Monday, September 23, 2019

10 new things I learned from three-day Antietam visit


1. The sacrifice of families ... was so immense during the Civil War that we will probably never grasp its enormity. Here are copies of images of 16th Connecticut Corporal Henry Evans and his wife Mary Ann, holding the couple's daughter Florence, at his grave in Antietam National Cemetery.

2. Nothing beats dawn ... at Antietam. Here's sunrise at the Mumma family cemetery.

3. The 16th Connecticut monument ... in the 40-Acre Cornfield casts an enormous afternoon shadow.

4. Widow Susan Hoffman ... was beautiful. This 1/9-plate ruby ambrotype was recently discovered by a Hoffman descendant. Her farm was used as a Federal hospital in the aftermath of Antietam.

5.  Bullets are embedded ... at the old Daniel Piper house in Sharpsburg, Md.

6. The William McKinley monument ... near Burnside Bridge might be the most underrated on the battlefield.

7. The 132nd Pennsylvania monument at Bloody Lane ... is rarely a bad subject for a photograph.

8. Staring at the names on the 11th Connecticut monument near Burnside Bridge ... never gets old.

9. At the old War Department Tower at Bloody Lane ... Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower walked these iron steps to the top when they were West Point cadets.

10. The view from the top of old War Department tower at Bloody Lane ... always takes my breath away. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Life after 'death': Corporal Bob's searing Antietam account

Post-war image of Robert Patterson with family members, including his mother. He served with the
19th Indiana at Antietam. (Image courtesy of Shirley Pearson via 19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
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Under the headline "Taps Sound for Corp. Patterson," a front-page obituary in The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star on Sept. 30, 1916, briefly recounted the last days of a Civil War veteran.

A Page 1 obituary of Robert Patterson in
The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star on 

Sept. 30, 1916included the
 "last photograph" of the veteran.
In poor health the previous five months, Robert Patterson -- “Corporal Bob,” as he was commonly known --  visited the newspaper office on a Friday morning, then checked on a fellow veteran. Later that evening, the 74-year-old pension attorney attended a theater performance with his wife. As they neared their home afterward, Patterson felt weak. He sat down in the house, then stood up and keeled over, dead. Cause of death: Old age and Bright’s disease. “A grand old gentleman,” the newspaper called Patterson, who fought in more than a dozen major battles -- including Gettysburg, where he was wounded and briefly a captive.

“His position as pension attorney was the joy and the ‘all’ of his life,” the Morning Star reported, “and it is by old soldiers and widows that he will be missed most of all. He was a man with great charitable ambitions and spent both his time and money in the helping of those who had fought beside him in the great civil strife.”

The newspaper obituary wasn’t the first one written about the man who somehow survived the Civil War.

At the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the 20-year-old private in the 19th Indiana was concussed by an artillery shell burst that sent him and fence rails skyward. Over the next 24 hours, the Iron Brigade soldier witnessed harrowing scenes.

At a battlefield aid station, Patterson watched blood ooze from the chest wound of a fellow private in the 19th Indiana. The man remarkably lived. As Patterson struggled to return to his regiment, he drank “black water” from a stump and became ill. At a makeshift hospital the day after the battle, he saw surgeons amputate limbs, which were buried in a nearby trench. Next to him, a New York soldier writhed in agony from an artillery wound that had torn apart his lower jaw. He begged to be shot.

In a barn in nearby Keedysville, Md., Patterson saw 19th Indiana Private Joshua Jones’ leg wound covered with maggots. Surgeons were fearful he would not survive amputation, but they performed the operation anyway. Their initial prognosis was correct: Jones died 11 days after the battle.

Weak and exhausted, Patterson slowly made his way back to the 19th Indiana, camped on the banks of the Potomac River. Believing he was dead, comrades were stunned to see him. His captain was especially astonished: He was writing a note to Patterson’s mother about his death.

Patterson wearing his Iron Brigade ribbon.
(Image courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
“It was the first and only time I have ever read my own obituary,” Patterson wrote in a searing account of his Antietam experience for the Muncie newspaper on the 50th anniversary of the battle, “and I sincerely hope that I will so live out of my remaining earthly life as soldier and citizen that my final obituary may contain as much good as the first.”

Patterson, who was seriously injured in a train accident later in the war, was rocked by tragedy in 1864. His 48-year-old father Samuel, a private in the 36th Indiana, died in an Indiana hospital on Sept. 24, 1864, of wounds suffered at Kennesaw Mountain, Ga.

After the war, Patterson worked a series of jobs -- clerk in the state legislature, postal clerk, postmaster, custodian of the county courthouse and, finally, pension attorney.  He dabbled as an inventor, obtaining patents for a unique fastener for a fruit jar and a steel-wire curry comb.  Patterson also enjoyed writing, becoming  the “poet laureate of the Indiana Grand Army of the Republic.” He “delighted in the work,” the Muncie newspaper noted.

On Sept. 18, 1912, Patterson’s lengthy account of the Battle of Antietam – posted in full below -- was published in The Muncie Morning Star. “Most momentous scenes,” he wrote.

Surely an understatement.

Scenes and incidents of all the battlefield must be guaged [sic] from the standpoint of individual observation. Commanding generals and through the many grades of rank down to the private in the ranks have a corresponding larger or smaller scope of vision, and the scenes are ever changing as those of the kaleidoscope. All were actors on the stage of the great drama of war in their own role, while civilian spectators and non-combatants were far in the rear and behind anything that afford protection from bodily harm.

I had marched and fought in the ranks of the Ninteenth Indiana. Infantry, from Lewensville to Fredericksburg, Va., and from the Rappahannock river back through the series of battles resulting in the second defeat on the historic battle-ground of Bull Run [and] on the first invasion of the Confederate army into Maryland where the first great clash came at South Mountain, September 14, 1862. After terrific slaughter on both sides I had seen the army of invasion driven from their great Gibraltar of natural defense, and under cover of darkness begin its retreat downward on its southern slopes toward the Potomac river, where it made its last stand that resulted in ignominious defeat in the struggle known to the world as the battle of Antietam. Hence my personal observations of the scene must be given from the narrow standpoint of a private who can only see things with which he comes in immediate contact.
War-time image of Robert Patterson.
(Photo courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)

We had cared for our dead and wounded at South Mountain on the 15th, when our woefully thin and dust-brown ranks started in persuit [sic] of the retreating army of [Robert E.] Lee, and we were halted on the  banks of Antietam creek, where the action of our regiment commenced, and my story begins.

