Monday, August 29, 2016

Antietam soldier: 'God's mercy ... saved me from instant death'

Lieutenant Francis Mobley of the 50th Georgia.
 (Courtesy Berrien County Historical Photos Collection)
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Fifty-one soldiers in his regiment were killed at the Battle of South Mountain, but 50th Georgia Lieutenant Francis Lawton Mobley of Company I luckily escaped with only a slight wound to the side of his head. Fired on from their front, left and rear, the Georgians were caught in a "slaughter pen," Mobley wrote, as the Confederates were routed on Daniel Wise's hardscrabble farm on the Maryland mountain.

Three days later, on Sept. 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, fate would not be so kind to the married father of an infant son.

Defending a ford on Antietam Creek nearly a mile downstream from the Rohrbach Bridge, the 50th Georgia, its ranks crippled by that recent fight at Fox's Gap, had "scarcely 100 muskets." After General Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps finally pushed a thinly held Confederate line from the bluffs above the stone-arch bridge at about 1 p.m., the 50th Georgia scrambled toward the village of Sharpsburg, Md., with the rest of General Robert Toombs' scrappy, vastly outnumbered brigade. Sometime late that afternoon, as 8,500 soldiers in the IX Corps pressed toward town, a bullet tore into Mobley's right breast, just below the nipple.

" was God's mercy that saved me from instant death," Mobley wrote to his wife, Rhoda, in rural Nashville, Ga., "as there is not one in a thousand that could live after receiving such a wound."

On Sept. 17, 1862, Francis Mobley's 50th Georgia defended this ground near Snavely Ford,
about a mile from  Burnside Bridge, before it was forced to retreat toward Sharpsburg.
               The 50th Georgia  helped defend this ground near Sharpsburg. Mobley may
          have been wounded here.  (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

In the months leading up to Antietam, frequent correspondence from Mobley to his wife of nearly six years revealed a range of his emotions -- anxiety, fear, love, agony, hope. When he left Georgia for a camp in North Carolina in the spring of 1862, he begged his 25-year-old wife -- "Rodey" was his nickname for her -- for her understanding. He dreaded being away from his family. "We are compeled by the law to obey the order," wrote Mobley, a religious man, "and God I hope is with us in our cause and if God is for us, who can be against us?"

Francis worried about his son, Marcus, who suffered from a bout with the mumps. He urged Rhoda, who was barely literate, to reply to his letters and was mortified when he went to the post office and found no correspondence from her. He expected the war to soon end so he could return home to southern Georgia, where he owned a small farm. Showing a sense of humor, Mobley even mentioned his grooming.

"Through the purswasion of sum friends," wrote the 26-year-old officer, who also was spelling-challenged,  "I have had my hare shampooed and I know if you could see me you could not help admiring my beauty."

The letters were like thousands of other written by soldiers in both armies, who, like Francis Mobley, were hundreds of miles from family and home.

April 2, 1862, Camp Davis, near Guyton, Ga.: "May God in his Infinite murcy preserve our lives and restore me again to your busom. Do not think that I will not come home for I will if I live. If I am at the extreme of the Confederacy when I can get a chance I will send the last dollar of my wages or see you."

April 9, Camp Davis: "My body is a long way from you though my heart is always with you. I want to see you and Marcus very bad. I want you [to] kiss him for me and receive my heartiest wishes for your self. Be in good cheer and write to me lively."

April 18: “The best way for you to become satisfied is for you to consider that my being absent is a necessity and that I can not avoid it and there fore reconcile your self to your lot. Let it be what it may. Consider that if I am killed or die in the Sirvis and you never see me again that I died in a good cause and am worthy of my ancestors and consider that I have not disagreed your family nor decerted you in time of grate danger.”

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

“Frances you don’t know how ... I hate for you to be so fur from me."

-- Rhoda Mobley to her husband, Francis, in a letter dated Sept. 15, 1862

May 6, Camp Brown, Savannah, Ga.: "I enjoy health though I do not enjoy the quietness of mind that I could wish for while my mind is pleasently engaged on the duties of the defense of my country. My peace is molested on the account of the neglect of my domestic business and more especially the neglect of my family. The most heart rendering case that I have to content with is leaving you alone. I can reflect on our parting and see tears that I left in your eyes and it is heart breaking to me ..."

May 20: Fort Brown, Savannah, Ga.: "You must recall that I am distant from you now and the probability is that I will be further before I am nearer and I want you to manage things the best you can. Rais your offspring in the way he should. Go teach him to do what is right and abstain from what is wrong. Teach him to love liberty and hate oppression. Teach him to ... appreciate the liberty that I in all probability may die to obtain for him..."

June 3:  "I think you would be the prettyest thing that I ever saw if I could see you. You must take good care of your self and do not think that I have been in them bad Houses for I would never do such a thing. I was officer of the day yeasterday and I had the pleasure of running two of them women off from the hospital."

In the last letter Mobley wrote before Antietam, he described the aftermath of the Second Battle of Manassas ("there was grate loss on the Yankee side) and again wrote of longing for Rhoda: "I am at the least ... 1,200 miles from home. You must not be uneasy about me for I will come as soon as I can and would if it was twelve hundred times twelve hundred. I would walk it to come."

He signed it: "Your loving husband until death."

Six days later, on Sept. 15, a letter finally arrived from "Rodey:"

"I would rit before but I did not no whear to direct a letter but I have wated so long that I thought I would reskhit. I am sorry to hear that you had to take that fifty milds march by your self  and git so lonsum. Frances you don’t know how ... I hate for you to be so fur from me."

Francis Mobley's wife, Rhoda, in a post-war image with her second husband, William Griner.
He served as a private in the 50th Georgia. (Courtesy Berrien County Historical Photos Collection)
After Antietam, the 50th Georgia crossed the Potomac River, retreating into Virginia with the rest of Lee's army. Some of the regiment's wounded, including Mobley, were sent on to Winchester, Va., 35 miles from Sharpsburg. While he lay in a makeshift hospital, a doctor dictated a letter on Sept. 25 to Rhoda from Francis, who was too injured to write it himself.

