Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'Beyond medical aid': A private's death at First Bull Run

Surgeon Luther V. Bell cared for John Mead and other Union wounded at Sudley Church. 
(Barnard & Gibson | Library of Congress)
Two children, probably sons of a Confederate soldier, at graves for soldiers near 
Sudley Church, which appears in the background. (George Barnard | Library of Congress)
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For 11th Massachusetts surgeon Luther V. Bell, the First Battle of Bull Run was a horror show. Scores of wounded Union soldiers filled a small, brick church near the battlefield on the afternoon of July 21, 1861, creating a madhouse of misery for the former head of an insane asylum.

"The whole volume of military surgery was opened before me on Sunday afternoon with illustrations horrid and sanguinary," the 55-year-old Dartmouth Medical School graduate wrote in a letter to a friend. "Sudley Church with its hundred wounded victims will form a picture in my sick dreams so long as I live."

"The wounds were awfully ghastly," 
wrote surgeon Luther V. Bell
of the soldiers he treated
at Sudley Church.

Within an hour, wounded covered the floor and gallery of the church. Pews had been removed to make room. "The wounds were awfully ghastly," Bell recalled, "being made much with shell, Minie-balls, and rifled canons."

John P. Mead, a 29-year-old shoe cutter from Lynnfield, Mass., was among Bell's patients at the makeshift hospital near Bull Run.  A married father of a 4-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl, the 11th Massachusetts private had suffered a horrible wound from an artillery shell.

Mead's regiment, which went into the first major battle of the war wearing state-issued gray uniforms, had advanced to a brow of a hill, fired and then fell back a few rods. Then the soldiers reloaded, advanced and fired again. The cacophony of artillery shells and rifle fire was frightening. "Oh! Sarah," 11th Massachusetts Lieutenant John Robertson wrote to his wife, "it was a fearful scene. I cannot describe it. One must experience it to feel it ..."

Ordered to a new position to support a battery, the regiment had to pass through a narrow gully. Suddenly, a shell burst among the regiment, knocking Robertson to the ground and bloodying his nose. When he recovered his senses, he rushed to catch up with his company. Soon, he discovered the awful effects of the Rebel fire. " ... a piece of the shell which burst and knocked me down [and] struck the man who was touching me in my platoon," he wrote his wife, "and tore away all the lower part of his abdomen making a most horrible wound."

That man -- John P. Mead -- was carried to the rear. He faced bleak prospects. "Doct Bell who dressed the wound says he could not possibly have lived more than three or four hours," Robertson remembered.

Marker for  Private John P. Mead
 in Willow Cemetery in Lynnfield, Mass.
(Find A Grave)

On Aug. 1, 1861, nearly two weeks after the battle, Bell wrote a two-page letter to Jane W. Mead explaining the circumstances of her husband's death. (See complete transcription below.) At about 3 p.m. on the day of the battle, the grievously wounded soldier arrived at Sudley Church.

"I found he had received a truly horrible wound from a piece of shell in the upper part of the thigh bone," the surgeon recalled. "As he was at first in great pain, I put him under the influence of ether, and proceeded to examine the wound, and took therefrom all the contents of his pocket, which had been driven into it. I saw at once that he was beyond medical aid, as the damage was too near the body for amputation."

Mead, who asked Bell if he would lose his leg, never "appreciated fully how severely he was wounded," Bell explained.

When it was apparent the Rebels would overrun the position at the church, the Union army retreated, and Bell reluctantly left his patients. "I have seen a person who was taken prisoner and afterwards escaped," Bell reported to Jane Mead. "He reports that Mr. Mead lived some 36 hours; that the wounds were not ill-healed, and that he then died easily."

Although it's unknown if Mead's remains were recovered and sent to Massachusetts, a marker honors his memory in Willow Hill Cemetery in Lynnfield. A ring he wore at Bull Run was returned to the family as a memento.

National Archives via
Head Quarters, 11th Regt. M.V.
Near Alexandria, Va.

Dear Madam

I am much pained to be obliged to inform you that your worst apprehensions respecting the fate of Mr. Mead are realized. He was brought into the Church near Bull Run, not Centreville, where a portion of the wounded were taken, at about 3 o'clock, Sunday afternoon. My attention was soon called to him, and on examination, I found he had received a truly horrible wound from a piece of shell in the upper part of the thigh bone. As he was at first in great pain, I put him under the influence of ether, and proceeded to examine the wound, and took therefrom all the contents of his pocket, which had been driven into it. I saw at once that he was beyond medical aid, as the damage was too near the body for amputation.

I dressed it before he came out of  the etherization, gave him some comforting things, and told him I would come and see him again as soon as I could attend to some pressing cases (indecipherable) the whole church fall we had ...

National Archives via
... I do not think he appreciated fully how severely he was wounded, as I recollect his asking me if I thought he would lose his leg?

At about 6 1/2 P.M. the rush of the foe was upon us made such circumstance as compelled us to retire or be killed, and we were obliged to leave the place on our retreat.

I have seen a person who was taken prisoner and afterwards escaped. He reports that Mr. Mead lived some 36 hours; that the wounds were not ill-healed, and that he then died easily.

I believe these are in the main facts in this sad narrative, and I would close by offering my deepest sympathies in this hour of your bereavement.

I might add that Mr. M. recognized me, and seemed in a perfectly resigned and cheerful frame of mind.

Very faithfully yours
Luther V. Bell
Surgeon 11th Regt M.V.

Mrs. Jane W. Mead
Lynnfield, Mass.

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-- Luther V. Bell became surgeon of the 11th Massachusetts on June 13, 1861. In an impassioned letter to a friend, he wrote about his devotion to the Union cause: "... I have never had one beginning of a regret at my decision to devote what may be left of life and ability to the great cause. I have, as you know, four young motherless children. Painful, as it is, to leave such a charge, I have forced myself into reconciliation by the reflection, that the great issue under the stern arbitrament of arms is, whether or not, our children are to have a country."

