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 and 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.

Then & Now: Bloody Lane at Antietam

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Alone Monday morning on the William Roulette Farm at Antietam, I marveled at the deep-blue sky and rich, green fields and tried to imagine again how this place became, as one long-ago soldier noted, a landscape turned red. I slowly re-traced the route Union soldiers took through Roulette's field toward a sunken road, where Rebels from North Carolina and Alabama awaited on a September morning in 1862. A Confederate commander in that lane, Colonel John Gordon, was awed by the spectacle, writing decades later:
Their gleaming bayonets flashed like burnished silver in the sunlight. With the precision of step and perfect alignment of a holiday parade, this magnificent array moved to the charge, every step keeping time to the tap of the deep-sounding drum. As we stood looking upon that brilliant pageant, I thought, if I did not say, "What a pity to spoil with bullets such a scene of martial beauty!"
It all turned quite ugly, of course. Yankees were mowed down by the score before they finally forced Confederates from the lane with fearful effect. Augustin Biggs, a Sharpsburg doctor, described the gruesome scene in a letter to his uncle days after the battle:
It was in this road the rebels had concealed themselves behind the banks and adjacent cornfield. It was at this place the slaughter on both sides was the heaviest. It was here that the Federals made a charge on the rebels and drove them back with terrible loss. In this road they laid in piles three and four deep. In the cornfield almost every step for several hundred yards around, dead rebels could be seen. The sight was awful.
Two days after the battle, on Sept. 19, 1862, Alexander Gardner famously made shocking images of the piles of corpses in Bloody Lane. To shoot the "Now" image above, I stood in about the same spot Gardner set up his cumbersome camera more than 153 years ago. Bordered by snake-rail fences and guarded by the beautiful 132nd Pennsylvania monument, the lane almost looked as pristine as a well-manicured lawn.

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

Union soldiers' view as they marched toward Bloody Lane, which is just beyond the fence rails.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Then & Now: Union burial crew on Miller Farm at Antietam

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Once the Battle of Antietam was over on Sept. 17, 1862, the Union army faced the enormous task of burying the dead. Understandably, they focused mostly on their own dead before turning to those of the enemy, which crossed the Potomac River into Virginia on the night of September 18.

The task was onerous.

"The Rebs pretended to bury their dead," 124th Pennsylvania Sergeant Charles Broomhall  noted in his diary on September 19, "but they buried so some said 500. There were a great many left unburied and where they were exposed to the sun they were as black as darkies."

A bucket on the unusual 90th Pennsylvania monument on
Cornfield Avenue at Antietam. The monument is a
replacement for the original that was dismantled
 in 1930.  Read more about the monument here.
Wrote George Noyes, a member of Union General Abner Doubleday's staff:
Can it be that these are the bodies of our late antagonists? Their faces are so absolutely black that I said to myself at first, this must have been a negro regiment. Their eyes are protruding from the sockets; their heads, hands, and limbs are swollen to twice their natural size. Ah! there is little left to awaken our sympathy, for all those vestiges of our common humanity which touch the sympathetic chord are now quite blotted out.
To produce the image above, Alexander Gardner persuaded a five-man Union burial crew to halt interring Rebel dead on David R. Miller's farm for perhaps as long as 15-20 minutes, certainly no small task given the bodies had lain on the field for two days. Some burial crews resorted to drinking copious amounts of alcohol because the smell of the bodies was so terrible. This Gardner image, of course, was first expertly dissected by William Frassanito in his ground-breaking 1978 book, Antietam: The  Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day.

I've passed the Gardner photo site just off Cornfield Avenue scores of times over the years, rarely stopping long enough to ponder it. On a Then & Now photography mission during my Civil War Power Tour this week, I aimed to duplicate Gardner's 1862 image with a tool Alexander would have loved: my iPhone 6. At the far right rock outcropping, approximately where the burial crew member stood in 1862, I also examined the unusual 90th Pennsylvania monument, a re-creation of the original stack of muskets that was dismantled in 1930. Three simple words on the monument bucket aptly describe the fighting on the Miller Farm:

A Hot Place.

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


124th Pennsylvania Sergeant Charles Broomhall diary, Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web, accessed April 30, 2016.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Then & Now: Iconic shot of kids, soldiers at Sudley Springs Ford

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In an iconic Civil War photograph, seven Yankee cavalrymen astride horses and two boys in Confederate attire face off across Sudley Springs Ford while two young girls sit nearby on the banks of Catharpin Run. You've probably seen the image by Connecticut-born photographer George Barnard scores of times.

