Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For sale: Hanging site of John Brown in Charles Town, W.Va.

John Brown was hanged in what now is the yard of this Victorian mansion in Charles Town, W.Va.

                        Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama of Brown hanging site.

The sky was overcast and a "gentle haze" hung in the air as an impressive trio of characters gathered in a large vacant field at high noon on a late fall day in Charles Town, Va.

Professor Thomas J. Jackson, who two years later would be better known as Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson, was among the crowd of 1,500, mostly military men and cadets. So, too, was a famous actor, John Wilkes Booth, who would become infamous six years later for shooting the President of the United States in the back of the head with a Deringer pistol. John Brown, the fiery 59-year-old abolitionist leader, also was in attendance on Dec. 2, 1859, but not of his own volition.

John Brown, about 1856.
One month after he was convicted for treason for an ill-fated raid on the Federal arsensal at Harpers Ferry, Va., Brown was there for only one reason: his execution by hanging.

Jackson wrote that Brown, who wore carpet slippers, white socks, blacks pants, a black frock coat and vest and a black slouch hat, "behaved with unflinching firmness." His hands tied behind him, Brown ascended the gallows with "apparent cheerfulness," according to the professor, who was "much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man, in the full vigor of health, who must in a few minutes be in eternity." Another witness, John L. Preston, a founder of Virginia Military Institute, eloquently described the somber scene as well as the final moments of the Connecticut-born Brown's life after his body dropped from the gallows:

"There was profound stillness during the time his struggles continued, growing feebler and feebler at each abortive attempt to breathe. He knees were scarcely bent, his arms were drawn up to a right angle at the elbow, with the hands clenched; but there was no writhing of the body, no violent heaving of the chest. At each feebler effort at respiration his arms sank lower, and his legs hung more relaxed, until at last, straight and lank he dangled, swayed to and fro by the wind.
"It was a moment of deep solemnity, and suggestive of thoughts that make the bosom swell. The field of execution was a rising ground, and commanded the outstretching valley from mountain to mountain, and their still grandeur gave sublimity to the outline, while it so chanced that white clouds resting upon them, gave them the appearance that reminded more than one of us of the snow peaks of the Alps."
Today, the vacant field where Brown was hanged has changed greatly. Large, old impressive houses dominate the tree-lined street, just blocks from the still-active Jefferson County Courthouse where Brown was convicted. The site of the gallows where Booth and Jackson watched Brown stand "upright as a soldier in position" before his execution is in the yard of a 7,000-square foot Victorian mansion that's now on the market. Asking price: $749,000.

The five-bedroom, 6 1/2-bath home at 515 South Samuel was built in 1891 by John Gibson, who 32 years earlier had commanded troops who battled Brown and his band of escaped slaves and renegades at Harpers Ferry. On the National Register of Historic Places, the red-brick house features Tiffany windows, Waterford chandeliers, French-laid fireplaces, a gourmet kitchen, a roof deck, a 9-foot claw foot tub and rooms with 19-foot ceilings, according to a real estate flyer. The one-acre property also includes an ornamental wrought-iron fence, a barn, in-ground pool and a gazebo.

There's no mention if the ghost of John Brown, whose body the wind blew to and fro after his hanging, lingers on the property.

A section of  the ornamental fence that surrounds the area where Brown was hanged.
Abolitionist leader John Brown was convicted of treason at Jefferson County Courthouse in
Charles Town, Va.  (now West Virginia) on Nov. 2, 1859. The courthouse is still in use.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Early morning at Antietam: A fog of war gallery

6:45 a.m.: Restored East Woods 

as sun appears over horizon

6:55 a.m.: 128th, 137th Pennsylvania monuments 

on Cornfield Avenue

7:05 a.m.: 132nd Pennsylvania monument

 at Bloody Lane

7:15 a.m.: 130th Pennsylvania monument

 at the Sunken Road

7:25 a.m.: 14th Connecticut monument near the Sunken Road peeks above the corn

7:55 a.m.: Burnside Bridge in the mist

8:10 a.m.: Cannon wet with dew 

on Branch Avenue

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Antietam: Sergeant George Marsh 'returns' 152 years later

Image of  George Marsh photographed near where he was killed at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

In late September 1862, a funeral that "was very largely attended" was held for 29-year-old George Marsh at the home of his parents at 77 Main Street in Hartford. Afterward, the remains of the 8th Connecticut sergeant, who was killed at the Battle of Antietam about dawn on Sept. 17, 1862, were buried in Hartford's Old North Cemetery -- one of many such services held in Connecticut after the battle that claimed more than 200 of the state's sons. (Download my Antietam Connecticut death list here.)

Early Saturday morning, Marsh returned to the battlefield -- figuratively speaking, of course -- for the first time in more than 152 years.

Thanks to the current land owner, who drove me in her truck on rugged trails on her property, I finally found the spot on the ridge by the Henry Rohrbach farm where Marsh and two other 8th Connecticut soldiers were killed and several others were wounded when Rebels lobbed shells from across nearby Antietam Creek. I carried with me two images of Marsh -- a daguerreotype and tintype -- that I bought from a Michigan antiques dealer who earlier this summer contacted me after she saw another photo of Marsh on my blog. After the land owner and I traipsed through thick undergrowth near an old Civil War-era lane, I shot the image above at the edge of a cornfield, near where the regiment was shelled.

According to one account, a 12-pound solid shot struck directly in front of the prone Marsh -- he had been ill that morning -- passed under him and re-emerged from the ground a few feet away.  The chunk of iron never touched Guy and Lamira Marsh's son, who died from the concussion of the shell -- probably the first soldier from the state to die at Antietam. Soldiers in the 8th Connecticut panicked and scattered after the shelling, but they were calmed by their 19-year-old lieutenant, Marvin Wait, who had been covered by earth as well as blood of the wounded and killed.

"The brave fellow sprung to his feet ... and ordered every man back to his post in the most gallant manner," an account noted.