While serving as a brigade surgeon, Bell died of disease at Budd's Ferry, Md., on Feb. 11, 1862.

"Bell had long been an invalid," The New York Times reported the next day, "and had suffered to some degree from pulmonary disease, and he has had several attacks of hemorrhage, but his health had been better in the army until within a week, when he had an attack of pleurisy, complicated with acute rheumatism. For several days he had suffered intensely, and could only be relieved by inhalations of chloroform.

"He was aware of the severity of his case, and gave directions that his friends should be notified of his perilous condition."

Digital copies and a transcript
 of  John Robertson's lengthy

Bull Run letter to his wife 
may be accessed here.
-- Ellis, George E., Memoir of Luther V. Bell, M.D., LL.D, Proceedings of Massachusetts Historical Society, April 1, 1863. 

-- John Mead widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

-- Lieutenant John C. Robertson letter to his wife, Sarah, July 27, 1861, Massachusetts Historical Society Collection, Tufts-Robertson Papers, accessed online April 19, 2017.

In the letter to his wife, Robertson referred to reports of Confederate atrocities committed at Sudley Church after the Yankees' retreat. "...we have it from what seems good authority," he wrote, "that after our retreat the rebels blew up the Hospital and inhumanly murdered every wounded man they found. For the sake of humanity, I trust this may not be true." The reports were unfounded.

-- The Massachusetts Register, A Very Complete Acccount of the Massachusetts Volunteers, Boston, Adams, Sampson & Co., 1862.

-- Wellman, Thomas, History of the Town of Lynnfield, Mass., 1635-1895, Boston, Published and illustrated by the Blanchard & Watts Engraving Co., 1895.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dying 108th N.Y. soldier: 'Tell Charlie I tried to do my duty'

Rifle pits at Petersburg, Va., where Private John W. Bailey was mortally wounded June 18, 1864.
(Library of Congress collection)

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In the spring of 1864, the hardfighting 108th New York struggled to replenish it ranks after brutal battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. "Difficulty was experienced in getting recruits to join our regiment," a soldier in the regiment recalled, "as they said it was sure death to join the 108th."

Chaplain Thomas Grassie, probably in a post-war photo.
He wrote a letter to Charles Bailey about his brother's
final hours after he was shot at Petersburg.
But when a call went out in Monroe County, N.Y., for men to join the 108th,  John W. Bailey was all-in. And so, on Feb. 25, 1864, the 20-year-old orphan from Webster mustered into the regiment as a private, joining his brother Charles in Company F.  (More than a decade earlier, the brothers' parents had died, leaving sister Lydia as their guardian. John leased a farm of "about 75 acres" in Webster, using income from his labors to help support Lydia and another sister.)

It didn't take long for Charles and John to participate in relentless, terrible fighting together. On May 6, 1864, Corporal Charles S. Bailey, a color-bearer, was wounded at the Wilderness, knocking him out of the war. At Spotsylvania Courthouse six days later, John was severely wounded, but he recovered in time to re-join the regiment at the front at Petersburg.

On the morning of June 18, the 108th New York came under Confederate fire near Petersburg, the strategic town about 25 miles south of Richmond, the Rebel capital. According to Thomas G. Grassie, the regiment's 32-year-old, Scottish-born chaplain, John was shot in the back when he "left the breastworks to go toward" Confederate fire. Another soldier recalled a slightly different scenario.

"... while the regiment was reposing upon a roadside, much annoyed by sharp-shooters," he recalled, "[Bailey] was struck by a ball on his spine. In his excruciating agony he partially raised upon his elbow, and seeing us across the road, cried out, 'Haven't I done my duty? I can die happy that I have done so.' We responded, 'Yes, yes, John you have truly and unflinchingly done heroic duty.' "

John Bailey's grave in City Point National Cemetery
in Hopewell, Va.
(Find A Grave)
John was transported to a hospital, where he "bore the pain with admirable fortitude and with Christian resignation," Grassie recalled in a poignant, six-page letter to Charles. (See complete transcription below.)

"I gave him a soothing medicine which soon eased his pain & lulled him to sleep," the chaplain remembered. But even though John's pain apparently briefly subsided, there wasn't much that could be done for the severely wounded private, who said he was unafraid to die.

In his final hours, Bailey told Grassie he had expected to be killed when he joined the army -- and spoke frequently about his brother, Charlie.

"Tell [him] I thought of him when I was dying -- and my sisters too," John said, according to the chaplain. "Tell Charlie I tried to do my duty to my country & tell him I hope he will be spared to his friends. Tell him I was ready to die & expect to see him again. Tell all our folks not to feel bad for me."

Two hours later, at about 10 a.m. on June 19, 1864, John W. Bailey died. "I had to go to the Regt. & had not returned before his brave spirit was released," wrote Grassie, who added John was buried in a II Corps graveyard near Petersburg. After the war, Bailey's body was recovered and re-interred in City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Va., where the remains of more than 5,000 other Civil War soldiers are buried.

National Archives via
Front of Petersburg
Since 8th July 

Dear Bailey

Your letter of 3rd inst. is received this morning & I reply by today's mail. It is sadly true your dear brother is dead. He was shot in the morning of the 18th June and died about 10 c'clock the next day. He died like a soldier and a Christian. It was in front of Petersburg. Our troops had advanced the day before & were behind breast-works & very near the enemy's line. The bullets were frequently coming from the enemy's skirmish end. John left the breast-works to go toward a fire & received a bullet in the ...

National Archives via
... the back passing through. He acted as [indecipherable] soldier. When it was seen that he would die he said, he was not sorry & did not fear he would die like a soldier. Better than that -- far better -- he died like a Christian. As soon as possible he was brought to the Hospital. When I first saw him after he was struck he was suffering much but he bore the pain with admirable fortitude and with Christian resignation. I gave him a soothing medicine which soon eased his pain & lulled him to sleep. He remained in a drowsy state, but easily roused to consciousness till he died next morning...

National Archives via
... Charlie Bailey, I'd be proud to have a brother, even in the grave, who died as nobly as yours. I was moved with admiration. His was real patriotism & real supporting religion.

