Sunday, August 31, 2014

Antietam: Relics, skeletons and a 'long lost fabled well'

In this 1937 newspaper photo, Maryland state senator Ernest Miller holds two Civil War artillery shells
 that he discovered while plowing a field  in Sharpsburg, Md., where grew up.

Days after a July 1933 rainstorm "almost amounting to a cloudburst," George Alexander had his hands full.

With lead.

Astonishingly, the Antietam battlefield superintendent picked up 250 bullets that had washed up in farm fields and woodlots where soldiers had killed and maimed each other nearly 70 years earlier. (Tourists also carried away relics that summer day.) Alexander also discovered on the Henry Piper Farm a much more sobering reminder of the carnage at Antietam: bones of three soldiers, including two skulls.

In the decades immediately after the war, it was not uncommon for area farmers and others to recover remains of soldiers from makeshift battlefield graves. While searching for relics in the East Woods in 1913, longtime battlefield guide O.T. Reilly, who claimed to have witnessed the battle when he was 5, unearthed a nearly complete skeleton. Only the skull was missing, prompting the Frederick (Md.) News to report that Reilly "thinks the soldier's head was shot off by a shell in the battle."  The latest discovery of soldier remains at Antietam occurred in 2008, when a hiker found bones of a New York soldier near the Bloody Cornfield.

O.T. Reilly: Longtime Antietam battlefield guide 
sold battlefield relics from his shop on
Main Street in Sharpsburg.
(Photo courtesy Stephen Recker)
Almost immediately after Antietam, souvenir hunters descended on the battlefield for other pieces of the action. A local man named Cyrus Mondell recovered a drum that belonged to a soldier in the 29th Massachusetts, an Irish Brigade regiment that saw heavy fighting near Bloody Lane. (See my interactive panorama of Bloody Lane here.) Nearly 33 years later, in May 1895, he donated it to Sharpsburg's Lutheran Church, which apparently sold it and used the proceeds to pay off its debt.

In 1877, a Sharpsburg man described as "something of an amateur antiquarian" was given a pocket mirror that a local had recovered from a soldier's temporary grave. Inside the case made of laurel was the name of the owner: 19-year-old Private Francis B. Reynolds of the 8th Ohio, who had been reported missing after the battle. The relic's owner contacted the postmaster in the soldier's hometown and sent the mirror back to the private's friends in Ohio "accompanied by a very feeling letter."

In 1895,  Reilly, who for years sold battlefield relics from his shop on Main Street in Sharpsburg, purchased a sword that was found embedded in the bank of the nearby Potomac River. Rusty but complete, it may have been left there three days after Antietam by a sergeant in the 118th Pennsylvania, the Corn Exchange Regiment, after the Battle of Shepherdstown.

Born six years after the Civil War ended, Ernest Miller often found war debris such as bullets, bayonets and belt plates while growing up in Sharpsburg. In 1937, Miller, then a Maryland state senator, showed off  to a Hagerstown newspaper two artillery shells that he had found while plowing a field there. "One of the shells is still loaded," the Morning Herald reported, proving that politicians of that era were just as brilliant as they are today.

As late as the mid-1940s, hundreds of relics, from bullets to artillery shells and buckles, were reportedly found after heavy rains. In 1947, a Maryland man found 125 bullets, four pieces of large artillery shells, two uniform buttons (one Confederate, one Union) and a human tooth just by eyeballing the ground after rainstorms. When he was only 7, the relic hunter's 92-year-old father picked up relics after the battle. (The old man even recalled witnessing President Lincoln's visit to Sharpsburg in October 1862.)

With minie balls from the battle apparently in short supply by the late 1940s, Sharpsburg residents may have turned to deceptive means to replenish the prized souvenirs. In 1948,  locals reportedly cast bullets in old Civil War molds and buried them in the ground to give them an authentic patina. After jamming bullets into holes bored into trees, creative souvenir dealers waited weeks or more and then sliced open the trunks to recover prized paperweights.

In January 1952, the Hagerstown Morning Herald reported about a mysterious relic-filled well at Antietam.
But the whopper of all Antietam relic tales may be the story of the "long lost fabled well." In 1952, the Hagerstown Daily Mail reported that a deep well filled with relics was being hunted somewhere near the battlefield. Who was searching and what did they know? Apparently, no one was talking much about this murky tale.

 "... no one knows exactly where the well is located," the newspaper reported, "and many historians doubt whether it exists." As the story goes, soldiers, eager to be done with battlefield clean-up, filled a well with the dead as well as debris that included ammunition and then covered the hole with dirt.

"It was overlooked when the reburial work was done," the newspaper reported, "and in the course of years, it was covered with crops or grass so completely that the eye cannot detect the place where the well existed." The most likely site for the trash/treasure/burial ground reportedly was the Nicodemus Farm, near the Hagerstown Pike, or somewhere close to Burnside Bridge. But no major discovery apparently was made.

