Sunday, January 21, 2018

Meet the man who's preserving history, one letter at a time

William Griffing -- you can call him "Griff" -- transcribes Civil War letters and creates web sites for them.
The letter at left was written by John Hebron of the 2nd Ohio. (GO HERE.)
Like this blog on Facebook  | All Griffing's CW soldier letter transcriptions.

When William Griffing entered college decades ago, he thought he may want a career in American history. That thought quickly evaporated, and he decided instead to pursue something more lucrative. He eventually took a position in the environment, safety and health field as a director at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago.

But he never lost his keen interest in American history -- an interest spurred at a young age by his grandfather, a Kansas farmer who voraciously read history books and often shared stories of the family's military service. A voracious reader himself, Griffing belonged to a Book of the Month Club, frequently devouring its Civil War books.

When he's not transcribing old letters
or diaries, William Griffing, who is retired,
 can often be found on a golf course.
At some point, Griffing -- you can call him "Griff" -- became fascinated with Civil War soldiers' war-time letters, sometimes invaluable primary source material. Now 65 and retired, he has taken his fascination online, transcribing old letters and diaries and creating web sites for them.  You may have visited one or more of his superb Spared & Shared sites, which he shares on a Facebook page he has created for them. Or perhaps you have checked out this page that includes all his soldier letter transcriptions. (Griffing also has a transcription service.)

Griffing doesn't collect Civil War letters -- in fact, he has never had a strong desire to own any. He's most interested in "mining" and preserving soldiers' letters online.

"More times than not," he told me, "the history in any given letter is not colossal in importance but as a microcosmic piece in the larger picture of the war. Or as a fragment of information precious to the descendants of these soldiers, it becomes important and worth saving. I am particularly stimulated and challenged to discover the identity of a letter’s author when there is no signature, or only a partial one. I think of this as 'forensic' genealogy and derive incredible satisfaction in reuniting a soldier with his words."

In between transcribing and golf, Griffing's other obsession, Griff told me about his favorite letters, the challenges he faces, where he finds material for his unique hobby and more:

In this letter, dated Oct. 11, 1864, John Whitcomb Piper of the 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery
writes of  President Lincoln's summer residence north of the White House. (GO HERE FOR THE SITE.)

How many letters have you “saved,” and where do they come from?

Griffing: I honestly can’t even throw out a figure; it has to be in the thousands. I started transcribing letters about 25 years ago, starting with those of my great-great grandfather and his fiancĂ©e (later wife) who exchanged over 500 letters between 1840 and 1880 — most of them written during the 1850s. This process gave me experience in the art of transcription, which is more difficult than most people probably think. It takes years of reading letters to understand the vernacular commonly used during the mid-19th century and a familiarity with the people, places and events of history to understand what they are referring to in their letters. (Go here for Griffing's page of soldier letter transcriptions.)

A letter written by Benjamin Franklin Orr of the 76th Ohio.
It's on Griffing's "Reluctant Yanks" site, which also includes
letters from Orr's brother, Joseph, also of the 76th Ohio.
Those who read my transcriptions will quickly notice that I prefer to post transcriptions that are edited — the spelling is corrected and I sometimes make minor grammatical corrections. By doing so, I feel it improves the chances that the letters will be found doing browser searches. But this is also why I like to post scanned images of the letters so that readers can see the author’s original handwriting and judge their level of education and proficiency in letter-writing. It also enables the reader to re-examine the script to decipher the writing for themselves if they think I have erred in my transcription.

Almost 10 years ago now, I initiated a collaboration with a guy who did a volume business in buying and selling old letters on eBay. I had noticed that he seemed to have access to some of the better letters offered for sale, and that in particular he often bought large collections of letters and then sold them one by one on eBay. This troubled me at first; I hated the thought of large collections of letters written by a single soldier being broken up — the collective information contained in them lost forever to multiple collectors, perhaps filed away in a drawer with no opportunity to share the contents. I also found it disturbing to see the letters sold without a recognition of who authored them or the significance of their content revealed.

And so I made the following proposal to this seller: In exchange for the opportunity to transcribe the letters, perform research on the author/contents, and to post them on a blog site, I would provide him with a transcript and my research notes to use in advertising the letters on eBay, thus enhancing his sales. This offer was accepted and I went to work, first transcribing letters from the time of the Revolutionary War up through the time of the Civil War but over time, narrowing this down to those primarily from the Civil War.

Over time, the seller has come to know the types of letters that I prefer to spend my time on, and he has become more selective in what he sends to me. Occasionally I will find a letter that is so historically significant that I will encourage him to donate the letter to some historical library or archive, which he has invariably done.

William Griffing designs his web sites. Here's the header for his site for the diary of Gene Shue
of Birney's Zouaves , the 23rd Pennsylvania. (GO HERE FOR THE SITE.)
What are your greatest challenges in what you do?

