Saturday, March 21, 2015

Antietam: A staggering toll for the 8th Connecticut

October 1862 monthly returns for the 8th Connecticut. (Connecticut State Library archives)

A trip to the Connecticut State Library archives usually proves rewarding. Last week, I found a newspaper account from 1922 that shed light on the life of 20th Connecticut Private George Warner, who lost both his arms to friendly fire at Gettysburg. On Saturday morning, I discovered Warner's enlistment paper -- he was 5-11, with blue eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion -- and another gem: the monthly returns for October 1862 for the 8th Connecticut. The massive account of the regiment includes the staggering toll it suffered at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. Forty-one soldiers were listed as killed or mortally wounded on the fragile document.

Many of those men and boys have been written about on my blog. Private Oliver Case of Simsbury, killed. Color-bearer George Booth, a corporal from Litchfield, mortally wounded. George Marsh, a sergeant from Hartford and also a member of the regiment's color guard, KIA. Corporal Robert Ferriss of New Milford, killed. The death tally for the regiment at Antietam, according to my downloadable Excel spreadsheet, was at least 55 of the approximately 400 who participated in the fighting.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Authors' Q&A: 'Heroes for All Time' on Connecticut soldiers

Colonel Elisha Kellogg (left) was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. Private George Parmalee
of the 7th Connecticut (right), shown with an unidentified boy, survived the Civil War.
(Photos: BZC)
The major Civil War battles in which Connecticut soldiers fought -- Gettysburg, Antietam, Petersburg, Cold Harbor and others -- have been well-documented. The stories of common soldiers from the state have not been as well-covered. Longtime Civil War collector Buck Zaidel, a dentist from Cromwell, Conn., and Dione Longley, former director at the Middlesex County Historical Society, teamed to help fill that void in their recently published book, Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories (Wesleyan University Press) .

Lavishly illustrated, the book includes many images from Zaidel's impressive collection, which has been featured at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.  The authors tapped into diaries, soldiers' letters and more to give a grunt's-eye view of the war, which claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 men and boys from the state.  One of Zaidel's favorite photographs from his collection, an image of 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery officers about to eat a meal (see below), is included in the book, which includes a lengthy chapter on my favorite topic, the Battle of Antietam.  

The authors recently took time out to answer a few questions about their favorite soldier stories, their passion for the Civil War and more. (For more information on the book, check out the Heroes Facebook page and this recent story from the Hartford Courant.)

What was the motivation for the book?

DL:  Every Civil War soldier had a story. And we kept coming across unbelievably good examples, with images to go with them.  We knew we had to bring them into the light of day so other people could understand what the soldiers went through and appreciate their sacrifices.

BZ: We had access to all these great images, in both public and private collections, many of which had significant stories associated with them. It came down to what we tried to do at the “Civil War Days” we ran at the Middlesex County Historical Society. We felt it was important to honor the service and sacrifice of all those Civil War Veterans. My son when he was about 5 said it best when asked what it was all about: "To remember the soldier men.”

Heroes For All Time is available on and elsewhere.
Your book consists of scores of individual soldier stories. Which one is your favorite?

DL: I particularly love the story of George Foote, a Guilford farmer. After Antietam, Foote had gotten sick, probably with dysentery, but he insisted on marching with the boys until he fainted and had to be carried in a wagon.

On the morning of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Foote fell in for duty with his regiment, the 14th Connecticut.  His captain told him he was too sick, but Foote refused to leave.  When a shell fragment smashed the bottom of his cartridge box, Foote scooped up his cartridges and put them in his pocket.  When a bullet pierced his canteen, he took a drink from the hole and kept going.

As the 14th Connecticut made its way to Marye’s Heights, Foote took a bullet in the leg.  When he tried to get up, two more bullets wounded him in the hip and head.  That night, he dragged himself off the field and into a little shed where other Union wounded lay. Three days later, a group of Confederates found them there. A Rebel officer demanded to know why they were there, and some of the wounded made excuses, saying they hadn’t wanted to fight the Confederates.

George Foote lifted his head and said he’d come to fight the Rebel army, and if he ever recovered, he would come back and fight again.  The Confederate liked Foote’s bravado and had his men help him to a Union hospital.

George’s leg was amputated; then he was sent to Washington where a surgeon found he had to amputate it even higher.  Somehow Foote survived to make it home to Connecticut, but he never recovered, dying a few years after the war ended.  In his last days of life, he told his mother he would do it all again for the same cause.

BZ:  I like the words of David Torrance, after encountering a freshly dug grave outside of Petersburg in the spring of 1864: “At the head of the grave stood a rough board with a brief memorial of the name, company, regiment of the sleeper, rudely carved thereon and beneath all the simple words: ‘We miss him much.’”