On the afternoon of September 16 we witnessed some of the opening shots of this battle being fired across the creek at the Confederates by Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, of our Brigade, and other field pieces. As the autumn sun was sinking like a great ball of blood that seemed as an omen of events to come, our brigade crossed the creek, and in battle lines moved cautiously forward. In passing where the enemy had killed some cattle, some of our boys had detached strips of fat from the intestines of the animals which they applied to their guns to prevent rust. I had unconsciously raised the hammer of my gun as was applying the grease about the tube as the regiment halted, when I rested the muzzle of the gun against my left shoulder, and in drawing the string of fat through the guard the gun was discharged, the ball passing through the rim of my hat. The explosion was deafening, and many thought I was injured by a bursted shell of the enemy. I have often wondered if that was not the first shot from a musket in that battle, and if it had happened to have killed me would some think it deliberate suicide. However, the Johnnies had so far proved to be poor marksmen in selecting me for a target, and I had rather a hundred would shoot at me than to take a shot at myself.

Our battle lines pressed steadily until darkness precluded further advance without danger of bringing premature engagement. Here we were ordered to "rest on arms." I shall never forget that William N. Jackson (Uncle Billy) lay side by side on our bed of earth with our knapsacks for a pillow, upon that portentious [sic] night. He was one of twelve recruits who had joined our company at Upton Hill on September 7, and the only one of that number who was not killed, wounded or missing in the valley of death at South Mountain just seven days after joining our ranks.

Opening of the battle

    PANORAMA: Joseph Poffenberger's farm, where the 19th Indiana camped the night
                                                    before the Battle of Antietam.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

4th U.S. Artillery Battery B, positioned in a field along Hagerstown Pike,  fired"death
 into the ranks of gray" Robert Patterson recalled.
The very earliest dawn of the morning of September 17th brought a rain of solid shot upon our sleeping ranks from rebel batteries that were stationed during the night within range of our regiment and brigade, Amongst the terrible effects of this firing was the blowing up a casson [sic] of shells and the killing of seven horses of a battery near our lines. It was a sudden awakening from only a short restless slumber to a full realization of our danger from masked batteries supported by infantry who had thrown up breast works during the night for their protection against contemplated attack by our forces. Our lines rose seemingly as one man, and were moved on the double quick time to cover in a piece of woodland, where we were brought to a front facing an orchard enclosed by a fence.

 "I shall never forget  following his 
young, tall athletic form as he ascended
 the slopes  of the hill until he fell dead," 
Patterson recalled about 
Lieutenant Alois O. Bachman. 
(Indiana State Library)
Terrific cannonading was now heard to the right and left, while Battery B and other artillery was hurling death into the ranks of gray. Soon an officer from the staff of General [John] Gibbon, commanding the brigade, dashed up and gave the command to advance to the summit of the hill beyond the orchard. Lieutenant Alois O. Bachman, who was a graduate from a military school, had commanded our regiment through the previous campaigns, then pushed himself through our ranks, and drawing his sword, his deep bass voice rang out, "Boys, the command is no longer forward, but now it is follow me." I shall never forget following his young, tall athletic form as he ascended the slopes of the hill until he fell dead, his body pierced by minnie balls shot by the columns of the enemy who lay in mass beyond the brow of the hill.

In trying to climb a second fence, a shell bursted apparently just beneath me hurling me with a mass of broken rails high in the air. The concussion injuries were so paralyzing that all seemed a blank to me for some time, I know not how long. On regaining consciousness I found I could not move my right hand or foot, indicating partial paralysis of the right side from concussion of injury of both. Anyhow, I was afterwards placed on a stretcher and placed in the shade, my head against the brick walls of this farm house with other wounded, some worse than myself.

Decades after the battle, William Tipton shot this image of a section of bullet-riddled fence at Antietam,
perhaps much like the one Robert Patterson was climbing when he was stunned by an artillery burst.
(History of the 124th Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-63)
A boy about my age on my left was moaning piteously and I thought myself lucky when I saw the blood oozing from a bullet wound in his breast with every breath. I tried to encourage him, and when he turned his pallid face toward me I saw he was Andrew Ribble of Company K of our regiment. He could only wisper [sic], "O, Bob, I'll soon be gone." But he lived to get home, and I learn he was accidently killed by the cars while in the employ of the Big Four railway. I thought at that time he could live but a few moments.

"A few solid shots passed
 through the brick walls of the
 house, throwing particles of brick
 and mortar upon the wounded ...,"
Robert Patterson recalled.
A few solid shots passed through the brick walls of the house, throwing particles of brick and mortar upon the wounded as they were being conveyed to more distant points from the battle scenes. While starting back with me, one of the bearers received a shot in his hand, and I was dropped to the ground near what I hoped was a spring house so common in Maryland, as I was suffering from thirst. With my left hand and foot I drew myself over the sill of the door, and instead of finding a flooring near the surface, my maimed body shot downward several feet, striking upon a bed of sawdust. A standing ladder broke my fall and I was more frightened than hurt. It was an ice house.

Many of the wounded stopped at this door, hunting for water. Two Zouaves of the 14th Brooklyn also stopped, and the larger one placed his head against the cheek of the door and was about to step down, as he could not see in the darkened depths. I yelled, and he asked if I was in a well. Informing him it was an ice house, he descended the ladder and with a bayonet began digging up the ice, handing me a piece and throwing some up to his comrade. The ice was very refreshing to me. Fearing the building might be burned from the fuse of bursting shells, I asked my comrade to help me to the surface, when he put me under the arm of his wounded hand and reached the top of the ladder, where I was drawn out by the comrade above. Starting to carry me away, they reached an open field where the cannon and minnie balls came so thick and fast that I asked them to lay me behind a walnut stump, and they disappeared. I saw a black quantity of water in the hollow of the stump, and being almost crazed with thirst I drank of it from my hand and crawled to a fence surrounding a woods pasture.

After 19th Indiana Private Robert Patterson was wounded, he was taken to a nearby farmhouse -- 
perhaps David R. Miller's -- where he briefly rested. 
                PANORAMA: David R. Miller farm, where Union wounded were taken.
                                         (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Tearing away a part of a rotten rail, I crawled through the fence and layed down under an oak tree, for I was now very sick, probably caused by the stump water and tadpoles I had drank, and the reaction taking place from my injuries and partial paralysis. But nature asserted itself by ridding my stomach of its vile contents, and I became easier, but with prickly sensations in my right side, indicating returning circulation. I noticed that the sheep in the woods were much frightened at the screeching and bursting shells, and kept running about, while the hogs kept rooting about unless a limb from the trees dropped amongst them.

