The Red Scare (?) at the Picric Acid Plant, 1918

So, I’ve done some historical work on the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant. This was a major munitions factory that stood where the Interstate 440 and Bankhead Drive now meet. During World War I, it made a high explosive called picric acid (bet you didn’t guess that), which was used in American shells sent to Europe.

Some months back, I found a listing in the National Archives online catalogs for two records groups relating to the facility. This was a potential boon, since I’ve been using primarily newspaper accounts up to this point. I requested copies, and hoped that they contained at least some photographs or drawing of the facility, which I haven’t found to date. I was, frankly, surprised by what popped up.

The documents are actually from the office of the Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Marlborough Churchill. They allege that the International Workers of the World were active and “influential” around Little Rock, and may be implicated in two deaths at the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant.

Whoa. That’s an entirely different aspect of the plant than has popped up in the papers…

We’ve known from newspaper accounts that a worker died during construction. This man, W.E. Woodard of Faulkner County, apparently fell to his death from the roof of one of the buildings. The NARA documents give more of the circumstances about the death. Apparently, on the night of June 3, 1918, about 10:35, Woodard and some others were working on one of the buildings when a channel iron slipped its guide rope and struck Woodard in the head, knocking him from the building. He fell 35 feet and landed on an I-beam, breaking both legs and causing massive internal injuries. One hour later (why did they wait an hour?), someone called for emergency services, but Woodard passed away soon thereafter.

Apparently, one of the foremen thought that this was no accident. He reported it to Churchill’s office, believing that International Workers of the World saboteurs had infiltrated the plant and were causing accidents. Woodard’s death was one, but apparently someone shut off the water supply to the fire extinguishers at around the same time. This foreman blamed the IWW.

Ultimately, the Military Intelligence officers sent to investigate decided that both incidents were accidental, not sabotage. Still, the hasty response to purported infiltration bespeaks the importance of military production at the time and the fear of anti-war IWW agitation present in Arkansas.

Carl Drexler
Magnolia, Arkansas

Summer research abroad… Well, at least in a different corner of Arkansas

It’s mid-June, and my summer’s research and field schedule is in full swing. I’m on the road this month, whiling away the hours in a different corner of Arkansas than my usual.

I am currently assisting my old boss and current colleague at the UAF Station, Dr. Jamie Brandon, with the 2017 University of Arkansas Field School at Pea Ridge National Military Park, near Pea Ridge, Arkansas. We are working with 10 students from the UofA, as well as Jerry Hilliard, Jared Pebworth, and Lydia Rees to figure out the exact footprint, size, orientation, and antiquity of the village of Leetown, which figured prominently in the battle (probably the most important one fought west of the Mississippi River).

As we are operating out of Fayetteville, I am taking time on weekends to delve into the prodigious stacks at the University of Arkansas’s Mullins Library to advance some writing projects. I owe the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Online and the Pulaski County Historical Review each an article on the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant (LRPAP). The LRPAP was a munitions factory that, during World War I, produced a high explosive for the U.S. military. It’s also feeding into a longer work on World War I production that will be presented at the Old Statehouse Museum this fall. On top of all that, I have been doing some additional groundwork for expanding out a recent SHA paper into a book chapter for an edited volume on place and historical archaeology in the West, focusing on the construction of place through archaeology and history associated with the Camden Expedition of 1864. That’s got an October due date, though, so it’s not feeling the front-burner flames as keenly as the other things.

Being alone in the evenings is also great for productivity, and I’ve finished two books that I have wanted to polish off for some time. Ian Hope’s A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought and Gary Pinkerton’s Trammel’s Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North, which I am reviewing for the Journal of Southern History (the other [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA). There’s some work for the Society for Historical Archaeology (the real [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA) that needs doing, too.

Stay out of academia, kids, or else this is what your “holidays” will start to look like…

Archaeology is Anthropology or It is Nothing

Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips (1958) memorably wrote that “archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing,” and thereby laid the groundwork for a generation or more of archeological work. I am reminded today that this maxim has great force, but not always in the way it was intended. The Survey (by which I mean half a dozen or more of us, current and former, from stations around the state) has been working with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Arkansas Archeological Society, Delta Cultural Center, and dozens of people in Helena-West Helena, Poplar Bluff, and many other towns around east Arkansas, plus people in Chicago, Atlanta, and elsewhere to locate a small battlefield lost to official history. We’re spiraling in on the site, and today was yet one more step closer to it, thanks to a great lunch meeting. That’s not why I’m taking this moment to reflect, though.

