Saturday, January 21, 2017

Do you know more about teen-aged Connecticut deserter?

James A. Brown's grave in Union Cemetery in Duncannon, Pa. (Photo: Richard Grossman)
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On Aug. 23, 1864, 18-year-old James A. Brown died of "congestive chills" at the home of Alex Morrison in Duncannon, Pa. Brown was a corporal in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, which was more than 120 miles south in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at the time of his death.

What was Brown, who had deserted on April 5, 1864, doing in Duncannon, Pa., in the south-central part of the state? Did he have relatives in town? Was his family in East Windsor, Conn., aware of his whereabouts? Did the citizens of Duncannon know he was a deserter? They apparently were touched by the young soldier because they buried him in Union Cemetery in town and placed this marker atop his grave. James enlisted in February 1864 and was promoted to corporal a month later.

Do you know more about this teen-aged soldier? E-mail me here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Letter from Sharpsburg: 'Autumn sun kisses ... soldier-graves'

A cropped enlargement of Alexander Gardner's image of Union graves at Burnside Bridge.
(Library of Congress collection)
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More than a month after the Battle of Antietam, the detritus of war and scenes of devastation were not hard to find on the battlefield. On a beautiful fall afternoon, a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer discovered broken muskets, knapsacks, pieces of shot and shell, remains of horses and trees riddled by bullets and artillery. At a small hotel where he stayed in the village of Sharpsburg, he found "nine hissing meteors thrown entirely through it."

"My bedroom has two loop-holes in the east wall, which ventilates it in the latest and most popular Sharpsburg style," the correspondent wrote on Oct. 25, 1862. "Thanks to Captain [Augustus] Martin’s Battery, or somebody else, for the correct ideas they had on the ventilation of modern dwellings. Your correspondent approves it, although it’s too late for a patent."

On Oct. 27, 1862, more than a month after Antietam,
 the Philadelphia Inquirer published this descriptive account
 of the battlefield.
Almost immediately after the battle, relic hunters picked over the fields and woodlots for souvenirs, but  the scavengers were "rather scarce" during the Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent's visit. Although citizens of Sharpsburg told him there were "nary a hoss or gun in town" from the battle, a Federal officer collected 443 muskets and  "sundry good mules and horses."

In an apple orchard near Burnside Bridge, the writer found a most poignant scene: makeshift graves for 17 soldiers, each marked with a pine board inscribed with the names or initials of the dead.

"The rabbit skips around them, the quail pipes his melancholy notes from the fence side, and the Autumn sun kisses those soldier-graves, day after day, and yet no kindred sheds a tear upon them," the correspondent eloquently wrote. "Alas! the poor soldier."

Published on Oct. 27, 1862, here's the writer's complete account, which includes a description of a visit of an "unsophisticated genius" with President Lincoln.

Special Correspondence of the Inquirer

SHARPSBURG, Md., Oct. 25, 1862.

On one of the most golden and beautiful afternoons of the present autumn I mounted saddle, at Frederick, and proceeded across the country to this sleepy village, classic and historical now as the battle-ground of Antietam. “Grim-visaged” war has left its mark of devastation along the entire route, from the first spurs of the Blue Mountains to the great field of carnage itself. Along the turnpike, at the intervening sections, the fences are all gone, the crops destroyed, bridges burned, vegetation trodden out, and almost every field is arabesque with dead horses, bullocks’ heads, broken wagons, and other debris of camp life. As both Federal and Confederate armies passed over this route, they left sad and indelible pictures upon that fertile and picturesque section of Maryland.

On descending the first range of hills a valley of magnificent proportions and beauty extends from North to South, dotted with yellow corn fields, green patches of winter grain, pleasant farm houses and sleepy barns.

  "The Mountain House" described in correspondent's account. It is still an inn today.

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms,” this valley would be a perpetual study and charm, and with its present autumn habiliments is, indeed, beautiful. South Mountain, properly the Catoctin, is where the Rebels gave us the first fight, a sketch of which your staff of correspondents graphically portrayed. But I must tell an incident which occurred when President Lincoln recently visited the scenes of that battle. In the Gap, at the “Mountain House,” an old farmer was turning an honest penny in selling apples and cider to the crowds of visitors to that locality. “Mr. President,” claimed the unsophisticated genius, “won’t you have a glass of cider?”

“No, sir, I thank you,” replied Mr. Lincoln.

“But it’s real good; prime Union cider!”

Cropped enlargement of image of President Lincoln shot by
Alexander Gardner near Antietam battlefield.
(Library of Congress collection)
“Is it? Why, my friend, then I will try it,” said the President, and which he did, with much wryness of face, vast fame to the farm, and great glee to Gen. [George] McClellan and Staff, who accompanied the President.

Yesterday morning I rode over the prominent points of the Antietam battlefield, including the Rebel centre and right, and the Stone bridge, where General Burnside met with such obstinate resistance and carnage. Evidences of that great fight are yet everywhere visible. Broken muskets, knapsacks, remnants of clothing, fragments of shot and shells, split and rifted trees, hard trodden ground, dead horses, and alas! long rows of graves and ditches, “where sleep the brave,” along the banks and on the high bluffs of the Antietam. In the orchard, back from the stream, I saw seventeen graves in a row, each with its little pine board, with names or initials, “Sept. 17,” etc, etc. How many tearful eyes, in far distant homes, have looked in imagination to those graves beneath the old apple trees! The rabbit skips around them, the quail pipes his melancholy notes from the fence side, and the Autumn sun kisses those soldier-graves, day after day, and yet no kindred sheds a tear upon them. Alas! the poor soldier.

The Confederate center of battle being on a prominent hill, immediately east, and in direct range of this village, our batteries threw immense numbers of shot and shell entirely over the enemy, into town, impartially and equitably distributing their favors to almost every house. Scarcely one escaped, while many had from one to a dozen shells thrown into a roof, garret, chamber, or cellar. The small hotel in which I am “tieing up” had nine hissing meteors thrown entirely through it. My bedroom has two loop-holes in the east wall, which ventilates it in the latest and most popular Sharpsburg style. Thanks to Captain [Augustus] Martin’s Battery, or somebody else, for the correct ideas they had on the ventilation of modern dwellings. Your correspondent approves it, although it’s too late for a patent. Our Sharpsburg hotels are much after your “first-class hotels,” particularly in charges per day. But here’s the difference; instead of “beef a’la mode,” we get mule fricassee, and instead of old Java, or Mocha coffee, we get unadulterated breakfast beverage from new crop acorns. Instead of famous Chester [Pa.] county butter, we get the most delectable Muscovado molasses for our bread and biscuit. Commend us to Sharpsburg luxuries “till the last syllable of recorded time.”