"...though I am feeble yet," he noted, "I feel like I am getting much better every day. I am in good comfortable quarters in Winchester and have Mr. Jno T. Weakly to nurse me. He gives me any thing I can ever desire. You must not be uneasy about me as I will have everything done for me that is necessary. I have no doubt I will get a furlough to go home as soon as I can travel ..."

The optimism was unfounded. Francis' condition worsened, probably not unexpected given few survived such a terrible wound.

Lieutenant Francis Mobley's marker in
the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery
in Winchester, Va. (Find A Grave)
On the morning of Oct. 9, a doctor told Mobley to prepare to die. Struggling to communicate, he seemed unaffected by the grim news. That night, his voice was "weak and faint," according to his friend, Daniel P. Luke, a 2nd lieutenant in the 50th Georgia. Mobley asked Luke to write three letters for him -- one to his father in law, another to his father and one to "Rodey." He expressed his hope that Marcus be "raised up in the right manner and to live and fear the Lord" and well-educated.

A minister frequently visited Mobley, who kept a Bible by his side. "He suffered at times very much," noted a Winchester woman named Mary T. Magill, who tended to Francis every day, "but was at all times patient and gentle." She was with him that night when he died.

Eight days later, Magill wrote a condolence letter to Francis' dear "Rodey." Before he died, Mobley asked Magill to tell his wife about "his condition of mind and body." The bullet that killed him was sent to Rhoda, a dying request by Francis.

"Let it seem as a voice from the Dead when I tell you that he bade me to tell you that he was not only resigned to the will of his Heavenly Father but happy in the prospect of glorious immortality," Magill told Rhoda Mobley. "I have every reason to believe that he died trusting in his precious Savior and his greatest dearest wish was that his precious wife and child might meet him in Heaven."

Shortly after the Civil War ended, Rhoda married a 50th Georgia veteran, William Griner. She died in 1933 at age 98, outliving William and Marcus. Francis Mobley was buried in Winchester, probably near the makeshift hospital where he died. His remains lie in Winchester today in the Stonewall Confederate Cemetery among more than 3,000 other Southern soldiers.


Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
Camp near Bruceville
Oct. 14, 1862

Mrs. F.L. Mobley

Heighly Esteemed friend. It was with deep regret that I now enter on the painful duty of writing you this letter, though it is at the dying request of your brave and noble hearted husband. When I arrived to my company to my sorrow and grief I learned that he was mortally wounded lying at Winchester and wanted to see me and I got a short leave of absense and Walked Eight mile as feeble as I was and when I found him I saw that he was subject to die at any moment, though he was perfectly cool and resigned to his fate. The physician had informed him that morning that he must die but it did not seem to affect him. I set over him all night and talked with him as much as he could bare to talk for his voice ...

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
... was very weak and faint. He told me how he wanted his business fixed. He requested me that when I knew he was dead that I would write three letters for him -- one to you and one to his father in law and one to his father and to say to you all that it was his dying request that his child should be raised up in the right manner and to live and fear the Lord and at all Hazards have it well educated and that his father in law and father should assist you in so doing. He requested me to send you the ball that killed him which I have done by Mr. Sutton. All his clothing and I now send you by F. Gaskins his sachel with his vests, Sash and some little paper in his vest pocket. He told me he threw away his sword on the battle ground. His pistol I sold to Lt. Gaskins and sent you the note by Mr. Sutton ...

Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
... which I hope will all arrive safe to you.

My Dear friend I can say to you that you have been bereaved of a noble hearted and as brave a Husband as ever steped on the soil of Maryland according to his age and practice. I wished to God that he could have lived to have fought many Battles unhurt and returned to you again.

So I will come to a close for want of time.

Your most humble 
and obt Svt
D.P. Luke

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Photo gallery: Where General George Meade died in 1872

Meade's name appears just above the entryway at 1836 Delancey Street.

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On Nov. 11, 1872, five days after he died of  pneumonia in his house at 1836 Delancey Street in Philadelphia, a massive funeral was held for George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. It was an "imposing affair," according to a contemporary newspaper account, attended by former Union army brass that included President Ulysses Grant, Phil Sheridan, Winfield Hancock and William Sherman.

George Meade was 56 when he died 
in 1872.  (Library of Congress)
The city had “never witnessed such a representation of the power and greatness and genius of the nation, as that which assembled within its limits today, to pay the last tribute of honor and respect to the memory of Major-Gen. George Gordon Meade," the New York Times reported the next day. "The solemn ceremonials, the impressive display, the gathering of thousands from all portions of the country, were well worthy the patriotism, the distinguished services, and the general excellence of character of the departed hero.”

"Business was almost entirely suspended today," the Pittsburgh Daily Post noted, "and the city wore a holiday appearance. Flags everywhere were draped in mourning, and even the buildings, out of respect to the memory of  General Meade."

Meade's body was taken from the house for a service at St. Mark's Church, and the route along the funeral procession was "filled with people" and "took nearly an hour to pass a given point," the Pittsburgh newspaper reported. Dressed as a civilian, Grant rode in an open carriage while Sherman and Sheridan appeared in full uniform. Even "Old Baldy," Meade's beloved horse, was part of the procession.

Meade's coffin, draped with an American flag and a wreath, was carried on a gun carriage pulled by six horses. The 56-year-old officer, still on active duty, was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, we maneuvered through mind-numbing Philadelphia traffic for a brief visit to Meade's former house, which has been altered since he lived there from 1866-72. Marked by a blue-and-yellow painted historical sign on the sidewalk, the residence includes Meade's name carved in stone just above the entryway. The building has been sub-divided, turned into apartments over the years. Asking price to rent a one-bedroom, one-bath piece of history in tony Center City Philly: $1,500 a month.

For more on this historic property, check out this, this, this and this, and here's a cool story on the demise of the witness tree at Meade's grave and more photos of the giant, old Norway maple here.

                    Click at upper right for full-screen panoramas (on desktop only).

