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 When I had finished my research -- which included the discovery of several previously unpublished items as well as obtaining the only known photograph from a Showalter descendent -- I had so much material that Susan exclaimed, "You've got a whole exhibit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!

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.