Saturday, December 13, 2014

16th Connecticut Private Edward Smith: 'Lost at Sea'

Edward Smith , a 21-year-old private in Company K of the 16th Connecticut, was from Bristol.  This
is an 1892 copy of a war-time image of Smith.  (Photo: Connecticut State Library)

In a Bristol, Conn., cemetery dotted with graves of Civil War soldiers, it's easy to miss the weather-beaten memorial for Edward Smith, a 21-year-old private in Company K of the 16th Connecticut. From Bristol, Smith survived the Battle of Antietam and seven months' confinement in Rebel prisons in Andersonville and elsewhere only to drown when the steamer Massachusetts collided with the propeller barge Black Diamond on the Potomac River on the night of April 23, 1865, nine days after President Lincoln was assassinated. Smith, a mechanic and the son of English immigrants, was one of seven soldiers in the regiment to lose his life in the little-known incident that may have claimed the lives of nearly 90 soldiers, many of whom were recently released or paroled prisoners of war. 

Two days after the accident, the Hartford Daily Courant published a 185-word account of the tragedy in a Page 2 column of short stories that included news from Havana, Cuba. Another Hartford newspaper, The Daily Times, also provided scant coverage, noting on April 26 that “the loss of life, as near as we can ascertain at present, will certainly exceed 50.”  The names of the seven sons of the state who met their demise in the Potomac were not reported in the Courant until April 29. According to the newspaper, the last words of one of the victims, 16th Connecticut drummer George W. Carter, were "write to my dear mother. Boys I must go."

Smith's name is barely discernible on a four-foot family marker in West Cemetery, about 200 yards from a 25-foot brownstone Civil War memorial for Bristol soldiers on which his name is listed as "Lost At Sea." The body of only one 16th Connecticut soldier, Charles Robinson of East Windsor, was recovered after the accident. The 24-year-old private is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Grave No. 8828.

A close-up of  the Smith family memorial in West Cemetery in Bristol, Conn. Edward Smith's death date is incorrectly noted on the family monument as May 2, 1865. He died the night of April 23, 1865.
Smith's body was never recovered after he drowned in the Potomac River. This marker is a cenotaph.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

16th Connecticut reunion ribbons and visit with Joe Newman

Joe Newman, 83, served in the U.S. foreign service in London, Paris and Rome.

Spend 90 minutes with 83-year-old Joe Newman, a gregarious New Jersey native, and this is what you'll probably discover:

He's passionate about baseball. (He officially "retired" from playing in 2008.)

He enjoys telling tales about his family. (Newman wrote a book about growing up in Maplewood, N.J.)

He's a stickler for grammar.

As a private in the 16th Connecticut, Augustus Funck was wounded at
Antietam and survived imprisonment at Andersonville and Florence, S.C.
(Photo: Connecticut State Library archives)
And he loves history, especially Civil War history.

On a raw, rainy day in Connecticut, Newman bounded from room to room in his beautiful, early 19th-century house, showing me his vast collection of books, art and historical treasures, some of which were collected during his days as a U.S. foreign service officer in Paris, London and Rome.

In his office/library, he pointed out first-edition memoirs of Grant and Sherman; a huge history book published in 1611 that he purchased in London; a typewritten letter written to him and signed by LBJ and a magnificent, rare early 20th-century book on the history of baseball.

In the living room, near several other shelves of books, he showed off two metal lanterns and then handed me a small box that included an old tag. The lanterns, the tag noted, were from Old North Church, the one of Paul Revere fame in Boston.

"And here's the piece de resistance, John," he said, gesturing to a large box on a table in another room. Inside it were four original New York newspapers that covered the shelling of Fort Sumter that ignited the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln's assassination.

Of course, I was most captivated by the collection of 16th Connecticut reunion ribbons on a four-foot, brown wooden board mounted high on the wall in his library/office. Newman's ancestor, Private Augustus Funck of the 16th Connecticut, was wounded at Antietam, captured at Plymouth, N.C., on April, 20 1864, and survived nine months in Rebel captivity in Andersonville, Ga., and Florence, S.C. (His brother, Henry, perished in Florence.) As did many of his fellow veterans, Augustus attended post-war gatherings of his comrades, including an excursion to Antietam at which the 16th Connecticut monument was unveiled on Oct. 11, 1894.

An immigrant from Germany, Augustus was a self-made man, taking over his father's undertaking/furniture business after the war and becoming a prosperous businessman. "He worked harder than anybody else in the business for years," the Hartford Daily Courant noted in his obituary in 1911, "and the success of the big enterprise was due to no one else but himself."

After our visit concluded, Newman put on his hat and gloves and headed out into the light rain for a short walk on his 150-acre property. "Come back again, John," he said with a wave and a smile. Makes sense to me, Joe, makes sense to me.

16th Connecticut veteran Augustus Funck's reunion ribbons.
 Augustus Funck attended a gathering of 16th Connecticut veterans at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1889,
 the 27th anniversary of the battle.
16th Connecticut reunion ribbons from 1894 and 1895.
Funck attended 16th Connecticut reunions in 1898, 1899, 1903, 1904 and 1905.