Meade died at his residence on Nov. 6, 1872.
Units are for rent at 1836 Delancey Street.
Meade's former residence is in Center City Philadelphia.
Historical sign just outside Meade's former Philadelphia residence.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Honoring a 20th Maine veteran on his long journey home

Mark Brundage Sr.  of Wolcott, Conn., a Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders member, holds a 
post-war image of Civil War veteran Jewett Williams. Other members of the Guard are  below.
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Ninety-four years after a can of his cremated remains were put on a shelf and forgotten in a shed at an asylum in Salem, Ore., Civil War veteran Jewett Williams is finally almost home. On Saturday morning, a group of bikers stopped with the ashes of the 20th Maine private for a brief ceremony in New Britain, Conn., en route to the final destination at Togus National Cemetery in Maine.

The old soldier's cremains are being taken across country by motorcyclists in the Patriot Guard Riders, a non-profit organization that performs services for fallen military heroes and deceased veterans. "It's an honor," said Mark Brundage Sr., a member of Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders on his 100th mission with the group. Another Rider transported the American flag-drapped porcelain urn of Williams' ashes on a short leg of the journey early Saturday to Central Connecticut State University.

Williams' well-chronicled cross-country trip included a stop in Gettysburg, where dozens of bikers were joined by Civil War re-enactors on Friday morning. When Jewett's journey is over, he will have traveled more than 3,200 miles through 19 states. Williams, 78 when he died in 1922, will be buried at Togus National Cemetery with full military honors on Sept. 17. (Update: Williams' descendants want Jewett buried in a family plot in Hodgdon, Maine, instead of in Togus National Cemetery with his 20th Maine comrades.)

It didn't take much to persuade Patriot Guard Riders to pose for this gallery before and after the event. Good people.

Biker Dan Regan of Cheshire, Conn., holds the image of Jewett Williams, who enlisted 
in the 20th Maine in 1864. Williams died in Oregon in 1922.
John Butler, Windsor Locks, Conn.
Don Duplessis, Augusta, Maine
Wilfred Lagasse, Greene, Maine
Debbie Miller, Wolcott, Conn.
Mac McArthur, Haddam, Conn.
The back of  Brundage's motorcycle vest. He said it's an honor to be part of 
Jewett Williams' long motorcycle journey from Oregon to Maine. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Notes from Antietam battlefield: 'Good bye if so it must be'

Tintype of 7th Michigan Private Basil Leon DeShetler. (Image courtesy Jeff Makholm)
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Amid the roar of artillery, thunderclap of thousands of muskets and cries of battle, four seriously wounded Union soldiers dashed off notes as they lay incapacitated during the Battle of Antietam. Each man was wounded within a short distance of each other that awful Wednesday morning of Sept. 17, 1862. None of them survived.

Two of the soldiers served with the veteran 7th Michigan -- one a Methodist minister who had a wife named Lucinda and eight children; the other an unmarried officer who had been born in Clear Spring, Md., about 25 miles from the battlefield. The other two soldiers served in Massachusetts regiments -- one a farmer from Grafton, a town that suffered a horrendous toll at Antietam, while the other was a Class of 1855 law school graduate from Harvard and a former prisoner of war. Their veteran regiments -- the 15th Massachusetts (Ball's Bluff, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill) and 2nd Massachusetts (Cedar Mountain and Winchester) -- had fought in Virginia during the first 15 months of the war. But Antietam was a much different, and much bloodier, battle than any of these four soldiers had experienced.

Mortally wounded at Antietam, Basil DeShetler
 was the married father of eight children.
(Image courtesy Jeff Makholm)
Before they crossed Antietam Creek, 7th Michigan soldiers received 40 rounds of cartridges for their boxes and 20 more for their haversacks. "Any goodbyes were said and letters were sent home to our loved ones," a 7th Michigan soldier recalled about the night before the battle. "Prayer meetings were held throughout the army…" (Hat tip: Tom Nank)

After the Michigan soldiers advanced from the East Woods in line of battle with others in the II Corps, a small, whitewashed brick church perhaps in view through the battle smoke, Rev. Basil Leon DeShetler of Company D was knocked to the ground with a wound to his right hip. A devout and patriotic man, the 7th Michigan private frequently dashed off short notes in his diary.  In July 1862, he wrote this stirring entry in pen:
"I hope to hear a voice above the roar of cannon and the din of battle, full of sweetness and majesty, in which are blended the sympathy of man with the omnipotence of God saying to my poor soul, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee, be of good cheer.' The man who is willing that the Union should be divided by the sword of treason may have been born in America, but he cannot have an American heart..."
While he lay wounded at Antietam, the 32-year-old soldier grabbed a pencil and again opened his small pocket diary. "At sunrise in battle," he had scrawled earlier that day, but then added: "7 AM at which I am wounded.  This is written on the spot wherein I lay. May God bless me and forgive all my sins, through Jesus Christ."

Taken to the Susan Hoffman farm hospital on the Keedysville Road, DeShetler died nearby at the tent hospital at Smoketown on Oct. 9, 1862. After the war, his body was recovered and re-buried at Antietam National Cemetery.

Basil DeShetler described himself as a "soldier of the cross" in his war-time diary.  
In this entry,  Basil DeShetler, a Methodist minister,  noted he was wounded 
at Antietam: "Bless me and forgive all my sins through Jesus Christ." The entry was made
the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, but was written on a page for 1861 in the diary.
(Diary images courtesy Jeff Makholm)
Like DeShetler, 7th Michigan Captain Allen Zacharias was from Monroe County, south of Detroit and west of Lake Erie, An 1860 University of Michigan graduate, he was a professor and principal at the State Military Institute in Brandon, Miss., when the war began. One of seven brothers, three of whom served in the Union army, Zacharias enlisted in Company K of  the 7th Michigan as a 1st lieutenant on June 25, 1861. Nearly nine months later, he was promoted to captain.
7th Michigan Captain Allen Zacharias.