Hours later,  Wait also was dead, riddled with bullets as the 8th Connecticut's final push toward Sharpsburg was stopped on another ridge near the small western Maryland town.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Antietam: 11th Connecticut monument's original position

11th Connecticut monument near Burnside Bridge.
Close-up of monument plaque, which depicts the attack at Burnside Bridge.

Tucked away on a knoll near Antietam Creek, 150 yards south of Burnside Bridge, the 11th Connecticut monument is often overlooked. Interestingly, it wasn't always located there.

11th Connecticut Colonel Henry Kingsbury was mortally
wounded near Burnside Bridge.

It first was placed in an even more remote location on the Antietam battlefield.

On Oct. 11, 1894, Connecticut veterans and their families gathered at the battlefield to dedicate monuments to the four regiments from the state that fought at Antietam. The 14th Connecticut monument near Bloody Lane was dedicated at around 10 a.m., followed by the 8th Connecticut monument ceremony near Harpers Ferry Road, a short distance from the village of Sharpsburg, Md.  In late afternoon, dedication ceremonies were held for the 16th and 11th Connecticut monuments on what in 1862 was the farm of  John Otto. The 10-acre plot for the monuments -- once part of Otto's 40-acre cornfield, where the 16th Connecticut suffered 204 casualties -- was called Connecticut Park. (Hat tip: Stephen Recker, author of "Rare Images of Antietam."

The 11th Connecticut veterans originally intended to have the monument placed near Burnside Bridge, where it fought on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, and where its beloved colonel, Henry Kingsbury, was mortally wounded. But a lack of funds apparently necessitated an adjustment of plans. 

 "Let there be no strife or warlike contention among our people," 11th Connecticut veteran Samuel Horne said at the dedication of the 11th Connecticut monument, just yards from the 16th Connecticut monument. "Let us dwell in peace, harmony and happiness in this grand and glorious country, made free by your courage, devotion and patriotism. We honor our state for this beautiful gift. It is a lesson of love. Its mute bearing will tell the present and future generations why and for whom it was placed here."

But not for long.

In late fall 1895, veterans purchased a 100-square foot plot on the knoll near Burnside Bridge from Mrs. Victor Newcomer, and the massive block of Massachusetts granite was moved there the week of Dec. 19, 1895. The images below of the monument at its original location were shot in the late 19th century by John Wagoner, a prolific photographer of the battlefield. 


Antietam Valley Record, Nov. 28, 1895
Antietam Valley Record, Dec. 19, 1895
Hartford Courant, Oct. 12, 1894

The 11th Connecticut monument at Antietam originally was placed near the 16th Connecticut monument,
about a half-mile from where the veteran regiment fought near Burnside Bridge. This image
was shot by John Wagoner, a photographer from Hagerstown, Md. (Connecticut State Library)
A Wagoner image of the reverse of the 11th Connecticut monument, looking toward Sharpsburg. The monument
includes the names of soldiers in the regiment who were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. (Connecticut State Library)

Reverse of the first Wagoner image above. He shot images of many Antietam battlefield scenes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Connecticut Yankees at Antietam: Faces and the faceless

Connecticut soldiers who were killed or mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam -- 152 years ago Wednesday.

One hundred and fifty-two years ago Wednesday, Corporal John Bentley of the 8th Connecticut went into battle at Antietam with a vow to get even with the "murderers of his noble boy." Earlier that summer, his son, William, a 21-year-old corporal and a musician in the 2nd Rhode Island, had been mortally wounded and "terribly mangled" by an artillery shell at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia, near the Rebel capital of Richmond.

"Since the death of his son a settled gloom has ever rested upon his once pleasant countenance," a comrade wrote to the Hartford Courant, "and the great object of his life seemed to be to revenge his death ..."

Described as an excellent marksman, the 42-year-old soldier in Company K was so eager to get a shot at the enemy that he vowed to fight "in the front rank in battle and thus, perhaps, save the life of some one of my comrades who have but just started on life's journey."

Corporal John Bentley's grave in Antietam National Cemetery.
No photo is known to exist of the soldier from Sterling, Conn.
"If I can only live to kill one rebel," Bentley's comrade recalled him saying, "I shall be revenged on those who have brought our country to ruin, and made life a burden to me by causing the death of my ... son, and am then ready to die, for at the longest an old man can live but a few years."

As the 8th Connecticut pushed up a ridge near Sharpsburg late in the afternoon on Sept. 17, 1862, the spires of the town's three churches may have been within view. Nearly cut off from the rest of the regiment, Bentley's company was ordered to silence a battery, but a thin line of enemy skirmishers followed by a solid body of Rebels soon swept toward them like angry locusts.

Carefully aiming and firing, Bentley "displayed bravery second to none" throughout the battle, his comrade noted. "... after each discharge of his piece, he would watch eagerly the effect of his charge, and several times was heard to exclaim, 'I hit him! I hit him!' " Forced to retreat with the rest of  his regiment, Bentley slowly made his way back toward Antietam Creek, firing at the enemy along the way, when a bullet tore through his ankle bone.

Carried by comrades to a field hospital, perhaps on the farm of Henry Rohrbach or John Otto, Bentley was not considered to be dangerously wounded. "I visited him three weeks after he received his wound," his comrade wrote, "he appeared very cheerful." Although Bentley's leg wound was painful and his mouth was so sore that he couldn't even eat hard crackers, he was optimistic and was told by a doctor that his foot could be saved.

But Bentley's optimism proved unfounded. The wound became infected, and on Oct. 17, 1862, one month after he was shot, he died at Crystal Springs Hospital in Keedysville, Md., a mile or so from the battlefield. Bentley, a farmer before the war, left behind a wife named Zilpha and five children back in Sterling, Conn., near the Rhode Island border.

"But, poor man, he is gone, and we hope is now at rest with his son, where there are no wars," his comrade wrote. "Long will he be held dear in the hearts of every member of his company, as a faithful friend and brave soldier.

"He should not be forgotten by his country."