Last Saturday, I joined nearly 60 other Civil War nerds, aficianados, fanatics for a more than eight-hour tour of the First Bull Run field led by the National Park Service's John Hennessy, who literally wrote the book on the battle. Ignoring a steady downpour, we gathered on the Catharpin Run bank near the spot where Barnard shot the image in March 1862. Eight months earlier,  more than 13,000 Union soldiers had used the ford en route to attack the Confederates' left flank at First Bull Run.

As my "Now" image clearly shows, the landscape is much more wooded than it was in 1862. But cool remnants from more than 154 years ago are readily apparent. To the left of the soldiers in the photo, check out the stone structure, the remains of which can still be seen in the present-day image. I love that stuff.

Of course, what makes this photo most compelling is the children. In this post on the "Fredericksburg Remembered" blog, Hennessy explained why he believes the youngsters in the image almost certainly are the children of John Thornberry, whose humble dwelling near the ford was used as Federal field hospital at First Bull Run. The two boys in Barnard's photo above also appear in his image of the Thornberry house, which still stands today. (A private in the 49th Virginia, Thornberry was wounded at Bull Run and knocked out of the war.)

According to a 1936 account by one of Thornberry's daughters, 10 wounded soldiers bled to death in her mother's bedroom of that house. Second Rhode Island Major Sullivan Ballou of Ken Burns' Civil War TV series fame died from his First Bull Run wound on Thornberry's property.

"Carpets and all furniture were out and gone," recalled Laura Thornberry, probably the girl at left in the image above. "We never saw any of it again, or anything else.  The old farm well in the back yard was almost full of everything that would go in it. ... Of course everything was broken.  How we all cried over it; and no prospects of replacing any of it."

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here. Click on all images below to enlarge.

A cropped enlargement of the original image shows the youngsters in more detail.
The remains of the structure at left may be seen today.
George Barnard's March 1862 image of the Thornberry house near Sudley Ford.
(Library of Congress collection)
A cropped enlargement of the Thornberry house photo shows the boys in more detail.
The Thornberry house today.  From 1871-1903, the building served as the Sudley, Va., post office.
(For more on the history of the building, go here.)

Numbers on granite blocks: Union unknowns in Fredericksburg

In Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery, the remains of 17 Union soldiers, all unknown, 
are buried under these markers. The second number on each marker denotes bodies in each grave.
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In life, Harvey Tucker was a farmer and blacksmith from northeastern Michigan. He had gray eyes, dark hair, a swarthy complexion and stood 5-7. Married in 1852, Tucker and his wife Lovina had four children 7 or younger by 1860.

On Sept. 10, 1862, Tucker enlisted in the Union army as a private in the 6th Michigan Cavalry, eventually rising through the ranks to corporal and then sergeant in February 1864. Surely aware by the spring of 1864 of the danger he faced as the opposing armies slugged it out near Fredericksburg, Va., Tucker was wounded through the hip during the brutal Battle of the Wilderness on May 6. Two weeks later, on his 12th wedding anniversary, he died of his wounds in an army hospital in Fredericksburg.

He was 37.

After his death, Tucker's body was placed in a coffin and buried in a soldiers' graveyard on Winchester Street. His name and rank were carved into a crude, wooden headboard. As he was laid to rest, the regimental chaplain noted, soldiers and a detachment of grave diggers uncovered their heads and stood in silence.

A post-war view of Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
The wooden markers were eventually replaced by stone markers.
(Courtesy Central Virginia Battlefields Trust)
In a massive Federal effort shortly after the war, remains of Union soldiers in the ravaged region were gathered and buried in a national cemetery completed in 1869 on Marye's Heights, a Rebel stronghold during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The remains of Tucker and 327 other Union soldiers buried in the graveyard on Winchester Street were among them.  The wooden headboard that once marked the Michigan sergeant's grave there likely had deteriorated or perhaps was used by fuel by local citizens. Without an ID disc or any other means to identify him, Tucker joined a long list of unknowns.

In the terraced national cemetery, graves of identified soldiers such as 6th New Hampshire Lieutenant colonel Henry Pearson are marked by rounded granite headstones. Graves of unknown soldiers are marked by small, square granite stones. The top number identifies the plot; the bottom number denotes the number of soldiers buried in the plot.

In death, Harvey Tucker became only a number.

