Friday, November 30, 2012


Gluckstadt, located between Madison and Canton, is a growing community. Housing developments, new schools and businesses are moving to the area at a rapid pace. This is not the first time folks have moved to the area from someplace else, however. In fact, Gluckstadt was originally settled by German immigrants seeking a better life. Their story – and how the land became available – is tale of hard work and perseverance.

The area now known as Gluckstadt was originally called Calhoun Station. As it was located on the Jackson, New Orleans and Great Northern Railroad, Calhoun attracted the attention of Union forces during the Civil War. During the Siege of Jackson in July,  1863, a Federal column composed of both infantry and cavalry moved up the railroad toward Canton. On July 16, the infantry, commanded by Col. Charles R. Woods (left), captured the depot at Calhoun and destroyed about one mile of track and a railroad bridge. The depot was burned, along with whatever supplies were stored there. Ironically, Woods’ brigade consisted of several German-speaking regiments from Missouri. Organized chiefly through the Turner Society, which was a German-American athletic and social organization in St. Louis, the 3rd, 12th and 17th Missouri (U.S.) regiments were so heavily German in their makeup that the brigade was known as the “German Light Brigade.” 

Forty years later, German-Americans returned to Calhoun, although no longer as combatants. In 1905, several immigrants, including members of the Klaas, Kehle, Fitsch, Schmidt and Weilandt families, came to Madison County, Mississippi, from Klaasville, Indiana. Klaasville is located in Lake County, Indiana. Founded in 1837, Lake County is so named because it borders Lake Michigan. Situated on prairie land only a half-mile from the Illinois state line, Klaasville was founded by Heinrich Klaas in 1850, who was the first German immigrant to the area. Within ten years, ten or fifteen families had settled in Klaasville, where they erected a church (the Church of St. Anthony) and established a cemetery in 1860. A common frame building, the church was constructed at a cost of $500. In 1878, an addition was made to the church and a steeple added. Unable to build a house for the priest until 1866, the first few priests at St. Anthony’s lived with the Klaas family. The little town itself included a store, schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter, a wagon maker, shoemaker and a tailor. Heinrich Klaas, born in 1800, died in 1882 and is buried in the St. Anthony Cemetery (above right). 

Back in Mississippi in 1896, two Chicago investors named Edward M. Treakle and Gorton W. Nichols purchased land from James B. Yellowley, who had come to Madison County in 1853 from North Carolina. With the land they purchased, Treakle and Nichols formed the Highland Colony Company and began marketing the property to northern settlers. After surveying the property and dividing it into lots, the developers established what is today the town of Ridgeland. Enticed by the promise of good farm lands in the sunny south, immigrants began moving into the area around the beginning of the 20th Century, among them several families from Klaasville. At a cost of $22,000, nine families initially purchased land and moved all of their household goods and farm equipment, including livestock, to Madison County in 1905 and named their new environs Gluckstadt, meaning “Lucky Village.” Not only were they lured by the good soil, but were likely escaping an area that was increasingly anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. Within a few years, Indiana would explode with Ku Klux Klan activity, and most of the violence was aimed at Catholics. Through the 1920s, the Klan frequently targeted Catholic churches and schools. At the height of the Klan’s influence in Indiana, the secret society claimed over 250,000 members, and was the largest KKK organization in history.

After moving to Madison County, the first wave of immigrant families worked hard to make it in their new land. Three years after arriving, though, they discovered that they did not own the land they thought they had purchased, as the Highland Colony Company  never actually owned the property they offered for sale, having only taken an option on the land. After hiring a law firm in Jackson to try and work something out, in the end the families had to purchase the same land twice. It is not readily apparent if the problems with the Highland Colony Company were a result of fraud or negligence, but there is some indication that other legal difficulties followed the investors in other states as well. Despite these difficulties, more German immigrants arrived (above), including the Miller, Minninger , Carr, Aulenbrock, Haas and Weisenberger families from 1914 into the 1920s.

Within a few years, a Catholic Church was established by the community. Served by German-speaking priests, the first church building was constructed in 1911. The building also functioned as a school. By 1917, a new church, St. Joseph, was constructed at a cost of $1,750. The church was destroyed in a fire and was replaced in 1929. The first priest for the mission parish, the Rev. A.P. Heick (left), died the same year. In 1968, the second church was also lost in a fire. After several years of harvest festival fundraisers, a third church was constructed in 1975. Today, the parish of St. Joseph includes approximately four hundred families and the annual German Festival attracts thousands of tourists. Gluckstadt, founded more than a century ago, continues to grow, perhaps finally earning the nickname “lucky.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hattiesburg's Temple B'nai Israel

Judaism in Mississippi has a rich, vibrant history. Although never comprising more than a very small percentage of the state’s population, Jews have been a part of Mississippi’s culture since the mid-18th century. The earliest congregations formally established in Mississippi date to the mid-19th century, and were located chiefly in towns along the Mississippi River, including Natchez and Vicksburg. As the interior of the state developed, Jewish immigrants followed and took root in towns throughout the Delta and other sections of the state. In the Piney Woods, a part of Mississippi that experienced commercial development fairly late in the state’s history (mainly due to the timber industry) Jews were again part of the story. In Hattiesburg, the largest city in the Piney Woods region, Jewish immigrants arrived within a few years of the founding of the city in 1882 and have maintained a presence in “the Hub City” since.