No image of John Bentley, "another victim of this wicked rebellion," is known to exist. He lies buried in Antietam National Cemetery under grave No. 1117.


1860 U.S. census

Hartford Courant, Oct. 31, 1862

Monday, September 15, 2014

Antietam: Remembering Private Frederick D. Culver

Broken marker for Private Frederick Culver in Center Cemetery in Rocky Hill, Conn.
State-issued marker for Culver, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam.

Like most Civil War dead, 11th Connecticut Private Frederick D. Culver never made it home. After he died of his Antietam wounds on Oct. 6, 1862 at Crystal Springs Hospital in Keedysville, Md., he probably was buried near the hospital and his remains were disinterred after the war and re-buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md., under Grave No. 1110. Perhaps the marker in Center Cemetery in Rocky Hill, Conn., 100 yards from the grave of another soldier who met his end at Antietam, brought some comfort to Culver's wife, Emily, and infant daughter, Nellie, who never knew her father. Only 27, Culver was a private in Company K of the 11th Connecticut, which on the the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, was ordered to attack Rebels entrenched on the bluff above Antietam Creek. During that charge near Burnside Bridge, Culver received a wound that proved mortal. According to my downloadable Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths, he was one of 217 soldiers from the state who were killed or mortally wounded during the bloodiest day in American history.

 See Culver's grave at Antietam National Cemetery by panning to the left of the interactive panorama.

Frederick Culver's name appears on this list of soldiers who died at Crystal Springs Hospital, a field hospital
near the Antietam battlefield.  It notes he died Oct. 5, 1862, not Oct. 6 as listed on his marker. This list

 was compiled by Dr. Truman Squire, the 89th New York surgeon who was in charge at the hospital. 
(Chemung, N.Y., County Historical Society)
In this document, dated March 12, 1864, 11th Connecticut surgeon James Whitcomb noted that 
Frederick Culver was "severely wounded" at Antietam and died Oct. 6, 1862.  (fold3.com via National Archives)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Antietam: Captain Jarvis Blinn's restored gravestone

Flowers placed by the grave of 14th Connecticut Captain Jarvis Blinn, who was killed at the Battle of Antietam.

Nearly 152 years after a bullet tore through Jarvis Blinn's heart and killed him, the 14th Connecticut captain's descendants, re-enactors and Civil War enthusiasts gathered under leaden skies Saturday afternoon to honor him at his restored tombstone in Center Cemetery in Rocky Hill, Conn. Sparked by this February 2013 post on my blog that included images of Blinn's broken tombstone, a 14th Connecticut re-enacting group sought donations from Civil War groups, Blinn descendants and others to repair it.  A low bid of  $1,050 was submitted by Nelson Architectural Restoration's Randall Nelson, who repaired the marker recently and may be seen below in the video that I shot at Blinn's gravestone.

A 26-year-old mechanic from New Britain, Conn., Blinn was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862 -- 152 years ago Wednesday.  "I am a dead man!" the officer said moments after he was shot near Bloody Lane. (See my interactive panorama here of where the 14th Connecticut attacked.)  A Mason and the first officer in his regiment to die, Blinn left behind wife, Alice, and two young children. 

"His wife is heart-broken," a woman who attended Blinn's funeral service noted. "Their attachment to each other was unbounded -- he was all to her. Such a sad, hopeless, despairing countenance I never saw. There are two children -- dear little creatures the eldest five years of age -- for them only his memory lives."

Hal Gilbert, Blinn's great-great nephew, and his daughter, Mary, pose at their ancestor's grave at 
Center Cemetery in Rocky Hill, Conn. Hal, whose father was named after Jarvis,  holds an original albumen
 image of Blinn, a well-liked soldier who was unanimously selected captain of Company F on Aug. 15, 1862.
A close-up of the albumen of 14th Connecticut Captain Jarvis Blinn, who was only 26 when he was killed.
During the ceremony at Blinn's grave, a re-enactor sang The Vacant Chair,  a Civil War song.
14th Connecticut re-enactors fire a salute near Jarvis Blinn's grave.
Jarvis Blinn's descendants and re-enactors gather near Blinn's grave.
A close-up of Blinn's repaired gravestone.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Antietam veterans' recollections 53 years after battle

The Hartford Daily Times on Sept. 17, 1915 -- the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

On Sept. 17, 1915, the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, The Hartford Daily Times published an ambitious project: short profiles and recollections of more than two dozen veterans who fought on the bloodiest day in American history. Images of many of the old soldiers, their mustaches or beards bathed in gray, accompanied a full-page story that spilled onto another page. A headline over the lengthy article read:
Men Who Served in the Connecticut Regiments or With Troops of Other States Tell of Their Personal Experiences in the Cornfield of Slaughter When the Men of the North Faced the Splendid Veterans of South
Present-day view of John Otto's cornfield.
Most of the veterans, all Hartford residents in their 70s, had served with the 16th Connecticut, whose first major battle of the Civil War at Antietam was a bloody disaster that resulted in 43 killed, 161 wounded and 204 captured or missing on Sept. 17, 1862. Three veterans recalled crawling off the battlefield as the Rebels poured fire into the 16th Connecticut in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield. “We did not know what to do," two of them remembered, while another recalled being "thrown into confusion" as his comrades were routed. Another veteran lamented, "We were but a lot of green boys."

So frenzied was the fighting that one 16th Connecticut veteran had his little finger shot off but didn't realize it until another soldier told him. Moments after a comrade was shot and killed and fell into his lap, a veteran recalled being struck under the lip by a bullet that sent blood spurting and loosened his teeth but did no other physical damage. When the battle was over, another soldier discovered his clothing riddled by Rebel fire.

"...it certainly was best for us to break and run," a 16th Connecticut veteran remembered, "than to stay and be killed by the hundreds.”

Another veteran, a private in the 14th Connecticut at Antietam, suffered a disfiguring buckshot wound under his left eye. Six decades after the battle, he apparently couldn't put into words what he witnessed.

"Captain Murdock," The Harford Times reported, "is uncommunicative concerning his activities on the battlefield."