When his pain was a little soothed I began to talk with him. He said when I told him he would not live, "I see that. I've made up my mind to that, but I'm not sorry. I've expected this. I got ready for it before I left home. I'm not afraid to die. I left myself in the hands of Christ & He is with me now. I settled that matter last winter about the same time brother Charlie did. I'm not sorry I'm dying. I'm not sorry I came out. I staid as long as I could. I couldn't stay longer ...

National Archives via
... when my country needed me. I expected to be killed & I'm not sorry. " He afterward said, "It is worth all the world -- worth everything to have a hope in Christ now.  Oh, I wouldn't be without this hope for anything." He spoke of you several times & hoped you would be spared. A short time before his death he said, "Tell Charlie I thought of him when I was dying -- and my sisters too. Tell Charlie I tried to do my duty to my country & tell him I hope he will be spared to his friends. Tell him I was ready to die & expect to see him again. Tell all our folks not to feel bad for me. I'm not sorry. I'm willing to die." After this in about two hours he died. I had to go to the Regt. & had not returned before his brave spirit was released. He lies in the grave-yard of the first Hospital ...

National Archives via
... established by the 2nd Corps in front of Petersburg. It is five miles from our present position & near where our wagon train is at present five miles from this camp.

Not knowing your address I sent to your friends at home an account of John's death, and since then I sent by the Sanitary Commission one or two articles he had with him.

It is not a matter of unmingled grief by any means when such a one dies. He died worthily & not in vain. He was one of those who freely gave life a sacrifice for God's truth.

I hope God will comfort you, Charlie, & make you a more earnest hater of wrong & lover of truth ...
National Archives via
... by the meaning of Him who standing for truth against its enemies yielded up his life.

Nothing is known of Alfred Kingsbury. (*) Such of the Chris[tian] Association as still remain have nightly meetings at present. They are very few, but not in vain are they absent. We shall be very glad to see you again in the Regt..

Very truly yours,
Thos. G. Grassie
Chaplain 108 N.Y.

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-- * Chaplain Grassie undoubtedly meant Andrew Kingsbury, a private in Company F of the 108th New York. He was originally listed as missing at the Battle of Laurel Hill (Va.) and was presumed killed. It was his first battle of the war.
-- Charles Bailey was discharged from the army in West Philadelphia, Pa., a year after he was wounded at the Wilderness.
-- Washburn, Private George H., A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regt. N.Y. Vols., From 1862 to 1864, Rochester, N.Y., 1894.
-- John Bailey and Andrew Kingsbury pension files, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Video: Two minutes at the Connecticut grave of 'Uncle John'

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On May 15, 1864, six days after he was killed at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., Union Major General John Sedgwick was buried here in Cornwall Hollow, Conn. "The ceremonies were simple, orderly and in appropriate taste," a witness wrote. "Two or three eloquent and soul-moving addresses, suited to the occasion, were made by the clergymen present, and then, after the immense throng had been indulged with a look at the manly face of the noble soldier, his remains were borne to their final resting place by a respectable company of gentlemen from among his fellow townspeople without ostentation ..."


-- Hartford Courant, May 18, 1864

Monday, April 10, 2017

'Til death do us part: What Union soldiers left behind

Unidentified Union soldier and a woman, presumably his wife.
(Liljenquist Family Collection | Library of Congress)
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While the marriage documents below don't have nearly the visual impact of the photograph of the couple above, they do have a certain poignancy about them. Each piece of paper, found in Civil War widow's pension files in the National Archives, represents a union tragically ended or disrupted during a war that forever altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. Two of the documents are in German, likely denoting the marriage of immigrants to the United States.  Another was completed in England, before the couple journeyed to America to begin a new life. Here are snapshots of the lives of those Union soldiers:

National Archives via
KILLED AT PORT HUDSON ON MAY 27, 1863:  Official word of Joseph H. Matthews' death apparently didn't reach his family in Michigan until weeks after he was killed during an assault on the Rebel fortress along the Mississippi River.  The 6th Michigan private "was a good soldier respected by his comrades," Sergeant Lewis Tryon wrote to Phoebe Matthews on Oct. 15, 1863. "I don't think that he lived anytime after he was shot. He was shot with a minie ball through the breast. He was close to the enimes works. He was buried with all the respect that could be shown in sutch a place."

No mementoes of the 29-year-old soldier were sent to Mrs. Matthews.

After the battlefield burial at about midnight, Tryon went through Joseph's pockets but only discovered a watch and a box of tobacco. The timepiece was given back to the soldier from whom Joseph bought it. Matthews' knapsack was found at the river, where he had left it before the assault, and given to the regiment's orderly sergeant. "[He] has since died," Tryon wrote, "and I don't know what has become of the things ..." Joseph's blanket and overcoat were lost on the battlefield.

In addition to Phoebe, whom he married on Jan. 8, 1855, Joseph was survived by four children: William, 8; Albert, 6; John, 4; and Frederick. 2.

National Archives via
MORTALLY WOUNDED AT ANTIETAM ON SEPT. 17, 1862: Wounded in the leg near the Dunker Church, Private Nicholas Decker of the 125th Pennsylvania was transferred to Camp G hospital near Frederick, Md. His leg was amputated, and Decker died on Oct. 11, 1862, leaving behind three children: Maria, 8; Letitia, 6; and William, 2. Elizabeth Heifner, whom he had married in Huntingdon, Pa., on Dec. 16, 1852, died in 1861.

National Archives via
KILLED AT FREDERICKSBURG ON DEC. 13, 1862: Richard Keegan, a private in the 69th New York of the famed Irish Brigade, married Ann Carroll at the Church of St. Joseph in New York on Oct. 7, 1853. He also left behind two children, Mary, 8, and Frank, 3.

National Archives via
KILLED AT FREDERICKSBURG ON DEC. 13, 1862: Matthew Robbins, a private in the 142nd Pennsylvania, married Margaret Swift on Sept. 1, 1862, in Connellsville, Pa. The couple had no children. Margaret died in 1902, having never re-married.

