Sunday, August 23, 2015

A visit to grave of first Union general killed during Civil War

General Nathaniel Lyon was buried in his hometown of Eastford, Conn., on Sept. 5, 1861. 
No day in Eastford, Conn., has surpassed the late-summer day in 1861, when the body of native son Nathaniel Lyon -- the first Union general to die during the Civil War -- was returned home for burial. "The funeral brought together more people than the town ever saw convened within its limits before," the Hartford Daily Courant reported on Sept. 6, 1861, "or will again for many years to come."

Nearly four weeks earlier, on Aug. 10, 1861, the commander of the Army of the West had died from a bullet wound to the chest at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri. A West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, Lyon was only 43.

Throughout the North, the general was mourned. In St. Louis, where Lyon's remains arrived on Aug. 26, "the whole city seemed buried in the profoundest grief." In Cincinnati, thousands passed by Lyon's body as it lay in state Aug. 29, and in New York, flags were placed at half-mast throughout the city after his remains arrived there.

Lyon suffered three wounds at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. A bullet
 to the chest  proved fatal. (Library of Congress)
When Lyon's body was transported from the train station in Hartford to lay in state at the Senate Chamber, the bell of the State House tolled and minute guns were fired. Two days later, on Sept. 4, 1861, Lyon's remains traveled by special train to Willimantic, Conn., where flags were at half-mast, bells tolled and "every balcony and windows [were] filled with people." During the four-hour, 12-mile journey from Willimantic to Eastford, mourners lined the roads to view the 300-wagon procession, and in a poignant moment, a handicapped girl was carried from her house to the roadside to witness the historic event. At about nightfall, men, women and children, some carrying lamps or candles, followed Lyon's hearse as it arrived in Eastford.

At sunrise the next morning --  a "bright and cool" Thursday  -- "people began to pour into the village in continuous streams," noted an observer. "For miles around, the principal roads were filled with long and nearly unbroken lines of conveyances." At the 10 a.m. memorial service at the Eastford Congregational Church, thousands gathered and a booth was set up on a slope outside the church for speakers. Among the dignitaries who attended were the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island, an ex-governor of Connecticut, a U.S. Senator, the mayor of Hartford, army generals and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, who also was an Eastford native.

"Windham County opened hospitable doors," the Daily Courant reported, "and the extraordinary tax upon the capacity of the community was duly honored. All the guests were well cared for by willing people, with willing hearts."

Atop Lyon's coffin in front of the pulpit lay the general's hat and sword, and flowers were strewn on its lid. A "banner which he had followed so devotedly, and upheld so gloriously," wrote an observer, "threw its graceful fold over the head of the sleeping warrior."

Lyon's casket remained closed, no doubt a wise move given the time elapsed since his death and the treatment of his remains after he was killed. After the battle, doctors tried to preserve the body with injections of arsenic but were apparently unsuccessful. And the news got worse: the Union army twice lost track of Lyon's body, which first was placed in an outdoor cellar and covered with straw on the farm of a staunch Unionist. Later, the woman had the remains buried on another part of her property. Thankfully, the Union army eventually took custody of the body.

For the 2 1/2--mile journey from the Congregational Church to old Phoenixville Cemetery, Lyon's body was placed in a hearse trimmed with American flags and built by noted Hartford undertaker William Roberts. The cemetery grounds formed a "perfect amphitheater,"  a witness wrote, for a crowd estimated at up to 15,000 people.  Pall bearers that afternoon were Connecticut Gov. William Buckingham, Rhode Island Gov. William Sprague and two army generals. A three-volley salute was fired by the Hartford City Guards and Lyon was lowered into a grave in the family plot.

"When the last echoes of the musketry over Lyon's grave rattled through the ravines of Windham County," the Daily Courant reported, "there was not one of all the throng who did not leave the sacred place with a sadder, even if not a better and more patriotic heart."

(See below for the complete account of Lyon's funeral in the Hartford Daily Courant on Sept. 6, 1861.)

