Saturday, April 19, 2014

History revealed: Sgt. Harvey Tucker's Fredericksburg grave

NO. 1: A photographer employed by Mathew Brady made this image of the burial of Federal dead
 on May 20, 1864. (Library of Congress collection)
NO. 2: In this enlargement of the original image, "SAR" and "H. Tuck" appear on the grave marker
 by the  solder's right foot. A shovel obscures the rest of the writing on the marker.
NO. 3: An extreme close-up of Sergeant Havrey Tucker's wooden grave marker.
NO. 4: In this enlargement, a dead soldier's feet protrude
from behind a coffin.
The scene at the top of this post, photographed in Fredericksburg, Va., on May 19 or 20, 1864, probably was repeated hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the town and the surrounding, war-ravaged countryside during the Civil War. Two wooden coffins lay on the ground, the bare feet of a dead soldier protruding between them (PHOTO 4) while two other bodies wrapped in blankets lay nearby. A man, perhaps a chaplain holding a bible who was preparing to give the dead men a Christian burial, gazes into the distance while a burial detail and soldiers take a break from their sad tasks. A body appears on a stretcher in the background, which also includes at least 40 wooden markers designating the graves of Union soldiers who were killed in action or died from wounds or disease in or near the town on the Rappahannock River.

Gravediggers were especially busy that spring. In an effort to keep pressure on Robert E. Lee and threaten the Rebel capital in Richmond, the Union army fought especially bloody battles at the Wilderness (May 5-7), Spotsylvania Courthouse (May 8-21) and elsewhere near Fredericksburg, causing thousands of casualties on both sides.

In his ground-breaking 1983 book, "Grant and Lee, The Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865," Civil War photography expert William Frassanito dissected this image and six other photos of this scene in Fredericksburg. Frassanito believed the image was taken by a photographer working for Mathew Brady on May 19 or May 20, 1864, but he was unable to pinpoint its location. Years later, painstaking research by Noel G. Harrison of the National Park Service revealed the photograph was made at the edge of Fredericksburg, on Winchester Street between Amelia and Lewis streets. Using a magnifying glass to view details in the original negative at the National Archives, Frassanito was even able to identify a soldier's name as well as his regimental number scrawled on the marker near the gravedigger's hand at the extreme right of the photograph (PHOTO 5). Further research by Frassanito revealed that soldier was 121st New York Sergeant Lester Baum, who was mortally wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 1864 and died nine days later.

NO. 5: In another enlargement of the original image, Sergeant Lester Baum's marker appears just 
below the right hand of the gravedigger at the far right.
TODAY: Approximate site of Fredericksburg burial site in 1864. (Google Maps)
Thankfully, I don't have to travel to the Library of Congress or National Archives in Washington or use a magnifying glass to closely examine glass-plate images taken during the Civil War, as Frassanito had to do while researching his book in the 1970s and '80s. Easily enlarged, digitized versions of many images taken by Civil War photographers are available on the excellent Library of Congress web site in JPEG and TIFF formats.

As examination on my blog of these Antietam images by Alexander Gardner shows, the detail found in old glass-plate images is amazing, especially in TIFF format. While examining enlargements of the Fredericksburg burial image last weekend, I was eager to find details that may have been overlooked. A gravedigger's shovel, socks on the dead men wrapped in blankets and even wording on the tall marker (perhaps Private Alexander Read of Company K of the 84th Pennsylvania) are easily seen. But it was another grave marker in the right background, next to the seated soldier, that especially attracted my attention. A shovel obscures part of the marker, but the letters "SAR" and "H. Tuck" appear by the soldier's right foot (PHOTOS 2 and 3).
Tucker died from the effects of his wounds on May 20, 1864, according
to this document, dated July 10, 1864 and signed by 6th Michigan
2nd Lieutenant William Creevy.

Determined to identify who was buried under that marker, I spent a half-hour on the American Civil War Research Database in an effort to narrow the possibilities. I assumed the soldier's rank was sergeant by the apparent misspelling "SAR" at the top of the marker. A reasonable assumption was that the soldier's last name was Tucker, so I searched all soldiers with that last name and a first name that began with "H" who did not survive the war. Soldiers with last names such as Tuckett or Tucksberry were ruled out because they didn't die in Virginia in the spring of 1864, their first names didn't begin with "H" or they didn't meet other criteria. Of the 13 Tuckers who did not survive the war, only one had a first name that began with "H" and served near Fredericksburg in 1864:

Sergeant Harvey Tucker of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. 

Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, Tucker died two weeks days later in Fredericksburg. He was 37 years old. Examination of 55 pages of documents in Tucker widow's pension file on revealed many more details about the Michigan man's life -- including his last days on earth.

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Harvey Tucker was a married father of four children.
Thirty-five year-old Harvey Tucker enlisted in the Union army in Cottrellville, Mich., about 50 miles northeast of Detroit, on Sept. 10, 1862. Born in Massena, N.Y., he had gray eyes, dark hair, a swarthy complexion and stood 5-7, about average height for a Civil War soldier. The decision to join the army must have been difficult for Tucker, a married man who lived in Ira Township, Mich., which rises from the shores of Lake St. Clair.

In June 1860, the Federal census taker noted that Tucker's household included his 27-year-old wife, Lovina, and four children: Susan, 7; Lyman, 5; Mary, 2; and Douglas, 9 months. (Another child, John, was born in September 1861.) A farmer, Tucker had real estate that was valued at $700 and personal property worth $180, modest totals. Lovina's first husband was abusive, and she "was taken away by her father," although the couple apparently did not legally divorce. Born in Canada, she married Harvey on May 20, 1852, when she was 19.