Narional Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON SEPT. 20, 1862: Joseph Heiland, an orderly sergeant in the all-German 20th New York, suffered from "disease of the lungs" at Harrison's Landing, Va., in July 1862, according to the regiment's surgeon. He died months later in a hospital in West Philadelphia, leaving behind a wife named Mary, whom he married in 1854 in New York City, and a daughter named Eliza, not quite 10 months.

National Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON FEB. 15, 1864: John Freeman of the famed 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments during the war, married Charity Thomas in Burlington, Vt., on Dec. 1, 1858. When he enlisted as a private on Dec. 16, 1862,  he also left at home a 3-year-old daughter named Mary. Shortly after he was mustered into the army, according to a comrade, he contracted a "disease of the throat" that bothered him during the regiment's journey south. In the winter of 1863, his condition worsened, and he died of "quinsy" at U.S. General Hospital in Beauforrt, N.C.

National Archives via
KILLED IN A SKIRMISH ON JUNE 7, 1862: Christian Essig, a private in the largely German 4th Kentucky Cavalry, married Elizabeth Albert in a ceremony at a church in Sandusky, Ohio, on Jan. 21, 1851. The couple had a daughter named Mary in 1856. While returning to Murfreesboro, Tenn., on scouting mission, the 4th Kentucky Cavalry was confronted by Nathan Bedford Forrest's horsemen, and Essig was shot and killed. Elizabeth re-married in 1863.

National Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON JULY 31, 1862:  On Oct. 29, 1848, 28-year-old miller James Cable, the son of a cordwainer, marrried 24-year-old Savannah March, whose 'condition" was listed as "spinster," in the Parish of Longsgtock in Southhampton, England. The couple moved to America with their son George, settling in Boston, where they had two more children, Elizabeth and William.

On July 25, 1862, Cable, a private in the 29th Massachusetts, suffered from a bad case of pneumonia and was admitted to the U.S. General Hospital in Point Lookout, Md. He died there six days later. On Aug. 1, 1863, the Point Lookout head surgeon wrote a short letter to Savannah noting the meager effects her husband left behind: one cigar case and a silver watch. "By you sending a receipt with the necessary expenses to forward them to you," the surgeon matter-of-factly wrote, "they will be sent."

National Archives via
DIED AFTER WAR FROM EFFECTS OF BATTLE WOUNDS: When he arrived at Armory Square General Hospital in Washington on May 28, 1864, Douglas Murray was in ghastly shape. At Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 18, a Rebel artillery shell had broken his collar bone and four ribs and mangled his left arm, necessitating amputation three inches below the shoulder. A little more than six months later, the sergeant in 63rd New York,  part of the Irish Brigade, was discharged because of the disability to go home to his wife , Mary Ann, and their three children: James, 8; Catharine, 5; and Elizabeth, 4. (The Murrays had another child, Susan, born in 1866.)

Douglas' wounds plagued him the rest of his few remaining days. While in Carlisle, Pa., where he married his wife in 1855, he came down with "traumatic fever" in the summer of 1866, apparently a result of the battlefield wounds he had suffered a little more than two years earlier. Sent to a hospital in Washington, he died there on July 19, 1866.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Death of Maine teenager: 'I think everything was done for him'

A Union camp at Belle Plain, Va., where Lorrain Daniels died of disease in March 1863.
(Library of Congress)
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Nearly two months after he survived brutal fighting in the killing fields of Fredericksburg, Lorrain A. Daniels faced another deadly foe: disease. In early March 1863, the 17-year-old private in the 16th Maine lay in an army hospital in Belle Plain, Va., battling a severe case of typhoid fever.

Daniels may have become ill in late February while away from the regiment on unspecified "especial duty," from which he had to be relieved because he had become so sick. He was taken to the regimental hospital, where the "most energetic measures" were made to care for the teenager, who was "severely threatened with fever," according to the regimental chaplain.

Transferred to a "good bed" in the 2nd Division, I Army Corps hospital, Daniels received "good medical attention & the care of good nurses." But he was wracked with chronic diarrhea in addition to the fever, and there was little that could be done for him. The young soldier from North Newport, Maine, died at 4 a.m. on March 6. The next evening, he was buried in a quiet spot under a stand of  "large spreading pine trees."

Marker for Lorrain Daniels and his brother, George, in
North Newport Cemetery in Maine. The final resting place
of Lorrain's remains is unknown.
(Find A Grave)
"I know this blow will fall very heavily upon you and your family, parents, brothers and sisters," Chaplain George Bullen wrote to Joshua Daniels the day of his son's funeral. "I fear this letter will not find you in the least prepared for it ..."

For Joshua and Lydia Daniels, Lorrain's death was another cruel blow. A little more than a year earlier, their teen-aged son Preston had died, followed in July 1864 by the death of a daughter, Ann. (Another son, George, served as a private in the 4th Maine and survived the war. The Daniels' eldest daughter, Mary, lived until she was 94.)

Before Lorrain enlisted in the Union army in summer of 1862, he lived with his parents on their "small, rocky ledge farm" in North Newport, about 50 miles from the state capital in Augusta. The Daniels were poor, according to friends, one of whom noted "their whole life has been a constant struggle to raise their family and obtain means of sustinence."

In addition to their 25-acre farm worth about $1,000, Joshua and Lydia owned a horse, a half-dozen sheep and two cows worth about $15. In the years leading up to the war and afterward, Joshua suffered from asthma, preventing him doing anything more than "tinker around at some light employment." Lorrain helped his father on the farm and earned money for his family working for neighbors.

In 1869, six years after Lorrain's death, Lydia filed for a dependent's pension. But providing proof of her son's death, a key requirement, proved challenging. "I have written to the officers of his Co., receiving letters from friends of some of them that they were dead, while from the others I get no reply," she wrote to the U.S. Pension Office. "I have been to the homes of the privates of his Co. who resided in this vicinity and find that part of them are dead and the rest have removed to parts unknown to me, excepting one who does not remember particulars concerning [Lorrain's] death as he was detailed at that time for special duty."

