Monday, November 17, 2014

Wounded at Antietam, Franklin Alford crawled from field

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

16th Connecticut private survived Antietam, POW camps

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fox Gap panorama: Where Jesse Reno was mortally wounded

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

                                         Reno monument at Fox Gap, South Mountain battlefield. 

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

Jesse Reno

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Antietam: 30th Virginia Private John Wesley Hilldrup

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Antietam: Sergeant George Marsh 'returns' to burial site

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam panorama: Massive Old Simon at national cemetery

                                 Antietam National Cemetery, where Old Simon stands guard.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Antietam panoramas: 14th Connecticut/Bloody Lane

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

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

                                           Monuments peek through the fog near Bloody Lane.

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

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

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Antietam photos/panoramas: Joseph Poffenberger farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Antietam: General Joseph Mansfield death documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hartford Courant, Sept. 24, 1862.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Antietam panorama: North Woods, where the battle began

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

North Woods: The National Park Service has re-planted trees here to restore it to its 1862 appearance.

Through the mist early on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, Joseph Hooker spied his objective from the edge of this strip of woods: the high ground about 3/4 of a mile away and small white-washed building, the Dunker Church. And as it grew lighter and the sun burned off the fog, the commander of the Union I Corps could see in the distance the glint of the bayonets of Rebel troops massed in the 30-acre cornfield of farmer David R. Miller.

I Corps commander General Joseph Hooker was
wounded in the right foot at Antietam.
"The whole morning had been one of unusual animation to me and fraught with the grandest events," Hooker wrote in his official report of the Battle of Antietam. "The conduct of my troops was sublime, and the occasion almost lifted me to the skies, and its memories will ever remain near me."

As the I Corps marched out of the North Woods at the start of the battle, the soldiers were shelled by Rebel artillery from Nicodemus Heights, causing casualties and confusion. Hooker, too, became a casualty later that morning. Astride his white horse, he was wounded on the inner side of his right foot by a minie ball  -- "without his knowledge," he wrote in his report -- and taken to the Philip Pry farm for treatment. For him, the Battle of Antietam was over.

"Gen. Hooker is open in the expression of his amazement that the rebel army failed to be captured or destroyed, a result which he did not deem possible to fail, when he was borne from the field," the New York Times reported on Oct. 7, 1862. "
Gen. Hooker is chafing like a caged lion to be again in the field. He will soon be in his saddle, and the country will be greatly disappointed if he is not then promptly raised to a great command."

Of course, Hooker got his "great command" when he was promoted to commander of the Army of Potomac on Jan. 26, 1863. He put himself in harm's way again later that year. On May 3, 1863, as the general observed the Battle of Chancellorsville from the second-floor porch of the Chancellor House, he was knocked senseless when an artillery shell crashed into a pillar he was leaning against. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Antietam panoramas: September morning at Burnside Bridge

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

     A Union soldier's-eye view from Burnside Bridge of the Rebel positions on the bluff (pan left).

The morning was perfect: Deep-blue sky, a few clouds, little breeze and the fog that nearly blanketed Antietam Creek two hours earlier had finally lifted. I was the only one on Burnside Bridge -- the only soul, for that matter, apparently anywhere near the iconic stone-arch bridge during the morning in late September. 

After trudging along a gravel path along the creek, I made my way through a field coated with dew up to the 11th Connecticut monument, hidden among the trees on Kingsbury knoll 150 yards or so from the bridge. An old War Department marker gives away the monument's position, and just as I have dozens of times before, I read the 37 names carved into the back of the hunk of Massachusetts granite.


William Lane, Christian Steinmetz, Asa Rouse, Edward Demming -- they all were either killed or mortally wounded near the monument and bridge.

Condolence letter from 11th Connecticut Captain John Kies to the mother
of Private Fennimore Weeks, who was killed near Burnside Bridge at Antietam.
(Fold3,com via National Archives)

And then I thought of what these men and boys left behind.

The wife of the 11th Connecticut's much-admired colonel, Henry Kingsbury, was pregnant with a boy, who was born almost three months after his father died. Wounded four times during the attack at Burnside Bridge on the morning of Sept. 17. 1862, Kingsbury expired at Henry Rohrbach's farmhouse a short distance away. Frederick Culver, a 23-year-old private from Preston, left behind a wife named Emily and an infant daughter, Emily. 

John Murray, a 23-year-old weaver from Putnam, and his wife, Cornelia, had a daughter named Ida. Sarah Rising, the mother of Private Henry Rising, was a widow. What was her reaction when she received the tragic news from Sharpsburg, Md.?