Before the heavens opened up Wednesday morning, I shot photographs of  markers of  the unknowns. There was no shortage of subject matter. Of the 15,243 Union soldiers buried in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 12,770 are unknown.

Thousands of Harvey Tuckers. 

Four soldiers' remains are buried in Plot No. 1690

Six are buried in Plot No. 3626.

Seven are buried in Plot No. 1687.

Eight are buried under Plot No. 3900.

In the immediate area of Pearson's grave, nearly all the soldiers are unknown.

Walk the grounds of the cemetery someday. It will open your eyes.


U.S. Census

Harvey Tucker's widow's pension file via National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C.

Harrison, Noel G., Military Images Magazine, "Victims and Survivors: New Perspectives on Fredericksburg's May 1864 Photographs," November-December 1998

Remains of 43 unknown Union soldiers are buried under these 12 markers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

From Antietam to The Wilderness, a memorable Power Tour

A backdrop of a field of buttercups at Ellwood Manor, where Stonewall Jackson's arm is buried.
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And so my week-long Civil War Power Tour has ended. The final tally shows three states visited, six battlefields toured, nearly 45 miles hiked and more than 1,000 road miles logged. The special moments? Ah, those were numerous.

I was moved by the deep-purple violets in front of the graves of Connecticut soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery and the seemingly endless fields of buttercups at Ellwood Manor, the final resting place of Stonewall Jackson's amputated left arm. I stuck my head through the attic hatch at the Philip Pry House to see what Union commanders may have seen while fighting raged in the West Woods at Antietam, and listened to the crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel as I walked behind the infamous stone wall at Fredericksburg.

While trudging just after dawn through The Wilderness forest near Saunders Field, where fighting raged in early May 1864, I had the eerie feeling that I wasn't alone. I don't believe in ghosts, but there is something deeply spiritual about that place. I huffed and puffed my way to the Maryland Heights overlook for a spectacular view of  Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and felt like I was on top of the world. Do yourself a favor and make that trip.

Violets in front of the grave of a Connecticut soldier at Antietam National Cemetery.
The fabulous view of Harpers Ferry, W.Va.. from Maryland Heights.
In the woods near Sudley Church at Manassas, a group of nearly 60 of us Civil War fanatics stared at unusual depressions in the ground. Those likely were once the temporary graves of Union soldiers, said tour leader John Hennessy of the National Park Service. One of John's favorite places, it was a poignant scene in a trip full of them. I want to go back there.

But this trip was especially about people. In a hotel in Hagerstown, Md., a tall, slender man and I laughed about the names Southerners and Northerners call a certain battle in western Maryland. Is it "Sharpsburg" or really "Antietam"? Don't laugh: More than 150 years later it's still debated. For our First Battle of Bull Run tour, a gentleman told me he left Connecticut at 3 in the morning to get there by 9 a.m. And when the seven-hour tour was over, he headed right back home. That's crazy... in a cool sort of way.

A landscaper named Joe and I trekked through the woods and a clearing to see where Jackson's arm had been amputated in 1863. Peaceful today, that scene near Wilderness Tavern was awful more than 150 years ago, when thousands of wounded Rebels were treated there after Chancellorsville. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it.

Leaves mask depressions that likely were once graves for Union soldiers in the woods at Manassas.
The Wilderness, near where Confederate General Leroy Stafford was mortally wounded.
I drank beer and swapped war stories (literally) in Fredericksburg with Civil War photo expert John Cummings and his friend, James. Afterward, John pointed out the location just blocks away of a graveyard in 1864 for Union soldiers, many of whom were victims of the brutal fighting throughout that war-torn area. Long gone, the burial site today is partially in  the back yard of a house painted blue. There's a child's play set there now..

Unfortunately, I didn't get to speak with the man who sat in the grass at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Deep in thought, he had just completed shooting close-ups of a grave of a Union soldier. More than 15,000 Union soldiers, most of them unknown, are buried in the terraced cemetery on Marye's Heights, which once was dotted with Rebel artillery.

Do yourself another favor: Visit there, too.

And most of all this trip was about Henry Pearson. Mortally wounded at the Battle of North Anna River in 1864, the lieutenant colonel in the 6th New Hampshire was only 24 years old, just three years younger than our oldest daughter. I had goosebumps as I walked the pathway in the national cemetery in Fredericksburg to place a tintype of him next to his grave there. Let's not forget young Henry and thousands of others like him.