For someone who abides by the old maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I was repeatedly impressed by the writing talents of handfuls of soldiers who were so perceptive and insightful in documenting their war experiences. They included Henry Goddard, Samuel Fiske, William Relyea, and Uriah Parmalee. Homer Sprague’s narrative, which chronicled dying in battle versus dying as a prisoner of war in a particularly moving way, was most impressive to me.  Throughout the book, I found examples where Di masterfully found the written word that so beautifully accompanied an image that I thought was best at illustrating that theme.

Why is the Civil War so compelling for you both?

1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery soldiers preparing for dinner in 1863.
(Photo: BZC)
DL:  I first felt the pull of the Civil War when I was 17 and my older sister took me to the Wilderness.  Standing in the hollows where Civil War soldiers had crouched, I suddenly felt a chill come over me -- that weird feeling when the past makes itself known. Reading thousands of soldiers’ accounts helped me to put that feeling of “being there” into a better context -- which made it even more powerful.

BZ: It was admiration for Abraham Lincoln that originally captured my interest. That broadened to Civil War history. Upon moving to Connecticut, I found myself drawn to local soldiers and their stories. That’s what I’ve enjoyed collecting the past 25 years or so; particularly images and objects that reflect aspects of Union soldiers’ daily lives. I enjoy looking for the next cool image or artifact that helps to tell their stories. I also continually plan the next display or exhibit.

Connecticut soldiers fought in the major battles of the war -- Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Petersburg. But regiments from the state also fought in little-known engagements in the Deep South. Is there a favorite story about their service there?

DL: One I find very disturbing is about Cornelius Dayton of the 28th Connecticut. While in the trenches at Port Hudson, the terrible Louisiana heat gave Dayton and many others hyperthermia. Some men died from it; Dayton suffered brain damage and became insane.  At home in Windham, his elderly parents kept Cornelius shut in a large iron cage on their farm.  He would live there for almost 50 years.

Captain William May of the 23rd Connecticut. While a POW in Texas,
he compiled a camp "newspaper" that he secretly shared
with his fellow prisoners. (Photo: BZC)
BZ: The story of Captain William “Billy” May would be mine. He was a captain in the 23rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry who was captured while guarding a railroad line in Lousiana along with a few of his mates. He was sent to a prisoner-of- war camp, Camp Ford, in Tyler, Texas. While there, he published three editions  of a single-sheet “newspaper” that he handwrote and illustrated. He allowed it to be passed secretly among his fellow prisoners. It was said to be a great benefit to the men’s morale. His fellow prisoners purchased a violin for him from a Confederate guard. Upon his release, the violin received a pass for safe passage north, and May documented his release in a wonderful portrait showing him in ragged attire, barefoot, carrying his violin. Hidden folded under his shoulder straps were the three issues of  “The Old Flag” newspaper.

There are many, many stories of tragedy involving Connecticut soldiers. Which one resonates with you most?

DL: I can never forget a story of two buddies in the 10th Connecticut at Petersburg. Their chaplain described how the two men went on picket duty in the trenches (or vidette pits) close to enemy lines.  Some vidette pits were only 50 yards from Confederate entrenchments, and Rebel sharpshooters watched every second for a sign of movement.  The pickets could only be relieved at night when darkness protected them.

These two friends had settled into their pit for the day, but one of them, shifting his position, showed the top of his head for an instant above the trench walls. Instantly he was hit by a bullet in the forehead.

All day the wounded man lay in the hot, stinking, buggy pit with his friend unable to help him.  If he’d tried to carry him out of the trench, they both would be killed.  For nine agonizing hours, the friend shielded his wounded pal from the sun, wiped away the blood, moistened his lips with water from the canteen, and tried to keep the insects away.

When night fell, he was finally able to lift his wounded comrade out of the pit and bring him to the rear, where he died a few hours later. I wish I knew the names of the two men.  I have to think that the surviving friend never got over that hellish experience.

Mortally wounded at Cold Harbor, Luman Wadhams of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery was one of three
Wadhams brothers who died during the Civil War. (Photo: Litchfield County Historical Society)

Close-up of the Wadhams brothers' marker in West Cemetery
in Litchfield, Conn.
BZ:  The story of the Wadhams brothers (Luman, Henry and Edward) would be mine. Three brothers, in three different regiments, in three different army corps, killed in a two-week span fighting around Richmond in the spring of 1864.

And finally, a question for Buck: What is the favorite Civil War photo in your collection?