An illustration in Frank Leslie's Illustrated, a popular Civil War newspaper, depicts 
Lyon's wounding at the Battle of Wilson's Creek on Aug. 10, 1861. Lyon is on horseback.

Hartford Courant, Sept. 6, 1861

The escort accompanying the body of Gen. Lyon left Hartford, by special train, at 12 1/2 o'clock Wednesday noon. In addition to the special escort detailed from the Army in Missouri, and the friends of Gen. Lyon, which we mentioned Tuesday, there were present at this time the Hartford City Guard, Capt. Prentice, with 60 men, and Colt's Armory Band; the Hartford Light Guard, Lieut. Kipplin, with 40 men; Col. Burnham, of the First Regiment Connecticut Volunteers; Capts. Gore and Durivage, and Lieut. Merrills, of the Second.

The train arrived in due season at Willimantic, and found the people gathered there by thousands. All the buildings in the vicinity of the depot were covered, and every balcony and windows filled with people. The flags were dressed in mourning and drooped at half-mast, and the bells of the village were tolled. The procession started at 3 1/2 o'clock for Eastford, which was reached in about four hours.

From the time the body left Hartford, to the hour when it was deposited in the Congregational Church in Eastford, all classes and conditions of people paid it, in sundry ways, some token of respect.

A memorial service for Lyon was held at the Eastford (Conn.) Congregational Church
on Sept. 5, 1861. Thousands gathered here to pay their respects to the general.
It was nearly dark when the procession wound over the hills in the vicinity of Eastford, and found the flags in sable trimming plentifully displayed. The groups which had been a feature of the route, now grew more frequent. At one house, a young woman who has been an invalid for fifteen years, was brought out upon the bank by the roadside, that she might see the train go past. As the village lights were seen in the distance, the military formed in line and preceded the corpse to the centre. Here it was followed by the crowd, men, women and children, some carrying lighted lamps, and some lighted candles, up the hill to the church, where the body was laid for the night.

Windham County opened hospitable doors, and the extraordinary tax upon the capacity of the community was duly honored. All the guests were well cared for by willing people, with willing hearts.

Thursday was bright and cool, a beautiful day being promised -- a promise which was fulfilled subsequently. Soon after sunrise the people of the County came flocking in, and a continual stream of carriages continued for hours. The churches and some of the other buildings of the town were covered with black. A booth for the speakers and invited guests was erected on the slope east of the Congregational Church, and in front of and around this the thousands gathered. Col. Sabin came in with a company of one hundred horsemen from Woodstock. The Tiger Engine Company, of Southbridge, preceded by a band, and the Home Guard, of the same place, were among the organizations present. Among the guests were Gov. Buckingham, Adjt.-Gen. Williams, Senator Foster, Hon. A.A. Burnham, M.C. from the Third District; Major-Gen. Pratt, Mayor Deming and Postmaster Cleveland, of Hartford; Major Warner and Lieut. Holcomb, of the Third Connecticut Regiment, and Lieut.-Col. Young, of the Second, from Connecticut; Gov. Sprague and Staff, Col. Gardiner, Col. Frieze, Col. Harris, Col. Sprague, Col. Knight and Attorney-General Burges, from Rhode Island; Adjt.-Gen. Schouler and Lieut.-Col. Witherell, of Gov. Andrew's Staff, from Massachusetts; Hon. Richard Busteed, of New-York; Hon. Galusa A. Grow, of Pennsylvania; Col. Casey, of the U.S. Army, and Paymaster Adams, of the U.S. Navy; Lieut. J.B. Dunlap, Thirty-eighth New-York Regiment; Hon. J.B. Colt, of Missouri.

On Sept. 5, 1861, a crowd estimated at 15,000 people gathered at old Phoenixville Cemetery
 for Lyon's graveside service. (Click on image for full-screen interactive panorama.)

