Monday, May 18, 2015

Mother to Cold Harbor casualty: 'Look to Jesus, my dear son'

Private Lyman Smith of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery.
(Image courtesy of Smith descendant)

Unaware of her son Lyman's fate, a worried Julia B. Lyman of Litchfield, Conn., wrote a letter to him four days after the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery received its baptism of fire at the Battle of Cold Harbor, near Richmond. Lyman was a 22-year-old private in the regiment.  

Litchfield, Sunday June 5, 1864

I don't know if this will reach you, my beloved Lyman, but I must write, for you are in my thoughts all the while and one line from your pen I should prize more than silver or gold.

We read the daily papers and look fearfully for your name among the killed, wounded, and missing. May God, who I trust has hitherto kept you, continue to watch over you and  'Cover your head in the day of battle.'

I should have no comfort now, did I not rejoice that the 'Lord God Omnipotent reigneth'

We often wish we knew which corps you were in.

The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery suffered more than 300 casualties here on June 1, 1864. 

There was a dispatch yesterday that Tyler had been attacked and had repulsed the enemy with the loss of three or four thousand men and that he was wounded in the foot so badly that it had to be amputated. He had before heard that your regiment was assigned to his command.

All we can do is to wait and trust.

Your father has just come in and says 'give my love to Lyman and tell him I hope he may be spared to come home' -- and dear Lyman, we all unite in the same prayer and hope for you.

Everything is beautiful here now. I would write you about the farm, and how nicely Ed is getting along, but have no heart to do it, for all lesser subjects are swallowed up in our one great anxiety for your present safety. Just as soon and just as often as you can, write. We want to hear from you.

Look to Jesus, my dear son. He can carry you safely through all the dangers, and I trust He will. I have given you his care time after time and shall continue to do it daily and hourly.

With deep affection
I am your mother,

Julia B. Smith

Lyman Smith was shot in the head and killed instantly at Cold Harbor, one of 27 soldiers killed or mortally wounded in Company A. "Break the sad news to Lyman's mother and father," Private Lewis Bissell wrote about his cousin on June 2, 1864. "I have not seen his body but some of the boys have and attached his name. Robert Watt lies near him. Tell his mother that I have his Bible. I shall send it home if possible. If not, will keep it until I can." 

Source for Julia Smith letter:

Smith, Richard, The Old Nineteenth, The Story of the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery. New York: iUniverse Inc., 2007, Page 331

In the Litchfield Enquirer on June 9, 1864, the name of Private Lyman Smith of Company A was listed
 among those killed at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Amazing discovery: Image of his 18th Connecticut ancestor

Corporal John E. Barrows of the 18th Connecticut was captured at the Second Battle of Winchester (Va.)
(Images courtesy of Alan Crane)
When he was married 10 years ago, Alan Crane and his wife bought a family poster and filled out entries for his ancestors.

Great-grandfathers. Check.

Alan Crane and his sister celebrated after winning the auction
for an image of 18th Connecticut Corporal John E. Barrows.
Great-grandmothers. Ditto.

Great-great grandmothers. All good.

Great-great-grandfather 1. Got it.

But when the Norwich, Conn., resident got to entry for his other great-great-grandfather, Crane didn't have a clue. That set him on a journey to fill in the blank in his family story and led to an amazing discovery last fall at an antiques auction in New York.

After doing some digging on, Crane determined that his missing great-great-grandfather was John E. Barrows, a corporal in Company H in the 18th Connecticut. From Windham, a small town in eastern Connecticut, Barrows was captured at the Second Battle of Winchester (Va.) on June 15, 1863, and confined in a Rebel prison at Belle Isle in Richmond, where he contracted an illness. After he was paroled on July 14, 1863, Barrows spent the rest of the war in and out of hospitals until he was discharged on June 23, 1865.

