Friday, May 27, 2016

Paying respects to teenager William Hall, killed at Antietam

Lonnie Schorer cleans the marker of her ancestor, 11th Connecticut Private William Hall, 
in Chaplin, Conn. Hall, 17, was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
(Photos courtesy of Lonnie Schorer)
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The burden of war is usually placed on our young, often soldiers not even out of their teens. At the Battle of Antietam, scores of teenagers on both sides were listed on the extensive casualty lists.

Shot through the side during an attack near Bloody Lane, George Crosby, a lieutenant in the 14th Connecticut, was only 19 when he died of his wounds at his parents' house in Middle Haddam, Conn. He had been a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. Marvin Wait, also 19, and an officer in the 8th Connecticut, was riddled with bullets and killed during brutal fighting near Harpers Ferry Road. "His death brings a peculiar and poignant sorrow," noted his hometown newspaper, The Norwich (Conn.) Daily Bulletin.

Somehow Dwight Carey of Canterbury, Conn., persuaded his parents to allow him to join the Union army, which apparently overlooked that he was three years too young to legally serve his country. After his death at Antietam, the Willimantic (Conn.) Journal, under the headline "The Youthful Hero," eulogized the teen-aged soldier:
"In September, 1861, while yet but fifteen years of age he entered the service of the United States, as a private, in the Eighth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. This act originated in no rash, impulsive enthusiasm, impatient of restraint and headstrong for excitement and novelty, but was the result of calm discussion with his parents and friends, who unwillingly gave their assent on account of his extreme youth."

The 11th Connecticut suffered 139 casualties during
its attack at Burnsde Bridge on the
morning of Sept. 17, 1862.
(Library of Congress collection)
A private in the 11th Connecticut, Daniel Tarbox was shot through the abdomen during an attack at Burnside Bridge. The 18-year-old private died the next day and was temporarily buried in Middletown, Md. "We are very anxious that his remains be brought home," his father wrote that September, "but how to bring so desirable a thing about is the question."

William H. Hall, young Daniel's comrade in the 11th Connecticut, was also killed at Antietam, almost certainly in the attack at Burnside Bridge. It's unclear if his body, like the remains of Tarbox, was returned to his state's soil for burial or if  the 17-year-old soldier rests in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md., or elsewhere. Four years ago, I found a marker for Hall in Bedlam Road Cemetery in rural Chaplin, Conn. Under tree branches and among a patch of weeds, his slate-gray, state-issued stone, covered with moss and grime, was separated from the gravestones and seemed out of place, almost lonely. The short visit stuck with me.

Late last month, Antietam guide William Sagle mentioned to me that he had given a battlefield tour to a descendant of a soldier from Connecticut and wondered if I knew the name. "Ever hear of William Hall?" he asked. "He was killed at Antietam. His descendant really wants to find his grave." In a minute or two, I called up on my iPhone this post and showed the Hall marker image to Sagle. "There," I said, "is your William Hall."

And so I started a correspondence via e-mail and over the phone with Hall's descendant, former Connecticut resident Lonnie Schorer, who now lives in Virginia. She said it was a moving experience at Antietam to stand by the 11th Connecticut monument upon which Hall's name was etched among the names of 36 other soldiers who were killed or mortally wounded there. I explained to her that William may not actually be buried in Chaplin, told what little I knew of her ancestor and suggested how to find out more about him. No image of  the private or war-time correspondence from him are known to exist..

On her way from New Hampshire late last week, Schorer stopped by Bedlam Road Cemetery to pay her respects to the young soldier. Using toothbrushes, water and determination, she cleaned off years' worth of dirt from Hall's out-of-the-way marker. Swarms of mosquitoes couldn't spoil the moment or the view of the old cemetery grounds dotted with beautiful wildflowers. Tbis was special.

"We had our own Memorial Day service when we finished," Schorer told me, "thanking William for his courage and his life -- and letting him know that his family remembers."

A close-up of William Hall's marker in Bedlam Road Cemetery in Chaplin, Conn.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Slain Southern private: Send my Bible home to Alabama

Lewis Branscomb of the 3rd Alabama was killed by a Union sharpshooter in the front yard of
 this house on Washington Street in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. (Lewis' photo courtesy Frank Chappell)
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Shortly after Civil War began, four sons of  Bennett and Eliza Branscomb enlisted in the 3rd Alabama Infantry, undoubtedly causing great angst in their household in tiny Union Springs, 45 miles southeast of Montgomery.

A little more than a year into the war, tragedy hit home when word arrived of the death from measles of one of the Branscomb brothers in a military hospital in Richmond. "Don't grieve Ma," Private James Branscomb wrote to his mother on June 25, 1862, 10 days after 31-year-old William died. "He is better off though tis hard to lose him. You may have more to grieve for than him before this war ends."

Those words proved prophetic.

On May 19, 1864, James was killed at the Battle of Harris Farm, near Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va. He was only 25.

Private James Branscomb of the 3rd Alabama
was killed at the Battle of Harris Farm
on May 19, 1864.
(Photo courtesy Frank Chappell)
During a break in brutal fighting near Richmond in early June 1864, probably at Cold Harbor, Va., Private Lewis Branscomb wrote a short note to his sister, Lucinda. Apparently unaware that his brother had been killed, the 3rd Alabama sharpshooter was quite familiar with death. Several of his friends and messmates had already been killed during the war.