While laying with my head on the root of this tree a rebel officer mounted on a fine bay horse rode to the brow of a hill in my front, and began to scan the field through his field glasses. This was my first correct idea of the direction of the rebel lines. Fearing he would see and capture me, as I was unarmed, I got up and stood behind a tree. Soon horse and rider dashed in my direction, as I feared to take me prisoner, but he stopped at a tree near the one behind which I stood, and I could have touched the head of his horse while he again looked through his glasses. To my relief, he dashed back and disappeared beyond the hill.

Here I noticed a company of sharpshooters from Pennsylvania deployed as skirmishers advancing across the field from [the] opposite direction. To me they were a gladdening sight, as I understood the notes of command given through the bugle. I pulled myself upon the fence and waved my hat in token of friendship. Their bugle sounded "lay down." When assured I was not an enemy a man was sent to me when he learned of the action of the Confederate major. Learning the direction he went, the skirmisher started double quick down the opposite fence, followed by me, as I could now walk supported by a stick for a cane. I saw him lay his heavy globe-sighted rifle on a fence and fire, In a moment this same horse came dashing back over the hill, without the rider. In a frightened manner he ran about the pasture, and, strange as it may seem, he finally ran directly toward me, when I shielded myself behind a small tree and took hold of his bridle rein. Blood was trinkling down his shoulder from a wound in top of his neck.

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The officer soon approached limpingly, leaning upon a stick. He seemed to think I was the one who had wounded him in the thigh, and raised his hand in token of surrender, saying, "I am your prisoner." I assured him of his safety from further injury as he came up and began patting horse on the neck. He asked why I had shot him in the leg when I could have taken his life. I replied, "There comes the man who can explain," pointing to the skirmisher who was coming near with his still slightly smoking gun. The wounded officer seemed afraid the two Yankees would treat him harshly, but being assured he would be treated as a prisoner should be in civilized warfare, and that I was yet partially disabled, he became more trustful.

The long range sharpshooter explained that the prisoner was sitting with right leg over the horn of his saddle, and that he aimed the bullet to cut the top of the neck of the horse so as to throw the rider and thus make him prisoner without injury, but that it also cut the thigh of the Major. The company of sharpshooters were now on the scene, and their captain tried to determine who captured the horse and man. One thing was certain, I was first in possession of both, though neither one would have come to me without the aid of the sharpshooter. However, the captain decided he could not spare so good a man from his company, and ordered me put in the saddle with the wounded Major behind me to be taken to some general headquarters. I confess I was afraid the stalwart Major might easily kill or capture me in my condition, so the sharpshooter put the prisoner in the saddle, took his revolver from the holster, and led him away, and became the owner of his fine horse as I saw in the papers some time afterwards.

Soon a troop of cavalry came along establishing a picket line, and I was put astride of a horse behind a member of the troop, and was put on one of their reserve posts, where I was tenderly cared for and where I received the first morsel of food I had eaten since the evening before. During the night our picket lines were advanced and I was again taken behind the same cavalry man, and a rough ride I had until we reached a piece of dense woods where I begged him to drop me off his now fractious horse. I lay beside a log all night and became quite chilled by the September breeze.

The morning of the 18th found me near a roadway where I was found and placed in a passing ambulance with others, and all put out at a church house. Here was the most horrifying scene thus far witnessed. Many army surgeons were busy dressing wounds and amputating limbs, and details of men were kept busy wheeling off these dismembered parts and burying them in trenches dug for that purpose.

19th Indians Corporal Joshua Jones died
 Sept. 28, 1862, 11 days after he was wounded 
in the leg at Antietam. He's buried at 
Antietam National Cemetery.
(Find A Gravc)
Almost at my feet was a young soldier of a New York infantry regiment with his lower jaw and most all of his tongue cut away by a piece of shell. He was manifesting every evidence of pain and suffering. The remaining part of his tongue and upper throat was so swollen that ever and anon he or one of his two attending comrades would have to insert a small tube made from an elder bush through which to draw his breath of precious air. So great was his misery that he would earnestly plead by every sign possible with every man having a gun to shoot him and end his agony. I almost concluded it would be an act of humanity to do so, but I am glad it was not done, for, strange as it may seem, after long years of wondering as to his ultimate fate, I found him in Hotel Cadilac at the national encampment in Detroit, Mich., in 1891. He had developed into a tall, healthy and dignified man. I guessed his identity by an appendage in the form of a jaw fitted in the place of the one lost.

I had a couple hours talk with him, he replying on his slate, "Yes, then I had many more years of life before me and would have given a million dollars if I had them to give to have been shot; now I would give that amount to keep from being shot," was one of his notable written sentences, with a semblage of a smile. I accepted his invitation to dinner at the Cadilac, where he kept forty-two of his comrades at his expense. I noticed he took his soups and coffee through silver and glass tubes.

I was glad to be taken from this heroic sufferer to Keedysville, where we were all placed on straw on a barn floor. Here [Corporal] Joshua Jones of my company was brought in on a stretcher. One of his legs was severed, except for a fragment of flesh. Maggots had infested the decaying wound, The surgeons expressed fear that he could not survive the amputation in his extreme weakness, but I saw them remove the limb and he died soon after. I was on the list to be sent to the general hospital at Baltimore, but after being crowded into the ambulance I found I had left my pocket portfolio in the barn, and as it contained the letters and pictures of my mother and the girl I left behind, I went back, and in the long search to find them I missed the ambulance. The surgeon told me to take the next load, but concluded as I had thus far escaped a general hospital, I would try to find my regiment.

"Dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth 
until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church," Robert Patterson recalled about
 the day after the battle.  Here are Confederate fallen along Hagerstown Pike. (Library of Congress)

I presume it was about 8 a.m., when I started. Most of our dead had been buried, and the dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church where the charred bodies in gray uniform lay side by side along a fence that seemed fully half a mile. I presume most of them were carried there, while many were reclining against the fence or a tree, in which position they were killed on this road of fearful carnage.

Captain George Greene was writing the
"obituary" for Patterson when
the wounded private showed up
at the 19th Indiana camp.
(Indiana State Library)
My march was necessarily slow, with many stops for rest, but I reached the remaining portion of the 19th Indiana encamped on the high banks of the Potomac river before sunset, weak and almost exhausted from my short but dreary march. The few remaining boys of Company E gave me a hearty welcome, as one from the tomb. Captain [George] Green [Greene] sat absent-mindedly writing to my mother, who is yet living, my obituary, paying glorious tribute to my career as a soldier on previous battle fields, and finally bravely meeting death at Antietam by shell that never toched [sic] me, except by concussion.

Captain Green gazed at me in glad bewilderment. It was the first and only time I have ever read my own obituary, and I sincerely hope that I will live out of my remaining earthly life as soldier and citizen that my final obituary may contain as much good as the first.