BZ: Asking me about my favorite image in my collection is like asking which of my kids is my favorite. That’s tough. Images appeal to me on a variety of levels. I look for content. I look for images that represent the intersection of art and history. Others have a particularly fine connection between the camera and the soldier in the portrait. Certainly one of my favorites is a group of NCOs of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (see image above) posed seated around their dinner table. The scene includes a bunch of hungry soldiers, a stove, a kettle, a drummer boy, their fare, and the shelter tent roof sections pulled back by the photographer to illuminate the scene. This intimate glimpse into soldier life, the peeling of the roof back to peek in, is what we tried to do with the book. Find great images, artifacts and snippets of their written words that allow us to have their history at our fingertips.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Lost and (finally) found: Grave of a 5th Alabama private

The grave of 5th Alabama Private James Tompkins in rural South Carolina.
(Photo: Wayne Jones)
After nearly three months of detective work, Wayne Jones received the big payoff Sunday. I did, too.

In a remote section of 100-acre site near Parksville, S.C. -- "in the middle of nowhere," according to Jones -- he and a friend found the grave of James M. Tompkins, a 20-year-old private in the 5th Alabama, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

Just before Christmas, I purchased an albumen of Tompkins in a Gettysburg antiques shop. As soon as I got back to Connecticut, I dived into my own heavy-duty research -- yes, I used Google -- with an aim to find out more about the young man with curly hair and serious expression. A quick search revealed Tompkins was shot in the leg at Gaines' Mill and died later that night, one of 8.700 Rebel casualties in the battle near Richmond.

 James Tompkins, 20, was killed at the Battle of Gaines' Mill (Va.)
James was the youngest son of Mary and Major John Tompkins, a wealthy plantation owner from Edgefield, S.C., who served a term in the state's legislature before he moved his family to Sumter County in Alabama in 1851. Two of James' brothers also served in the Confederate army.

"He was a bright and promising boy,"  according to a post-war account, "just budding into manhood when, with so many of his generation, he was called from the school room to the battlefield; called to exchange his books for the haversack, the promise of a bright future for almost certain death at the hands of a countless, overwhelming foe."

After finding out the basics about Tompkins, I was eager to find out more -- especially where he was buried. Find-A-Grave indicated his final resting place was in a family plot in South Carolina, but the site didn't have an image of his grave or an exact location. A quick call to the local newspaper led to another call, which led to the e-mail address of Jones, a North Augusta, S.C.., resident who's a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Jones took on the challenge, spending hours studying old maps and walking the area with his wife and friend, Tom Plowden, in an effort to find the soldier's grave. Less than an hour into their search Sunday, Jones and Plowden finally found James' final resting place among several other graves, probably for other Tompkins family members, on South Carolina Forestry Service land. Field stone lay everywhere, said Jones, who added that the search required "some dirty grunt work." On the gravestone, Tompkins' name was spelled without the "p," possibly the reason the search was tedious, and most of the "J" in James was worn away or broken off.

Jones wants to find out more about Tompkins. I do, too. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A beautiful, haunting post-war letter from a Northern Rebel

Born in New York,  William Allis Hopson served in the Confederate army.
(Photo courtesy of family of Virginia Lamar Hornor Spencer)
In the winter of 1861, Georgians were consumed with talk of  the state’s secession from the Union. On Jan.19, Georgia became the fifth Southern state to join the Confederacy, prompting celebrations from the state capital in Atlanta to the Bibb County village of Perry, where "the town was half wild with enthusiasm,” according to William Allis Hopson, a transplanted Northerner. When he was 19 in 1855, Hopson left his family in Vermont to settle in Macon, Ga., where he became a cotton merchant.

Although the New York-born businessman aimed to avoid politics, William found it impossible that winter. In the Perry town square, a Georgia flag fluttered atop a liberty pole, fiery speeches were made and several Northerners even declared themselves loyal to the South. One of them got so wound up that he was “ready to sacrifice his abolition father should they meet in the conflict,” Hopson wrote in a letter to his 21-year-old sister back in Vermont.

A corporal in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, Edward Hopson was
killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864. His brother, William,
served in the Rebel army. (Pre-war photo courtesy Charlet Roskovics)
And should war break out, William left no doubt regarding his allegiance.

“... In my opinion the man who would leave this section of the country now," he wrote to Carrie Hopson on Feb. 3, 1861, "is a dastardly coward."

On April 12, 1861, a little more than a month after Hopson wrote the letter to his sister, the Rebels bombarded Fort Sumter, igniting the Civil War. Eight days later, on his 25th birthday, Hopson enlisted in the Confederate army, mustering into the 2nd Georgia Battalion that July. Wounded at the Battle of Burgess' Mill (Va.) on Oct. 31, 1864, while he was adjutant in the 8th Georgia Cavalry, he was on furlough at home in Georgia when the war officially ended on April 9, 1865.

