Wednesday, November 13, 2019

'Do you have 15 minutes?': A history-packed visit to Lee Chapel

W.C. "Burr" Datz holds a copy of a circa-1873 image of artisans working on the recumbent 
sculpture of Robert E. Lee in Edward Valentine's studio in Richmond, Va. 
The sculpture of the "Marble Man" is behind Datz. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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Moments after I pass through the white doors of Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus in Lexington, Va., docent W.C. "Burr" Datz springs into action.

Exterior view of Lee Chapel.
“Do you have 10 minutes?” the Long Island native asks from atop the stage. Datz, whose white beard gives him a passing resemblance to Robert E. Lee, is flanked by a large painting of George Washington to his right and one of Lee to his left. Next to him is the chapel's original wooden podium, a work of art that dates to 1868. Behind Datz is the main attraction: a small room that houses Edward Valentine's impressive memorial sculpture of the recumbent Lee.

Seconds after I mention my deep interest in the Civil War, docent Datz eagerly snatches the bait. “Do you have 15 minutes?” he says.

Datz gestures for the me to sit in a front-row pew -- the same pew where the former Army of Northern Virginia commander sat for services when he was school president (it was then called Washington College) from 1865 until his death in 1870. Like an auctioneer rattling off bids, Datz delivers stories about Lee. Clearly the Washington and Lee graduate, Class of 1975, is a deep admirer of the "Marble Man." Deeply knowledgeable, too.

"The function of Lee as a gentlemen," Datz tells me, "has had a deep impact on my life."

    PANORAMA: A view from behind podium in Lee Chapel; Lee's pew is first on right.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Fifteen minutes turns into, oh, 25 or so. Worth it? You bet.

A rookie mistake: Hat on head not a good look
for a certain blogger.
"Do you have some more time?" asks Datz. He welcomes me to the stage, where he tells the story of the marble sculpture of Lee, completed in 1875. The stone for it was quarried in Vermont. Ah, Yankee marble. Would Lee approve? Probably. He would detest, however, a statue of himself, says Datz. A man of class and distinction, Lee was no "me" guy.

Circling the Lee sculpture, I shoot images from myriad angles, twice setting off an alarm when edging too close to the general. Obviously a rookie mistake.

Before I depart, Datz encourages me to visit Lee's office on the bottom floor -- it's kept just as he left it the day he died Oct. 12, 1870. Then he invites me to sit in the front-row pew for another dose of history.

"Let's take your picture," he says. Aiming in vain to find my good side, he shoots two photos.

Sadly, a blue toboggan remained on my head.

The general, according to sources, definitely would not approve.

Lee Chapel was constructed from 1867–68 at the request of Robert E. Lee, who was president
of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University. This mausoleum addition was dedicated 
in June 1883 to house Edward Valentine's memorial statue of the recumbent Lee.
                        PANORAMA: A view of the recumbent sculpture of Robert E. Lee.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Robert E. Lee's office in the chapel is left as it was on the day he died in 1870.
Lee and his family are buried beneath the chapel. 

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Saying goodbye to the Good Doctor, the Great Tie-yanker

My in-laws, Lanie and Doc Danker, with former Michigan star Jalen Rose at ESPN.

Yanking me across the room by my tie, Wayne “Doc” Danker grumbled to anyone who would listen, “This is the so-and-so who wants to marry my daughter.” And so my official introduction to the Danker clan in 1990 at the wedding of Doc’s other daughter Joan was rather, ah, inauspicious. Intimidating, too.

Less than two years later, I married terrific Carol, the youngest of his four children. Because Doc didn’t yank me around while a ring was placed on her finger at the altar, most believe he gave his blessing.


The Doctor giving away his daughter Carol --
 my beautiful wife -- in 1992.
We lost The Great Tie-yanker on Friday morning at 94. Cause of death: His big, old heart simply gave out. Perhaps a little bit of orneriness was a factor, too, although we await confirmation from the angels. While we mourn his loss, we also have so much to celebrate about his life: numerous family gatherings, golf outings, card games and so much more. Here’s some of what I’ll always remember about Doc:

He loved a good glass of wine, preferably the cheapest he could find. Anything over 10 bucks was way too expensive. A $15 bottle? What a waste of cash!

Wayne served in the Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force, during World War II. He didn’t talk about it much, but we all had deep respect for his service.

He often took out his false teeth at family gatherings, much to the delight of some of his grandchildren (and to the horror of others). Speaking of horror, he once drove back from a Minnesota casino one night steering the car with his legs. A premature death flashed before the eyes of at least one of the passengers.

He and his wife Lanie LOVED sports. Some of us can still see those wide, wonderful smiles on their faces when they had their picture taken with former Michigan hoops star Jalen Rose at ESPN in Bristol, Conn. (Thank you, Jalen.)

Doc delighted in talking about his family’s deep roots in Iowa. Most of them were farmers back there in salt-of-the-earth country. I’d listen to those tales any day.

Family had deep, deep meaning for Doc and Lanie. Years ago, they owned a place in Clear Lake, Iowa. (It was so tranquil there that some of us would fall asleep the moment we’d walk in the door.) As Carol and I left one afternoon, they wept. They couldn’t bear for us to part.

In 2014, Doc’s beloved Lanie, his wife of 62 years, died in Arizona. Her great, big heart finally gave out too. The loss cut to the bone for the good Doctor. The passing of that wonderful woman was a lesson for many of us on what it means to love someone with all your heart.

In July 2016, my Dad, the rock of the Banks family, died. The next day, the Doctor called to offer condolences while I sat alone on the bench in a mall. He knew how I felt. We both bawled. He knew, oh, how he knew.