Augustus Funck survived Andersonville, but his brother died in a Rebel prison in Florence, S.C.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

James Tompkins of 5th Alabama: 'Bright and promising boy'

A private in the 5th Alabama, James M. Tompkins was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill.
(Image from blogger's collection)

James M. Tompkins, a 20-year-old private in the 5th Alabama, lay on the field for hours, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood caused by a bullet that had sliced open the femoral artery in his leg. Earlier on the afternoon of June 27, 1862, Tompkins and his regiment had pushed within 50 feet of the Federal lines during the Battle of Gaines' Mill (Va.) before they were beaten back. Finally taken to the rear, the young man died later that night, one of 8,700 Rebel casualties during their crucial, and bloody, victory seven miles northeast of Richmond.

"Lieutenant Ramsey and a private of the Fifth Alabama killed," Brigadier General Robert Rodes wrote in his battle report that night. "All the regiment and regimental officers acted handsomely, but the Fifth and Twenty-sixth [Alabama] were especially distinguished for their courage. No troops ever acted better."

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 joined the Confederate army: John R., a Yale-educated lawyer, politician and newspaper editor, served in the Confederate ordnance department and as adjutant on General G.D. Ramsay's staff; and DeWitt, who was wounded at Gaines' Mill, was a captain in the 14th South Carolina. Military service was embedded in the DNA of the Tompkins family, whose ancestors served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

James Tompkins' body was recovered from the battlefield and buried next to his mother, who had died in 1843, in a family plot in Edgefield.  "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."

Born in South Carolina, James Tompkins died of a leg wound suffered at the Battle of Gaines' Mill.
Reverse of the image of Private James M. Tompkins.
Close-up of period tag on the back of the Tompkins image notes he "fell in the Battle of Gaines Mill before Richmond."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Robert Ferriss' death at Antietam: 'We feel his loss deeply'

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

Perhaps no Union regiment's color guard at the Battle of Antietam suffered more than the 8th Connecticut's. Sergeant George Marsh of Company A was killed by the concussion of a solid shot about dawn and 10 other color bearers were killed or mortally wounded in the thick of a fierce fight near Harpers Ferry Road late on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862. Among them was Robert Bruce Ferriss, a 27-year-old corporal in Company I from New Milford, about 50 miles west of Hartford.

Antietam was an especially bloody battle for the 375-man 8th Connecticut, which suffered 56 killed or mortally wounded, including 16-year-old Private Dwight Carey of Canterbury, who was the youngest soldier from the state to die there, and 54-year-old  Private Peter Mann of Enfield, who was the oldest. "The whistle of iron was terrible," an officer in the regiment later wrote. (Download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths here.)

In late September 1862, it fell to Company I Captain William J. Roberts to inform the Ferris family of the death of their son. In a two-page letter to Ferris' mother, Roberts described in detail the moment Robert was shot, the recovery of his body and where he was buried in a trench on John Otto's farm on the battlefield, a short distance from where Ferriss took a Rebel bullet in the chest. The note is similar to condolence letters other commanding officers sent to the families of 16th Connecticut Private Henry Aldrich and 11th Connecticut privates Daniel Tarbox and Fennimore Weeks, also casualties in the battle.  Antietam was an agonizing experience for Roberts, who despite being violently ill and vomiting throughout the battle remained with his regiment.

For years, the condolence letter to Louisa Ferriss and many letters that Robert wrote home after he enlisted on Sept. 21, 1861, were stuffed in shoe boxes. Handed down to one of Ferris' descendants, they are now kept in two large, protective binders, safe for future generations of the family. Thanks to that descendant's generosity, the letter breaking the news of Robert's death 152 years ago is shared here.


"It was near the close of the battle that he reeled and fell down near me." 

Mrs. Ferriss:

It is with great sorrow that I write to you concerning the death of your son Robert who was almost instantly killed by a musket shot through the breast at the battle of Antietam on the 17th of this month. He fell at his post on the right of his company when he was cheering his comrades and fighting with all his strength. It was near the close of the battle that he reeled and fell down near me, giving me a very forlorn look which he also directed towards Col. [Hiram] Applemen [Appelman], who was also very near him. I asked him if he wished for anything but the blood rushing from his mouth prevented him from speaking & his head sinking upon the ground satisfied me that he was dying. My attention being called to another part of the line I saw no more of him as we were soon ordered away. 

In my first letter home, I could not report him dead as there might have been a possibility of his having only fainted & of his revival. That night & following day the enemy held that field but the day after we drove them back & I hurried to see the fate of our missing comrades & found Corp. Robert Ferris where we left him lying peacefully on his back with a very pleasant smile upon his countenance, as if he had lain down to his long rest with the sweet consciousness that his work was done, and well done. We [illegible] his limbs and composed his body for the grave wrapping a blanket about him. On account of the great numbers of the slain on this portion of the field and the scarcity of implements for burying it was impossible to make separate graves and our comrades were laid side by side decently in a trench with the others killed of our Regt. where their [illegible] will mingle in death as their strength united in life to defend their country and its land. Of Robert at home I knew but little but I know well that he was the same steady, honest man on the day of his death that he was the day he left New Milford for the purpose of fighting the battle of his country.


"We sympathize truly with you in your great affliction..." 

As a company we feel his loss deeply, one of our best and most efficient officers had fallen. He was looked upon among the 1st to take command of important & dangerous posts. Brave, yet prudent, firm and unyielding. Our country has lost a gallant soldier, our state an excellent citizen, his comrades a trusted friend and his parents a noble son.