Henry Pearson "returned" to his gravesite at Fredericksburg (Va.) Natioonal Cemetery.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

6th New Hampshire officer Henry Pearson 'returns' to his grave

On a muggy spring morning, I returmed to Henry Pearson's grave with a war-time tintype of him.
 Henry Pearson is buried under Grave No. 4103 at Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery.
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Sometime during the Civil War, maybe shortly after he enlisted in the Union army, Henry Pearson posed in a studio for a tintype photograph. Grasping a long sword, the boyish-looking soldier with neatly combed hair stood proudly in his officer's uniform,

Perhaps the image was meant as a keepsake for his parents, a girlfriend or other loved ones. Somehow the photograph left the family, passing from Civil War collector to who-knows-where to auction house to another collector ... until it ended up with me. I bought it for a small price on eBay several weeks ago not with the intention of storing it in a shoe box in a musty closet but to find out more about Pearson.

 Sadly, Henry did not survive the war. A lieutenant colonel in the 6th New Hampshire, the 24-year-old officer was mortally wounded at North Anna River in Virginia on May 26, 1864. Pearson's body was placed by comrades in a large, wooden box found at a nearby abandoned residence and hastily buried, the soldier's gravesite marked with his name on a piece of a bread box. Then "... we left him alone," another officer noted, "in his glory."

After the war, Pearson's remains were recovered and reburied in the national cemetery in Fredericksburg, Va. -- one of more than 15,000 Union soldiers buried in the beautiful grounds on Marye's Heights. This morning, the image of Henry returned for a visit to Pearson's final resting place, a small way to honor a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Pearson, 24, was mortally wounded at North Anna River on May 26, 1864.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Antietam gallery: An artful look at the battlefield

Armed with an iPhone 6 and blessed with a beautiful day, I shot these images today at Antietam. Click here and here for more of my Antietam galleries.
William Roulette farmhouse through a knothole in nearby barn.
124th Pennsylvania monument.
A flag on a fence rail at Bloody Lane.
William McKinley monument near Burnside Bridge.
Close-up of mouth of a cannon.
Plaque on the 5th Maryland monument near Bloody Lane.
The observation tower on Bloody Lane appears in the distance in an opening in the Roulette barn.
Confederate artillery position near Harpers Ferry Road.
130th Pennsylvania  monument near the lip of Bloody Lane.
Light streams into the William Roulette barn.
Farmer William Roulette emerged through his basement door during the battle to implore
Union soldiers to "drive" the Rebels.
Cannon, a deep-blue sky and a field of green.
Violets in front of the grave of a Connecticut soldier at Antietam National Cemetery.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

John Brown's birthplace before it was destroyed by fire

Visitors pose at John Brown's birthplace in these circa-1900 photographs.
(Courtesy Torrington Historical Society)
(Courtesy Torrington Historical Society)
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Before a chimney fire destroyed fiery abolitionist leader John Brown's birthplace in 1918, the house near Torrington, Conn., was quite the tourist attraction. Visitors often posed for photos in front of the late-18th century dwelling, and postcards of the 2 1/2-story building were sold throughout the country. As you can see in the video below that I shot last week, the site is a little less popular today --  I was the only soul on the property in the forest clearing just off John Brown Road. Only foundation stones remain for the house and a small outbuilding nearby; in the middle of the foundation outline, you'll find a large block of granite with Brown's birthdate -- May 9, 1800 -- carved in the center. The 40-acre site is owned today by the Torrington (Conn.) Historical Society, which has added an interpretive marker for a trail that winds through the woods behind Brown's birthplace.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

'Best and bravest': Private Erastus Kinsel's ordeal at Antietam

East Woods at Antietam at sunrise: Private Erastus Kinsel may have been wounded near here.
Another view of the replanted East Woods,  where Erastus Kinsel may have been wounded.
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On Sept. 22, 1901, citizens throughout Blair County traveled to a cemetery in rural Antis Township, Pa., for the dedication of a war memorial to honor soldiers who were buried there. After a prayer, the monument was unveiled and patriotic speeches were delivered -- including one by a 125th Pennsylvania veteran, who noted the death by assassin's bullets eight days earlier of President William McKinley, a Civil War veteran himself.