Now that you have passed through those pearly gates, good Doctor, here’s a few things YOU should know:

Iowa State lost 42-41 to Oklahoma last night. Carol is amazed the Cyclones came back.

If there’s wine up in heaven, it’s OK to unlock the wallet for the good stuff.

Be sure to give Lanie a hug and tell her we love her.

And don’t take out those damned false teeth. The angels would be horrified!

God speed, sir. We love you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A death on Missionary Ridge: 'We deeply mourn his loss'

38th Ohio Lt. Colonel Edward Herrick Phelps, mortally wounded at Missionary Ridge 
on Nov. 25, 1863. (Heritage Auctions)
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Atop Missionary Ridge, overlooking Chattanooga, Tenn., the 21st century elbows out the 19th, causing heartache for history lovers. Expensive homes claim hallowed ground where scores of Yankees and Rebels fought and died in late fall 1863. Red and blue cast-iron historical markers compete for attention in the flashy surroundings while a two-story house blocks the view of a cannon's line of site, mocking its old neighbor.

Nearby, an upright artillery barrel stands on a pedestal of concrete across from a well-landscaped front yard of a modern house. Perched behind a post-and-steel wire guard rail on North Crest Road, the seldom-visited memorial marks the approximate mortal wounding site of 38th Ohio Colonel Edward Herrick Phelps.

On Missionary Ridge, the 19th century clashes with the 21st.
Late in the afternoon of Nov. 25, 1863, the 34-year-old Phelps led a brigade of soldiers from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky up the steep slope of Missionary Ridge. Their objective: Push the enemy from defenses bristling with artillery. The night before the battle, Phelps was so ill that he sought the consultation of two surgeons.

"Those in front would be the safest, so we all ran our best, as it was almost certain death to be slow and behind," Lawrence Gates, a lieutenant in the 74th Indiana, wrote days after the battle. "The voice of the five cannons, which fired upon us, the bursting of shells in our ranks and over our heads, and the loud hurrah and yell of our brave boys with the occasional war cry: 'Chickamauga' nearly deafened my ears. We had not time to look around, but forward and forward only was our aim."

Weakened by illness and unable to ride his horse, Phelps, according to a post-war account, was carried to the top of the ridge by four soldiers. "We were completely tired out when near its top," Gates recalled, "but the gallant 'Phelps' was with us, and when he commanded: 'Fix Bayonets! Forward Boys! Charge!' it was done with a will."

In the assault, Gates' regiment suffered unexpectedly low casualties: 18 soldiers killed and wounded. But Phelps, the Third Brigade's beloved commander, a lawyer as a civilian, was mortally wounded near the top of the ridge, shot by a sharpshooter through the chest.

The commander's remains were returned to his native Toledo, Ohio, where he received a military funeral and his wife Harriet mourned. The couple was childless. In December 1863, 38th Ohio soldiers raised $800 to pay for a monument at his grave in Forest Cemetery.

Below is Gates' vivid account of the assault on Missionary Ridge, published in the Steuben Republican of Angola, Ind.

                      GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Missionary Ridge neighborhood where 
                                             Edward Phelps mortuary cannon stands.

Near Chattanooga, Nov. 30th 1863

Dear Republican: 

It is just a week ago this very day when the army around and near Chattanooga made an advance upon the rebels in our front, to drive them from Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge at the same time. And well has this great feat been accomplished, for the Stars and Stripes wave over both named places.

It was on Monday afternoon about 2 o'clock when the advance reached the outer lines on the left, and skirmishing commenced. Our Brigade was still quietly laying in camp, while other troops moved out on the whole line of works. But at 4 o'clock the order came for us to fall in, and we followed our gallant and brave Brigade Commander Col. E. H. Phelps.

Mortuary cannon near the crest of Missionary Ridge
marks approximate mortal wounding site 
of  38th Ohio Colonel Edward Phelps
That night we marched a while and slept a few hours, went forward again and rested, and at 3 o'clock took another position close to our new made picket line. There we threw up some breastworks out of logs and rails, and worked at them all the forenoon on Tuesday. In the afternoon the fight on Lookout Mountain took place and as we had a good view of the contested field we looked on, and cheered our brave boys from time to time as we saw them gain one point after another. Nothing particular took place with our Regiment that day, only I remember, that we had a very disagreeable night on account of the cold wind and rain that visited us. But we lived through it, as the saying is, till Wednesday morning, when about 10 o'clock we were ordered to forward to the left near the river.

We marched with our whole Division in plain view of the enemy's guns on Missionary Ridge around close to the river and after arriving in a piece of woods we turned about, taking another route yet closer to the mountains toward the city again, Our Brigade soon turned into the woods again to the left and formed into line of battle facing toward Missionary Ridge. Skirmishers were thrown out in front to feel the way and after letting them get ahead quite a way, we followed in columns two lines deep. The 38th Ohio were on the left, the 74th Ind. in the center and the 4th Ky. on the right of the first line, while the 14th Ohio, 10th Ind and 10th Ky. were in the second line respectively.

Soon we came out in open view into a large meadow; we soon tore down the fences along our line and at the command: ''Third Brigade, forward on double quick, March!" we started with a will. Soon we came to a little rise on the hill, when all at once the enemy's cannons opened on us with shot and shells. We went up far enough to allow the second line to reach the foot, when we all laid down on the ground to rest, and keep from being swept away by the enemy's missiles.

What thought passed through each one's mind, I cannot describe.  I remember only my own, and even now the whole seems to me like a dream. There we laid close to each other, while the shells came close and thick, each one exploding not more than a hundred feet at the farthest from us, and the clay and stones were flying around in all directions. Soon I saw Col. Phelps come around giving his orders in person to each Regimental Commander, to start at a full run when the Bugle sounded.