"Broken muskets, knapsacks, remnants of clothing, fragments of shot and shells, split and rifted 
trees, hard trodden ground, dead horses" littered the Antietam battlefield, the correspondent wrote.
This is a cropped enlargement of an Alexander Gardner Antietam image.
 (Library of Congress collection)
Relic hunters are getting rather scarce, although great numbers visit the battlefield every day; but the Government is monopolizing the business just now, and have Lieut. Samuel Waring, of York, Pa., gathering all the arms, horses, and other valuables belonging to Uncle Sam, but which in the fight, or rather after it, got mysteriously transferred into the hands of sundry citizens. Although the agents of the Government have visited this locality on similar business, Lieut. Waring collected, yesterday, four hundred and forty-three muskets, and sundry good horses and mules. Notwithstanding this important recovery, the citizens declared, previous to the search, that there were “nary a hoss or gun in town,” belonging to the best robbed and best lampooned Government on earth.

The impression prevails that an advance movement in Virginia will now be made. The men have marching orders, with three days’ cooked provisions, and are ready to “fall in.” Reports in camp say the Confederates are in force, back of Shepherdstown just opposite the fords here. `

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Stored in attic, rare Rebel canteen belonged to S.C. soldier

Face of inscribed canteen that belonged to Confederate cavalaryman Richard Sims.
(Photo: Richard E. Clem)
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Relic hunter Richard Clem's tales have been told frequently on my blog. In this post, Clem, a lifelong resident of Washington County in Maryland, tells the story of a rare Confederate canteen with ties to Antietam and Gettysburg.

Richard Clem

By Richard E. Clem

Designed to carry water, the old wood canteen also carried a hand-carved inscription that one day would be read worldwide. With the original owner’s name and regiment cut into its face, the heirloom traveled from the coastal region of South Carolina to the farm of Daniel Wolf in western Maryland. Although once carried by a Confederate cavalryman, it remained well preserved for years in a dusty, dark attic.

The canteen was recently discovered while its owner was preparing to move to a retirement home. It seems she had lived with her mother, who stored the vintage canteen in their attic about 1936. Not knowing exactly what it was, she handed it to the author, explaining, “I think it was an old toy the kids once played with.” Another member of the family suggested, “I was thinking of using it as a flower vase.”

Apparently the owner’s mother inherited the mysterious relic from her father, and no one knew what it was. After a closer examination and noticing letters pertaining to “South Carolina,” an idea surfaced it could be connected to the Civil War. Then the owner mentioned, “It has been handed down through the family and belonged to my great-grandfather, Daniel Wolf. He preached in the Manor Church and the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield.”

Those words got my full attention,

With this clue, it was decided to return to the “Days of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields” to try to discover who the Rebel was who once drank from this rustic canteen.

Reverend Daniel Wolf and his wife, Ann Maria. (Courtesy Wolf family)
Research locally revealed Daniel Wolf was born Aug. 11, 1825, at his father’s homestead in southern Washington County, Md. Daniel spent his entire life farming the old home place along Manor Church Road, just two miles east of the little town of Tilghmanton. In 1850, he married Ann Maria Rowland from Washington County. To this union came a blessing of eight daughters and three sons. One of Wolf’s daughters was the grandmother of the owner of the wood canteen.

Possessing great knowledge of the Scriptures, Daniel Wolf became a beloved and respected minister of the German Baptist Brethren Church, known today as the Church of the Brethren. Reverend Wolf’s strong stand on slavery and the evils of war served as fodder for many sermons delivered in the nearby Manor Church and in the famous Dunker Church, just south of his home on the Antietam battlefield. The Dunker Church was a branch of the Manor Church built simply to establish a church near Sharpsburg.

On Aug. 16, 1899, the earthly journey of the 74-year-old preacher ended. The body was buried in Manor Church Cemetery within view of his farm.  At an unknown time, this farmer-preacher had acquired the rare Confederate canteen. What makes the 154-year-old artifact remarkable besides being made of wood is the hand-carved legend on its face:

“R. Sims, Co. I, 1st R. So. Ca., V (c) C.”

PRESENT DAY: Greatly in need of exterior repair, the former home of Daniel Wolf.
(Photo Richard E. Clem)
Manor Church where Reverend Daniel Wolf preached.
(History of Washington Country, Maryland)
With reverence I held this piece of Southern history. The letter “R” represents the first letter of the cavalryman’s first name, His last name is “Sims.” Beneath the name is cut “Co. I,” standing for “Company I.” Perpendicular to the right of the name and company is etched “1st R. So. Ca. V (c) C.” It took a few seconds to figure these letters stood for “1st Regiment, South Carolina, Volunteer Cavalry.” With closer study, a letter “C” can be found beneath the letter “V.” In the author’s opinion, this Confederate trooper intended to cut “Cav.,” an abbreviation for “Cavalry.” Nearing the edge of the canteen, however, and running out of space, the letters “V. C.” (Volunteer Cavalry) were substituted. A large “R” was cut on one side of the rare relic. It is believed Sims originally started to carve his name, etc. on this side, but for an unknown reason finished the inscription on the reverse side.

When the Civil War began, the South was far from being prepared in the way of raw material. By the end of the conflict, the Confederate States were melting bronze church bells and anything else they could get their hands on to produce implements of war. To preserve metal, especially iron and tin, some Southern canteens were manufactured from wood.

Known as the “cedar drum” style, these hardwood vessels (7 ½ inches in diameter x 2 ½ inches in width or depth) were also made of maple and cherry. Each consisted of two, round face plates. Around the circumference were 10 to 12 small slates grooved to receive the face plates -- all held together with two thin metal bands. A wooden maple spout to drink through was then “popped” into the top. Each canteen held about one quart of water or other liquid refreshment a Rebel chose to consume. Once the canteen was filled with liquid, the wood swelled, making it  water-tight. A cork or wood stopper was then pressed into the spout, and leather straps were attached so it could be carried over the shoulder or, in the case of cavalry, hung from a saddle horn.

In some respects, the wood canteen had an advantage over their metal counterparts. Some Confederate soldiers noted water stayed cooler and tasted sweeter in these wood containers. The wood canteen had another practical purpose. With a sharp pocket knife, the owner’s name, regiment, etc. could be carved into the surface, making identification of a soldier easier in case of death. (Soldier ID tags were extremely rare during the Civil War.)

Natural spring beside Reverend Wolf’s home where Sims’ canteen
 may have possibly been found. Daniel and Ann Maria Wolf
 are buried in the Manor Church Cemetery in the background.
(Photo: Richard E. Clem)
Who was “R Sims,” the Rebel cavalryman? How did his personal identified canteen get from South Carolina into the hands of Reverend Daniel Wolf in Maryland? Again, research started locally.