Seven years later, in October 1959, two brothers from Pennsylvania, two Baltimore youths and a Sharpsburg-area man named Fred Remsburg conducted separate, and apparently unsuccessful, searches for the relic-filled glory hole. The brothers used a divining rod while the boys, hunting on Sundays, relied on a mysterious map found in a Baltimore library.  Remsburg gave up the hunt because he feared the 4- to 5-foot hole he had dug during his search would collapse.

It sounds like this relic-filled well story simply doesn't hold water.

In October 1959, the Hagerstown Daily Mail reported that Pennsylvania brothers may have found the relic-filled well.

Cumberland (Md.) Evening Times, Nov. 14, 1947
Cumberland (Md.) Sunday Times, July 23, 1933
Frederick (Md.) News, Sept. 29, 1913
Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, Oct. 2, 1948
Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald, June 18, 1937
Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald, Jan. 22, 1952
Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, Oct. 1, 1959
The Herald and Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., May 11, 1895
The Herald and Torch Light, Hagerstown, Md., Sept 12, 1877

Friday, August 29, 2014

Horace Sickmund: A soldier's story in widow's pension file

Ancient Calhoun Cemetery, flush against scenic State Route 7 in rural Cornwall Bridge, Conn., is filled with weathered, slate-gray tombstones, many slumped at odd angles like weary sentinels. At least one especially large marker lay toppled in the grass, the name on the front probably forever buried with its subject.

Near the entrance to the cemetery, a repaired gravestone with a U.S. flag stuck in the ground beside it caught my eye late this morning. Once broken in half, the marker for Horace C. Sickmund of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery made for a compelling photo against a deep-blue sky and a backdrop of pines.  (An image of Sickmund may be found here and here.)

Only 29 years old when he died in Washington on July 19, 1864, Sickmund was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on or about June 6, 1864. On June 1 at Cold Harbor, the regiment's  first major battle of the Civil War, the "Heavies" had suffered more than 300 casualties, a result so horrific that a chaplain wrote to his wife, "Pray for me -- am not in a fit state of mind." Walk through almost any old cemetery in Litchfield County in Connecticut and you're bound to come across a gravestone, memorial or marker for a Cold Harbor casualty. The aftermath of that battle at a crossroads town in Virginia, 10 miles northeast of the Rebel capital of Richmond, was a time of  "intense anxiety" for a region that supplied the Union army more than 1,000 soldiers for the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

“…The telegraph wires had more news than they could carry," Abby Hubbard, wife of a Congressman from Litchfield, Conn., noted about the days after Cold Harbor. "It was impossible to get details. All we knew was that a terrible battle had been fought and that a great number were either dead or wounded. ... our house was a rendezvous for people hoping or fearing for news. They would often stay till late at night. I particularly remember one woman from Goshen who waited till eleven o’clock, and then went home, cheered with the thought that no news was good news. She had just gone home when we received word that her husband was among the slain.”

How Sickmund's family received word of his death is unknown. But documentation of the soldier's life may be found in a widow's pension file in the National Archives (and also available on Here's a short story of Private Horace Sickmund's life and death culled solely from some of those documents. (Click on each image to enlarge.)   

Sickmund, who was from Sharon, Conn., and Ellen Berniss, who was from Kent, were married on Aug. 25, 1860, less than two years before the Civil War began. ...

... On Feb. 14, 1864, Horace  Chandler Sickmund Jr. was born, according to this minors' pension document. (He was eventually awarded $8 a month by the government.) ...

... Nearly four months later, "on or about the sixth day of June 1864," Horace's father, a soldier in Company G, was "wounded in the knee by a bullet from the enemy as he stood in his place in the line of duty where the regiment stood drawn up in line of battle ready for action" at Cold Harbor, Va., according to Sickmund's commanding officer, Edward Gold. In the document written from regimental headquarters in Petersburg, Va., on Jan. 25, 1865, the captain noted he saw Sickmund immediately after he was wounded and that he was taken to a hospital. Gold recalled that he received notice of the private's death from the surgeon in charge there  ... 

... Ellen Sickmund filed a claim for a U.S. government pension after her husband's death. (1) (Her claim was approved, and she was given $8 a month.) According to a surgeon general's report, Horace died on July 19, 1864, from a "gunshot wound lower third of right thigh." (2)  Gold could not remember the hospital to which the Sickmund was sent. (3) ...

... and in this undated widow's pension claim, presumably filed in the summer of 1864, Ellen Maria Sickmund of Cornwall Bridge, Conn., noted that she was 21. (1). Her husband, whose middle name was Clark, died at Columbian College Hospital in Washington  (2) -- one of the many military hospitals in the capital during the Civil War. (President Lincoln visited it during the war.) ... 