Over the past 10 years, Crane found mentions of Barrows in the 18th Connecticut's regimental history, snippets of information in the Willimantic (Conn.) Chronicle and his grave in Willimantic Cemetery. In Barrows' widow's pension file, he even found a poignant letter from his great-great grandmother to the Connecticut Adjutant General's office in which she pleaded for government assistance. Any aid, she wrote, would be looked upon with favor by the "god of widows and orphans."

John E. Barrows' grave in Willimantic (Conn.) Cemetery.
He was only 34 when he died.
But Crane still was missing the holy grail of his search: a wartime image of his great-great grandfather.

Fast-forward to last fall.

Crane, who over the years has collected or catalogued every 18th Connecticut image he could find, received a text from a friend who was on a similar mission to find an image of his ancestor, who was in the 77th New York. His friend's message included a link to an auction in Scarsdale, N.Y. Stunningly, one of the photos offered for auction was a wartime carte-de-visite of Barrows, his name, company and regiment spelled out in ink below the image.

"I nearly passed out when I saw it," said Crane, who took off from work and traveled to Scarsdale with a "wad of cash." Luckily, he put in a winning bid for the image of his great-great grandfather as well as images of other soldiers who may have known Barrows while he was at Camp Parole, Md.

Amazingly, Crane had similar fortune during his search for information on his other Civil War ancestor, Alvin M. Crane. At a local flea market, he bought a framed Soldier Memorial poster for the 21st Connecticut captain. And last year, Crane bought on eBay a Revolutionary War receipt signed by his fifth great-grandfather, Hezekiah Crane Jr.

"All in all," Crane said, "I'm pretty lucky with this kind of thing."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battlefield panoramas: Antietam and Gettysburg

An iPhone and allow us to display pretty cool interactive panoramas of Civil War battlefields. The top panorama, of course, is iconic Bloody Lane at Antietam; the second panorama is of Crystal Springs farm, the seldom-visited site of the Union army's IX Corps hospital near the battlefield. In the first Gettysburg pano below, I walked down the slope of Barlow's Knoll to get a Rebel's-eye view of the attack that crushed the 17th Connecticut on July 1, 1863. The bottom image, taken on a cool spring morning near the crest of Culp's Hill, is from the perspective of the Union army, which defended it from July 1-3, 1863. Click on the top right of each image for an enlargement, and check out more interactive panoramas of AntietamGettysburg  and other Civil War battlefields on my blog. (Be warned: Staring intently at these four panos can make you woozy. Make them stop moving!) 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Three Lockwood brothers perished during war

28th Connecticut Private Sherman Lockwood's grave in Memphis (Tenn.) National Cemetery.
(Photo: Bruce and Wendy Linz)

When the 28th Connecticut left the brutally hot and pestilent conditions in Louisiana for home on Aug. 7, 1863, soldiers in the regiment were so sick that they could barely make it aboard the boat for the first leg of the journey on the Mississippi River. Some even died as they reached the deck of the steamer. Suffering from chronic diarrhea, two brothers in the regiment begged one of their comrades to help them.

“They were very anxious to get home,” Pvt. Louis Scofield recalled years later about Andrew and Sherman Lockwood. “As I was assisting the doctor, I tried to get them through. He said they were too weak and it would be impossible.” On Aug. 13, 1863, Sherman and Andrew were among the 25 to 30 soldiers in the regiment who were hospitalized in Memphis, Tenn., one of the stops along the Mississippi. But the brothers were indeed too ill to survive. Andrew, 30, died at Union Hospital on Aug. 27, 1863, two weeks before Sherman, 23, perished in the same hospital.

After he had re-enlisted in the 6th Connecticut on Christmas Eve 1863, James visited his financially-strapped parents in Stamford, Conn., while on furlough in 1864 and gave his mother a present of $20. It was the last time Lydia and Sherman Lockwood saw him. After he was captured at Bermuda Hundred, Va., on June 17, 1864, James, a 22-year-old private, spent nearly four months in prisoner-of -war camps in Andersonville, Ga., and Florence, S.C. Emaciated, he could barely walk when he left Andersonville, according to a 6th Connecticut comrade, and died from effects of starvation in Florence on Oct. 2, 1864.