It was marked, "Rest Without Duty For Thirty Days." Duty soon came with the onward march of the army of the Potomac to further contest of defeats and victories with this great army of treason that might have pushed to annihilation before it could recross the river into Virginia. I have ever been glad that I reached my regiment in time to save that report of my death being sent to the paper at home and to the mother who is still living, and that my own letter reached her instead. I have given only a brief synopsis of the moving scenes that were ever shifting before my gaze. Others saw more and differently, and suffered worse in the battle, and those past and to came, but they are given from my own recollection of the most momentous  scenes of fifty years ago today.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.


-- Kemper, G. W. H. (General William Harrison), A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Chicago, Lewis Publishing Co., 1908.
-- The Life and Times of Robert Patterson," Minnetrista Blogs, accessed Sept. 15, 2019.
-- The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star, Sept. 18, 1912, Sept. 30, 1916.
-- The Star Press, Muncie, Ind., July 1, 1913.

Monday, September 16, 2019

History up close: A Maryland man's presidential connection

Donald Shank holds an image of Rutherford Hayes given to his grandfather by Hayes' son.
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Donald Shank lives in a circa-1840 house in Middletown, Md., that has a direct connection to the Civil War. About sunset on Sept. 14, 1862, a disheveled and mud-spattered Union officer — wounded at nearby Fox’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain — was taken to the brick house astride the main road through town. Carried up a narrow staircase to an upstairs bedroom, the man was later joined by his wife, who helped nurse him back to health. The Ohio lieutenant colonel — Rutherford B. Hayes — became the 19th U.S. president in 1877.

Years later, Hayes’ son visited with Shank’s grandfather at the residence — he lived there, too — and gave him an image of his father in uniform. Shank, who was born in the historic house and has lived in it since 1960 with his wife Lois, posed for me with the framed photo, a family heirloom. The couple was gracious during my short visit two years ago. (Read my Civil War Times column on Hayes.)

Early 20th-century postcard of  Jacob Rudy house, where Rutherford Hayes recovered from battle wounds.


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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Shiloh off the beaten path: Original 16th Wisconsin burial site

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In woods, about 40 yards off Eastern Corinth Road at Shiloh (Tenn.) National Military Park, raised blue letters on a marker atop a Federal blue-painted pole jar a first-time visitor to the site: “Burial Place 16th Wisconsin Infantry. Bodies removed to Nat’l Cemetery.” Immediately in front of the marker is a depression in the ground, about 10 yards long, probably remains of a trench where some of the Badger State soldiers were first interred.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A visit to General William Sherman's Shiloh HQ site

On April 6, 1862, the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, Union General William Sherman made his headquarters at this site. It's 200 or so yards off a road in the national battlefield park.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

'God's acre' and cotton fields: An 1882 visit to Stones River

A photograph, probably post-Civil War, of the Hazen Brigade monument at Stones River.
 (Library of Congress | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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In August 1882, reporter George Morgan saw a Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield landscape that's almost impossible to imagine today: mostly farmland planted with cotton and corn, bordered by belts of cedar and oak. "... white cotton blossoms of the morning had turned to pink in the sun and his last rays were upon the silk tufts in the corn," the Philadelphia Times  correspondent eloquently wrote about a field in Murfreesboro.

George Morgan's Stones River account
appeared on Page 1 of the Philadelphia Times
on Aug. 28, 1882.
On a Sunday afternoon, Morgan -- on a tour of Southern battlefields -- rode with the guide over the hallowed ground where the contending armies suffered nearly 25,000 casualties in late December 1862 and early January 1863. Unlike his visit to Franklin days earlier, Morgan surprisingly didn't see much evidence of a battle during his Stones River sojourn.

"I looked in vain," he wrote, "for traces of earthworks and scarred timber. All that one could see were trees of scrubby growth, worm fences, narrow fields and a few cabins with a little darkey and a big dog at the door of each."

Today, modern development encroaches on the Stones River National Battlefield, which comprises a fraction of ground fought over in 1862. A swath of once-open land near the infamous Slaughter Pen is now occupied by a hospital. Ground where Union General Joshua Sill was killed is the parking lot for a bank. Developers have obliterated the site of opening action on Dec. 31, 1862. In its place, we find a fast-food restaurant, a service station and other urban schlock.

Thus this descriptive account by Morgan, published on Page 1 of the Philadelphia Times on Aug. 28, 1882, fills in gaps in the imagination of modern-day battlefield visitor:

Special Correspondence of The Times.
Murfreesboro, Tenn., August 20

When General Alexander Ogle served Somerset's "frosty sons of thunder" in the Pennsylvania Legislature, it fell to him to write, in behalf of the Democratic members, a letter to General [Andrew] Jackson, then stepping across the Presidential threshold. Such work of the scribe was a labor of love, and in submitting to the caucus what he had written General Ogle said: "Gentlemen and members of the Democratic party, I hold in my hand a letter addressed by General Alexander Ogle to General Andrew Jackson, and I have no hesitation in saying that it's a damned able paper."

The members, gathering around, agreed that the letter was just the thing to make Old Hickory's heart thump with satisfaction, and all except one, a dapper little Philadelphian, spoke words of praise. This dandy of the House, fixing his glasses and scanning the page with the critic's smirk, ventured to remark: "Pardon me, General, I do not wish to assume to make a suggestion to so distinguished a gentleman as yourself, but I cannot refrain from saying that it is customary in the East, and I may say in almost all the civilized countries of Europe, to write with the capital 'I' instead of the little 'i ' in using the personal pronoun in epistolary correspondence."

General Ogle drew down his heavy brows, piercing the dandy's marrow with the fierce shaft of scorn that shot from his eye. "Sir," he said, beginning with a hiss and ending with a roar, "when I write to such a great, such a towerin' man as General Andrew Jackson, Democratic President of the United States, I abase myself, I abase myself, sir. I use as small an 'i ' as I can put on paper; but, sir, if I should ever get to such a low-down pitch as to have to write to a damned little snipe as you, I'd use an 'I,' sir, that would fill two sheets of foolscap, so help me God!"

So with this place. In writing of the terrific battle of Murfreesboro the biggest kind of a big "M " must be handled, but I admit at the start that having gone over Murfreesboro battle-field, the most unsatisfactory ground of combat I have yet visited, a very little "m" suggests itself.

A funny old town, indeed

Circa-1891 Kirz & Allison illustration of the Battle of Stones River.
Towards the close of a ride of thirty miles, from Nashville hither, I saw flash by the car-window a stretch of sward thickly dotted with headstones, a close cedar brake, a monument in a cotton patch and then for two miles a succession of tilled fields, until the train shot over Stone's river and rumbled into town. All Murfreesboro seemed to be at the station. Such a gauntlet of tugging, crowding, shouting darkies I hope never to have to run again. Nor was it much better riding from the station to a tavern on the Court House hill. Darkies as plentiful and as black as merry-go-rounds in a mud puddle swarmed along the streets. Behind a boy beating a drum crowded dozens of his dusky fellows, and similar parties moved towards the railroad from other points.