"My mess is all gone but me ... " the 21-year-old soldier wrote on June 5, 1864. "... I know I have a few good christians far away praying for me. The fighting still continues. No more. Give my love to all and write soon. I have not received but one letter since the first of May. If you all knew how much comfort it would give me to get a letter from home you would write.

"Excuse this note," Lewis concluded, "as I have almost lost my mind."

Less than a month later, on July 4, 1864, Lewis was killed by a Union sharpshooter in the front yard of a house on Washington Street in Harpers Ferry, Va., (now West Virginia). The owner of the house recovered Lewis' Bible, and nearly three months after the war had ended, she wrote a letter to his mother in Alabama:

Harpers Ferry, Va.,
July the 2nd, 1865

Mrs. Branscomb 
Dear Madam

On the 4 of July will be one year since the Confederate soldiers was here and there was a young man killed in my yard by a sharpshooter. At the place he died I picked up a Bible and written on the fly leaf was his name 'L.S. Branscomb, Co. D, 3d regiment of Alabama.' On the next leaf was written if found on my person please send to my mother Mrs. B.H. Branscomb at Union Springs, Alabama. Do so and oblige (friend) who ever you be. I should have done so sooner but not knowen that the way was open between here and there and as I have just heard that I could send a letter through embrace the first opportunity. If you wish for the book you can [write me]. I will send it by mail immediately and if you wish to know any thing more I will then write you all that I know concerning your son. If you wish to write address Mrs. 

Margarett Cross, 
Harpers Ferry, Virginia, 
In care of Cathrin Shillings

Lewis' Bible has been lost to history, but nearly 100 of the Branscomb brothers' war-time letters have remarkably survived, discovered in 1991 in an old BVD underwear box marked "War Letters" in the family's possession. In 2012, Branscomb descendant Frank Chappell edited an excellent book, Dear Sister, of  the letters, which include terrific detail about camp life and battles. The 3rd Alabama was one of the hard-fighting regiments in the Southern army, seeing action at Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and elsewhere.

During my recent visit to Harpers Ferry, Chappell guided me over the phone from Alabama to Mrs. Cross' old house on Washington Street. The beautiful, two-story red-brick house sits just down the street from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters.

Postscript: A fourth Branscomb brother, John, survived a wound at Antietam and the war. William Branscomb is buried in the Confederate section of Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. Despite efforts by Chappell and other Branscomb descendants to locate the brothers' final resting places, the gravesites of  James and Lewis are unknown.


Chappell, Frank Anderson, Dear Sister: Civil War Letters to a Sister in Alabama, Branch Springs Publishing, Hunstville, Ala., 2012. (To obtain a copy of the book, Chappell may be contacted at

Margarett Cross' war-time house on Washington Street in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Antietam: Where General Longstreet, staff manned cannons

Confederate artillery position on Henry Piper farm, near Bloody Lane.

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After the Confederates were finally forced from the Sunken Road at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, a wave of Yankees threatened the Rebels' thinly held center on Henry Piper's farm. A battery of Miller's artillery (above interactive panorama) had been positioned near the Sunken Road at about 10:30 a.m. to support the infantry in the lane. Later, one of the battery's caissons was hit by a Union artillery shell, and Confederate artillerymen were killed or injured, leaving the gun crews short during a critical juncture in the battle for the Rebels.

Confederate General James Longstreet
(Library of Congress collection)
Among the soldiers to come to the rescue was General James Longstreet himself, wearing carpet slippers instead of boots because of a sore heel. He held the bridles of  horses of some of his staff, who went into action as artillerymen in Piper's apple orchard.

As the Yankees drew near, Colonel John Rogers Cooke of the 3rd Arkansas reported he had run out of ammunition. Longstreet ordered him to hold his position -- by bayonet, if necessary. The officer replied that he " 'would 'hold till ice forms in regions where it was never known,' or words to that effect," Longstreet wrote decades after the war.

Moxley Sorrel, a member of the general's staff, described the desperate scene in his memoirs:
"The gunners had fallen by their places, which were temporarily without cannoneers. Longstreet was with us. [John] Fairfax, [Thomas] Goree, [Van] Manning, [James] Walton, myself and perhaps some others took our horses bridles as we leaped from them to the guns. The position was most important and it would never do for those 'barkers' to be dumb, even for a minute; so at it we went, the improvised gunners, and were afterwards cheered by being told we did it well and could always get a gunner's berth when we might want it. I had the rammer, No 1 I think it is. in the drill. Our fire was really strong and effective until some reliefs from the Washington Artillery came up ventre a terre and with hearty shouts took their guns in hand. The enemy opened a severe fire on us, but fortunately none of our party was hurt. We mounted again with cheerful grins at our sudden adventure and Longstreet, much pleased, turned his attention to other imperiled points."
The Confederates' center held that afternoon, and a disaster was averted for General Robert E. Lee.

Longstreet and Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill established a headquarters at Piper's farmhouse, seen below in another interactive panorama. The barn, greatly enlarged from its war-time appearance, was used by the Rebels as a hospital.

More than a decade ago, when the Piper farmhouse was open as a bed & breakfast, I stayed there for two nights. On my last evening, I sat on the porch and watched the fireflies light up over the fields. "We like to think the souls who fought here are still among us," the B&B owner said.