Ferriss' weathered state-issued marker in Center Cemetery
in New Milford, Conn. His body was returned to

Connecticut for burial. (Richard M. Clarke/Find A Grave)
We sympathize truly with you in your great affliction and would offer words of consolation were it necessary to offer such to those who have given their sons to their country.

The money and valuables which Robert had about his person were taken from his body by the enemy. His knapsack is at Washington and I will have [it] sent home as soon as we receive them.

With respect I remain yours truly

Wm. J. Roberts

P.S. The grave of Robert is marked by a stake on which is nailed a piece of board with his name and rank cut upon it. His body could be taken up if his brother or some one should come after it. The trench in which he is laid is on the South side of a pen containing four large grain stacks upon the battlefield. It is situated on the left side of the road after crossing Antietam Bridge and directly in the rear of and opposite side of the 1st house on the road. This house is now used as a hospital for the wounded.

Corporal Robert Ferris was originally buried in a field on John Otto's farm near the large tree 
in the right background of this early-20th century photograph.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Antietam Q&A: Walking in his great-grandfather's footsteps

Jean and Harry Kendrick recently visited Crystal Spring Farm in Keedysville, Md. Kendrick's
great-grandfather, Dr. James Oliver, treated wounded soldiers on the farm after the Battle of Antietam.
For nearly three months after the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, 26-year-old James Oliver, an assistant surgeon in the 21st Massachusetts, treated scores of seriously wounded soldiers at a tent hospital on Ephraim Geeting's farm in Keedysville, Md. Oliver wrote that he handled an amputation or surgical procedure nearly every day at the Federal hospital, which became known as Crystal Spring, Big Locust and Locust Spring hospital, among other names. 
Post-war image of Dr. James Oliver

On the night after Antietam, Oliver helped transport a load of soldiers with compound leg fractures on a rough country road to the hospital located about a mile from the battlefield. "...I can hear the awful groans of those poor fellows as the ambulance shook them up, over that stony road," he remembered. "One poor fellow begged to be taken out and put beside the road, left there to die." The Harvard-educated doctor also described writing to loved ones of soldiers who died at Crystal Spring during his time there.

"It was one of the saddest duties of my army life," he wrote after the war, "to notify a mother of the death of her boy. I have letters from mothers and sweethearts that would draw tears from a stone, and yet I have heard men talk of war as if it were an afternoon picnic." (At least 15 soldiers from Connecticut died on the farm. Download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths here.)

Oliver also was no stranger to danger during the war. While treating wounded after the Second Battle of Bull Run on Aug. 30, 1862, he was left stranded when his horse was snatched by the Union army. After briefly being taken prisoner, he escaped, narrowly avoiding fire from a Rebel battery in the process.  After the war, Oliver lived briefly in South Carolina, where he farmed cotton, before he returned to Athol, Mass., to resume his medical practice. Known as "Athol's Grand Old Man," he died on Feb. 8, 1918.  

Recently, a descendant of Oliver's visited Crystal Spring Farm for the first time, guided by the couple who owns the property and greatly appreciates its rich Civil War history. (Read my Q&A with them here.) Harry Kendrick, who lives in Vermont, took time out this week to answer questions about his ancestor. He also supplied a copy of the rare 1920 image of Crystal Spring Farm that is posted below.

The original part of the Crystal Spring farmhouse dates to 1790, according to the current owners.

How was your visit to the farm?

KENDRICK:  My wife and I enjoyed our trip to Antietam and the farm. Through your blog, we were able to contact the current owners,  Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski, and they were wonderful hosts. Troy, who is passionate about the Battle of Antietam, gave us a personal tour of the battlefield and highlighted where Dr. Oliver was during the battle. He was also at Battle of South Mountain [on Sept. 14, 1862, three days before Antietam] and also near the Burnside Bridge, providing care for the wounded. Troy brought the battle to life, giving me an appreciation for all the sacrifices that were made that day. I kept thinking about my great-grandfather and what it must have been like for him. He was only 26 and a new graduate of Harvard Medical School.

Troy then took us to Crystal Springs Farm, where Dr. Oliver treated the wounded for about three months. In his journal, he refers to it as the Locust farm and hospital. The spring on the farm was known as the Locust Spring. We were able to see the spring, walk the grounds and also tour the inside of the farmhouse. It was a wonderful experience walking in the footsteps of my great-grandfather. We left that night full of excitement about what we had seen and experienced that day. Dr. Oliver came to life as we walked in his footsteps and we had some sense of what a difficult job he had treating the soldiers.

  Click on image for interactive panorama: Crystal Spring Farm in 1920. (Courtesy Harry Kendrick)

Left half of the interactive panorama. The outbuildings at right no longer exist.
Right half of interactive panorama. The building at right,  also shown in a present-day image below, may have 
been used as a morgue after the Battle of Antietam.

How would you describe your recent visit to Antietam? Had you been there before?

KENDRICK: I never visited the battlefield before and certainly regret that. It is a wonderfully preserved memorial to that bloodiest of all days. It now has a peaceful feel, and one can only envision the carnage that occurred when someone like Troy describes the events to you. My original perception was that a person could stand in one spot and see everything, but I quickly found the opposite is true. What appears to be a relatively flat field has many variations in its topography that creates gullies and other obstacles to the field of vision. The ebb and flow of the battle is amazing to hear about. One can only imagine how frightening it must have been to the young men in battle that day. Clearly it is an area that needs to be visited many times to understand all that occurred. I hope to return again to explore the battlefield and other areas around Antietam.

Are you an avid history buff?