While at Fair Oaks, near Richmond, the 29-year-old Maryland-born officer wrote a note, dated June 28, 1862. It included details of his life and these 42 words:
"Friend, If you find my body lifeless upon the field, bury it decently, mark its resting place, and inform my friends in the regiment and my father. Do this and you shall be liberally rewarded and have the gratitude of my friends." 
When the 7th Michigan pushed toward the West Woods at Antietam with the 69th and 72nd Pennsylvania, it found disaster. General John Sedgwick's division, which also included the 15th Massachusetts, was flanked by the Confederates and routed in about 30 minutes of savage fighting. The 7th Michigan suffered 50 percent casualties in the nearly 300-man regiment, and three officers, Captain James Turrill and lieutenants John Clark and John P, Eberhard, were killed. Severely wounded in the spine and apparently unable to talk, Zacharias was found clutching a piece of paper in the West Woods by a soldier from Maine. Written in pencil on an old envelope, the heart-rending note to his family read:

"Dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters:  I am wounded, mortally I think. The fight rages around me.  I have done my duty, this is my consolation.  I hope to meet you all again.  I left not the line until nearly all had fallen and the colors gone.  I am getting weak, my arms are free, but my chest is all numb.  The enemy trotting over me, the numbness up to my heart.  Goodbye all.  Your son, Allen.
Tucked into his pocket diary was the note he had written at Fair Oaks regarding the disposition of his body should he be found dead. The short Antietam battlefield note to his family was sent home to Michigan by a private in the 4th Maine Battery.

On Jan. 9, 1863, the Maryland Press, a Hagerstown newspaper, reported the death of Zacharias.
Initially, Zacharias was sent to a field hospital. "He was shot near the right shoulder blade, the ball striking the spinal chord, and passing near -- perhaps entering the left lung," the Monroe Commerical reported on Oct. 2, 1862. "His legs were paralyzed, but he has had no fever -- a favorable symptom. The surgeon could not yet tell the extent of the damage -- it might be temporal and or it might be serious."

Soon, the Michigan officer was sent to recover at the house of a well-to-do farmer and friend named Joseph B. Loose in nearby Hagerstown, where he was visited by family members that included his father and sister. But Zacharias never recovered, and he died there on New Year's Eve 1862. On Jan. 3, 1863, he was buried next to his mother in the German Reformed Church cemetery.

 Sergeant Jonathan Stow of the 15th Massachusetts had his leg amputated at the Hoffman farm.
(Photo courtesy Richard Gold)
Perhaps at the same time Zacharias wrote the note to his family, a soldier in the 15th Massachusetts was jotting an entry in his diary as he lay in agony with a wound to his right leg. A 30-year-old sergeant, Jonathan P. Stow struggled to describe the scene:
Battle oh horrid battle. What sights I have seen now see around me. I am Wounded! And am afraid shall be again as shells fly past me every few seconds carrying away limbs from trees and scattering limbs around. Am in severe pain. Furies how the shells fly. I do sincerely hope shall not be wounded again. We drove them first till they got sheltered then we had a bad place. Oh I cannot write.
Stow received care from the Rebels, who abandoned him when they retreated into Virginia on the night of Sept. 18. Two days after the battle, he was found by Federal soldiers and transferred to the Hoffman farm, where he had his right leg amputated. In his diary, he continued to document his plight and the horror faced by other wounded Union soldiers:

Sept 18th – Thursday.  Misery. Acute, painful misery.  How I suffered last night.  It was the most painful of anything have experienced. My leg must be broken for I cannot help myself scarcely any. I remember talking and groaning all night. Many died in calling for help. Sergt. Johnson, who lies on the other side of the log is calling for water. Carried off the field at 10 AM by the Rebs who show much kindness but devote much time to plundering dead bodies of our men…Water very short. We suffer much.
15th Massachusetts Sergeant Jonathan Stow.
(Grafton, Mass., Historical Society)

Sept. 19th –Friday. Rained only a little. I had a rubber blanket and overcoat. Rebs retreat. Another painful night. Oh good God, a whole line of our skirmishers are coming…There are lots of us lain out…By and by our boys come along.  What lots of the 15th. Captain comes down to get the names and has coffee furnished us.—Twas the best cup I ever tasted. Dr. looks at my wounds and calls it a doubtful case. Get me on ambulance at 3 PM but do not get to the hospital till nearly dark.  Plenty of water  which gives us a chance to take down inflammation. Nurses worn out by fatigue. Placed on straw near the barn.

Sept. 22nd – Monday. Two men died last night…How painful my stump is.  I did not know was capable of enduring so much pain. How very meager are accommodations – no chamber pots & nobody to find or rig up one.  How ludicrous for 2 score amputated men to help themselves with diarrhea.

Sept. 23rd – Tuesday.  Oh what fearful long nights. What difficulties we have to contend…Relief can hardly be found. I have at length got my limb dressed by volunteer surgeon. But never was so exhausted for want of refreshment.
Sept. 28th – Sunday. Oh what lengths to the nights. The horrid smell from the mortifying limbs is nearly as bad as the whole we have to contend. Mrs. Lee and another lady are here daily dispensing cooked broths…They seem to employ  their whole time for us.  Move outdoors in the PM. Excessively hot.

Sept. 29th – Monday.  Slept little more comfortable last night. Got nice soups and nice light biscuit and tart also nice butter from Mrs. Lee. Also she gets me milk again this morning. How the quinine keeps me parched for water and so sleepy and foolish. Am much better off here than in barn.  10 AM my comrade died from the 18th Minn. Regt. I rec’d 4 letters from friends or home but am so boozy it takes the whole AM to read them.  Mr. Dr. Kelsey dressed my stump admirably and am quite comfortable if the quinine does not choke me to death. It is far more quiet here but begins to rain.

Later that night, however, Stow had an urgent telegram sent to his father back in Grafton: "Dangerously wounded at Hoffman's hospital near Sharpsburg," it read. "Come instantly."

Two days later, he died -- one of 11 soldiers from Grafton to die of wounds suffered at Antietam. Stow's remains were sent home to be buried in the Old Oak Street Burial Ground.

15th Massachusetts Sergeant Jonathan Stow died at the Hoffman farm, a major 
Union hospital at Antietam. (Image courtesy Richard Gold) 
About 2 1/2 hours before all hell broke loose for the Union army in the West Woods, Wilder Dwight, a lieutenant colonel in the 2nd Massachusetts, jotted a short note to his mother.