Josiah Hicks: The former Congressman
spoke of  Erastus Kinsel's death
at the unveiling of a memorial in 1901.
Former U.S. congressman Josiah D. Hicks, who served as a private in the regiment, also "carried his hearers into some of the dreadful scenes of that struggle," the local newspaper reported the next day in reference to the Great Rebellion. Another speaker called the cemetery, where 40 soldiers from Antis Township from all American wars lie buried, "sacred ground."

After a list of local men who had fallen in battle was read, a reverend spoke of "the courage and discipline of a soldier -- of his intelligence" and the need to be "worthy successors and worthy descendants of the heroes who preserved for us this country." A man from nearby Bellwood sang a solo version of  Mr. Volunteer, and the crowd later burst out in unison with a rendition of  America.

The nearly 10-foot memorial made of American marble was the brainchild of a local dentist, John M. Kinsel, who not only paid for it with $150 out of his own pocket but designed it, too. The account in the Altoona (Pa.) Tribune made no mention of any speech given that early fall day by Dr. Kinsel, who, as a 17-year-old 39 years earlier, had enlisted in the 125th Pennsylvania. The veteran may have left all the reminiscing to Hicks, who made special mention during his speech of the Civil War sacrifice of another soldier in the 125th Pennsylvania: Erastus Kinsel, John's father.

Even after the passage of more than four decades, a deep family wound may have been too fresh for the 56-year-old dentist.

On Sept. 17, 1862, John and Erastus fought side-by-side in Company A at Antietam, the 125th Pennsylvania's first battle of the war. The elder Kinsel, 40, suffered numerous bullet wounds -- he was one of more than 200 casualties in the 125th Pennsylvania that awful day -- and lay between the lines in no-man's land until he was carried from the field the next morning by comrades.

Erastus and Christinia Kinsel had six children, according to the 1860 U.S. census. (
John and Erastus Kinsel enlisted in the Union army in early August 1862, a little more than a month after President Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers. John was the second-eldest child of Christinia and Erastus Kinsel, a day laborer whose personal estate was valued at a modest $150, according to the 1860 census. The Kinsels had five other children, according to the census-taker: Susan, 16; George, 12; Thomas, 10, James, 8; and Rebecca, 6.

One can only imagine Christinia's anxiety when her eldest son and the husband with whom she had been married for more than 19 years left for Camp Curtin in Harrisburg. There they would briefly be trained in how to fire a weapon, how to march and other finer points of army life before they were sent to serve in the defenses of Washington and then on to join the Army of the Potomac. Because the 125th Pennsylvania was a nine-month regiment, perhaps Christinia held out hope that John and Erastus soon would return.

But the war's outcome was anything but certain that summer.

In June and early July 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia under its new commander, Robert E. Lee, had beaten back the Union army's attempt to take Richmond. In August, Lee's army was preparing to take the war north. In response to the Rebel army's crossing of the Potomac River into Maryland in early September 1862, the 125th Pennsylvania marched from Washington to Frederick, Md.., and on to Sharpsburg. Early on the morning of September 17, the Pennsylvania boys were sent into action.

The 125th Pennsylvania fought in the East Woods (4), through the infamous Bloody Cornfield at left
 and into the West Woods before it was forced to retreat. The Smoketown Road (1) is at right.
(The Maryland Campaign and The Battle of Antietam, Miles Clayton Huyette, 1915)
West Woods: 125th Pennsylvania suffered most of its casualties here.
Exactly where and when Kinsel was severely wounded at Antietam is unknown. He may have been shot in the East Woods, where the regiment was heavily engaged. Or more likely it was near the Dunker Church, where the 125th Pennsylvania entered the West Woods before it was smashed by a vicious Rebel counterattack. "On looking around and finding no support in sight," the regiment's colonel wrote of the fighting there, "I was compelled to retire. Had I remained in my position two minutes longer I would have lost my whole command."

In any case, Erastus suffered his first wounds "in the hottest of the fight" when two bullets struck him at nearly the same time -- one in the hip that caused a wound  "at least one inch and half in depth and five inches in length," according to Dr. Andrew P. Calderwood, the family physician, who first examined Kinsel a little more than a month after his wounding. Another bullet crashed into Erastus' right leg, just below the knee, and smashed into his left leg.

Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin gave Kinsel
an "open  furlough" to return home to recover 

from his Antietam wounds.
(Library of Congress)
"At this juncture he fell," Calderwood noted. "Our lines fell back. He loaded his gun for the purpose of shooting a rebel that he observed close by picking off our men. He had turned his face to the advancing Rebels, and while resting upon his elbow and in the act of putting on a cap, [another] ball struck him immediately ... at the left collar bone, passed down underneath the shoulder blade, crossed the vertebrae and was cut out at upper portion of hip bone." A bullet wound through Kinsel's right calf caused the inflammation of nearly his entire leg, the doctor wrote, and nearly caused his death.