NO. 6: Does this enlargement of the original image show
 6th Michigan Chaplain Stephen S.N. Greeley?
 In May 1864, he was 50 years old.
A little more than a month after his enlistment, Tucker was mustered into Company C of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, one of four regiments that formed the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. Its young brigadier general, George Armstrong Custer, would earn great acclaim during the last three years of the Civil War -- and infamy in 1876 at Little Big Horn.

The 6th Michigan served mainly on picket duty until it saw its first major fighting during the Gettysburg campaign on June 30, 1863 at Hanover, Pa. The regiment "particularly distinguished" itself, according to General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, on July 2, 1863 at Hunterstown, Pa., where Custer set a trap and whipped Wade Hampton's Rebel cavalry. On July 3 in a cavalry fight east of Gettysburg, the brigade fought well against Jeb Stuart's horsemen, according to Custer, who wrote "there were many cases of personal heroism, but a list of their names would make my report too extended."

Earlier in 1863, Tucker apparently had attracted the notice of superiors, who promoted him to corporal on New Year's Day 1863 and to sergeant a little more than a month later. Battles in Virginia that fall at Brandy Station, Buckland Mills, Mine Run and Morton's Ford followed for the regiment, but fighting at the Wilderness dwarfed all the others.

A regimental band played "Yankee Doodle" as the 6th Michigan Cavalry dashed into battle on May 6 at the Wilderness, mostly thick woods that offered little visibility. Armed with Spencer repeating rifles, the outnumbered Michiganders were nearly enveloped by the Rebels before they turned the tide and held the right of the brigade's line. Sometime during the fight, Tucker was struck a little above the hip by a bullet that exited at his opposite shoulder, an indication that he was astride his horse when he was wounded by a Rebel firing from well below him. By 1864, the Army of the Potomac ambulance corps was well organized, and Tucker soon may have been transported 10 miles over the rough roads to Fredericksburg. So many of the town's buildings were used to house wounded and dying men that it was often described as "one vast hospital."

Chaplain Stephen S.N. Greeley,
probably late 19th century.

He died in 1892 at age 79.
(Courtesy John Dickey)
Initially, Tucker appeared to be doing well. He had "regular passages of the bowels" and gave the regimental chaplain his address so he could write a letter home to his wife. But two weeks after he was wounded, Tucker suffered an internal hemorrhage and the end came quickly at Cavalry Corps Hospital on May 20, 1864 -- his 12th wedding anniversary  Later that morning, Chaplain Stephen S.N. Greeley wrote a four-page letter to Lovina Tucker to explain the circumstances of her husband's death (see complete letter below).

"A kind-hearted, simple-minded gentleman of the old school," Greeley was not well suited to the rigors of war, a veteran wrote after the war. "... in the field he was more like a child than a seasoned soldier and needed the watchful care of all his friends to keep him from perishing with hunger, fatigue, and exposure." But the chaplain, 50 years old in May 1864, toughed it out with the 6th Michigan from 1862 through the end of the war, ministering to soldiers and often breaking sad news to loved ones back home.

"It becomes my painful duty to convey to you the sad intelligence that is often sent to dear wives and families of our noble soldiers," Greeley's letter to Tucker's wife began. "In this dreadful war they pass away by hundreds -- and after battles by thousands."

At one point during the war, according to Harrison's research, Union dead in Fredericksburg were buried "four deep" and often without identification or a proper service. In a 1998 article in Military Images Magazine, Harrison wrote that a soldier detailed to Fredericksburg as part of the provost guard was appalled by the lack of concern for the dead. Corporal Albert Downs of the 57th New York convinced superiors that the dead should have a service and a marked grave. On the morning he died, Tucker was given just such a burial.

Post-war image of Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The wooden
markers shown here deteriorated and were replaced with stone markers.
(Photo courtesy Jerry Brent, executive director
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust)
"We had your husband enclosed in a coffin, while others were laid only in their blankets," Greeley wrote to Tucker's wife, " and when his body rested in the appointed place, many soldiers who stood round and a detachment of grave diggers uncovered their heads and stood in silence while I administered for your husband the right of a Christian burial."

Greeley's description of the service prompts several questions:

Could the scene he described be the same scene photographed by one of Brady's assistants in May 1864? Are the bodies wrapped in blankets in the image the same ones the chaplain described? Is Greeley actually the man holding the book in the image (PHOTO 6)? There were many burials that took place at the site in 1864, so the man with the book could be someone else, perhaps a member of the U.S. Christian Commission. Further research could yield definitive answers, maybe even a photograph of Sergeant Tucker himself. Although not conclusive evidence, the date of  Greeley's letter leads me to believe the photo of the Fredericksburg burial scene was taken on May 20, 1864.

After the Civil War, workers disinterred 328 bodies that were buried in the soldier's cemetery on Winchester Street and re-buried them in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, less than three miles away. Tucker's body was probably re-buried there under a marker that reads "Unknown" -- one of nearly 13,000 unknown Civil War soldiers graves in the cemetery on Marye's Heights overlooking town.