Buried in Memphis (Tenn.) National Cemetery, Sherman is the only Lockwood brother with a marked grave.


Scofield, Loomis, History of the Twenty-Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, (New Canaan, Conn., New Canaan Advertiser, 1915), Page 15

James Lockwood pension file, National Archives

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Furniture with Antietam tie purchased by Hartford museum

The "Antietam" secretary in Harold Gordon's living room.
The front of the secretary includes the word "Antietam" and the date of the battle.
John Bingham (left) was killed at Antietam. His brother, Wells, 
survived.  (Photos courtesy Military Historical Image Bank)

Three years ago, I visited a Massachusetts antiques dealer named Harold Gordon, who loved to talk about the Civil War and one of his recent purchases: a Victorian-era secretary with a direct tie to the Battle of Antietam. The unique piece of furniture was a gift from 16th Connecticut veterans to Wells Bingham in memory of his 17-year-old brother, John, a private in the regiment who was killed in the battle. Also a private in the 16th Connecticut, Wells survived Antietam unscathed physically.

In his cramped living room that day, Harold delighted in showing me details of the 8-foot antique secretary -- the beautiful clock atop it that includes the words "The Union Preserved" near the base; a small tin on the front that may have held a piece of the 16th Connecticut regimental flag that was at Antietam and a door that when opened played "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on a music box. Spelled out in cattle bone on the front of the one-of-a-kind gift are the words "Antietam" and "Sept. 17, 1862," as well as John F. Bingham's name.

Does this case on the front of the secretary
 hold a piece of the 16th Connecticut flag 
that was at Antietam? 

Only 16 at Antietam, Wells wrote of the news of his brother's death in a heart-rending, seven-page letter to his father that I discovered in the Antietam National Battlefield Library months after I visited with Harold. It was the first letter I saw in a stack of transcripts and other copies of letters from Connecticut soldiers about Antietam.  "John, poor, poor John, is no more," Wells wrote about his brother's death to Elisha Bingham in East Haddam, Conn. Added the teenager: "You can imagine my fealings [sic] better than I can describe them." I wrote about the Bingham brothers and the secretary in my book, Connecticut Yankees at Antietam.

Today, the story of the secretary came full circle for me when a reader of the blog pointed out that it had been purchased by Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum Museum from a Woodbridge, Conn., antiques dealer, who had purchased it from Gordon. I have no idea what the museum, which plans to display the secretary this summer, paid for it, but the asking price at a winter antiques show in New York was $375,000. Not a bad chunk of change.  I've lost touch with Harold since we inspected the 16th Connecticut flag at the Hall of Flags at the State Capitol Building in Hartford nearly two years ago during our small-time investigative effort to solve the mystery of whether a piece of it really was in the tin on his secretary. (Don't descend into that deep rabbit hole.) I imagine that he's quite pleased that the amazing piece of folk art that once dominated his living room will soon be seen by a much wider audience in the state where the Bingham brothers' story began.

Harold Gordon (right) inspects the 16th Connecticut flag at the Hall of Flags at the State Capitol Building in Hartford.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Antietam: Odds & ends from spring visit to Miller farmhouse

A photo of the David R. Miller farmhouse on a picturesque spring day at the Antietam battlefield ...

... was taken from a similar vantage point as this Alexander Gardner image of the house on Sept. 19, 1862, two days after the battle ...

... in this odd image, the interior of the Miller farmhouse appears in disarray while a reflection in the window shows the back yard where the Iron Brigade crossed on Sept. 17, 1862.

... the well-worn steps of the back porch. How many soldiers trod on these stones during the battle?