Willey and Phillips said that archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing because they felt that the aims of archaeology should be anthropological, and geared towards answering questions about humans, culture, and society. We should do archaeology to do [cultural] anthropology on the past. Working in historical archaeology, though, particularly on recent(ish) sites, often happens because we bring the interviewing techniques of the cultural anthropologist to the table. Without the connections to the living community (without anthropology), our work proceeds at a snail’s pace, if at all. Without these connections to the community, work simply does not progress. Without anthropology, archaeology is nothing… as it never gets anywhere fast.

Of course, Phillips knew this well, as his foundational work Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947 relied heavily on talking with local farmers and others about where they were finding artifacts and where they saw mounds. As was the case then, so it is today that we progress in consultation with non-archaeologists. Arkansas has always been great for this. Let’s hope Arkansans remain so willing to be a part of the process.

References

Phillips, Philip, James A. Ford, and James B. Griffin. 1951. Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 25. Harvard University, Cambridge

Willey, Gordon and Philip Phillips (1958) Method and Theory in American Archeology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

The Death of Captain Jonas Frederik Lembke

I’ve been working through the compiled service records of the U.S. Colored Troops, as black units in the U.S. Army were known. One of the records I was able to track down was that of Captain Jonas Frederik Lembke, commander of Battery E, 2nd U.S. Colored Artillery (Light). Capt. Lembke is of interest to my research in that he was one of the men who fought and died at Wallace’s Ferry, a battlefield I am attempting to locate on behalf of the Arkansas Archeological Survey for the people of Arkansas.

The service records shed a little more light on Capt. Lembke’s life and death than the after-action reports filed by U.S. officers following the engagement, which tersely note that Capt. Lembke died during the engagement. I’d like to share a little bit about what more I know about this man.

First, we know that Capt. Lembke was a Swedish immigrant who settled in Chicago before the war. He stood 5′ 11″ tall, had a light complexion and light hair, and had blue eyes (I’ve heard Swedes tend to have those attributes). In 1861, he joined Battery B of the 1st Illinois Artillery. As a member of that unit, he would have fought at several major battles in the Western Theater, including Shiloh, Arkansas Post, Jackson, Champion’s Hill, and the Siege of Vicksburg. In the fall of 1863, then-corporal Lembke, an experienced artilleryman, put in for command of an African-American unit, when it formed. He was given the task of organizing and commanding a black artillery unit, to be formed in Helena, Arkansas. He took with him a fellow member of Battery B, 1st Illinois, named Edwin Bancroft. Bancroft made the leap from private to Lieutenant, and we can suggest that the two men had some level of rapport or friendship to be making this move together.

Captain Lembke recruited, trained, and equipped Battery E (originally known as the 3rd Battery, Louisiana Colored Infantry), and was for a time commander of Fort Curtis, one of the installations built in Helena to defend it from Confederate attack [since reconstructed near the original site].

On the day before the battle, Capt. Lembke took one section (two guns) of his unit to accompany Col. W.S. Brooks’ expedition towards Trenton. This expedition wound up with the Action at Wallace’s Ferry, where Lembke met his end. We know from the report of Lieutenant H.T. Chappell, who took command of the artillery after Lembke died, that the captain was killed instantly by a bullet through the forehead.

Lieutenant Bancroft drew up an inventory of Capt. Lembke’s effects after the battle, which show us the kinds of things a battery commander had with him. In addition to the expected clothes, and personal items (shaving kit, mirror, watch), Capt. Lembke carried a clock, copies of books on military law and heavy artillery tactics, a birch broom, and a music stand and book (no instrument listed).

Lembke Signature

While much of the documentation is the usual Army bureaucracy, there is one extremely poignant aspect to it. Capt. Lembke’s effects were sent to Chicago, and the last document in the file carries an acknowledgement of the receipt of them, signed by his widow. Her signature, written a few weeks after Capt. Lembke’s death, looks as though it were written by an almost-uncontrollably shaking hand.