... a little more than a year after her husband had died, Ellen moved on with her life. According to this document, dated March 16, 1866, she married Charles Smith on Nov. 1, 1865, in Cornwall, Conn. Stephen Fenn, pastor of the Congregational Church, officiated.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wanted: Photos of Corp. Charles Adams, Nurse Marie Greene

Charles Adams, mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, lies buried in East Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.
On June 11, 1864, 10 days after he had been severely wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor, 19-year-old Charles Adams arrived in Washington aboard the hospital steamship Monitor. It was a a “quiet, sunny morning” so calm on the Potomac River that there was barely a ripple on the water.

After all the other wounded men had been taken from the ship, only Adams remained. A surgeon advised against moving the corporal in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery because he believed Adams only had a short time to live. A woman named Marie Barton Greene, a nurse with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, arrived to provide comfort for the teenager from Litchfield, Conn.

A short time after Greene boarded the Monitor, she asked Adams if he had a keepsake for his family, but he didn’t, or couldn’t, communicate. “He seemed waiting, watching for the time to come, and said distinctly ‘I am ready to go.’,” the nurse recalled, before he “fell asleep in death as calmly and noiselessly as falls an autumn leaf to the soft green sod beneath.”

In a letter to Adams sister months later, Greene recalled witnessing the suffering of other soldiers. “I have stood by the side of many a dying soldier and I cannot tell you how it has pained my heart to see them dying without a hope in Jesus,” she wrote. A distant relative of famed Civil War nurse Clara Barton, Greene signed the note, "The Soldiers Friend."

              The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery suffered heavy casualties here at Cold Harbor. 

On June 19, 1864, a service for Adams was held at the Congregational Church in Litchfield, near the town green and a short distance from the road on which he and his comrades marched off to war in mid-September 1862. Afterward, Adams’ coffin was taken a quarter-mile to East Cemetery, accompanied by three officers from the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery and soldiers from the 1st Connecticut, and following a prayer,  the 19-year-old’s remains were buried.

Months later, Greene still had the young man in her thoughts. She requested a photo of Adams from his sister.

“Perhaps I am asking too much of you but I have given much time and attention to soldiers at the wharf as they came from the front and the hospitals,” she wrote to Mary Adams. “Consequently, I have become deeply interested in some and I am now collecting photographs of some with circumstances connected with my meeting them. If you have an extra one of your brother Charlie I would be very grateful for it.”

When she finally received an image, she thanked Mary, calling it “perfect.”

One of the unsung heroes of the Civil War, Greene died in 1907 at 79 and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Uxbridge, Mass.

For a special project, I hope to find photos of Adams or Greene. If you can help, e-mail me at


Adams Family Collection, Litchfield (Conn.) Historical Society

Civil War nurse Marie Barton Greene is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Uxbridge, Mass.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Antietam Q&A: Owners of farm that was Civil War hospital

Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski have lived on the historic Crystal Springs farm in Keedysville, Md.., since 2011. 
The building in the background may have been used as a morgue for  the hospital on the property after Antietam.

Eager to preserve a major piece of Civil War history, Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski purchased a 9 1/2-acre farm in 2011 that was site of one of the two largest Union hospitals following the Battle of Antietam. Known as Crystal Springs, Locust Spring or Big Spring hospital after the battle, their farm in Keedysville, Md., today encompasses a fraction of the area it did in 1862. Although a large chunk was sold for development, the core remains, including a beautiful farmhouse that dates to 1790 and a small white-washed outbuilding that may have been used as a morgue after Antietam.

These sheep served as tour guides during my visit to the farm last year.
While Siwarski's first love of history was for the Medieval period, Cool has had a longtime interest in the Civil War. As a teenager, he volunteered at the Cyclorama in Gettysburg before becoming a re-enactor and a volunteer at Harper’s Ferry National Park. Cool's great-great grandfather, who served in Cole's Maryland Cavalry, was captured and survived imprisonment at Andersonville.

The couple has dived into the farming experience whole hog, so to speak: They raise pigs, which they sell to market. (After sampling one of the excellent local and regional beers at Dan's Tap Room and Restaurant in nearby Boonsboro, Md., try the pork or ham on the menu. It just may be from one of the pigs from their farm.)  During an impromptu visit to the farm in the winter of 2013, I was followed by two inquisitive sheep as Cool explained the history of the property at 19200 Geeting Road, about a mile or so from the battlefield.