... and the view from the back porch includes the Old Hagerstown Pike. The Union army moved up this road on the morning of the bloodiest day in American history.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Antietam: Inside the German Reformed Church hospital

Captain Henry Sand of the 103rd New York
died at the German Reformed Church hospital.
(New York State Military Museum)

A post Sunday included images of the beautiful Connecticut windows in the church on Main Street in Sharpsburg, Md., that was used as a hospital after the Battle of Antietam. Here are two interactive panoramas that I shot Saturday afternoon of the interior of what once was the German Reformed Church hospital. Now the Christ Reformed Church, the small, red-brick building has undergone at least two renovations since the Civil War.

If you were to step back in time to late September 1862, you'd see wounded soldiers on wooden planks, which were placed across the pews. Parishioners aided the overtaxed doctors, who treated terribly wounded soldiers whose stumps needed to be drained of pus and cleared of maggots and flies. Amputated limbs were tossed out the windows. Some wounded may have been placed in the balcony, which no longer exists. 

An Irish-born surgeon named Edward McDonnell kept a casebook in which he detailed the treatment of  wounded here. On Oct. 30, 1862, he witnessed the death of a horribly wounded New York officer, whose thigh had been mangled by Rebel artillery. "He was able to speak to within an hour or so of his death," the surgeon wrote of 25-year-old Captain Henry Sand of the 103rd New York, "and thus passed to another, and I believe better, world."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Antietam Up Close: Beautiful Connecticut church windows

One of the more awe-inspiring scenes at the Antietam isn't on the battlefield. It's in a seldom-visited church on Main Street in Sharpsburg, Md. -- a church that after the battle was used as a hospital by the Union army. When the sun hits the stained-glass windows just right in the small, red-brick building, it can take your breath away. The windows were donated in 1891 by veterans of the 16th Connecticut, whose comrades were treated (and some of whom died) at the church hospital after the battle. I've written about the German Reformed Church hospital many times, including here, here and here. I shot these up-close images during a short visit on Saturday afternoon to the church, now called the Christ Reformed Church, which celebrated its 250th anniversary last year.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Antietam: A horrible toll for the 16th Connecticut

Fragile document in the Connecticut State Library archives: Monthly returns for 
October 1862 for the 16th Connecticut.

A 30-year-old cigar maker, Henry Barnett went into battle singing
at Antietam. He was killed there on Sept. 17, 1862.
In a recent post, I included an image of the October 1862 monthly returns for the 8th Connecticut that showed the staggering death toll for the regiment at the Battle of Antietam. On Tuesday, I discovered in the Connecticut State Library archives the monthly returns for October 1862 for the 16th Connecticut. It's equally stunning to see on paper the toll that Antietam took on this green regiment, mainly recruited from Hartford County. The above image, slightly cut off on the right, includes the grunts -- the privates, corporals and sergeants. Some were listed as missing, others as having deserted. Thirty soldiers are listed as killed in action, far less than the final death count of 75. (Many of the wounded died in Sharpsburg, Md.-area hospitals after the battle.)

The battle took a steep toll on 16th Connecticut officers, too. Captains Newton Manross, Samuel BrownJohn Drake and Frederick Barber were among those either killed or mortally wounded at Antietam.

Many of the soldiers on this list have been written about on my blog. Orderly Sergeant Wadsworth Washburn (No. 52), the son of a minister from Berlin, Conn., was killed in John Otto's cornfield. His father recovered his remains from the battlefield. Sergeant Edward A. Parmele (No. 28), an aspiring dentist from Hartford, was engaged to be married to Washburn's sister. Henry Barnett, soldier No. 27 on the list, was a 30-year-old cigar maker from Suffield. He left behind a pregnant wife and two children. Private Nelson Snow (No. 28), also of Suffield, was sick the day of the battle, but he fought anyway. "(Snow) went into the fight for fear someone would call him a coward," wrote Sergeant William Relyea, a comrade in Company D. "He was brave enough to die."

(Download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths here. It includes name, rank, company, date of death, personal information for soldiers and more. Can't download it? E-mail me and I'll send you a copy.)


Relyea, William Henry. “The History of the 16th Connecticut Volunteers,” MS 72782, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn.

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 Milledgeville 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 eights 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.