Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Meet Hartford undertaker who recovered bodies at Antietam

In the Hartford Daily Courant, undertaker William Roberts and businessman M.S. Chapman
 advertised for their services to retrieve bodies of Union soldiers from battlefields in the South. 

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To recover remains of loved ones who died at Antietam, some Connecticut families paid for the services of William W. Roberts, a 48-year-old Hartford undertaker/coffin maker, who specialized in the grim task. In early October 1862, he returned home with a ghastly haul of eight bodies from the battlefield, including 26-year-old Jarvis Blinn of Rocky Hill. The well-regarded captain of Company F in the 14th Connecticut was shot through the heart on William Roulette’s farm.

In the Hartford Daily Courant, Roberts and businessman M.S. Chapman, a  former Union soldier, frequently touted their body retrieval services: "...have it done in a thoroughly reliable manner, by one who has had much experience, and is well-acquainted with the different localities in the South," one advertisement noted.

A sketch of William Roberts that appeared 
with his obituary in the Hartford Daily Courant
 on May 23, 1898.
Read another: "Persons having friends who have died in the army, and buried at Port Royal, Washington, Fortress Monroe, Shenandoah Valley, before Richmond, or anywhere within our lines can have their remains brought north for internment by applying at the office of Wm. W. Roberts."

"Those who have lost friends in the army and desire to procure their bodies," the newspaper reported, "will do well to consult W. W. Roberts, No. 12 Pratt st."

Even well into October 1864, months after the war ended, Roberts and Chapman advertised for their  services.

Born in Newington, about seven miles from Hartford, Roberts was orphaned at an early age. After learning to become a carpenter, he operated a furniture business on Pratt Street in Hartford, across the street from a bank. Roberts later added an undertaking business and was known for the impressive innovation of adding glass to the sides of a hearse -- the first man in the United States to do so. He became so good at coffin-making that his "burial caskets of artistic design earned him a reputation which extended throughout New England."

In September 1866, Roberts, a wealthy man, left the business of death for the entertainment business. In 1868, he built the Hartford Opera House on Main Street and for 17 years "provided practically all of the professional entertainment in the city."

"Silent and uncommunicative by nature," Roberts died at age 84 on May 22, 1898. The man who was very fond of horses and "always had one or more handy steppers in his stable" is buried in Hartford's Spring Grove Cemetery, not far from where he once crafted coffins for the dead of Antietam.

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-- Hartford Daily Courant, May 23, 1898.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Teenager's Antietam: Close calls, slumber on amputated limbs

11th Connecticut Private Philo S. Pearce survived the Battle of Antietam and the war.
(Hayes Research Library, Fremont, Ohio via Dan Masters)
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Nothing could have prepared 18-year-old Philo Stevens Pearce for the harrowing sights and sounds of Sept. 17, 1862.

Before an attack at Rohrbach Bridge, the 11th Connecticut private narrowly dodged a colonel's falling horse, victim of shrapnel from a Confederate artillery shell. "I can say it took some nerve to keep cool," he wrote decades later in his war memoir, "as shells were bursting all around us."

When Pearce and other skirmishers in companies A and B advanced through a cornfield near Antietam Creek, they happened upon an unusual sight: horns and other instruments left behind by a Rebel brass band that had skedaddled.

Then  the "fun commenced" about 10 a.m.

11th Connecticut Captain John Griswold
was mortally wounded near
the Rohrbach Bridge, commonly
known today as Burnside Bridge.
"Come on, boys!" 11th Connecticut Captain John Griswold shouted as he urged his Nutmeggers to plunge across Antietam Creek with him. On the bluff above the stone-arch bridge, Georgians poured hot lead into the 25-year-old officer and other skirmishers. Clipped in the left side by a bullet, Pearce dived into a ditch, avoiding a more serious wound -- or worse. "This," he recalled, "surely saved my scalp."

Severely wounded, Griswold, grandson of a Connecticut governor, somehow staggered to the opposite bank. Firing all 60 of his rounds in his breech-loading Sharps rifle, Pearce borrowed more from a wounded comrade. "I fired so fast," he remembered, "that my rifle got hot and I had to pour water on it to cool it."

After the Rebels retreated from the bluff, Pearce and two other soldiers scrambled to the other bank, scooped up Griswold and carried the mortally wounded captain to a nearby field hospital -- probably on the Henry Rohrbach farm. But Pearce's battle was far from over.

Ordered by a surgeon to aid with an amputation, the teenager administered chloroform to a severely wounded soldier. Then the surgeon quickly sawed off an arm and a leg, and the limbs were gruesomely tossed through an open window.

"I kept on holding chloroform for a few more," Pearce remembered. "I began to get dizzy from the effect. I staggered outside and when I came to my senses, I was laying on arms and legs.

"This was enough for me around there."


Post-battle image of Burnside Bridge by Alexander Gardner taken n 1862. In his 1925 memoir, 
11th Connecticut Private Philo Pearce writes he was one of three soldiers to carry mortally wounded 
11th Connecticut Captain John Griswold from the far bank after he was mortally wounded. 
(Library of Congress)

Account of Private Philo Stevens Pearce, Co. A, 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry of the Battle of Antietam: 

The battle of Antietam was fought September 17, 1862. On the day before, our army was marched into a large field probably one half mile in the rear from where the Rebel line was waiting for us across the creek. We all lay down on our arms that night. Some of the boys were detailed to fill canteens with water. They went to a house on a ridge beyond us to get water from a well. This house was between the two lines. The boys found the Rebels were after water, too. No one was armed. They agreed not to hurt each other. They got into quite a chat and the Rebels said, “We’uns won’t fight you now, but wait until morning and then we’uns will clean you’ns out!”