Sign here: Soldiers' graffiti in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Polk D. Norvell of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry made his mark here,  probably in the summer of 1863.
The old Farmers' Bank of Fredericksburg at the intersection of Princess Anne and George streets.
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The terrific National Park Service's  Mysteries & Conundrums blog was my guide for finding the names of two Confederate soldiers scrawled on bricks of the former Farmers' Bank of Fredericksburg (Va.). Used as a headquarters and hospital by the Union army during its occupation. the beautiful, early 19th-century building at the corner of Princess Anne and George streets was sold early last year.

During my recent Civil War Power Tour, I stopped to check out for myself the Civil War-era graffiti. It was fairly easy to find amid more recent scrawlings. Kudos to Eric Mink of the NPS, who dug up details on the lives of the soldiers who left their marks -- Polk D. Norvell, a teenager in the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, and Lewis B. Ellis of the 39th Virginia Cavalry. Ellis wrote his name on the George Street side of the building. Norvell, who left his mark on the Princess Anne Street side, did not survive the war, dying in a Richmond hospital in July 1864.

If you are really into Civil War graffiti, check out this post on my blog on Graffiti House near the Brandy Station battlefield.

Look carefully on a brick below the window on George Street to find ...
... the scrawling of Lewis B. Ellis, who served in the 39th Virginia Cavalry..

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Antietam soldier snapshots: 'What desolation fill'd our home'

A figure of color sergeant George Simpson,  killed in the West Woods at Antietam, 
tops the 125th Pennsylvania's monument on the battlefield.
               125th Pennsylvania entered the West Woods behind the Dunker Church.

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After the bullet tore through his bowels at the Battle of Antietam, 125th Pennsylvania Private John Rose of Company D was carried to a barnyard-turned-field hospital, where he died the next morning, Sept. 18, 1862. Two wounded comrades observed the 21-year-old soldier's pockets being emptied after his death, the contents turned over to a lieutenant in the regiment for delivery to friends, before the son of  John and Sarah Rose was buried in a makeshift grave nearby.

An iron worker in Altoona, Pa., John lived with his parents and was the "main and almost only support" for his mother and sickly father, whom he gave most of his $6 weekly wages. "Another family circle mourns a loved one lost," reported the Altoona Tribune a little more than three weeks after the death of Rose, whose remains lie in an unknown grave. The private's hometown newspaper also published a few words by noted poet George Morris, an expression of "the sentiments of parents and friends":

He died, as he had lived, beloved,
without an enemy on earth;
In word and deed he breathed and moved,
the soul of honor and of worth:
His hand was open as the day, 
his bearing high, his nature brave;
and, when from life he pass'd away,
our hearts went with him to the grave.

What desolation fill'd our home
when death from us our treasure born,
Oh! for the better word to come
where we shall meet to part no more:
The hope of that sustains us now,
In that we trust on bended knee,
While thus around his faded brow,
we twine the wreath of memory."

The grave for Private Joshua Cretin's wife, Sarah, in
Saint Augustine Cemetery in Cambria County, Pa.
The soldier's final resting place is unknown.
(Find A Grave)
For families of  other Blair, Cambria and Huntington county soldiers in the 125th Pennsylvania, there was plenty of grim news after Antietam. Mustered into the Union army only six weeks earlier, the nine-month regiment suffered 54 killed among 229 casualties on Sept. 17, 1862, mostly in the West Woods behind the small, white-washed Dunker Church. Soldiers in the regiment, one veteran noted decades after the war, fell "thick as leaves of autumn" during fighting in the West Woods. (See interactive panoramas in this post.)

Recalled Lieutenant Theodore Flood, whose Company C shouted its motto "In God We Trust" as it went into battle:
"As we stood firing into the ranks of the enemy [in the West Woods] the second man to me, George A. Simpson, while bravely holding the flag aloft, was hit with a bullet from a Confederate gun, which pierced his brain, and he fell dead. A second man picked up the flag, and he was shot down. A third, and he fell; the fourth took it up, and he was shot and fell."
Initially diagnosed with a mortal wound, Simpson's brother, John, survived because a bullet narrowly missed vital organs after passing near his ribs. Thanks to "careful home nursing," the sergeant survived and became an attorney after the war. He never showed his Antietam scars for "public gaze."

Antietam victims in 125th Pennsylvania: Private James Long is buried in Carson Valley Cemetery
in Duncansville, Pa.; Private Lewis McDermitt is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery
in Cambria County, Pa. (Find A Grave left and right)
Struck in the leg by a gunshot and in the back by a "shell or ball," Private Joshua Cretin died of his wounds, an especially cruel blow for his wife, Sarah, who was pregnant with the couple's third child. Married a little more than five years, the 37-year-old soldier in Company K left behind two young children, Sarah Jane, 4, and John Andrew, 1. Almost two months after her father was killed in action, Mary Elizabeth Cretin was born. (Nearly two years later, Sarah's brother, Daniel, a private in the 190th Pennsylvania, died in Alexandria, Va.)

Wounded in the thigh, Lewis McDermitt, a 23-year-old private in Company K, lingered for nearly two weeks after his leg was amputated and died at Hospital No. 6 in nearby Boonsboro, Md. After Lewis' death, his widowed mother sold her unmarried son's unfinished house for $275, using much of the proceeds to settle his debts and pay for his funeral. His mother planned to live in the house once her son returned from the war.

After nearly five years of marriage, 21-year-old Elizabeth Lier became a widow when her husband, John of Company E, was killed instantly when a bullet struck him in the head. She was left to raise their 1-year-old son, Daniel.  A 28-year-old private in Company G, James Long survived until Feb. 5, 1863, when he died of a gunshot wound to his left thigh in a hospital in Frederick, Md. He left behind a wife named Caroline and two young daughters, Susan, 4, and Sarah, 4 months.