KENDRICK: I enjoy history but do not consider myself to be an avid history buff. In my retirement, I am becoming more interested in family history, and this is what drew me to visit the Crystal Spring Farm. The house I grew up in had a huge portrait of Dr. Oliver in the living room, so he has always had a presence in my life. My father lived with him from the time he was 5 years old until Dr. Oliver’s death in 1918. I would hear many personal stories about Dr. Oliver and knew that he was an important person in my father’s life. My father possessed the journal of Dr. Oliver, and he entrusted it to me many years before he died. I still have it and feel it is part of my heritage and link to both my father and my great-grandfather.

For several years, I have wanted to visit the farm and battlefield. My son and his family live in Woodbridge, Va., so we decided that one of our trips south would be to try and see the farm. Two years ago, we stopped in Frederick, Md., and visited the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. I was hoping to find some information about the Locust Spring Hospital, but there was none. I mentioned this to Troy, and he is trying to change that. Hopefully, some of the material I shared with him will help with that quest.

You mention that Dr. Oliver had a diary. Have you read it all?

Yes, I have read the diary (also known as a journal), and as I mentioned, I have the original copy. Dr. Oliver had a wonderful way with words, and this is reflected in the diary. You get a sense of his values and moral character, with many insights into the everyday life of a Civil War surgeon. It also includes many comments about several generals and even President Lincoln, whom he had the opportunity to observe during the war. He wrote an autobiography, which you have mentioned in your blog and is available online. It includes many direct quotes from the diary.

Harry Kendrick and his wife, Jean, stand  by a spring near the farmhouse.  Kendrick said his
great-grandfather "came to life as we walked in his footsteps" during their recent visit.

Dr. Oliver died in 1918. What did you learn about him growing up?

KENDRICK: He was a major influence on my father and he and his siblings would often mention Dr. Oliver in conversations around the dinner table and most certainly at holidays. My father’s father (my grandfather, Harry Kendrick) died when my father was 5 years old. At that time, he, his mother and his three siblings moved into Dr. Oliver home. Dr. Oliver was loved and revered by all of them. He was a doctor and leader in the community, even serving two terms as state representative in Boston. However, the stories I would hear were about a somewhat stern but loving and kind man.

Every time we had a birthday cake and the candles were blown out, my father would say, "Snuff them. Snuff them." This meant to wet your fingers with spit and squeeze the wick. Every time he would tell me that this was what his grandfather said. Whenever I see someone blow out candles and it keeps smoking, I think of my father and great-grandfather. I have the urge to snuff them out.

My father was a person who always did for others before taking care of himself. I sensed that attitude came from Dr. Oliver. After reading the diary, one realizes that this is why he was a doctor. He loved and cared for people, and he treated everyone with respect. This is repeated many times in the diary, even when he treated Rebel soldiers.

At the end of the second section of the diary, he finished with the following four lines, saying that they represent his life and religion. I would concur.

When I came into this world I was naked and bare,
As I go through this world I have trouble and care.
When I leave this world I go I know not where,
But if I am all right here I shall be all right there.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wounded at Antietam, Franklin Alford crawled from field

Franklin Alford was a private in Company I of the 16th Connecticut.  (Connecticut State Library archives)
Franklin Alford is buried with his wife, Lucy, in Avon (Conn.) Cemetery. I placed a penny on his grave, 
Lincoln side up, during a recent visit. 

Private Franklin Mills Alford of Avon, Conn., among more than 200 casualties in the 16th Connecticut at Antietam,  was more fortunate than many of his wounded comrades in the battle. While privates Henry Adams, Bela Burr, Francis Burr and others in the regiment lay in no-man's in John Otto's cornfield for 40 hours, the 21-year-old Alford, wounded in the right leg, crawled from the field with the aid of comrade after he lay unconscious for a period of time. Two other soldiers from Alford's hometown, Corporal Henry Evans, the father of an  8 1/2-month-old daughter, and Robert Hawley, the father of six children, died as a result of wounds suffered at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. (Download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths here.)

For Franklin, one of eight children of Daniel and Emira Alford, the Civil War was nearly over. He was discharged for disability on Feb. 2, 1863, returning to Avon, a farming community along the Farmington River, 10 miles from Hartford. During the last two years of the war, he made bayonets for the Union army. After the war, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Connecticut militia, served as tax collector in his hometown and was fond of fishing as well as hunting with his dog. He was a frequent attendee at veterans' events and traveled to Antietam in October 1894 for the unveiling of the 16th Connecticut monument there. When Alford died on March 11, 1908, he left behind a wife named Lucy, two married daughters and six grandchildren.

For more stories of soldiers in the hard-luck 16th Connecticut, check out my talk on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. at the Avon (Conn.) Free Public Library. Here's the trailer:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

16th Connecticut private survived Antietam, POW camps

Augustus Funck, who survived Antietam  and Rebel prisons, poses for a photo, probably taken in the early 20th century. (Connecticut State Library archives)
While digging through a large box of Civil War images at the Connecticut State Library archives early this afternoon, I was struck by this cabinet card of a slender and dapper Augustus H. Funck, a former private in the 16th Connecticut. Probably in his 70s when the photo was taken in the early 20th century, the veteran, a thick gray mustache across his thin face, looked confident as he posed in his hometown of Bristol, Conn. Funck was one of the wealthiest men in town, having turned his father's furniture and undertaking business into a fortune -- a fabulous achievement for the "poor German boy" who immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1846.

