Saturday, February 13, 2016

A slow, agonizing death for Private George Chamberlain

16th Connecticut Private George Chamberlain suffered from a "wound from the entrance
 of musket ball a little below the bend of the right knee," according to a
Union surgeon's report.  (Chamberlain image Middlesex County Historical Society)

Adapted from my book, Connecticut Yankees at Antietam. E-mail me for information on how to purchase an autographed copy. Click here for the Faces of the Civil War thread on my blog.

After he sliced open George F. Chamberlain’s shot-up right knee on Oct. 17, 1862, Surgeon Edward McDonnell drained more than a pint of pus from the 18-year-old soldier’s wound. His patient was “very nervous,” the surgeon noticed, undoubtedly because the Rebel bullet in his leg still had not been removed a month after the Battle of Antietam.

A private in Company G of the 16th Connecticut, Chamberlain at least could count on the comfort of his mother, who traveled from Middletown, Conn., and remained by her son’s side in Maryland hospitals for six months while he recuperated. George was quite close to Mary Ann Chamberlain, a single mother who had struggled to rear her only son and three daughters ever since her husband, Ezra, a leader in the Adventist movement, had died in 1855. Before the Civil War, George worked as a clerk in Middletown and on a farm, giving his earnings to mother, who supplemented the family’s meager household income by teaching children at her small house.   When he enlisted in the Union army on Aug. 9, 1862, George, who stood 5-11 and had long brown hair, brown eyes and a light complexion, had to receive Mary Ann’s written consent.

When McDonnell first examined Chamberlain after he was admitted to the German Reformed Church hospital on Main Street in Sharpsburg on Oct. 6, he noticed a bullet wound slightly below the bend of the right knee. Apparently lodged in a spongy part of the tibia, the bullet caused a great deal of inflammation and required Chamberlain to keep his leg very still and flexed at a right angle to avoid excruciating pain. McDonnell prescribed cold and hot cloth treatments for the swollen knee and applied wet oakum, a surgical dressing made of rope, to absorb blood, pus and other fluids that drained from the wound.   Amputation -- the bane of almost every wounded soldier -- apparently was not an option, but Chamberlain’s health seemed to teeter on the brink.

          A panoramic view of Otto's cornfield, where George Chamberlain was wounded.

“He was some of the time in danger of losing his life from fever and septic accidents,” recalled Truman Squire, a surgeon in the 89th New York, who also treated soldiers at the Reformed Church.

As Chamberlain recuperated, 16th Connecticut Pvt. Jacob Bauer of Berlin tried to cheer his friend, giving him his watch “to amuse him” and perhaps to take back home when he was well. But by November, Chamberlain still was not healthy enough to go home. While Mary Ann helped care for her son, they witnessed the death of another Connecticut soldier. On Nov. 16, 16th Connecticut Pvt. Horace Lay of Hartford, who had suffered serious bullet wounds in both legs, died with his wife by his side at the Reformed Church.

On April 1, 1863, nearly six months after he was wounded at Antietam, Chamberlain finally was discharged from the army and sent back to Middletown under the care of his mother. But the young soldier was never the same after he was shot in farmer John Otto’s 40-acre cornfield. George was “emaciated and very weak” because of his war wound, remembered a Middletown doctor who treated him for free because the Chamberlains couldn’t afford to pay. “He had a cough which he attributed to a cold contracted in the hospital,” recalled Dr. Rufus Baker, who noted that Chamberlain also suffered from a slight hemorrhaging of the lung.  Gainful employment was out of the question for a young man who needed crutches or a cane to walk.

Desperate to get better, Chamberlain traveled to Ohio, where he lived in a boarding house and with relatives. While there, he was persuaded to try electric bath treatments at a facility on Prospect Street in Cleveland. Although of dubious value, ill and infirm people sought such treatments, which employed electricity of very low voltage generated by friction devices.

The Union army used the German Reformed Church in Sharpsburg, Md., as a hospital after Antietam.

     Where Chamberlain was treated: Inside the old German Reformed Church hospital.

“I am still here and shall remain for a while,” he wrote his mother on March 12, 1864, “long enough to give it a fair chance.”

 Initially, Chamberlain was optimistic his health would improve.

 “I think he is the nearest right of any physician that I have employed,” Chamberlain wrote his mother about an Ohio doctor in late winter 1864. “He says also that from my throat to my stomach is one complete mass of ulcers and that it is like raw meat. … I am convinced that the greatest trouble is in my stomach. I am greatly troubled to keep food down at all.”  Unable to work, Chamberlain worried about how he was going to pay for his room and board and bath treatments, which cost $1.50 each.

16th Connecticut monument at Antietam.
Extremely concerned about her son, Mary Ann Chamberlain offered encouragement. “Do try to be careful of your health,” she wrote George on June 16, 1864. “Go to bed early at night. Keep good company and above all make up your mind to serve God.”

But Chamberlain’s health was no better by the spring of 1865. “Sometimes I think the baths help me,” he wrote Mary Ann Chamberlain on March 16, “and then I get discouraged and think they don’t."
By late spring 1865, Chamberlain took a turn for the worse. The electric bath treatments provided no benefit. Coughing attacks continued. On May 11, 1865 -- 958 days after he was shot in the right knee in a cornfield at Antietam and a little more than a month after Lee had surrendered to Grant -- George Chamberlain died at the home of a relative in Stow Township, Ohio. He was 21 years old. The cause of death, according to a doctor, was the battlefield wound and “attendant constitutional injuries.”