The boys returned back to us and reported it to the officers, who were fools to go with a squad of men and arrest a few of their men. Of course the Rebels reported this to their men. In a short time, a battery of Rebels opened fire on us, but being dark they couldn’t quite tell where we were. They had range so their shells caused some excitement. We were close together, but our side did not reply. Soon they quit firing but we well knew what would come in the morning. When we received our arms after being mustered into U.S. service in Hartford, Conn., our Co. A and B were presented by the people with Sharps’ breech loading rifles, while other companies had red Springfield rifles. Companies A and B most always were put on the head skirmish line.

On the morning of September 17th, we ate our hardtack without any coffee and were soon called to order. We were on the move, getting the lines formed for an advance, on the ridge above the creek. The Rebel battery got a range on us. Soon our batteries were swung into position and the artillery duel commenced. While our colonel was getting us into line and was on his horse, a shell from the Rebels broke and a piece struck his horse. As the horse fell, I had to dodge to keep it from falling on me. The colonel was not hurt and was soon on his feet, calling us to keep cool. I can say it took some nerve to keep cool as shells were bursting all around us.

       The 11th Connecticut attacked from right to left across this field on Sept. 17, 1862.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

We were soon ordered forward. Cos. A and B as usual were put on the skirmish line ahead of the battle line.  We deployed in line, being about a rod apart and down the ridge toward the creek. Before we got to the creek, we came into a cornfield. This was quite a protection, but [it did] not last long. In this cornfield, we came upon a Rebel brass band who had run and left their horns and instruments laying on the ground. We came to the edge of the field where there was a rail fence along the road. The Rebel line was just across the creek from us. Now the ‘fun’ commenced.

I don’t think we were over 20 rods apart. Our Capt. John Griswold was a brave man and jumped over the fence saying ‘come on boys!’ I, with some others, did jump. As we did, we got a volley of shots from the Rebel line. I had a ball cut through the top of my left side but did not cut the flesh. I fell into the road ditch where it had been plowed and scraped. This surely saved my scalp. Now it was time to do our duty. Capt. Griswold was hit and he rushed into the creek and kept plunging ahead until he got across. He shouted for us to come and get him but we had our hands full. To say we worked well is putting it mildly. I fired every shot I had and Sgt. [Irving] Stevens, the man next to me, was hit through his left hand and couldn’t fire anymore. He shoved his cartridge box to me and said ‘I can’t fire anymore.’ I fired so fast that my rifle got hot and I had to pour water on it to cool it.

Georgians fired on the Union IX Corps from this position on 
the bluffs above Antietam Creek.  The foliage is much thicker
 today than it was in 1862.
I had a good view of their line across the creek on the ridge. Before our battle line got down, I had fired all my shells and what Sgt. Stevens had left. Each man had 60 rounds and all of our company who did not get over the fence fired all their shells. When the battle line came down, each one fell behind the fence. I lay in the ditch in the front as close as I could as the line was falling over me. This lasted until our men to the right charged the bridge with three charges. This forced the Rebel line back as our men kept crossing and driving the Rebels back. Our loss was heavy. Colonel [Henry] Kingsbury was killed, Lt. Col. [William] Moegling wounded and most all the staff officers killed or wounded.

After the bridge was taken, two men and myself waded the creek and brought Capt. Griswold back. He lived about an hour after we got him across. He gave his watch to the first one over who was Ira Taylor. The other one was Joe Mallory and myself. We carried him back to the hospital on the hill where he died.

The field was strewn with wounded. We had red stripes tied on our arms and were put to work taking care of the wounded. I carried water and helped the best I could. I was working on one of the worst wounded men who had one leg shattered and one arm broken. One of the surgeons ordered us to carry him to the hospital where they amputate. We laid him on the table where surgeons were working in great haste.  I held chloroform to his nose and mouth and soon they had one arm and one leg off, throwing the limbs out the window. As soon as this was done another man was laid on the table. I kept on holding chloroform for a few more. I began to get dizzy from the effect. I staggered outside and when I came to my senses, I was laying on arms and legs. This was enough for me around there.

I made a break back to find where our company was located. I had to pass over the field where our dead lay. Such a valley of death was enough to turn a man’s heart to stone. I could hardly step without stepping over a corpse. The field was literally strung with our dead. Two others and myself were pretty well exhausted and hungry for something to eat. I saw one of our dead soldiers had a knapsack with some coffee and hardtack, more than I had. I thought it was no more use to him. I took my knife and cut the strap, then taking it with me. We went down on the creek bank and made a fire to make some coffee. After eating, we had some strength and satisfied our hunger. Then we went to find our company. I found one of our boys’ rifles which I needed because I left mine on the bank when we carried our captain.

After he was wounded, 11th Connecticut Captain John Griswold was taken to "the hospital on 
the hill"  -- probably Henry Rohrbach's farm. Here are the Rohrbach farmhouse and barn.