His younger brother, Edward, wasn't as fortunate. A corporal in the Union army in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, he was shot in the shoulder and thigh and killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek (Va.) on Oct. 19, 1864. (See my interactive Cedar Creek panoramas here and here.) Afterward, William Hopson's brother was buried with 12 other comrades near the white house of a country doctor, a short distance from the village of Middletown. Months later, his body was recovered by his brother, George, a minister, and re-buried in Vermont.

Nearly nine months after Lee surrendered to Grant, William wrote another letter to his sister, this time looking back at his four-year war experience. A"hideous dream," he called it. It's one of the most beautiful, eloquent -- and haunting -- letters I have read by a Civil War veteran. William died in New York in 1873. He was only 37.

"...every green thing destroyed..."

Macon, Ga. Dec. 3, 1865
Dear Sister:

“With you I look upon the last dark stormy years as a hideous dream. I never could realize it, even when surrounded with war and its attendant horrors.

I have been in line of battle at the close of a beautiful day and above me and all around me all of God’s creation seemed so harmonious, so peaceful, so smiling, that I would almost forget the terrible scenes in which I was daily engaged. Nature did seem to enter her silent protest and I could realize that only man was vile.

I have lain awake many a starlit night at the foot of some grand old tree and the stars would look down lovingly – and old memories would come thronging around me, and the leaves would murmur their soft musical utterances and all would seem so peaceful.

Then again we could stand grimly for months, contending for some chosen position, and the tide of battle would ebb and flow over the same ground, the woods would be burned, every green thing destroyed, all scorched, blackened, desolated, until it would seem the good old world of my childhood and youth had passed forever away and in its stead a hideous chaotic ruin, whose air was tainted by the living and the dead, whose day was darkened by smoke and sulphur clouds, whose night was lit by lurid unearthly fires – a land whose chief sounds were the thousand tongued engines of destruction, the groans of wounded and the death rattles.

A strange, wild experience – Heaven grant it may be the last.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Five neat soldier discoveries at the National Archives

A trip to the National Archives in Washington is often like a trip to Las Vegas: You "bet" big, hoping the soldiers' pension files you pull during a two-day stay have an outstanding payoff, perhaps a letter from a soldier documenting his battle experience or a note from father to son about army life in the Deep South. Your time is limited -- the Archives is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week --  so you want to make the most of your stay. In the end, it's often a crap shoot, with some files revealing little to nothing about a soldier's war experience or post-war life. A recent research trip to the massive building not far from the White House yielded lots of great info. Here are five cool things I found:


A private in the 20th Connecticut from Cheshire, Jesse Rice suffered the amputation of his right arm after he was shot at the Battle of Bentonville (N.C.) on March 19, 1865, in the last stages of the war. "His most serious difficulty at the present time," a doctor noted in Rice's pension claim, "consists of a severe form of nervous irritability produced by the condition of the stump of the right arm."


Four days before he was wounded at the siege of Petersburg (Va.) on August 16, 1864, 20-year-old August Freitag wrote a letter in German to his parents in Collinsville, Conn. “One must always pay attention and make sure that the ink jar is not taken out of his hand by a bombshell,” he complained, “because, large or small, the balls are whistling through here day and night.” He died of his wounds on August 26 at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, only nine months after Henry and Rosa Freitag went with their son to Hartford for his enlistment in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. 


While camped near steamy New Orleans with his 12th Connecticut comrades, 19-year-old Private Howard Hale delighted in writing long letters to his father, who lived 1,500 miles away in Collinsville, Conn., and missed his oldest son desperately. Howard sent $35 home  to his father in this envelope. On April 13, 1863, Hale was mortally wounded in the abdomen at the Battle of Fort Bisland (La.) and died two days later.


On May 2, 1863, Private Michael McMahon, an Irish-born soldier in the 14th Connecticut, was wounded in the left side at the Battle of Chancellorsville (Va.) and hospitalized for 10 months. In an application for a pension, it was also noted that he was shot in the belt plate, resulting in a rupture that apparently plagued him the rest of his life. 


Milo Freeland was a private in the 54th Massachusetts, the famed black regiment whose experience was brilliantly told in the movie "Glory." After the war, he moved with his wife and children from Massachusetts to East Canaan, Conn., where he died of pneumonia in 1883. Believed to be the first black soldier to enlist in the Union army, he was only 43.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cedar Creek (Va.) battlefield: Belgian-owned quarry operation threatens historic Belle Grove Plantation house

Union veterans gathered for a reunion at the Belle Grove Plantation in 1883. 
(PHOTO: United States Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. via National Park Service)
Union General Philip Sheridan used the Belle Grove manor house as a headquarters.