At some point, the condolence letter from Chaplain Bullen (see below) was produced, and Lydia's pension claim was finally approved. Troubled by heart disease, she died in 1898, outliving her husband and four of her five children. Lydia was buried in a family plot in North Newport Cemetery, a few feet from a dual marker for her sons, Lorrain and George. Whether Lorrain's remains were ever recovered from under a stand of pines in Virginia is unknown.

Can you help decipher parts of the chaplain's letter below? E-mail me here.

National Archives via 

Head Quarters, 16th Regt. Me. Vols
Camp near Belle Plains, Va.
March 7, 1863

Mr. Daniels
Dear sir:

It is my painful duty to communicate the saddest intelligence to you, viz, of the death of your son Lorrain A. Daniels of Co. "E' of our Regt. The event occurred yesterday morning at about four o'clock.

A long time ago your son was detailed to perform especial duty away from his company. He was so sick as to be relieved from duty about ten days ago. Last Sabbath word came to one of the surgeons of the Regt that he was sick. The surgeon and I went immediately to see him. We found him severely threatened with fever. Had him taken at once to the Regt hospital where the most energetic measures were employed to thwart the fever, but without effect. Wednesday he was ordered to be transferred to the Division hospital which is only a few steps from our hospital. There he had a good bed & I doubt not good care. But his fever continued unabated taking on the typhoid type.

I saw him the evening before he died, when tho not apparently in much distress, his fever was very high but I was not prepared for his death to occur so soon. From the first I feared he would not recover, for ...

National Archives via 
... not only was the attack very violent, but his system had neem somewhat impaired in vigor to resist (indecipherable) disease by diarrhea which had perhaps become chronic. I think everything was done for him that could be here. He had good medical attention & the care of good nurses. I had to administer such religious counsel and consolation as I felt his case required.

I know this blow will fall very heavily upon you and your family, parents, brothers and sisters. I fear this letter will not find you in the least prepared for it by the previous knowledge of your son's illness. But I would hope that our Heavenly Father by his grace and influence of his special sway may be preparing you to bear with a truly submissive spirit this sad bereavement of his providence.

I know nothing of your individual experience, but you will allow me to remind you of this, that you may go to our Father for strength. He is a refuge & strength in time of need as such so go to him. And the Savior is ever near us to offer his sympathy. And this is unlike human sympathy, it is all supporting. And (indecipherable) that our Father doeth all things well, even for our good is suited to console afflicted hearts.

And may our father in Heaven comfort and bless you all in this time of bereavement.

In sympathy yours,

G. Bullen, Chaplain
16th Reg. Me. Vols

P.S. The burial services will be attended this P.M., the spot chosen being a quiet one beneath large, spreading pine trees.

I may add that your son left few effects which are in the possession of his Co. commander, whose business it is to account to you for the same. G.B.

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-- Lorrain Daniels pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via
-- Find A Grave.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Voices from Slaughter Pen: Fredericksburg's forgotten field

The Civil War Trust purchased the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm for $12.3 million in 2006.
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Only a few visitors were at the 208-acre Slaughter Pen Farm on the afternoon of my visit in late March.

A man shot photographs of the old, post-war barn. A father and daughter walked the farm path, apparently deep in thought. Sweating, a woman jogger twice wound her way along the 1.5-mile trail on the beautiful, sunny day. Another man read the explanatory markers about the battle, then stared toward the treeline.

I just needed to walk the ground to understand what happened here.

A Virginia ditch fence was an obstacle for the 
attacking Federals on Dec. 13, 1862.
The mostly flat farmland, which encompasses a fraction of the battlefield on the Union left flank at Fredericksburg, leads to a stretch of woods and railroad tracks. (Much of the battlefield in the immediate area here has been lost to development.)  A Virginia ditch fence, an obstacle for the attacking Federals during the battle on Dec. 13, 1862, slices through the landscape, though it's not nearly as deep as it was during the Civil War.

On the morning of the battle, a strong force of Confederates held ground near the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad tracks and the high ground beyond. To the northwest, Telegraph Hill bristled with Confederate artillery. To the southeast  "Gallant"John Pelham, the 24-year-old artillery officer from Alabama, set up cannon to pump iron into the Federals' left flank, delaying the Yankees and buying valuable time for Robert E. Lee's army.

George Meade's division swept over the railroad tracks and through the woods, briefly breaking through Confederate lines before it was forced to retreat. Five Federal soldiers received a Medal of Honor for their actions at Slaughter Pen Farm.

The Civil War Trust purchased the property in 2006 for $12.3 million, saving from development the scene of savage fighting in this decisive, and often-overlooked, portion of Fredericksburg battlefield.

Listen closely and you can hear voices from the past.

(NOTE: Click at upper right to view panoramas full screen.)


Fredericksburg was the first major battle of the war for the 16th Maine, which suffered 228 casualties here, more than half its number.

"About half-past one P. M., came the word to advance. Between us and the enemy, a distance of half a mile, lay an open field where corn had been planted the preceding summer. The ground, frozen the night before and thawed again at noon, was miry and treacherous, and we often sank half-way to our knees. At intervals deep ditches had been dug for drainage. (See above panorama.) Just before the order came for us to advance the brigade commander [Adrian Root, 94th New York] rode down the line and spoke words of encouragement to us. 'Boys, don t dodge when ----.' but before he could finish the sentence, a shell whizzed so close to his head that he himself dodged very emphatically. He added with a laugh, 'But you may dodge big ones like these!' And we gave cheers for our commander, who, if he would dodge a shell, was a brave man."

-- 16th Maine regimental history, published in 1886.


A soldier in the 13th Massachusetts, which suffered few casualties at Fredericksburg, described his position on the Slaughter Pen Farm: 

"We were now about five hundred yards from the thick woods which completely surrounded the plain upon which our Army lay. The Rebels had not fired a shot in answer to our tremendous cannonading of Thursday and a doubt was felt whether they were there in force or not. But there lay the woods and if they were there we knew a fearful slaughter must take place before they were routed." (Woods in the distance in panorama.)