Griffing: I have fewer challenges today than I used to have. This is due to the growth of the Internet as a tool for doing research. I have subscriptions to (genealogy and census records), (military records), Genealogy Bank (old newspapers) and other sources that enable me to find information online, making my research more comprehensive and less time-consuming.

29th Connecticut soldiers in South Carolina in 1864. A letter by a soldier in this black regiment
is among the most compelling Griffing has transcribed.
Tell us about your favorite letter.

Griffing: I can’t point to any particular letter as my favorite, but I have discovered a few letters that were written by black soldiers during the Civil War that were being bought and sold on eBay without an understanding of the historical significance and value of each letter. These letters were by Henry E. Mumford of the 29th Connecticut; Penrose Edmundson of Co. F, 25th USCT; Henry Williams, Co. D, 113th USCT; and John Posey of Co. D, 55th Massachusetts. The last named soldier —- a farmer from Vincennes, Ind., wrote: "I will stand with [my] Enfield rifle on my shoulder with my comrades. I will die or freedom be made whole. As for democracy, we do not fear. Uncle Sam is our guide and the channel he will make clear. He is honest and worthy of the praise of the colored population if nobody else. For my part, I trust that the Providence may aid him to carry on the war to the destruction of [this] miserable rebellion…"

Another letter than I enjoyed was one written in 1864 by Orderly Sergeant Joseph S. Collister of Co. F, 138th Illinois Infantry, describing his regiment’s passing through the town of Weston, Miss. — a place that I have enjoyed visiting myself in the past.

Envelope for letter written by 7th Rhode Island Private William Jordan to his parents.

Since starting “Spared & Shared,” what kind of feedback have you received? Have professional historians commented?

Griffing: I get lots of comments on my Spared & Shared blog site posts. Most of the comments are from descendants of the author or someone mentioned in the letters. They generally thank me for sharing the letters and tell me that the content afforded them the opportunity to see their ancestor as more than just a name on their family tree. Much less often I get comments from professional historians, libraries or authors doing research for books they are working on. Though they are often disappointed to learn that the original letter has been sold, they are grateful that a transcription and scans of the letter are digitally archived on one of my many blog sites where they can be accessed through online research.

What do you see as the future of your project?

A tintype and letters of Captain Rufus Staniels
of the 13th New Hampshire.
Griffing: I don’t think of my hobby as a project. To my way of thinking, a project has a beginning and an end. As long as I am able, or until I find something I enjoy more, I’ll probably keep doing these transcriptions. I imagined at one time that I might try to write a book or two using the content of these letters, but I think there are people better equipped than I am at writing professionally — and if they are able to use this primary material to tell a story, then I will feel I’ve made a sufficient contribution to preserving American history.

Over the years, collectors of letters have contacted me and asked me to assist them in showcasing their letters or diaries in a web site. I have done perhaps a half-dozen of these projects. There are a couple of collectors who also allow me to transcribe, research and post their letters on one of my blogs.

I have also assisted enthusiasts in showcasing other artifacts, such as the web site I created for David Morin’s CDV collection of New Hampshire soldiers. To date, I have created over 100 web/blog sites, and most of them are devoted to the preservation of letters and diaries. I am currently posting in Spared & Shared 16 since the bandwidth of most of the earlier blogs is nearly exhausted. I have also started a Spared & Shared Page on Facebook to advertise these postings and to feature some of the more interesting letters.

All William Griffing's transcriptions of Civil War soldier letters here.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Friday, January 19, 2018

History up close: Wilder Dwight's bloodstained Antietam note

Bloodstained battlefield note written by Wilder Dwight to his mother as he lay mortally wounded.
(Massachusetts Historical Society)
The second page of Wilder Dwight's blood-stained battlefield note to his mother. After he was wounded on
the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, he struggled to complete it. (Massachusetts Historical Society)

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In the last act of his short military career, Wilder Dwight implored his soldiers in the 2nd Massachusetts to keep their heads down as fighting raged near the Hagerstown Pike. Just before he was about to give further orders during the Battle of Antietam, a bullet struck him in the left hip, sending him crashing to the ground. "They have done for me," the 29-year-old lieutenant colonel said after he was shot.

Wilder Dwight
Also wounded in the left wrist,  Dwight complained of intense pain, but while his regiment fell back a short distance, he refused to be moved. The pain was simply too much to bear. As the fighting swirled near the Dunker Church, the Harvard-educated officer struggled to complete the short note he had begun to his mother earlier that misty morning of Sept. 17, 1862, well before the fighting reached a crescendo:

"Dearest Mother, — I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good by, if so it must be. I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God, and love you all to the last. Dearest love to father and all my dear brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay.

"Mother, yours,


Across the opposite page, in much larger letters, he wrote:

"All is well with those that have faith."