"He served his country faithfully," Long's pastor noted at his funeral on April 23, 1863, "[and] poured out his life on the altar."


Find A Grave

History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-1863, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1906

Hollidaysburg (Pa.) Democratic Standard, April 28, 1863

Reimer, Terry, One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Hospital Sites in Frederick, Maryland After Antietam, The National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Md., 2001

John Rose, Lewis McDermitt, James Long, Joshua Cretin and John Lier  pension files, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington via

         West Woods: Where 125th Pennsylvania, 34th New York suffered heavy losses.

The 125th Pennsylvania and Confederates blasted away at each other in the West Woods.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Antietam soldier snapshot: 'I thought it was all up for me'

Left: A Civil War-era image of 124th Pennsylvania Private George Miller. Right: An image of
Miller decades later with his grandson.

 (History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers)
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Soon after a bullet tore through his abdomen at the Battle of Antietam, 124th Pennsylvania Private George Miller was taken to the David R. Miller farmhousewhich was used as a temporary field hospital. While Union artillery boomed nearby and "pieces of shell were flying" about that morning, another soldier in the 124th Pennsylvania recalled seeing Miller walking at the makeshift hospital, "although [he was] shot through the body below the ribs."  Miller's suffering was so intense that he welcomed death, but the 23-year-old soldier from Upper Providence, Pa., survived despite the Rebel ball that had sliced his colon.

Plagued by the wound for the rest of his life,  Miller married a woman named Ann, with whom he had three children. In the early 20th century,  he posed for a photo with his grandson on his lap -- an image that appeared in the 124th Pennsylvania regimental history. In December 1906, Miller recounted with the regimental historian his awful experience at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, a little more than a month after he had enlisted:

"At South Mountain, while on the march from Virginia to Antietam, we saw a cartload of limbs -- mostly legs that had been taken off above the knee; it made a great impression on me, as losing a limb was the only thing I dreaded when I decided to enlist. At Antietam, on the 17th of September, when I was wounded and saw the hole in the front of my coat and put my hand to my back, I thought it was all up with me, and for a month it seemed impossible that I could get well, and when I took a turn for the better it was a great disappointment as I was in hopes I was through my earthly troubles.

"I still have the blouse with a half moon out of the front and a large hole in the back. The ball entered above the stomach, coming out between the lower two ribs and cutting the colon, from which it discharged for ten days or so. Dr. [James D.]  Linton of our company drew a silk handkerchief through the opening which was about all that could be done. This would not be considered scientific treatment in these microbe days. After receiving my wound Comrade Charles Eckfeldt, at my solicitation, helped me off with my belt and knapsack, and as the barrel of his gun had been flattened by a ball, he took mine, and when I left the gutter on the pike, he was firing away but was never heard of again. His father searched every place opening graves etc."

Miller, who was 80 when he died on June 21, 1919, is buried in Media (Pa.) Burying Ground next to his wife, Ann. 


124th Pennsylvania Sergeant Charles Broomhall diary, Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web, accessed May 13, 2016.

History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion -- 1862-1863, Ware Bros. Co., Philadelphia, 1907

Miller attended the dedication of the 124th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1904.
(History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers)
124th Pennsylvania monument on a beautiful morning in April 2016.

Monday, May 09, 2016

NEW! Big, bold Civil War Then & Now blog launched


Using Google Street View and my own photography, I tapped into my inner-William Frassanito and the excellent Juxtapose tool to create Then & Now Civil War images here on my main blog. The posts proved so popular that I created a new site here to feature those images in a much larger, bolder format. Think of it as Then & Now on steroids, filet mignon and prime rib.


The bigger your screen, the better these images will display.

For more even more Civil War photography, please visit my sister blog, Civil War 180, which features panoramas of Civil War battlefields.

If you have a suggestion for a Then & Now image, email me at

You may also follow me on Facebook and Twitter at @johnnybanks.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

A walk in the Wilderness, where George Austin 'disappeared'

Saunders Field, where 140th New York charged on May 5, 1864. Below: An interactive panorama.
            Pan to the right to view the 140th New York monmument in Saunders Field.

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To thousands of motorists who zoom past every day on busy Virginia Rt. 20, this scene, a mile or so from McDonald's, a Sheetz gas station, E&M Auto Sales and Divine Nails, may just be another rolling field and patch of woods. Perhaps some don't have time to notice as they drive to their homes nearby in the upscale Fawn Lake subdivision, where streets are named after Civil War generals and signs mark "preserved" trenches and earthworks.

Augustus Meyer: 140th New York captain was
 mortally wounded during the charge at Saunders Field.
(Image courtesy 140th NYVI Living History Organization)

But momentous, and tragic, events occurred here in Saunders Field and in the woods nearby on May 5, 1864 -- the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness. This is where 529 soldiers in the 140th New York, its ranks filled with immigrants from Germany and Ireland, burst from the woods on a wet, foggy morning that soon turned hot, charging an enemy entrenched near a distant woodline. Dressed in the regiment's colorful French North African Zouave uniforms, soldiers named McNamara, McVeen, Sprinkler, Seiger, Vanderhuff and Ziegler, among others, gained a foothold in that woodline. But after about 30 minutes, they were forced to retreat, suffering nearly 50 percent casualties.