View from near the crest of Missionary Ridge, looking toward Chattanooga.

 "Oh! this will be hard one on us" passed from lip to lip "and we shalt lose one third of our number" said another. At last the Bugle sounded. We all rose at an instant and with a leap I jumped, like a hundred others. Those in front would be the safest, so we all ran our best, as it was almost certain death to be slow and behind. The voice of the five cannons, which fired upon us, the bursting of shells in our ranks and over our heads, and the loud hurrah and yell of our brave boys with the occasional war cry: "Chickamauga," nearly deafened my ears. We had not time to look around, but forward and forward only was our aim.

We had passed the second open field and once more got to the hill which now was before us. We rested but a moment, and only long enough to form somewhat into regular lines. But again forward we went and upward we climbed, as the ridge was very steep at this place. You can get something of an idea what kind of a place we were to charge up upon, when I say that Missionary Ridge is nearly twice as high as Hogback hill and full as steep as Bald Eagle Hill west of Angola. We were completely tired out when near its top, but the gallant "Phelps" was with us, and when he commanded: "Fix Bayonets! Forward Boys! Charge!" it was done with a will.

That we obeyed his orders and that the 3rd Brigade done its duty, the history of Missionary Ridge can tell. The men reserved their fire until within a few steps of the rebel breastworks, and then volley after volley was poured in upon them. They could not stand our leaden messengers, nor look those glistening and advancing bayonets in the face. They turned, and their works were ours. In less than two seconds, four flags were stationed there and they remained. A fresh brigade of rebels charged, but only in vain, and we drove them down the hill on the opposite side. Our loss was small from what we expected, our regiment only losing 18 men in killed and wounded. But it was enough to lose such precious and true and brave boys.

Robert R. Warn was the only one wounded in my company, he was struck in his right arm near the shoulder. Yet our victory was dearly bought; we lost our "Phelps," our Brigade Commander. He fell as the rebels charged on and at our colors. We deeply mourn his loss.

A plaque on the mortuary cannon on Missionary Ridge notes Colonel Edward Phelps 
was "mortally wounded near this spot  about 5:30 p.m. November 25, 1863."
That night only Union forces occupied Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain and only Union fires were kindled upon them and threw their lights into the valley and city below. Our aim and our work was accomplished, yet on the following day, on Thursday, we followed the retreating enemy, over the bloody battle field of Chickamauga, drove him across the creek of the same name, and almost caught up again on Friday at Pigeon Mountain near Ringold, Georgia. There General [Joseph] Hooker had quite an engagement with them, and our Division was just drawn up in line ready to take part, when old Cheatham thought best to put out in a hurry and away they went.

On Saturday morning, our Brigade alone followed through the gap and advanced about two or three miles, where we tore up the railroad track, burned three bridges and all the ties, and beat the rails so that they can never be used again. When our work was done we came back to Ringold and stayed all night. Sunday (yesterday) morning at 11 o'clock, our division was ordered to return forthwith to Chattanooga. We bade our eastern friends under General Hooker good-bye, told them to be watchful, and by 5 o'clock in the evening we had traveled sixteen miles in the mud, in some places ankle deep, and with a loud hurrah we entered our camp again.

(Hal Jespersen)
And here we are, not knowing where our services will be needed next. Tomorrow there will be a Grand Inspection by Maj. Generals [Ulysses] Grant, [David] Hunter and [George] Thomas of our division and the boys have been cleaning up their guns this evening, to be ready. There are but two Divisions left here near the city, so I understand. And we shall probably remain through the winter, unless something should turn up.

Oh yes, I must mention, that our flag was torn by bullets and our staff struck twice and nearly cut in two. We are to have a new set of colors from Gov. Morton this coming month, with the names of "Chickamauga" and "Missionary Ridge" inscribed upon them.

Col. Charles W. Chapman of our Regiment has resigned, and the command is in the hands of Lieut. Col. Myron Baker, formerly from Goshen. He is a brave and well tried officer. One more word and I am done for this time. The President has ordered that all Indiana Regiments should send home recruiting officers to fill up their companies and regiments. Co. H has sent our Orderly Sergeant Middleton Perfect, and we hope he may be successful in raising the required amount or number.

Were it in my power to make a speech or write a suitable call for volunteers, I should do so, but all I have to say is this: That if any citizen of Steuben County wishes to join a good and brave company, one that has been tried before the enemy's fire and has stood the test, let them come on, enroll their names on our lists and show their patriotism for their country. We are ready and willing to receive them with a hearty welcome.

No more this time; I have perhaps already wearied your patience, and filled your columns more than agreeable to you. but I could not help saying less than I did.

Until I write again I subscribe myself:

Commander of Co. H, 74th Ind.

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-- History of Defiance County, Ohio, Chicago: Warner, Beers, 1883.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Elmwood Cemetery, where Confederate Antietam dead rest

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Many Confederate Antietam dead were buried here at Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, W.Va., across the Potomac River from Sharpsburg, Md., or at Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Md. Shepherdstown was part of Virginia in 1862.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

History in their front yard: My afternoon at Missionary Ridge

Man's best friends stand guard where Confederates did in November 1863.
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Imagine the reception 50,000 Federals would get were they to storm Missionary Ridge today.  Perhaps  ...

"Get off my manicured lawn."

Or ...

"Please don't tip over those historical signs next to my high-priced home with the spectacular view. We hear they are quite valuable."

On ground defended by Confederates on Nov. 25, 1863, we now find the highest-priced residential real estate in Chattanooga, Tenn., with houses listed at $2.5 million and more.