The note was stained with his blood.

Finally rescued from the battlefield by comrades, Dwight died in private residence in Boonsboro, Md., two days after the battle.

At the Massachusetts Historical Society this afternoon, I examined for the first time Dwight's heart-rending note to his mother, Elizabeth. It was an extraordinary experience.

"All is well with those that have faith," grievously wounded Wilder Dwight concluded his note to his mother.
(Massachusetts Historical Society)

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, Lieut.-Col. Second Massaschusetts Infantry Volunteers, Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1868.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A real [expletive]: A visit to Charleston’s Castle Pinckney

Center for Civil War Photography Image of War attendees Bob Carlson and Amber Lass hold a copy
 of a photograph taken at Castle Pinckney during the Civil War. (Photo: Cliff Roberts)
At Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor, pelicans apparently rule the roost. 
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On an unseasonably hot October afternoon in Charleston, S.C., a few intrepid civil warriors were fully prepared for their boat "assault" on a small fortress in Charleston Harbor.

Sunscreen. Check.

Life jackets. Check.

To blunt the odor of pelican poo, we had 
a topical analgesic handy. Thankfully, it 
wasn't needed.
Cough suppressant topical analgesic. Ah ... check?

Our major worry during the one-mile cruise from Carolina Yacht Club onshore to Castle Pinckney -- the long abandoned Civil War fortress on obscure Shutes Folly -- was whether we could stand the stench of myriad droppings of pelicans, the tiny island's main inhabitants. As a certain politician might say, the place is a real "s---hole." Literally. So we figured a coating of chest rub (a.k.a. "topical analgesic") under our snouts might blunt the work of the pesky Pinckney pelicans.

We needn't have worried. The odor wasn't nearly as bad as we were led to believe. Stepping past a rat carcass or two was a far greater challenge.

Our visit, the final event of the excellent Center for Civil War Photography Image of War seminar, was optional. Only 10 bold souls decided to go. To access the fortress, which is not open to the public, special permission was secured in advance from the local Sons of Confederate Veterans post, owners of the historic property.

Scores of photographs were taken at the fort during the Civil War, so our main aim was to identify present-day sites of those images.  Of course, for us history nerds, an opportunity to explore the seldom-seen Civil War site was too tantalizing to pass up.

                            A young African-American near the fort entrance in 1861. 
            THEN: South Carolina Historical Society | NOW: John Banks, Oct. 15, 2017.                                                       (Hover on image for present-day view.)

A view of the entrance from inside the fort.
A brief history lesson: Constructed from 1809-1810 to replace an earlier log-and-earthen fort, the brick-and-mortar Castle Pinckney guarded Charleston Harbor during the War of 1812. Given its feudal appearance, it was called a "castle." No shot was fired in anger at or from the fort during the 2 1/2-year conflict, and it eventually was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Castle Pinckney was used to store gunpowder and military supplies.

Then came the winter of 1860. War fever was intense. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. A week later, the small U.S. Army garrison at a rebuilt Castle Pinckney surrendered to a 200-man strong South Carolina militia, eventually withdrawing to Fort Sumter, nearly three miles farther out into the harbor. A Northern newspaper soon speculated how the fort might be returned to the Union's fold.

An 1865 view of the interior of the fort, long before it
was filled with sand and debris.
(Library of Congress.)
 "... in case it should become necessary to land national troops at Charleston," the New York Times reported in early January, "[Castle Pinckney's] capture, which would be an indispensable preliminary, might give serious trouble. Perhaps, however, a broadside from one of our new frigates of weighty armament might suffice for the business."

On April 12, 1861, Castle Pinckney provided a bird's-eye view of the Rebels' shelling of Fort Sumter, which ignited the Civil War. Three months later, the fortress served as a prison for more than 120 Union soldiers who had been captured at First Bull Run. The POWs proved compelling subject matter for Southern photographers.

Of course, for Yankee prisoners, Castle Pinckney was less appealing. "Our greatest need is clothing," a Union POW wrote to his brother in November 1861. "The men, particularly, require everything from shoes to overcoats." At least one Southern soldier found Charleston and the fort on the harbor island especially bleak, too.

"I arrived here last night and am sorry I ever saw such a place," the young Rebel wrote in a letter to a friend in the spring of 1861. "If I could get out of it, I would do so with the utmost pleasure. We arrived here Sunday morning at 9 o'clock, and were immediately taken to Castle Pinckney, where we were set to work (on Sunday morning, too) transporting two heavy 48-pounders to the wharf.

"We are treated worse than negroes here. We don't get enough to eat, and what we do get is the coursest and most common description. If you hear of anyone getting the Southern Rights Fever as strongly as I had it, just show them this, and if it does not cure him, nothing will."