Rank and the Service Records

It also strikes me that part of why we have learned so much about the life and death of Capt. Lembke is that as a white officer, his death entailed much greater levels of documentation than did those of the men who served under him. I have also been working to find information about the enlisted men in the unit, particularly looking for references to being wounded or killed at Wallace’s Ferry, because we don’t have a good casualty list.

Not surprisingly, the information available on the enlisted men is much less rich. We know names, birthplaces, and the barest of information about service records. Where men died (mostly of disease), there was a simple form filled out and filed with the government. Several men were noted as having “no effects.”

There are hints at stories that offer a tantalizing, though maddeningly incomplete stories about the men in the ranks. Private Harrison Beal, for instance, was recruited for another regiment in September of 1863, but within the space of a month was in serious trouble. On October 25, he shot a man named Peter Young. Two days later, he cut off “the forefinger of his right hand” [trigger finger] “to be discharged,” and deserted the following day. The severance of the offending figure speaks of guilt as much as it does of disloyalty.

Most of the stories are, based on these records, fairly mundane. The vast majority performed their duties with no ill marks recorded against them. A few deserted, a few died, and a few transferred or were promoted. It does strike me as interesting that a large number of them list Virginia as their place of nativity. Within African American history, the forced movement of people of color from the eastern seaboard to the western states in the antebellum period is a harrowing time often referred to as “The Second Middle Passage.” These Virginians who showed up in Helena to serve are mostly ex-slaves from the area around the Mississippi River. Their enlistment in Arkansas bears quiet testimony to the reality of this traumatic pilgrimage.

These happy notes are just some of the loose threads that tie into our ongoing archaeological work at Wallace’s Ferry.

Two Historic Photographs from the Dooley’s Ferry Area

While a large number of maps and other historical documents pertaining to Dooley’s Ferry have come to light during the course of this research, virtually nothing in the way of photographic material has been identified. A few weeks ago, a local surveyor mentioned that there were survey notes from a 1900 General Land Office survey of the area around Dooley’s Ferry that contained two photographs of the people who lived there.

The Bureau of Land Management makes the GLO survey notes available on its website, so I tracked down the notes and located the photographs. The first one shows a family outside of their house, with two outbuildings visible in the background. The men in the photograph are identified as Allen Johnson, Henry Madison, and John Peoples. A notation of “Mr. Carr’s cook, etc.” may refer to one of the women seated on the porch. Mr Madison appears to have just returned from a hunt, as he totes a firearm in one hand and, perhaps, a clutch of game in the other.

John Peoples, presumably the man standing furthest right, was born in March of 1866 in Arkansas. His mother, Martha Johnson, born in Tennessee. John was married to Florence in 1893, and, during the year the photograph was taken, they had three daughters. Ritter, age six, Elizia, age three, and Mary, age one year. They may be the three girls in the photograph. Ritter may be the girl leaning on John, and Mary may be the girl sitting on the lap of, presumably, her mother, Florence.

Allen Johnson was born in Tennessee in March of 1859. By the time the photograph was taken, he and his wife, Martha, had a large family of seven children in Spring Hill Township. The two boys in the photograph could be his sons, Edgar (8) and Richard (4). The woman seated behind the younger boy could be Martha Johnson.

Both Johnson and Peoples were farmers. There was only one Henry Madison in the 1900 census for Arkansas, him being a resident of Faulkner County, north of Little Rock. Mr. Madison may have been a friend visiting the area at the time of the photograph.

The other photograph shows Mr. John Carr, seated on his horse before his house. A snake-rail fence forms a field to the left of the photograph, and a small pack of dogs accompanies the rider.

There is no one named John Carr in the Hempstead or Lafayette County census books in 1900, so it’s a little unclear on first blush what Mr. Carr’s background is. There was a man of that name, a resident of Bois D’Arc Township in Hempstead County, in 1880. This John Carr was an Irish immigrant, who would have been around 65 years old when the photo was taken.

There are more details about the people and buildings in these photographs to be uncovered. I look forward to teasing them out down the road.