Of course, the Connecticut connection to the hospital site is especially interesting to me. The 8th, 11th and 16th Connecticut regiments bivouacked on the farm two days before the battle. Afterward, hundreds of wounded were treated at Crystal Springs, including 16th Connecticut Corporal Richard Jobes (amputated left forearm) and 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams (wounded in the leg), whose mother traveled from Connecticut to tend to him. Private Francis Burr of the 16th Connecticut, whose brother was also wounded at Antietam, was among at least seven soldiers from Connecticut to die at the hospital. (See list below.)

"Here, I met many noble soldiers," a surgeon who treated wounded at Crystal Springs recalled decades after the war, "brave as lions, patient as lambs. Some got well and are scattered I know not where, many have died and have gone to their long home. Boys in their teens met death like martyrs. Many of those boys faces are as vivid in my mind as they were fifty years ago."

Troy and Emily, who enjoy researching the history of the farm, took time out recently to answer a few questions about their historic property.

The original part of the farmhouse dates to circa 1790, according to Troy Cool.

Why did you buy the farm?

EMILY SIWARSKI: To help preserve and protect history; it may have been turned into a housing development if we didn’t buy it. It didn’t need as much work as the first place we looked at on the other side of the battlefield.

TROY COOL: Emily offered to let me live here, and how could I say no? We’re hoping to be able to maintain and preserve the property, which includes two original buildings built circa 1790 and one barn that was re-built on the original foundation in 1915. We only have 9.5 acres of the original homestead, but that includes the spring, which gives the farm and the hospital its numerous names: Crystal Springs Farm, Locust Spring Farm, Big Spring, Geeting Hospital and Bishop Russell Hospital, which makes the research a little challenging. (Here's a Maryland Historical site survey of the property.)

Seven soldiers from Connecticut appear on this list of soldiers who died at Crystal Springs Hospital. In order, they
 are:  Private Henry Schofield (11th Connecticut), Corporal Andrew Kimball (8th), Private Thomas Remington (11th),
 Private Frederick Culver (11th), Private Horace Hunn (16th),  Private Francis Burr  (16th) and Corporal W. Farmer (8th).  

The list was compiled by Surgeon Truman Squire. (Chemung County, N.Y. Historical Society) 

What’s the most compelling story you have uncovered?

TROY: It would have to be a private in the 9th New York “Hawkins Zouaves,” who we believe to be Henry Sweetman.  Every account of a mortal wound is tragic and the words “mortally wounded” are easily tossed about by historians. After reading about this fellow, it holds a completely different meaning to me now.  We are pretty sure it is Henry Sweetman, but he is mentioned only once by name in three different accounts.

We first found the story in Dr. James Oliver’s memoirs, which are available online. Dr. Oliver, who served at the hospital, says it was his most fruitful and productive time in service.  Oliver mentions a particular day when his former instructor, Dr. Henry Bowditch, who volunteered at the hospital for a few days, helped dress a ghastly wound. The man had been struck in the right hip, the ball passing through and shattering his pelvis and exiting in the left small of the back.  It was necessary to lift Henry from the bed to remove the pus from his wound in the back.  I cannot imagine the intensity of the pain this must have caused.

Sweetman was attended by many but always by a messmate who never left him and cared for him the whole time. Oliver mentions finding his former instructor quietly weeping outside the tent afterwards.  In Bowditch’s autobiography, he also recounts the same story.  At that point we only knew it was a private in the 9th New York.

Gravestone at Antietam National Cemetery for Henry Sweetman,
a private in the 9th New York who died at Crystal Springs Hospital.

Troy Cool and Emily Siwarski often place flowers at his grave.
On tracking down the papers of Truman Squire, who served as chief surgeon for the majority of the hospital’s existence, we found a reply to an inquiry from Dr. Bowditch.  In the letter answering Dr. Bowditch, Dr. Squire tells him that Henry Sweetman had died a few days after Bowditch left and was buried in the cemetery created by the hospital staff across the road.  We are confident, but cannot conclusively state, that this is the same person.

Henry Sweetman would have been wounded during the battle in the Ninth Corps' assault on the heights south of the cemetery. Somewhere in those fields in the late afternoon of Sept. 17, his pelvis was shattered. He would have been carried from the field and eventually was brought to Locust Spring Hospital. After numerous treatments described above, Henry succumbed to his wounds on Oct. 27, 1862.  The words "mortally wounded" cannot be used as nonchalantly as I have used it in the past.

The story itself is compelling enough, but to find numerous sources detailing the same incident of a “mere” private really surprised me. In finding this one story, the multitude of lost stories terrifies me with the horrors of a war, which is far too often glorified even by those of us who want to convey the awfulness of it all.  I cannot show anyone around the battlefield without mentioning Henry as an example of all the “mortally wounded.”

EMILY: We’ve rather adopted Henry as ours. We located his grave at the Antietam National Cemetery and have been placing flowers there on the holidays that decoration is allowed.

This spring near the farmhouse pre-dates the Civil War.