Markers and monuments, placed here decades after the Civil War, dot hallowed ground carved up by developers. Cast-iron historical tablets double as unique lawn ornaments. Denoting the position of an Arkansas battery, a cannon sits yards from the driveway of a one-story ranch house.  "Been there forever, man," a resident tells me with a smile.

What an odd, interesting scene.

A cannon, yards from the entrance to a house, denotes position of a Confederate battery.
Yards from a house on Crest Drive, this stone sentinel on the Ohio monument stands watch.
   PANORAMA: A view of the Ohio monument in a residential area on Missionary Ridge. 
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

General Benjamin Cheatham's division defended this ground in 1863. Now it's occupied by home owners.
Historical tablets masquerading as lawn ornaments?
A cast-iron tablet for Confederate brigade in recessed area in a wall.
21st century meets 19th century on Missionary Ridge.
4th Ohio Cavalry marker steps from a Missionary Ridge resident's driveway.
A 19th Illinois stone marker at the base of this steep front yard.
A million-dollar house beyond the 19th Illinois marker.
Soldiers from Confederate General Alexander Stewart's division once roamed this neighborhood.
On Crest Drive, yards from a house, a monument honors the service of New York soldiers.

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Sunday, October 06, 2019

A gift from Larry DeBerry, the master storyteller of Shiloh

Larry DeBerry stands near a case full of Civil War relics at his Shiloh Battlefield Museum and Souvenirs,
near Shiloh National Military Park in rural southwestern Tennessee. He gives tours of the battlefield.

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Moments after greeting a visitor at his small museum/shop near the Shiloh (Tenn.) battlefield, 72-year-old Larry DeBerry deploys a time-tested technique to win him over: He tells a great story.

"See over there?" he says, gesturing to painted toy figurines that fill several shelves at Shiloh Battlefield Museum and Souvenirs. The longtime accountant tells how he acquired the massive set (from an elderly man in New Mexico) and points out figurines of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong ("look at that receding hairline") and a reviled Japanese World War II military commander (Hideki Tojo) whose name escapes him.

Toy figurines at Robert E. Lee's last council of war with Stonewall Jackson.
On a table in front of me, I admire toy figurines of Robert E. Lee's last war council with Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. Even the tiny, fold-out map that Lee holds is finely detailed. On a table near the entrance of the shop, visitors may examine toy figurines of Marines attacking Japanese at Tarawa, an especially bloody World War II battle in the Pacific. And on a wall nearby hang images of Civil War officers DeBerry admires: Confederate cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest and Union general Ulysses Grant.

DeBerry's place, advertised as the "largest private collection of relics and artifacts on display from Shiloh," is filled with curiosities: fired Yankee and Rebel bullets that fused together after crashing into each other; muskets pulled from the near the Tennessee River; dozens of Union and Confederate belt plates; artillery shells and fragments; and thousands of fired and dropped bullets. Nearly every relic in the shop, which he has operated since 2012, is from Shiloh.

And, of course, DeBerry offers for purchase the usual battlefield knick-nacks: T-shirts, hats, flags, books and the like. If you want to own a Donald Trump coffee mug, you may purchase one here, too. (Wary of developing a sudden desire to swear on Twitter, I pass.) The longtime student of Shiloh battlefield also gives tours of the field.

But most of all, DeBerry offers stories, in rapid-fire doses, for free.

"Have you heard the story of the mystery woman of Shiloh?" he asks. Then he has son print out of copy of her tale.

In a rush to visit Civil War history-rich Corinth, Miss., 18 miles south, I leave after 20 minutes or so. But on the return trip, another stop is required to listen to more from the master storyteller of Shiloh.

Among Larry DeBerry's vast collection are these fired bullets that fused together after 
crashing into each other.
Civil War muskets found near the Tennessee River at Shiloh.
A tag states a musket was found "115 years after it had been dropped" at Shiloh.
Twenty-six of DeBerry's ancestors ("more than anyone") are buried in the small cemetery near the site of the war-time Shiloh church. Most of them lived on or near the battlefield. One of them, DeBerry's great-great-grandfather George Washington Sowell, helped build the small, log structure that was used as a military headquarters and hospital during and after the Battle of Shiloh. It was destroyed in the battle's aftermath.

DeBerry has lived in this rural area of southwestern Tennessee all his life. His family has deep ties to the country's military history: Five of his great-great grandfathers served during the Civil War for the Confederacy, another ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War, and five brothers served during World War II.

On the reverse of this breast plate, Union soldier
Dewitt C. Hunt etched his name.
Each time I aim to depart for the 2 1/2-hour drive back to Nashville, DeBerry lures me back with another fabulous story, much like a master angler would reel in a large-mouthed bass.

He points out four muskets found near the Tennessee River decades ago. Then he pulls from a file cabinet a fascinating artifact, found by a relic hunter near his house by Shiloh National Military Park. On the reverse of the Union breast plate, now coated with a beautiful chocolate patina, the soldier etched his name -- DeWitt C. Hunt -- company and regiment. A 39-year-old corporal in the 11th Illinois Cavalry, the married father of three children died of typhoid fever in mid-October 1862 in a  hospital in Jackson, Miss.

Before I grudgingly walk out the door, DeBerry presents me with several gifts: two Shiloh bullets, each with a fine patina, and a book about the battle. When I eye two circa-1920s and 1930s Shiloh postcards in a small box, he tells me to take a couple. I hand him a book of my own, perhaps cementing a bond.