In 1890, Maurice Dreyfus moved to Hattiesburg in order to operate a saw mill. Other Jewish immigrants followed, attracted – as most other folks who moved to the area were – by the booming timber and railroad industry. Born in 1847, Dreyfus (top right) was a native of Billigheim-Ingenheim, Germany. After immigrating to the United States, Dreyfus first moved to Brookhaven before settling in Hattiesburg. He died in 1937 at the age of 90. Other early settlers to Hattiesburg include Sam Shemper, who established a scrap iron and metals company, and Frank Rubenstein, who founded a department store in Hattiesburg known as “The Hub.” Rubenstein (below right) was a native of Verbovets, Ukraine, and immigrated to the U.S. around 1900. By 1919, he was known as “one of the leading merchants of the city,” and “The Hub” was one of the largest department stores in the region. Rubenstein (1884-1953) also had a store in Sumrall, and other family members, who followed him to Mississippi from the Ukraine, settled in nearby towns, including Laurel. Louis Buchalter, a tailor from Poland, immigrated to New York in 1911. In search of employment, he moved first to Natchez and then to Hattiesburg in 1915, where he opened a successful tailoring and alterations shop. The Louis Tailoring Co., which was advertised as “The Best Clothing Value in America Today,” was a fixture in Hattiesburg until 1982. 

Hattiesburg’s congregation, known as B’nai Israel (“The Children of Israel”), was organized in 1915. Prior to that, Jewish citizens in Hattiesburg held religious services in Maurice Dreyfus’ home on Court Street (upper left) and then, in 1900, met on the top floor of the Oddfellows Building in downtown Hattiesburg (middle left). In 1920, the congregation purchased a lot at the corner of Hardy Street and Pine Street (now the location of Bancorp South), where a building was constructed from timbers purchased from old WWI army barracks from Camp Shelby. Camp Shelby, established in 1917, not only provided the raw materials for the first temple but was also a steady source of congregants, as many Jewish soldiers stationed at Camp Shelby took part of the life of the congregation. In 1946, B’nai Israel moved again, and constructed the present temple (lower left).

Throughout the life of Temple B’nai Israel, members as well as rabbis who have served the congregation have played a significant role in Hattiesburg’s business, cultural and social development. During the Civil Rights era in particular, Rabbi Charles Martinband (below) left his mark. Born in New York in 1895, Martinband grew up in Virginia. He returned to New York for college before moving to Memphis as director of a Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1918. Within a year, he moved to the Chattanooga area, where he was a chaplain at Camp Forrest, a training camp for reserve officers during World War I named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Camp Forrest, along with other military installations, was located on the Civil War battlefield at Chickamauga. 

Following his stint as chaplain, he returned to New York for religious training and became a rabbi. As a rabbi, he served various congregations in New York and Pennsylvania before moving south again, this time to Alabama in 1946. While in Alabama, Martinband first became immersed in the race issues of the day. In 1952, he moved to Hattiesburg to serve as the rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel. While in Hattiesburg, Martinband became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement and was openly engaged with local black leaders, including Vernon Dahmer and Clyde Kennard. Naturally, his activities drew the ire of many in the white community of Forrest County, including the White Citizens’ Council and even some members of his own congregation, who had to try and balance social issues with business and civic concerns. By 1963, the pressure had become too great and Martinband left for Longview, Texas. The same year, in June, he was invited to the White House by President Kennedy to participate in a conference on “the present aspects of the nation’s civil rights problems.” Rabbi Martinband died in 1974.  
Like all the rabbis who have served Temple B’nai Israel, Martinband was affiliated with the Reform movement. Although originally founded as an Orthodox congregation, B’nai Israel became a Reformed congregation in the 1930s. Since that time, B’nai Israel has had twelve full-time rabbis, including Dr. Uri Barnea. The son of Holocaust refugees and a native of Israel, Rabbi Barnea’s professional background is in music. After serving in the Israeli military, Barnea (left) received a music degree from the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and, later, postgraduate degrees in conducting and composition from the University of Minnesota. Since 1978, he has served as an Assistant Professor of Music at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, music director of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, the Billings (Montana) Symphony, and the Montana Ballet Company. An accomplished violinist, Barnea was awarded the first composition prize at the 1976 Aspen Music Festival for his String Quartet, and received the Montana Governor’s Arts Award in music in 2003. In 2004, Barnea ended his music career and entered the Rabbinical School at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. After ordination, he served as an intern and student rabbi in Nashville, Winnipeg, and LaSalle, Illinois. In 2007, he accepted a position as a full-time rabbi with Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, where he served until 2014.