Federal prisoners captured at Bull Run at Castle Pinckney in 1861. (Library of Congress)
While Confederates relax (top of image), Union prisoners gather at Castle Pinckney (below) in August 1861.
(Library of Congress)
During the Federals' siege of Charleston, no shot struck Castle Pinckney, and no shot was fired in anger from it.  Notice a pattern here? Union troops reoccupied the fort on Feb. 18, 1865.

Fittingly perhaps, Castle Pinckney drifted into obscurity after the Civil War. Sometime late in the 19th century, its interior was filled with tons of sand, probably from a nearby sandbar. A large warehouse and caretaker's dwelling were constructed, and a lighthouse to guide ships in the harbor was added on the island. A plan to convert the fort into a rest home for veterans went nowhere.

By 1899, Castle Pinckney was "practically a wreck," according to newspaper report, "and useless for further purposes of defense."

Castle Pinckney's pelicans were mostly unmoved
by our presence.
"While a little over 100 years old," the Baltimore Sun noted, "Castle Pinckney has been overshadowed by more historic and more effective forts in the harbor -- Moultrie and Sumter -- in the hearts of the people."

On June 6, 1902, Castle Pinckney, used for storage, narrowly escaped destruction late one night thanks to the "violent barking of watch dogs," who roused the keeper from his slumber. Wooden casks had somehow been set ablaze, threatening to ignite a nearby oil house that held 15,000 gallons of kerosene. The keeper and his family rolled the casks into the harbor, saving themselves and 12 sleeping inhabitants. "The flames were sweeping with such headway when discovered that the oil house would have exploded within ten minutes," a local newspaper reported, "and the entire island property would have been destroyed."

In the 1930s, Castle Pinckney was given national monument status, but the federal government eventually soured on the fort, probably because it had not played an active role in the Civil War. Consequently, it lost that august designation in 1956. (Curiously, in 1970, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.)

In 1957, Castle Pinckney was taken off the hands of the feds for $12,000 by the Charleston Ports Authority, which used it as a dump for soil dredged from the harbor. Various plans to restore the fort hit dead ends, and it was sold by the state to the Fort Sumter Camp No. 1269, Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2011, reportedly for $10 Confederate.

Soon after our group landed on Shutes Folly, we discovered near the old fort entrance the location of an 1861 image of a young African-American. But given vast changes since 1861, we failed to nail down other present-day images of Civil War photographs. Amid palm trees and island scrub in the fort's interior, we discovered an old gun port, ruins of a chimney and scattered bricks dating to the Civil War. Thankfully, scores of pelicans seemed largely unmoved by our presence.

At least one of our group speculated what might lie beneath tons of sand and debris dumped at Castle Pinckney long ago. Massive cannon? Civil War ordnance? The remains of the prison for Union POWs?

A pelican graveyard?

Perhaps someday Charleston's poor stepchild will give up those secrets.

    PANORAMA: Bleak interior of the fort. Click at upper right for full-screen experience.

Imposing outside wall of the fort, which saw no action during the Civil War.
A gun port at the brick-and-mortar fort.
Ruins of a post-Civil War chimney.
Confederate national flag flies from ruins. The fort is owned by a local Sons of Confederate Veterans post.
Nine Center for Civil War Photography Image of War attendees at Castle Pinckney in October. 
Your humble blogger is in the back row wearing, of course, an Alabama cap. Roll Tide!

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Baltimore Sun, Sept. 28, 1899.
-- Charleston (S.C.) Evening Times, June 7, 1902.
-- National Republican, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1861.
-- New York Times, Jan. 4, 1861.
-- The National Tribune, Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 1907.

Here an 82-page archaeological report from 1978 that includes some great photos.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Battlefield biscuits and ham: Meet an Antietam citizen-hero

Martin Henry Eakle and the buggy he is believed to have used to take aid to Union soldiers at Antietam.
(Eakle family pamphlet)
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Richard Clem's Civil War stories have frequently been featured on my blog. In this post, Clem, a lifelong resident of Washington County in Maryland, tells the story of a citizen-hero of the Battle of Antietam.

By Richard E. Clem

Richard Clem
For decades after the Battle of Antietam, the identity of a good Samaritan who distributed ham and biscuits to the troops there while fighting still raged apparently was a mystery outside his family. Like any other major battle of the Civil War, Antietam (called Sharpsburg in the South) had its share of ordinary people who gave comfort and relief to the wounded and dying who were far from home. Unheralded residents of Washington County and far beyond played a part in healing soldiers in the “vast sea of misery.” One individual, however, deserves special recognition for going beyond the call of duty. If the Medal of Honor were awarded to a civilian for courage, Martin Henry Eakle would be at the top of the list.

Originally called Buena Vista, Eakles Mill is one of the oldest settlements in Washington County, Md. The earliest records indicate the first home built in this remote area was in 1775. The 2010 census for this rural village shows a population of 27. Consisting of a half-dozen homes and one church, it rests at the eastern base of Red Hill, just below Keedysville and a short distance west of South Mountain. Similar to other communities in the county, Eakles Mill was settled around a water-powered gristmill. A sawmill or lumber mill was also operated at most of these locations.