Erastus was initially taken to a makeshift field hospital, where his wounds were dressed, before he was transferred to Franklin Hall hospital in Chambersburg, Pa., about 40 miles north. Two weeks after Antietam, he was overcome by bacterial infection in the wound in his right leg, leaving him "completely prostrated." Word of his condition reached Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, who had known Erastus since he was a boy. The governor gave Kinsel an "open furlough" on October 17, one month after Antietam, allowing him to recover at his home in Blair Furnace, Pa., near Altoona.

Transported on a stretcher, Kinsel was "extremely low" when he arrived home, noted Calderwood, who added:
We were compelled to give him the strongest stimulants & tonics for several weeks after his arrival. Owing to his great loss of blood, the severe attack of Erysipelas and great extent of granulating surfaces his aneameia [sic] was extreme. Notwithstanding he was secured every attention, good diet, best tonics and the attendance of a faithful, self-sacrificing companion and my careful attention, the improvement was very slow.
By March 1863, Erastus still suffered from his many wounds. He needed a crutch and/or cane to move about. Pieces of bone worked their way out of his injured left leg. Despite his plight, Kinsel was preparing to visit Gov. Curtin in Harrisburg, but "no one considered him able for the journey," Calderwood noted. An examination by another doctor in late March revealed new health problems -- Kinsel had developed a severe fever, "which developed itself in smallpox" three days later.

"He was quite debilitated," the physician noted, "from the wounds he had received at the battle of Antietam, one of which (in the hip) was still painful." On April 5, 1863, nearly seven months after he was wounded, Kinsel died at his home.

Pension file document signed July 31, 1863, by Kinsel's commanding officer, Francis Bell, who 
noted the private  received a furlough to go home to recover from his Antietam wounds. 
(National Archives via
Christinia Kinsel was not entitled to a widow's pension, according to a government bureaucrat.
A special act passed by
Congress in the winter of 1868 approved
a pension for Rebecca Kinsel, Erastus'
youngest daughter. (
In July 1863, Christinia began the slow process of obtaining a widow's pension from the government. The two local doctors who had examined Kinsel before he died strongly supported her claim:

"I firmly believe he would have recovered had it not been for greatly impaired state of the system from loss of blood and exposure on the field," one of them noted.

"I stated in my previous letter, and I will repeat the same again that it was the impoverished or anemic condition of the blood that rendered him an easy victim to small pox," Calderwood said. "These are the facts. Any number of witnesses can be added if required. I have no interest in this matter except that of humanity and to aid in having justice done. My dear sir allow me to assure you that you could not have a more deserving a case."

But the claim initially was rejected. Erastus had died of "small pox, a disease not contracted in the line of duty," a government bureaucrat wrote, "[and]  the widow is not entitled to a pension according to the strict rendition of the law.".

The case dragged on.

In late winter 1868, the plight of the Kinsels came to the attention of Congress, which passed a special act on February 21 finally approving Christinia's claim. Her youngest child, 14-year-old Rebecca, was also approved to receive $8-a-month assistance from the government.

A little more than two weeks later, on March 10, 1868, Christinia Kinsel died. She was buried in Antis Cemetery near her husband -- one of the "best and bravest of men" -- who had been severely wounded at Antietam more than five years earlier. **

(Do you have a photo of Eratus, John or Christinia Kinsel? E-mail me here.)

Erastus Kinsel's marker in Antis Cemetery, near Altoona, Pa. (Find A Grave)
* Some accounts note Kinsel died on April 7, 1863.
** "best and bravest of men" reference from Dr. Andrew Calderwood affidavit on March 29, 1864, in Kinsel widow's pension file.


--1860 U.S. Federal census

Erastus Kinsel pension file documents (National Archives via
-- 125th Pennsylvania Captain Francis M. Bell affidavit, July 31, 1863
-- Dr. Andrew P. Calderwood affidavit, March 29, 1864
-- Unknown doctor's affidavit, possibly J.M. Mcbey, April 2, 1864
-- Dr. Andrew P. Calderwood affidavit, Unknown date in 1867

--Altoona (Pa.) Journal, Sept. 23, 1901