It soon became clear that a jollification was going on, and when one hackman shouted to another "I doan 'spec' dat bulljine kin tote dis heah crowd on dat 'skurshun," the reason for the excitement was plain. Even when shorn of the excursionists Murfreesboro was lively enough. The four rows of stores, shops and jug-booths around the square, in the centre of which stands the Court House, seemed to be overflowing with country people, while lounging along the sidewalks was here a pretty girl, there a dowdv, now a cigarette - smoker, and again a knot of clodhoppers come to town for a day s fun. The like of black people I had never seen. They sat on the dry-goods boxes, stood elbow to elbow at the bars, and kicked across the common toe to heel.

Stone's River in dry time

It was under lively circumstances that we left this swarming centre of Saturday life in a Southern town, for at the start our skittish horse upset a darkey with a basket of eggs, and while from one small boy came the advice, "Look behind, yer boss is blind," three other urchins clung to the axletree. Down the Court House hill we went, however, and passed out from the western skirts of Murfreesboro, aiming to reach by way of Franklin road that part of the field whence [Braxton] Bragg, at daybreak on the last day of 1862, rolled his columns in resistless waves upon the Federal right.

The jerks and jolts of that rule over a road of rocks were about as bad for the backbone as were the accompanying baptisms of red mud for our coats. When less than a mile from the Court House we made abrupt descent of the river bank, fording the branch in yellow water up to the hubs, and while the horse drank I had a good look at the famous stream into which the animal had thrust his nose. So narrow is it that Hanlan with a twist of his wrist could shoot his shell across from one high bank of limestone to the other, and though there might be water enough to drown a bagful of kittens I fancy tho old cat would survive.

Grass grows in matted rankness along one shore and in places boulders show their brown heads. Nor was there lack of life in the picture, for just as we started seven girls of a party on a picnic, gathering their skirts in their fingers, tripped interestingly in Indian file over the foot-ford.

Where Bragg struck his blow

"Hell's Half Acre," where a brigade of Federals under William Hazen held off waves of enemy assaults
on Dec. 31, 1862. The Nashville Pike is at right. 
Even after we had jolted on a mile further and were well on historic ground, there was no hint in the rocky road, nor in the cotton fields and stretches of black-jack by its side, of the beginning of the fight. I looked in vain for traces of earthworks and scarred timber. All that one could see were trees of scrubby growth, worm fences, narrow fields and a few cabins with a little darkey and a big dog at the door of each. Nevertheless, twenty years ago, when the frost looked in the dawn like a shroud upon the dead grass of December, ten thousand men swept by this spot, moving at the quick-step, shoulder to shoulder and arms a-trail.

Edward Kirk: Union
general was mortally
wounded at Stones River.
In his flight the rabbit scattered the furze and the partridge dashed the hollyberry from the thorn. The thud of the footfall, the snap of the twig, the rustle of the cedar-branch caused no tell-tale wave in the air. Tecumseh's moccasins would have made as much noise as did [William] Hardee that midwinter morning when, passing the Franklin road, he struck [Alexander] McCook the terrific blow. Along they dashed, without drum tap -- [Matthew] Ector, [James] Rains, [Evander] McNair and [Patrick] Cleburne's brigadiers -- over Federal pickets, by camp-fires, into whole companies, still breakfasting, until the heroic [Union general] Edward Kirk, advancing to grasp death's hand, woke the still woods with a warning that roared along the line from flank to flank.

In the track of the storm

As we turned from the Franklin road into the thicket in order to follow the track of the Confederate advance, I noticed a large stone that had been set upon end, seemingly to mark some spot of interest. Tho stone was roughly scrawled over with the words "J. E. Wright, Ninth Texas," but whether that follower of McCown fell here or afterwards visited and marked the place of his triumph there was nothing to indicate. This led me to look around for the spot where General Kirk fell -- time, as well as love's labor, lost. Indeed, we had gone a little ways only when the guide backed and filled so, hee-hawing over his tobacco-quid like a mule at a camp meeting, that I suspected he had lost his bearings.

"Gee-up, gee-up, thar!" The horse was snorting and plunging among chincapin bushes, trembling at the flanks and champing at the bit.

"I say, you seem to be in need of a compass?"

"Wall, it's kind o' funny furr a fac'. I 'low I'm aleetlo flurried."

Though the old guide was lost within two miles of Murfreesboro, where he had jerked the gurgling jug aloft for at least half a century. I did not blame him. We were in the thick of a wilderness of cedar and scrub oak, which are characteristic of the battle-field.

A place to see ghosts in

                PANORAMA: Where Union General Philip Sheridan's soldiers held the line
               for two hours on Dec. 31, 1862 -- battling until they had no more bullets.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

The face of the level land here is hidden in undergrowth of briars and stunted timber. When [John] McCown, Cleburne and [Benjamin] Cheatham passed over it, constantly circling in heavy masses round the Federal right, there were more clearings, and winter had stripped bare both bush and ground, leaving the evergreen cedars as the only screen for the frightened foe. Now the density of the brake shut us in on every side. The old driver tried first this path, then that, striking against rocks, scraping the buggy top and swearing as though he would scorch the roof of his mouth. At last we got out of the wilderness, emerging by a rough road that took us past the Harding farm house.

In the yard, where a peacock put himself in fine plume to greet us, once lay hundreds of dying men, because here was a field hospital which [Phil] Sheridan and [James] Negley taxed to the utmost. A rifle shot's flight further along we came out upon Wilkinson's turnpike and stopped at Blanton's farm house, where awful slaughter occurred. Dr. Burrows, the present owner of the mansion, took pains to show us such things as shell marks and rifle pits, but the evidences of the great struggle were few. About two years ago the skeletons of eleven Union soldiers were found in the cellar of an abandoned house on Dr. Burrows' place, a rare occurrence, as the dead of Stone's river have been given Christian burial either at the Confederate Cemetery south of the town or at the National Cemetery, whither we went full tilt on a good by-road.