The native limestone, two-story home once owned by Reverend Wolf still stands on 188 acres just north of Antietam battlefield. With the location of Wolf’s farmstead being near the battlefield, it was naturally assumed the old canteen came out of the bloody struggle of Antietam. Wrong! The boys in the 1st South Carolina Cavalry were guarding defenses around Charleston when the battle was fought on Sept. 17, 1862. However, Confederate soldiers were in the area of Wolf’s homestead in July 1863, following the battle at Gettysburg. So the next step was to determine if “R. Sims” was at Gettysburg. According to Federal archives, Private Richard Sims, Company I, 1st South Carolina Cavalry, was “present” with Hampton’s Brigade that clashed with Union cavalry at Gettysburg, attempting to disrupt the Union rear on what is now known as East Cavalry Battlefield. The 1st South Carolina Cavalry also served with honor at Fredericksburg and Brandy Station in Virginia.

Following Gettysburg, every family in the path of Union and Confederate armies was gripped in fear while their crops and livestock were destroyed. Land records in the Washington County Court House list farmers in the county who were forced to declare bankruptcy following the war. The Wolf farm felt the effects of civil war in 1862 and the next year during the Confederates' retreat in July from Gettysburg. A Wolf descendant noted, "Several times Civil War soldiers came to the farm, and my great-grandmother (Ann Maria Wolf) would always give them something to eat no matter what side they were on.”

The old homestead also had an abundance of another source alluring and essential to a cavalry unit: water. Horses needed an average of five gallons of water daily. Could it be while on a scouting mission, Private Sims left his canteen at the spring right beside Reverend Wolf’s home? Or perhaps Private Sims simply took a metal canteen from a dead Yankee and discarded his own.

Speculation will always surround how Daniel Wolf acquired Sims’ canteen, but there are several possibilities. After defeat at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee depended on his cavalry to scout a safe passage for the Army of Northern Virginia back to Southern soil. On July 8, 1863, the 1st South Carolina (Wade Hampton’s Brigade) engaged Federal cavalry at Boonsboro, just east of Wolf’s farm. These same mounted troops were also present at Williamsport, Md., where the Rebel army crossed the swollen Potomac River, ending the Gettysburg campaign. Wolf’s land is situated between Boonsboro and Williamsport. So Reverend Wolf could have found the canteen at one of these locations or anywhere in between -– if not at the natural spring right beside his home.

Based on his military file, Richard Sims was employed as a clerk in his hometown of St. Paul’s Parish, Colleton County, S.C.,  just prior to the War Between the States. The small village is just southwest of Charleston, where the Civil War began April 12, 1861, with the Rebel shelling of  Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. An 1860 census for St. Paul’s Parish lists Richard Sims living with his parents, Edward L. and Sara Sims, along with an older sister, Elizabeth, and three younger brothers, John, James and Edward.

Back of 1st South Carolina cavalryman Richard Sims' canteen.
Note original spout. (Photo Richard E. Clem)
When war looked as if it was going to last longer than expected, 23-year-old Richard Sims enlisted (April 3, 1862) at Parker’s Ferry, near St. Paul’s Parish. In June 1863, the 1st South Carolina Cavalry was transferred to Virginia, where it was assigned to General Wade Hampton’s Brigade, General J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry, Army of Northern Virginia. In all probability, Sims' canteen was left behind in Washington Country during the Rebels' retreat from the blood-stained fields of Gettysburg.

During his military career, Private Sims was listed as “company blacksmith,” according to Federal archives. For this back-breaking service, he was paid a dollar extra per month for shoeing horses.
A muster roll states he received “pay for use of horse from Oct. 31, 1863 to Nov. 28, 1863, at 40 cents per day.” Yes, the Confederacy paid their cavalrymen for service of their personal horses, but remember, the South had an abundance of “worthless” Confederate money.

The year 1864 was one of trials and testing for Richard Sims. On Jan. 8, he was admitted to Jackson Hospital in Richmond because of a chronic ulcer of left leg. This open, painful sore, perhaps caused by the shoeing of horses and days riding in the saddle, forced Sims to leave the cavalry. In the fall of 1864, the 1st South Carolina Cavalry was ordered south to defend its native state and surrounding area. Physically unfit for duty for almost a year,  Sims was discharged from army headquarters on Dec. 10, 1864, at Pocotaligo, Ga. After the war, no record shows Richard Sims or his family living in St. Paul’s Parish. Perhaps he moved west like so many other Civil War veterans. Did he have a wife or children? Where is he buried? What did he look like? These questions will always be associated with the letters carved in the old canteen -- a name without a face.

It's not impossible Daniel Wolf may have personally met the Rebel horseman. Stated earlier, as company blacksmith, Sims could have stopped at Wolf’s spring to water his horse or to repair a damaged shoe of a comrade’s mount. He could have been one of those “Civil War soldiers” who was fed by Ann Maria Wolf. As of December 2016,  the Confederate canteen was still well preserved in Washington County at the home of a great-great-grandson of Daniel Wolf.

The name “Richard Sims” will never grace a battlefield monument. But after more than 150 years, his well-preserved canteen of Confederate hardwood remains a silent symbol of a lost cause.


--Brooks, U. R., Stories of the Confederacy, Columbia, S.C., The State Company, 1912.
--Davis, Burke, Gray Fox, New York, Rinehart and Co., 1956.
--Henry, Maurice J., History of the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Publishing House, Elgin, Ill., 1936.
--McSwain, Eleanor D., Crumbling Defenses, or Memoirs and Reminiscences Of Colonel John Logan Black C.S.A., Macon, Ga., 1960.
--Williams, Thomas J. C., History of Washington County, Maryland, Hagerstown, Md., 1906.
--Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. III, New York, New York, Thomas Yoseloff, Reprint 1956
--National Archives, Military Service Records, Washington, D. C.
--North South Trader’s Civil War, Vol. XVII, No. 2.
--The Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion
--South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, S.C.
--U.S. Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pa.

The author owes gratitude to the following for their interest and invaluable contributions that made the story of Sims’ canteen possible:
Brent C. Brown, Sumter, S.C.
Margo W. Everett, Walterboro, S.C.
Louise Arnold-Friend, Carlisle, Pa.
Patrick McCawley, Columbia, S.C.
Glenn F. McConnell, Charleston, S.C.
Russell Thurmond, Sumter, S.C.
Kipp Valentine, Charleston, S.C.
Dave Williams, Hanover, Pa.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Private Joseph Lindermuth, model for a Gettysburg monument

Civil War veteran Joseph Lindermuth (second from right) and family members at
1st Pennsylvania Cavalry monument on Sept. 2, 1890. (Courtesy Nancy Auman)
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On Sept. 2, 1890, the day the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry monument was dedicated near the "Bloody Angle" at Gettysburg, Joseph Lindermuth posed leaning against it for a photographer. It was a special day for the Civil War veteran, shown above with family members in a cropped enlargement of the original image.