Sixth Michigan chaplain Stephen S.N. Greeley sent this four-page letter to Tucker's wife
explaining the circumstances of the sergeant's death after he was wounded at the
 Battle of the Wilderness. (
Cavalry Corps Hospital
Fredericksburg Virginia
Friday morning, May 20, 1864

Dear Mrs. Tucker

It becomes my painful duty to convey to you the sad intelligence that is often sent to dear wives and families of our noble soldiers. In this dreadful war they pass away by hundreds -- and after battles by thousands. Our campaign opened on the 3rd day in May and for eight days after crossing the Rappidan and meeting the enemy there were most fearful and bloody engagements.

In one of the battles in the Wilderness our cavalry force had a terrific struggle. Your husband was pierced by a ball a little above the hip -- passing upward...

After he was wounded in the hip, Sergeant Harvey Tucker was transported to the Cavalry Corps Hospital 
 in Fredericksburg, Chaplain Greeley wrote. 
... and coming out below the opposite shoulder. This was on Friday, two weeks ago today. He was conveyed with some 15,000 wounded men to this town of Fredericksburg, where is established the Cavalry Corps Hospital -- and where I have remained with the cavalry department.

A day or two since Segt. Tucker requested me to write you for him and gave me your name & address. He seemed to be doing nicely. He had regular passages from the bowels and as far as I could see had every prospect of a speedy recovery. He was visited by Christian men of the "Christian Commision" and had kind attention in matters pertaining to the body & soul.

I was about to write you yesterday to be of good cheer with respect to him, but was delayed by business of town. On returning to ...

"Grave diggers uncovered their heads and stood in silence" during Tucker's burial, Greeley wrote.
... my surprise I found that yesterday afternoon he had been taken with internal hemorage (sic), together with a copious discharge of pus through the wound, and died in a very few minutes. My hopes that the ball had not touched the bowels had now proved fallicious.

I attended his remains this morning to a new Soldiers' Cemetery we have just secured. The dead were being constantly brought in from hospitals in every direction -- but we had your husband enclosed in a coffin, while others were laid only in their blankets, and when his body rested in the appointed place, many soldiers who stood round and a detachment of grave diggers uncovered their heads and stood in silence while I administered for your husband the right of a Christian burial. May God comfort ...

This letter appears on and is available in Tucker's widow's pension file at the
 National Archives in Washington. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
... you in your bereavement -- is the desire and prayer of .

Yours with respect and sympathy.

L.L.N. Greeley
Chaplain Sixth Mich. Cavalry

Mrs. Lovina Tucker
Bell River, Mich.


SOURCES:, Harvey Tucker widow's pension file

1860 U.S. census

Kidd, James Harvey, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman With Custer's Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War, Ionia, Michigan, 1908

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

The Union Army, A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, Volume III, Madison, Wis., 1908

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gettysburg interactive panorama: East Cemetery Hill

Fifth in a series of interactive Gettysburg panoramas. Here are my interactive Antietam panoramas.

                     South slope of East Cemetery Hill photographed from near Stevens Knoll.

Major Allen Brady took over the 17th Connecticut 
at Gettysburg after its commanding officer was 
killed. This image shows him in 1861, when he
 was an officer in the 3rd Connecticut.
(Photo courtesy Dale Call)

If you're a Civil War buff and have $16,000 to spare, you may want to pick up this 17th Connecticut regimental field report from the Battle of Gettysburg as well as sundry other related post-war documents in The New York Times Store, which features "rare and newsworthy items." Written on July 4, 1863 by Major Allen G. Brady of the 17th Connecticut, it details in military language the regiment's retreat into Gettysburg on the first day of the battle and its stand with the rest of the XI Corps at East Cemetery Hill the next day. In layman's terms, the 17th Connecticut got the tar knocked out of it on the July 1, 1863 at Blocher's Knoll (now Barlow's Knoll), where its commander, Lt. Colonel Douglas Fowler, was decapitated by artillery fire or gunfire as he sat astride his white horse. Brady succeeded Fowler as commander of the 17th Connecticut, which retreated pell-mell through town and re-formed near East Cemetery Hill, where it was part of a desperate stand by the Union army. On the evening of July 2, the XI Corps held off North Carolina and Louisiana troops that sought to take strategic high ground at Cemetery Hill. In his field report, Brady referenced his wounding in the right shoulder blade by a shell fragment. Last week, I shot a panorama of East Cemetery Hill from near Stevens Knoll as well as a photo of the nearby 17th Connecticut monument, one of two monuments to the regiment at Gettysburg.

17th Connecticut monument on Wainwright Avenue at Gettysburg. Another monument to the regiment is
at Barlow's Knoll, where the 17th Connecticut was routed on July 1, 1863.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gettysburg interactive panoramas: The Wheatfield

Fourth in a series of interactive Gettysburg panoramas. Here are my interactive Antietam panoramas.

       The 27th Connecticut monument marks where Lt. Col. Henry Merwin was mortally wounded.

    61st New York monument in Wheatfield. The regiment suffered six killed and 56 wounded here.