On Oct. 19, 1864, the Union and Rebel armies clashed near the Belle Grove mansion during the Battle of Cedar Creek, resulting in more than 8,000 casualties. Confederate General Stephen Ramseur, mortally wounded by a bullet through the lungs during the battle, was visited on his deathbed in the mansion by George Custer and other Union soldiers who attended West Point with the 27-year-old North Carolinian.  "Bear this message to my precious wife," said Ramseur, who shortly before the battle received word that Nellie Ramseur had given birth to the couple's first child, "I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven." 

Union General Philip Sheridan, who famously rushed down the Valley Pike from nearby Winchester, Va., and rallied his troops at Cedar Creek, used the Belle Grove mansion for his headquarters during the Shenandoah Valley campaign.  

But despite death and destruction so near, the 218-year-old manor house survived the Civil War surprisingly unscathed.  
Today, however, the property faces a far different, and perhaps far greater, threat. Expansion of a Belgian-owned limestone quarry about a half-mile from the Belle Grove mansion threatens the core of the battlefield and the house itself. Last Wednesday, a caretaker at Belle Grove told me that he worries what blasting at the quarry, often felt more than a mile away, will do to the foundation of the house, which ironically was made from limestone quarried on the property.

"That company," he said, "doesn't care about American history."

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples along the historic Valley Pike of Americans not caring about their own history. The Kernstown battlefield, 10 miles north of the Cedar Creek, is bordered by a hodge-podge of business development and housing. Three miles south of Cedar Creek, Hupp's Hill, site of a large Union encampment and earthworks, sits across the road from a supermarket and just down the road from a sea of housing in Strasburg, Va.

hroughout Virginia, there are plenty of other examples of the destruction of Civil War history. The site of the Third Battle of Winchester, despite preservation efforts by the Civil War Trust and others, is so carved up by development that it's difficult to comprehend what happened there on Sept. 19, 1864. Beaver Dam Creek, Fair Oaks, Mechanicsville -- all those battlefields are mostly destroyed. And only 2 1/2 months ago, the historically significant farm house on the Harris Farm battlefield in Spotsylvania County (see my post here) was demolished to make way for another McMansion.

Nearly 32,000 Union soldiers camped in the fields surrounding the Belle Grove mansion.
(Click at upper right for full-screen interactive panorama.)
Beautiful, rolling farmland on the Cedar Creek battlefield.
Union soldiers camped in this field before the Battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Don't miss an excellent Civil War museum in Winchester, Va.

A Yankee soldier gave Jefferson Davis a piece of his mind. 
Henry Powell, a 15-year-old Union soldier, scrawled his alias, "Henry Jones," on the second-floor courthouse wall. 

When two Union soldiers scrawled on the wall of the second floor of the Frederick County Courthouse in Winchester, Va.,  they probably didn't expect visitors there 150 years later would stare at their handiwork. One of the Yankees even took a potshot at his arch-enemy, the president of the Confederacy. "To Jeff Davis," the unknown soldier etched on the wall, "may he be set afloat on a boat without compass or rudder then that any contents be swallowed by a shark by a whale whale in the devils belly and the devil in hell the gates locked the key lost and further may he be put in the north west corner with a south east wind blowing ashes in his eyes for all eternity." Punctuation and grammar weren't that soldier's strong suit, but you get the idea.

More soldier etchings, as well as an impressive collection of Civil War artillery, may also be found on the second floor of the red-brick building, which was used as a prison and a hospital during the Civil War. Today, it's h
ome to the outstanding Old Court House Civil War Museum on Loudoun Street. Much of the Civil War collection, which also includes muskets, bullets, uniforms, buttons, grenades and more, was provided by long-time collector Harry Ridgeway, a Winchester resident and founder of the museum, who sells Civil War artifacts on his excellent web site. (An aside: One my fondest memories is a visit to Harry's Winchester house more than a decade ago. A longtime relic hunter, he has an amazing Civil War collection.)

Even though I only had time for a 30-minute visit, the $5 museum fee was well worth it. I especially enjoyed the large collection of massive Union artillery shells, most of them deactivated (I'm kidding), and the large collection of used and new books for sale in the gift shop on the first floor. Although the old courthouse was used as a hospital for both armies, I couldn't find any blood on the beautiful floor boards, which are original. Perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough. Maybe next time.