Squires, T. and McDonnell, E; Surgeons Reports, File A, Box 15, Records of Adjutant Generals Office, Record Group 94; Nationals Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

George Chamberlain and Horace Lay pension records, National Archives and Records Service, Washington

Pvt. Jacob Bauer letter to his wife, Oct. 2, 1862, Copy in Antietam National Battlefield library

Monday, February 08, 2016

Then & Now: Where Lincoln assassination conspirators met

In 1864-65, John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts allegedly cooked up plots at this Washington house to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Today, the old boarding house once owned by Booth confidant Mary Surratt is used for another kind of cooking -- it's an Asian restaurant called Wok & Roll that serves General Tso's bean curd for $7.75, Eight Treasure Clay Pot for $14.95, Mai Tais for $7.50 and large glasses of warm sake for $9.50. (Here's their full menu. Happy hours are weekdays from 5 p.m.-8 p.m.)

Mary Surratt
The exterior of the 3 1/2-story building at 604 H Street NW has been altered since the 19th century. What was a doorway 151 years ago is now a second-floor window and a first-floor window is now an entrance. Of course, Mrs. Surratt probably wouldn't recognize the interior, which features a karaoke lounge with a  touch-screen search monitor that can play more than 150,000 songs. Wi-Fi, unavailable during the Civil War, is offered gratis.

Despite her family's hope that she be spared by President Andrew Johnson, 42-year-old Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865, for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Surratt's boarding house, Johnson famously said, was "the nest in which the egg was hatched." She became the first woman executed by the U.S. government.

"Woman as she was, she knew her business well; sick as she was, she had strength sufficient for her fearful purpose, and stern as the sentence was, its justice was absolute, its execution certain," the New York Times reported the day after Surratt was hanged. "We have heard many express the desire that the woman's life might be spared and its weary hours passed in the quiet of the prison, but no one who knew the President and his unmoveable nature supposed for an instant that the sentence would be changed in jot or tittle."

(For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.)

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Exploring photo of soldiers' graves at Rebel prison in Richmond

A graveyard for Federal POWs on Belle Isle in the James River.
(Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress collection)
An enlargement of the background of the original image reveals heaps of dirt and headboards.
On April 8, 1865, days after the fall of Richmond, Alexander Gardner captured scenes on Belle Isle, a 54-acre island in the James River opposite the former Rebel capital, where thousands of Union soldiers were imprisoned from 1862-65. Among the images Gardner shot was the poignant photograph at the top of this post of a graveyard for Union soldiers, many of whom died of disease, starvation or other inhumane treatment on the island that was home to nearly 10,000 prisoners of war at its maximum capacity. In the image, heaps of earth and crude, wooden headboards mark the final resting places of dozens of soldiers.

Belle Isle POWs lived in tents or without any shelter at all because there were no barracks or other buildings to house them. Sanitary conditions were equally primitive, according to 39th Massachusetts Corporal Thomas Bean, who survived imprisonment at Belle Isle in 1864 and described the brutal conditions there in a post-war letter:
"The water in the river at this time was about two feet deep. This was the privy, as also the only place where we were allowed to get any water, to either drink or wash with...the river was full of filth from houses and mills of the men from my Regt got crowded off into the ditch and the guard shot him dead....About the fourth week of our stay here, the sick men were taken out and sent down the river and man that was able to fight, was allowed to go, for they could destroy them here faster than they could in the field." 

An enlargement of the original, glass-plate image, reveals remarkable details. Easily seen in the background is the Virginia State Capitol building, which served as home for the Congress of the Confederate States of America and where Robert E. Lee assumed command of the state's forces on April 23, 1861. Near the Capitol Building appear the spires of two churches as well a portion of the "Burnt District," skeletons of buildings that were destroyed when a fire set by retreating Rebels blazed out of control. ...

... and then there is this hauntingly sad scene, a cropped enlargement of the original image, and probably Gardner's prime subject: a man with his head in his hand, kneeling at a soldier's grave. Does he mourn for a comrade ... or a close friend ... or his brother? Cynically, I wonder if Gardner, who was not above staging photographs, posed the "mourning" man. (See these Gettysburg images.)

Even upon enlargement of the high-resolution TIFF image available on the Library of Congress web site, the names on most of the graves are tantalizingly out of focus. An examination of the original glass negative at the Library of Congress in Washington might be more revealing.

Gravestones of John Burns, William Hoffman and P. Wolf at Richmond National Cemetery.
A cropped enlargement (above) of the foreground of the original image is especially interesting and revealing. From left, the last names on the headboards are Burns, Hoffman and Wolf. Cursory research indicates these soldiers are most likely 1st Kentucky Private John Burns, 11th New Jersey Private William Hoffman and 1st Tennessee Private P. Wolf. Hoffman died of scurvy and diarrhea at Belle Isle in the spring of 1864, and Burns succumbed because of starvation and inflammation of the lungs in late winter of the same year; Wolf, whose first name is unknown, died of unknown causes on Jan. 5, 1864.

