Sunday, April 7, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Indiana Jones, I Presume?

Sir Henry Morton Stanley was known to generations of Americans as a foreign correspondent sent to Africa by a New York City newspaper, who found a missing missionary, Dr. David Livingstone,in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.  Dr. Livingstone had set out in 1864 (during the Civil War) to find the headwaters of the Nile and had disappeared. 

Sir Stanley, it is said, was a "real life" Indiana Jones.

I don't know if the story of Stanley and Livingstone is taught in our schools any more.  I doubt it  But we heard about it in the late 50's and early 60's.  We learned the famous words Henry Morton Stanley uttered after his journey through Africa, after many adventures.  It was a masterful understatement.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

But, in a way, this journey actually started in....

I want to bring you back to a spring day in 1862.  A day that may have had frost on the ground when the troops woke up but warmed up fast, as a Civil War reenactor who had participated in Tennessee battle reenactments had described to me.

During that spring of 1862, the war had been ongoing for almost a year.  Federal troops were attempting to invade the South, and were progressing up the Tennessee River.  They had set up camp on the west bank of the Tennessee River just north of the Mississippi/Tennessee border, near the settlement of  Pittsburg Landing.  On April 6, the Confederates launched a surprise attack.

Read the description of one of those Confederates as he prepared for battle:

"Day broke with every promise of a fine day. Next to me, on my right, was a boy of seventeen, Henry Parker. I remember it because, while we stood-at-ease, he drew my attention to some violets at his feet, and said, 'It would be a good idea put a few into my cap. Perhaps the Yanks won't shoot me if they see me wearing such flowers, for they are a sign of peace.' 'Capital,' said I, 'I will do the same.' We plucked a bunch, and arranged the violets in our caps. The men in the ranks laughed at our proceedings, and had not the enemy been so near, their merry mood might have been communicated to the army."
This man was a 21 year old (this is in some question - he may have been 19) who volunteered for war in Arkansas, joining a regiment called the Dixie Greys.  He wasn't even an American; he was a young man from Wales who happened to be in Arkansas when war broke out.  His enlistment would change his life.  His name was John Rowlands.

The soldiers engaged, and the next two days live on as the bloodiest in our nation's history.  This man's memoirs continue, and we leave him at the point where he became a prisoner of war.

Rowlands was one of the lucky ones - at the end of the two day battle, the statistics tell the story of dead, injured and missing:  The Union won this battle, but at a terrible cost, according to the National Park Service:

Union Casualties: 13,047
Confederate Casualties: 10,699

As we continue to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the United States Civil War fought (on the battlefield, that is) from April 1861 to April 1865, it is sometimes good to take a look back before we look ahead again.  We must never forget the cost our country paid for this war.

But, what about John Rowlands?

You may have guessed it - John Rowlands and Henry Morton Stanley are the same person.

Rowlands, aka Stanley, was sent to a Union prisoner of war camp, where he decided to join the Union Army. But he became severely ill and was mustered out of the army.  He ended up seeing some more action, eventually, and then, before the end of the war, became a freelance journalist.  Eventually, his newspaper sent him to Africa to find the missing Dr. Livingstone.

The rest, as they say, is history.


  1. What a fabulous article. You must read Blood River by Tim Butcher who re traces Stanleys' steps, I was hooked.

  2. Interesting! I didn't know that.
    I do remember being transfixed watching the Civil War documentary many years ago - lots of stories for sure!

  3. Very interesting! I remember reading the story about Stanley and Livingstone in a children's book about heroes. It had a drawing of the two men meeting and extending their hands to each other.

  4. What a great post! I remember the quote "Dr. Livingston I presume" but I hadn't remembered the story behind it. Fascinating to learn how Rowlands became a freelance journalist.


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