Lieutenant colonel Henry Merwin was mortally
wounded at The Wheatfield at Gettysburg.
"My poor regiment is suffering terribly," 23-year-old Henry Merwin reportedly whispered after he was cut down leading his little band of men at The Wheatfield at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. From New Haven, Conn., the lieutenant colonel commanded the 75 soldiers in the 27th Connecticut, the smallest regiment in the Union army at Gettysburg. Nearly 50 percent -- 10 killed,  23 wounded and four captured -- became casualties there. The 27th Connecticut had been whittled down at Fredericksburg in December 1862 (19 killed, 86 wounded, three prisoners) and on May 3, 1863 at Chancellorsville, where 280 men surrendered after they were surrounded -- one of the greatest humiliations for a Union regiment during the war. "Only five minutes before, the men stood at their posts undisturbed by even a doubt of their security," a regimental historian wrote about the Chancellorsville disaster. "Now, astonished at the sudden denouement, we found ourselves about to enter upon the terrible uncertainties of rebel captivity." Among those captured, Merwin was sent to Richmond and then paroled 20 days after his regiment's surrender. The 27th Connecticut monument at Gettysburg, dedicated on Oct. 27, 1885, marks the spot were Merwin was mortally wounded. It's one of two monuments dedicated to the regiment at the battlefield. (Click here to download my Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Gettysburg deaths.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Antietam: Old Philadelphia Brigade Park postcards, photos

Circa 1910 postcard of Philadelphia Brigade Park.
Philadelphia Brigade monument in circa 1920s postcard.
Over the weekend, I picked up these old postcards (cheap!) of the Philadelphia Brigade Park at Antietam. The 73-foot monument to the brigade, which was comprised of the 69th, 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Volunteers, was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1896, the 34th anniversary of the battle. The park once included an ornamental iron gate and was tended to by a caretaker who let his sheep roam the grounds. Apparently the animals were a cheaper alternative than a lawnmower. Especially brutal fighting raged here in the West Woods, where the brigade lost more than 500 men in about 20 minutes. The ugly scene was described in this history of the brigade, published in 1876:
 "In the woods near the Hagerstown road, where the Philadelphia Brigade suffered so severely, our losses exceeded those of the enemy. Those poor fellows had died in all sorts of positions; some lying on their faces, others leaning against the rocks, and one man, a Confederate, was resting on his knees, with his eyes wide open and his hands grasping a rifle. On the slope, where the fire of our brigade had been directed, were one hundred and twenty dead Confederates who had been prepared for burial before their army retreated."
For comparison, I posted below black-and-white photographs of the park from the Antietam National Battlefield Library collection via Jim Buchanan's Walking the West Woods blog. I believe the gate was removed in the mid-1930s. When you visit Antietam, be sure to say hello to Jim, a certified battlefield guide and an expert on the fighting in the West Woods there. He has a detailed post on Philadelphia Brigade Park here.

The gate at the park, circa 1925. (Antietam National Battlefield Library)
Philadelphia Brigade Park, circa 1935. (Antietam National Battlefield Library)
In this circa 1930 image, workers set cement fence posts along the southern boundary of the
 original 11-acre park. (Antietam National Battlefield Library)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gettysburg panorama: Where 14th Connecticut fought

Third in a series of interactive Gettysburg panoramas. Here are my interactive Antietam panoramas.

                             A Rebel's-eye view of the stone wall along Cemetery Ridge. 
            The 14th Connecticut monument is to the immediate left of the white monument.

        Samuel Huxham was killed about 200 yards beyond the Emmitsburg Road in the distance.

Wearing a large bow tie and the hint of a smile, 
Samuel Huxham probably posed for this photo
 before he went of to war.
(Photo: Middlesex County Historical Society)
The memory of the death of his brother-in-law seven months earlier was probably fresh on the mind of Samuel Huxham as he crouched low behind a fence near Cemetery Ridge on the morning of July 3, 1863. A 25-year-old corporal in 14th Connecticut, Huxham and his Company B comrades were trading shots with pickets of the enemy, which held a portion of the Bliss farm 200 yards or so away. The regiment's main position was about 700 yards behind Huxham, along a loosely constructed low, stone wall on Cemetery Ridge (see interactive panoramas above). As Huxham rose from his position to squeeze off a shot, a sharpshooter's bullet tore through his head, killing the married father of a 1-year-old son instantly.

"(Huxham) had evidently become tired of lying flat upon the ground and firing through the lower rails," a 14th Connecticut regimental historian wrote, "and risen up to a kneeling position and was aiming through the middle rails of the fence, a risk the rebel sharp-shooters had quickly availed themselves of, and not unlikely the very one that had attracted Huxham's attention was the one that proved too quick for him and fired the fatal shot."

Recounted another veteran years after the battle: "Alone, far from all loved ones, fulfilling his oath of loyalty, the brave, faithful spirit passed from his body by the swift leaden messenger sped by a traitor's hand."

Carrie Huxham provided this birth certificate for her son
as part of the documentation to secure a widow's pension
after her husband's death. The registrar incorrectly noted
that the couple had a daughter.  (
Ground down by grueling fighting at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and unreplenished with fresh recruits since the regiment was organized in August 1862, the 14th Connecticut had only 160 men present for duty at Gettysburg. Fourteeen of those men were killed or mortally wounded at Gettysburg, nearly all during Pickett's Charge on the afternoon of July 3. Among them was Company F Private Thomas Brainard, who was shot in the right shoulder and died in a II Corps Hospital later that day. Struck in the head by a shell fragment, Company D Private John Julian died in a regimental field hospital two days later. Sergeant George Baldwin of Company I took a bullet in the abdomen, lingered for more than a week and died in Jarvis Hospital in Baltimore on July 13.  (See my downloadable Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Gettysburg deaths here.)