"We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of [General Joseph] Hooker who is now banging away most briskly," the 29-year-old officer wrote in pencil in neat cursive. "I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far --"

By September 1862, Dwight was a veteran of several battles and had even spent time in Rebel captivity after his capture near Winchester, Va., in late May 1862. (Days later, he was exchanged for a Southern officer.)

At about 9:30 a.m. at Antietam, the 2nd Massachusetts was in a bad fix. Sedgwick's division had been routed, and the Massachusetts soldiers aimed to stop Rebels streaming from the West Woods. As Dwight commanded the regiment near the Hagerstown Pike, a bullet tore into the lawyer's left wrist and hip, sending him crashing to the ground in agony.

2nd Massachusetts Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight
was mortally wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862
(Massachusetts Historical Society collection)
"The regiment soon fell back a short distance," a 2nd Massachusetts officer recalled, "and men were ordered to carry him, but the pain was so intense that he refused to be moved."

While the fighting swirled about him, Dwight pulled from his pocket the note to his mother that he had begun earlier that morning. This time, the words he wrote were nearly indecipherable:
"Dearest mother, I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye if so it must be. I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God & love you all to the last .Dearest love to father & all my dear brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay -- Mother, yrs Wilder
"All is well with those that have faith."
Blood from his wounds stained the paper.

Eager to help the man who gained his acquittal in a manslaughter case before the war, a private in the 2nd Massachusetts courageously ventured into no-man's land with a canteen filled with water. "When I got near the road I had to crawl on my hands & knees," Rupert Sadler wrote seven days after the battle. "The rebels had not advanced any, & I saw a horse which I thought was the Colonels. While I was examining it a squad of rebels saw me, & before firing at once at me, I laid down behind the horse until they stopped."

Soon, Sadler spotted Dwight lying with his head against a rail, his thigh bone apparently shattered. The private offered to bind his wounds, but Dwight refused, saying it was no use. He gave Sadler and other soldiers in the regiment directions for carrying him, and they lifted him into a cornfield, where a regimental surgeon examined him.

The next day, Dwight was carried three miles in shifts by a 12-man detail of new recruits to Boonsboro, Md., because an ambulance was unavailable. The lieutenant colonel was cared for there in the bedroom of a brick house owned by a farmer named Thomas, a Union sympathizer. Dwight's eyes were pale and sunken, recalled 2nd Massachusetts chaplain Alonzo Quint. On Sept. 19, he took a turn for the worse. The chaplain said a prayer over Dwight, whose face lit up when his mother was mentioned. A little after noon, he cried, "O, my dear mother," and died about 15 minutes later.

"Dear Wilder Dwight!" 2nd Massachusetts Lieutenant Henry Stone wrote after his comrade's death. "He was the best man in the world."

On Sept. 25, 1862, Dwight received a hero's funeral in Boston and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery.


Stained with his blood, this is the first page of a three-page note Wilder Dwight 
wrote to his mother from the Antietam battlefield.
(Massachusetts Historical Society collection)

Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.On the field
Dear Mother,It is a misty moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy and are drawn up in support of Hooker who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the saddle to send you my love and to say that I am very well so far --
Dearest mother, I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye if so it must be ...

Severely wounded in the right leg, Wilder Dwight could barely finish the note.
(Massachusetts Historical Society collection)

I think I die in victory. God defend our country. I trust in God & love you all to the last Dearest love to father &all my dear brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay -- Mother, yrs Wilder

The conclusion of Dwight's heart-rending note.
 (Massachusetts Historical Society collection)

All is well with those that have faith

Monday, August 08, 2016

Wounded at Cedar Mountain, officer 'sleeps on the enemy's soil'

A ruby ambrotype of  5th Connecticut officer Henry Stone,  who was wounded and captured
 at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862.  (Peter Pipke collection)

Adapted from my latest book, Hidden History of Connecticut Union Soldiers. E-mail me here for information on how to purchase an autographed copy.

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Lying nearly immobilized on his back in a Rebel hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, Henry Stone was in almost constant pain from a bullet that had shattered his right thigh bone. “I shall have to lay here in this position about 4 weeks longer, when they will take it out of the splint and allow me to move about more in bed,” the 5th Connecticut lieutenant colonel wrote to his wife on September 16, 1862. “I hope in two or three months to be able to hobble about on crutches if no other disease takes hold of me.”

Eager to hear news from home, Stone received none during his long hospitalization in Virginia. Letters from the North didn’t make it through Confederate lines. Equally eager to be paroled, Stone tried to be patient, “and so should you,” he urged his wife, who had four young children to raise back home in Danbury, Connecticut. “My kind regards to all my friends,” the thirty-four-year-old concluded in the letter to Sarah Stone. “Tell them I am gaining slowly.”

More than five weeks earlier -- a day so hot that some Union soldiers "lay by the roadside in almost dying condition" suffering from sunstroke – Stone’s 5th Connecticut was among four regiments of Yankee infantry that nearly punched through the center of the Rebel line at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. After Union infantry closed on the Confederates, savage hand-to-hand fighting broke out for 15 minutes.

"There were few loaded guns on either side," a 5th Connecticut soldier recalled of that period during the battle near Culpeper, Virginia, on August 9. "Clubbed muskets and bayonets were the rule." Afterward, Lt. William Rockwell claimed that he shot six Confederates in the melee, and Sgt. Harlan Rugg's Company I "fought like demons, strewing the ground with dead, so that one could scarcely step but upon a dead rebel."

At least two 5th Connecticut national color bearers were killed and three were wounded during a charge across a wheat field. Color Sgt. James Hewison of Company D was so intent on avoiding capture and preventing the state colors from being snatched by the enemy that he wrapped the flag under his uniform and crawled off the battlefield after he was wounded. The 5th Connecticut suffered 179 casualties during the Yankees’ defeat at Cedar Mountain, including 48 killed or mortally wounded -- the worst day, by far, for the regiment during the war.