A private in Company L in the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, Joseph was the model for the monument, which cost $1,500. The monument may look familiar to fans of my Civil War Facebook page. For the past several months, I have used a photo of it taken by me at sunrise in October as the lead image of the page. It also appears below.

Joseph, whose last name also was spelled Lindenmuth and Lindemuth, died at 87 on July 7, 1926, of "throat and bladder trouble," according to a family history. The lifetime resident of Auburn, Pa., was a longtime employee of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad.

Thanks to friend of the blog Nancy Auman for sharing this great, old photograph of her husband's ancestors.
Original image of Joseph Lindermuth, who leans against 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry monument.
1st Pennsylvania Cavalry monument at sunrise in Gettysburg in October 2016.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

'The Fighting Lady': Longstreet's remarkable second wife

James Longstreet with his second wife, Helen. (The Longstreet Society)
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Nearly eight years after his first wife died, the man who once played matchmaker for Ulysses Grant was eager again for steady female companionship. "Old men get lonely," 76-year-old James Longstreet told a newspaper reporter in late summer 1897, "and must have company."

Mary Louisa, Longstreet's 
first wife, died 
in 1889.
(The Longstreet Society)
Vilified throughout much of the South after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee's "Old War Horse" led an almost solitary existence in his mansion set among an extensive vineyard in Gainesville, Ga. The former Confederate lieutenant general's sons left after their mother Mary Louisa's death, and his daughter later married a local school teacher, leaving Longstreet in the house with only the company of a servant.

In late July 1897,  Longstreet became smitten with Helen Dortch -- his daughter's friend and 42 years his junior -- whom he had met in Lithia Springs, Ga. Soon, the press caught wind of rumors that the well-known ladies' man might take another bride. Longstreet played coy with a persistent New York reporter before he finally confirmed the news.

"The General crossed his legs, looked out over the fields again, and replied: 'Oh, pshaw! Well, I suppose I might as well give in,' " the New York Times reported. "I am to be married to Miss Dortch at noon on Wednesday in the Governor's residence in Atlanta. The honeymoon is to be spent in Porter Springs, where I hope you newspaper men will leave an old man to the happiness he has acquired."

James Longstreet married Helen Dortch
in 1897. He was 76. She was 34.

On Sept. 8, 1897, Longstreet and Dortch -- described as "pretty, piquant and sympathetic," with blue eyes, blond hair and fair skin -- exchanged vows in the parlor at the governor's executive mansion. Among those in attendance were the Gainesville mayor, a large group of Longstreet's friends and the general's four sons and daughter. "They all warmly congratulated their new stepmother," an account noted, "which should dispose of the story that there was any friction because of the marriage." Dortch picked the wedding date as homage to her husband, who, as an officer 50 years earlier, had heroically led his regiment at Molina Del Rey during the Mexican War.

Governor William Atkinson served as best man for Longstreet, who had converted from Episcopalian to Catholic in 1877. "When the officiating priest, after having asked the groom the question of assent, turned to Miss Dortch to know if she would take James as her husband," a newspaper reported, "it carried the suggestion to the groom's heart that he was a boy again, paddling in the Savannah River."

Newspapers were quick to point out the disparity in ages between the former general and the accomplished young woman, characterizing it as a "May and December" union. A Louisiana newspaper noted that although Longstreet was "a gallant and distinguished Confederate officer during the war ... his apostasy since has lost him the respect and esteem of the Southern people." (Few Southerners forgave Longstreet for becoming a Republican and taking a position in Grant's administration, among other "sins.")

Another publication mentioned the general's varied interests, and believed that his new bride, "a bright young woman," could help manage them. In addition to a large hotel in Gainesville, Longstreet owned a vineyard and winery, raised sheep and turkeys and had authored two books. And President William McKinley, himself a Civil War veteran, had recently called on Longstreet to head the U.S Commissioner of Railroads.

From their wedding in 1897 until well after Longstreet's death at 82 in 1904, Helen would do much more than help "manage" her husband's interests.  Fiercely protective of James Longstreet,  she defended his reputation and memory the rest of her life -- especially against critics who argued he failed to do his duty at Gettysburg. And the woman nicknamed "The Fighting Lady" led a remarkable life herself, living well into the 20th century.

Helen Dortch Longstreet in 1913, nine years after her husband's death.
(The Longstreet Society)
Born April 20, 1863 -- less than five months before Longstreet led a Rebel army at Chickamauga -- Helen Dortch was a woman years ahead of her time. In an account of her wedding to Longstreet, she was described as "one of the most conspicuous among the progressive women of the new south."

At 15, she became a newspaper reporter and editor at the weekly Carnesville (Ga.) Tribune -- employment that was almost exclusively limited to men at the time. "Her early journalistic experiences were not pleasant," an account noted, "but she pluckily went forward ..." She later became editor and publisher of the Milledgeville (Ga.) Daily Chronicle.

Helen Longstreet in 1941.
(The Longstreet Society)
A champion for women's rights, Longstreet led an effort to open the Normal Industrial Training School for girls in Georgia. In 1894, she became the first woman to hold office in Georgia when she was appointed assistant state librarian.

"I had to get the legislature to change the law before I could assume office," she said of  so-called " Dortch Bill." "A hundred thousand women signed petition that the law be repealed so I could be appointed."

Shortly after her husband's death, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Longstreet postmaster of Gainesville, a big-time position during the era. "It is safe to say," the Atlanta Constitution reported, "President Roosevelt could have made no appointment that would have proved as universally popular."

Throughout her life, Longstreet was active in environmental and political causes big and small. In 1910, she was founder of a movement to erect a monument to the slaves of the Confederacy -- a long-shot effort if there ever was one. In an eloquent speech, she said:
"I shall pray that I may live to see a monument at every capital in the south to the slaves of the confederacy. They wrote a story of devotion and loyalty that has no parallel in the history of man. While their masters were engaged in that struggle, the results of which would leave a helpless race free or in shackles, they worked for, guarded and defended the children of the confederacy with a fidelity that should be recorded in letters of gold across the bosom of stars."
Not surprisingly, the monuments were never built.

For years after her husband's death, Longstreet also backed efforts to have a monument placed in her husband's honor in Gettysburg. That effort, too, failed during her lifetime.

In 1943, Helen Longstreet started work
as a riveter in a B-29 plant in Marietta, Ga.
She was 80.
During the height of World War II in 1943, Longstreet took a job as a riveter at a B-29 aircraft factory in Marietta, Ga. Described as "frail but vivacious," she was 80 at the time.