In a letter home to his wife during the war, 40-year-old John Holwell mentioned his young boys. "Kiss Edward and Henry for me and I hope they will be good boys," he wrote to Sarah Holwell. "...I will bring them a handsome present when I come home." The private has no marker with his name on it in his hometown of Norwich or in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg. His final resting place is unknown.

Twenty-four-year old Hiram Roberts, a sergeant from Winchester, was born in England. When did his parents, Edward and Mary, receive word of his death? Private George Heplin, the son of Daniel and Lydia Heplin of Plainfield, was only 18. Private Alvin Flint, whose father and teen-aged brother both died in service to the Union army later in the war, also was just 18. His mother and 15-year-old sister had died of disease shortly after he enlisted, an enormous tragedy for the family from East Hartford. Private Fennimore Weeks was shot through the head and, according to condolence letter from his commanding officer to his mother back in Norwalk, "did not live but a few moments after he was struck."

"His effects I will send to you as soon as I have an opportunity and will write you more of the particulars," Captain John Kies wrote to Rachel Fennimore.

For all of them, the end came here, on a field dotted today with yellow wild flowers.

    The 11th Connecticut attacked from right to left across this field on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Antietam panorama: 7th Maine's futile attack at Piper farm

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

          The 7th Maine charged through this orchard on Henry Piper's farm to attack the Rebels.
                                     (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

After the Union army punched through the center of the enemy line at Bloody Lane during the Battle of Antietam, a company of the 7th Maine was called up to attack Rebels who were harassing a battery from their positions at Henry Piper's farm. Perplexed by the order from Third Brigade commander William Irwin, 7th Maine Major Thomas Hyde asked him to repeat it. To send a company of men against what probably was many times its number was insane, the 21-year-old officer thought.

But Irwin, a 44-year-old officer who was known to enjoy a strong drink or two, was adamant. In fact, he upped the ante.

"That is not enough, sir; go yourself; take your regiment and drive them from those trees and buildings," Irwin emphatically said, according to Hyde. For emphasis, he repeated the order several times and pointed to the farmhouse and barn on the Piper farm.

Major Thomas Hyde of the 7th Maine earned the Medal of Honor
for his heroics at the Battle of Antietam.
(Photo: Maine State Archives)

And so the depleted 7th Maine, numbering 166 soldiers, marched over and around the bodies of Rebels in Bloody Lane, through Piper's apple orchard and toward the farmer's house and outbuildings. It was about 5 p.m. on Sept. 17, 1862.

"Every private in the ranks knew that a fearful blunder had been made," a post-war history noted, "but as obedience is the first duty of a soldier they advanced promptly."

As Hyde suspected, the attack proved to be a disaster.

After the 7th Maine chased Rebels from the orchard and pushed down a hill toward the Piper farm buildings, Hyde saw four enemy battle flags and quickly realized that his little regiment was indeed vastly outnumbered. A regiment of Rebels fired from behind a stone wall and an enemy battery fired grape shot into the Maine soldiers, who were mauled from three sides.

Unsupported by the rest of the Union army, Hyde skillfully directed a retreat back through the orchard.  The regiment's losses were terrible: 12 killed and 60 wounded. Only one officer survived unscathed. A captain and a lieutenant each had three bullets holes through their uniforms. Hyde and another officer had their horses shot out from under them.

"I drove the enemy from the trees and buildings Col. Irwin ordered me to clear," Hyde wrote in his official report, "but for want of support was unable either to push on after his line was  pierced or to hold the position that was gained.  I cannot make exception for special mention. Where all behaved so nobly, and obeyed orders so readily, distinction would be invidious."

In his official report on Sept. 22, 1862, an officer noted that Hyde "led his regiment into action with spirit and courage, handled it under severe fire with judgment, and retired in compact order and with a steady front.

"Conduct like this requires soldierly qualities of the highest order."

The soldier who wrote the report, William Irwin, the man who ordered the attack, had been removed of his brigade command four days earlier. He returned to the 49th Pennsylvania but resigned his commission in October 1863. A month after the war was over, he ironically was named brevet brigadier general for his actions at Antietam. Mentally deranged, Irwin died in a Kentucky insane asylum in 1886.

On April 8, 1891, Hyde received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics in helping lead what was left of his regiment to safety at Antietam. 