What's the biggest surprise living there?

TROY AND EMILY:  That we are pig farmers!

16th Connecticut Private Francis Burr, who suffered a wound in
the groin at Antietam, died at Locust Spring , one of several names
for the hospital. Although he probably is buried at 

Antietam National Cemetery, there is  this marker
 for Burr 
in Higganum, Conn.

TROY:  That’s a whole other story for a different sort of blog.  I suppose the most surprising thing is how much is out there about the place.  People know Antietam, people know there were hospitals -- most think of Smoketown, if they go that far -- but rarely do you hear mention of the Locust Spring Hospital, which was its equivalent on the southern end of the field.  We have found records from the surgeons, regimental histories mentioning it, contemporary news clippings and even have a copy of [owner] Ephiram Geeting’s ledger accounting materials lost to the hospital. We have only scratched the surface and look forward to finding so much more and sharing it! Since it is so specific, just about everything we find corroborates another bit of the story we already have.

Ever find any physical evidence of the Civil War? Ever done a search of the property with a metal detector?

TROY: We have not, on both counts.  I don’t want to go about it haphazardly and am lucky enough to have some friends who have lots of experience in archaeology, and we are trying to coordinate a systematic survey that would have real value. We all know how hard it is to get friends coordinated! Also, I am holding out hope that somewhere someone sketched out the hospital. We have only scratched the surface in our research. It may be out there. We plan on being here for awhile and are in no hurry.  But I have to say we have gotten plenty of folks stopping by asking if they can hunt the property, which we politely decline.

 "It felt like home as soon as we got here."
-- Emily Siwarski

Across the road from your farmhouse there supposedly was a cemetery where soldiers who died at the farm were buried.  What can you tell us about it?

TROY: As I mentioned above about Henry Sweetman, Dr. Squire talked of it. This was one of those surprises of numerous accounts.  It is mentioned by Dr. James Oliver in his memoirs.  In the Squires letter to Bowditch, he mentions the cemetery and lays out his plans for it, including surrounding it with a stone wall and even describes the epitaph he plans on having inscribed on the memorial.  This was no makeshift affair. The Oliver reference describes it the same way. We found a newspaper article written by a visitor describing the cemetery and the good feelings it gave the veterans. According to the article, it was comforting to the wounded men in the ranks to know that their remains would be respectfully interred. Those buried in the cemetery were re-interred at Antietam National Cemetery upon its creation.  We have had several people show us where they believe it to have been. It is wooded now and is not part of our property.

Isn’t it eerie living there? Ever see any ghosts? 

8th Connecticut Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Appelman
recovered from his Antietam wound at Crystal Springs Hospital.
Plagued by the gunshot wound  in his leg for the rest of
 his life, he died in 1873, nearly 11 years after the battle.
TROY: I only have two quick comments on that and then I have to turn this over to Emily. We were volunteering at an event for Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), an awesome organization, and upon returning from a quick break I found Emily swarmed by the local ghost hunting paranormal society. I found this profoundly funny.  As with the metal detector people, she politely declined. Secondly, the place was home the moment I stepped foot in the door. I have never been uncomfortable here for any reason.

EMILY: I agree with Troy. It felt like home as soon as we got here. I’ve never felt uncomfortable or weird about being here due to ghosts; the middle-of-nowhere part gets me though!

I do have a ghost story about the farm: it was a big, beautiful full moon night when the dog got up and his nails tick-tick-ticking across the floor woke me up. I turned over to see what he was doing and there by the window looking out was a man in a Civil War overcoat with a floppy hat on. I assumed it was Troy and asked if he was OK. From next to me, Troy answered “Yes.” In the time it took me to process that the man at the window was not Troy, he was gone. Even that wasn’t a creepy moment;  it made perfect sense at the time that there would be a man in a Civil War overcoat and hat standing at our window.

TROY:  My daughter, Amelia, also claims an “otherworldly experience.”  She let out a real there’s-a serious-problem scream, so I think she saw something, but I am a nonbeliever so ...

Any other neat stories?

TROY: I have to mention the highest-ranking patient here -- you do focus on Connecticut troops after all! Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Appelman of the 8th Connecticut was treated here for his wounds received at Antietam. (Blogger's note: Appelman, plagued by his Antietam leg wound the rest of his life, died in 1873.)

John, I wanted to say thanks for the interview. I find the Maryland Campaign the most compelling time in the history of the war and possibly the history of the nation.  I feel privileged to live here and hope to be a good steward and share this story of Henry and all the others who passed through this place.

EMILY: We love visitors and everyone is welcome to come to the farm to check out the amazing piece of history we have here. We’re here most of the time, but ask that you get in touch with us before you come out so that we can make sure the sheep are penned and the pigs aren’t in the driveway! Our email is We look forward to sharing our farm and the Locust Spring Hospital with you.