Huxham was from Middletown, Conn., a town that rose up from the banks of the Connecticut River and was the home of Wesleyan University, which supplied many students for the Union army. (One of them, 19-year-old lieutenant George Crosby, was killed at Antietam.) George Washington visited Middletown in 1789, writing in his diary that "while dinner was getting ready, I took a walk around the Town, from the heights of which the prospect is beautiful." A joiner, Huxham married Carrie S. Gibbons in the late summer of 1861, and the couple soon started a family. A son, Samuel Jr., was born on May 27, 1862, so the English immigrant must have agonized over the decision to enlist in the Union army on Aug. 8, 1862. On Sept. 17, 1862, a day after his first wedding anniversary, Samuel survived the bloodbath at Antietam.

For 24-year-old Carrie Huxham, the death of her husband was yet another terrible blow. Her brother Elijah Gibbons, the captain of Company B of the 14th Connecticut,  was mortally wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. Because the Gibbons family did not have the financial means, his friends arranged for the return of the officer's body to Middletown, where he was buried in Mortimer Cemetery. In late July 1863, the body of Carrie's husband also was returned to Middletown, where after a service at the Baptist church on Main Street, he was buried in the same plot as his brother-in-law.


Middletown Constitution, Aug. 5, 1863

Page, Charles Davis, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, Meriden, Conn., 1906

Stevens, H.S., Address Delivered at the Dedication, Monument of the 14th Conn. Vol., Gettysburg, Penn., July 3rd, 1884, Middletown, Conn., 1884

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gettysburg interactive panorama: Where Sickles lost his leg

Second in a series of interactive Gettysburg panoramas. Here are my interactive Antietam panoramas.

Peter Trostle farm: Pan to left to see where Sickles was wounded.

Dan Sickles in a wheelchair in 1913. He died at age 94 on May 3, 1914
and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
(Library of Congress collection)
On July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union General Dan Sickles' lower right leg was shattered by artillery fire as he sat atop his horse near the barn of a farmer named Peter Trostle. In an act of bravado typical of one of history's great characters, the 43-year-old officer puffed on a cigar as he was carried from the field after suffering the grievous wound. The general survived the amputation of the leg and after the war became a champion for memorializing and preserving the battlefield. In another odd twist for a man who once introduced a prostitute to the Queen of England, Sickles often visited the bones of his leg at Washington's Army Medical Museum (now National Museum of Health and Medicine). "With the compliments of Major General D.E.S," he wrote on a visiting card that accompanied his donation of the bones to the museum. (You can still see Sickles' leg there today.)

In the summer of 1913, less than a year before his death, a feeble Sickles was so determined to attend the 50th Gettysburg anniversary soldiers' reunion that he reportedly wrote a friend that he would gladly give up his other leg to be there. According to a 1913 newspaper account, the 93-year-old Sickles demanded that "a private ambulance as big as procurable be obtained to convey him about the battlefield," and the notorious ladies' man requested that two women be "obtained" to take care of him while at the reunion. Sickles apparently wasn't worried about getting to the third floor of Gettysburg's Eagle Hotel, where he usually stayed during his frequent visits to town. An elevator had been installed in the lobby years earlier just for him.

Source: Hartford Courant, June 28, 1913, Page 8

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gettysburg interactive panoramas: Unfinished Railroad Cut

First in a series of interactive Gettysburg panoramas. Click here for my interactive Antietam panoramas.

                                           Looking northwest toward Catoctin Mountains.

A post-war image of the Railroad Cut and the old bridge across it.
(Photo: Library of Congress)

It's difficult today to imagine the horror, chaos and confusion that took place at the Unfinished Railroad Cut on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Among the three Union regiments that rushed to take this position was the 6th Wisconsin of the famed Iron Brigade. Enraged by the mortal wounding  of a comrade who attempted to snatch the 2nd Mississippi flag at the Cut, a private in the 6th Wisconsin clubbed to death the culprit with his musket. In the ensuing melee, Francis Waller, a 22-year-old corporal in the 6th Wisconsin, captured that flag, an act of valor that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1864 and perhaps factored into his promotion to 1st lieutenant later in the war. Plenty has been written about the fighting at the Cut, including this detailed account on an excellent 2nd Mississippi web site by Michael Brasher, whose ancestor served in the regiment. I shot these images on Wednesday afternoon during a two-day visit to the battlefield. Sliding down the steep embankment and deftly avoiding snapping my ankle, I captured a Rebel's-eye view from next to the railroad tracks, which had not been laid at the time of the battle. In 1939, remains of a Union soldier were found here and 57 years later, a tourist -- a National Park Service employee from Oregon --  found remains of another soldier. A forensic examination determined that the unknown soldier, probably a Confederate, had been shot in the head. With full military honors, he was re-buried in the national cemetery in Gettysburg on July 1, 1997, the 134th anniversary of the battle.  

                                                Looking southeast toward Gettysburg.

"My notice that we were upon the enemy was a general cry from our men of:  'Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets!' Running forward through our line of men, I found myself face to face with hundreds of rebels, whom I looked down upon in the railroad cut, which was, where I stood, four feet deep. Adjutant Brooks, equal to the emergency, quickly placed about twenty men across the cut in position to fire through it. I have always congratulated myself upon getting the first word. I shouted: 'Where is the colonel of this regiment?' An officer in gray, with stars on his collar, who stood among the men in the cut, said: 'Who are you?' I said: 'I command this regiment. Surrender, or I will fire.' "

-- Colonel Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin

Source: Service With The Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Page 168

                                                  View from inside the Railroad Cut

"My color guards were all killed and wounded in less than five minutes, and also my colors were shot more than one dozen times, and the flag staff was hit and splintered two or three times. Just about that time a squad of soldiers made a rush for my colors and our men did their duty. They were all killed or wounded, but they still rushed for the colors with one of the most deadly struggles that was ever witnessed during any battle in the war. They still kept rushing for my flag and there were over a dozen shot down like sheep in their mad rush for the colors. The first soldier was shot down just as he made for the flag, and he was shot by one of our soldiers. Just to my right and at the same time a lieutenant made a desperate struggle for the flag and was shot through the right shoulder. Over a dozen men fell killed or wounded, and then a large man made a rush for me and the flag. As I tore the flag from the staff he took hold of me and the color. The firing was still going on, and was kept up for several minutes after the flag was taken from me..."