"He worked harder than anybody else in the business for years," The Hartford Daily Courant noted in 1911, "and the success of the big enterprise was due to no one else but himself."

Funck undoubtedly learned a lot about grit and determination during the Civil War, when he faced more than his share of hardship. A carpenter, he enlisted with his brother Henry in the Union army on July 22, 1862, his 26th birthday. Less than a month later, Funck was wounded in the foot at Antietam, one of more than 200 casualties in his regiment in fighting in a field of head-high corn. Nineteen months later, he and his brother were captured with nearly their entire regiment at Plymouth, N.C., and sent to Rebel prisons. Funck spent four months in Andersonville and five more months in captivity in Florence, S.C., where Henry died, before he was paroled and sent north.

After the war, Funck was married twice (his first wife died in 1883), raised eight children, was active in the local Grand Army of the Republic post and served a stint as the town jailer. In 1910, veterans of Funck's Company K celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary to his second wife by giving the couple a silver bread tray that was inscribed with a reference to his service in the 16th Connecticut.  The undertaking business that he jump-started in the late-19th century remains active to this day in Bristol.

A defender of family honor, Funck legally dropped the "c" from his last name shortly before his death in 1911 to "prevent mischievous corruption of the company name by less-than-savory characters who hung around the railroad depot across the street." The old soldier's grave may be found in Bristol's West Cemetery near the final resting places for many of his 16th Connecticut comrades.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fox Gap panorama: Where Jesse Reno was mortally wounded

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

                                         Reno monument at Fox Gap, South Mountain battlefield. 

On Sept. 14, 1862, 39-year-old Union Major General Jesse Reno, a native Virginian, was mortally wounded by a shot to the chest at Fox Gap during the Battle of South Mountain (Md.). At least one Rebel did not mourn his passing. "The Yankees on their side lost General Reno," General D.H. Hill sarcastically noted in his official report, "a renegade Virginian, who was killed by a happy shot from the Twenty-third North Carolina."

Jesse Reno

Twenty-seven years later, nearly 100 Civil War veterans were among the 1,000 people who gathered for the dedication of a monument near the spot where Reno met his demise. After members of Reno's wartime staff unveiled the 8-foot granite marker and patriotic music was played, former Union General Orlando B. Wilcox delivered a speech that highlighted the general's distinguished service in the army.

But the best event of the day may have been saved for last.

"The farmers and others in the vicinity had an ample dinner spread on the grounds," reported the Herald And Torch Light, a Hagerstown, Md., newspaper, on Sept. 19, 1889, "and all of the visitors were made guests of the citizens."

The monument at Fox Gap to Jesse Reno was dedicated on Sept. 14, 1889.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Antietam: 30th Virginia Private John Wesley Hilldrup

30th Virginia Private John Hilldrup was wounded at the Battle of Antietam.
(Images courtesy Cindy Abbott, a Hilldrup descendant)

A post-war image of John Hilldrup
When the regimental surgeon saw John Wesley Hilldrup's grievous bullet wound in his right side, he decided the 22-year-old private in the 30th Virginia was a lost cause and had him put aside to die. Wounded during an attack near Dunker Church at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, Hilldrup was left in the hands of Union surgeons after the Rebels retreated across the Potomac River two days later. But like this 11th Connecticut soldier who was terribly wounded at Burnside Bridge at Antietam, Hilldrup miraculously survived, was paroled and eventually made his way back home to Spotsylvania County, Va. He later re-joined his regiment.

"The Lord had work for him to do," according to a post-war account, "and that impression bore him up all through his sufferings. ... he did what he could for the spiritual good of the soldiers of his company by holding prayer and other meetings when opportunity offered." A preacher when he joined Company K of the 30th Virginia ("King George Grays"), Hilldrup also survived nearly three more years of the Civil War, surrendering with the rest of Lee's army at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., on April 9, 1865.

After the war, Hilldrup got married, fathered six children and became a prominent Methodist Episcopal preacher known for a strict interpretation of the Bible. "In re-proving sin he was outspoken and pointed," an account noted, "and in some instances, as his best friends thought, a little too personal." When his old war wound plagued him in his later years, "it created homage in the heart," it was noted, "to see him going, often-times in feebleness extreme, from house to house ..."

When Hilldrup died on June 28, 1895, the bullet that wounded him nearly 32 years earlier still remained embedded in his lung. Two days later, he was buried in Scottsville, Va., on what would have been his 55th birthday. (See his gravestone on Find A Grave here.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Antietam: Little-known hospital cemetery in Keedysville, Md.

                            Ephraim Geeting's house and farm were used as a Union hospital after 
                                       the Battle of Antietam. The farm is privately owned today.

In the weeks after the Battle of Antietam, the piazza and rooms of Ephraim Geeting’s farmhouse as well as his outbuildings were filled with wounded soldiers, many of them from Connecticut. Heart-rending scenes played out on the farm-turned-Union army hospital in Keedysville, Md., known as Crystal Springs and Locust Spring, among other names.

A teen-aged soldier from Massachusetts, who suffered from a bullet wound through the pelvis, was nursed by a comrade, who almost constantly remained by his side. When his wound was dressed in a tent one day, the wounded soldier screamed out in agony, bringing the doctor who was treating him to tears. “Oh this wicked cruel war,” cried the physician, whose young patient later died. “Oh, take me to my mother,” another wounded man, a young soldier from Pennsylvania with a chest wound, moaned repeatedly before he “fell asleep and was transported to that home where the weary are forever at rest.”