                         A Google Maps view of the farm on Geeting Road in Keedysville, Md.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hartford's Old North cemetery: A photo gallery

A little more than two years ago, I visited Hartford's Old North Cemetery and left disappointed. The grounds, the final resting place for many Civil War soldiers and city luminaries, were strewn with debris and choked with vegetation. It was a mess. But much has changed since that 2012 Fourth of July visit. Many of the toppled tombstones have been re-set and most of the weeds and trash have been removed, making the 206-year-old cemetery well worth a visit. I channeled my inner-Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner to shoot these images at Old North this morning.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Battle of Bentonville (N.C.) interactive panoramas/tour

Click here for my interactive Antietam, Cedar Mountain, Chickamauga, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, Harris Farm, Manassas, Malvern Hill, Salem Church, Spotsylvania Courthouse and Harrison's Landing panoramas. (Whew! That's a mouthful.)

Under a stand of trees and a bed of pine cones and needles rest the remains of 20 unknown Rebels who died at the Battle of Bentonville (N.C.). Outnumbered nearly 3-to-1 (60,000 to 21,000), the Confederates were routed here on March 19-21, 1865, suffering more than 3,000 casualties to about 1,600 for the Union army in a battle "remarkable both for the obstinancy with which the Rebels fought and the terrible fire which they maintained." 

"Beautiful day," a 5th Connecticut soldier noted of the Sunday the battle began. "Peach trees in blossom and all the country seems lovely, but the sound of cannonading is heard."  Less than a month before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, eight soldiers in the 20th Connecticut were killed or mortally wounded at Bentonville -- including Corporal Abner C. Smith of East Haddam, Conn. He died March 28, nine days after his right leg had been amputated.

"The wound appeared to do well," the regimental chaplain wrote to Smith's wife from Goldsboro, N.C., "and we had hoped that he would recover from the shock. But he was very much exhausted by the long ride from the hospital near to the battle field to this place; and he never fully recovered himself. All was done which could have been under the circumstances: but it was in vain: he continued to fail till the morning of the 28th when he was taken from this scene of pain and sorrow to another world."

... Near the graves of Confederate unknowns, a memorial marks the site of a trench containing the remains of 360 Rebel soldiers, all gathered from the battlefield after the Civil War by Confederate veterans. Among the donors for the monument was Union veteran T. E. Harvey, who lost four fingers during the battle. At the dedication on March 20, 1895, Reverend J.J. Harper, son of the farmer on whose property some of the battle swirled, gave a prayer described by Confederate Magazine as "patriotic" and "comprehensive."

 "And grant, O Lord," Reverend Harper said, "that the light of Thy presence, and warmth of Thy love and Thy strength of Thy mighty arm may ever be present and manifest to the brave sons of the South, who by Thy providence were preserved through the dangers and carnage of war, and the eclipse of the cause they loved, and who still linger on these mortal shores." ...

... The Rebels made five attacks from right to left here but were stopped by the Union army's XX Corps. The Army of Tennessee made its last great charge of the war across this field, which is privately owned and still farmed today ...

.... More than 500 wounded Union were treated at the house of John and Amy Harper, whose 11-member family was ordered to stay upstairs while a field hospital operated downstairs. After the Union army left the area, it left behind about 50 wounded Rebels, 23 of whom died in the Harper family's care and were later buried near the family graveyard. (Pan to the far right in the interactive panorama above to view it.)  It wasn't the first time the war hit home for the Harpers, whose 16-year-old son, Martin, a private in the 20th North Carolina, had been wounded at the Battle of South Mountain on Sept. 14, 1862. ...

... This pink granite monument honors the sacrifice of Texas soldiers at Bentonville. It's nearly identical to the state's monuments at Antietam and Gettysburg ...

... and this cenotaph honors all Rebel soldiers who fell at Bentonville. "Sleep soldier sleep in thy rough earthen tomb," begins the inscription on the side. ...

... Union soldiers, including those of the 5th and 20th Connecticut, are also remembered at Bentonville. This monument was placed on the battlefield by Sons of Union Veterans in 2013.  

Friday, August 01, 2014

Tragic telegram: 'Charlie Adams died this morning'

(Litchfield Historical Society collection)

John Henry Hubbard
A telegram no family wanted to receive during the Civil War: "Charlie Adams died this morning," it reads. "He did not appear to suffer at all. I was with him. His body will be up around Tuesday. His father is at White House (Va.)." A 19-year-old corporal in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, Adams was wounded in the leg and arm at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. From Litchfield, Conn., he died 10 days later aboard a steamer in the Potomac in Washington. The telegram, part of the Litchfield Historical Society collection, was sent by Congressman John Hubbard of Litchfield, a family friend who witnessed Charlie's death. Hubbard paid for the embalming of Adams' body and $55 for an engraved coffin to transport him home to Litchfield, where he was buried in East Cemetery.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sergeant George Marsh: First Connecticut death at Antietam?