Then DeBerry tells me one, final story: His beloved wife Glenda died in 2012. She was a smoker, Larry says. Cancer killed her. He reaches back into the file cabinet, pulls out two xeroxed pages, folds them in half and hands them to me. It's a note his wife wrote a month or two before she died to their daughter. I thank him and promise I'll read it upon my return home. As I read Glenda's words Sunday morning, I knew the note -- posted below with DeBerry's permission -- is the best gift of all:
To my Beautiful Little Girl. I love every inch of you, from your head to your toes. 
When you were a baby, in the morning when you woke up, you would be smiling. That was what I looked forward to every morning and when you got older, I wanted to shake you, but I never stopped loving you. I'm very proud of you if you are reading this after I'm gone, but I hope not forgotten. 
Not any of these words I am saying are what I want to say and feel, but just know in your heart how much I love you. Take care of the Babies and Daddy & Robert for me. I love you all so much and may we be together some day. Just look up and you will see me looking down on you. Stay in Church and teach them girls about God. I hope you can read this. 
Love, Mom.

Enjoy the journey.


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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An early morning walk in Antietam's 40-Acre Cornfield

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Decades after the Civil War, 16th Connecticut veteran William Relyea drew the diagram below showing where soldiers discovered the bullet-riddled body of 16th Connecticut Captain Samuel Brown (arrow) in the 40-Acre Cornfield after the Battle of Antietam. Brown, a teacher as a civilian, was 26. The location is near the 16th Connecticut monument that was dedicated in 1894. On Saturday afternoon, I walked the hallowed ground upon which 43 soldiers in the 16th Connecticut were killed on Sept. 17, 1862, and shot the video above.

Connecticut State Library archives | CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

10 things I learned during three-day Antietam visit


1. A visit to the Antietam National Cemetery  ... never fails to be special. Sometimes, you can make it extra-special. On Saturday afternoon, I placed copies of images of 16th Connecticut Corporal Henry Evans and his wife Mary Ann, holding the couple's daughter Florence, at his grave. Evans was killed in the 40-Acre Cornfield.

2. Nothing beats dawn ... at Antietam. Here's sunrise at the Samuel Mumma farm.

3. The 16th Connecticut monument ... in the 40-Acre Cornfield casts an enormous afternoon shadow.

4. Widow Susan Hoffman ... was beautiful. This 1/9-plate ruby ambrotype was recently discovered by a Hoffman descendant. Her farm was used as a Federal hospital in the aftermath of Antietam.

5.  Bullets are embedded ... at the old Daniel Piper house in Sharpsburg, Md.

6. The William McKinley monument ... near Burnside Bridge is the most underrated monument on the battlefield.

7. The 132nd Pennsylvania monument at Bloody Lane ... is rarely a bad subject for a photograph.

8. Staring at the names on the 11th Connecticut monument near Burnside Bridge ... never gets old.

9. At the old War Department Tower at Bloody Lane ... Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower walked these iron steps to the top when they were West Point cadets.

10. The view from the top of old War Department tower at Bloody Lane ... always takes my breath away. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Life after 'death': Corporal Bob's searing Antietam account

Post-war image of Robert Patterson with family members, including his mother. He served with the
19th Indiana at Antietam. (Image courtesy of Shirley Pearson via 19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
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Under the headline "Taps Sound for Corp. Patterson," a front-page obituary in The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star on Sept. 30, 1916, briefly recounted the last days of a Civil War veteran.

A Page 1 obituary of Robert Patterson in
The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star on 

Sept. 30, 1916included the
 "last photograph" of the veteran.
In poor health the previous five months, Robert Patterson -- “Corporal Bob,” as he was commonly known --  visited the newspaper office on a Friday morning, then checked on a fellow veteran. Later that evening, the 74-year-old pension attorney attended a theater performance with his wife. As they neared their home afterward, Patterson felt weak. He sat down in the house, then stood up and keeled over, dead. Cause of death: Old age and Bright’s disease. “A grand old gentleman,” the newspaper called Patterson, who fought in more than a dozen major battles -- including Gettysburg, where he was wounded and briefly a captive.

“His position as pension attorney was the joy and the ‘all’ of his life,” the Morning Star reported, “and it is by old soldiers and widows that he will be missed most of all. He was a man with great charitable ambitions and spent both his time and money in the helping of those who had fought beside him in the great civil strife.”

The obituary wasn’t the first one written about the man who somehow survived the Civil War.

At the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the 20-year-old private in the 19th Indiana was concussed by an artillery shell burst that sent him and fence rails skyward. Over the next 24 hours, the Iron Brigade soldier witnessed harrowing scenes.

At a battlefield aid station, Patterson watched blood ooze from the chest wound of a fellow private in the 19th Indiana. The man remarkably lived. As Patterson struggled to return to his regiment, he drank “black water” from a stump and became ill. At a makeshift hospital the day after the battle, he saw surgeons amputate limbs, which were buried in a nearby trench. Next to him, a New York soldier writhed in agony from an artillery wound that had torn apart his lower jaw. He begged to be shot.

In a barn in nearby Keedysville, Md., Patterson saw 19th Indiana Private Joshua Jones’ leg wound covered with maggots. Surgeons were fearful he would not survive amputation, but they performed the operation anyway. Their initial prognosis was correct: Jones died 11 days after the battle.

Weak and exhausted, Patterson slowly made his way back to the 19th Indiana, camped near the Potomac River. Believing he was dead, comrades were stunned to see him. His captain was especially astonished: He was writing a note to Patterson’s mother about his death.

Patterson wearing his Iron Brigade ribbon.
(Image courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)
“It was the first and only time I have ever read my own obituary,” Patterson wrote in a searing account of his Antietam experience for the Muncie newspaper on the 50th anniversary of the battle, “and I sincerely hope that I will so live out of my remaining earthly life as soldier and citizen that my final obituary may contain as much good as the first.”