After the war, soldiers buried at Belle Isle were disinterred and re-buried at Richmond National Cemetery, about three miles east of the city. Marked by pearl-white, government-issued tombstones, the remains of Burns, Hoffman and Wolf are buried there today. Unfortunately, the remains of the majority of  Union soldiers re-buried at the national cemetery are unknown, despite the efforts of comrades such as Briscoe Goodheart, who noted in the Nov. 10, 1892, edition of  The National Tribune, a Union veterans newspaper:
"When a prisoner would die we would always give his name, company, and regiment to the Confederates, who would write it out on a piece of paper and pin or stick it in a buttonhole, or lay it on the body, but when as many as 200 at a time would lay out in the rain and snow for two weeks, before burial, nearly all the names would be blown away or lost. Hence so many unknown."

Of the three identified Belle Isle graves, information was most readily available on Burns, who was unmarried and in his late teens or early 20s in 1864. On July 8, 1861, John enlisted as a private in the 1st Kentucky Volunteers, a three-year regiment, at Camp Dennison, Ohio. Mainly comprised of men from the Buckeye State, the regiment saw hard fighting on April 9, 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh, where John apparently escaped unscathed physically.

Shortly after his death, his mother filed for a "widow's" pension. Documents from that file are in the National Archives in Washington, and digitized versions are available on An enlargement of Burns' headboard image (above) shows a date of death -- Feb. 5, 1864 -- that matches the death date in an affidavit (second image above) from David Jones, the captain of the dead private's Company D in the 1st Kentucky. Burns, Jones noted, "was captured while on duty during a skirmish near Graysville, Ga.," on Sept. 10, 1863, during the Chickamauga Campaign and sent to Belle Isle.

Other documents found in Burns' pension file reveal more details about John's short life. His 44-year-old mother, an Irish immigrant named Mary, filed for the pension on March 23, 1864. The claim document (above) includes her age (1), cause of her son's death (2), date she was married in Ireland (3) and address where she lived in Cincinnati (4). One can only imagine the thoughts that went through the grieving mother's mind when she signed the bottom of the document (5), perhaps by merely writing an "X."

In poor health when her son joined the army, Mary was "wholly" dependent on John, who regularly sent home to Cincinnati his army wages for her rent payments and other support. She had been a widow since July 1859, when her husband James died. After John was captured, Mary's rent went unpaid "for awhile," according to an acquaintance, and she received aid from a fund that helped the families of soldiers. Mrs. Burns had "three or four children," but they were too small to help her much after John's death.

A private in the 7th Ohio Cavalry, Martin Hegney was imprisoned at Belle Isle with Burns, with whom he was "well-acquainted." According this Hegney affidavit dated Aug. 2, 1865, Burns died from "exposure to the weather and from starvation." Hegney assisted in carrying Burns to his temporary resting place at Belle Isle, where his name appeared on a wooden headboard photographed 14 months later by Alexander Gardner, the renowned Civil War photographer.

Shortly after Mary Burns' pension claim was filed by her attorney, Horatio King, it was approved. The widow initially received $8 a month from the government, a pittance for the sacrifice she and her son made for their country.

No image of John Burns is known to exist.

Have more information on this image or the soldiers in this post? E-mail me here.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Then & Now: Where Lee accepted command in Richmond

When the Rebels evacuated Richmond in early April 1865, fires deliberately set in the warehouse district to keep supplies out of Union hands raged out of control. Many structures were destroyed near the Virginia State Capitol building (see here, here and here), which thankfully survived and became a prime subject for Northern photographers.

The building has a rich history. Completed about 1792, it was designed by Thomas Jefferson and after Richmond became the Rebel capital on May 30, 1861, it became home for the Congress of the Confederate States of America. It was also here that on April 23, 1861, Robert E. Lee accepted command of the state forces of Virginia. (He took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862.)

An enlargement of the original "Then" image,  probably taken in the spring of 1865, reveals a man in a top hat who appears to be famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, an indication one of his men, probably E.G. Fowx, created the photo. Brady also apparently appears in an enlargement of this Richmond image of Jefferson Davis' executive mansion, the White House of the Confederacy. Another enlargement of the 1865 State Capitol building image reveals Union soldiers on the portico and several broken window panes, perhaps the work of vandals who took advantage of the chaos after the Rebel government abandoned the city.

A cropped version of this Google Street View shot, the "Now" image shows the State Capitol building looks much as it did during the Civil War. For all my Then & Now images, created using the excellent Juxtapose tool, click here.

An enlargement of the original image. Is that famed Civil War photographer
Mathew Brady in the top hat?
Another enlargement reveals Union soldiers on the portico and what appears to be
a broken window pane, one of several that may observed (below).

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Then & Now: Old Market Hall in Charleston, S.C.

In December 1861, many buildings in Charleston, S.C., were destroyed in a fire and beginning in late 1863, the historic city suffered periodic shelling from Union artillery, causing further destruction. Among the buildings to survive were City Hall and Market Hall at 188 Meeting Street, both subjects in April 1865 of Connecticut-born photographer George Barnard.

Beginning in the 1790s, this four-block area in Charleston was known for its markets -- area farmers would sell their crops and other goods here. Using stone from as far away as Italy, New York and Connecticut, the Greek Revival-style Market Hall was completed in 1841 to replace another building that had been destroyed by fire. The one-story sheds, which can be seen at the extreme right of the Then & Now images, stretched to near the harbor water front and were rented out for a dollar or two a day to meat, vegetable and fish vendors. Scraps of food tossed into the street were snatched up by buzzards, which became known as Charleston Eagles.