A daguerreotype (top) and tintype of 8th Connecticut Sergeant George Marsh, who was killed at Antietam.
(Photos: Blogger's collection)
Shortly after the sun peeked above the horizon on Sept. 17, 1862, “some curious fools” in the 8th Connecticut climbed atop a knoll on Henry Rohrbach’s farm to sneak a look at their enemy, alerting Rebels on the far side of Antietam Creek. Suddenly, a 12-pound solid shot burst from a cannon and crashed into the regiment’s ranks in a field near Rohrbach's farmhouse, killing Sergeant George Marsh and two other soldiers, wounding four and splattering 19-year-old Lieutenant Marvin Wait with blood and dirt.

At least one report speculated that railroad iron fired by the Rebels killed Marsh, but the real cause was the massive concussion of the solid shot that plowed into the ground in front of the prone officer. A "trusty soldier with a spotless reputation," the 29-year-old Marsh, who was "ill that morning but determined to be at his post," may have been the first soldier from Connecticut killed at the Battle of Antietam. (Download my Excel spreadsheet of Antietam deaths here.)

George Marsh's family: Father Guy (top), mother Lamira
and sister Susan. The Marsh family was from Hartford.
(Photos: Blogger's collection)
For his parents Lamira and Guy and sister Susan back in Hartford, George's death must have been a crushing blow. An unmarried carpenter and polisher for a silversmith, Marsh financially supported his sickly father, who worked in a sash and blind factory and was described as a man of "feeble strength, and never able to do anything like hard labor." From 1855 until George's death, Guy Marsh made from $1.25 to $2.25 a day. Two years before his son enlisted in the army, the elder Marsh, who barely weighed 110 pounds, had a "long and dangerous sickness" that the family physician attributed to the "effects of working with paints" at the factory.

While he served in the Union army, George frequently sent money home, sometimes as much as $40 at a time, and often inquired about his father's health, noting in one letter that he thought it "will do father good to take a trip to Waterbury [Conn.]." In rich detail, he also wrote about his war experience, telling his parents of skirmishing against Rebels, frustrations and boredom with army life and about prisoners of war.

"Today I have tattoo'd about 2 dozen men with India ink just to keep myself busy," he wrote in one letter.

In another letter, he wrote about a young Rebel POW: "One man showed me his thigh today where he had a bayonet put through it for putting his head over the line to vomit, and that was by a boy not over 14 years old."

In late spring 1862, George proudly told of his promotion from corporal to sergeant.

"I am fourth sergeant now," he wrote on June 3, 1862 from New Bern, N.C., "our orderly having been promoted to be second lieutenant of our company. Lieutenant [Wolcott] Marsh is captain of Company F now. I have to do the duties of 2nd sergeant as the 2nd is color bearer and the 3rd has done no duty since we left the Banks and I guess never will do any more. He is the tallest man in the regiment and I am the shortest sergeant so we look gay marching near each other and are known as the 'long' and 'short' sergeants of Company A."  (Marsh, who had a light complexion, hazel eyes and light hair, stood only 5-4, about four inches shorter than the average height for a Civil War soldier.)

Added Marsh in the same letter: "Some of this military business is like a farce but I like to see the whole performance and think I shall be able to if I don’t get killed in a battle or by disease."

Oliver D. Seymour, Marsh's brother-in-law, went to the battlefield to retrieve George's body, which was sent to New York by steamer. In late September, Marsh's remains arrived on a noon train to Hartford, and three hours later a funeral service that "was very largely attended" was held at his parents' house at 77 Main Street. Afterward, his remains were buried a short distance away at Hartford's Old North Cemetery, not far from the graves of brothers Charles and Lewis Weld, officers who also fought, and died, to save the Union.

Today, on the battered, brownstone Marsh family memorial at the ancient Hartford cemetery, the word "Antietam" is barely legible.


Croffut, William Augustus, and John Moses Morris. The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, New York: Ledyard Bill, 1868

George Marsh widow's pension file, National Archives and Record Service, Washington, D.C.

Hartford Daily Times, Sept. 27, 1862

PG 80, Box 3, Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Conn.

George Marsh's state-issued tombstone in Old North Cemetery in Hartford.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Harrison's Landing: Where Lincoln met McClellan

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

                                       Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.