At sunrise a gun was fired by a detachment of the Hartford City Guard, and this was followed by a signal gun at 9 o'clock. At the time the multitude, arriving on foot, or by all manner of conveyances, begun to gather on the slope in front of the church. It was nearly 11 o'clock when the City and Light Guards came from the direction of Danielsonville, towards which they had gone to meet Gov. Sprague and suite. The exercises of the day commenced soon afterwards, Ex-Gov. Cleveland presiding.

The choir sang the hymn, "Hark from the tombs a mournful sound."

A West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, Lyon
was 43 when he died at Wilson's Creek.
Rev. Mr. Willians, of Chaplin, made a prayer; the choir sang "America;" and Judge Carpenter, of Killingly, was called to the stand. He gave a brief review of the life and character of Gen. Lyon.

Hon. Galusha A. Grow followed. He eulogized Gen. Lyon as a true patriot and brave man.

In a similar strain, Gov. Buckingham, Gov. Sprague, and Judge Colt, of St. Louis, spoke. Remarks were also made by Capt. Edgar, Maj. Conant, and others of the Army in Missouri, and by Messrs. Deming, Busteed, Schouler, and Senator Foster. After the speeches, the exercises of the forenoon were finished. The military and guests were marched to a grove and collated.

In the afternoon, the line was formed and marched to the grove. The body was conveyed in the splendid hearse of Roberts, of this city. The vehicle was decorated with silver trappings, trimmed with American flags, surmounted by plumes, and drawn by four black horses. By its side walked the citizens who came with the body from St. Louis, and whose mission was now coming to a close, and the honorary bearers designated by Ex-Gov. Cleveland, consisting of Gov. Buckingham, Gov. Sprague, Gen. Pratt, and Gen. Casey. As the procession neared the grove, the detachment of the City Guard fired a National salute from a high hill near at hand.

After arrival at the grave, the Episcopal burial service was read by Rev. C.C. Adams, the Methodist Clergyman of Eastford. The body was lowered into the earth, the City Guard fired three volleys over the place, and the vast assembly dispersed.

Gen. Lyon was literally buried with his fathers in the family burial-ground, in the town of Eastford, near the Ashford line. The funeral brought together more people than the town ever saw convened within its limits before, or will again for many years to come. The estimation in which Lyon was held by all patriot people, amounting almost to idolization, was shown by the multitude who gathered to pay this last tribute of respect and affection to his remains. It is estimated that 15,000 were present; and when the last echoes of the musketry over Lyon's grave rattled through the ravines of Windham County, there was not one of all the throng who did not leave the sacred place with a sadder, even if not a better and more patriotic heart.

The date the monument was placed in old Phoenixville Cemetery is unknown.
When he was shot at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Lyon was on horseback, leading Iowa troops.
This is a close-up of the front of the memorial.
Another close-up of the front of Nathaniel Lyon's memorial in Eastford, Conn.
Crossed swords and cannons and a shield on the front of Lyon's monument.
General Lyon Cemetery was formerly known as Phoenixville Cemetery.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Revealing secrets in a South Carolina cemetery photograph

At first glance, this poorly exposed image of a small, Southern cemetery is unremarkable. A picket fence borders the cemetery, which includes at least 11 graves. Words appear on the headboard on the left in the back row, but they are indecipherable. A large tree branch juts out, perhaps obscuring other graves in the background. Judging from the freshly turned dirt in the right background, three of the interments appear to be recent. Weeds choke the grounds, suggesting upkeep was not a priority.

Taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, this glass-plate image is in the collection of the Library of Congress, which makes digitized versions of Civil War photos available on its excellent web site. The caption on the negative sleeve for the original image reads, "Graves of Sailors Killed at bombardment Hilton Head, S.C. Nov. 1861."  On the LOC web site, the creation date for the photograph is listed as "1861 Nov.," but that's incorrect because one of the sailor graves in the image notes he died in 1862. Other images by O'Sullivan in Hilton Head were taken in April 1862, the probable time frame for this photograph.

 Upon closer examination, secrets of the image are revealed. ...