Trotting across to Nashville Pike

The Nashville Pike about 20 years after the battle, probably much as reporter George Morgan saw it.
(National Park Service)
             PANORAMA: Where Union officer Julius Garesche, an aide to commander 
          William Rosecrans, was decapitated by Confederate artillery on Dec. 31, 1862. 
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

On the way to the cemetery the guide showed me what he said was the place where [Union general George] Thomas had stood, for that hero was the rock of Stone's river as well as " the rock of Chickamauga." More over, the guide amused himself by pointing out the spot where a shell took off [Julius] Garesche's head as he rode by the side of [William] Rosecrans, but so far from believing him I felt like telling him to go off somewhere and hang his feet over. He was as useful a guide as  McCook was a general. I knew, however, from General [Henry] Cist's excellent map in my hand, that we were passing over the new line whereon Rosecrans rallied his men and withstood all further shocks. Soon the open fields were in sight, and then a trot of a few minutes brought us to the cemetery.

A beauty-spot among barrens

                                  PANORAMA: Stones River (Tenn.) National Cemetery. 
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

This God's acre, set apart for more than six thousand soldiers slain in battle, is between the Nashville railroad and the Nashville turnpike, The turf is as smooth as a tennis plot, and around it passes a hedge so lovely as not to be surpassed by the maples, the vines, and the flowers. It is a garden-spot, offering contrast to the ground immediately without. A pebble could be thrown from the keeper's cosy lodge to a cabin of squalor just beyond the pike. The tiny sweet-william and the snap-dragon grow wild by the cabin, but in the place of the dead are blossoms that tell of years of painstaking.

Just to the north of the cemetery we came to a sort of darkey village, a settlement without a central point and without streets, more of a cluster of cabins than anything else. I was told that the cabins were built during the years of loose ownership in land that followed the battle. The colored people would pass whole days in the fields and brakes roundabout, gathering lead iron, shoes and the what-not scattered by the one hundred thousand men whose bivouacs had been passed therein. Most of the cabins had stone fences around them, for stones thickly strew the surface, and sometimes one may take a dozen steps on the smooth top of boulders level with the soil.

A battle-field monument

A train follows the war-time railroad course past the Hazen Brigade Cemetery.
The object next of interest in that locality is a monument put up in 1863 by [William] Hazen's Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland. It consists of a pile of stone some twelve feet high and bears the names of several officers killed here and at Shiloh. Referring to the brigade, the Nineteenth of [Don Carlos] Buell's old Army of the Ohio, the inscription runs: "The blood of one-third its soldiers, twice spilled in Tennessee, crimsons the battle-flag of the brigade and inspires to greater deeds." Little inspiration could be drawn from the surroundings, though, because a few dozen unkept graves, some rough prickly pears and corners overgrown with weeds were the only marked objects near the shaft. And even had I found food for patriotic reflection there, the mood would have vanished a few moments later, as a fresh bull-dog of yellow hue chased the tired sight-seer headlong through a cotton held to the waiting buggy in the road.

A present-day close-up of the Hazen Brigade monument.

A parting glimpse

As we drove back past the famous "Round Forest," now no longer standing, what we saw was well worth seeing. The white cotton blossoms of the morning had turned to pink in the sun and his last rays were upon the silk tufts in the corn. Coming in sight of the river again the guide pointed out a dozen or more forts, and these proved to be better preserved than any other battle-marks in the vicinity. They are on the southern bluff, having been built after Bragg had retreated. Some are partly covered with bushes, but those near the road are bare and in the gathering twilight they looked as red as the clouds far over by the west. On top of one fort stood a cabin and in an angle of the earthworks its lord and master was penning his ox -- the last thing seen in the last glimpse caught of Murfreesboro field.

G. M.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

'Find of a lifetime' at vanishing Stones River (Tenn.) battlefield

Stan Hutson holds a Riker case of Civil War buttons on the spot of his find at a construction site.
BELOW: A panorama of the construction site. (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL SCREEN.)

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Sweating profusely in the early-evening heat, Stan Hutson swung his Fisher F75 metal detector back and forth across the barren landscape. He had arrived at the construction site in Murfreesboro, Tenn. --- scene of opening action of the 1862 Battle of Stones River -- at 5 p.m., but in 90 minutes' hunting his finds included just two round balls, a 58-caliber Minie and camp lead.

At about 6:30 p.m., Hutson heard a promising signal in his metal detector headphones. "I knew it was something good," he said. Hutson, a maintenance worker for the National Park Service at nearby Stones River (Tenn.) National Battlefield, dug a hole about six to eight inches deep. The ground was mostly stripped of topsoil by the construction crew in preparation for the building of apartments.

A close-up of one of the three Confederate
droop eagle buttons Stan Hutson found.
(Courtesy Stan Hutson)
Hutson reached into the red clay and topsoil mix and picked up a small, oval object with a green patina. He instantly knew it was special. The find was a Civil War-era ball button.

But Hutson -- who does all his relic hunting on his personal time -- wasn’t finished.

In the same hole, he unearthed another button. Then another. And another. One of the buttons was a rare Confederate droop wing eagle button. The hair stood up on Hutson’s arm. The Rebel button was just like the one his relic hunting friend David had found roughly an hour earlier about 50 yards away. In all, the U.S. Army Afghanistan war veteran discovered three Confederate droop wing eagle buttons and seven ball buttons.

“It was,” he told me, “the find of a lifetime” and “like hitting the lottery.” Confederate buttons,  commonly found by relic hunters decades ago, are rare finds nowadays, Hutson said.

What makes the find even more astounding is eight of the 10 the buttons still have a little bit of cloth attached. Although the buttons were buried for nearly 157 years, you can even see the weave.

Hutson, a relic hunter for about a year, speculates the buttons all came from the same great coat, more than likely one that belonged to a Confederate officer from Texas or Tennessee. Troops from those states swept over the ground early on the frosty morning of Dec. 31, 1862, to fight Yankees nearby. The officer, tired, hot and focused on directing soldiers, simply may have tossed away the coat in the heat of battle.

Stan Hutson's finds: 10 buttons, including three Confederate droop wing eagle buttons, and pieces of cloth
that were attached to some of them. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Hutson and I visited the site of his buttons find recently. I parked my car at a fast-food restaurant and then we walked about 50 yards or so to the construction site. Traffic hummed on nearby Interstate-24. Four Cat bulldozers and a dump truck, evil engines of destruction of hallowed ground, stood idle 20 yards away. This was an off day for the construction crew, which two days earlier had granted Hutson and his friend permission to hunt the ground.

At the spot of his find, Hutson posed for photos with a Riker case containing the 10 buttons. We surveyed the scene with a mixture of sadness and wonder. Bulldozers had removed hundreds of yards of topsoil, giving the area a surface-of-the-moon-like appearance. Like many other areas where fighting occurred during the Battle of Stones River, this immediate area was overtaken by urban schlock: fast-food restaurants, service stations and who-knows-what else.