During the war, local men and boys joined the Confederate army at Market Hall, and in 1899, a Confederate museum that includes artifacts from area soldiers was established here. Today, many of those artifacts may be seen on the second floor, which houses the United Daughters of the Confederacy Museum. The Market Hall area remains popular for shopping and more..

Taken during the Civil War, the "Then" image is available in jpg and TIF formats on the Library of Congress web site. The "Now" image, a cropped version of a Google Street View shot, nearly duplicates Barnard's view. (For all Then & Now images on my blog, go here.)

I was curious if an enlargement of the original image would reveal cool details, For grins, here's what I found:

Two people, blurred in Barnard's image, a horse and the ornate iron railing in front of Market Hall.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

'Everyone feels sad': Connecticut captain died in freak accident

 20th Connecticut Captain Henry C. Smith.  (Connecticut State Library)
Bundled up during a blizzard, Henry Smith was oblivious to the danger as he walked down a path near the camp of the 20th Connecticut in Stafford Courthouse, Va., on Jan. 28, 1863. In the process of cutting down a tree, soldiers in the regiment tried to alert the 20th Connecticut captain, but they were too late. As the tree tumbled to the ground, a heavy limb struck the 25-year-old officer from Hartford squarely in the chin, breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

Smith’s demise made an already gloomy day “much more gloomy,” according to another soldier in the regiment. “Not one hour before he was talking with the Boys,” Corp. Albert Platts recalled, “and now he is gone. He was beloved by all. Everyone feels sad.”

“... The best and only tribute which his fellow officers could now pay,” Lt. Col Philo Buckingham wrote, “was to gather up his remains and forward them to his sorrow-stricken wife … that he might be buried among friends, and not in the land of the stranger." An assistant foreman at Neptune Engine Co. No. 2 in Hartford, Smith also was survived by a one-year-old son.

At Smith’s funeral service at Hartford’s St. Paul Church on Feb. 3, 1863, the main aisle was reserved for mourners and firemen. After the service, the officer’s sword and photograph were taken from atop the coffin and the lid was removed so firemen and other friends could get one last look at Smith. “The mark of the death blow was plainly visible upon the face of the deceased,” the Hartford Courant reported the next day. “Otherwise it looked quite natural.”

A close-up of the engraving on Smith's sword, which,  according to family lore, was bent
 along with the scabbard by the falling limb that killed the captain.
(Courtesy of Smith descendant)


20th Corp. Albert Platts letter to parents, January 31, 1863, The Totoket Historical Society, Branford, Conn.

Storrs, John Whiting, The Twentieth Connecticut, A Regiment History. Ansonia, CT: Press of the Naugatuck Valley Sentinel, 1888, Page 278

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Then & Now: Where slaves were sold in Alexandria, Va.

When I visited Alexandria, Va., last spring, I walked up and down Duke Street several times, not once stopping to read the black-and-white historical sign standing in front of a nondescript, three-story brick building. Cursory research about the site since then reveals a rich, and shameful, history.

For more than three decades before the Civil War, owners of the business at 1315 Duke Street sold precious "goods": human beings. Beginning in 1828, Franklin and John Armfield operated the most prosperous slave-trading operation in the country from the building, imprisoning blacks in holding pens and auctioning them to owners in the Deep South. Before the outbreak of the war, the business had transferred to new owners, who had their company's name and their ugly trade -- "Dealers in Slaves" -- painted on the front of the building below the second floor

When Union soldiers occupied Alexandria a little more than a month after the Civil War began, they found the Price, Birch & Co. business abandoned, thankfully closed forever. During the war, the Federal army used the building as a jail for Rebel prisoners and Union soldiers. Significantly renovated since then, the building ironically has been headquarters since 1996 for the Northern Virginia Urban League and home of a museum that tells the sad tale of slavery in the United States.

Taken during the Civil War, the "Then" image is available in jpg and TIF formats on the Library of Congress web site. The "Now" image, taken from a slightly different vantage point, is a cropped version of a Google Street View shot. For all Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

An enlargement of the original image clearly shows the sign below the second floor ...
... while in this enlargement, six Union soldiers stare intently at the camera...
... and in another enlargement of the original image, four Yankees stand at attention.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Then & Now: 'Washington's headquarters' in ruined Richmond

After the fall of Richmond in early April 1865, photographers fanned across the city abandoned by the Rebel government, shooting images of ruins in the "Burnt District"  as well as such notable landmarks as Libby Prison, Jefferson Davis' executive mansion on East Clay Street and Robert E. Lee's house on East Franklin Street. Mathew Brady, of course, scored the biggest coup when he arranged to shoot photographs of Lee on his back porch -- images that are among the more iconic of the war.

Among the lesser-known photographs shot after the Confederate capital's fall is an image by an unknown photographer of a circa-1740 stone house on East Main Street, a short distance from the James River. The site undoubtedly proved enticing because, according to local lore, the modest, little house once served as George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. (Per the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, which has been housed in the building since 1922, the Washington story is false.)

Perhaps of secondary importance for the photographer were the eight young children -- seven boys and a girl -- who gathered in front of the two-story building with the wooden shed attached. Enlargements of the original image reveal compelling details: three barefoot youngsters, two seated boys wearing what appear to be Rebel kepis and another boy in a tree. Who were the children? Were they homeless? Orphans? Sadly, their names apparently are lost to history. (Update: A blog reader speculates the children may have been part of a Richmond street gang.)