U.S.S. Wabash

... An enlargement of the large, wooden headboard in the left background reveals it was placed above the grave of  Thomas Jackson, a coxswain aboard the flagship U.S.S. Wabash.  Jackson suffered a gruesome death during the Union navy's attack at Port Royal Sound in South Carolina on Nov. 7, 1861, when the Wabash, a large steam frigate, came under fire from batteries at forts Beauregard and Walker. A "huge shot" struck Jackson in the leg, leaving it "dangling by a mere shred of quivering flesh and skin." Probably in shock, Jackson attempted to amputate the leg with his knife  but was unsuccessful, and he was quickly attended to by his comrades.

Lacking cannons o
f heavy enough caliber or range to withstand the attack, the Confederates were overwhelmed and abandoned the forts, allowing the Union to tighten its blockade on South Carolina. Casualties on both sides were light: the Union navy suffered at least six killed and 20 wounded; 11 Rebels were killed and 47 were wounded in the forts.  

"Rapidly he sunk away," noted an 1865 account of Jackson's death in
The Soldier's Casket"and at last, with a short sigh, died." Jackson was apparently buried by his messmates hours later and may have been re-interred later in the graveyard in Hilton Head, S.C. It's unknown whether his remains were disinterred after the war and re-buried nearby in Beaufort (S.C.) National Cemetery, the final resting place of more than 7,500 Union servicemen. Here's the full account of Jackson's death in The Soldier's Casket

A 43-year-old seaman from Delaware, George W. Collins joined the Union navy in Philadelphia on Aug. 24, 1861. According to a Union navy enlistment document, he stood 5-foot-6 and had blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion and his occupation was listed as carpenter. In the 1860 U.S. census, Collins' occupation was listed as "waterman," and he lived in the Kent County town of Little Duck Hundred with his wife and daughters, Lucy and Mary. At least four other people whose relationship to the Collins family is uncertain lived with them.

Collins had blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion, according to this enlistment document.

In the 1860 census, George Collins' occupation was listed as waterman.
(Enlistment and census documents from

In March 1862, Collins and several other sailors from the U.S.S. Susquehanna were ordered to go on scouting missions on two South Carolina rivers. On March 22, they were fired on by Rebel pickets, who were scattered by a howitzer. But later that night, when they went ashore at the junction of Pull-and-be-Damned Creek and the Cooper River, they were mistakenly fired on by Union pickets. One of the shots hit Collins, killing him. It was an act, a Union officer wrote in a report, of "culpable carelessness."

Later that spring, Collins' body was returned to Hilton Head. On the day his marker appeared in O'Sullivan's photograph, it was partially obscured by weeds. ...

Barratt, Peter, Circle of Fire: The Story of the USS Susquehanna in the War of the Rebellion, Columbiad Press, 2004, Page 97

... An enlargement of the tall headboard next to Collins' marker reveals the words "Sacred to the Memory of" and "Killed on Board." But the name of the sailor, vessel he served aboard and date of his death are too difficult to read to make a positive identification of who is buried here. Was he among the sailors killed the night Thomas Jackson died? If so, we may be able to hone in on his name. For now, however, his identity remains unknown. ...

... In another enlargement of the original O'Sullivan image, this man, dressed in a suit coat and wearing what appears to be a slouch hat, stands by two grave markers. Perhaps he was the cemetery caretaker or maybe a man who just came to pay his respects to Union sailors buried there.

Notice anything else? E-mail me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Seven Pines hospital: Fabulous details in June 1862 image

George Barnard, whose Seven Pines images were examined in this post, wasn't the only photographer employed by Mathew Brady to photograph that Virginia battlefield in June 1862. James Gibson, who may have been Barnard's supervisor, also shot images there -- including this one of a two-story, frame house used as a hospital by Union General Joseph Hooker's division. On May 31-June 1, 1862, the armies fought to a draw at Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks), eight miles from Richmond. Among the more than 11,000 casualties was General Joseph E. Johnston, who was severely wounded by a shell fragment and replaced as overall commander of the Rebel army by a man named Robert E. Lee. Enlargements of the TIFF version of this glass-plate image, available on the Library of Congress web site, include fascinating details, many not obvious in the original. ...