When I saw this field for the first time two weeks ago, my initial reaction was "Dang, I'd give almost anything to scour that ground with a metal detector for three or four hours."  In July and August 1862, 140,000 Union troops camped here at Harrison's Landing, Va., site of George McClellan's infamous "change of base" after the Peninsula Campaign debacle that summer. President Lincoln conferred with the general at Harrison's Landing on July 8, 1862, seven days after the Union army's victory at nearby Malvern Hill, the last of the Seven Days' battles. (See my interactive Malvern Hill panoramas here.)

Lincoln reviews Union troops in July 1862 in this painting, part of a Civil War display in the basement 
of the Berkeley Plantation mansion. The mansion appears in the far right background of the painting.

No fan of the president's, McClellan supposedly gave Lincoln an undersized horse to make the tall chief executive look a little silly during a review of troops at Harrison's Landing. The Little Napoleon also handed Lincoln a letter that outlined his vision for how to conduct the war -- a vision that noted that "neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment."

Lincoln read the letter without comment, disappointing McClellan, who wrote to his wife that the president "really seems quite incapable of rising to the heights of the merits of the question & the magnitude of the crisis." (On Sept. 22, 1862, five days after the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, leading to the abolition of slavery in states that were still in rebellion.)

Marker at Harrison's Landing field in honor of Union drummer boy Willie Johnston.

It was also at Harrison's Landing that "Taps" may have been played for the first time by a private named Oliver Norton, although that's in some dispute, and where 11-year-old Willie Johnston, the only drummer boy to retain his instrument throughout the disastrous Union retreat during the Seven Days' battles, played for a division review on July 4, 1862. For his spunk and bravery, the lad in the 3rd Vermont was awarded the Medal of Honor by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on Sept. 16, 1863, when he was 13 -- the youngest person to be awarded the honor.

The Berkeley Plantation mansion was built in 1726.

By the time the Union army had arrived at Harrison's Landing, many soldiers were exhausted and ill  from continuous fighting in the grim, swampy land around Richmond

William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the U.S., was born
at Berkeley Plantation in 1773.

"The malaria from the borders of the Chickahominy and from the swamps throughout the Peninsula to which it had been so freely exposed now began to manifest its baneful effects upon the health of the men," Union army medical director Jonathan Letterman wrote. "In addition to this the troops, just previous to their arrival at this point, had been marching and fighting for seven days and nights in a country abounding in pestilential swamps and traversed by streams greatly swollen by the heavy rains, which made that region almost a Sarbonean bog."

 On July 1, 1862, Letterman established at hospital at the Berkeley Plantation mansion, also used by McClellan as a headquarters. Berkeley Plantation was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of  Independence, and his son, William Henry, the ninth U.S. president. The mansion --  "the only available building for the purpose in that vicinity," according to Letterman --  proved "wholly inadequate."

"Only a few wall tents could be obtained at that time with which to enlarge the capacity of the hospital," Letterman wrote. "No hospital tents could be procured."

                                       Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.

While his troops staved off disaster at Malvern Hill, McClellan found comfort aboard the gunboat Galena in the James River, near Harrison's Landing, drawing the ire of some Army of the Potomac soldiers. Private Robert Sneden disgustingly noted that "McClellan was not on the ground (as usual) until the battle was over." 

Two years later, a political cartoonist used the incident to lampoon McClellan, Lincoln's Democratic opponent in the 1864 presidential election. "Fight on my brave soldiers and push the enemy to the wall," reads the thought bubble above the general, who eyes the fighting at Malvern Hill, "from this spanker boom your beloved general looks down upon you."

But not all soldiers found McClellan's behavior unsettling. Three days after Malvern Hill, on the Fourth of July, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, an officer in the 2nd Rhode Island, recalled meeting the general at Harrison's Landing:

This morning all the troops were put to work upon the line of forts that have been laid out. As I was going to the spring I met General McClellan who said good morning pleasantly and told our party that as soon as the forts were finished we should have rest. He took a drink of water from a canteen and lighted a cigar from one of the men's pipes. At Malvern Hill he rode in front of our Regiment and was loudly cheered. I have been down to the river. I rode the Adjutant's horse and enjoyed the sight of the vessels. Gun boats and transports are anchored in the stream. Rest is what we want now, and I hope we shall get it. I could sleep for a week. The weather is very hot, but we have moved our camp to a wood where we get the shade. This is a queer 4th of July, but we have not forgotten that it is our national birthday, and a salute has been fired. We expect to have something to eat before long. Soldiering is not fun, but duty keeps us in the ranks. Well, the war must end some time, and the Union will be restored. I wonder what our next move will be. I hope it will be more successful than our last.

                                            Click on image for full-screen inteactive panorama.

By mid-August 1862, the Union army had been transported north on the James River, its hopes to take Richmond and end the war that year over.  Although Interstate-95 is only miles away, I had the feeling I was in the middle of nowhere when I shot the image above from the shores of the river -- until I glanced to my right and saw a huge power plant in the distance.