Here are accounts of Antietam veterans as they were published in The Times in 1915:                                              

                                                 JOHN OTTO'S CORNFIELD: UNION PERSPECTIVE
                                                     Click on image for full-screen panorama.

George Q .Whitney, 16th Connecticut

George Q. Whitney of No. 70 Lorraine Street is a veteran of Antietam who was in active service only one month of the great war, but into that month crowded more real excitement than was the lot of many another veteran. Although he enlisted July 14, 1862, with Company A of the Sixteenth, it was not until August 29 that the regiment was ordered into active service. They arrived at South Mountain after the battle for that position, and at once were sent on ahead to Holland’s brigade. They came up with the Confederate army the night of September 16, and the next day after being held in reserve for the forenoon, they were ordered to join the left wing under Burnside in the afternoon. In the attacks and counter attacks, Private Whitney was in the midst of the thickest fighting, so much so that when the little finger of his left hand was shot away, he thought the blood on his gun stock was only grease, and did not know his finger was gone until a companion called his attention to it. After the battle, when Mr. Whitney took inventory, he found that a bullet went through his cap without touching his hair, two bullets went through his knapsack, piercing a number of sheets of writing paper on which afterwards Mr. Whitney wrote an account of the battle home, one bullet went through his trousers between his knee and hip, and another hit the stock of his rifle, chipping off a piece of the wood. In short, the 17th of September, 1862, was Mr. Whitney’s busy day, and he is still wondering how he became a target of so many southern rifles without losing more than a finger.

                                                 OTTO'S CORNFIELD: UNION PERSPECTIVE
                                                     Click on image for full-screen panorama.

William H. Lockwood, 16th Connecticut

Captain William H. Lockwood of No. 63 Farmington avenue was first lieutenant of Company A of the Sixteenth. He enlisted August 1, 1862.

“When we entered the cornfield,” said Captain Lockwood, “we saw ahead on a hill a Confederate battery, which we thought was supported by infantry, lying back of the battery. We advanced, little thinking of what would soon befall us. The cornfield had a stone wall between us and the open land beyond and there was a stone wall on each side. We were well into the field on the charge when suddenly the Confederates, who were lying behind the wall ahead and on each flank, poured a volley into our ranks. We were thrown into confusion. The Confederates kept on firing and our men continued to fall.

“Finally Major George A. Washburn said ‘lie down boys.’ So we lay down. The bullets kept on coming and it seemed foolish to remain there. I crawled over to Captain Henry L. Pasco of my company and said: ‘Major Washburn has disappeared and you as captain of the senior company are now in command, What shall we do?’ Captain Pasco said we had better quit. So we started. Lieutenant Charles A. Tennant and I decided we would keep together. We two began to retreat. Men were falling on all sides.

“Finally we reached the rail fence which bordered the corn field. Tennant and I saw men being hit as they climbed the fence, but we decided to get over. We threw ourselves over quickly, breaking off part of the rail. We crawled across the 12-foot road and under the fence on the other side. Then we went up a short incline and dropped over the ridge on the other side, where we were safe. We went to Burnside’s bridge where we found others of our company and regiment.”

                                                    Click on image for full-screen panorama.

Norman L. Hope, 16th Connecticut

Norman L. Hope of No. 166 Wethersfield avenue enlisted as a member of Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut volunteers on August 7, 1862. While his experiences in Andersonville prison have made more of an impression because he is so often called upon to relive them as a speaker at various gatherings, Mr. Hope has by no means forgotten that day in the forty-acre corn field when 150 of the brave fellows in his regiment were killed or wounded. The battle ground is familiar to Mr. Hope, as he was the man selected to buy the ten-acre place of the corn field for Colonel [Frank] Cheney of South Manchester when the monument was erected and presented to the regiment by that gallant officer, who was badly wounded in the engagement. It was in the corn field that the “Rebs” came in shouting “don’t fire on your own men,” and the Sixteenth retired to the position behind the old stone wall.

Eugene D. Ames, 4th Rhode Island

When the parents of Eugene D. Ames of 191 Prospect avenue objected to his taking the field, he straight away left for Providence and enlisted in the Fourth Rhode Island battery at age 19. This was August 25, 1861. He was mustered out three years later. He took part in thirty-two battles and had seven horses shot under him. In speaking about Antietam, he says: “We were under fire all day and fought hard. That’s all.”

                                           OTTO'S CORNFIELD: 16th CONNECTICUT MONUMENT
                                            (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

William Huntington, 8th Connecticut

William Huntington of No. 60 Evergreen avenue was a member of Company D, Eighth Connecticut volunteers, and was in one of the severe charges of the day, during the course of which he was shot on the left side of the head.  He was carried off the field and from that day to this he has been deaf in his left ear, the shot having injured his ear drum. At the battle of Wathall Junction in an attempt to cut the railroad from Petersburg to Richmond, Mr. Huntington was shot in the leg.

16th Connecticut veteran John W. Loomis's grave
in Old North Cemetery in Hartford.

John W. Loomis, 16th Connecticut

John W. Loomis, of No. 7 Highland street, was not in the thick of the battle, but he saw to it that nobody ran away with the fighting boys’ knapsacks during the day’s struggle, and never knew at what time the detachment of which he had command would be called upon to fight. Enlisting in Company D, of the Sixteenth, August 5, 1862, Mr. Loomis was raised to the rank of quartermaster sergeant. At Leesburg, the command left knapsacks, and Sergeant Loomis was detailed to guard the paraphernalia as the rest of the troops went into the conflict. All day long he listened to the firing of guns at Antietam, fearful that at any moment the Confederates might break through.

George S. Merritt, 16th Connecticut

George S. Merritt of No. 63 Fern Street, a clerk in the office of the Aetna Life Insurance company, was a member of Company D, Sixteenth Connecticut volunteers, and on the 17th of September was with a brigade that went into action during the afternoon. Private Merritt and his companions had enlisted only a few months before. During the morning of the 17th they were held in reserve, but in such a position that most of the field was visible to Private Merritt and none of the fighting was missed by him. Toward 3 o’clock in the afternoon his brigade charged.