Around 1850, a decade before the Civil War, Martin Eakle purchased the gristmill from David Keedy -- thus giving the area its present-day name. The power for this mill was supplied by Little Antietam Creek, a tributary of the famed Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg. After marriage to Catharine Amelia Snively and the birth of five children, Mr. Eakle decided to expand the milling business. Records state the successful miller delivered by “horse and wagon, flour, feed, etc. as far away as Burkittsville,” on the opposite (east) side of South Mountain.

At left, Eakle's gristmill appears in a circa-1898 photo. (Richard Clem collection.)
Circa-1901 photo of the scene above. Note how large tree has grown near the church since 1898.
 (Richard Clem collection)
PRESENT DAY: Site of Eakle gristmill. A house (left) rests on the old foundation of the mill. (Clem photo)
Early on the misty morning of Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest single day of the Civil War began. The Battle of Antietam resulted in more than 23,000 casualties. At Eakles Mill, only a few miles east of Sharpsburg, where the battle had raged since 6 o’clock in the morning, residents awoke to thunder of cannon. Rising early, Eakle went straight to his stable and hitched up a team of horses to a four-wheel buggy. He gathered several containers filled with water and stone crocks stuffed with biscuits as well as ham from his meat house. Some nearby ladies also donated homemade pies and cakes for the battle-weary soldiers near Sharpsburg. Leaving the protection of Red Hill and with no regard for his own safety, the 46-year-old Eakle steered his horses toward the sound of battle.

1877 Washington County map shows Eakles Mill, Md.
On the same morning, an 11-year-old boy, Aaron Snyder, watched Martin Eakle’s journey from the crest of Red Hill. Young Snyder, who lived on Marble Quarry Road (just south of Eakles Mill), had climbed the heights that morning to observe the battle. The Snyder family purchased flour, feed and other supplies from Mr. Eakle, and Aaron knew him quite well. From the high elevation, Snyder saw Eakle’s buggy disappear into the smoke hanging thick over the battlefield. Evidently, Martin’s route took him north along Red Hill toward Keedysville, and at some point he turned west to the road leading to Sharpsburg (Md. 34 today), crossing Antietam Creek at the stone Middle Bridge. By the time the humanitarian arrived on the battlefield, fighting on the Union right at the Dunker Church, the Bloody Cornfield and West Woods had subsided.

Driving the buggy onto the William Roulette farm, approximately where the old War Department observation tower now stands, Martin came in contact with Captain William M. Graham, Battery K, 1st U.S. Artillery. In all probability, by this time the Rebels would have been driven out of “Bloody Lane” or else Eakle and his horses probably would have been cut down by Southern infantry fire. However, a deadly duel was still very active following the withdraw from the sunken road as the Confederates were being repelled through Henry Piper’s cornfield by Federal artillery. While distributing his food and water, one of Eakle’s horses was wounded, perhaps by an exploding Confederate cannon shell fragment commonly known as shrapnel. After the bloody engagement, Captain Graham reported the battery’s loss: “17 horses killed and 6 more wounded.” The battery also lost at Antietam four men killed and five badly wounded. Ending his report, Graham noted:
... I feel called up to mention the conduct of a Mr. ___ who resides near the battlefield. This gentleman drove his carriage to my battery while under severe artillery fire, and carried off my wounded who were suffering very much for the want of surgical attendance, and distributed ham and biscuits among the men of the battery. He also returned a second time to the battery. One of his horses was wounded while performing this service.
Shadow of  War Department tower at Bloody Lane covers approximate location of Graham’s Battery, 
where Martin Eakle delivered aid to Union soldiers. William Roulette farmhouse and barn appear in distance.
Aaron Snyder went on to become a well-known and respected school teacher in the Keedysville- Eakles Mill area. One of Mr. Snyder’s pupils was a grandson of Martin Eakle. (Unfortunately, Eakle passed away two years before his grandson was born.) The Eakle family remembered Aaron Snyder telling the story about Martin: “He came through the artillery barrage untouched, but one of his horses was badly wounded.” The school teacher also related to his students that Mr. Eakle while on his compassionate journey carried a “small amount of good rye whiskey” to the Federal troops.

For years the Eakle family (living in Keedysville) proudly showed the buggy Martin Eakle used on the mission of mercy. The historic carriage was once displayed in a Sharpsburg museum, but neither the carriage nor the museum no longer exists.