Eight of the 10 buttons Hutson found still
had cloth attached. (Courtesy Stan Hutson)
Only a small fraction of the vast Stones River Battlefield is National Park Service property. The rest is being carved up by pitiless developers. It breaks a history lover’s heart.

Why couldn’t the site of Hutson's find be saved? Who will ever know what happened there at the Battle of Stones River, a Western Theater engagement that resulted in nearly 24,000 casualties?

More importantly, where are the battlefield preservationist champions for Stones River? Rutherford County, Tenn., sorely could have used a man like this.

In the distance, a two-story mountain of dirt, topsoil removed for construction of the apartments, loomed. When we stood on the eyesore, I stared at it briefly, hoping to find evidence of civil war. “There’s no telling how many bullets we’re standing on now,” Hutson said.

As we walked back to my car, Hutson talked about the “mental escape” relic hunting provides him. It’s great exercise, too. He's thrilled to have saved little pieces of Stones River battlefield history. “If not for me,” he said without a hint of braggadocio, “these [buttons] would be gone forever.”

“Look,” he added, “what Mother Nature has perfectly preserved.”

Then he recounted one more story about the hallowed ground soon to be gone forever. While he and his friend hunted the site, a doe and two fawns danced across the field. “Every evening they were out here frolicking,” Hutson said. “Where are they going to go? Their habitat is being destroyed.”

But who cares. Who really cares?

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Monday, August 19, 2019

'Where'll I find the Crater?': A visit to Petersburg in 1881

In 1887, six years after reporter George Morgan's Petersburg visit, 57th Massachusetts veterans
pose at The Crater.  William Mahone, the Confederate brigadier general who led counterattacks 
at The Crater on July 30, 1864 is the man with the cane and long, white beard
 in the front row. (William Tipton | Library of Congress)

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On a tour of Southern battlefields in 1881. Philadelphia Times correspondent George Morgan stopped in Petersburg, Va., where citizens weren't especially eager to talk about momentous Civil War events that occurred there. At least one of them, however, profited from the war: The farmer who owned land where the Federals famously exploded a mine under the Confederates' salient on July 30, 1864, charged visitors a quarter apiece to visit the "historic hole" created by the blast.

Correspondent George Morgan toured Civil War
battlefields in 1881-1882 and wrote about the
experiences for the Philadelphia Times.
His Petersburg story was published in the
 Times on Sept. 5, 1881.
"...he was obliged to charge a fee," Morgan wrote about Timothy R. Griffith, who owned The Crater, "as otherwise his visitors, after the reckless manner of Sunday sight-seers, would trample down his cotton and kill his corn."

The Crater was the feature Civil War attraction in Petersburg, and Morgan unsurprisingly made it one of his first stops. It looked "like an abandoned reservoir," he wrote, "of uneven banks and irregular bottom, overgrown with clumps of briars and bushes. It is one hundred and sixty feet long, sixty feet wide and twenty-five feet deep."

Morgan made no mention of soldier remains at The Crater, where a photograph taken a little more than a decade earlier showed human skulls gruesomely perched on the rim of the giant hole. In visits to forts Damnation, Davis and Rice and elsewhere in the immediate area, the 27-year-old reporter also found plentiful evidence of civil war.

"...every rain," he wrote, "washes out Minie balls and grape [shot] on all the farms between the lines."

Here's Morgan's colorful account -- which includes a caustic assessment of the Union attack at The Crater -- that was published on Page 1 of the Times on Sept. 5, 1881:

Special Correspondence of The Times

Petersburg, September 3

America's Sevastopol, which I make bold to call this place of prolonged siege, seems to me to be a sort of Richmond on a small scale. The streets and stores of this pretty little city on the Appomattox are much like those of the proud beauty on the James: the nooks and crannies of the one suggest those of the other, and there is that in the air here whereby the stranger recognizes the Virginia capital in miniature. In Richmond, however, there may be felt the snap and dash of a lively now South, while at this ancient point of trade there is a hint of Dixie, not altogether unadulterated, but still pleasantly suggestive of the land of "cinnamon seed and sandy bottom."

Though the town is surrounded by the ruins of numerous forts and though many of the people served in the trenches, I find them averse to talking about the siege. Furthermore, those of whom I asked questions apparently fail to appreciate what a big thing they have in the matter of battle-fields. Very likely it is because they have them at their doors and it is the old story of the weather prophet who is not without success save in his own country. It wouldn't be at all wonderful if St. Peter has ceased to admire the golden hinges of his big gate, and no doubt the devil fails to appreciate the interesting section over which he presides.

On the Jerusalem Plank

"Where'll I find the Crater?'' I asked, coming out from the built-up part of the town and emerging upon Jerusalem plank-road.

"Feth, an' am thinkin' yo'll be afther gettin' yer nuff av the crathur beyant there in Jimmy O'Nail's saloon," replied my interlocutor, pointing to a sign whereon "Old Rye," "XX Ale" and things of that kind blazingly figured.

"He don't mean that crater; some other crater," chimed in a small boy; "he moans the big C-r-a-t-e-r, where the Yanks busted a hole in old man Griffith's field."

"Och, bejasus, tho't yo was manin' the livin' liquid herself;" and as I drove on I left the boy telling the citizen how Burnside had wasted his tons of powder. Passing along the Jerusalem road for more than a mile I came to a road that branched off into a field of peanut plants. At the side of the gateway was the sign:


At the end of the field road, a few hundred yards from the sign, I saw a large, roundish bank of red earth topped by shrubs and small trees. Near by is a two-story frame house in which lives T. R. Griffith, the owner of the farm and the guardian of the historic hole. Mr. Griffith led me up the side of the Crater, explaining as he brushed the weeds from the path that for self-protection he was obliged to charge a fee, as otherwise his visitors, after the reckless manner of Sunday sight-seers, would trample down his cotton and kill his corn.

What the Crater looks like

Present-day view of The Crater, on outskirts of Petersburg. (Photo:Shelly Liebler | Visit her Instagram page)
Tunnel dug by 48th Pennsylvania soldiers for a mine placed under Confederate salient nearby.
(Photo: Shelly Liebler)
The land within a half mile in every direction is clear of woods and at this time is checkered by fields of corn, cotton and peanuts and patches of ground that are fallow. Looking to the north the fields slope downward, and so with the strip to the east, but passing a ravine the slope is upward to the Federal line. To the west and south is rising ground, with the city cemetery on the ridge and the city itself beyond. The crater now looks like an abandoned reservoir, of uneven banks and irregular bottom, overgrown with clumps of briars and bushes. It is one hundred and sixty feet long, sixty feet wide and twenty- five feet deep. The earth is brown, with red blotches, being clay sub-soil.