This is where German immigrant Augustus Meyer, the 34-year-old father of 5-year-old girl named Therese, received a mortal wound through the upper right side of his abdomen. Initially expected to recover, the captain died 19 days later at a hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., about 15 miles away.

Meyer's death undoubtedly was a life-altering event for his wife, Augusta Eickemeyer Meyer, to whom he had been married for seven years. The officer's remains were returned by the Genesee Valley Railroad to Rochester, where the former clerk in a dry-goods company was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery -- a well-attended service that was described as "of a most imposing character."
Augustus Meyer's grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in
Rochester, N.Y. (Photo Joel Shore/Find A Grave)

"An uncomfortable rain storm prevailed during most of the afternoon,"  the Rochester Evening Express reported about Meyer's funeral service, "and so large a turn out, under the circumstances, was an expressive testimonial of the respect in which Capt. Meyers was held."

This is also where 140th New York 1st Sergeant Charles L. Taylor,  a blue-eyed, 36-year-old salesman and produce dealer, was killed. Nearly a month after the battle, a comrade searching the battlefield discovered his remains, perhaps bringing some comfort to his wife Elizabeth back in Brockport, N.Y. The distinctive Zouave uniform and a brown beard were telltale signs the body was Taylor's, 140th New York veteran John B. Snyder noted shortly after the war. Devastated by Charles' death, Elizabeth left a light burning in a window in her house, according to an account, so her husband could find his way home. She died in 1918, having never re-married.

And this is where 24-year-old Sergeant Joseph Seiger was mortally wounded. After he mustered into Company E of the 140th New York in September 1862, he gave his widowed mother his $90 bounty and a major portion of his army pay. Before he enlisted, the unmarried laborer regularly handed over $1 of his weekly $4 salary at Cunningham's Carriage Factory in Rochester to Mary Seiger, who emigrated to the United States from Germany after her husband had died.

And, finally, this is where George Austin "disappeared."

Shortly after the 140th New York attacked that morning, the married private was shot and killed. When the regiment was forced to retreat about a half-mile, it left its dead and wounded in the hands of the enemy, noted Austin's friend, Private Charles W. Starin. George had "disappeared," according to Henry Allen, one of Austin's Company A commanding officers, who added "I have no personal knowledge of his fate." George's remains initially may have been buried by the Rebels, or,  like many soldiers killed during this battle in the dense forests, his body simply may have rotted in the woods. If Austin's remains were recovered after the war, the 27-year-old soldier may have been re-buried in an anonymous grave in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Perhaps the remains of  some 140th New York dead
ended up in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
Seven unknown are buried
under this marker there.
Shortly after dawn one recent rainy morning, I walked through the woods where the 140th New York gained its short-lived foothold. Halfway through my serpentine trek on the well-marked National Park Service trail, I was made uneasy by the loud barking of dogs in the distance. Brown leaves crunched beneath my feet, and the distinctive tat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers echoed. An interpretive marker noted the mortal wounding nearby of a Rebel general. Remains of trenches from both armies zig-zagged through the woods, which I'm told are not nearly as dense as they were in the spring of 1864.

And near the end of my walk, I stopped, briefly closed my eyes ... and imagined what it was like in early May 1864.


Widow's pension file documents for Augustus Meyer, Charles L. Taylor, Joseph Seiger and George Austin, National Archives and Records Service, Washington D.C. via

The remains of Union trenches deep in the woods near Saunders Field.
 Confederate General Leroy A. Stafford was mortally wounded in woods near Saunders Field.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Oh, brother! How relic hunter uncovered rare Rebel buckle

In 2003 in Berryville, Va.,  Richard Clem holds his rare relic-hunting find: half of a Virginia -style
 CS tongue belt buckle. (Photo of Clem, buttons and belt plate below courtesy of  Richard and Don Clem)
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 love great Civil War relic-hunting stories, and my friend Richard Clem has a ton of them. His stories have appeared on my blog here, here, here and here. Clem is most at peace, he once told me, when he's out in a field with a metal detector in hand and headphones on, searching for pieces of the past. Here's another story from the Hagerstown, Md., man who, along with his brother, has relic-hunted western Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia  for decades: 

By Richard Clem

In the early morning hours of Aug. 13, 1864, Col. John Singleton Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion) struck the rear of Major General Phillip H. Sheridan’s 600-wagon supply train heading for Winchester, Va. Mosby’s 300 horsemen surprised and routed the Federals near Buck Marsh along the Berryville Pike  The raid, which ended by 6:30 a.m,, resulted in the Rebels capturing 200 beef cattle, 600 horses, 100 wagons and taking 200 prisoners.

John Singleton Mosby
After reading and studying the “Gray Ghost’s” Berryville Wagon Raid, the author and his brother, Don, decided to use metal detectors and maybe uncover some Civil War relics from the little-known battle. Our search started in early summer of 2003, along the Berryville Pike just north of Buck Marsh.

The first area we went over was covered with thick, low-cut briars in an apple orchard. After fighting the rough terrain and coming up empty-handed, I climbed over a wire fence to try my luck in a more level pasture. Don kept the course. After an hour passed and still finding nothing of value, I met Don at a fence. With the words “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence,” brother handed me a beautiful, solid-cast Block “I” Infantry button. At that moment, I turned greener than the rich patina on the freshly-dug Confederate button.