Digital versions of the "Then" image, taken in April 1865, are available on the excellent Library of Congress web site; the present-day photo is a cropped Google Street View shot taken in July 2015. For all the Then & Now images on my blog, click here.

An enlargement of the original 1865 image shows six young children in front of the house...
... while another enlargement reveals a young girl and a boy in a tree.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Then & Now: Jefferson Davis' mansion in conquered Richmond

Two words describe my first and only trip to the White House of the Confederacy: bewildering and frustrating. After I made my way to downtown Richmond, it took me at least an hour to find Jefferson Davis' three-story executive mansion in the tangled jumble of buildings and traffic in the former Rebel capital. Things sure were a lot different in 1984 B.G. (Before Google Maps) President Lincoln, the Union army and Northern photographers must have had a much easier time after Richmond fell in April 1865.

After he arrived in Richmond about 2 p.m. on April 4, Lincoln and his son Tad "proceeded at once," The New York Times reported, to Davis' mansion on East Clay Street. It was an especially eventful day for the president's son, who was celebrating his 12th birthday. Davis, of course, was nowhere to be found, having fled the city days earlier. Lincoln only toured the first floor because he thought it was improper to visit the second floor of another man's home. After he entered Davis' office, the president settled into one his adversary's easy chairs. "It was a supreme moment," a witness to the historic event recalled. (Hat tip: Kevin Morrow's post on The New York Times' Disunion page.)

Interestingly, when Union General Edward Ord posed for a photo with his wife and daughter at Davis' mansion that April, the table on which Robert E. Lee signed the terms of surrender days earlier appeared in the background.

To create the Then & Now image, I used a photograph shot after Richmond's fall by E.G. Fowx, who was employed by Mathew Brady, and a cropped Google Street View image from August 2014. An enlargement of the "Then" image includes interesting details: a Union soldier standing guard at the home of the former Rebel leader and perhaps Brady himself next to him.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.
At least one Union soldier stood guard at Jefferson Davis' mansion in Richmond in the
 spring of 1865. Is that famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady beside him?
This is an enlargement of the image at the top of this post. 
Union General Edward Ord, his wife and child posed for a photo at Jefferson Davis' Richmond
 residence in April 1865, after the fall of the city.  (Library of Congress)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Then & Now: A damaged house in war-torn Fredericksburg

Few buildings escaped some level of destruction in war-torn Fredericksburg, Va. Union artillery bombarded the town in December 1862, causing significant damage, and Yankees later ran amok, pillaging houses and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Fanny White, who lived on Charles Street, described the devasation wrought by the Union army after it retreated on Dec. 15, 1862.
"What a scene met our eyes! Our pretty garden was strewn with cannon balls and pieces of broken shells, limbs knocked off the trees, and the grape arbor a perfect wreck. The house had been damaged considerably; several large holes were torn through it, both front and back. One [of our] rooms was piled more than halfway to the ceiling with feathers from beds ripped open, every mirror had been run through with a bayonet, a panel of each door cut out, furniture nearly all broken up, the china broken to bits, and everything of value taken away…"
For a visual example, see the left image at the top of this post, an enlargement of a photograph taken in May 1864 by James Gardner. The house at 136 Caroline Street suffered significant damage, presumably during fighting in December 1862. Another enlargement of the image (below) shows two Yankee soldiers on the roof of the porch while another man, probably another soldier, peers from a large window that appears to be missing several panes.

The Caroline Street house, for sale during my April 2014 visit to Fredericksburg, also includes other evidence the Federal army long ago passed through: soldiers' graffiti. As the excellent Mysteries & Conundrums blog notes, there are plenty of other such examples in houses, churches and other buildings throughout the Fredericksburg area. See here, here and here.

For more Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

An enlargement of James Gardner's May 1864 image shows two Yankee soldiers on the porch 
roof while another man, presumably another soldier, peers through a second-floor window. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Then & Now: Charleston (S.C.) City Hall survives destruction

Beginning in late 1863, Union artillery pounded Charleston, S.C., destroying chunks of the historic port city that had survived a massive fire in December 1861. After the capture of Charleston shortly before the war ended, Connecticut-born photographer George Barnard shot images of ruins as well as photographs of the grand architecture that remained. By the end of the war, the 45-year-old photographer was a veteran of the conflict -- he had shot images throughout Virginia as well as with Sherman's army in Tennessee and during its capture of Atlanta and its infamous March To The Sea.

Among Barnard's subject matter in Charleston in April 1865 was City Hall at 80 Broad Street, a short distance from the harbor and Fort Sumter, where the death and destruction started four years earlier. As Barnard trained his bulky, glass-plate camera on the beautiful, early 19th-century building, Union soldiers gathered on the portico and on a bench near steps leading to the entrance. Bricks were missing near a window, perhaps evidence of Yankee shellfire striking the building that remains a landmark today.

The present-day photo comes from a Google Street View camera shooting from a position almost identical to Barnard's Civil War spot. Per usual, I used the excellent, free Juxtapose tool for the Then & Now comparison. For all the Civil War Then & Now images on my blog, click here.