"This is the most horrible war of them all," she told a reporter. "It makes General Sherman look like a piker. I want to get it over with. I want to build bombers to bomb Hitler." She refused to give her age to the reporter, only saying she was "older than 50."

"Never mind my age. I can handle that riveting thing as well as anyone," Longstreet said. "I'm intending to complete in five weeks three courses which normally take three weeks." She lived in a trailer camp near the factory and spent long hours in training to learn her craft.

"I could stay out of this war," she said. "It's not the soldiers fighting soldiers like it used to be. It's a war on helpless civilians, on children and the infirm. They are the ones who suffer.

"Lee, my husband, and many another southerner proved that Americans surrender only to Americans, so we are bound to come out victorious."

Her work was praised by plant officials, but a union, with which she had some difficulty, called her a "very old lady" and accused the company of hiring her as a publicity stunt. Nevertheless, Longstreet stuck it out for nearly two years, and a foreman said her work ranked among the best done at the plant.

A tad eccentric, Longstreet touted the benefits of eating the residue of bee hives to live longer. In 1946, she tried to persuade a Confederate veteran who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday to eat the odd food. (No word if the old soldier lived until he was 150.)

After the war, Longstreet was also a vocal supporter of civil rights for blacks, and, in 1950, she ran for governor of Georgia as a write-in candidate. In challenging incumbent Herman Talmadge, the "scrappy widow" vowed to stand up for blacks and "unhood the ruffians" of the Ku Klux Klan.

"I'll make this state a place where the humblest Negro can go to sleep at night," the 87-year-old candidate said, "and be assured of waking up in the morning, unless the Almighty calls."

Naturally, Longstreet ran as an independent, but she lost badly. Talmadge won the election with 98.44 percent of the vote.

In 1950, Helen Longstreet challenged incumbent Herman Talmadge for Georgia governor.
An 87-year-old write-in candidate, she lost badly.
In the last 10 years of her life, Longstreet's health gradually declined, and by her early 90s, she was completely deaf.  After a visit to a relative in Georgia in 1956, she took a bus trip back to a health resort in Danville, N.Y., where she often lived. During a stopover in Pottsville, Pa., she told stories of "her husband's exploits and was given a big hand when she left." Donning her best hat, she posed for photographers.

"I'm just 39," she said as she departed, "... still a young belle."

Probably suffering from dementia, Longstreet was removed from the bus in Elmira, N.Y., after the driver told authorities she was annoying passengers. Taken in by the Travelers Aid Society, she wandered away and later was taken into custody by police for her own protection. A city health officer said Longstreet seemed "irrational and incoherent." She was hospitalized in New York and sent back to Atlanta.

Six years later, on May 3, 1962, Helen Dortch Longstreet died in Milledgeville (Ga.) State Hospital, once the largest insane asylum in the world. According to doctors there, she seemed "perfectly happy." The woman who defied convention and never liked to reveal her age was 99.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
Go here for my post on James Longstreet's 1888 Gettysburg visit.


-- James Longstreet introduced Julia Dent, his cousin, to Ulysses Grant, who married her in 1848.

-- Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 26, 1904, Nov. 13, 1910.
-- Baltimore Sun, Sept. 7, 1897.
-- Hagerstown Daily Mail, May 4, 1962.
-- The Gettysburg Times, May 3, 1956.
-- The Louisiana Democrat, Sept. 15, 1897.
-- The Times-Picayune (New Orleans), Sept. 9, 1897.
-- New York Times, Sept. 7, 1897.
-- The News-Review (Roseburg, Ore), June 6, 1946.
-- The Pittsburgh Courier, May 13, 1950.
-- Pittston (Pa.) Gazette, May 3, 1956.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Notes to a widow: 'No possible way' to find N.Y. soldier's body

Grave markers for unknown soldiers at Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery
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What's most striking at Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery are the rows of small, square granite blocks. Two numbers are carved into the top of each grave marker. The first set of figures is the plot number, the second the number of unknown Union soldiers buried at the grave.

8. 4. 6. 7. 12 ...

Mind-numbing, awful numbers.

After the war, the Federal government conducted a massive effort to disinter bodies of Union soldiers from temporary graves on battlefields and elsewhere and re-bury them in national cemeteries. It had plenty of work in Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, where thousands died in battles fought nearby at Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse and elsewhere.

Of the 15,243 Union soldiers buried in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 12,770 are unknown. Smith Davis, a private in the 65th New York who had enlisted on Sept. 24, 1861, in New York City, may be among them.

        Site of church in New York City where Smith Davis was married on Feb . 20, 1864.
                The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul was built on the site in 1897.

                                                                     (Google Street View)

After his first term of service had expired, Davis re-enlisted in Brandy Station, Va., the day after Christmas 1863. Apparently while on furlough, he married Mary Jane McLoughlin at the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church at 303 West 22nd Street in Manhattan on Feb. 20, 1864.  Nearly three months later, on May 12, 1864, Davis was killed at Spotsylvania Courthouse, shot through the head. The immigrant, probably from Ireland, was in his early 30s.

Shortly after her husband's death, Mary Jane applied for a widow's pension, using two condolence letters from men in the 65th New York (1st U.S. Chasseurs) as evidence of his demise. Writing in response to a letter from Mary Jane inquiring about her husband, 65th New York Chaplain Peter H. Burghardt and Sergeant James Grogan offered sympathy but no hope the soldier's remains could be recovered. (Complete transcriptions below.)

"He was I am told buried upon the field by his comrades," Burghardt wrote from Cold Harbor, Va.,  in June 1864, "and in our turning to the left of the Rebel Army his grave was left in the Rebel lines, and is now where there is no possible way of getting to it."

Davis' body, added the chaplain, was seen by another soldier,  who thought "it was robbed of all its effects and nothing [was] left upon his person."

In the heat of battle, Grogan recalled seeing Davis to his front, kneeling and firing at the enemy. "I spoke to him to come back,"  the sergeant wrote to Mrs. Davis on June 11, 1864, "as I could not fire while he stayed where he was. He either did not hear me or did not mind. He was killed inside of an hour afterwards."

Regarding the recovery of Davis' body, Grogan was blunt: "It would be an impossibility."

Mary Jane's pension claim was approved. At the time of her death on July 17, 1904, she was receiving $12 a month. Mary Jane never re-married.


National Archives via
Cold Harbor, Fri., June 1864

Mrs. Mary J. Davis

Dear Madam

Yours of the 21st inst. has just been received and I hasten to reply. Your noble and brave husband fell on 12th inst. when heroically urging on his comrades, struck in the head by the fatal bullet and expired instantly. He was I am told buried upon the field by his comrades, and in our turning to the left of the Rebel Army his grave was left in the Rebel lines, and is now where there is no possible way of getting to it, if indeed it can be found. I have seen M. Short who was with him when he fell. He thinks that his body was in the Rebel lines until it was robbed of all its effects and nothing [was] left upon his person. But while you are made to grieve his loss, you can console yourself that his noble soul is not in that decaying body but has gone to that world where you may follow him at least in a few short years. I knew him well and esteemed him very highly and can sympathize with you in this the hour of your great grief and deep affliction ...