When we found our company there were only 18 of the 75 going into action the morning before. The rest were killed, wounded, or missing. A sergeant took charge about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We formed in line with some fresh troops who had not been engaged in the morning. The fresh ones were placed in advance and we were held in reserve to support them. The Rebel line had fallen back upon a ridge and formed their line again, throwing rail piles and whatever they could get for protection. They waited for us to advance. The green troops in front of us old troops -- all were ready.

Lieutenant [Morris] Kraszynski took charge and said "Now boys, no man falls out to carry back the wounded. Plenty of men to the rear to do this." His language was broken, but he was a brave little officer. Our line was moving forward and our batteries opened fire on the Rebel line with shells cracking all around. We moved ahead on a double quick charge and were close to their heels. As we neared the top of the bridge, bullets were singing thick and sharp. We spotted a four foot wide woodpile in front of us and we were making for it. The first man shot was our lieutenant, struck through the rear part of his pants and hips. The first thing we heard was, ‘Oh my God, I’m shot! Two free men carry me back!’ Just about 10 minutes before, he cautioned us to fall out to carry men back. Some of the boys sang out, ‘You go to hell. Plenty of men to the rear to carry you back!’ We ran forward and covered ourselves behind the woodpile from which we could fire at the enemy with good advantage.

We didn’t remain there long as our boys were going forward at a double quick charge and we were following to support them. The new troops in front made a fine charge but they got impulsive so we had to hold them on our line. When they came back on us, we had a time to hold them and make them fall into our line. I know we had made good work of our guns to keep them from rushing over us. I can say a stampede like this is hard to keep men from pushing through anything. We held and made them get into our line.

Present-day image of Burnside Bridge, also known as Rohrbach Bridge.
The Rebels saw their chance and charged back on our line, thinking they could get our army routed and defeat us. Our batteries in position were waiting for the enemy. When we got in reach of our line, it was our time to make it hot for the Rebels. We broke their line, charged, and gained the rail piles from where they had started. We held them after they again formed but were repulsed and we gained our ground.

It was now getting towards evening and both sides were glad the bloody day was over. Such a sight as that field again where we fought in the forenoon. The field was filled with our men and Rebels. While we were behind the rail piles and the Rebels were making their last charge, in came our wild Irishman  Jim Conboy (of the shell incident). We were firing as fast as we could load and shoot and the bullets were coming over us like hail stones. Jim sang out, ‘Bejabers, hear those muskets sing!’ I can say they were singing but rather the bullets. This showed the grit of which Jim was made. This put us in, mad enough to give them our best licks.

Now evening closed on that bloody day of September 17, 1862. We laid down on our arms that night completely exhausted. Our loss was heavy and our regiment lost with about 250 killed, wounded, and missing.

POSTSCRIPT: After the war, Pearce, from New Fairfield, Conn., lived in New York before he settled in Catawba Island, Ohio, where he married a woman named Ora Barnum, The couple had five children together. A prosperous farmer, he became one of the county's leading citizens. "His orchards are among the best cultivated and most productive," an account published in 1896 noted, "and by his sterling ability and amiable disposition he has won himself a host of friends."

At the request of "old friends," Pearce wrote the 36-page war memoir in 1925, when he was 80 or 81. A typescript copy of the memoir, believed to have never been published, was donated sometime in the 1980s to the Harris-Elmore Library in Elmore, Ohio. (Hat tip: Dan Masters.)

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Antietam Q&A: In 'A Fierce Glory,' Lincoln takes center stage

President Lincoln during a visit with General George McClellan near the Antietam battlefield
in early October 1862. (Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)

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Decades after the Battle of Antietam, the desperate fighting in the farm fields and woodlots near Sharpsburg, Md., remained seared into the memories of veterans. "This particular battle," writes author Justin Martin in A Fierce Glory, his newly published book about the bloodiest day in American history, "was simply different from the others: more heated, more savage, more consequential."

Released Sept. 11, 2018, Justin Martin's
A Fierce Glory is available
 on amazon.com and elsewhere.
If you're looking for an Antietam book with minute-by-minute movements of regiments and brigades, look elsewhere -- this isn't a "right-flank, left-flank" account. Instead, you'll find an exquisite, compelling narrative, with Martin serving as your tour guide at the Bloody Lane, the West Woods, the 40-Acre Cornfield and elsewhere. Here's his description of savage fighting in David R. Miller's Cornfield, hallowed ground Martin walked during his research for the book:
And then the Union soldiers emerged from the corn. Rise up. Rise up, commanded Colonel Douglass. From the furrow, a wall of Rebels suddenly became visible. They loosed a terrifying unison volley, hundreds of bullets traveling in a tight synchronized constellation streaked across 200 yards in an eye-twitch, smack into the Union line. Hot metal ripped into the soldiers. The soft lead of the bullets expanded on contact, shattering bones and slicing through sinew. "The volley made them stagger and hesitate," Gordon Bradwell," a private with the 31st Georgia, would recall.
Unlike other Antietam books, Abraham Lincoln -- featured in a cool, colorized version of a black-and-white image on the cover of A Fierce Glory -- is deeply embedded in the narrative. For Lincoln, Antietam may have been the most consequential battle of all. On Sept. 22, 1862, five days after fighting in Sharpsburg ended, the president issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, formally alerting the Confederacy of his intention to free slaves in rebellious states.