-- 13th Massachusetts Corporal George Henry Hill, Dec. 17, 1862 (excellent site)


On Jan. 16, 1863, the Buffalo Advertiser published a lengthy letter from 94th New York Colonel Adrian Root, commander of the 1st Brigade, describing the fighting. "I have felt little disposition to write home," he noted, "having, in fact, somewhat distrusted my ability to speak or write calmly concerning that distastrous affair." An excerpt from Root's letter:

"I remember distinctly catching a glimpse of Capt. Ed Lee's countenance, as the Brigade started, and its expression said, as plainly as words could, 'Good bye old fellow -- it's all up with you.' As the Brigade approached the woods, it encountered a fire of artillery and musketry, which exceeded in severity anything I had previously experienced. The men fell rapidly, and many of those in the front line, unable to restrain their impatience, commenced, without orders, firing in return. When infantry begin firing during a charge, they almost invariably halt, and a halt here would have been sure death.

"By strenuous exertions of the officers, the firing was checked, and the advance accelerated. The men yelled like demons and the Brigade swept like a living torrent across the field, over the dead and wounded, over the rifle pits, the railway and the breast-works, and carried the enemy's position triumphantly. Numbers of enemy were killed, and here occurred the first instance that I have observed during the war, of men being killed with the bayonet."

The panorama is a Confederate's view looking toward the 1st Brigade's charge.


The 88th Pennsylvania, which had fought at Chantilly, Second Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam, pushed across the railroad tracks in the distance before it was thrown back. 

"About one o'clock a spirited charge was made upon the works along the railroad (see above panorama), some of the regiments, especially the 107th Pennsylvania and 16th Maine, capturing many Johnnies; but the Confederate line was too strong for [General John] Gibbon to make any impression on, and the entire line was forced back over the railroad, after sustaining much loss."

-- 88th Pennsylvania regimental history, published in 1894.

"[On the] 13th extended our lines still further, through a ploughed field, about three quarters of a mile, all the time having grape and canister poured into our ranks; we were then ordered to lie down. The General then ordered our regiment to advance and give them from our battery one volley and retire, which we did. Shortly after that we had a general fight along the whole line. Getting out of ammunition, we retired behind the Artillery, almost tired to death; we were smeared with powder all over our faces and hands; we looked more like niggers than anything else."

-- 88th Pennsylvania Private Pearson O. Miller's letter to his father,  published in the Reading (Pa.)  Times on Dec. 25, 1862. Miller was killed at Petersburg in the summer of  1864.


After the battle, the whereabouts of James Andrews, a 30-year-old private in Company E of the 16th Maine, were unknown.  Was he wounded or dead? A prisoner perhaps? "I think he was a Christian and if you should see him no more you will have the consolation that he will meet you in Heaven," Corporal George Williams of Company E wrote to Andrews' wife eight days after the battle. 

More than a month after Fredericksburg, his commanding officer wrote this letter to Sophronia Andrews, who anxiously awaited news in Bath, Maine, of her husband's fate. The Andrews had three children: Cora, 5; Emma, 4; and Everett, 2.

Camp near Belle Plain, Va,
January 18, 1863

Mrs. Andrews,

Captain Archibald Leavitt:
"I deeply regret the loss
of such a brave and excellent
soldier." Leavitt died
of battle wounds in the
 spring of 1864.
(Colby College collection)
In answer to your letter I will write you all I know in regard to your husband. He went into the fight near me and he kept in sight of me till about the time the order came for us to retreat. The last I saw of him he was firing at the rebels as fast as he could. When the order came to retreat I spoke to what few men I had left and told them to rally round the colors. Mr. Andrews started back at this command [and] as I learned from Lieut. [William] Brooks of my company he kept up with us till we had to cross the railroad where the rebels were concealed when we charged on them. (See above.) He had gone but a few rods beyond this when he was hit in the leg with a rifle bullet which disabled him from going farther. He asked my Lieut. to help him off, but he was at that instant himself wounded in the leg and could not render him any aid.

Your husband was severely though not dangerously wounded, and is without a doubt a prisoner, as he lay within the rebel lines so that we could not get to him when we returned after dark to carry away the wounded who were left on our retreat.

I deeply regret the loss of such a brave and excellent soldier. I have hope that he will soon return to his company and I feel quite sure that he is still living though a prisoner. Trusting that God will give you strength to endure the present loss of such a brave man as your husband.

I am, 
Yours truly.
Captain Arch D. Leavitt
Co. E. 16th Regt. Me. Vols.

Andrews, whose body was never found, was declared killed in action. Leavitt, his commanding officer, died in Washington on May 30, 1864, of wounds suffered at the Battle of Laurel Hill (Va.)

SOURCE: James Andrews widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, via


Seriously wounded at Antietam, Corporal Martin Schubert of Company E of the 26th New York refused to accept a furlough and insisted on fighting at Fredericksburg, where he was wounded again. He picked up the colors after a color-bearer was wounded, carrying the flag at the head of his regiment at the Slaughter Pen. On Sept. 1, 1893, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor.

"My old wound, not yet healed, still gave me considerable trouble. I went into the battle with the regiment, however, against the protests of my colonel and captain, who insisted that I should use the furlough. I thought the Government needed me on the battlefield rather than at home. Within an hour I received another wound, this time in the left side. I still carry the bullet."

-- Schubert, quoted in The Story of American Heroism, Thrilling Narratives of Personal Adventures During the Great Civil War, published in 1897.

 The 26th New York pushed toward the railroad tracks in the distance before it was forced to retreat.


       NOTE: Ground here part of national park, not Civil War Trust Slaughter Pen Farm.                                   (SEE MAP FOR DETAILS. STAY OFF RAILROAD PROPERTY.) 

On the afternoon of Dec. 13, 1862, General George Meade's 3rd division of the I Corps briefly punched through Confederate lines here. In The National Tribune on Sept. 19, 1901, a veteran  from the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves made a case that the effort should have received as much notice as Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.