The parapet of the fort remains and serves as the rim and border of the pit. Pine, peach, apple and atlanthus trees, together with grapevines, blackberry bushes and fruitless briars, grow thickly in the hollows, which look as if a herd of wild boars with hundred-horse-power snouts had rooted them out a dozen years ago. Extending from the northeastern corner of the crater in a straight line down hill to the ravine, two hundred yards away, is a sunken, narrow, ditch-like sink in the earth. This is the surface line of the tunnel dug by Schuylkill county soldiers, who had been brought up in mines and who wormed their way from the ravine until they stored thousands of pounds of powder just under this spot. As I sit in the crotch of a peach tree and look at the points of the field, now little changed from the day when it was the scene of a wonderful episode in war, the picture comes vividly up.

How ten tons of powder spoke

Marker denoting 48th Pennsylania soldiers' role in The Crater explosion.
(Photo: Shelly Liebler)
It is not yet sunrise and the defenders are asleep among the traverses and under the guns of the fort. A match, a touch, a hissing fuse and what a thing of mould and force infernal is now let loose. It is as though a young volcano, held in nature's mystery underground, has burst its bonds. The crust is rent by the up-coming bolt and fire flashes through broken clods of earth that fly to mid-air two hundred feet above. Sand, stones, guns, men, everything within reach of the blast, are blown skyward. A brass piece that weighs a ton is sent whirling over the parapet for a hundred yards.

Young Chandler, who an instant before slept beneath the gun, is hurled so high and so far that his bruised body falls within the Union lines. Men die in the air, never knowing in what unwonted and in what sulphurous guise death has unwrapped itself. Answering to the quake that is felt as far as Richmond and that shakes the steeples at Norfolk, a hundred miles away, come the roll and roar of [Ulysses] Grant's artillery. In redan and redoubt [Robert E.] Lee's men are benumbed and shrink lest the old mole has toothed his blind path under other forts and lest instantly now other death-bolts shall start up from the depths. Lee's batteries to the right and left are deserted; the outburst has broken his line and into it a wedge that may end the war in a week can now be driven. The mine itself is a wonder. It does its work with the swift flight of an electric streak that zig-zags across a bank of clouds in summer time, rendering the thunderous acclaim of its own success.

In the death trap

Granite marker near The Crater. The Federals suffered 504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing 
or captured  in the battle. Many of the casualties were U.S. Colored Troops. (Photo: Shelly Liebler)
But it is in the driving of the wedge that the gain becomes loss. What thus far has been an immense success now turns to that which is worse than a failure. What is needed is that the wedge shall be driven with Grant's best sledge hammer promptly home. A mass of boasting black men, whose battle-cry of "No quarter!" comes as an echo from Fort Pillow, are sent under a leader unworthy of his uniform to accomplish what only the pick of the army could hope to do. A whole hour is given [Confederate General William] Mahone in which to throw himself into the breech. Lee's artillery is again manned and hotly begins to work.

Union troops advance toward The Crater after the explosion
of the mine. (Alfred Waud | Library of Congress)
Poor devils of black men from shouting "No quarter" now shriek wild prayers for pity. Boasting becomes beseeching. The miserable wretches are bayoneted by friends and shot down by the foe. Without head or order the entrapped victims huddle close about the gap in the ground, seeking shelter behind heaps of upturn earth and even shielding themselves vainly with the bodies of dead comrades. The crater is a death-trap. From many batteries, where lurid gleams come through shrouds of smoke, shot and shell are hailed incessantly, and what was a spot of triumph is now a slaughter-pen a place of torn earth, soaked in the blood of four thousand men.

[Read historian Kevin Levin's detailed account of the Battle of the Crater. Levin's book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, may be purchased here.] 

Forts Hell and Damnation

Monument denoting the role of Fort Stedman, a Union fortification at Petersburg. 
(Photo: Shelly Liebler)
The Crater is the main object of interest on the lines of fortifications and it is more frequently visited than Forts Steadman, Haskell and Sedgwick, which lie within sight to the north and cast. There are traces of Fort McGilver far beyond Fort Steadman and the outlines of the latter are just as distinctly marked. All the traverses have been removed and all the covered ways destroyed, for Fort Hell, as the armies nicknamed the Steadman redoubt, is now a garden wherein truck is raised for the Petersburg market. A farm house has been erected in the enclosure and O.P. Hare now peacefully dwells where Gordon and havoc once swept along. [Note: Fort Sedgwick was nicknamed "Fort Hell," not Fort Stedman.]

Fort Haskell is in better preservation than any other of the Federal redoubts. Pine trees grow in and around the enclosure and both the inner and outer works with a little use of the shovel could be made as formidable as in the days of death. Many of the oaks in the vicinity contain bullets. nor is it unusual to pick up rusty reminders of battle anywhere along the line from that point southward to Fort Sedgwick. Only half of that famous place of strength now remains. It was built across the Jerusalem road on two plantations.

The part on Mr. Griger's farm was long ago leveled and is now in corn, but the half on the east side still stands. Mahone's Fort Damnation shows many remnants. Fort Davis is in good condition, and Fort Rice has suffered little from the wear and tear of time. In this way the curious visitor might follow the lines of defense and contravallation down to Hatcher's Run and the Five Forks field. Wherever the land was cultivated before the war the works have been levolod, but where the lines passed through woods the works are very much as they were when abandoned. In the high and rolling lands the woods contain white oak, red oak, poplar and hickory, but in the light, sandy soil grow pines, ash, elm and buttonwood. At points where a link in the chain of fortifications is missing the line may be traced by the color of the sub-soil. Where the land is tilled most of the shells and bits of lead have been picked up, yet every rain washes out Minie balls and grape on all the farms between the lines.

Present-day view of Fort Stedman, better known as Fort Hell. (Photo: Shelly Liebler)

Pink blossoms and white

There is a delightful thing about Petersburg that never before has been mentioned in print. The city is bordered in its suburbs by a long bolt of peach trees which, in the spring, turn myriad white blossoms out to the sun and thus give a beautiful girdle to the place once trussed with bands of iron and cordons of steel. In that long and weary year of watchfulness the Southern soldiers were glad to get fruit and the best things that came to them from the Carolinas were peaches, whereof the pink flesh was sweeter than honey-dew. The kernels were dropped upon the battle-ground; the army tramped sorely on to Appomattox; winter came again, and then from the trenches sprang fruit trees that have flourished to this day. Down in the sunny South there is a kind of peach that shows a white bud; elsewhere the blossom is touched with pink. All other peach trees around Petersburg have the pink flower, and the battle-field peach thus keeps its mark and proud distinction. So now, starting from the river at the north, Lee's line may be traced for six miles or more by the far-reaching orchard planted in blood.


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