Patterson, who was seriously injured in a train accident later in the war, was rocked by tragedy in 1864. His 48-year-old father Samuel, a private in the 36th Indiana, died in an Indiana hospital on Sept. 24, 1864, of wounds suffered at Kennesaw Mountain, Ga.

After the war, Patterson worked a series of jobs -- clerk in the state legislature, postal clerk, postmaster, custodian of the county courthouse and, finally, pension attorney.  He dabbled as an inventor, obtaining patents for a unique fastener for a fruit jar and a steel-wire curry comb.  Patterson also enjoyed writing, becoming  the “poet laureate of the Indiana Grand Army of the Republic.” He “delighted in the work,” the Muncie newspaper noted.

On Sept. 18, 1912, Patterson’s lengthy account of the Battle of Antietam – posted in full below -- was published in The Muncie Morning Star. “Most momentous scenes,” he wrote.

Surely an understatement.

Scenes and incidents of all the battlefield must be guaged [sic] from the standpoint of individual observation. Commanding generals and through the many grades of rank down to the private in the ranks have a corresponding larger or smaller scope of vision, and the scenes are ever changing as those of the kaleidoscope. All were actors on the stage of the great drama of war in their own role, while civilian spectators and non-combatants were far in the rear and behind anything that afford protection from bodily harm.

I had marched and fought in the ranks of the Ninteenth Indiana. Infantry, from Lewensville to Fredericksburg, Va., and from the Rappahannock river back through the series of battles resulting in the second defeat on the historic battle-ground of Bull Run [and] on the first invasion of the Confederate army into Maryland where the first great clash came at South Mountain, September 14, 1862. After terrific slaughter on both sides I had seen the army of invasion driven from their great Gibraltar of natural defense, and under cover of darkness begin its retreat downward on its southern slopes toward the Potomac river, where it made its last stand that resulted in ignominious defeat in the struggle known to the world as the battle of Antietam. Hence my personal observations of the scene must be given from the narrow standpoint of a private who can only see things with which he comes in immediate contact.
War-time image of Robert Patterson.
(Photo courtesy Shirley Pearson via
19th Indiana Infantry site by Phil Harris)

We had cared for our dead and wounded at South Mountain on the 15th, when our woefully thin and dust-brown ranks started in persuit [sic] of the retreating army of [Robert E.] Lee, and we were halted on the  banks of Antietam creek, where the action of our regiment commenced, and my story begins.

On the afternoon of September 16 we witnessed some of the opening shots of this battle being fired across the creek at the Confederates by Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery, of our Brigade, and other field pieces. As the autumn sun was sinking like a great ball of blood that seemed as an omen of events to come, our brigade crossed the creek, and in battle lines moved cautiously forward. In passing where the enemy had killed some cattle, some of our boys had detached strips of fat from the intestines of the animals which they applied to their guns to prevent rust. I had unconsciously raised the hammer of my gun as was applying the grease about the tube as the regiment halted, when I rested the muzzle of the gun against my left shoulder, and in drawing the string of fat through the guard the gun was discharged, the ball passing through the rim of my hat. The explosion was deafening, and many thought I was injured by a bursted shell of the enemy. I have often wondered if that was not the first shot from a musket in that battle, and if it had happened to have killed me would some think it deliberate suicide. However, the Johnnies had so far proved to be poor marksmen in selecting me for a target, and I had rather a hundred would shoot at me than to take a shot at myself.

Our battle lines pressed steadily until darkness precluded further advance without danger of bringing premature engagement. Here we were ordered to "rest on arms." I shall never forget that William N. Jackson (Uncle Billy) lay side by side on our bed of earth with our knapsacks for a pillow, upon that portentious [sic] night. He was one of twelve recruits who had joined our company at Upton Hill on September 7, and the only one of that number who was not killed, wounded or missing in the valley of death at South Mountain just seven days after joining our ranks.

Opening of the battle

    PANORAMA: Joseph Poffenberger's farm, where the 19th Indiana camped the night
                                                    before the Battle of Antietam.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

4th U.S. Artillery Battery B, positioned in a field along Hagerstown Pike,  fired"death
 into the ranks of gray" Robert Patterson recalled.
The very earliest dawn of the morning of September 17th brought a rain of solid shot upon our sleeping ranks from rebel batteries that were stationed during the night within range of our regiment and brigade, Amongst the terrible effects of this firing was the blowing up a casson [sic] of shells and the killing of seven horses of a battery near our lines. It was a sudden awakening from only a short restless slumber to a full realization of our danger from masked batteries supported by infantry who had thrown up breast works during the night for their protection against contemplated attack by our forces. Our lines rose seemingly as one man, and were moved on the double quick time to cover in a piece of woodland, where we were brought to a front facing an orchard enclosed by a fence.

 "I shall never forget  following his 
young, tall athletic form as he ascended
 the slopes  of the hill until he fell dead," 
Patterson recalled about 
Lieutenant Alois O. Bachman. 
(Indiana State Library)
Terrific cannonading was now heard to the right and left, while Battery B and other artillery was hurling death into the ranks of gray. Soon an officer from the staff of General [John] Gibbon, commanding the brigade, dashed up and gave the command to advance to the summit of the hill beyond the orchard. Lieutenant Alois O. Bachman, who was a graduate from a military school, had commanded our regiment through the previous campaigns, then pushed himself through our ranks, and drawing his sword, his deep bass voice rang out, "Boys, the command is no longer forward, but now it is follow me." I shall never forget following his young, tall athletic form as he ascended the slopes of the hill until he fell dead, his body pierced by minnie balls shot by the columns of the enemy who lay in mass beyond the brow of the hill.