The Confederates, fighting under the Union flag, had surrounded the brigade on three sides, while the northern commander, deceived by the flag, failed to give any commands to fire. So when the Confederates opened the attack, many of the raw northerners broke and ran, and with them Mr. Merritt’s company. But they reformed later and joined with the famous New York contingents to regain four pieces of a field battery that the Confederates took in the first onslaught.

                                             8TH CONNECTICUT MONUMENT AT ANTIETAM:
                               The regiment's dead and wounded lay in this field after the battle.
                                         (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

Timothy E. Hawley, 8th Connecticut

Deputy United States Marshal Timothy Hawley, who resides at No. 48 Crown street, enlisted in Company K, Eighth Connecticut regiment, at Meriden, October 6, 1861, and came through the war without a wound, but he says the nearest he came to being hit by a rebel bullet was at Antietam.

“Our regiment, reduced to 464 men, had just come up from the Peninsula campaign, and we lost 196 more – killed, wounded and missing – in the Antietam fight,” he says. “Early in the activities we were sent into support a battery on that twelve-mile battle line around Sharpsburg, and later we were taken down to the creek to ford it, but our guide carried us further than the ford, and we started across in water waist deep. I scooped up my canteen full of water as we passed through the stream and up the bank to get a crack at the Johnnies.

“God, how those fellows could fight. We pushed them a ways and our regiment got nearer to Sharpsburg than any other, but the enemy pushed us back, and in climbing over a board fence, we lost a lot of our boys. It was a pretty warm place, and after it was over I thought I would take a drink. I pulled up my canteen, but there wasn’t a drop of water in it. One of the Confederate bullets had gone straight through it. I threw it as far as I could and picked a canteen off one of the dead Hawkins zouaves from New York. Those fellows wore a red fez and had been shining marks for the Johnnies. Today I would give $25 to have that canteen I threw away."

“God, how those fellows could fight."

-- 8th Connecticut veteran Timothy Hawley on the Rebels

Walter E. Smith, 16th Connecticut

Walter E. Smith of No. 57 Plainfield street was one of the boys of the Sixteenth, enlisting July 26, 1862, in Hartford in Company G. He was in the Antietam fight from morning until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and saw his regiment cut to pieces in the slaughter in the cornfield. Smith with his comrades had been lying in the corn most of the day and when the order for the bayonet charge came he had risen to one knee.  At this moment a bullet struck his companion who fell dead across Smith’s lap. Then Smith, too, was wounded. He found the blood spurting from his lips and seeing Colonel [Francis] Beach leaving the field on his old white horse Smith made up his mind he would get out of there. How Mr. Smith managed to get out of that field and back across the stone bridge again without being further wounded he does not know. His wound he found was not very serious and resulted from a lead slug passing under his lip and into his teeth. These were knocked loose, but after Mr. Smith had picked the pieces of lead out he pushed his teeth back and they grew back in again.

John Gemmill, 16th Connecticut

“We were greatly surprised when the confederates opened fire on us in the cornfield,” says Sergeant John Gemmill of No. 53 Concord street. Mr. Gemmill enlisted July 15, 1862 in Company A of the Sixteenth.

“We were but a lot of green boys,” he says, “many under 19 years old when we went into the Antietam fight. Only a few knew anything about guns. We had received our guns at Arlington Heights but had not had any drills in shooting of the manual of arms. As we forded the creek on the morning of the battle, we could see the Confederates. After we crossed the creek, we marched in line of battle for some time. Shells were coming our way and some men of the Eighth regiment we could see falling. A shell burst and a part of it flew up striking me on the side, and making a sore place which lasted several days. Finally we were ordered to go by the left flank and enter the corn field. We could not see any Confederates and went out in that field. The Rebels opened on us with several volleys.

“We did not know what to do. After a while, Captain Pasco said, 'Boys, I don’t know what orders to give but you had better disband and get out of this field.'

“Then it was every man for himself. So I started to get out of danger. I laid down and began to crawl. I had on my haversack and a woolen blanket and a rubber blanket strapped to my back. These I gradually removed as I crawled along, and kept only my gun and cartridge belt. After awhile I crawled into a large open field and crossed that to a ditch where I found several other soldiers. This was the first notice I had taken of anyone else, as I was so occupied in looking after myself as I had no thoughts for any other men. I got down by Antietam creek, where I stayed all night. The next morning I found my regiment and for the next two days we were busy burying the dead.”

"...it was every man for himself."

-- 16th Connecticut veteran John Gemmill on the fighting in Otto's cornfield (above)

James B. Whalen, 16th Connecticut

“We saw a few men killed in the Eighth Connecticut as we stood waiting orders, after crossing the creek, “ says James B. Whalen, who makes his home at Long’s hotel. Corporal Whalen enlisted July  18, 1862, in Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut. “But we knew that we must expect that more would be killed and we braced up and nerved for what might come,” he adds. “The shells were followed by minie bullets, which sang over our heads. The Confederates fired at us just as we had been ordered to fix bayonets for a charge. We were thrown into great confusion. The order was given to get back out of the cornfield. So we started. I crawled and ran in turn and got out of the cornfield to Burnside’s bridge. I was staying there when a soldier came from the rear and asked me to go to the regiment headquarters and dress two head of beef. I went and had no further part of the battle, which was then about over."

James B. Clancy, 16th Connecticut

“We were all green boys at Antietam, and badly frightened,” agrees James B. Clancy of Company A, Sixteenth regiment, who registers at Long’s hotel. “I enlisted,” he continued, “July 17, 1862. We got our guns at Arlington September 5, and when we went into the battle we had not had drills with the guns and most our men knew nothing about loading and shouldering a rifle. We forded a creek and formed a line of battle. Then we entered the cornfield. The corn was as high as our heads. The Confederates began to shoot into the field and men began to drop by our sides. We did not know what to do and when the order was given to break ranks and get out of danger I with the others ran and  crawled to get out of the way. Inexperienced alike were our captains and the minor officers and privates and it certainly was best for us to break and run than to stay and be killed by the hundreds.”