During the Civil War, the Frederick County Courthouse in Winchester, Va, was used as a prison and hospital. 
After battles in the area, dead and wounded soldiers were placed on the building's porch.
                                         A judge's-eye view of the first floor of the old courthouse.

Smoothbore artillery shells. Look but don't touch!
This huge smoothbore projectile was meant to be fired from the Dictator, the largest Union mortar.
The massive shells in the front row were used in fort guns. 
A pair of rifled Confederate artillery shells.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Battle of Kernstown, Virginia interactive panoramas

               Pritchard Hill: Union artillery was positioned here during both Kernstown battles.

Two Civil War battles were fought at Kernstown, Va. -- one a Union victory on March 23, 1862, and another a Yankee defeat on July 24, 1864. The day after First Kernstown, considered Stonewall Jackson's only loss as commander, the Rebel general wrote his wife: "Our men fought bravely, but the enemy repulsed me. Many valuable lives were lost. Our God was my shield. His protecting care is an additional cause for gratitude." The Union commander at First Kernstown, Colonel Nathan Kimball, was the only field commander during the Civil War to defeat Robert E. Lee (Cheat Mountain in West Virginia) and Jackson.

If you count the battle preservationists have fought to protect the old Pritchard-Grim farm, let's just say that three battles were fought there. Last Wednesday afternoon, after a frustrating attempt to understand the Third Battle of Winchester, I headed south down the historic Valley Pike to Kernstown, a battlefield bordered by housing subdivisions, a Better Beer Store, a business park, a nail salon and other urban schlock. Kernstown was technically closed, but I talked my way onto the field, took photos and walked alone on the chilly, overcast afternoon to the top of Pritchard Hill, from which Union artillery shelled the Rebs during both battles. If you look hard enough, you could even see where the Rebels were positioned along the Valley Pike. Just look for the car dealership.

Stonewall Jackson suffered his only defeat at First Kernstown. Here's a view of the back and front (below) of the Pritchard House, used as a hospital during both battles, and the surrounding landscape. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Third Battle of Winchester: Where a Connecticut Indian died

The old Taylor Hotel on Loudoun Street in Winchester, Va., was a hospital for both armies during the Civil War.
Today, the old hotel is home for a Cajun restaurant. There are no visible signs of its use during the Civil War.

I think I lost the waitress when I said, "I'm researching a soldier who died in this restaurant." She smiled weakly, rolled her eyes and asked if I'd like something to drink. I was in Winchester, Va,, on Wednesday afternoon, trying, and ultimately failing, to understand what happened to the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery at the Third Battle of Winchester. Much of the battlefield is lost in urban sprawl, a chunk behind a local high school and slivers by a mall and alongside the busy Berryville Pike. After a frustrating two-hour adventure. I headed to the Old Town section of Winchester for lunch at the old Taylor Hotel on Loudoun Street. During the Civil War, the hotel was used as a hospital for both armies. Today, after narrowly escaping the wrecking ball and undergoing a massive restoration, the building houses a restaurant that serves pretty decent Cajun food. (I highly recommend the excellent steak bites.)

William Cogswell, a lieutenant in the 2nd Connecticut
Heavy Artillery, was mortally wounded at the
Third Battle of Winchester.

(Photo: Cornwall Historical Society)
On Sept. 19, 1864, casualties from the Heavies were taken to the Taylor Hotel, not exactly a pleasant prospect for the building landlord, “Strange to say,” a private in the regiment noted, “[he] did not seem to be at all pleased by the sudden accession to his guests.” Among the wounded was a 25-year lieutenant named William Cogswell, a part-Schaghticoke Indian from Cornwall, Conn., who overcame prejudice to become one of the regiment's more respected soldiers.

Severely wounded when a Rebel artillery shell burst among Yankee soldiers, Cogswell was transported to a field hospital on the west side of Opequon Creek before he was taken to the Taylor Hotel hospital with other injured from the regiment, After his left leg was amputated above the knee, he died at the hotel hospital on Oct. 7, 1864, 19 days after he was wounded.

“No one who knew him would object to serve with him as a soldier,” a correspondent to the Winsted (Conn.) Herald wrote after Cogswell's death. “…Many an idle hour in camp was beguiled of its tediousness by his ready wit, while his long yarns would do credit to any sailor. A little Indian blood is not considered bad for fun or fighting.”

Cogswell’s body was returned to Connecticut, and on November 21, 1864, his remains were laid to rest in North Cornwall Cemetery before “a large concourse of citizens who paid the dead soldier every respect.”