In trying to climb a second fence, a shell bursted apparently just beneath me hurling me with a mass of broken rails high in the air. The concussion injuries were so paralyzing that all seemed a blank to me for some time, I know not how long. On regaining consciousness I found I could not move my right hand or foot, indicating partial paralysis of the right side from concussion of injury of both. Anyhow, I was afterwards placed on a stretcher and placed in the shade, my head against the brick walls of this farm house with other wounded, some worse than myself.

Decades after the battle, William Tipton shot this image of a section of bullet-riddled fence at Antietam,
perhaps much like the one Robert Patterson was climbing when he was stunned by an artillery burst.
(History of the 124th Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-63)
A boy about my age on my left was moaning piteously and I thought myself lucky when I saw the blood oozing from a bullet wound in his breast with every breath. I tried to encourage him, and when he turned his pallid face toward me I saw he was Andrew Ribble of Company K of our regiment. He could only wisper [sic], "O, Bob, I'll soon be gone." But he lived to get home, and I learn he was accidently killed by the cars while in the employ of the Big Four railway. I thought at that time he could live but a few moments.

"A few solid shots passed
 through the brick walls of the
 house, throwing particles of brick
 and mortar upon the wounded ...,"
Robert Patterson recalled.
A few solid shots passed through the brick walls of the house, throwing particles of brick and mortar upon the wounded as they were being conveyed to more distant points from the battle scenes. While starting back with me, one of the bearers received a shot in his hand, and I was dropped to the ground near what I hoped was a spring house so common in Maryland, as I was suffering from thirst. With my left hand and foot I drew myself over the sill of the door, and instead of finding a flooring near the surface, my maimed body shot downward several feet, striking upon a bed of sawdust. A standing ladder broke my fall and I was more frightened than hurt. It was an ice house.

Many of the wounded stopped at this door, hunting for water. Two Zouaves of the 14th Brooklyn also stopped, and the larger one placed his head against the cheek of the door and was about to step down, as he could not see in the darkened depths. I yelled, and he asked if I was in a well. Informing him it was an ice house, he descended the ladder and with a bayonet began digging up the ice, handing me a piece and throwing some up to his comrade. The ice was very refreshing to me. Fearing the building might be burned from the fuse of bursting shells, I asked my comrade to help me to the surface, when he put me under the arm of his wounded hand and reached the top of the ladder, where I was drawn out by the comrade above. Starting to carry me away, they reached an open field where the cannon and minnie balls came so thick and fast that I asked them to lay me behind a walnut stump, and they disappeared. I saw a black quantity of water in the hollow of the stump, and being almost crazed with thirst I drank of it from my hand and crawled to a fence surrounding a woods pasture.

19th Indiana marker along Hagerstown Pike notes commander Alois O. Bachman "fell mortally wounded
 150 yards due East" and regiment suffered 11 killed and 58 wounded. 
After 19th Indiana Private Robert Patterson was wounded, he was taken to a nearby farmhouse -- 
perhaps David R. Miller's -- where he briefly rested. 
                PANORAMA: David R. Miller farm, where Union wounded were taken.
                                         (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Tearing away a part of a rotten rail, I crawled through the fence and layed down under an oak tree, for I was now very sick, probably caused by the stump water and tadpoles I had drank, and the reaction taking place from my injuries and partial paralysis. But nature asserted itself by ridding my stomach of its vile contents, and I became easier, but with prickly sensations in my right side, indicating returning circulation. I noticed that the sheep in the woods were much frightened at the screeching and bursting shells, and kept running about, while the hogs kept rooting about unless a limb from the trees dropped amongst them.

While laying with my head on the root of this tree a rebel officer mounted on a fine bay horse rode to the brow of a hill in my front, and began to scan the field through his field glasses. This was my first correct idea of the direction of the rebel lines. Fearing he would see and capture me, as I was unarmed, I got up and stood behind a tree. Soon horse and rider dashed in my direction, as I feared to take me prisoner, but he stopped at a tree near the one behind which I stood, and I could have touched the head of his horse while he again looked through his glasses. To my relief, he dashed back and disappeared beyond the hill.

Here I noticed a company of sharpshooters from Pennsylvania deployed as skirmishers advancing across the field from [the] opposite direction. To me they were a gladdening sight, as I understood the notes of command given through the bugle. I pulled myself upon the fence and waved my hat in token of friendship. Their bugle sounded "lay down." When assured I was not an enemy a man was sent to me when he learned of the action of the Confederate major. Learning the direction he went, the skirmisher started double quick down the opposite fence, followed by me, as I could now walk supported by a stick for a cane. I saw him lay his heavy globe-sighted rifle on a fence and fire, In a moment this same horse came dashing back over the hill, without the rider. In a frightened manner he ran about the pasture, and, strange as it may seem, he finally ran directly toward me, when I shielded myself behind a small tree and took hold of his bridle rein. Blood was trinkling down his shoulder from a wound in top of his neck.

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The officer soon approached limpingly, leaning upon a stick. He seemed to think I was the one who had wounded him in the thigh, and raised his hand in token of surrender, saying, "I am your prisoner." I assured him of his safety from further injury as he came up and began patting horse on the neck. He asked why I had shot him in the leg when I could have taken his life. I replied, "There comes the man who can explain," pointing to the skirmisher who was coming near with his still slightly smoking gun. The wounded officer seemed afraid the two Yankees would treat him harshly, but being assured he would be treated as a prisoner should be in civilized warfare, and that I was yet partially disabled, he became more trustful.

