ford reeks more of finding a scapegoat for what Drayton probably considered an embarrassment -- whether that be the "retreat" from Palmito Hill or perhaps a dislike of drinking officers. If nothing else, this speaks volumes of Ford's recounting that absolute outrage with which Showalter reacted to the charges against him.

The more information I find and the more I consider it, the more I become convinced that both Dan Showalter and his 4th Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade, were completely undeserving of the reputation they have come to have of being drunken desperados and marauders. On deeper examination, everything in his life speaks to Showalter's strong character and sense of principle, purpose and honor. 

We must keep in mind that such events in his life as the killing of Charles Pearcy in a duel, advocating secession from the Union, embracing the Confederacy and its slaveholding policy were at that time accepted as true and virtuous principle and honorable by not only the Southern third of the country, but by a significant number residing in the "Union states." Although we now may disavow those principles and that sense of honor, we must assess those who lived at that time by their own standards -- from which it would seem more and more that Dan Showalter and his companions in arms did not deviate.

The digital file of the newspaper cited may be found at the Texas Digital Newspaper Program of the University of North Texas.