In crafting his fifth book, Martin used music as creative aid. (But never while writing.) His theme song for A Fierce Glory (Da Capo Press) was Bob Dylan's One More Cup of Coffee"It seems fitting," the 53-year-old Kansas City native told me. "It has an old-timey mood, but I suspect he isn't referring to Antietam."

When he's not enjoying time with his wife and twin sons, Martin may be found tending to his postage-stamp-sized garden in the backyard of his house in Queens, N.Y. The avid gardener says he had a banner year for tomatoes and morning glories, but his first crack at edible flowers was a bust. Martin is a huge fan of the Kansas City Royals, New York Jets, Tottenham Hotspur, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane --- and ice cream at a store in a certain Western Maryland town. (Read on.)

In the following Q&A, Martin explains why he chose to write a book about Antietam, briefly details his research process, identifies his favorite spot on the battlefield and provides a two-word assessment of Little Mac's performance nearly 156 years ago. (You may be shocked!)

A Fierce Glory author Justin Martin (second from left), his mother (far left) and father (center),
longtime battlefield guide John Schildt (third from left) and Martin's aunt and uncle 
at the Antietam National Battlefield visitors' center. (Image courtesy Justin Martin)

Antietam has not been the subject of nearly as many books as Gettysburg. Still, it has been well covered -- by James Murfin (Gleam of the Bayonets), Stephen Sears (Landscape Turned Red) and others. What do you bring that's new? 

Robert E. Lee
Martin: Where Antietam is typically presented as a military history (heavy on tactics and troop movements), I’ve tried to craft a good old-fashioned story. My aim was to write a book that covers all the infamous battle sites —The Cornfield, Bloody Lane, and Burnside Bridge— but with a focus on the dramatic tales of individual soldiers, as opposed to an exhaustive account of every single regiment’s movements that day.

Here’s another difference: Lincoln occupies the heart of my Antietam tale, looming much larger than in a typical military account. Given that the battle was the occasion for the Emancipation Proclamation, seems only fitting for Lincoln and his views on slavery to be woven right into the story.

Meanwhile, I attend to Robert E. Lee as a brilliant military leader, but also as a cruel slaveholder. Past histories of Antietam tend to gloss over the latter issue — if they touch on it at all. But in a battle that would have such a dramatic impact on the fate of slavery, the Confederate commander’s views on the so-called peculiar institution seem relevant and worth exploring.

Describe your research process, and specifically, what percentage do you estimate you were able to do online?

Martin: I read and read, everything I can track down. I visited the New York Public Library, National Archives, and other invaluable repositories of information on the battle.

As for how much research I was able to do online: I’d hazard 50 percent. This is my fifth book, and the percentage has been steadily increasing since my first one in 1989.

Obtaining an old document via the Internet is instant gratification at its finest: While researching the tragic fate of the 7th Maine at Antietam, for example, someone suggested I consult a book called Following the Greek Cross by Thomas Hyde, the regiment’s leader during the battle. It was published in 1894. I Googled the title and a nanosecond later — voila!

Stephen P. Grove farmhouse, where President Lincoln visited with Confederate and Union wounded.
What do you want the reader to know about President Lincoln - a central figure in your book -- and this battle?

Martin: Lincoln was such an inspiring leader. Only six months before Antietam, his 11-year-old son Willie died. This unthinkable loss left Lincoln with such great empathy for the soldiers that fought in the battle, and the terrible price so many paid.

There’s a touching scene, which I recount in my book. Following the battle, Lincoln visited Antietam, a strip of black crepe encircling his stovepipe hat as a symbol of mourning for Willie. The president stopped at the Grove Farm, a hospital where both Union and Rebel wounded were being cared for. Lincoln offered comfort to the Union injured, of course. But then he made a gesture to Rebels, telling them that he “bore them no malice, and could take them by the hand with sympathy and good feeling,” according to a contemporary newspaper account. One by one, Confederates came forward to shake the Union president’s hand. Such humanity: Lincoln was showing a willingness to act as leader for all the people of a fractured nation.

What's commonly misunderstood about the battle?

Martin: I think it’s hard for people to comprehend the sheer mental and physical exhaustion brought on by a battle like Antietam. It must have been sensory overload: deafening sound, minie balls zipping in all directions, cannon shell raining from above. Many of the men fought even while hungry, exhausted, or ill. They were weighed down by gear, yet had to climb hillsides or ford Antietam Creek, often under withering fire.

People always ask: Why didn’t McClellan resume the battle on Sept. 18? Following a day fueled by pure terror and adrenaline, after watching one’s comrades fall dead and wounded, precious few of his men were truly “combat ready,” claims of some historians to the contrary. Same goes for Lee. He didn’t attempt one of his trademark-bold strikes against the Union that day because his army was in even worse shape.

Without giving too much away here, what surprises might the reader find in A Fierce Glory?

Martin: For starters, there was a two-hour lull smack in the middle of the bloodiest day in American history. The fighting pretty much stopped from 1 to 3 PM, while the Federal IX Corps moved into position for its final assault.