Our next outing was on a section of rocky ground scattered with shade trees overlooking Buck Marsh. Digging English copper coins, broken dishes bearing a “London” trademark, brass shoe buckles and rusted knives and forks indicated this high ground was once an old Virginia homestead dating to the 18th century.

Through summer months, we continued combing the same area and collecting Civil War relics --including a sword handle, two U.S.belt buckles, two U.S. cartridge box plates, various Union and Confederate buttons and bullets along with artifacts of the Colonial period. We never knew what century we were digging in until the buried object was removed from the Old Dominion soil.

With “positive targets” getting less and less and knowing “all good things must come to an end,”we started branching out from the once-productive area. After an hour or so hunting in the surrounding orchard, my bullet pouch remained empty when words of wisdom from a veteran relic hunter I met years ago on the battlefield of Antietam came to mind: “Boy, you’ll never get’em all." With this statement still fresh, I mentioned to Don, “Let’s go back over to the old spot -- the best might still be there.” It was!

In the same general area Richard Clem
 found the half of a CS belt buckle, 
his brother found this Confederate
 solid-cast  block "I" button and a rare 
Episcopal  High School button. Could the 
finds be connected to the same Rebel soldier?

Swinging close to an hour over the so-called hunted-out land, all I could show for my efforts was a few worthless brass ends of previously missed shotgun shells. Crossing over the ridge to call it a day, brother was spotted searching in the shade of some hardwood trees. Heading in his direction, I started searching in some knee-high grass when the detector meter indicated large brass. Starting to dig, I noticed the signal was centered in a narrow dirt path horses had made in the thick grass.

Several inches of hard-packed dirt was removed when dark green letters appeared in the bottom of the hole: “CS.”  The Virginia-style CS tongue (half of a tongue & wreath interlocking Confederate belt buckle) lay face up in almost-pristine condition. The CS, of course, stands for “Confederate States” of America. I knew immediately I had uncovered a valuable piece of Southern history -- odds of digging this relic seem like a million-to-one. I wasn’t swinging in or parallel with the horse trail, but rather cutting across it when the detector sounded off.  (More on this rare find can be found in Mullinax’s Confederate Belt Buckles & Plates, Plate 006 on Page 10.)

Trying to overcome emotional excitement, I turned off the detector and rushed over to my hunting partner. With encrusted dirt still clinging to the cast-brass treasure, it was proudly placed in his hand. “Where did you find this?” came the excited question. While pointing to the detector and headphones only yards away, Don remarked, “Unless I miss, my guess that wreath half has to be still laying around there somewhere!” You can bet we beat the “you know what” out of that tall grass, but no wreath. It could have been missed by only inches or it could be, as Don suggested, “in Tennessee.” Only the Ruler of All Knowledge knows exactly where it’s located.

On another typical, humid July afternoon on the edge of the old homestead, Don dug a nice two-piece button displaying a Maltese cross surrounded with letters “EHS / Va.” These letters stood for “Episcopal High School / Virginia.” Founded in 1839, this school of higher education is still in operation today in Alexandria, Va. The students all wore the same style uniforms, with a row of silver-washed buttons down the front. Early in the War Between the States, students wanting to fight for the Southern cause sometimes went to war wearing their school uniforms because Confederate equipment was in short supply. The school closed during the Civil War, but reopened in the post-war period.

One of four Federal belt plates Richard Clem found
 at the site in Berryville, Va.
Because of their brass construction that resists the elements of nature, the CS tongue and Episcopal button were in excellent condition after being underground close to 140 years. That they were located in a rocky area that was never touched by farmer’s plow or strong corrosive fertilizer also was a contributing factor to the good state of preservation,  (More on this type of rare button can be found in Crouch’s Virginia Militaria of the Civil War, Page 72.)

Now, for some food for thought, let’s travel back in time to 1864. During research on Mosby’s Berryville wagon raid, the name “Lewis B. Adie” surfaced as being one of only two Rebel Rangers killed in action on that early August morning. Lewis Benjamin Adie was born July 21, 1844, in Leesburg, Loudoun County, Va. His father, the Reverend George Adie, was rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg.

A member of 149th Ohio Infantry wrote, “I saw him (Adie) lying on his face the body of a handsome man, who was shot by our company.” Another witness stated, “Before receiving the fatal shot, Adie killed two of the enemy with his revolver and pressing the third hard, he fell under the fire of an infantry company which arose from behind a stone wall.” The final resting place of the young trooper remains unknown, although one source lists him as being “buried on the field.”

A close-up of Richard Clem's rare find.
As a member of Mosby’s cavalry, Private Adie should have been carrying a sword. Don dug the handle of a Confederate sword at the homestead site. The belt that the sword scabbard or revolver holster in all probability would have had a tongue & wreath buckle as the CS tongue I dug. True, it can’t be proven Adie was even carrying a sword. But we know he “killed two of the enemy with his revolver” that would have had a holster and perhaps a tongue & wreath buckle. It would be hard to lose either half of one of these “interlocking” buckles unless it was taken from a person who was killed or dying.

What is even a stranger coincidence, at the beginning of the war, Lewis Adie was attending the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. The Episcopal button my brother dug came from that very school. All three of these artifacts were discovered close together on ground overlooking Buck Marsh, in the general vicinity where Adie was killed. The author realizes to connect these relics to anyone is next to impossible. Yet the question must still be asked: “Could the sword handle, CS tongue and the Episcopal button all have been the personal effects of one Lewis Benjamin Adie?” Any attempt to answer this question would be mere speculation, but it provides some good “food for thought.”