"In our immediate front the ground was an open field for a full half mile, through the center of which ran the railroad, through a shallow cut, on reaching which the regiment involuntarily made a momentary halt. It was for but a moment, but a fatal moment, the enemy having the exact range of the position and literally filling it with shot and shell. Still, 'Forward!' was the word, and we moved toward the summit of the hill at a double-quick, loading and firing as we ran."

Added Henlen F. Christy of Company C:

"Pickett's men at Gettysburg are 'heroes in history and gods in song.' Meade's men at Fredericksburg are forgotten by all except a few surviving participants and still fewer spectators of their sublime courage, all of whom linger superfluous on the stage of action, and when these have passed over to the 'silent majority' the episode will be forgotten."

Panorama shows area of the Union breakthrough through a gap in Stonewall Jackson's lines and the Meade Pyramid, completed in 1898 to serve as a reminder for railroad passengers that they were passing through the battlefield. For more on Pyramid, go here and here.

Close-up view of Meade Pyramid on Fredericksburg battlefield. 

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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Forgotten no more: First soldier to die in Gettysburg Campaign

When Clark Hall first found Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler's gravesite, it was sorely neglected.
Clark Hall
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If you enjoy Civil War history but don't know about Clark Hall, you should. Born in Mississippi, the former Marine and ex-FBI agent is the foremost expert on the Civil War in Culpeper County, Va., and a passionate battlefield preservationist. Hall's efforts to save the Brandy Station battlefield, the beautiful, rolling fields and woodlots near Culpeper, Va., are renowned. During my recent Civil War Power Tour, Hall gave me my first tour of Brandy Station, Morton's Ford and many Civil War sites in between. This post is his first for my blog.

By Clark B. Hall

The cold, gray mist hangs heavy as a Southern visitor walks slowly among gray, damp tombstones while searching for a special grave at an upstate New York cemetery. But the task frustrates as the burial site cannot be found and there is no one about in the lonely graveyard to assist in the hunt. One last scan, the stranger concludes. He then looks up high upon a badly eroded hillside and spots a small tombstone that due to its lopsided, broken, fallen configuration is deemed by the visitor shockingly disrespectful to the dead soul, whoever it may be. The hill is climbed, and indecorous treatment or not, there he is, all alone:

Lt. Henry C. Cutler
8th New York Cavalry
Killed in action, June 9, 1863
Beverly’s Ford, Virginia

In any battle or military campaign, some soldier must be the first to die, and at Brandy Station, Va., the inaugural action of the momentous Gettysburg Campaign, that man was 26-year-old Henry C. Cutler of Avon, N.Y.

8th New York Cavalry Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler
was killed at Brandy Station, Va,, on June 9, 1863.
He was 26. (Clark B. Hall collection)
At 4:30 a.m. on June 9, 1863, the 8th New York Cavalry moved carefully down in the pre-dawn darkness toward Beverly’s Ford, the sounds of their approach muffled by water pouring furiously over a nearby rock dam. The largest cavalry regiment in the army at more than 600 strong, the Empire State Regiment was known as the “lucky regiment” because the 8th New York had lost so few men in prior battles. Their “luck” was soon to run out.

Just after 4:30 a.m., the 8th New York Cavalry charged over the Rappahannock River, “the plunging horses throwing spray high in the air.” The huge conflict was now on, and here at Brandy Station “fairly begun the heaviest and most hotly contested cavalry battle ever fought on the American soil.”

As soon as the remaining elements of the 8th New York crossed and re-formed on the flats fronting the river, its division leader ordered his men to assault the enemy located in the woods ahead. Recently detailed from Company B to assume the command of Company A, Cutler, tall, blond and of serious and resolute demeanor, immediately brought forward his wide-awake troopers. Company A was ordered to “draw sabers!” ​

Courageously charging up the ford road across an open plain at the head of his men, Cutler was met violently in front of a knoll by a focused blast of pistol and carbine fire. Shot in the neck, mortally wounded, he fell sideways over the neck of his horse. One of Cutler’s stunned men observed his officer’s horse “running wild with loose rein,” with “blood on Lt. Cutler’s mouth and clinging to the pommel of his horse.” This mad dash proved to be literally a ride to the death for Cutler, as the brave officer soon fell stone dead from his steed.

And it is a fact that Lieutenant Henry C. Cutler became the first of about 55,000 soldiers tallied as casualties in the Gettysburg Campaign.

        Cutler death site. War-time ford road may be seen by sign at center of panorama.
                            (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL-SCREEN VERSION.)

After his death, Cutler’s body was placed on a train and escorted home to his mother, the widow of the late John Cutler. Solemn preparations completed, the funeral proceeded at the Methodist Church in Avon to lament the passing of “this young man of great promise.” A newspaper scribe was present: “From adjoining towns, large deputations were sent to pay the last tribute ... to honor the obsequies of the brave.” As the funeral march got under way, “banners draped in mourning, the long funeral train timing their steps to a dead march, the deep solemnity ... stamped on every brow.” Three
volleys were then fired.

The last part of this newspaper description greatly troubles this writer. As the reporter turned his back from the gravesite, he noted that Cutler “was left to the starless custody of an honored tomb.”

No, not exactly. Not on this day.

In fact,  there was no honor to be found in the badly eroded gravesite and severely neglected tombstone. But wait, something is being done to reverse this sad condition. Just wait and see ...

In his day, a poem was offered in Lieutenant Cutler’s memory. It read, in part:

“Earth is hallowed where he fell —
Comrade! Warrior! Fare thee well”
PRESENT DAY: After some "nudging" from a certain Civil War historian,
Henry C. Cutler's gravestone at Avon (N.Y.) Cemetery was re-set. (Clark Hall photo)

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death of 'Uncle John': Souvenirs and trashing Mrs. Lincoln

John Sedgwick (standing center) with his staff at the Farley plantation house 
at Brandy Station, Va., in 1864. (Library of Congress)
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Decades after John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 9, 1864, a witness to the death of the beloved Union major general wrote of gathering a souvenir of the tragic incident. John G. Fisher, then a lieutenant in the 14th New Jersey, claimed he cut down the bush upon which Sedgwick bled, let it dry in the sun, sliced off a five-inch section that formed a "Y" and carved into it the date "May 9." After the war, he kept it on his mantle, "a reminder of the cold-blooded manner in which our gallant commander was killed."