LEFT: Marker for 8th Connecticut Lieutenant Edwin Main in South Cemetery in Brooklyn, Conn.
RIGHT: Marker for 16th Connecticut Private Francis Burr in Higganum-Burr Cemetery
in Higganum, Conn. The 23-year-old soldier's remains were buried at Antietam National Cemetery.
Both soldiers died at Crystal Springs hospital in Keedysville, Md.

At least seven soldiers from Connecticut who suffered wounds at Antietam died at Crystal Springs hospital in October 1862, including 18-year-old Henry Fanning, a private in the 11th Connecticut from Norwich who succumbed to his wounds 152 years ago today. Private Francis Burr of the 16th Connecticut, who suffered a bullet wound in the groin and had lain with his wounded brother in a cornfield for 40 hours until they were rescued, died there on Oct. 12. Corporal John Bentley of the 8th Connecticut, who vowed to get revenge on the Rebels for the death of his son at the Battle of Seven Pines, died Oct. 17, likely from infection, from a bullet wound in the ankle. Days earlier, according to a comrade, he had "appeared very cheerful."

Gravestone for 8th Connecticut  Corporal John Bentley at
Antietam National Cemetery. He died at Crystal Springs hospital on
Oct. 17, 1862, one month after the battle.
Well into November, Connecticut soldiers were dying at Crystal Springs hospital. Suffering from a severe hip wound, 8th Connecticut Lieutenant Edwin Main was comforted at the hospital by his wife, Mary, who had traveled from Brooklyn, Conn. The 40-year-old officer died there on Nov. 17, exactly two months after he was wounded. Two days earlier, 18-year-old Private Henry Dodge of the 11th Connecticut and 8th Connecticut Corporal Andrew Kimball, who had been wounded in the shoulder, also perished. In all, at least 17 soldiers from Connecticut died on Geeting's farm. (Click here for my downloadable Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths.)

Many of the dead were buried on the farm, probably on a knoll across the road from the farmhouse. In April 1863, the cemetery, which was enclosed by a stone wall, included 63 wooden grave markers, each painted white and marked with a soldier's name, regiment and date of death.  A monument made from a cannon tube from the battle and topped with a cannonball had been placed among the grave markers. A plaque on it read: “Sacred to the memory of Union soldiers who lost their lives in defence of their country at the Battle of Antietam."

"I am sure anyone who visits this spot, sacred to the memory of our brave dead, will feel grateful to those who have shown respect for their remains," reported Reverend J.O. Sloan, a delegate of the U.S. Christian Commission of Maryland. "Ought not our Government to see that every burial place attached to a field hospital is enclosed and properly protected, and the graves marked. The dead deserve this mark of respect."

After the war, the remains in the hospital cemetery were disinterred and re-buried in Sharpsburg in the national cemetery, which was formally dedicated in 1867. No photo or illustration is known to exist of the original resting place of the soldiers who died at Crystal Springs hospital. The site believed to have been used for the cemetery is overgrown with trees and weeds and rarely visited today. (For a Q&A with the current owners of the Geeting farm, click here.)

The Crystal Springs hospital cemetery is believed to have been located across the road from the 
Geeting farmhouse. Nature has taken over the site.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Antietam: Sergeant George Marsh 'returns' to burial site

Cased tintype of George Marsh in front of a family memorial at Old North Cemetery in Hartford.
The word "Antietam" is barely legible on the weathered brownstone monument.
Daguerreotypes of Marsh and his mother, Lamira.
In a letter from New Bern, N.C., on June 29, 1862, Sergeant George Marsh of the 8th Connecticut assured his parents that he was well and told them not to worry if they didn't receive another message from him soon. "... we are having three days rations cooked for a march somewhere," he wrote, "and I don't know when we shall get to a place where we can write from."

The 29-year-old officer also passed along his regrets that he was unable to send his parents a gift. "I meant to have had my daguerreotype taken before I left here but guess I shall not get a chance now," he wrote to Guy and Lamira Marsh. "The saloon is full of customers and it is not every day I get a chance to go to the city and as you have got one picture of me, that would do for I have not grown handsome, I can assure you!"

Less than three months later, Marsh was dead, one of 11 members of the regiment's color guard to die at the Battle of Antietam. Camped on the farm of Henry Rohrbach, he was killed by the concussion of a solid shot fired by the Rebels from across Antietam Creek about dawn on Sept. 17, 1862. In late September, Marsh's brother-in-law, Oliver D. Seymour, traveled to Sharpsburg, Md., and recovered George's remains. En route back to Connecticut, Seymour sent a telegram from Baltimore that George's body would reach Hartford from New York by steamer on Monday morning, Sept. 27. Later that day, a service was held for him at the home of his parents at No. 77 Main Street before the casket containing his remains was taken to nearby Old North Cemetery for burial.

This afternoon, I took a tintype of Marsh from my collection to the cemetery to shoot the photos at the top and bottom of this post. Perhaps Lamira Marsh held the same tintype -- maybe the same photograph that George mentioned to his parents in his letter home -- when her son was laid to rest. For me, it completed the circle on the Marsh story. In late September, I took the tintype of him to Antietam to shoot an image near the site where he was killed more than 152 years ago.