                        The 5th Connecticut advanced from left to right at  Cedar Mountain.
                              (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL-SCREEN PANORAMA)

A Mexican War veteran, Stone was wounded slightly in a charge across the wheat field and severely in the thigh as the 5th Connecticut fought into a stretch of woods. Last seen by his comrades leaning against a tree, he was captured and taken to Gordonsville, Virginia, and finally to Charlottesville, where a makeshift military hospital was housed in buildings throughout town.

The soldier who on his 34th birthday on December 2 wrote that he was “willing to sacrifice my life for humanity’s sake” was not expected to live.

A quick riser through the military, Stone was no stranger to hard fighting -- or battlefield injury. In 1847, he enlisted as a private in Company B of the 9th Infantry, U.S. Regulars in the war against Mexico. At the Battle of Chapultepec, near Mexico City, on September 13, 1847, his colonel saw Stone a moment after he was stunned by a ball in the left temple, reclined against a rock and “a stream of crimson stealing down his pale cheeks.” Afterward, he was recommended for promotion to sergeant for his “gallant and meritorious conduct.”

In the 5th Connecticut during the Civil War, Stone was chosen captain after he enlisted in June 21, 1861, and quickly promoted to major and finally lieutenant colonel in late spring 1862. In the Shenandoah Valley during the Union army’s retreat in May 1862, Stone had a horse shot out from under him by an artillery shell, forcing him to march with the enlisted men.

John S. Davis, the Confederate surgeon who treated
wounded 5th Connecticut officer Henry Stone.
(Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)
Heartened by Stone’s kindly treatment of Southern citizens before the battle at Cedar Mountain, a Confederate surgeon insisted he was treated well. “His conduct to them had been in honorable contrast with that of other Federal officers,” John S. Davis wrote, and “had stimulated our attention to his comfort & our efforts to save him.” Soon after he came into their care and the swelling in his wound subsided, the Rebels put Stone’s leg in a wire splint in an effort to reunite his fragmented thigh bone. After fellow POW James Savage of the 2nd Massachusetts died of his leg wound in Charlottesville on October 22, 1862, Stone was given the major’s woolen garments to replenish his skimpy wardrobe.

During his confinement, his family in Danbury received snippets of news of his condition – a period in which, the local newspaper later wrote, “hope and fear alternated in our hearts.” As Stone’s health waned that winter, the Southerners made “strenuous efforts,” according to Surgeon Davis, to stimulate his failing appetite. But during the winter, Henry knew the end was near.

On January 17, 1862, Stone asked Davis to take dictation for a letter to a friend back home in Connecticut. “… I am running down very fast & probably will not last many days,” said Stone, who asked that his friend, William Montgomery, break the news of his death to his wife as gently as possible. He wanted Montgomery to settle his business affairs and obtain his army pay for his wife and family. And he expressed sadness that not one letter from home had slipped through Rebel lines during his 161 days in captivity.

“I had hope to return home & bring up my family, the children being at that age now when they need a father’s care & attention,” Stone dictated to Davis. “But there is a merciful Father in Heaven who has always watched over us, & in Him I now put my trust, knowing that He can do far better by them than I can. I have been well treated by everyone since I have been here.”

Forty-eight hours later, Stone died, probably from an infection. An examination after his death revealed that small fragments of lead prevented the bones from reuniting. Stone left behind $45.10 in Confederate money, which was deposited in a local bank, and a plain, gold ring engraved with the initials “FW” that was removed from his finger before he was placed in his coffin. His grave was marked, Davis recalled, so his “remains can be removed at the close of the war.”

Henry Stone's grave marker in Culpeper (Va.)
National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
A little more than a month later, hundreds braved a blizzard to attend a memorial service for Stone in the Danbury Baptist Church. “It is true his burial was doubtless unhonored,” his obituary read, “for he sleeps on the enemy’s soil, and there is thus given a new argument for the widow and the fatherless to plead that God would be pleased to give success to our arms, that the dust of our kindred may be given to us.”

After the war, Stone’s body was recovered in Charlottesville and re-buried in a national cemetery in Culpeper, seven miles from where he was mortally wounded in the summer of 1862.


Henry Stone letter to his wife, September 16, 1862,

Marvin, Edwin, The Fifth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, A History, Hartford, Conn.: Press of Wiley, Waterman and Eaton, 1889.

Danbury Times, February 26, 1863.

Confederate surgeon James Davis’ letters to Stone’s friends in Danbury, Connecticut, January 20, 1863 and February 21, 1863, Peter Pipke collection.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A Civil War mini-mystery: 18th N.Y. Cavalry private's ID disc

Rare find: Dug ID disc for 18th New York Cavalry Private Patrick Burke. 
It's the size of a penny. (Photo: Donald L. Clem)
Well-worn front of  bronze McClellan ID disc for 
Private Patrick Burke.
(Photo: Donald L. Clem)
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My friend Richard Clem's relic hunting stories have been featured many times on my blog. Here's another intriguing one from Clem, who has hunted for Civil War relics with his brother for decades in Washington County (Md.) and beyond. 

By Richard E. Clem

When it comes to collecting relics and doing research on the Civil War, many unanswered questions surface. The following article leaves a question that may never be answered, but perhaps some reader might shed light on this unsolved mystery.

The Clem brothers started "eyeballing" for Civil War relics on the Antietam battlefield in the late 1960s. Picking up four or five of the little “gray messengers of death” (bullets) would be considered a good day. Back then, the National Park Service owned very little of this hallowed ground -- the majority of the battlefield remained in private ownership. With the invention of metal detectors, you can imagine the sudden increase in the Clem collection. And, yes, as posted on John Banks’ wonderful Civil War Blog, at one time our combined collection contained around 30,000 bullets as well as many belt buckles, eagle breast plates, cartridge box plates and much more. (1)

After 20 years of swinging a metal detector in Washington County, Md., I had been blessed to have dug up three Union soldiers' ID (identification) tags. All had been lost or discarded during the Union army's pursuit of the Confederates after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The stories behind these rare ID discs, or “dog tags,” can also be found on John's blog here, here and here. Now it was my brother Don’s overdue turn to discover one of these cherished artifacts, which most relic hunters would consider the “ultimate find.”  (2)