Another view of John Sedgwick at
Brandy Station, Va., in 1864
(Library of Congress)
Here are 10 other notes about the death of "Uncle John," the highest-ranking Union general to die during the war,  and the Sedgwick monument on the spot he was killed at Spotsylvania Courthouse:

Ulysses Grant's reaction: "I do not think I ever saw Grant so much moved as he was then, except once in Burlington, N.J., when we received a telegram from Mr. Stanton, telling of Mr. Lincoln's death."
--  Frederick Dent, Grant's aide-de-camp. who wrote he plucked a violet from the spot Sedgwick died.

The body man: Thomas Holmes, the man who embalmed Sedgwick in Washington, is known as the “Father of Modern Embalming.” He received a commission as a captain in the Army Medical Corps during the Civil War and was assigned to Washington. He resigned his commission when he realized the commercial possibilities of embalming. (He charged $100 a body.) He also embalmed President Lincoln's body.

"A singular pertinacity" After Sedgwick was embalmed, he was visited at Holmes' establishment on Pennsylvania Avenue by a "large number of persons," the Washington Star reported three days after the general's death. At least one of them was a souvenir hunter. "A lady exhibited a singular pertinacity," the newspaper reported,  "to procure a memento of the fallen hero by clipping two buttons from his coat."

Mary Lincoln
Simply appalled!  On May 25, 1864, the Richmond Dispatch trashed Mary Lincoln, wife of the president. The First Lady's offense? Her signed card attached to a bouquet of flowers lay on Sedgwick's breast during a viewing of the general's remains in New York. Wrote the newspaper:
"The Yankees love of notoriety is a passion which prevades all classes of Yankee society and is equally distributed among both sexes. It flourishes in situations where it could not be expected to exist -- it rages even in the presence of death -- it finds food for gratification in the very honors which are paid to those whom the Yankees are to extol as heroes. Is there a Southern woman so lost to propreity, so destitute of modesty, so entirely divested of that delicacy which should characterize the true lady, as to append her name to an offering so sacred as this ought to have been, upon an occassion so solemn?"
Major donation: Earlier this year, effects of the Sedgwick aide who escorted the general's body home to Cornwall Hollow, Conn., were donated to the Frederickburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Captain Richard F. Halsted's frock coat and kepi will eventually be displayed there, according to the Free-Lance Star of Fredericksburg, Va.

A final goodbye:  As the general's coffin was lowered into his grave in Cornwall Hollow six days after he was killed, "a peal of thunder like the roar of distant artillery reverberated along the heavens, sounding his requiem and the tired soldier rested," according to a Sedgwick family history.

THEN & NOW: Vets pose at John Sedgwick's monument at Spotsylvania Courthouse.
(Large format Then & Now photos here.)

"Detestable" roads: On May 12, 1887, thousands attended the dedication of the Sedgwick monument at the spot where the general was killed 23 years earlier. Getting there from Fredericksburg, about 12 miles away, was a chore for some of the attendees, who included 300 veterans from Sedgwick's VI Corps. "It was not the army's fault the roads in Virginia were detestable [during the war]," an account noted. "They were still detestable, and it was only after more than three hours of the roughest sort of journeying that Alsop's farm was reached."

Believe it or not: During their stay in the area for the dedication, 14th New Jersey veterans went searching for the spot they buried Sergeant Abram Black, a comrade killed at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 13, 1864. Amazingly, according to this 1887 account, a farmer had plowed up the remains a week before their visit. Black's bones were shipped home and re-buried in a family plot.

VI Corps veterans at the dedication of the monument for John Sedgwick, their former commander.
(Sedgwick Memorial AssociationRife & Co, Philadelphia)

Samuel Pingree
"A dream of long ago": In his speech at the monument dedication, 3rd Vermont veteran Samuel Pingree, a Medal of Honor recipient and former Vermont governor, said::
"This fatal spot was the altar on which he made the last sacrifice that falls to the lot of a brave man to make -- the sacrifice of life that his government and ours might continue to hold a name and place among the commonwealths of the earth. Those scenes and tragic activities of our young lives, once so familiar and so real, are now beginning to seem like a dream of long ago."
"Less shaking of hands": After an effort by Confederate veterans was rebuffed to put a monument near The Bloody Angle at Gettysburg, a Virginia newspaper believed Southerners were slighted and should be less magnaminous toward their former enemies. Two days after the Sedgwick monument was dedicated, the Peninsula Enterprise of Accomac, Va., wrote:
"...We cannot refrain from expressing the opinion, that until our victors learn to be more generous, there should be less shaking hands 'over the bloody chasm,' and less of that gushing effusion of sentiment which our people express every time one who wore blue crosses Mason's and Dixon's line. A monument to General Sedgwick, a federal officer, has lately been erected at Spotssylvania C.H., to which no objection not only was ever made, but in the ceremonies attendant thereon many Confederates participated. Was the memory of such a man deserving of more respect than our own heroes? It is right to forgive our enemies, but until they show less enmity to us, perhaps we should be in the future less demonstrative in our affection for them, and less willing to honor the dead of those, however noble the record made in their lives, who are actuated by such hostile feelings for our dead heroes."
     THEN & NOW: Late-19th or early-20th century photo of vet at Sedgwick monument.
         (Emerging Civil War blog via Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park.)

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-- A Sedgwick Genealogy: Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick", Page 102.
-- Sedgwick Memorial Association; 6th Army Corps, Spottsylvania Court House, Va., May 11, 12 and 13, 1887, Dunlap & Clarke Printers, Philadelphia, 1887.