State-issued gravestone for George Marsh in Old North Cemetery in Hartford.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam panorama: Massive Old Simon at national cemetery

                                 Antietam National Cemetery, where Old Simon stands guard.

Musket in hand,  the massive Private Soldier monument has stood watch over the graves of thousands of Civil War soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery since its formal dedication on Sept. 17, 1880, the 28th anniversary of the battle. I make the cemetery my first stop during each Antietam visit, first paying my respects at the Connecticut section and then walking 30 yards or so over to the monument locals dubbed "Old Simon" more than a century ago. 

Created by Hartford-based New England Granite Works, it was carved by a team of stone carvers in Westerly, R.I., and designed by German-born sculptor Carl Conrads, a Civil War veteran and probably the man shown behind the monument in the stereoview below. The entire granite monument is nearly 45 feet tall -- Old Simon himself towers nearly 21 feet -- and weighs 250 tons. 

When Old Simon was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, it caused somewhat of a sensation. One reviewer gushed:

Like the nation he defends, this colossus is in the bloom of youth, and like it he is hard and firm though alert. What art has succeeded in making this monster out of granite. He is twenty-one feet six inches in height. What sempster, working with needles of thrice-hardened steel, has draped him in those folds of adamant, that hang ten feet or farther from his inflexible loins? The sculptors of ancient Egypt, who had their colossi in granite also, worked for years with their
bronze points and their corundum-dust to achieve their enormous figures, while the makers of this titanic image, availing themselves of the appliances of  American skill, have needed but a few months to change the shapeless mass of stone into an idea. Something rocky, rude and large-grained is obvious still in this stalwart American; his head, with its masculine chin and moustache of barbaric proportions, is rather like the Vatican " Dacian" than like the Vatican "Genius." But, whatever may be thought of the artistic delicacy of the model, Mr. Conrads' "Soldier" presents the image of a sentinel not to be trifled with, as he leans with both hands clasped around his gun-barrel, the cape of his overcoat thrown back to free his arm, and the sharp bayonet thrust into its sheath at his belt. Rabelais' hero, Pantagruel, whose opponents were giants in armor of granite, would have recoiled before our colossus of Antietam, because his heart is of granite too

Stereoview of Old Simon in Westerly, R.I., where it was created by a team of stone carvers.
(Robert N. Dennis collection/New York Public Library)
An enlargement of the stereoview above shows the enormity of Old Simon.
A stereoview of the monument at Rhode Island Granite Works in Westerly, R.I., before it was completed.
(Robert N. Dennis collection/New York Public Library)
Old Simon at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
(Robert N. Dennis collection/New York Public Library)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Antietam panoramas: 14th Connecticut/Bloody Lane

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

                           The 14th Connecticut monument appears amid the corn near Bloody Lane.

                                           Monuments peek through the fog near Bloody Lane.

In September 1891, veterans of the 14th Connecticut could barely contain their excitement when they visited Antietam, where 29 years earlier they had fought in their first battle of the Civil War. The old soldiers toured William Roulette's farmhouse as well as the farmer's springhouse and barn, where hundreds of wounded were treated; searched for battlefield relics, sang songs and ventured to nearby Bloody Lane to contemplate what they did and to remember those who didn't survive Sept. 17, 1862. 

"The magic word Antietam," a veteran wrote, "more magical than any other name to most of our original men, has been holding sway over the minds of the boys and they are astir early and up at the Roulette house, scanning eagerly every point and place of interest they can recognize." 

Antietam remains a special place today, especially when the fog hangs low over the fields on a late September morning as it did when I shot these images near Bloody Lane. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Antietam photos/panoramas: Joseph Poffenberger farm

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

The Union First Corps bivouacked on Joseph Poffenberger's farm the night before the Battle of Antietam.
The Poffenberger farmhouse in late September. The addition on the rear of the house is post-war.

Thousands of Union soldiers slept uneasily in the fields on Joseph Poffenberger's farm on Sept. 16, 1862, the night before the Battle of Antietam. At dawn the next day, as fog lingered over what soon would be the most contested place in North America, the First Corps marched from Poffenberger's property and the nearby North Woods and into battle in the 32-acre cornfield of David R. Miller. As they emerged from the strip of woods, they were blasted by Rebel batteries across the Hagerstown Pike, on Nicodemus Heights.

Wrote Captain J. Albert Monroe of  Battery D of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery:

It was the early gray light that appeared just before the sun rises above the horizon, and we could little more than distinguish each other. We had not half finished our meal, but it had grown considerably lighter, and we could see the first rays of the sun lighting up the distant hilltops, when there was a sudden flash, and the air around us appeared to be alive with shot and shell from the enemy's artillery. The opposite hill seemed suddenly to have become an active volcano, belching forth flame, smoke and scoriae.

The first shot apparently passed directly through our little breakfast party, not more than a foot or two above the blanket, and it struck the ground only a few feet from us. Every one dropped whatever he had in his hands, and looked around the group to see whose head was missing.

Some of the wounded in Miller's field, soon to be known as The Bloody Cornfield, made their way back to Poffenberger's farm, where a makeshift hospital was set up in the barn. (First Corps commander Joseph Hooker had used it as headquarters.) After the battle, the farmer's property was a disaster. Soldiers used fences for firewood, took hay to feed horses and cattle and plundered the farm for food.

"I returned to my house," Poffenberger said. "It was completely empty. I had nothing left. I lived on army crackers that I found on the battlefield for five days."