The long range sharpshooter explained that the prisoner was sitting with right leg over the horn of his saddle, and that he aimed the bullet to cut the top of the neck of the horse so as to throw the rider and thus make him prisoner without injury, but that it also cut the thigh of the Major. The company of sharpshooters were now on the scene, and their captain tried to determine who captured the horse and man. One thing was certain, I was first in possession of both, though neither one would have come to me without the aid of the sharpshooter. However, the captain decided he could not spare so good a man from his company, and ordered me put in the saddle with the wounded Major behind me to be taken to some general headquarters. I confess I was afraid the stalwart Major might easily kill or capture me in my condition, so the sharpshooter put the prisoner in the saddle, took his revolver from the holster, and led him away, and became the owner of his fine horse as I saw in the papers some time afterwards.

Soon a troop of cavalry came along establishing a picket line, and I was put astride of a horse behind a member of the troop, and was put on one of their reserve posts, where I was tenderly cared for and where I received the first morsel of food I had eaten since the evening before. During the night our picket lines were advanced and I was again taken behind the same cavalry man, and a rough ride I had until we reached a piece of dense woods where I begged him to drop me off his now fractious horse. I lay beside a log all night and became quite chilled by the September breeze.

The morning of the 18th found me near a roadway where I was found and placed in a passing ambulance with others, and all put out at a church house. Here was the most horrifying scene thus far witnessed. Many army surgeons were busy dressing wounds and amputating limbs, and details of men were kept busy wheeling off these dismembered parts and burying them in trenches dug for that purpose.

19th Indians Corporal Joshua Jones died
 Sept. 28, 1862, 11 days after he was wounded 
in the leg at Antietam. He's buried at 
Antietam National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
Almost at my feet was a young soldier of a New York infantry regiment with his lower jaw and most all of his tongue cut away by a piece of shell. He was manifesting every evidence of pain and suffering. The remaining part of his tongue and upper throat was so swollen that ever and anon he or one of his two attending comrades would have to insert a small tube made from an elder bush through which to draw his breath of precious air. So great was his misery that he would earnestly plead by every sign possible with every man having a gun to shoot him and end his agony. I almost concluded it would be an act of humanity to do so, but I am glad it was not done, for, strange as it may seem, after long years of wondering as to his ultimate fate, I found him in Hotel Cadilac at the national encampment in Detroit, Mich., in 1891. He had developed into a tall, healthy and dignified man. I guessed his identity by an appendage in the form of a jaw fitted in the place of the one lost.

I had a couple hours talk with him, he replying on his slate, "Yes, then I had many more years of life before me and would have given a million dollars if I had them to give to have been shot; now I would give that amount to keep from being shot," was one of his notable written sentences, with a semblage of a smile. I accepted his invitation to dinner at the Cadilac, where he kept forty-two of his comrades at his expense. I noticed he took his soups and coffee through silver and glass tubes.

I was glad to be taken from this heroic sufferer to Keedysville, where we were all placed on straw on a barn floor. Here [Corporal] Joshua Jones of my company was brought in on a stretcher. One of his legs was severed, except for a fragment of flesh. Maggots had infested the decaying wound, The surgeons expressed fear that he could not survive the amputation in his extreme weakness, but I saw them remove the limb and he died soon after. I was on the list to be sent to the general hospital at Baltimore, but after being crowded into the ambulance I found I had left my pocket portfolio in the barn, and as it contained the letters and pictures of my mother and the girl I left behind, I went back, and in the long search to find them I missed the ambulance. The surgeon told me to take the next load, but concluded as I had thus far escaped a general hospital, I would try to find my regiment.

"Dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth 
until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church," Robert Patterson recalled about
 the day after the battle.  Here are Confederate fallen along Hagerstown Pike. (Library of Congress)

I presume it was about 8 a.m., when I started. Most of our dead had been buried, and the dead Confederates were being cared for, but their blackened and swollen bodies still dotted the earth until I reached the road leading past a brick Dunkle [Dunker] church where the charred bodies in gray uniform lay side by side along a fence that seemed fully half a mile. I presume most of them were carried there, while many were reclining against the fence or a tree, in which position they were killed on this road of fearful carnage.

Captain George Greene was writing the
"obituary" for Patterson when
the wounded private showed up
at the 19th Indiana camp.
(Indiana State Library)
My march was necessarily slow, with many stops for rest, but I reached the remaining portion of the 19th Indiana encamped on the high banks of the Potomac river before sunset, weak and almost exhausted from my short but dreary march. The few remaining boys of Company E gave me a hearty welcome, as one from the tomb. Captain [George] Green [Greene] sat absent-mindedly writing to my mother, who is yet living, my obituary, paying glorious tribute to my career as a soldier on previous battle fields, and finally bravely meeting death at Antietam by shell that never toched [sic] me, except by concussion.

Captain Green gazed at me in glad bewilderment. It was the first and only time I have ever read my own obituary, and I sincerely hope that I will live out of my remaining earthly life as soldier and citizen that my final obituary may contain as much good as the first.

It was marked, "Rest Without Duty For Thirty Days." Duty soon came with the onward march of the army of the Potomac to further contest of defeats and victories with this great army of treason that might have pushed to annihilation before it could recross the river into Virginia. I have ever been glad that I reached my regiment in time to save that report of my death being sent to the paper at home and to the mother who is still living, and that my own letter reached her instead. I have given only a brief synopsis of the moving scenes that were ever shifting before my gaze. Others saw more and differently, and suffered worse in the battle, and those past and to came, but they are given from my own recollection of the most momentous  scenes of fifty years ago today.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.


-- Kemper, G. W. H. (General William Harrison), A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Chicago, Lewis Publishing Co., 1908.
-- The Life and Times of Robert Patterson," Minnetrista Blogs, accessed Sept. 15, 2019.
-- The Muncie (Ind.) Morning Star, Sept. 18, 1912, Sept. 30, 1916.
-- The Star Press, Muncie, Ind., July 1, 1913.