-- Corporal William Murphy, 2nd Mississippi

Source: Murphy to F.A. Dearborn, June 29, 1900, Papers of E. S. Bragg, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Cited on 2nd Mississippi web site by Michael Brasher)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

For sale: Fredericksburg house with Civil War graffiti

TODAY:  The town house painted blue at 136 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, Va., is for sale.

Looking to upgrade to a house with a lot more room, perhaps something with a little Southern charm and a lot of history to it? And you absolutely need something in a really terrific neighborhood, right? We may have just the place for you ...

MAY 1864: A photo by James Gardner shows the same house with war damage.
(Library of Congress collection). 

... of course, one of the negatives to the town house at 136 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, Va., is that it was a MAJOR fixer-upper after it was heavily damaged by the Union army, most likely by artillery fire, in December 1862. When the bulk of the Federal army crossed the Rappahannock River on Dec. 12, 1862 to fight the Battle of Fredericksburg, Yankees ran amok, pillaging the town that once was the boyhood home to George Washington. "Very soon the streets were filled with a motley crowd of men,” wrote Lieutenant Josiah Favill of the 57th New York, “some of them dressed in women's clothes, others with tall silk hats, curiously conspicuous where nothing but caps are worn; many brought out sofas, chairs, etc., which were planted in the middle of the street, and the men proceeded to take their ease. Some carried pictures; one man had a fine stuffed alligator, and most of them had something.” The Caroline Street residence was probably ransacked too. (The Union army, by the way, suffered a disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg the next day) ...

In this enlargement of James Gardner's image, battle damage is evident at the house at 136 Caroline Street.

... in May 1864, James Gardner took images of Fredericksburg, many of which showed the destruction caused by the war. An enlargement of the photograph of the house at 136 Caroline Street reveals significant war damage (check out the broken windows) and three men, probably Union soldiers, on the second floor. Wonder if those soldiers played a role in the pillaging days in December 1862? 

The Sentry Box on Caroline Street also suffered damage during the Civil War. 

... but let's not dwell too much on the past, OK? You want a house that has some charm in a tony neighborhood. Across the street from 136 Caroline is an historic house known as "The Sentry Box." A private residence today, the former home of Revolutionary War General George Weedon has been described as an "elegant specimen of late Georgian style architecture." Weedon once was mayor of Fredericksburg. This house, which also suffered significant war damage, has a ton of Civil War history to it, too. (There we go again, dwelling on the past.) The Union army crossed the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge near "The Sentry Box" and bodies of soldiers were buried on the property. (Don't worry; they've been removed.)

Views of Rocky Lane, the route many Union troops took into Fredericksburg after crossing the
 Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge in December 1862.

Need a bigger-picture look at the neighborhood? Here's how many Yankees got into Fredericksburg in the winter of 1862. Confederate sharpshooters made their journey quite hazardous. Rocky Lane is a stone's throw or two down the street from 136 Caroline Street. ...

... and here's where the Yankees crossed the Rappahannock on their way to wrecking the neighborhood. Click on the image to see their route up Rocky Lane.

  ... Still not sure? Take the interactive tour to check out the rest of this spectacular, historic neighborhood. ...

A sun room, dual zoned heating and air conditioning...and Civil War graffiti. What more could you want?

... So what do you think? You want space -- this town house plenty of it. Four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and 3,000-plus feet. It's close to shops, restaurants and the commuter train. And history? It was built before the Civil War. That old battle damage? Long gone. But apparently there's still a terrific reminder of the past at 136 Caroline Street. As this real estate handout notes, "graffiti from Civil War soldiers can be viewed in multiple rooms." Sweet! This place can be all yours for $619,900 or perhaps less. (Hat tip to John Cummings of Spotsylvania Civil War blog for pointing out that the town house was for sale.)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Fabulous Cold Harbor find: A 1,000-bullet crate of ammo

Relic hunter Gary Williams and a hunting partner discovered this ammunition crate of 1,000 Union bullets 
on private property on the Cold Harbor battlefield in the late 1990s.
A close-up of the contents of the crate, which includes minies and Williams cleaner bullets.
Seventy-year-old relic hunter Gary Williams has unearthed Civil War buckles, bullets, buttons, bayonets, canteens, artillery shells and much more since he was handed his first metal detector when he was 11 years old.  A lifelong Virginian, he never has had to travel far to whet his Civil War appetite. Since 1977, he and his family have lived in a log cabin-style house smack-dab on the Cold Harbor battlefield, seven miles northeast of Richmond.

Williams gave me this bullet from the
1,000-bullet crate.
"Union trenches were just over in those woods right over there," Williams said, pointing out his kitchen window several hundred yards away. National Park Service property is only a sliver of the vast Cold Harbor battlefield, much of which remains in private hands or, sadly, has already been developed for housing or commercial use. Hunting for Civil War relics is a big-time hobby in Hanover County and the surrounding area, where Rebels and Yankees also killed and maimed each other in major battles at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines' Mills, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill and Glendale and in scores of  skirmishes.