The Winsted Herald, Sept. 30, 1864
Hartford Daily Courant, Dec. 3, 1864

A major chunk of the Third Battle of Winchester may be found behind a high school. The land has been preserved by the Civil War Trust. (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)
Union troops marched down the Berryville Pike to attack Jubal Early's Rebels during the Third Battle of Winchester.

'Hidden' Cedar Creek: 8th Vermont's suicidal mission

Click here for battlefield panoramas from Antietam, Cedar Mountain, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Harris Farm, Manassas, Malvern Hill, Salem Church,  Spotsylvania Courthouse and more.

                                            The 8th Vermont made its stand on this ground.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen interactive panorama.)
The 8th Vermont monument , funded by a former private in the regiment, was dedicated in 1885.
The monument marks the area where three 8th Vermont color-bearers were killed.
On the foggy morning of Oct. 19, 1864 at the Battle of Cedar Creek (Va.), Colonel Stephen Thomas' brigade was ordered to do the impossible: Delay an overwhelming, surprise Rebel attack on the left of the Union line until a defensive line could be deployed. Thomas' 1,500-man brigade included the 12th Connecticut, 160th New York, 47th Pennsylvania and 8th Vermont.

The result of the opening phase of the battle was predictable: Thomas' brigade was crushed, suffering 70 percent casualties (1,050 men). But its effort indeed slowed the Rebel advance for nearly 30 minutes. In brutal, often hand-to-hand fighting, the 8th Vermont defended a deep ravine and stretch of woods and suffered 110 casualties out of 164 men engaged, including three color-bearers killed.

According to the 8th Vermont regimental history:

Men seemed more like demons than human beings, as they struck fiercely at each other with clubbed muskets and bayonets. A rebel of powerful build, but short in stature, attempted to bayonet Corporal [Alfred] Worden of the color-guard. Worden, a tall, sinewy man, who had no bayonet on his musket, parried his enemy's thrusts until some one, I think Sergt. [Henry] Brown, shot the rebel dead. A rebel soldier then levelled his musket and shot Corporal [John] Petre, who held the colors, in the thigh, -- a terrible wound, from which he died that night. He cried out: " Boys, leave me ; take care of yourselves and the flag ! "
But in that vortex of hell men did not forget the colors ; and as Petre fell and crawled away to die, they were instantly seized and borne aloft by Corporal [Lyman] Perham, and were as quickly demanded again, by a rebel who eagerly attempted to grasp them; but Sergt. [Ethan] Shores of the guard placed his musket at the man's breast and fired, instantly killing him. But now another flash, and a cruel bullet from the dead rebel's companion killed Corporal Perham, and the colors fall to the earth. Once more, amid terrific yells, the colors went up, this time held by Corporal [George] Blanchard ; — and the carnage went on. (Click on links for bios of 8th Vermont soldiers.)

Until the property was transferred to the National Park Service in 2012, the site where the 8th Vermont made its heroic stand was on private land and rarely seen by the public. I had no idea it was possible to visit there until a caretaker at the Belle Grove plantation house, General Philip Sheridan's headquarters during the Battle of Cedar Creek, suggested I check with a ranger at park headquarters along the Valley Pike to arrange to see the ground. And so last Wednesday afternoon, I put on my hiking shoes and slogged along the muddy path for a self-guided walk through history.

After crossing the Valley Pike, the 8th Vermont rushed into this ravine. The pond is post-war.
The 8th Vermont moved through this ravine on the morning of Oct. 19, 1864. 
"It was useless to stand against such fearful odds," an 8th Vermont soldier wrote of the fighting here. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winchester (Va.) cemetery: A Confederate photo gallery

Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.

If you don't stumble into Civil War history in Winchester, Va., you're doing something wrong. Three battles were fought in the town, which changed hands more than 70 times during the war. Stonewall Jackson made his headquarters on North Braddock Street during the winter of 1861-62, and prisoners of war from by both armies were kept at the county courthouse on Loudoun Street, within walking distance of the Taylor Hotel, which was used as a hospital by Rebels and Yankees. On Wednesday afternoon, just before I left town, I visited the Stonewall section of Mount Hebron Cemetery, where nearly 2,600 Confederates are buried. During a quick stop at the main office, a woman -- a Virginia native, of course -- kindly shared with me an old image of one of America's most famous soldiers of the 20th century. Here's a photo journal of my visit:


On July 3, 1863, Colonel Waller Patton was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg when part of his jaw was ripped away by an artillery fragment. The 28-year-old officer in the 7th Virginia died 18 days later at Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg. Fourteen months later, on Sept. 19, 1864, Waller's older brother, George, a colonel in the 22nd Virginia, was killed in action at the Third Battle of Winchester (Va.) Both men were buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery,  across the road today from Winchester National Cemetery, where nearly 4,400 Union soldiers from area battles rest. Decades later, George S. Patton Jr. (right), the colonel's grandson and later a famed World War II general, and his father visited the brothers' grave and posed for the photograph above.  