National Archives via
... He has fallen a noble sacrifice for the country of his adoption. I hope a kind providence will be your unfailing support and in the midst of your tears that you may be comforted by him who has promised his aid in the hour of trial, and a father to the fatherless, and the widow’s God.

The men you name in your letter are now in line of battle, where I cannot see them, but I know very well that for the present it would be wholly impracticable to get any of the bodies that were buried at what is called the Battle Field of the Po.

Expressing my deep sympathy with you, I am,
Dear Madam, respectfully yours

P.H. Burghardt

PS. We are I suppose some 15 or 20 miles from the Field of the Po. Still fighting desperately. We are making a Flank movement to the left of Lee's Army. We are about 12 miles from Richmond on the South East.


National Archives via
1st U.S. Chasseurs
Near Coal Harbor, Va., June 11/64

Mrs. M. J. Davis 


Your letter of June 6 came to hand last night. Allow me to assure you that any information which I can give to the friends of my deceased comrades will always be cheerfully given, nor will anything I can do in that respect be considered other than a duty which every comrade owes to another while Providence sees fit to spare him.

Your husband Smith Davis fell on the 12th of May at Spotsylvania. I did not see him fall. When our Regt. came up to fire, Davis was next to me, as in fact he was all day. A road broke our line so that it became necessary for the extreme right to cross the road. It being impossible to maintain a position on it, it was every man for himself. I took up a position and commenced firing. After a shot or two your husband went ahead of me, kneeled down and commenced to fire. He was almost directly in front of me. I spoke to him to come back, as I could not fire while he stayed where he was. He either did not hear me or did not mind. He was killed inside of an hour afterwards. I do not hesitate to say from the account of those men of the Regt. who saw him struck that he lost ...

National Archives via
... all reason, not knowing what happened [to] him. I will give you my opinion in regard to recovering his body. It would be an impossibility. M. McLaughlin sent in one of his wife's letters all the information he could send. He went as soon as he heard we had peaceable possession of the ground where he fell to see and recover something belonging to him, but the burying parties had already removed him to his last resting place. We know nothing of that package being returned as it did not come to the Company.

We all regret Smith Davis as a comrade & soldier. I hope Providence in its mercy put some thought of the terrible danger his soul was in and as there is no limit to God’s mercy, let us hope his soul is at rest. Anything I can do for you will be cheerfully done. In regard to his bounty and pay, his papers will be sent in as soon as we stop long enough to make them out. Lieut. Henry Vanderweyde is our company officer. Any communication directed to him [at] Co. I will reach him.

With sincere regret to your loss, I am respectfully.
Your Obedt Servant

James Grogan.
1st Serg, Co. I, 1st U.S. Chasseurs
Washington D.C.

To Mrs. Mary Jane Davis
327 West 26th St.


-- Smith Davis pension file, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., via

Monday, January 02, 2017

'No man ... more honored': Longstreet's 1888 Gettysburg visit

In an enlargement of the William Tipton image below, Civil War commanders (from left)
Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet and one-legged Dan Sickles
 pose in Gettysburg on July 3, 1888. Sickles lost his leg at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.
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A "vigorous" James Longstreet, sporting massive, gray whiskers and a cleanly shaven chin, attended a huge reunion of veterans in Gettysburg in late June and early July 1888, the 25th anniversary of the battle. For the 67-year-old former Confederate lieutenant general, the emotional visit was his first return to the area since the great battle.

Longstreet, "his big broad-chested body ... straight and strong," was joined in the Pennsylvania town by an estimated 30,000 Union veterans and some of the more notable officers of the Civil War: Northerners Fitz-John Porter, Henry Slocum, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Francis Barlow, Daniel Butterfield and Hiram Berdan and Southerners Wade Hampton and John B. Gordon, among others. (Only about 300 Confederate veterans were able to attend.)

"There are so many Generals and other chieftains here," a New York newspaper reported, "that a catalogue of them would be as long as Homer's list of ships. Each is a hero to a set." In addition to the old soldiers, most in their 50s, thousands of others jammed the town that, much like in 1863, was ill-equipped to handle so many people.
Longstreet's 1888 visit to Gettysburg
was covered extensively by newspapers.

"It is estimated that fifty thousand people slept in Gettysburg last night," the New York Evening World reported on July 3, 1888, perhaps exaggerating only slightly.  "Such crowds have not been seen here since the battle was fought."

Many Union monuments were dedicated, and veterans trod ground they had fought on 25 years earlier. Reunion events, including a special mass for Irish Brigade veterans in the Catholic church in Gettysburg, were held, and old soldiers eagerly searched fields and woods for war relics.

A New Jersey veteran attending the dedication of a monument for his regiment claimed he found in a rock crevice the cartridge box he had hidden there during a retreat in July 1863. Two bullets remained in the bent and rusty relic, which the veteran proudly took home. A Wisconsin soldier scoured Little Round Top for the artillery shell that cost him an arm. He expected to find it, he told a New York reporter, who was highly skeptical. Veterans from both sides were cordial with each other, although Union men reportedly groused that some of their former enemies wore lapel pins adorned with a Rebel flag.

Widely covered in the press, the reunion drew mixed reviews. 

"Yesterday and to-day the scenes and the excitement in this lively borough and its classic surroundings were of a character so exciting, so crushing in numbers of people, so crashing in brass band music and withal so delightful in weather conditions," a Harrisburg, Pa., newspaper gushed, "as to impart a charm to what would otherwise have been unbearable."