Robert Toombs: Confederate
brigadier general redeemed himself
at Antietam, Justin Martin says.
(Library of Congress)

A typical account devotes a sentence or two to this curious lull. But it really happened and, furthermore, represents one-sixth of the battle’s duration. So I did a lot of research on the lull, and what transpired turns out to be really interesting. Commanders McClellan and Lee schemed and strategized. Soldiers relaxed, chewing tobacco and playing chuck-a-luck. With the fighting at a temporary halt, journalists had opportunity to range over the field freely. Many important details we know about Antietam come from the fresh-on-the-scene reporting done by newspapermen during the lull.

Another surprise grew out of my extensive research on Robert Toombs, the man who would be president of the C.S.A. Early in 1861, during the nominating convention in Montgomery, Ala., he got stinking drunk and made a public fool of himself. The nod went to Jeff Davis instead.

At Antietam, Brigadier General Toombs redeemed himself, serving as overall commander of a group of 450 stalwart Georgians who held off 12,500 Federals, delaying their crossing of Antietam Creek for several crucial hours. Ask a Civil War buff  “list some Confederate generals at Antietam that come quickly to mind,” and you’re likely to hear Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson, the Hills (A.P. and D.H.), maybe "Neighbor" Jones. But not Toombs. For his inspired leadership during the battle, he deserves to be top of mind.

Thanks, by the way, for not demanding that I give away too many surprises; suffice it to say my book is full of them. That’s due to the wealth of primary sources on Antietam. Depending on one’s focus and sensibilities, a researcher can examine the same documents and cue in on different details. As a consequence, whatever Antietam book follows mine is virtually guaranteed to contain fresh surprises, and I look forward to reading it.

Terrain played a key role in the fighting at Antietam, Justin Martin and many historians agree. Here's
 the 16th Connecticut monument, with the undulating ground of the 40-Acre Cornfield in the background.
I always am struck by the sheer ferocity of this battle, especially in David R. Miller's cornfield -- The Bloody Cornfield. What is the main takeaway for you from the fighting on Sept. 17, 1862?

Martin: The role the landscape played. In the modern world, it’s possible to destroy a target viewed only at a distance, perhaps even relying on a satellite image.

But Antietam was on such an intimate scale. Soldiers regularly traded volleys over the length of a football field. Terrifying! Every feature of this humble farming community came into play: fences, barns, stands of trees and country lanes. All had potential to serve as hiding spots, or as impediments to the enemy. Everything was consequential, even a seeming quirk like the fact that Farmer Miller’s cornfield was as-yet unharvested, the stalks standing taller than a man. Had his crop been in stubble, the Bloody Cornfield — that notorious deathtrap — wouldn’t have figured in the battle.

Bloody Lane, the sunken road where scores of Confederate dead lay on Sept. 17, 1862.

In researching the book, you walked the ground at Antietam -- the West Woods, Bloody Lane, the 40-Acre Cornfield. Describe the experience. And what's your favorite place on the field and why?

Martin: I did my research in stages, focusing on different parts of the action: The Bloody Lane, as you mention, or the West Woods. I’d read up in my home office in Queens, New York, and then I’d make a trip to Sharpsburg.

Walking the field, I often felt transported back in time, following in the footsteps of the 9th New York or 1st Texas. Antietam is so well preserved that you can really picture the battle action. Everything I’d been reading about in old letters and officers’ reports would come to life.

I should mention here that on every visit, I arranged for a tour with an Antietam guide. The first time, I called the main office and said, “Do you have a guide that can give me a tour focused exclusively on the Cornfield action?” I figured this might be a bizarrely specific request, but they set it right up, no problem. The guides really know their stuff and have the best stories. I couldn’t have written this book without their help.

As for my favorite spot: Burnside Bridge. Here’s this beautiful stone bridge spanning Antietam Creek, woods to both sides. I always like to end my visits with a stop there, regardless of what part of the field has served as my day’s focus. I’m drawn by the tranquility of the spot, to be honest. Because this site is so well preserved, seemingly unchanged by the passage of time, it’s also very easy — if one so chooses — to conjure the scene on that single long-ago day when it wasn’t so peaceful.

Burnside Bridge, Justin Martin's favorite spot on the battlefield. 

If you could go back into time and interview one person from your book -- not including Lincoln or the commanding generals -- whom would that be and why?

Martin: Since you’ve granted me the power of time travel, seems a missed opportunity not to interview McClellan. Although I’ve written books about Walt Whitman and Frederick Law Olmsted, Little Mac has the honor of being the most complex character I’ve ever grappled with. I have about a thousand questions I’d like to ask him.

But your house, your rules: If I had the chance to interview someone besides a commanding general, I would choose Private Roland Bowen, Company H, 15th Massachusetts. During my research, I thoroughly enjoyed his vivid published diary, From Ball’s Bluff to Gettysburg … And Beyond. He was a colorful character, and very insightful. Describing his quick retreat from the West Woods massacre, he wrote: “No God Damned Southerner is a going to catch me unless he can run 29 miles an hour.” The perspective of foot soldiers often gets lost in history. I’d bring Pvt. Bowen a Coke (an exotic treat from the future), and we’d talk for hours.

Fill in the blank: At Antietam, George McClellan was ________________.

Martin: Uncharacteristically effective.

Finally, did you grab an ice cream at Nutter's in Sharpsburg?