In an enlargement of Barnard's image of Charleston City Hall, Union soldiers gather on the portico
and in front of the beautiful building. Note the missing bricks near the window at left, 
perhaps evidence of a Union artillery hit.
A Civil War-era stereoview of  Charleston City Hall, which survived destruction.
(Library of Congress)

Then & Now: Robert E. Lee's wartime house in Richmond

Another view of Robert E. Lee's house on 707 East Franklin Street in Richmond. This image
was taken in April 1865 by an unknown photographer. (Library of Congress)
This iconic image of Robert E. Lee was taken on the back 
porch of the general's house in Richmond 
by Mathew Brady on April 20, 1865.
(Library of Congress)
After the fall of Richmond to the Union army in early April 1865, the house of the defeated leader of the Rebel army became a destination for the conquerors. A Yankee soldier may have even defaced Robert E. Lee's house at 707 East Franklin Street with the word "Devil," which can be seen in an enlargement of the famous image of the general taken on his back porch by Mathew Brady on April 20, 1865.  (For an account of Brady's photographs of Lee in Richmond, click here. Check out the excellent Center for Civil War Photography site for a story on the 2006 discovery of graffiti on the Lee house.)

After they were forced to flee their confiscated mansion in Arlington, Va., the Lees briefly rented this three-story, red-brick house that was built in 1844. As the Then & Now images show, the area surrounding the Lees' former house has changed greatly since the Civil War. (Check out the man, probably a soldier, in the far right of the 1865 image.) Taken from a slightly different angle than the original, the present-day photograph is a cropped version of a Google Street View image. The excellent, easy-to-use Juxtapose tool makes the cool comparison possible.

For more Then & Now Civil War images on my blog, go here.

An enlargement of the famous Lee image taken in Richmond reveals the word "Devil," perhaps
the work of a mischievous Union soldier, scrawled on the brick.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pests, disease, death in Deep South for 12th Connecticut private

12th Connecticut Private Howard Hale sent money home from New Orleans in this envelope 
discovered in the soldier's pension file in the National Archives in Washington.
During a research trip to the National Archives in Washington last year, I requested the pension file for Howard Hale, a 19-year-old private who served in the Deep South with the 12th Connecticut. After I signed out the set of documents, I quickly returned to my desk and eagerly opened the thick, brown folder. The story of the young soldier's life poured onto the research desk. The file included legal documents and an Adams Express Co. envelope that once contained $35 -- money meant for his father, David, back home in Connecticut. And, most importantly, there were letters Howard wrote during the war to his family in Collinsville, Conn., a manufacturing village along the Farmington River. Hale's father prized news from his son during the war, so the fact the precious letters somehow survived more than 150 years isn't surprising. Included among them was one from David Hale himself -- a letter that sadly proved prophetic.
Howard Hale's name appears on a plaque on a Civil War
 monument  in Collinsville, Conn., that honors area soldiers
 whose bodies are believed buried in unknown graves
in the South.  Close-up of plaque below. For more on my blog

 on the monument,  click here and here.

Adapted from my latest book, Hidden History of Connecticut Union Soldiers.

While camped near steamy New Orleans with his 12th Connecticut comrades, teenager Howard Hale delighted in writing long letters to his father, who lived 1,500 miles away in Collinsville and missed his oldest son desperately.

An engaging writer and highly literate, Howard wrote sarcastically about “our beloved [Pvt. Marcus] Edgerton,” the “man with one lung, who has done no duty since leaving Hartford” and was due to be discharged.  In another letter, he wrote how pleased he would be if older sister Anna could make a frame for his photograph out of the sea shells he picked out of the sand “one awful hot day” at Ship Island, the desolate barrier island off the coast of Mississippi where the 12th Connecticut was stationed in early spring of 1862.

Striking a serious tone, he also worried whether the army would “make something of me” during his three-year enlistment.  “I very often wonder what I was ever destined for,” the teenager wrote to his father, David, on August, 19, 1862, “and whether I am ever going to be good for anything or not. I get so overly discouraged a … great many times. You must write me a good cheering fatherly letter, and advise me in my troubles of mind, not of the body.”

And Howard Hale also wrote about pests.

For soldiers from Connecticut, the Deep South was a strange, and often exotic, place.  After operations in Mississippi along the Mississippi River, the 12th Connecticut on May 1, 1862, became the first Union regiment to occupy New Orleans, camping its first night in the city in Lafayette Square. The regiment was later based at Camp Parapet, a former Rebel fortification about 10 miles upriver from the city. Especially during the wretched summer months, insects and other pests made life more miserable there than the Rebels, who never counter-attacked the fort after the Yankees assumed command and expanded it.

Howard and his friend, John Phelps, a sergeant from Simsbury who liked to swear, built a bed a foot and a half high over which they spread mosquito netting. It allowed the soldiers, Hale wrote, to “safely bid defiance to the bloody-thirsty wretches, whom we can hear buzzing outside, as if in rage.”

Flies were “thick enough in all conscience,” the private noted, and red ants, as “thick as were some of Pharaoh’s pests,” would get into anything eatable -- even soap, which they would eat all the inside out into fine crumbs. “Then if you dare dispute ownership with them,” Hale wrote, “they invade your person and bite like the d-----d!” Lizards would often drop from trees onto soldiers, startling them before the little reptiles dropped to the ground. “Hadn’t I better try to bottle one up in spirit to take home?” the young soldier wondered. “I believe I could do it.” Camp Parapet even exhibited three alligators -- one that was “six or eight feet long.”