But New York newspapers were especially critical. "The want of a head," the Evening World bluntly noted, "has seriously interfered with the success of the reunion," while the New York Sun published a scathing critique:
"Gettysburg is a beautiful place, but most of the people are mighty queer. They were scared so by the three days' fight that they hid in cellars while the battle was going on. Ask a sarcastic visitor what the people do for a living and he will answer: 'Nothing. They live on people who come here. They sell pretended relics and poor photographs. They take boarders during celebration days, and thus they get revenue which seems to satisfy them.'
"There is much truth in this. The town is indeed a poor place for the accommodation of such crowds of visitors as come here. There is not a really good hotel in the village. You cannot buy a New York newspaper at any price. Few Philadelphia papers are received. Carriages are needed to go from point to point, for the battlefield covers an area of twenty-five miles, and the people take full advantage of the crowds and gauge everyone who hires a buggy or a hack. The extortion is worse than that practiced by the St. Louis hotel people during the Democratic Convention. And yet, in spite of all these unpleasant things, the people come, for the sentiment which attracts is more powerful than the feeling of disgust created at the meanness of the people of the place."
Veterans with family members at the dedication of the 121st Pennsylvania monument 
at Gettysburg on July 4, 1888 -- one of many such gatherings in late June
 and early July that year on the battlefield.  (William Tipton photo)
Despite the supposed woes, there was a clear star of the event: James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee's "Old War Horse," who commanded the Confederates' First Corps at Gettysburg.  Nearly everywhere the former general went, he drew an appreciative crowd.  "No man now in Gettysburg," the Sun wrote of Longstreet, "is more honored nor more sought than he."  (In the South, meanwhile, Longstreet was vilified for his support of Republicans and his controversial stand against Lee's decision to charge the Union center on the third day at Gettysburg.) During his stay, Longstreet spoke before veterans' groups, who enthusiastically greeted their former enemy, and toured the battlefield where his soldiers shed so much blood.

On June 30, the day of his arrival by train in Pennsylvania, Longstreet had a lengthy private conversation at the Springs Hotel about a mile from town with 69-year-old Daniel Sickles -- the first time the former enemies had met. As commander of the III Corps at Gettysburg, the controversial Sickles lost his right leg to a Rebel artillery on July 2, 1863. While the old foes dined at the hotel, others in the room gawked and "let their dinner go almost untouched."

As a group of New York veterans marched through Gettysburg one morning, they noticed Sickles and "Old Pete" in a carriage behind them. "This was a meeting of blue and gray worth recording," a Philadelphia reporter noted, "and as they passed along the street that led to Seminary Hill and Seminary Ridge the enthusiasm of the crowd who recognized them was something beyond description."

With Sickles and other former Union big-wigs, Longstreet visited the notable sites -- the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Devil's Den and Little Round Top and others. Little had changed, the old general observed, since his soldiers had made desperate assaults on the Round Tops on July 2, 1863, and, a day later, at the "Bloody Angle" during Pickett's Charge. "A great mistake," said Longstreet, who mulled battle strategy and tactics as he toured the field.

When Longstreet began a tour of Gettysburg on horseback with Butterfield, Berdan and others, a "great crowd" gave the group "three ringing cheers." After they reached the summit of Little Round Top, word quickly traveled of Longstreet's presence there. Union veterans gathered nearby for a monument dedication rushed toward their former adversary.  "Boys, here's Longstreet," said Sickles as he sat at the foot of a tree, "and he meets us once more on Round Top." Three rousing cheers from the crowd of about 100 "went surging through the shimmering air to the plain below."

In a cropped enlargement of the William Tipton image below, Longstreet stands next to
 former Union general Henry W. Slocum.
Union veterans and Longstreet on July 3, 1888.
On July 1, Longstreet "almost broke down" during a speech before thousands of First Corps veterans of the Army of the Potomac in Herbst's Woods, where Union General John Reynolds was killed on the first day of the battle. As he walked to the massive speakers' stand, he was greeted by a Rebel yell, the Gettysburg Cornet Band played "Dixie" and veterans eagerly sought him out to shake his hand or to exchange pleasantries. Among them was a one-legged Union vet, who told Longstreet: "General, I fought against you at Round Top. I lost a wing there, but I am proud to meet you here."

After Longstreet took his place on the stand, Chamberlain shouted, "Comrades, you see on this platform one of the hardest hitters whoever fought against us. I propose we give three times three for General Longstreet, one of the best Union men now in the country." The crowd erupted, surging toward the  stand and "showering God bless you's on him."  After Longstreet had taken his place on the platform, it collapsed, falling several feet, but no one was seriously hurt.

"Comrades, you see on this platform one
of the hardest hitters whoever
fought against us,"
Joshua Chamberlain said
of James Longstreet.
"Smiling and bowing right and left, the General addressed the veterans as comrades and said that although he had not arrived in time to participate in the first day's battle he was proud to be present to-day to commemorate the glorious fight and mingle with those brave men who know how to appreciate heroism which will give up life for country's sake," a Philadelphia newspaper reported.

In his speech, Longstreet, who was persuaded by Gettysburg-based battlefield photographer William Tipton to pose during his visit, called the third day at Gettysburg the greatest battle ever fought. "But now," he said, "the times have changed. Twenty-five years have softened the usages of war, and our meetings now are for more congenial purposes. The ladies are among us with their bright smiles. God bless them, and grant that they may dispel the delusions which may come between the North and the South, and prepare the way even as the bride is prepared for the bridegroom's coming, strewing their paths with flowers of everlasting peace."

The next day, Lee's "Old Pete" received a telegram from the widow of General George Pickett, who had died nearly 13 years earlier. "Your friend and comrade has gone to join the heroic column of American soldiers in the land o' the leal," Sallie Pickett wrote, "but his widow and son greet you from afar upon the field which consecrated the blending of blood of brave men."

At the Grand Reunion on July 2 in the national cemetery, Longstreet shared the rostrum with Sickles, Gordon, Barlow and other notables from the war and spoke briefly before a crowd estimated at 5,000 people. "The actors," the New York Times reported, "were the very men who defended the ridge on whose slopes the cemetery lies against the repeated assaults led by the very men 25 years ago this very day who joined them here now in pledges of friendship, loyalty to a common flag and unity of devotion to a common country. All -- place, scene, and the living figures of the men themselves -- were inspiring."

Also that day, Longstreet attended the dedication of the monument for the 95th Pennsylvania, "Gosline's Zouaves," one of several such events he attended during his Gettysburg visit. When he saw the regiment's ragged battle flag, pierced by 81 holes, he cried and "tenderly raised the tattered folds and pressed them to his lips."

"Every G.A.R. man," a Northern veteran wrote, "has a kindly word for General Longstreet."

Postscript: On the trip back to his home in Georgia, the train carrying Longstreet derailed near Orange Courthouse, Va., leaving a scene that, according to a reporter, "no pen or tongue" could describe. Longstreet escaped unscathed, but many were injured and eight passengers were killed. Among the dead was a Confederate veteran from New Orleans, who had lost a leg at Gettysburg in 1863. He, too, was on his way back home from the great reunion.

Longstreet appears in a cropped enlargement of the William Tipton image below.
In July 1888, Longstreet posed on horseback with Daniel Butterfield (on second horse from right), 
George Meade's former chief of staff, near the summit of Little Round Top. 
The 155th Pennsylvania monument appears in the right background.