Known as a strong Southern sympathizer, Martin Eakle saw no wrong aiding members of a Northern artillery unit. The year 1863, however, offered Eakle good reason to reconsider allegiance to the Confederacy. On the road to Gettysburg in June 1863, Confederate General Edward Johnson commanded one of Stonewall Jackson’s old divisions. He sent what is believed a small mounted force to Eakles Mill with the following orders:

HQ Johnson’s Division
Near Sharpsburg Md.
June 21, 1863

Mr. Martin Eakle will at once proceed to grind flour for the Confederate States Army or his Mill will be impressed for that purpose.

Ed Johnson
Maj. Genl. Commanding

A copy of General Johnson’s dispatch remained for years in possession of the Eakle family.

Original orders  issued on June 21, 1863, by Confederate General Edward Johnson to grind flour
 for the Rebel army at Eakles' mill.  (Eakles family pamphlet)
Washington County land records reveal Martin Eakle sold property to the Washington County Railroad Company in 1866, one year after the Civil War. When the railroad (now a branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) was put through in 1867, it cut off the millrace and water supply to the mill, shutting down operations. At an unknown date, a steam engine was installed at the site, and as late as 1890, the mill was used to saw and plane lumber. When the present road went through Eakles Mill, Md., the deteriorating limestone structure is believed to have been destroyed. Today, a private residence rest on the old mill’s original foundation.

On May 7, 1878, Martin Eakle passed away just two months shy of his 62nd birthday. The body was interred in Fairview Cemetery at Keedysville. In 1899, Catharine Eakle was placed at her husband’s side in Fairview. After Martin’s death, the U.S. War Department tried to find the man “who came on the field of Antietam when bullets were flying fast!” Eager to honor this brave individual, the Federal government placed an ad in county newspapers. The effort proved unsuccessful.

Gravestone of Martin Eakle in
Fairview Cemetery in Keedysville, Md
"A kind husband and an affectionate 
father. How desolate our home bereft of
 thee,” read words on the tombstone.
And then on March 23, 1962, nearly 100 years after the Battle of Antietam, an article published in a Hagerstown newspaper reported the mysterious hero at Sharpsburg was Martin Eakle. A distant relative of the Eakles came forward and explained how the story was handed down. The family knew since the battle who the biscuit and ham distributor was on that bloody day.

The author is grateful for the privilege to have talked 24 years ago to several members of the Eakle family, who shared a small pamphlet describing Mr. Eakle’s heroic deed. It was said each family member received a copy. Compiled and printed by an unknown source, this 5- x 8-inch pamphlet included photographs and some material used for this article. The author would also like to mention his mother as a child lived in Eakles Mill for several years. As fate would have it, mom’s vegetable garden boarded on the mill property once owned by none other than Martin Eakle.

Hopefully, someday a marker will be erected on the Antietam battlefield near the old War Department tower to honor Martin Eakle, who was willing to sacrifice his own life there to help others -- even the enemy. Perhaps this article will serve as a beginning to launch such a project. As it was said at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day, Alexandria, Virginia, Time-Life Books, 1984.
-- The Boonsboro  (Md.) News, Boonsboro, Md., March 24, 1955.
-- Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, March 23, 1962.
-- Ernst, Kathleen A., Too Afraid to Cry, Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, Stackpole Books, 1999.
-- Murfin, James V., The Gleam of Bayonets, Cranbury, N.J., 1965.
-- Official Records, Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27) , Pages 343-344.
-- Reilly, Oliver, T., The Battle of Antietam, Sharpsburg, Md., 1906.
-- Schildt, John W., Drums Along the Antietam, Parsons, West Virginia, 1972.
-- Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red, New Haven,  Conn,; New York, 1983.
-- Williams, Thomas J. C., A History of Washington County, Maryland, Hagerstown, Md., 1906.
-- Illustrated Atlas of Washington County, Maryland – 1877, Unigraphic Inc., Evansville, Ind., 1975.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

'Hidden' Fredericksburg: Battle scars at Willis Hill Cemetery

Close-up of  damage, probably from Union artillery, on the stone pillar at Willis Hill Cemetery.
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If you know where to look, traces of the Civil War may be seen throughout Fredericksburg, Va. There's soldiers' graffiti on the brickwork of this building on Princess Anne Street, artillery damage at this church blocks away, and on the stone pillar of infrequently visited Willis Hill Cemetery on Marye's Heights, more scars of war are visible. On Dec. 13, 1862, Union artillerists struck the cemetery and immediate area, knocking down the graveyard's red-brick walls, toppling tombstones and making life hazardous for Confederate medical personnel treating wounded there. At least one Confederate regiment formed near the cemetery before it charged down the Heights to the nearby Sunken Road. Of course, the battle scars at the cemetery today also could be a result of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, fought in early May 1863. A visit here is well worth your time when you are in Fredericksburg.

For much more on Willis Hill Cemetery, which is adjacent to the national cemetery, check out the interesting The Swale at Mercer Square blog here. The cemetery is private and not open for tours.