"Kids here get a metal detector before they get their first bicycle," the former Marine said in a syrupy Southern drawl.

From the mundane (thousands upon thousands of bullets) to the rare (Louisiana seal buttons) to the unusual (a gun barrel in the 'V' of a tree), Williams' finds all have a story behind them. For years, he documented in a notebook what he unearthed and where he found the relic. In our 90-minute visit on this raw and rainy day, Williams relished telling stories of his nearly 60-year relic hunting career in which his wife, Teresa, has been a partner since they were married in Gettysburg on July 4, 1976. (In fact, the couple met while relic hunting.) Williams told of the poignant discovery of a daguerreotype of a woman and child -- presumably it belonged to a Yankee or Rebel -- and the unearthing of metal soldier ID discs, among his favorite finds. Perhaps Williams' most challenging hunt came when he found an artillery shell that weighed a couple hundred pounds. It required a major, and sometimes comical, effort to haul the massive piece of metal a mile out of the woods.

"The last part I had to drag it in a tub up a hill." Williams said, shaking his head at the memory. "The tub slid all the way down the hill, broke, and then I had to get another tub to haul that thing out."

Williams also found this ax near the 1,000-bullet ammunition crate.
But his most amazing find came in the late 1990s -- he's not sure of the exact date -- when he and a digging partner found an ammunition crate of 1,000 Union bullets about four feet under ground with a metal detector in a low-lying, wet area at Cold Harbor. Exactly 1,000 bullets. Williams knows, because he counted every ... last ... one of them. The walls of the crate were askew, but otherwise it was well preserved, possibly because the wood remained in water for a long period. An equally well-preserved ax, probably used to open the ammunition crate, was found nearby.

Williams keeps the big box of bullets under Plexiglas in the living room of the house, where 50-plus years of collecting stuff is evident almost everywhere. A log that was part of the old Grapevine Bridge that once spanned the Chickahominy River forms the mantle above a fireplace. ("Run a metal detector across that thing and there are bullets in there," Williams insists.) On a table, there's a box full of fake belt plates used by the actors who played Union soldiers in Gone With The Wind. There are shark teeth, one bigger than a man's hand, unearthed on his property. On a wall, there's a framed photo of old cowboy Roy Rogers, another Williams favorite, and cases with Confederate belt buckles. And in another room, there are framed autographs of The King, Elvis Presley himself. Williams, who collected the autographs from 1956-68, still remembers where he was the day Presley died and remains a huge fan.

But that's a whole other story.

Relic hunting isn't Williams sole connection to the Civil War. Since 1967, he has manufactured reproduction military belt plates, including these fabulous Army of Northern Virginia copies. (These reproduction New York plates are my favorites.) Internet business for Hanover Brass Foundry  is booming, said Williams, who ships his plates worldwide.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Spotsylvania panorama: Where General Sedgwick was killed

Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.

John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter's
bullet on May 9, 1864.
(Library of Congress collection)
The story of Union Major General John Sedgwick, fondly called "Uncle John" by his troops, came full circle for me today during a sun-splashed Virginia day. Born in Cornwall, Conn., Sedgwick was shot and killed after uttering one of the most famous quotes of the Civil War. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," the general scolded soldiers who had scurried from long-distance Rebel gunfire at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.., on May 9, 1864. Moments later, a sharpshooter's bullet crashed into the 50-year-old soldier's left cheek, earning Sedgwick the unenviable title of "Highest-ranking Union Officer To Die On A Battlefield During the Civil War." As many as five Rebels apparently claimed they had shot Sedgwick, and according to this account, an old soldier acknowledged on his death bed that he was the culprit. But no one knows for sure who fired the infamous 500-yard kill shot. Sedgwick's house in Cornwall Hollow, Conn., where he recuperated from wounds suffered at the Battle of Antietam, and the general's grave a short distance away are must-see Civil War stops in Connecticut. I have been to both spots many times, so a visit this afternoon to Sedgwick's death site with fellow blogger and Spotsylvania County Civil War expert John Cummings was pretty neat. (Commercial interruption: Cummings' Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield tour is well worth his fee.) In May 1887, veterans of Sedgwick's VI Corps placed the monument on the spot where their commander was killed.
John Sedgwick was killed on this spot at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Antietam: Sketch artists of the battle

With a major battle looming, citizens of Sharpsburg leave town in this sketch by Alfred Waud.
(All sketches from Library of Congress collection)
On Sept. 15, 1862, two days before the Battle of Antietam, 23-year-old sketch artist Alfred Waud made the drawing above entitled "Sharpsburg citizens leaving for fear of the Rebels." The tall structure in the middle background is probably the spire of  St. Paul's Methodist Church, which was mainly used as a field hospital for Rebel soldiers after the battle. Unlike Waud's more famous Antietam sketches below, this drawing is seldom published in books and magazines. Because of the limits of technology of the time, photographs did not appear in newspapers during the Civil War, so the works of sketch artists such as Waud were very popular. Waud, who worked mainly for Harper's Weekly during the war, sketched every major battle the Army of the Potomac fought in between 1861 and 1865.