Martin: Every single visit — even in February.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

'Great Heaven!' Descendants step back in time at Antietam

The Wambold family -- Sophia, Grant, Andrea and John -- visited the Henry Piper farm in June 2017. 
An 1880 image of the back of the Piper farmhouse (left) and outbuildings. Elmer Piper, grandson 
of the farm's Civil War-era owner Henry Piper, appears in foreground.
 (Piper family images and present-day photos of farm courtesy Andrea Wambold)

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When 22-year-old Elizabeth Piper peered into the family's farmhouse after the Battle of Antietam, she was horrified.

"I entered the yard, which was covered with bloody clothing, straw, feathers, and everything that was disgusting," the daughter of Henry Piper wrote to a friend in Ohio. "I went up the steps and opened the dining room door and was thunderstruck. Great Heaven! What a sight met my gaze. The room was full of dead men! Pools of blood were standing on the floor."

In June 2017, nearly 155 years after Elizabeth's gruesome discovery, Piper descendants stepped into the house for the first time. "It was pretty cool," said Andrea Wambold, who was joined on the one-day battlefield trip by her husband, 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Ever since Wambold heard about the farm from her grandmother when she was a child, the Minnesota native wanted to visit the old family homestead. A bed & breakfast earlier this century, the farmhouse is now a private residence, leased by a couple from the National Park Service.

"The history in the house was amazing with all of the memorabilia that Lou and Regina Clark had on display," Wambold said, referencing its current residents. "Regina told us that a soldier had died under the piano, and that was eerie wondering what the soldiers and Piper family must have gone through during and after the battle."

An amateur genealogist, Wambold said the best part of the battlefield visit was sharing the experience with her children, whom she hopes gain an appreciation of Piper history. She definitely has a deep appreciation for young Elizabeth Piper's long-ago fortitude. "It was brave on her part," Wambold told me about her ancestor's return to the blood-soaked house, also used as Confederate General James Longstreet's headquarters.

 At a dinner in the Piper house, Confederate generals James Longstreet (left) and Daniel Harvey Hill were 
served wine by the daughters of Henry Piper (center). Hatless in the image, Henry liked 
a "high silk hat of the 'stove pipe style,' " according to the Piper family history. He died in 1892.
Wambold also shared with me pages (below) from a Piper family history, created in the 1930s by Webster Piper. The album includes photos of family members, old images of the farm in Sharpsburg, Md., and three typewritten pages about the Battle of Antietam and its aftermath. Among the gems in the history is this story:
"Gen. Longstreet and Gen. D.H. Hill of the Confederate army ate dinner at the PIPER home just previous to the battle. During the serving of dinner the young daughters of Mr. & Mrs. Piper -- being Union ladies and very much freightened [sic] -- wishing to show kindness to these officers, offered them some wine they had in the house. Gen. Longstreet being very cautious and fearing that it might be baited for them refused, but Gen. Hill accepted and drank some. So Gen. Longstreet seeing that it did not kill Gen. Hill, said 'Ladies I will thank you for some of the wine.' "
Well aware a battle was imminent, the Pipers buried their dishes in an ash pile, packed furniture and other possessions in a large wagon and sought safety with their five children in a cave near the Potomac. They were joined by other Sharpsburg residents, who also sought shelter near the river.

During the battle,  Piper's farm most notably was scene of disaster for the 7th Maine. Vastly outnumbered, the depleted regiment of 150-plus soldiers suffered 12 dead and 60 wounded as it was mauled from three sides during its senseless charge.

Besides human wreckage, detritus of war lay about the Pipers' once-prosperous farm. In October 1862, Elizabeth's father filed a damage claim with the government for $25. Later, Henry filed another claim, asking for thousands more. But the family was never compensated for their losses. Undoubtedly a minor consolation for the Pipers, battle leftovers were put to use.

"Fence posts from the Piper lane from the main road of Hagerstown pike into the barn have shells from the Civil War buried around them to hold them," according to the family history, "as there were so many of them."

Deactivated, we hope.

A bed & breakfast earlier this century, the Henry Piper house is now a private residence.
Enlarged since the Civil War, the Piper barn was used as a makeshift hospital during and after the battle.
Exterior view of Henry Piper farmhouse and slave quarters.
The interior of the old slave quarters. In 1860, Henry Piper owned six slaves.


"... the fight was so severe at this 'Bloody Lane' "according to the Piper family history, "that dead 
bodies lay three and four deep after the battle." Bloody Lane bordered the Piper farm orchard in 1862.
Before the Battle of Antietam, the "Piper family buried the dishes in the ash piles to save them."
In 1930, "Electric lights" were installed in the Civil War-era farmhouse, according to the family history.
The Piper barn, used as a makeshift hospital during the battle, as it appeared in 1890. The farm, bordered
by the Hagertown Pike, was behind Confederate lines on Sept. 17, 1862.
Image of the barn, with a 1912 addition, as it appeared in 1936. 

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


-- Wilmington (Ohio) Watchman, Oct. 23, 1862.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Shooting gallery: Spying a 'hidden' Lookout Mountain

A marker denotes the trail to Illinois and Pennsylvania monuments, deep in the woods near 
the historic Cravens house. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Ivy and wildflowers drape the 13th Illinois monument.
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On trails at Lookout Mountain, reminders of the sacrifices of Union soldiers dot the landscape, some nearly hidden from view. As thunder rumbles in the distance and a late-summer storm approaches, a visitor inspects markers and monuments deep in the woods. At the top of a rugged, seldom-used trail deep in the woods, cast-iron battlefield tablets and regimental monuments await, engulfed by undergrowth. We imagine the day the monuments were dedicated long ago -- the pomp and circumstance, the speeches in memory of long-ago heroes. Now, barely remembered.