Photo and Image Sources:
(2) Dreyfus:
(3) Rubenstein:
(4) Dreyfus house:
(5) Oddfellows: 
(6) Temple B'nai Israel:
(7) Martinband: 
(8) Barnea:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Capture of the USS Petrel

In the history of warfare, there are probably few instances of naval forces being captured by ground forces, especially cavalry. However, that is exactly what happened in Mississippi during the Civil War near Yazoo City. The result was the loss of a Union vessel and, most likely, a bit of an embarrassment to the U.S. Navy.

In April 1864, Union Colonel Hiram Scofield was ordered by Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut to occupy Yazoo City. The town had already been taken by Federal troops a month or so earlier, so the expedition would be a return trip. With three infantry units, a section of artillery, Osband’s mounted brigade (including the 3rd United States Colored Cavalry) and the 10th Missouri Cavalry, moved overland toward Yazoo City. Ordered to cooperate with Scofield’s ground troops were two Union gunboats, the Petrel and the Prairie Bird (above), both of which moved up the Yazoo River on April 18. Both vessels were “tinclads,” meaning they were gunboats converted from river steamers. Although they were generally known as “tinclads,” they were not covered in tin. Instead, they were generally protected by wooden “armor,” if at all. During this expedition, the Petrel was commanded by Acting Master Thomas McElroy.

On April 21, the Petrel engaged with Confederate artillery batteries posted at Yazoo City. After the Petrel was damaged in the exchange of gunfire, McElroy decided to dock her on the west bank of the Yazoo near the mouth of the Tokeba Bayou to make repairs. (The site is now part of an old bend in the river seen here on the left of the aerial photo). The Prairie Bird, meanwhile, dropped back downriver out of range of the Confederate guns at Yazoo City. Thus, the Petrel was isolated above the town. After sending a landing party ashore, McElroy went below deck to eat his dinner, confident that all was in order. It was 2:00 p.m. After finishing his meal, McElroy returned to the deck. As he did so, Confederate troops hidden along the river bank opened fire on the Petrel.

The Confederates who were suddenly peppering the Petrel with gunfire belonged to Col. John Griffith’s 11th and 17th Arkansas Consolidated Mounted Infantry. An Arkansan with ties to Mississippi, Col. John Griffith (right) had seen a lot of action in the region already, and was always good for a fight. Seeing the Petrel isolated above Yazoo City, the combative colonel asked General Wirt Adams for permission to try and capture the Petrel with his regiment. Adams was reluctant to approve the plan (since capturing gunboats with cavalry was a bit unusual) but granted Griffith’s request. Along with two artillery pieces (10-pounder Parrott rifles from Owens' Arkansas Battery), Col. Griffith positioned his men, including a number of sharpshooters, about 400 yards from the Petrel. Covered by the dense tree line along the banks, Col. Griffith’s fire took the crew of the Petrel by surprise. As cannon fire erupted, Kimble Ware, the Petrel’s pilot, made an attempt to turn her around and get out of range of the Confederate guns. Unfortunately, the Petrel ran aground approximately 200 yards from the river bank. As the crew scrambled to back the Petrel off the sand bar, two artillery shots plunged through the stern, one puncturing a steam pipe and the other cutting through the gun deck and exploding the boilers. Another slammed into the magazine, mortally wounding the Gunner’s Mate, Charles Seitz, who lost both legs in the explosion. To escape being scalded, most of the crew jumped into the river and swam to shore. Most escaped capture and eventually made it to the safety of the Prairie Bird.

Before the ship was abandoned, McElroy ordered the engineers to torch the boat. As hot coals were being placed along the rails, the Confederates boarded the vessel and extinguished the flames. First to reach the Petrel was Sergeant Joseph A. Garing of Wood's Mississippi Regiment, who had been operating as a scout for Griffith’s men. According to a postwar account, Garing “pulled off his shoes and hat, swam to where she [the Petrel] was, received the surrender, then swam back and the vessel was pulled to east bank.” Those left to surrender included McElroy, Kimble Ware (the pilot) and Quartermaster John Nibble. With the fire out, the victorious Confederates removed the Petrel’s eight 24-pounder howitzers, a significant prize. Initially sent to Canton, these guns were eventually forwarded to Mobile, Alabama. After salvaging other valuables from the boat, the Confederates burned the Petrel to the water line. The unlikely capture of a U.S. navy gunboat by Confederate cavalry was complete.

The three Union sailors captured by Griffith’s men went to prison, most likely to Libby Prison in Richmond. They were released in the fall of 1864, along with other naval personnel, in exchange for the release of an equal number of Confederates. Upon release from prison, many of the men lacked sufficient food and clothing and when back in Union hands were each provided with “blankets, shirts, drawers, stockings, shoes, wine, spirits, preserves, milk and every conceivable good thing.”  Of course, similar complaints of ill treatment came from Confederate soldiers who had languished in northern prisons. No doubt, both were equally true. 

After the war, John Griffith, the Confederate colonel who engineered the capture of the Petrel, returned to Arkansas, where he continued to resist Federal authority during Reconstruction. Moving further west to Texas, Griffith settled in Taylor and Kimble counties and helped form the local governments there. On March 7, 1889, he was gunned down by brothers Joab and Mack Brown under mysterious circumstances. He is buried in Kimble County, Texas, next to his wife Catherine.