                                            Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.

William Murdock, 14th Connecticut

William Murdock: He was wounded at
Antietam and at the Wilderness.
(MOLLUS Collection)
As a lasting memorial of Antietam, Captain William Murdock of No. 86 Capitol avenue, carries a mark caused by a buckshot wound over his left eye. At the time he was hit he was not obliged to leave the field and never dreamed that the mark would show at this late day. Captain Murdock is uncommunicative concerning his activities on the battlefield. In 1864, he was wounded at the battle of the Wilderness and laid up for five weeks. Captain Murdock was born in Scotland, June 22, 1836. He went to Middletown in 1855 and joined the Fourteenth Connecticut, Company H, in August 1862, as a private. He rose from private to corporal, sergeant and sergeant major, then second and first lieutenant, until his appointment to captaincy of Company A. He was mustered out, May 31, 1865, in Alexandria, Va., and located in Hartford that spring.

Charles Jackson, 8th Connecticut

Charles Jackson, the one-armed letter carrier from the Hartford post office, had two arms before the battle of Antietam. He enlisted on September 8, 1861 in Willamantic in Company D of the Eighth Connecticut regiment – the Norwich Company. He was badly wounded in the right arm after the boys of the Eighth had crossed Antietam creek, worked their way up the hill under Confederate fire and had reached the farthest point of advance of the Union army on Sharpsburg.

Jackson was taken prisoner and taken toward Williamsport and when near that place his arm was amputated by a surgeon in the Twelfth Massachusetts who had been captured – assisted by two Confederate surgeons.

Strange as it may sound, the following day Jackson escaped. A band of Confederates told the Johnny guarding Jackson that he had better pick up his gun and come along as the Yankees were coming. Jackson induced the guard to go on the road with him and they started along toward the Union lines.

Meeting a troop of Feds, the sorry-looking pair were halted and asked where they were going. Jackson answered he was looking for his regiment and had brought this bare-footed Johnny along with his gun. Jackson was told where he could find the Eighth and he told his comrades to be sure to take good care of the Johnny.

A war-time and post-war photo of Henry Adams, who was severely wounded at Antietam.
(Left image: U.S. Army Military History Institute. Right: Connecticut State Library)

Henry M. Adams, 16th Connecticut

At the age of 21 years on August 7, 1862, H.M. Adams of No. 621 New Britain avenue, enlisted in Company G, Sixteenth Connecticut. He received his baptism of fire at Antietam where he received a wound of which he still bears the marks. He was struck between the knee and the thigh by a minie ball which passed entirely through the leg, taking a part of the bone with it. Mr. Adams lay on the battlefield for forty-two hours, fully conscious, before he was found and taken to a field hospital. Here he remained from September 19 until April 1 when he was discharged because of disability.

Jeffrey D. Miller, 16th Connecticut

Jeffrey D. Miller of No. 131 Wethersfield avenue enlisted in Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut in this city August 5, 1862 and served to the end of the war as a private. In speaking of Antietam, he said: “I remember they (the confederation) woke us up mighty early in the morning. We had to leave our position and marched away and around somewhere. I was nothing but a boy and didn’t know anything about war and fighting. Finally we got into the corn field and began to blaze away. First thing I knew I was all alone. The Eleventh Connecticut  [probably 8th Connecticut] was a few yards away and I joined. Two wounded men said, ‘Don’t leave us ‘ and so I stood by. Then the southerners came up and I took at shot at them thinking I was going to die anyway. The two wounded men plead for their lives and an officer replied ‘all right boys, we won’t hurt you.’ I surrendered and just then a nearby confederate took a shot at me. I dropped and pretended to be dead. Then our reinforcements came.” Mr. Miller’s clothing was hit five times.

Ethelbert French, 16th Connecticut

Ethelbert French enlisted in Company A, Sixteenth, August 6, 1862 at the age of 24 years. At the battle of Antietam, he received a severe wound in the left breast, which necessitated his remaining in the hospital from more than a month, and which finally led to his discharge nearly two years later. He returned to Hartford still in ill health and has since lived here. Mr. French is 77 years old and lives at No. 103 Ashley street.

16th Connecticut veteran Henry Tracy's grave in Hazardville Cemetery in Enfield, Conn.

Henry F. Tracy, 16th Connecticut

Henry F. Tracy of No. 115 Oakland terrace enlisted in Company C Sixteenth, July 25, 1862. In September, the regiment joined Burnside’s command. The day was hot and Tracy was overcome. He was left within a fly tent within cannon range. Recovering, Tracy reached a building near the Otto farm, used as a hospital, where Dr. [Abner] Warner, a surgeon in the Sixteenth, was in charge, who gave him work in the place. He pays a tribute to the work of the late Dr. [Nathan] Mayer, a surgeon in the regiment.

After the battle, the men were removed to Sharpsburg. There the Dutch Reformed church was made over into a hospital. Mr. Tracy tells about the death of John Loveland, whose leg was shattered by a cannon ball. The operating surgeon had the reputation of saving every man put under his knife.  Some time after the operation Tracy saw that Loveland’s face was becoming ashen. He threw back the covering and saw that the main artery had burst. Clasping his thumb, he stopped the flow until the surgeon came running up. The dying man requested that his trinkets be sent to his wife. Tracy stoutly refused to withdraw his thumb. Finally, his hand all a tremble, he let go from sheer exhaustion.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Antietam: Relics, skeletons and a 'long lost fabled well'

In this 1937 newspaper photo, Maryland state senator Ernest Miller holds two Civil War artillery shells
 that he discovered while plowing a field  in Sharpsburg, Md., where grew up.

Days after a July 1933 rainstorm "almost amounting to a cloudburst," George Alexander had his hands full.

With lead.