I’ll always remember one summer evening leaving the old homestead under a breathtaking Virginia sunset. Walking along a dusty lane while passing back and forth the just-dug CS tongue, Don offered to trade me his whole day’s find of two bullets and two plain brass buttons for the cherished relic. We never made a deal. As we drove out of the orchard in the pickup truck on our way home, words from the past echoed once again:

“Boy, you’ll never get’em all.”


Episcopal High School, B3990

Williamson, James J., Mosby’s Rangers, Ralph B. Kenyon Publisher, New York, 1896.

Crouch, Howard R., Civil War Artifacts, SCS Publications, Fairfax, Va., 1995

Mullinax, Steve E., Confederate Belt Buckles & Plates, O’Donnell Publications, Alexandria, Va., 1991.

During our visit in Sharpsburg, Md., in December 2015, Clem showed me his fabulous discovery.

Interactive panorama: Wilderness Tavern hospital site

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Protected by a small shelter, a large pile of stones and bricks is nearly all that remains from the old Wilderness Tavern buildings, once a landmark along the Orange Turnpike near Chancellorsville, Va. During a recent afternoon visit, yellow buttercups dotted lush, green fields, and we were interrupted by the near-constant hum of traffic from nearby Route 3 -- the old Orange Turnpike and a well-traveled route by troops from both armies during the war.

Just imagine the sights, sounds and smells here 153 years ago.

Hospital tents for up to 3,000 wounded from the Confederate Second Corps filled these fields after the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought just four miles away in early May 1863. After he was accidentally shot by his own troops about 9 p.m. on May 2, the most famous Confederate patient of the war had his left arm amputated in a hospital tent nearby. (The exact site of Stonewall Jackson's operation is believed to be in what now is a strip of land in the middle of Route 3.)

A year later, thousands of Union troops marched through the same area during the Wilderness Campaign, and Federal field hospitals were set up near the Wilderness Tavern site. Union General Ambrose Burnside used the tavern as a headquarters. Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the area on May 7, 1864, as Union troops and ambulances moved through. The cropped version of Forbes' sketch below shows the Wilderness Tavern buildings:

A cropped version of Edwin Forbes' drawing of Wilderness Tavern and surrounding  area.
 (Library of Congress collection)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Then & Now: Damaged houses in war-torn Fredericksburg

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On a "Then & Now" mission last week during my Civil War Power Tour, I stood near the parking lot of a small bank in Fredericksburg, Va., to shoot a present-day version of the May 1864 image of severely damaged houses on Hanover Street and George Street extended. Damage to the residences, long attributed to Union artillery, may have been caused by Confederate guns during the battle for the town in December 1862. In any case, the houses proved enticing subject matter for a photographer employed by Mathew Brady. (Check out the terrific overlay below of the 1864 image on a present-day view, courtesy of  John Cummings of the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.)

Excellent photos, as well as a map showing destruction caused by the Union bombardment on Dec. 11, 1862, may be found on the National Park Service's Mysteries & Conundrums blog. On my blog, Then & Now posts showing war-damaged houses on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg are here and here. And a 1908 history of  Fredericksburg includes this vivid account of the eight-hour Federal shelling:
At the hour appointed the signal was given, and the thunder of artillery, the lightning from bursting shells in the air, the crashing of solid shot through the houses, the roar of musketry on both sides of the river, the shrieks of frightened women and children, the bustle and confusion that followed may be imagined, but can never be described. From early morning until four o clock in the afternoon, with only half an hour's cessation between one and two o clock, this deluge of shot and shell was poured upon the streets and houses of the town. The few inhabitants who remained in the town fled to their cellars and sought to save their lives from the storm which was beating their homes to pieces. Many houses were burned with all or most of their contents, the result of hot shot, it was claimed, thrown from the enemy's guns on the Lacy farm just opposite the town.
Overlay of 1864 image on present-day view by John Cummings of the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.
While Brady's operators produced the image, fighting raged again, 10 miles to the southwest at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Obscured by trees in the "Now" image, St. George's Episcopal Church, hit by shellfire in 1862, is visible in the background of the 1864 image. Wounded from Spotsylvania Courthouse, the Wilderness and elsewhere were treated there while Brady's men went about their business.

As you can see in the "Now" image and in this Google Street View, the two houses on Hanover Street are long gone; a sports field occupies the area behind the long, metal fence. White houses on the extension of George Street long ago replaced their severely damaged cousins. For grins, here are close-ups of those houses on Google Street View. And below, watch a fascinating video of December 1862 bombardment damage at the Old Stone Warehouse in Fredericksburg.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

4 seldom-seen Antietam sites (Little Mac's battle view, too?)

Armed with an iPhone6 and fueled by desire,  I roamed the Antietam battlefield recently during my annual Civil War Power Tour with the aim to visit and document off-the-beaten path sites. (Actually, I made it up as I went along.) Here's what I found:
William Roulette's barn, where hundreds of wounded soldiers were treated.

SECOND IMAGE ABOVE: Click at upper right for interactive panorama of Roulette barn interior.
ABOVE: Roulette farmhouse seen through a knothole in the nearby barn.


In dozens of visits to the Roulette farm over the years, I have poked my head into the spring house where grievously wounded 14th Connecticut lieutenant George Crosby had surgery, inspected the fabulous, thick-walled ice house, peered through the old farmhouse windows and mulled the story of those dang bees. Until last weekend, I had never been inside the Roulette barn, which was used as a field hospital during and after the battle.