Topped with a lone star, this monument to the 1st and 5th Texas infantries was dedicated by the Texas Division Children of The Confederacy on July 22, 2013, "in observance of the 150 years of remembrance of the War Between the States."  God Keep You in French is carved into the bottom of the granite monument.


A colonel on the 23rd North Carolina, Daniel Harvey Christie was a teacher and merchant before the Civil War. (See his image and more info on him at Brian Downey's outstanding Antietam On The Web site.) Wounded at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, the 30-year-old Christie died 16 days later in Winchester. Before his death, he vowed to his men that he would have "the imbecile" General Alfred Iverson, the brigade commander who led the poorly conceived attack, canned it he were the last thing he did. Robert E. Lee, in fact, removed Iverson from command after the battle. Christie's marker was erected in his memory by his wife, Lizzie.


This rusty, old Confederate grave marker, likely from the late 19th century, weighs several pounds.


Worn down by nearly four years of war, the Confederate army could ill-afford to lose more officers in April 1865. Wounded in the chest on April 5, 1865, during the Rebels' retreat to Appomattox Courthouse, McGuire, a 23-year-old captain in 11th Virginia Cavalry, died on May 8, 1865, nearly a month after the Civil War officially ended. "So it goes," a Rebel soldier lamented in his diary after he received news of McGuire's wounding and the death of two other Confederate officers. "The best men are being rapidly killed off: How long. Oh! how long must this continue?"  McGuire, whose brother Hunter was a physician on Jackson's staff, was the last Rebel soldier from Winchester to die during the Civil War.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Cool Civil War stuff at museum in Harwinton, Connecticut

On a cold, snowy morning in the miniature state of Conn., I made the short trek to tiny Harwinton to visit my friend Dane Deleppo, who helps run the T.A. Hungerford Memorial Library And Museum. The small, off-the-beaten path museum is stuffed from the basement to the second floor with historic memorabilia and artifacts, from a World War I gas mask and German army helmet (a "pickelhaube") to a rare War of 1812 uniform. My aim was to check out the Civil War collection, especially anything from the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, a regiment of mostly Litchfield County residents that suffered more than 300 casualties at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. Through the years, Litchfield County families and others have donated artifacts to the museum, which if you blink, you may just miss if you drive too fast down two-lane Spielman Highway (State Rt. 4). Dane arrived early and thankfully turned on the heat before my 10 a.m. arrival. Armed with an iPhone 5 and curiosity, I had a blast sifting through the collections. Here's some of what I discovered: 



This image is either Henry, Jerome, Morris or Lewis Munger, all of whom served in the 19th Connecticut, which mustered in in Litchfield in late July 1862 and later became the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Wearing civilian clothing and holding his kepi with his regimental designation affixed, Munger probably had this image taken shortly after he was mustered in.


The tag on the case indicates this small Rebel battle flag is from Cold Harbor. Was it picked up from the battlefield by a soldier? Or was it made post-war and purchased at, say, a Virginia "relic" shop? I'm not a flag expert, so I will leave this to others to decide. Shoot me your thoughts in an e-mail here.


Dane Deleppo holds an ornate descriptive list of soldiers in Company E of the 8th Connecticut. The regiment suffered 70 killed or mortally wounded -- including eight in Company E -- at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.  (Download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths here.) A close-up reveals the beautiful, ornate design on the poster, which lists each soldier in the company.


Lyman Catlin, who served as a private in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, was promoted to 1st lieutenant in the 13th Colored Heavy Artillery on Aug. 29, 1864. He also served as that regiment's adjutant. From Harwington, he brought the 13th Heavies' muster and descriptive roll home with him after the war. In a sad commentary of the times, next to the name of each soldier appears the name of  his owner and next to the name of the soldier's wife appears the name of her owner. Often, that was not the same person. According to Deleppo, one of Catlin's soldiers followed him back to Connecticut after the war.


When veterans attended reunions of their comrades after the war, they often collected ribbons such as these, which sometimes were adorned with images of other veterans or war-time iamges of soldiers who didn't survive. I purchased this 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery ribbon on eBay during the summer.


A drummer in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, Belden S. Brown of  Harwinton obtained these knicknacks at Grand Aarmy of the Republic events. The item at top was given out at the dedication of the Soldiers' And Sailors' Memorial in New Haven, Conn., in 1887