The conclusion of one of Howard Hale's Civil War letters to his father.
A bigger worry, of course, was disease. In June 1862, Hale’s friend Phelps ate “anything and everything” although he had a bad case of diarrhea, which along with malaria often crippled the regiment.   “He’ll have to reform his ways,” Hale wrote in a letter home about Phelps, “or he’ll take his ‘six feet by two’ in the ‘Louisiana Lowlands’.”  Joseph Toy, the 12th Connecticut’s captain, had been sick since the regiment’s stay on Ship Island, wracked with the fever. He later died and his body was shipped back home to Sims-bury strapped to a chair placed in a cask of liquor to preserve his remains. In mid-September 1862, Hale was given a “delicious does of castor oil” for his own bad case of diarrhea and later was prescribed quinine and even morphine, which he figured would make him sleepy.

In 1862, the 12th Connecticut bounced from bayous to sugar cane fields, destroying railroad bridges, hunting bushwhackers and destroying  Rebel camps. Writing that September that he was hopeful that he could be home at the expiration of his three-year enlistment in November 1864, Hale noted: “I won’t ‘crow before I am out of the woods,’ though.”  On October 27, 1862, the regiment saw its first fight, dislodging Rebels led by Gen. Dick Taylor, the son of former President Zachary Taylor, at Georgia Landing, near the La Fourche Bayou, about 60 miles upriver from New Orleans. In January 1863, the regiment helped destroy the Rebel gunboat “Cotton” on the Teche River.

On  Feb. 12, 1863, David Hale encouraged his son to preserve his 1862 diary and
  other keepsakes: "Soon you may be sick or killed."

(National Archives)
Worried about his son, David Hale urged him to preserve his 1862 diary -- “I should prize it highly,” he wrote on February 12, 1863 -- and all the letters he received from home. “You may sometime be called suddenly to move and lose or leave some of your things, which you would like to preserve,” Howard’s  fifty-one-year-old father noted. “If you and your comrades have things which you would like to send to your friends, I wish you would now or very soon  get together such things as you would like to send.

“… Talk the matter up now, do it at once,” David Hale emphasized. “Soon you may be sick or killed, and all will be lost. Act now.”

On April 9, 1863, a large force of Yankees that included the 12th Connecticut crossed Berwick Bay to attack the Rebels behind entrenchments at Centerville, in western Louisiana.  Four days later, the Federals led by Gen. Nathaniel Banks attempted to cut off  Taylor’s army near Brashear, Louisiana, at Fort Bisland, an unfinished, earthwork fortification with a ditch that “scarcely offered an obstacle to the advance of an army.” Sometime during the fighting, Howard Hale was shot in the abdomen. He died nearby two days later. His final resting place is unknown.


Howard Hale pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington
--Hale letters home, June 15, 1862, August 19, 1862, September 11, 1862.
--David Hale letter to Howard Hale, February 12, 1863.

New York Times, April 22, 1863.

The first page of Howard Hale's letter home from Camp Parapet, near New Orleans, 
on June 15, 1862. "I joyfully take the present time to write and let you know how I
 am progressing," he wrote.
(National Archives)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Then & Now: Connecticut Civil War memorial dedication shots

The dedication of a Civil War monument was a very big deal in the Canton, Conn., village of Collinsville on Memorial Day 1903. Thousands of people, many dressed in their Sunday best, gathered for speeches at the large, white-washed Congregational Church impressively decorated with massive, patriotic bunting. Afterward, the crowd that included many Civil War veterans walked a short distance up a steep hill for the dedication of a monument to honor 39 area Union soldiers whose bodies were believed to be buried in unknown graves in the South.

An unknown photographer captured the scene that day, taking images at the church and cemetery as well as a photo of the flag-draped memorial before it was unveiled. On a frigid Monday afternoon, I aimed to replicate the long-ago photographer's work, shooting images with an iPhone 6 instead of a cumbersome glass-plate camera. The 1903 shooter probably shot the cemetery crowd image (bottom) from the second floor of the house across the street or from another elevated position, so I was unable to duplicate that effort.

Be sure to check out my other Then & Now Civil War images, also created using the excellent, free Juxtapose tool.

(Note: The glass-plate images are courtesy of Clifford T. Alderman. Images were scanned by Peg Giles.)

Antietam: Two old soldiers meet FDR at 75th commemoration

FDR greets Union veteran Bazel Lemley, 95,  while Rebel vet Robert Miles, 97, laughs during
a commemoration event at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1937. This image was published
 in many newspapers the next day. The age for Lemley, whose first name was also
spelled Basil, as well as the age for Miles are incorrect in the caption.
On Sept. 17, 1937, 75 years after the Battle of Antietam, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke at a commemoration ceremony at the battlefield. Among the crowd were "approximately fifty" Civil War veterans, the Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald reported the next day, including at least two who fought at Antietam: Bazel Lemley, 95, and Robert Miles, 97.

"The bitterness of 75 years ago has disappeared and frequently men who fought for the South were
seen arm in arm with soldiers of the North," the Morning Herald reported. "Eagerly the old soldiers, all past four score, and ten, watched the re-enactment of the Bloody Lane phase of the Battle of Antietam over the ground which many of them had traveled as young warriors three-quarters of a century ago. It was a day of pleasure for these aged men and after the program was concluded many expressed themselves as delighted with their visit here."