On a steep slope, the regimental monument for the 104th Illinois.
Nearly overwhelmed by undergrowth, a cast-iron tablet for a Union brigade.
At the end of a trail in the woods, cast-iron markers for the 5th and 28th Ohio and monuments for the 
147th Pennsylvania (tall) and 59th and 96th Illinois.
Under nature's canopy, a sculpted granite star atop the 28th Pennsylvania monument.
A stone kepi on the 28th Pennsylvania monument.
Mother Nature shows little respect for this 29th Ohio tablet.
A huge plaque for the 111th Pennsylvania, a work of art embedded in the cliff near the top of the mountain.
Two weather-worn plaques for the 29th Pennsylvania near the summit of Lookout Mountain.

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

Friday, September 07, 2018

10 red-hot tips: An insider's guide to Antietam and beyond

Sunset image of the 124th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam.
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As the 156th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam approaches, we offer 10 tips to maximize your battlefield visit from someone who has ventured to Sharpsburg, Md., 3,404 times ... and counting. He shall remain nameless. (Click on links for much deeper info.)

WALK THE GROUND AT THE CRACK OF DAWN -- Few battlefield experiences are better than Bloody Lane at sunrise. You may be the only one there. If so, that's even better. As you walk the lane where scores of Confederate dead once lay, listen to the crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel in the old roadbed, marvel at a lingering mist and then close your eyes and imagine the scene here on Sept. 17, 1862. Check out the seldom-visited William Roulette farm nearby and re-trace the route of the Irish Brigade over to Bloody Lane. For the more adventurous, walk the Final Attack Trail to the 16th Connecticut monument in the 40-Acre Cornfield. Wounded Nutmeggers lay there in no-man's land the night following the battle. Years later, one of those warriors wondered, "Why did I not die?" (Thinking I was alone here years ago near the 16th Connecticut monument, I looked over my shoulder to see a St. Bernard, apparently quite hungry. Thoughts of the movie Cujo danced evilly in my head. Thankfully, nearby was the massive mutt's master, who corralled the beast.)

Rub Thomas Meagher's schnoz for good luck.
RUB A UNION GENERAL'S NOSE -- Thomas Meagher -- the fiery Irishman who was one of the great characters of the Civil War -- is memorialized in bas-relief on the Irish Brigade monument next to the old War Department tower. Tap his schnoz for good luck and then ...

... CLIMB THE WAR DEPARTMENT TOWER ... for one of the greatest battlefield views of all time. You're in luck if no one else is there. Unbelievable vibe.

PICTURE THIS ... For best photography, sunrise and sunset are the "beauty" hours. At sunrise, my favorite shooting spots are in Bloody Lane and at Rodman Avenue, near the 40-Acre Cornfield. You also can't go wrong shooting the monument nearby for the 100th Pennsylvania -- the "Roundheads!" -- with the Joseph Sherrick farmhouse in the background. At sunset. park yourself on Cornfield or Mansfield avenues or at Hagerstown Pike for monument shooting. It can be spectacular. Aim for odd-angle images, and don't forget to try out the portrait function of your iPhone camera.

"ADOPT" A SOLDIER ... and walk in his footsteps. If you don't have an ancestor who fought at Antietam, pick a soldier from a regimental history on this page or try another source of information, research his background and then trace his route over the battlefield. NPS rangers in the Visitor's Center can aid your effort. Two years ago, I followed in the footsteps of  Samuel Gould, a 19-year-old private in the 13th Massachusetts, who was killed near the East Woods. “Samuel S. Gould stood within five feet of me when he was mortally wounded," Warren H. Freeman of Gould's Company A wrote to his father. "He had been in the company but four or five days. He was fresh from Harvard College, and I got quite well acquainted with him." Trust me: It will breathe life into your battlefield experience.

A sunrise image shot with my iPhone from Rodman Avenue.
16th Connecticut monument on the Final Attack Trail. Go see it. Trust me.
Let this image of the Susan Hoffman farmhouse be a substitute for a visit to the property, which is 
not open to the public. The farm, a Union hospital site, may be viewed from Keedysville Road.
Sunlight streams through the William Roulette barn, a makeshift hospital during and after the battle.
EMBRACE OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH SITES: Go where few battlefield tourists go. Walk the Tidball Trail, behind the Joshua Newcomer house, and enjoy an awesome view from the ridge. Visit the seldom-seen Mary Locher cabin and barn foundation -- fighting raged in this area on the morning of Sept. 17. When you get across busy Maryland Route 65, check out the 15th Massachusetts monument on the knoll on the other side of the road. Better yet, make the "Wounded Lion" monument your next stop. Best one on the field. Although it's not open to the public, the Susan Hoffman farm, site of a major Union hospital, can be viewed from Keedysville Road.  A beloved nurse named Helen Gilson sang The Star-Spangled Banner to scores of Union wounded there. "The effect on these wounded soldiers was almost inspiring," an admiring reporter who was there wrote about the singing scene. Go behind the John Otto house, on the hill astride Old Burnside Bridge Road, to view ruins of the farmer's Pennsylvania-style bank barn, used as a makeshift hospital during and after the battle. Perhaps sneak a peek inside the William Roulette barn, too. (Shhh! I didn't tell you.) It also was a hospital site.