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-- Harrisburg (Pa.) Independent, July 2, 1888.
-- Harrisburg (Pa.) Telegraph, July 5, 1888.
-- New York Evening World, July 3, 1888.
-- New York Sun, July 1, 1888.
-- New York Times, July 2 and 3, 1888.
-- New York Tribune, July 4, 1888.
-- Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 1888.
-- Philadelphia Times, July 3 and 5, 1888.
-- Staunton (Va.) Spectator, July 18, 1888.
-- The Times Picayune (New Orleans), July 3, 9 and 13, 1888.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top posts of 2016: Antietam, Gettysburg and a Bible story

Three of the top five most popular posts on my blog in 2016 were on the Battle of Antietam. Thanks for reading.

5. SEND MY BIBLE HOME TO ALABAMA: On July 4, 1864, Confederate Private Lewis Branscomb was killed by a Union sharpshooter in the front yard of a house on Washington Street in Harpers Ferry, Va., (now West Virginia). The owner of the house recovered Lewis' Bible, and nearly three months after the war had ended, she sent a letter to his mother in Alabama.

"At the place he died," Margarett Cross wrote, "I picked up a Bible and written on the fly leaf was his name 'L.S. Branscomb, Co. D, 3d regiment of Alabama.' On the next leaf was written if found on my person please send to my mother Mrs. B.H. Branscomb at Union Springs, Alabama. Do so and oblige (friend) who ever you be."  Read more

4. DOCTOR'S REMARKABLE ANTIETAM LETTER: Friend of the blog Dan Masters shared with me a fabulous letter written on Sept. 29, 1862, 12 days after Antietam, by Dr. Augustin Biggs, who experienced first hand the battle and its terrible, bloody aftermath.

"They were poorly clad, indeed," the Sharpsburg, Md., doctor wrote of the Confederate soldiers, "and but few dressed alike -- barefooted, dirty, and filthy in the extreme. To judge from appearances they have had no change of dress the past twelve months. Some few were clad in Union soldiers’ dress. Most of them indecently ragged and their person exposed." Read more.

3. GRAVES, SKULLS AND "WASTE OF WAR" -- Nearly 10 months after Antietam, the landscape surrounding the small farming community of Sharpsburg, Md., remained scarred. Bones of hastily buried soldiers poked from the ground. "Sickening to the sight," skulls appeared "here and there," according to a battlefield visitor. The detritus of war -- knapsacks, caps, bullets, artillery shells, shoes, boots, haversacks -- also littered fields and woodlots, the same visitor noted. The white-washed Dunker Church, the most notable building on the battlefield, remained pockmarked by bullets and artillery fire.

On July 15, 1863, the battlefield visitor, probably a soldier from a Massachusetts regiment, wrote a letter to editor of the Boston Journal about his summer day spent at Antietam.  Read more.

2. "MOST VALUABLE"  GETTYSBURG RELIC --  On July 3, 1863, Sergeant Russell Glenn of the 14th Connecticut defended Cemetery Ridge during Pickett's Charge. The next day, he ventured out beyond his lines to survey the awful scene and probably to comfort wounded Confederates. Perhaps, too, he aimed to grab a war trophy, not an uncommon activity of soldiers on both sides.

"I stooped over him and discovered that he had been shot through the heart and probably did not live more than thirty seconds after the fatal bullet hit him," Glenn recalled decades later about a fallen Confederate. "In his hand was a daguerreotype of the above profile, the case of which had been shattered by the deadly ball, but, marvelously as it may seem, the profile remained uninjured."  Read more.

1. ANTIETAM: ANOTHER LOOK AT IMAGE OF FALLEN REBEL: You may have seen this Alexander Gardner photograph of the body of Rebel soldier at Antietam scores of times in books, magazines and elsewhere. According to Civil War photo expert William Frassanito, who explored the photo's secrets in his ground-breaking 1978 book, Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day, it probably was taken on Samuel Mumma's farm days after the Sept. 17, 1862 battle. Frassanito partly based his determination of the location on the row of Confederate bodies gathered for burial in the upper right background of the uncropped original image. But there's much more to explore in this sad photograph. Read more.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Eve message home: 'You will be pained to learn ...'

Chaplain William Channing's condolence letter to Sergeant James McLaughlin's brother-in-law.
(National Archives via
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After Civil War battles, families North and South anxiously awaited news of the fate of loved ones. If a soldier had been killed or wounded, word often was found in casualty lists printed in a hometown newspaper or conveyed by an officer in a soldier's regiment. In the case of Sergeant James McLaughlin of the 28th Massachusetts, a regiment in the famed Irish Brigade, news of his fate was delivered to his family by a chaplain in a short note written on Christmas Eve.

William Channing,
chaplain in Stanton
On Dec. 13, 1862, McLaughlin was wounded in the arm by an artillery shell during the Irish Brigade's disastrous charge on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg. He was transported across the Rappahannock River to a makeshift hospital and then on to Washington, where hospitals were set up throughout the capital to care for thousands of sick and wounded soldiers.

Nine days after the battle, McLaughlin took a turn for the worse. Perhaps wracked by infection as well as other effects of his wound, the 39-year-old soldier died on Dec. 22. Two days later, William H, Channing, a chaplain at Stanton Hospital, took pencil in hand to jot down a few lines about McLaughlin's sad end to his brother-in-law back in Massachusetts. (See complete transcription of note below.) The cause of death was "mortification of the arm," wrote Channing, who noted "all was done for him that was possible under the circumstances."

"His life," the chaplain added, "could not be saved."

McLaughlin's death was particularly tragic. He left behind two orphaned children, 14-year-old Mary and 8-year-old George, whose Irish-born mother, Mary, had died of consumption in 1858. Peter Kirlan, McLaughlin's brother-in-law, traveled to Washington, recovered James' body and returned with the remains to Massachusetts, where he was buried in a cemetery in Watertown.

James McLauglin's grave in
Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery
in Watertown, Mass.
(Find a Grave)
Cared for by family members, Mary and George eventually received a small government pension because of their father's death. After his sister's death from consumption in 1867, George sought an increase in his monthly minor's pension from the government. The outcome of his case is unknown.


Stanton Hospital
Monday, Wash. D.C.
Dec. 24, 1862

To Mr. Peter Kirlan 
East Cambridge, Mass


You will be pained to learn that your friend and correspondent, Sergt. J. C. McLaughlin of the 28th Mass., Co. A, died on the 22 inst. of mortification in the arm produced by the terrible wound which he received at the Battle of Fredericksburg. All was done for him that was possible under the circumstances. His life could not have been saved. Will you communicate to his friends the sad intelligence that this brave man died, as became a gallant soldier, and let the knowledge of his heroic fidelity to duty be their consolation. The priest who attended upon him in his last hours will probably write to you or to his parish. He will be buried today in the cemetery at the Soldiers Home. .

With true sympathy, I remain yours truly
W.H. Channing
Chaplain Stanton Hospital


-- James McLaughlin pension file, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., via