Entrance to Willis Hill Cemetery on Marye's Heights. War damage appears on the stone pillar at left.
A National Park Service marker gives a brief history of Willis Hill Cemetery.
       Google Earth: Willis Hill Cemetery (near top left)  is adjacent to national cemetery.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Journey in time: 'Stunning' 1891 Antietam images surface

The fence in the background runs along the Smoketown Road, the route the XII Corps 
took to the battlefield. (John Banks collection | Click on images to enlarge.)
On the back mounting of each image, Antietam veteran John Mead Gould wrote a detailed
 description. "The mulberry tree so prominent here has probably grown since the war," he noted on this one.

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At 4 p.m. on Sept. 18, 1891, Oliver Cromwell Gould, son of 10th Maine veteran John Mead Gould, shot an image of the East Woods at Antietam, where his father had witnessed momentous events 29 years earlier. Three days later, at 8 a.m., Oliver focused his camera on a nearby 10-acre field (above image) that included a prominent mulberry tree. In the far distance, a wooden fence stretched along the old Smoketown Road -- the route his father took to battle on Sept. 17, 1862.

A war-time image of John Mead Gould.
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
We know precisely when and where these historic images were taken because of the meticulousness of John Gould, who accompanied his 21-year-old son at Antietam and wrote details about each photograph in pen on the back mounting for each. "Camera ... on the knoll where the 128th Penn first stood," noted the 51-year-old former officer in neat handwriting about the first image. "In 1862 the woods extended a few yards west of the fence here seen."

Regarding the second image, Gould wrote: "The 10th Maine crossed the Smoketown road (as well as I can tell) about where the small bush is growing, to right of the mulberry tree. We came to 'front' there east of the road, then advanced down & up the gentle slope & deployed about in the shadow of the tree on the extreme right of the picture."

Believed lost to history, the rare photographs are among six to have recently surfaced in New Jersey -- the largest stash of Gould images yet to be discovered. A unique window into the early, post-war appearance of the battlefield, the photographs have excited Antietam historians, who are hopeful even more "Goulds" will be discovered. According to a detailed logbook kept by the former 10th Maine officer, Oliver Gould took at least two dozen images at Antietam in 1891, including shots of the iconic Dunker Church. Only one other 1891 Gould Antietam image, owned by a Virginia collector, had previously been discovered.

"The 1891 Gould images are truly stunning, as they offer an early, pristine view of Antietam battlefield that many of us never thought we would see, complete with the voice of a veteran pointing out particulars in a way we usually just dream about," said Stephen Recker, whose 2012 book, Rare Images at Antietam And the Photographers Who Took Them, documented historical images taken at the battlefield. Collaborating with 10th Maine expert Nicholas Picerno and preeminent Antietam historian Tom Clemens, Recker pieced together the story of the Gould images in his book.

A circa-1920 photograph of John Mead Gould, 
who died in 1930.
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
"But while we found the documentation for his 1891 images at Duke University," Recker noted, "it was those 'undiscovered' images that we really wanted to see." Gould's images were taken before the War Department greatly altered the lay of the land in 1895, when it added avenues for tourists to use to view the battlefield.

The Gould images once belonged to Irving B. Lovell, an uncle of Bill and Marie Trembley, who were first shown the photographs decades ago. In 2016, four years after the World War II veteran died at age 92, the Trembleys found the package containing the Antietam images in a closet while cleaning out Lovell's house and small cabin in Eastport, Maine. The photos weren't viewed by the couple again until November 2017, when Marie opened the large manila package with the words "Civil War photos" written in red marker on the side. When and where Lovell, who lived most of his life in New Jersey, got the images is unknown.

The author of this post acquired the images in early January 2018.

A bright man who was good with numbers, Gould worked for his father's bank in Portland, Maine before the Civil War. In April 1861, he enlisted in the Portland Light Guards, Company C of the 1st Maine. The regiment served in the defenses of Washington, returning to Maine to be mustered out in August 1861. In September that year, Gould re-enlisted in the new 10th Maine for two years' service, advancing to sergeant major. Promoted to 2nd lieutenant, he served in the Valley Campaign in early 1862, and saw his first significant action at Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862.

General Joseph Mansfield, mortally
wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
(Middlesex County Historical Society)
But Antietam had by far the most dramatic impact on Gould's life. It was in the East Woods on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, that the 22-year-old adjutant was the first to reach a mortally wounded General Joseph Mansfield, shot while atop his white horse as he directed troops in his XII Corps. Gould was among four soldiers to carry Mansfield to the rear.

"Passing still in front of our line and nearer to the enemy, [Mansfield] attempted to ride over the rail fence which separated a lane from the ploughed land where most of our regiment were posted," Gould wrote to Mansfield's widow on Dec. 2, 1862. "The horse would not jump it, and the General dismounting led him over. He passed to the rear of the Regimental line, when a gust of wind blew aside his coat, and I discovered that his whole front was covered with blood."