With local Civil War sites becoming less productive and harder to find, the Clem brothers decided to travel south into Jefferson County, W. Va. and Clarke County, Va. The fields, woods and apple orchards between Charles Town and Berryville proved to be very “fruitful” -- mostly Federal cavalry relics from General Phil Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  (3)

The author’s Civil War relic hunting journal, kept weekly since 1982, lists the following: "May 1, 1987, searched small woods just south of Summit Point (Jefferson County), dug 26 Sharps bullets, Don dug 63 Sharps + McClellan tag inscribed: 'Patrick Burke, Co. F., 18th N.Y. Cav.y, Albany City, N.Y.'" The standard .54 caliber Sharps bullet had a small paper or linen cartridge that held the black powder. However, three of Don’s Sharps had cartridges made of animal skins. These rare projectiles were called “skin bullets” simply because instead of paper, the shell or cartridge holding the powder was made mostly of sheep membrane or intestines. There were many campsites around Summit Point, and after more than a century, the wooded, rocky area that yielded these Union artifacts appeared to have been untouched from the days of the Civil War.  (4)

Dug Sharps bullets from camp where Burke’s ID disc was discovered. The three in the center
 still have original "skin” cartridges. (Photo: Donald L. Clem)
Below: Sharps carbine carried by Union cavalry. (Photo: C. Sharps Arms, Inc.)

I can still hear my brother’s excitement that unseasonably warm afternoon as we climbed into the pickup: “At first I thought it was just another Indian head penny until I noticed the hole and what looked like McClellan!” There are two sizes of the McClellan bronze ID disc. Don's find, the small variety, is the size of a penny while the larger version is about the size of a quarter. These little gems were not army-issue -- standard U.S. Army “dog tags” would not come until years later. Burke would have purchased his ID tag before or right after leaving New York. The front of the new discovery was well-worn, but comparing it with a non-dug duplicate and using a little imagination, one can read “Maj. Gen. G. B. McClellan, Peninsular Campaign.” The “G” and “B” in McClellan’s name stand for "George Brinton." Fortunately, the reverse side that includes Burke's name is very legible. (5)

After Don's discovery, questions automatically arose: Who was Patrick Burke? Did he survive the war? Was he married and did he have children? And where was he buried? The first step to trace the career of this Union cavalryman from New York was to send to the National Archives in Washington for copies of his military and pension files.  (6)

From Ireland, Patrick Burke settled in Albany, N.Y., just prior to the Civil War. In the summer of 1863, the 18th New York Cavalry was organized to put down the New York City draft riots. On Aug. 12, 1863, 18-year-old Patrick Burke enlisted as a private in Company F of the 18th New York Cavalry to serve as bugler for three years. According to his military records, Burke had brown hair, brown eyes and stood 5-3. Once the riots were under control and peace restored, the 18th New York Cavalry left the state and was stationed in the defenses around Washington. In January 1864, the New York troopers received orders to report to Texas, Department of the Gulf.  (7)

In the Lone Star State, the regiment was attached to 19th Army Corps, and the Yankee boys performed commendably. The 18th New York Cavalry also saw action in Louisiana and Mississippi before it was mustered out in Victoria, Texas on May 31, 1866. By that time, the war had been over for a year.  (8)

Private Burke returned to civilian life in Albany, N.Y., where he married Mary Ellen Hughes on May 15, 1872. The couple's union produced three sons, John, Thomas, Joseph, and a daughter, Helen. After her husband died in 1879, Mary Ellen Burke applied for a widow’s military pension, and she went to be with her husband in May 1917.  (9)

But one major unanswered question remained about the life story of bugler Patrick Burke: How did his ID disc get to Jefferson County, W.Va., where it was discovered by my brother? No record exists to prove the 18th New York Cavalry was ever in the state! But we can certainly speculate how the small disc got there.

Burke’s military file reveals he was “present” with his outfit from date of enlistment in New York to being mustered out in Texas. Perhaps while the 18th New York guarded defenses around Washington, several companies (including Burke’s Company F.) performed reconnaissance or rounded up horses for the regiment in neighboring states. In the fall of 1864, units of the 19th Corps were sent from Texas to support General Phil Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. Although no records exist that indicate this, perhaps elements of the 18th New York Cavalry traveled north with the 19th Corps to northern Virginia or West Virginia. One thing is certain, however: Because of the large number of Sharps carbine bullets we dug that spring day in 1987, the McClellan tag came from a Union cavalry camp.  (10)

The Clem brothers would be grateful for anyone who could furnish material to prove how Patrick Burke’s ID tag was left behind in Jefferson County. Besides the “Spirit of All Knowledge,” the only other person who knows the truth is off duty and resting in a cemetery in Albany, N.Y.

Patrick Burke's grave in St. Agnes Cemetery in
Albany, N.Y. (
Copyright, used with permission of Anita Martin
The author dedicates this article to the everlasting memory of John Banks Sr. “Big Johnny” left this earth July 22, 2016, and following General Stonewall Jackson, he has “crossed over the river and is resting in the shade of the trees.”


1.   Phillips, Stanley S, Excavated Artifacts from Battlefields and Campsites of the Civil War. 1861 – 1865, Lanham, Md., 1974.

2.   As teenagers growing up in Washington County, Md., the Clem brothers hunted rabbits over
land thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers occupied following the Battle of Gettysburg. We had no knowledge or interest at the time that we were walking on treasures from the Civil War.

3.   The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War,  Arno Press Inc., 1983.

4.    Phillips, Stanley S, Bullets Used in the Civil War – 1861 – 1865, 1977; Echoes of Glory, Arms and  Equipment of the Union, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1991; Summit Point is known today for its popular motor sports track. During the Civil War, this small, obscure West Virginia town witnessed extensive cavalry action and was used also as a major remount station supplying horses and mules to the Federal army.

5.   In the course of my research, I came across one other McClellan-style, non-dug ID disc. It was the same as my brother Don’s and once belonged to a member of the 18th New York Cavalry. It would be reasonable to believe both bronze discs would have been purchased from the same source. The stamped letters are the same on both pieces.