In a prelude to the Battle of Antietam, the Rebel army crosses the Potomac River as Yankee scouts watch from
the bank. This Alfred Waud sketch has been reproduced frequently in books and magazines. 
In this Waud sketch, Rebels watch the property of Samuel Mumma burn after they torched his farm.
Citizen volunteers assist the wounded at Antietam in this Waud sketch.
Of course, Waud wasn't the only sketch artist at Antietam. Edwin Forbes, also 23, covered the Army of the Potomac for Frank Leslie's Illustrated, one of the more popular newspapers of the era.  I'm especially intrigued by an illustration below of a Rebel hospital that Forbes drew on the morning or afternoon of Sept. 18, 1862.  Lee's battered army retreated across the Potomac and back into Virginia that evening. Confederate wounded and dead lay on the ground outside the farmhouse, undoubtedly the home of  Stephen Grove on Shepherdstown Pike. (Forbes did not identify the owner of the property in a notation on the sketch.) In early October 1862,  President Lincoln met with General George McClellan at the farm, where the two icons of their day were captured in a famous photograph by Alexander Gardner. That image, as well as the Antietam sketches of Waud and Forbes, is available on the excellent Library of Congress web site. And here are more in-depth posts on Waud and Forbes over at the Emerging Civil War blog.
In this sketch by Edwin Forbes, Rebel wounded and dead lay near a farmhouse while signalmen
are perched atop the roof. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

In this Forbes sketch, the Union IX Corps pushes across Antietam Creek at Burnside Bridge
 at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17, 1862.  (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

History revealed: Soldiers' Cemetery graves in Alexandria

This image of Soldiers' Cemetery, now Alexandria National Cemetery,  was probably shot by
Andrew Russell between 1862-69.
Library of Congress collection

By 1864, the 5 1/2-acre plot the Federal government had set aside in Alexandria, Va., for burial of soldiers was nearly full. Thousands of grave markers, neatly placed in seemingly endless rows, dotted the well-kept Soldiers' Cemetery in the town that served as a vital staging ground for Union troops throughout the war. Among those buried there were men who were killed in action at Cedar Mountain, North Anna River, Brandy Station and other battlefields in Virginia. Others perished from battle wounds or disease in government hospitals in Alexandria. Four were civilian members of the Quartermaster Corps who drowned in the Potomac while in pursuit of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. Many buried there are unknown. Sometime between 1862-1869, a photographer shot an image in the cemetery of the sea of grave markers -- a minuscule portion of the massive Civil War death toll. In the original glass-plate image, which is available in .jpg and TIFF formats on the Library of Congress web site, the names on most of the temporary pine grave markers are indecipherable. Upon enlargement, however, the names as well as regimental and company designations for more than a handful of soldiers are easily read. Here are snapshots of who they were: 


Only 100 of the 400 soldiers in the 7th Ohio escaped unhurt at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on Aug. 9, 1862. It was a day so hot that a private in the 3rd Wisconsin later wrote that "[the sun's] burning rays stung and blistered our unprotected and upturned faces with all the fervor of a mustard plaster." The 7th Ohio, one of four regiments from the state that fought at Cedar Mountain, marched eight miles with little water to the battlefield, where some of its soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Rebels. "The little band of Ohio soldiers soon found themselves hemmed in by hosts of Rebels, who rose up on every side," a private in Company C of the 7th Ohio wrote. "To stand was impossible.  To run was not thought of.  Therefore they were obliged to take the only alternative, to fall." Sometime during the battle, Benjamin F. Gill, a 26-year-old private in Company E, suffered a severe wound in his left leg, which was later amputated by Surgeon John E. Summers. From Erie Country, Ohio, Gill was transported 70 miles back to Alexandria, where he died on Aug. 29, 1862. Corporal Christopher Atkinson of Company F of the 111th Pennsylvania, whose grave appears to the left of Gill's, was also wounded at Cedar Mountain. He died at Alexandria General Hospital on Aug. 28, 1862 ...


... William H.H. Cook, a private in Company D of the 66th Ohio, was only 26 years old when he was killed at Cedar Mountain. Only 18 years old, Private John B. Cartwright of Company B of the 6th New York Cavalry died of unknown causes on Aug. 28, 1862. John Hillen, a private in Company I of the 8th Pennsylvania, died a day later when he drowned. He was from Waynesburg, Pa. ...


... Disease was, by far, the greatest killer during the Civil War. It is estimated that a little more than 60 percent of 625,000-plus soldier deaths during the war were caused by diseases such as dysentery and typhus. Joseph Rowan, whose barely readable grave marker is at left, was one such victim. A 20-year-old private in Company H of the 71st New York, he died of an unspecified disease on Oct. 18, 1862 in Alexandria. ...


... Compared to later battles at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, Cedar Mountain was small in scale. About 24,000 troops were involved in the Culpeper County battle in which the Yankees were outnumbered 2-to-1, a rare occurrence during the war. But the fighting was a portent of deadlier battles that would occur in late 1862 and 1863. "True, many of the (soldiers') wounds are mere flesh wounds, from which the patient will soon recover," a New York Times correspondent wrote eight days after Cedar Mountain. "But there is a larger proportion of serious and dangerous wounds than has heretofore been the case in the various battles in Virginia. About 80 per cent of the wounded will either die or be rendered unfit for service hereafter. So it will easily be perceived that the battle of Cedar Mountain has been the bloodiest and most desperate of the war." One of those wounded who failed to recover was Private John Nolan of Company D of the 8th Ohio. He died in Alexandria on Aug. 27, 1862. Peeking out from between the branches of a bush, a slender marker includes his name, company and regiment.  Today, the graves of all these soldiers are marked by white marble tombstones in what is now known as Alexandria National Cemetery.