         James Hope of the 2nd Vermont painted this image of the 7th Maine going into action on
                  the Piper farm.  Henry Piper's farmhouse can be seen in the middle distance.
                                                             (National Park Service)

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Antietam panoramas: The Bloody Cornfield on Miller farm

When I visit David R. Miller's farm at Antietam, I am reminded of the words of author Bruce Cattton, who eloquently wrote of the savage fighting that took place in The Bloody Cornfield there on Sept. 17, 1862.  "The glint of bayonets could be seen here and there amid the leafage," he wrote, "and long, tearing volleys came out of the corn, while wreaths of yellowish-white smoke drifted up above it as if the whole field were steaming." Alone in the field,  I shot these images last Saturday afternoon, a picture-perfect fall day.  

                    Federal I Corps marched toward the camera the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

"The number of regimental standards floating in the morning air indicated the immense numbers of the advancing enemy. It was a wonderful sight."-- Private Isaac G. Bradwell, 31st Georgia


                                Some of the most savage fighting of the Civil War took place in this field. 

"A man but a few paces from me is struck squarely in the face by a solid shot. Fragments of the poor fellow's head come crashing into my face and fill me with disgust." 
-- Private George Kimball, 12th Massachusetts


                                             A late September view of The Bloody Cornfield.

"Men are falling in their places or running back into the corn. The soldier who is shooting is furious in his energy. The soldier who is shot looks around for help with an imploring agony of death on his face." 
-- Major Rufus Dawes, 6th Wisconsin


                            The Miller farmhouse suffered surprisingly little damage during the battle.

"The corn and the trees, so fresh and green in the morning, were reddened with blood and torn by bullet and shell, and the very earth was furrowed by the incessant impact of lead and iron.”
-- Lieutenant colonel Francis Palfrey, 20th Massachusetts



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

Friday, October 03, 2014

Antietam panoramas: Miller farm and The Bloody Cornfield

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

                                         REBEL PERSPECTIVE: Miller cornfield about dawn.
                                      (Click on all images for full-screen interactive panorama.)

No Civil War battlefield is as haunting, or as mesmerizing, as Antietam when fog lingers over the farmland about dawn on a cool September morning. Usually, I am the only person on the field that early; selfishly, I like that. I imagine this is what it looked like on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, before the Rebels saw the glint of the bayonets of Union soldiers who marched out of the North Woods and into the rolling cornfield of a farmer named David R. Miller. 

"We had not half finished our meal, but it had grown considerably lighter, and we could see the first rays of the sun lighting up the distant hilltops, when there was a sudden flash, and the air around us appeared to be alive with shot and shell from the enemy’s artillery," wrote J. Albert Monroe of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery of the opening of the battle. "The opposite hill seemed suddenly to have become an active volcano, belching forth flame, smoke and scoriae.”

                   REBEL PERSPECTIVE: Miller cornfield; pan to right to see restoration of East Woods.

DAVID R. MILLER FARMHOUSE: The battle raged across his property on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.
                     The National Park Service recently restored the outside of the farmhouse.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For sale: Hanging site of John Brown in Charles Town, W.Va.

John Brown was hanged in what now is the yard of this Victorian mansion in Charles Town, W.Va.

                        Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama of Brown hanging site.

The sky was overcast and a "gentle haze" hung in the air as an impressive trio of characters gathered in a large vacant field at high noon on a late fall day in Charles Town, Va.

Professor Thomas J. Jackson, who two years later would be better known as Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson, was among the crowd of 1,500, mostly military men and cadets. So, too, was a famous actor, John Wilkes Booth, who would become infamous six years later for shooting the President of the United States in the back of the head with a Deringer pistol. John Brown, the fiery 59-year-old abolitionist leader, also was in attendance on Dec. 2, 1859, but not of his own volition.

John Brown, about 1856.
One month after he was convicted for treason for an ill-fated raid on the Federal arsensal at Harpers Ferry, Va., Brown was there for only one reason: his execution by hanging.

Jackson wrote that Brown, who wore carpet slippers, white socks, blacks pants, a black frock coat and vest and a black slouch hat, "behaved with unflinching firmness." His hands tied behind him, Brown ascended the gallows with "apparent cheerfulness," according to the professor, who was "much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man, in the full vigor of health, who must in a few minutes be in eternity." Another witness, John L. Preston, a founder of Virginia Military Institute, eloquently described the somber scene as well as the final moments of the Connecticut-born Brown's life after his body dropped from the gallows:

"There was profound stillness during the time his struggles continued, growing feebler and feebler at each abortive attempt to breathe. He knees were scarcely bent, his arms were drawn up to a right angle at the elbow, with the hands clenched; but there was no writhing of the body, no violent heaving of the chest. At each feebler effort at respiration his arms sank lower, and his legs hung more relaxed, until at last, straight and lank he dangled, swayed to and fro by the wind.
"It was a moment of deep solemnity, and suggestive of thoughts that make the bosom swell. The field of execution was a rising ground, and commanded the outstretching valley from mountain to mountain, and their still grandeur gave sublimity to the outline, while it so chanced that white clouds resting upon them, gave them the appearance that reminded more than one of us of the snow peaks of the Alps."
Today, the vacant field where Brown was hanged has changed greatly. Large, old impressive houses dominate the tree-lined street, just blocks from the still-active Jefferson County Courthouse where Brown was convicted. The site of the gallows where Booth and Jackson watched Brown stand "upright as a soldier in position" before his execution is in the yard of a 7,000-square foot Victorian mansion that's now on the market. Asking price: $749,000.

The five-bedroom, 6 1/2-bath home at 515 South Samuel was built in 1891 by John Gibson, who 32 years earlier had commanded troops who battled Brown and his band of escaped slaves and renegades at Harpers Ferry. On the National Register of Historic Places, the red-brick house features Tiffany windows, Waterford chandeliers, French-laid fireplaces, a gourmet kitchen, a roof deck, a 9-foot claw foot tub and rooms with 19-foot ceilings, according to a real estate flyer. The one-acre property also includes an ornamental wrought-iron fence, a barn, in-ground pool and a gazebo.

There's no mention if the ghost of John Brown, whose body the wind blew to and fro after his hanging, lingers on the property.

A section of  the ornamental fence that surrounds the area where Brown was hanged.
Abolitionist leader John Brown was convicted of treason at Jefferson County Courthouse in
Charles Town, Va.  (now West Virginia) on Nov. 2, 1859. The courthouse is still in use.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Early morning at Antietam: A fog of war gallery

6:45 a.m.: Restored East Woods 

as sun appears over horizon

6:55 a.m.: 128th, 137th Pennsylvania monuments 

on Cornfield Avenue

7:05 a.m.: 132nd Pennsylvania monument

 at Bloody Lane

7:15 a.m.: 130th Pennsylvania monument

 at the Sunken Road

7:25 a.m.: 14th Connecticut monument near the Sunken Road peeks above the corn

7:55 a.m.: Burnside Bridge in the mist

8:10 a.m.: Cannon wet with dew 

on Branch Avenue

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Antietam: Sergeant George Marsh 'returns' 152 years later

Image of  George Marsh photographed near where he was killed at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

In late September 1862, a funeral that "was very largely attended" was held for 29-year-old George Marsh at the home of his parents at 77 Main Street in Hartford. Afterward, the remains of the 8th Connecticut sergeant, who was killed at the Battle of Antietam about dawn on Sept. 17, 1862, were buried in Hartford's Old North Cemetery -- one of many such services held in Connecticut after the battle that claimed more than 200 of the state's sons. (Download my Antietam Connecticut death list here.)

Early Saturday morning, Marsh returned to the battlefield -- figuratively speaking, of course -- for the first time in more than 152 years.

Thanks to the current land owner, who drove me in her truck on rugged trails on her property, I finally found the spot on the ridge by the Henry Rohrbach farm where Marsh and two other 8th Connecticut soldiers were killed and several others were wounded when Rebels lobbed shells from across nearby Antietam Creek. I carried with me two images of Marsh -- a daguerreotype and tintype -- that I bought from a Michigan antiques dealer who earlier this summer contacted me after she saw another photo of Marsh on my blog. After the land owner and I traipsed through thick undergrowth near an old Civil War-era lane, I shot the image above at the edge of a cornfield, near where the regiment was shelled.

According to one account, a 12-pound solid shot struck directly in front of the prone Marsh -- he had been ill that morning -- passed under him and re-emerged from the ground a few feet away.  The chunk of iron never touched Guy and Lamira Marsh's son, who died from the concussion of the shell -- probably the first soldier from the state to die at Antietam. Soldiers in the 8th Connecticut panicked and scattered after the shelling, but they were calmed by their 19-year-old lieutenant, Marvin Wait, who had been covered by earth as well as blood of the wounded and killed.

"The brave fellow sprung to his feet ... and ordered every man back to his post in the most gallant manner," an account noted.

Hours later,  Wait also was dead, riddled with bullets as the 8th Connecticut's final push toward Sharpsburg was stopped on another ridge near the small western Maryland town.