A sergeant in the 57th Virginia, Miles was struck in the hand and foot by shell fragments at Antietam and lay wounded on the field for hours until he was able to crawl to the safety of his own lines. he claimed that he served later in the war as a dispatcher for Robert E. Lee, whom he said greeted soldiers each morning with, "Good morning, boys." By the end of the Rebellion, Miles had been promoted to captain.

Newspaper coverage of Robert Miles' 101st birthday.
After the war, Miles returned to his Virginia farm in Franklin County, where he and his wife raised 10 children. The old soldier's advice for a good life was simple: "When you start through this world," he told a local newspaper, "commence laughing. Then never quit." When he turned 100, Miles received a letter marking the occasion from FDR, who noted the milestone was "a privilege not vouchsafed to many." The note was one of the former Rebel's most treasured possessions.

Born in Pig River, Va., on Dec. 8, 1839, Miles died in Shawsville, Va., in 1942, two days shy of his 103rd birthday and was buried in his Confederate uniform.

Lemley was 19 when he enlisted in the 37th Pennsylvania as a private on May 15, 1861. He survived Antietam, but was slightly wounded at the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. According to a descendant, Miles was "quite a celebrity around his home" and was quite active up until his death.

Like Miles, Lemley also lived to see his 100th birthday, and even after he reached triple digits, he often walked two miles a day, according to a newspaper account. "He was consistently Greene County's best-dressed senior," another Pennsylvania newspaper noted. On Feb. 18, 1943, eight days after he celebrated his 101st birthday, Lemley died in Mount Morris, Pa. World War I veterans served as pallbearers at his funeral.

"Mr. Lemley was a staunch Republican and among his fondest memories was shaking hands with President Lincoln at a military review and with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the dedication of the 'Eternal Light' memorial at Gettysburg," according to his obituary in the Waynesburg (Pa.) Democrat Messenger.

Robert Miles' grave in Piedmont Cemetery  in Shawsville, Va.
 (Photo courtesy Steve Lucas, Miles descendant)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Gettysburg: McPherson barn details in 1886 Tipton image

149th Pennsylvania veterans at the dedication of their Gettysburg monument on Oct. 20, 1886.
In an enlargement of  the original 
Tipton image, a hay wagon appears 
behind the veterans.
On Oct. 20, 1886, 149th Pennsylvania veterans and members of their families gathered for the dedication of their monument on McPherson Ridge at Gettysburg. Many veterans in the image, taken by noted Gettysburg battlefield photographer William Tipton, may have been involved in savage fighting near there on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863. The 149th Pennsylvania was bombarded by Rebel artillery on Herr Ridge while positioned on Edward McPherson's farm, and the regiment later held off several attacks before it, like much of the Union army, was forced to retreat that day.

Like many Tipton photos, this image includes much detail. Ribbons on the chests of the dour-looking vets stand out, and even a hay wagon can be seen in the right background. But what caught my eye is the building in the left background. That's the McPherson barn, which was used as a hospital during the fighting and long afterward. Perhaps it appeared during the battle much as it did when Tipton photographed it in the fall of 1886. (If you know where to look, you can still see initials of two 143rd Pennsylvania veterans etched in the outside stone wall of  the barn, still a prominent battlefield landmark today.)

As Steve Hawks notes on his tremendous Stone Sentinels web site, the original 149th Pennsylvania monument in the Tipton photograph was moved to Hancock Avenue and replaced by another monument on Chambersburg Road, also near the McPherson barn. For more Tipton images at Gettysburg, visit my Pinterest page.

(Click here for more Then & Now images on my blog.)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Old Antietam postcards show a much different battlefield park

Cows graze at Bloody Lane. The entrance to the old Roulette farm lane is near middle of  image. 
A seldom-seen view of Burnside Bridge and the surrounding terrain 
in an early 20th-century postcard.
A car crosses Burnside Bridge in circa-1920s postcard. The bridge was 
closed to vehicular traffic in 1966.
The 125th Pennsylvania and 34th New York monuments in the West Woods. The buildings
in the background and fence surrounding the 34th New York monument are long gone.
As these circa-1910s to 1940s postcards show, Antietam is a much different battlefield park today than it was for most of the 20th century. Among the many changes, park roads have been altered or expanded, parking lots have been added, old fences have been removed and a Visitors Center was built in 1962. Of course, the biggest, and best, change is the park expansion from a mere 40 acres in 1890 under the War Department to more than 3,000 acres under the administration of the National Park Service today. Enjoy these views, obtained on the cheap during an eBay spending spree, and compare them during your next visit to what the park looks like today. Click on each image for an expanded view.

A view of the old War Department observation tower overlooking Bloody Lane.
Cornfield Avenue looking toward the old Hagerstown Pike.
From left, the 124th Pennsylvania and Indiana and New Jersey state monuments. The road 
in the foreground is Starke Avenue. The car is parked on the old Hagerstown Pike.
The 130th Pennsylvania monument at Bloody Lane.
A roadster travels along a narrow road bordering Bloody Lane. This view was taken from the 
War Department Observation Tower that was built in 1897. The road has been greatly altered
 and a parking area long ago replaced a portion of the field in the left middle of the postcard.
The 100th and 45th Pennsylvania monuments. The road in the foreground no longer exists, 
although a trace of it may be seen today. The monuments are near Branch Avenue.
An iron gate once stood at the entrance of the old Philadelphia Brigade Park, part of the
 West Woods. For more on the park on my blog, click here.