Antietam was Mansfield's first and last battlefield command. The 58-year-old officer from Middletown, Conn., died the next morning.

After the war, Gould -- who became historian, treasurer and secretary for a Maine veterans' group -- was especially keen on documenting his regiment's role at Antietam. Seemingly no detail was too small. For years, he kept up a lively correspondence with veterans on both sides regarding Mansfield's wounding and death, troop movements and much more. In the 1890s, he provided hundreds of those letters to the Antietam Battlefield Board, adding significantly to the understanding of the battle. And, in 1895, Gould had published a pamphlet on Mansfield's death, noting minute details of the XII Corps' commander's demise.

Antietam map in John Mead Gould's 1895 published work on the mortal wounding of
General Joseph Mansfield. The East Woods, where the 10th Maine fought, appears at center.
Clemens, who edited a massive, authoritative history of the Maryland Campaign compiled by Union veteran Ezra Carman, believes Gould may be the greatest of all Antietam historians.

"He was only interested in the fighting in East Woods and who killed Mansfield, but wound up getting into a lot more than that," he said. "At one point there were six or seven different accounts of where Mansfield was killed, and Gould sorted them out, determining that at least three were people mistaking Colonel William Goodrich of the 60th New York for Mansfield. He really grilled his subjects, asking detailed questions, and his letters, which he routinely shared with Carman, are very helpful for details on fighting in the north end of the field."

In 1889, John Gould tried to document the battlefield photographically himself. Using the recently introduced Kodak camera, among the first cameras easy enough for amateurs to use, he shot images of the East Woods. The experience was unsatisfying -- and unproductive, too. The camera, Recker notes in his book, was cumbersome to use. It didn’t even have a view finder, an innovation that would come with the next version of the Kodak.

"Among the demerits of the work is the fact that I got 'rattled' & made 'doubles' & I forgot to make a note of what I was doing," he wrote to 128th Pennsylvania veteran Frederick Yeager in 1894. "So when I got my pictures from the printer I couldn't identify many of them. In truth the visit of 1889 was little more than an aggravation, but it resulted in determining me to go again ..."

John Mead Gould appears in the background of this image that shows the position 
of two 10th Maine companies on Sept. 17, 1862. It was taken Sept. 18, 1891, at 2 p.m. 
This photograph, taken on Sept. 21, 1891, shows the site of the mortal wounding of  Joseph Mansfield.
And so John and Oliver returned to the battlefield in 1891 to photographically document the sites of the horrible events of mid-September 1862.

In the other four recently discovered Gould images, Oliver focused exclusively on the area of the East Woods, site of fighting the night of Sept. 16, 1862, and intense fighting the next day. In one of those photographs, someone -- probably John Gould himself -- wrote in the margin the position where Mansfield was mortally wounded. Ever meticulous, Gould noted on the back mounting an image number as well as the time the photograph was taken ("September 21, 1891, 5 p.m.") and position of his son's camera ("on enemy's ground 110 yards from the position of extreme right Co. H of 10th Maine”).

In another image, Gould noted the changes on the battlefield since the war. "Potatoes and corn take the place of great oaks, of which one only remains hereabouts as seen," he wrote about a photograph of what once was the East Woods. And on another, he wrote in the margins of the image the positions of the 128th Pennsylvania and 10th Maine. Leaving breadcrumbs for future historians to pinpoint the spot, he wrote on the back mounting of the image: "Camera in the three-cornered clover field ten paces from the Smoketown Road & about 100 yards west of where the East Woods were in 1862. The western face of the woods has been cut off."

After journeying from New Jersey to their new home, the photographs will soon be on the road again, to Antietam, where this story began long ago. We'll match up the images on the battlefield to shoot present-day versions of the six Gould photographs.

And, of course, we'll keep a lookout for other Gould images from 1891. Perhaps those historic images from this series will turn up in an attic or in a flea market near you.

This photograph shows the route of march by the 10th Maine onto the battlefield.
A  tattered backing on the above photograph includes Gould's detailed description of the image.
"Potatoes and corn take the place of great oaks, of which one only remains hereabouts as seen
 in this picture," Gould wrote on the back mounting of this photograph. After the war, many of
 the trees in the East Woods were cut down. (John Banks collection)
"The knoll of the 128th Pa. and position of 10th Maine in opposite edge of woods are shown by arrows,"
Gould noted of this image, taken near the East Woods. (John Banks collection)

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Gould, John Mead, Joseph K.F. Mansfield, A Narrative of Events Connected With His Mortal Wounding, Portland, Maine, Stephen Berry Printer, 1895.
-- Recker, Stephen, Rare Images of Antietam and the Photographers Who Took Them, Sharpsburg, Md., Another Software Miracle LLC, 2012.