The 15th Massachusetts monument -- featuring the "Wounded Lion" -- in the West Woods. It's my favorite.
CHAT UP A LOCAL -- You never know what great stories you may hear. Some families have been in the area for generations. Just as I was about to leave Sharpsburg five years ago, I was told this story about a Union soldier who served in a Maryland regiment. Private Barney Houser lived on Main Street, next to a church used as a makeshift hospital by the Union army, which "appropriated" items from his premises for use in care of wounded.

Ambrotype of Confederate officer Henry Kyd Douglas
 in the Boonsborough (Md.) Museum of History.
BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD ... in Boonsboro, Md. The Boonsborough Museum of History at 113 N. Main Street is open at odd hours -- sometimes on Sundays and sometimes only by appointment. Few Civil War museums are in its league. Lifelong area resident Doug Bast has a spectacular collection, including some really weird items. (SEE THE MUMMIFIED HUMAN ARM WITH THE EMBEDDED BULLET!) My favorite museum piece is an ambrotype of Henry Kyd Douglas, who served under Stonewall Jackson.

AND IN SHEPHERDSTOWN ... there's another battlefield. The Maryland Campaign didn't end at Sharpsburg, Md. On Sept. 19-20, 1862, Union troops ventured across the Potomac, into what was then Virginia (now West Virginia), to keep pressure on Bobby Lee. Instead, the Yankees were whipped. The battlefield is mostly in private hands, but from River Road, you can view the craggy cliffs from which some frenzied 118th Pennsylvania soldiers leaped to their deaths as well as lime kiln ruins that date to the battle. Somewhere up on that bluff, an insider told me, a Union artillery shell remains embedded, in view but safely out of reach of prying hands. When you tire of Civil War battlefield tramping, grab a donut and coffee at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shoppe Bakery, housed in a 200-year-old building that was used as a Confederate hospital. Or head back over to Sharpsburg and stop at ...

... NUTTER'S ICE CREAM -- Yum. And cheap, too.

BONUS TIP: Oh, man, go visit South Mountain!

As always, enjoy the journey.

North Carolina soldiers were overwhelmed here at Fox's Gap at South Mountain on Sept. 14, 1862.

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

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Why no Battle of Nashville markers for U.S. Colored Troops?

Marker at Peach Orchard Hill, where 13th U.S.C.T. attacked on Dec. 16, 1864.
Railroad Cut in South Nashville, where U.S.C.T. made futile assault on Dec. 15, 1864.
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U.S. Colored Troops fought bravely at the Railroad Cut (Dec. 15, 1864) and Peach Orchard Hill (Dec. 16) at the Battle of Nashville. But no battlefield markers on the mostly developed ground there note the valor of the African-American soldiers.

 At Peach Orchard Hill (see video below), the 13th U.S.C.T. suffered more than 200 casualties, including the loss of five color-bearers. "I never saw more heroic conduct shown on the field of battle than was exhibited by this body of men so recently slaves,” an Ohio officer recalled of the black troops’ performance on Dec. 16 at Peach Orchard Hill. Reported the Nashville Tennessean on Dec. 19, 1889, "There was no other occasion perhaps during the war where colored troops were so severely treated."

Twenty-five years after the battle, Aaron P. Baldwin, an officer in the 6th Ohio Light Battery, recalled the assault by the U.S.C.T. at Peach Orchard Hill:
War-time image of Aaron Baldwin.
We had often seen colored troops, but they were invariably doing garrison duty, and to see them march out in line of  battle and form for a charge was decidedly interesting to us and of course drew all our spare attention. If we ever had any question as to the bravery of colored troops, the events that soon followed showed us that no braver troops ever went into a fight. All was ready when Gen. [Thomas J.] Wood gave the order to cover the advance and to continue firing so long as the battery could do so with safety to the charging lines. This we did until the colored troops had reached the enemy's earth works. In the meantime the rebels had not been idle. They marched three distinct lines of infantry around the brow of the  hill, one line above the other, thus giving them four distinct lines of fire. This turreted fire was all directed upon the colored troops, and the action that lasted not more than 20 minutes left more than 400 colored troops lying on the field. One color bearer reached the earth works but fell, pierced with 17 bullets, rolling down into the trench, where he concealed his colors on his person. The charge having proven a failure, the reserves as well as what was left of the colored brigade fell back upon the battery line for reformation. The color bearer that was so seriously wounded was brought off of the field and with him the colors. He died within two hours after the action.
At the Railroad Cut on the foggy morning of Dec. 15, the  U.S.C.T. -- part of a diversionary attack of about 7,000 soldiers on the extreme right of the Confederate line -- were ambushed. Soldiers, many of them former slaves, leaped into the cut, breaking bones ... or suffering a worse fate.

We'll aim to help the effort to honor the U.S.C.T. for Battle of Nashville valor. Stay tuned.

The 13th U.S.C.T. are believed to have formed up here in preparation for the assault at Peach Orchard Hill.
This sliver of land in a residential area is managed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

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

-- Lewis, George W., The Campaigns of the 124th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Akron, Ohio, The Werner Co., 1894
-- Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 19, 1889.
-- The Summit County (Ohio) Beacon, Dec. 25, 1889.