Save for the foundation and perhaps some of the flooring, much of the 1862 barn is long gone. Nevertheless, the experience was quite eerie after we slipped through a narrow opening into the large, open space. Birds fluttered through slits, and sunlight on the beautiful morning cast unusual shadows inside. Perhaps this early 20th-century account by a Pennsylvania veteran who witnessed what happened there more than 152 years ago explained my uneasiness:
The tables on the Roulette barn floor presented a scene of  the schambles. Piles of amputated legs and arms were in evidence, inviting even from stolid hearts, commiseration, pity, tears. In the stables below. and under temporary straw sheds along the adjacent fences and out buildings, were to be found hundreds of wounded and dying men.
Wounded in the East Woods, General Mansfield died at the George Line farm on Sept. 18, 1862.
Another view of  Line's farmhouse as well as the summer kitchen, which may date to the Civil War.
The sign on historic Smoketown Road near the George Line farm.
Joseph Mansfield


The old, black-and-white metal sign along historic Smoketown Road -- the route XII Corps took to the battlefield -- points to the site where Union General Joseph Mansfield died. Wounded in the chest in the East Woods just after dawn, the 58-year-old officer from Middletown, Conn., was transported about a quarter-mile by soldiers using muskets to form a stretcher and then another quarter-mile by ambulance to George Line's farm.

The sign, however, is inaccurate: Mansfield died of his wounds on Sept. 18, 1862, a day after the battle. The loghouse in which the general expired was sold by Line to another man, dismantled, moved to another area location and "brickcased," according to an account in the 124th Pennsylvania regimental history, sometime in the 19th century. The current brick house, shown above, may be post-war, although the summer kitchen shown in the second photo may date to the Civil War. (Please note this is private property; do not trespass.)

Israel Richardson died in the second-floor room at upper right in the Philip Pry house.
ABOVE: President Lincoln visited the ailing Richardson here in early October 1862. 
BELOW: In the video, Jake Wynn of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine
 explains one of  the room's little secrets.

Israel Richardson


Leading an attack at Bloody Lane, Union General Israel Richardson was struck in the chest by a piece of artillery shell. Initially taken to another field hospital, the 46-year-old officer eventually was transported for treatment to the Pry House -- the same site where General Joseph Hooker, who was shot in the inner side of  his right foot during the I Corps' assault earlier that morning, was hospitalized.

After she received news of her husband's wounding, Fannie Richardson traveled from Michigan with her sister-in-law to the Pry house near Keedysville, Md., to help care for her husband, and President Lincoln himself visited the general there in early October. (Supposedly, Mrs. Pry cooked breakfast for the president, who left an appreciation note signed "A. Lincoln.")

Unfortunately, "Fighting Dick" suffered complications, and he died in the second-floor Pry room on Nov. 3, 1862. Keep in mind the room is really not all original. The inside of the Pry House was gutted by a fire of unknown origin in 1976, and the beautiful brick house was painstakingly restored by the National Park Service.

In the video above, Jake Wynn of the excellent National Museum of Civil War Medicine explains why Mrs. Pry hid candy in the room after the general's death.

SECOND IMAGE ABOVE: Click at upper right for interactive panoramic view from Pry house attic. 
ABOVE: Present-day view of Antietam battlefield from attic trapdoor is obscured by trees.

George McClellan

Last Sunday, I had the rare opportunity to view the Antietam battlefield from the trapdoor in the attic of the Pry house -- perhaps the same view diminutive Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan had.  As the story goes, "Little Mac" is believed to have stood on a barrel for unobstructed views of fighting at Bloody Lane, the West Woods and more. I  haven't read any first-hand account that corroborates that story, so it could just be -- ahem -- a tall tale. The present-day view from atop the Pry House is impressive, although the battlefield is now obscured by trees. The trapdoor attic is inaccessible to the public.

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

Then & Now: Baptist church-turned-hospital in Fredericksburg

A cropped enlargement of  James Gardner's image
 reveals  broken windows. The church
was heavily damaged during the war.
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After an outstanding lunch at Sammy T's -- thanks for the advice, John Cummings -- I went into full Civil War nerd mode on Tuesday in Fredericksburg, Va. Lugging my time-worn copy of William Frassanito's excellent book, Grant And Lee: The Virginia Campaigns, 1864-1865for comparison purposes, I aimed to shoot "Now" versions of sites photographed in the area in May 1864. In a parking lot across the street from the historic Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street, I received sideways glances during attempts to replicate the image James Gardner took of the church on May 20, 1864.

Like many buildings in Fredericksburg, the Baptist church, which suffered severe damage during the Union's artillery bombardment of the town on Dec. 11, 1862, became a Federal hospital as casualties poured into town from the war-ravaged surrounding area. When Gardner shot the image, wounded from battles at Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse and elsewhere probably were being treated there.

Cropped enlargements of Gardner's image show a church peppered with damage inflicted by the Union army. The steeple appears riddled and many of the windows are broken. (Even several years ago, war damage to the steeple remained extensive, according to this terrific post on the National Park Service's Mysteries & Conundrums blog.)

Because of the inadequacies of the "Now" photographer, valuable information was cropped out of Gardner's original image, which you can view here on the Library of Congress web site. The Baptist Church, by the way, remains an active congregation.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

War damage to the steeple and elsewhere may be seen in this cropped enlargement.