Astonishingly, the Antietam battlefield superintendent picked up 250 bullets that had washed up in farm fields and woodlots where soldiers had killed and maimed each other nearly 70 years earlier. (Tourists also carried away relics that summer day.) Alexander also discovered on the Henry Piper Farm a much more sobering reminder of the carnage at Antietam: bones of three soldiers, including two skulls.

In the decades immediately after the war, it was not uncommon for area farmers and others to recover remains of soldiers from makeshift battlefield graves. While searching for relics in the East Woods in 1913, longtime battlefield guide O.T. Reilly, who claimed to have witnessed the battle when he was 5, unearthed a nearly complete skeleton. Only the skull was missing, prompting the Frederick (Md.) News to report that Reilly "thinks the soldier's head was shot off by a shell in the battle."  The latest discovery of soldier remains at Antietam occurred in 2008, when a hiker found bones of a New York soldier near the Bloody Cornfield.

O.T. Reilly: Longtime Antietam battlefield guide 
sold battlefield relics from his shop on
Main Street in Sharpsburg.
(Photo courtesy Stephen Recker)
Almost immediately after Antietam, souvenir hunters descended on the battlefield for other pieces of the action. A local man named Cyrus Mondell recovered a drum that belonged to a soldier in the 29th Massachusetts, an Irish Brigade regiment that saw heavy fighting near Bloody Lane. (See my interactive panorama of Bloody Lane here.) Nearly 33 years later, in May 1895, he donated it to Sharpsburg's Lutheran Church, which apparently sold it and used the proceeds to pay off its debt.

In 1877, a Sharpsburg man described as "something of an amateur antiquarian" was given a pocket mirror that a local had recovered from a soldier's temporary grave. Inside the case made of laurel was the name of the owner: 19-year-old Private Francis B. Reynolds of the 8th Ohio, who had been reported missing after the battle. The relic's owner contacted the postmaster in the soldier's hometown and sent the mirror back to the private's friends in Ohio "accompanied by a very feeling letter."

In 1895,  Reilly, who for years sold battlefield relics from his shop on Main Street in Sharpsburg, purchased a sword that was found embedded in the bank of the nearby Potomac River. Rusty but complete, it may have been left there three days after Antietam by a sergeant in the 118th Pennsylvania, the Corn Exchange Regiment, after the Battle of Shepherdstown.

Born six years after the Civil War ended, Ernest Miller often found war debris such as bullets, bayonets and belt plates while growing up in Sharpsburg. In 1937, Miller, then a Maryland state senator, showed off  to a Hagerstown newspaper two artillery shells that he had found while plowing a field there. "One of the shells is still loaded," the Morning Herald reported, proving that politicians of that era were just as brilliant as they are today.

As late as the mid-1940s, hundreds of relics, from bullets to artillery shells and buckles, were reportedly found after heavy rains. In 1947, a Maryland man found 125 bullets, four pieces of large artillery shells, two uniform buttons (one Confederate, one Union) and a human tooth just by eyeballing the ground after rainstorms. When he was only 7, the relic hunter's 92-year-old father picked up relics after the battle. (The old man even recalled witnessing President Lincoln's visit to Sharpsburg in October 1862.)

With minie balls from the battle apparently in short supply by the late 1940s, Sharpsburg residents may have turned to deceptive means to replenish the prized souvenirs. In 1948,  locals reportedly cast bullets in old Civil War molds and buried them in the ground to give them an authentic patina. After jamming bullets into holes bored into trees, creative souvenir dealers waited weeks or more and then sliced open the trunks to recover prized paperweights.

In January 1952, the Hagerstown Morning Herald reported about a mysterious relic-filled well at Antietam.
But the whopper of all Antietam relic tales may be the story of the "long lost fabled well." In 1952, the Hagerstown Daily Mail reported that a deep well filled with relics was being hunted somewhere near the battlefield. Who was searching and what did they know? Apparently, no one was talking much about this murky tale.

 "... no one knows exactly where the well is located," the newspaper reported, "and many historians doubt whether it exists." As the story goes, soldiers, eager to be done with battlefield clean-up, filled a well with the dead as well as debris that included ammunition and then covered the hole with dirt.

"It was overlooked when the reburial work was done," the newspaper reported, "and in the course of years, it was covered with crops or grass so completely that the eye cannot detect the place where the well existed." The most likely site for the trash/treasure/burial ground reportedly was the Nicodemus Farm, near the Hagerstown Pike, or somewhere close to Burnside Bridge. But no major discovery apparently was made.

Seven years later, in October 1959, two brothers from Pennsylvania, two Baltimore youths and a Sharpsburg-area man named Fred Remsburg conducted separate, and apparently unsuccessful, searches for the relic-filled glory hole. The brothers used a divining rod while the boys, hunting on Sundays, relied on a mysterious map found in a Baltimore library.  Remsburg gave up the hunt because he feared the 4- to 5-foot hole he had dug during his search would collapse.

It sounds like this relic-filled well story simply doesn't hold water.

In October 1959, the Hagerstown Daily Mail reported that Pennsylvania brothers may have found the relic-filled well.

Cumberland (Md.) Evening Times, Nov. 14, 1947
Cumberland (Md.) Sunday Times, July 23, 1933
Frederick (Md.) News, Sept. 29, 1913
Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, Oct. 2, 1948
Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald, June 18, 1937
Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald, Jan. 22, 1952
Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, Oct. 1, 1959
The Herald and Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., May 11, 1895
The Herald and Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., Sept 12, 1877

Friday, August 29, 2014

Horace Sickmund: A soldier's story in widow's pension file

Ancient Calhoun Cemetery, flush against scenic State Route 7 in rural Cornwall Bridge, Conn., is filled with weathered, slate-gray tombstones, many slumped at odd angles like weary sentinels. At least one especially large marker lay toppled in the grass, the name on the front probably forever buried with its subject.