6.   National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

7.   New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center; Burke’s military file, National
Archives, Washington, D.C.; It is believed Private Burke left New York by rail to go to Washington. The  regiment traveled from the Federal capital in January 1864 on the side-wheeler steamship Empire City, sailing down the Potomac and into the Chesapeake Bay, down the Atlantic Coast and around the tip of Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico.

8.   Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1956; New York State Archives.

9.   Burke’s pension file, National Archives;

10.  New York State Museum; Burke’s military file, National Archives; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah In Flames -- The Valley Campaign of 1864, Thomas A. Lewis, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1987; The Spencer and Sharps carbines were a standard Union cavalry weapon. The breech-loading, short-barreled guns gave a trooper more mobility on horseback than the longer muzzle-loading rifle.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

German private at Petersburg: 'Balls are whistling through ... '

1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery at Fort Richardson in Arlington, Va., in 1863.
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On Aug. 12, 1864, four days before he was wounded at the siege of Petersburg (Va.), 20-year-old August Freitag wrote a letter in old German to his parents in Collinsville, Conn. “One must always pay attention and make sure that the ink jar is not taken out of his hand by a bombshell,” wrote the soldier, who also went by Earnest, “because, large or small, the balls are whistling through here day and night.”

A private, Freitag died of his wounds August 26 at a hospital at Fortress Monroe, Va.,  only nine months after German immigrants Henry and Rosa Freitag went with their son to Hartford for his enlistment in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

I found Freitag's letter in pension records in National Archives in Washington early last year, and posted it to Facebook when I returned home. Thanks to Facebook readers, the three-page letter, a brief window into the world of a young soldier, was quickly translated.

Freitag's name appears on a bronze plaque on a Civil War memorial in Collinsville among the names of 37 other Union soldiers whose remains lie in unknown graves in the South.

(Is the translation of Freitag's letter below correct? Do you have more information on the private? E-mail me here.)

Near Petersburg, 
August 12 1864

We were paid on the day which I have written to you about and yesterday on the 11th, I put $70 in a convert and entrusted it to our Lieutenant like all of the others. He is wounded in the arm and is going home for a vacation. If the money is not delivered to you, then you will have to ask at the post office or the delivery man.

I have so much news to write to you about but when I start to write, I forget it; first, it is difficult to write while under a tree, on the ground or on one knee, and second, one must always pay attention and make sure that the ink jar is not taken out of his hand by a bombshell, because, large or small, the balls are whistling through here day and night. Monday, a ship here at the landing blew up. It was heavily loaded with powder and shells, also Adams Express officer was on it. It was from our side and was probably blown up on purpose. It had come directly from Washington.

Converts are not sent any more with stamps because they are worth as much as silver money here on the front. When you have the money, write back to me.

Greetings to mother and my sister, as well as Heinrich.


Since I can’t send the letter until tomorrow, I have time to write to you that we have had orders since 8 days to await an air party every minute of the night, that is to say, that our fort would be blown into the air, and then it is up to us to do everything to persevere. Nothing has done like this up until now, since the Generals can’t hit anything with that kind of attack because they are far, far away.

But still, every evening when it gets dark some, including myself, go 1 or 2 miles down the line and then in the morning back to the artillery battery. The others can enjoy the beautiful view from up there, while we are down here, should there be an air party.

Don’t forget to send stamps.

Greetings from August.

Remembering 'Big Johnny,' who inspired a love of history

My dad, John Banks Sr.,, died on July 22, 2016. He was 80.
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In 1972, my dad took our family on a vacation to Gettysburg. At a shop there on Baltimore Street, he bought my brother, sister and me three real, honest-to-goodness Civil War bullets, stoking my interest in history. Early on the morning of July 22, John Banks Sr. passed away from complications of a stroke, leaving a giant hole in our hearts. Here's what I wrote about him last week:

When I was a kid growing up in Mount Lebanon in suburban Pittsburgh, I never envisioned the day one of my parents would die. During that magnificent era in the Burg, we focused on playing street hockey down the road, following fabulous Pirates and Steelers teams and "jagging around" -- two words you only hear in Western Pa. Our parents? Hey, they were invincible, right?

Well, reality sadly struck at 2:45 this morning when Dad -- "Big Johnny," as he was known to much of our family -- died from complications of a stroke he suffered last week. He was a tough, old guy, stubborn as an ornery mule sometimes, but much beloved by family and friends.

He and Mom lived in the same, small red-brick house on Old Farm Road for 48 years. They were the deans of the neighborhood and much respected.

The Gettysburg shop where Dad long ago bought me
 and my two siblings real Civil War bullets. It's still there.
(Google Street View)
While his death brings great sadness, we also have much to celebrate, admire and treasure. He and Mom raised three kids and sent them all to college. (I even graduated, surprising more than a handful of people.)

A longtime NRA member, he loved to hunt deer, a Pennsylvania pastime. He supplied my college roommates and me with venison steaks more than once.

He had a tremendous head of snow-white hair. Oh, man, he wanted it to look just right.

While I have zero aptitude for anything mechanical, he was a genius tinkerer. He could fix anything.

He had a temper, but he wasn't often profane. I only heard him use the "F" word twice -- the first time after I wrecked his recently fixed car. I deserved the tongue-lashing.

When I was 12, he and I regularly played catch in our back yard after he came home from work. The giant, brown telephone pole served as the "batter," and he used a massive, ancient catcher's mitt to attempt to stop my wild throws. What a saint!

The past several years he took on immense responsibility. Mom suffers from Alzheimer's, a soul-crushing monster of a disease. He always thought he had big shoulders and could carry the load.

If there's a blessing in his passing it's that we all got to say our goodbyes before the end. He and Mom tenderly held hands. His eyes brightened when our daughters said they loved him over the speaker phone. I brought along from Connecticut the rock he and his brother carved their initials into when they were teens growing up in Quakertown, Pa. I think he liked seeing it.

The very end was rough. But through the haze created by the medicine, he was able to communicate.

"Don't worry about me," he told my brother. "I love you all." Hell, that makes me cry reading it.

Rest in peace, "Big Johnny." We love you, too.