In late September, I had the farm to myself to shoot these images, set against a deep-blue sky. (Click here for all my interactive Antietam panoramas.)


Walker. Keven M., A Guide To The Battlefield Landscape: Antietam Farmsteads, Western Maryland Interpretive Association, 2010

 Seven buildings from Poffenberger's farm in 1862 remain, including the washhouse near the fence.   

        On the night before the battle, First Corps commander Joseph Hooker slept in the barn in the              right background, behind the corn crib/granary. The general was wounded in the right foot
                                                   the next day and knocked out of battle. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Antietam: General Joseph Mansfield death documents

Image of Major General Joseph Mansfield shot in Mathew Brady's studio in Washington.
(Middlesex County Historical Society collection)

After the Civil War, the death of Joseph King Fenno Mansfield at Antietam was hotly debated among veterans who fought in the battle. While who shot JKFM never rose to the level of controversy as, say, who shot JFK, it did provide lively fodder for old soldiers who pondered exactly where and by whom the 58-year-old general from Middletown, Conn., was mortally wounded.

Initially at least, Mansfield believed he was shot by his own troops. The general was astride his horse near the East Woods, barking out commands to raw troops in the XII Corps about 7 in the morning on Sept. 17, 1862 as "bullets and missiles were flying like hail." Moments after his horse was shot in the right leg, Mansfield himself was struck in the right breast by a bullet.

Replanted East Woods, near where Mansfield was shot, about 7 in the morning  in  late  September.

"Passing still in front of our line and nearer to the enemy, he attempted to ride over the rail fence which separated a lane from the ploughed land where most of our regiment were posted," wrote Lieutenant John Gould, an adjutant in the 10th Maine, on Dec. 2, 1862. "The horse would not jump it, and the General dismounting led him over. He passed to the rear of the Regimental line, when a gust of wind blew aside his coat, and I discovered that his whole front was covered with blood."

10th  Maine Lieutenant John Gould
(Photo courtesy Nicholas Picerno)

"I ran to him and asked if he was hurt badly," Gould continued. "He said  'Yes' -- 'I shall not live' -- 'I am shot' 'by one of our own men' "

Mansfield was carried about a quarter-mile to the rear by soldiers who used their muskets to form a stretcher and then taken by ambulance another quarter-mile or so to the George Line farm, where he died the next day. (Here's a copy on my blog of the original letter from the doctor who treated Mansfield to the officer's wife, Louisa. And here's Gould's detailed post-war account of the general's wounding near the East Woods, which may be viewed here in interactive panoramas on my blog. Also, here's my download Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths)

We'll leave the debate of the circumstances of the death of Mansfield to the experts. In the meantime, I wanted to share documents that I found Wednesday morning at the Middlesex County Historical Society -- it's in Mansfield's former home on Main Street in Middletown -- regarding the general's death. It was a little eerie perusing the rich amount of material on his demise in the very house where he lived more than 152 years ago.

Samuel Mansfield, the general's son, sent this telegram from Washington at 8:35 the night after the battle to Benjamin Douglas, a family friend in Middletown. "Gen'l Mansfield is dead," it read. "He fell mortally wounded in the charge of yesterday. His body will be sent to Baltimore to be embalmed." A recent West Point graduate, Samuel was a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineers ...

... a day later, Captain Clarence Dyer, Mansfield's aide, sent this telegram from Frederick, Md., to the general's wife. Dyer was en route to Baltimore, where Mansfield's remains were to be embalmed. ...

...  after Mansfield's remains arrived by train in Baltimore about 8 p.m. on Sept. 19, the body was escorted by hearse about a mile or so from the depot to the embalmer. Mansfield's body, however, was too decomposed to be embalmed so his son purchased a metallic coffin for $70 from John Weaver's establishment at No. 22 West Fayette Street. (Here's the address today, changed greatly since 1862.) At least one man from Connecticut who had experience transporting bodies of soldiers back from battlefields was not a fan of metallic coffins, which were much more expensive than wooden ones. ...

Calling card from Mrs. George McClellan, who attended Mansfield's funeral in Middletown, Conn.
(Middlesex County Historical Society collection)

... Mansfield's funeral was held to great fanfare in Middletown six days after Antietam. A choir sang "Unveil Thy Bosom Faithful Tomb" before the pastor at North Church on Main Street delivered a sermon in which he paid "a justly merited tribute to the christian virtues of the departed." The Mansfield Guard, a local militia group, fired three volleys over the general's grave after he was lowered into it at a cemetery nearby.

"Yesterday was a day of sorrow, not only Middletown [where the funeral took place], but for the whole State,''  the Hartford Courant reported on Sept. 24, 1862."One of Connecticut's bravest heroes was consigned to the grave.'' Among the mourners were the governor and Mary Ellen McClellan, the wife of the commander of the Army of the Potomac.

... perhaps to satisfy army bureaucracy (now there's a shock), Dyer certified "on honor" in late spring 1863 that the general's horse also was killed at Antietam. The animal, whose name apparently is lost to history, was purchased for Mansfield in Perryville, Pa., in the winter of 1862. "The horse was a strawberry roan," Dyer wrote from a camp near Vicksburg, Miss., "between 15-16 hands high, six years old, dark main and tail." Dyer left the figure blank for the purchase price of the animal, but noted in another letter that it was either $105 or $115. 


Hartford Courant, Sept. 24, 1862.