Near the entrance to the cemetery, a repaired gravestone with a U.S. flag stuck in the ground beside it caught my eye late this morning. Once broken in half, the marker for Horace C. Sickmund of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery made for a compelling photo against a deep-blue sky and a backdrop of pines.  (An image of Sickmund may be found here and here.)

Only 29 years old when he died in Washington on July 19, 1864, Sickmund was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on or about June 6, 1864. On June 1 at Cold Harbor, the regiment's  first major battle of the Civil War, the "Heavies" had suffered more than 300 casualties, a result so horrific that a chaplain wrote to his wife, "Pray for me -- am not in a fit state of mind." Walk through almost any old cemetery in Litchfield County in Connecticut and you're bound to come across a gravestone, memorial or marker for a Cold Harbor casualty. The aftermath of that battle at a crossroads town in Virginia, 10 miles northeast of the Rebel capital of Richmond, was a time of  "intense anxiety" for a region that supplied the Union army more than 1,000 soldiers for the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

“…The telegraph wires had more news than they could carry," Abby Hubbard, wife of a Congressman from Litchfield, Conn., noted about the days after Cold Harbor. "It was impossible to get details. All we knew was that a terrible battle had been fought and that a great number were either dead or wounded. ... our house was a rendezvous for people hoping or fearing for news. They would often stay till late at night. I particularly remember one woman from Goshen who waited till eleven o’clock, and then went home, cheered with the thought that no news was good news. She had just gone home when we received word that her husband was among the slain.”

How Sickmund's family received word of his death is unknown. But documentation of the soldier's life may be found in a widow's pension file in the National Archives (and also available on fold3.com). Here's a short story of Private Horace Sickmund's life and death culled solely from some of those documents. (Click on each image to enlarge.)   

Sickmund, who was from Sharon, Conn., and Ellen Berniss, who was from Kent, were married on Aug. 25, 1860, less than two years before the Civil War began. ...

... On Feb. 14, 1864, Horace  Chandler Sickmund Jr. was born, according to this minors' pension document. (He was eventually awarded $8 a month by the government.) ...

... Nearly four months later, "on or about the sixth day of June 1864," Horace's father, a soldier in Company G, was "wounded in the knee by a bullet from the enemy as he stood in his place in the line of duty where the regiment stood drawn up in line of battle ready for action" at Cold Harbor, Va., according to Sickmund's commanding officer, Edward Gold. In the document written from regimental headquarters in Petersburg, Va., on Jan. 25, 1865, the captain noted he saw Sickmund immediately after he was wounded and that he was taken to a hospital. Gold recalled that he received notice of the private's death from the surgeon in charge there  ... 

... Ellen Sickmund filed a claim for a U.S. government pension after her husband's death. (1) (Her claim was approved, and she was given $8 a month.) According to a surgeon general's report, Horace died on July 19, 1864, from a "gunshot wound lower third of right thigh." (2)  Gold could not remember the hospital to which the Sickmund was sent. (3) ...

... and in this undated widow's pension claim, presumably filed in the summer of 1864, Ellen Maria Sickmund of Cornwall Bridge, Conn., noted that she was 21. (1). Her husband, whose middle name was Clark, died at Columbian College Hospital in Washington  (2) -- one of the many military hospitals in the capital during the Civil War. (President Lincoln visited it during the war.) ... 

... a little more than a year after her husband had died, Ellen moved on with her life. According to this document, dated March 16, 1866, she married Charles Smith on Nov. 1, 1865, in Cornwall, Conn. Stephen Fenn, pastor of the Congregational Church, officiated.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wanted: Photos of Corp. Charles Adams, Nurse Marie Greene

Charles Adams, mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, lies buried in East Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.
On June 11, 1864, 10 days after he had been severely wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, 19-year-old Charles Adams arrived in Washington aboard the hospital steamship Monitor. It was a a “quiet, sunny morning” so calm on the Potomac River that there was barely a ripple on the water.

After all the other wounded men had been taken from the ship, only Adams remained. A surgeon advised against moving the corporal in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery because he believed Adams only had a short time to live. A woman named Marie Barton Greene, a nurse with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, arrived to provide comfort for the teenager from Litchfield, Conn.

A short time after Greene boarded the Monitor, she asked Adams if he had a keepsake for his family, but he didn’t, or couldn’t, communicate. “He seemed waiting, watching for the time to come, and said distinctly ‘I am ready to go.’,” the nurse recalled, before he “fell asleep in death as calmly and noiselessly as falls an autumn leaf to the soft green sod beneath.”

In a letter to Adams sister months later, Greene recalled witnessing the suffering of other soldiers. “I have stood by the side of many a dying soldier and I cannot tell you how it has pained my heart to see them dying without a hope in Jesus,” she wrote. A distant relative of famed Civil War nurse Clara Barton, Greene signed the note, "The Soldiers Friend."

              The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery suffered heavy casualties here at Cold Harbor. 

On June 19, 1864, a service for Adams was held at the Congregational Church in Litchfield, near the town green and a short distance from the road on which he and his comrades marched off to war in mid-September 1862. Afterward, Adams’ coffin was taken a quarter-mile to East Cemetery, accompanied by three officers from the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery and soldiers from the 1st Connecticut, and following a prayer,  the 19-year-old’s remains were buried.

Months later, Greene still had the young man in her thoughts. She requested a photo of Adams from his sister.

“Perhaps I am asking too much of you but I have given much time and attention to soldiers at the wharf as they came from the front and the hospitals,” she wrote to Mary Adams. “Consequently, I have become deeply interested in some and I am now collecting photographs of some with circumstances connected with my meeting them. If you have an extra one of your brother Charlie I would be very grateful for it.”

When she finally received an image, she thanked Mary, calling it “perfect.”

One of the unsung heroes of the Civil War, Greene died in 1907 at 79 and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Uxbridge, Mass.

For a special project, I hope to find photos of Adams or Greene. If you can help, e-mail me at jbankstx@comcast.net


Adams Family Collection, Litchfield (Conn.) Historical Society

Civil War nurse Marie Barton Greene is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Uxbridge, Mass.