... on the second floor, an officer leans toward an open window, apparently peering at the photographer. ...

... while another man on the second floor, his feet propped against the window sill, relaxes with what appears to be a newspaper. Perhaps he read details of George McClellan's Peninsula Campaign, which eventually led Little Mac to change his base or retreat, depending on your perspective. After a series of Union defeats, McClellan's campaign to take Richmond ended on July 1, 1862, when the Yankees stopped the Rebels at Malvern Hill. (See my interactive panoramas of that fabulously preserved battlefield here.) By mid-August 1862, the Union army had been transported north from Harrison's Landing on the James River, ending its hopes to take the Rebel capital and end the war that year.

... in the far left window on the second floor, two men are partially obscured by tree branches. ...

... behind the house, near a wood line, two soldiers and tents in a Federal camp ... 

... with its bayonet attached, this soldier's musket towers above him. Two other muskets, a shovel and a pick ax lean against the house. ...

... perhaps the shovel seen near the doorway was used to dig this grave, probably for a Union soldier. A small fence made of logs surrounds the grave, an unusual treatment and an indication this may have been someone of importance. A pile of freshly turned dirt obscures the headboard, making it impossible to decipher the name, rank or regiment of this man. (In some Civil War photographs, details are so clear that the names of soldiers can be read on their grave markers. See my posts herehere, here, here and my favorite example here.) After the war, this soldier's remains may have been disinterred and re-buried at Seven Pines National Cemetery. Sadly, the identities of only 141 of the 1,357 soldiers buried there are known.

What else do you see in the image?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seven Pines battlefield: Amazing details in June 1862 images


In June 1862, Federal soldiers gathered near earthworks in Casey's Redoubt on the Seven Pines battlefield in Virginia for an image taken by George Barnard, one of Mathew Brady's photographers in the field. As noted several times on my blog, remarkable details appear in Civil War glass-plate images, which may be found in downloadble TIFF format on the excellent Library of Congress web site. See these Antietam images taken by Alexander Gardner in September 1862 -- check out pieces of hardtack in the photo at the bottom of this post -- and this image taken by Brady's photographers in Fredericksburg, Va., in May 1864.

In the foreground of Barnard's image, a 32-pounder field howitzer points toward Rebel lines about a mile away. On May 31-June 1, 1862, the two armies fought to a draw here at the Battle of Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks), resulting in more than 11,000 casualties. Richmond, the Rebel capital, lay only eight miles away . ...

... in this enlargement of the original, at least seven Union soldiers stare intently at Barnard's bulky camera ...

... and these Yankees doze near them. The soldier at right uses an ammunition crate and what appears to be a rolled-up blanket to catch a few winks while an artilleryman, a sword in a scabbard at his side, rests on the ground near him. ...

... two pick axes, a shovel and a musket lay on the ground in front of these soldiers ...

... and look behind these three men. There's a large group of soldiers, muskets on their shoulders. ...

... in many accounts, soldiers recalled the two battlefield landmarks that appear in the middle distance of the image. The "Twin Houses," built along the Williamsburg Road, were used as a hospital by both armies and as Union headquarters.

"I had the privilege of being one of the first Union Surgeons to enter the Twin Houses of Fair Oaks used as a hospital by the rebels," a doctor noted months later. "Some sick belonging to our army were there at the time of the commencement of the battle and remained there. From them I learned that the Confederate Surgeons treated them most kindly and gave them the only medicine they had -- a little whiskey."

Obliterated by post-war development, the scene in the photograph is unrecognizable today, and the Twin Houses have long since been torn down.

 ... in the left distance of Barnard's photograph, horses and soldiers gather in the shade of a stand of trees. ...

... Barnard also shot this image at Seven Pines. It shows the other side of the Twin Houses ...

... the redoubt featured prominently in Barnard's first image appears in the background in this enlargement of his second image. ...

... while in another enlargement of the original image, Union soldiers gather at the Twin House at right. One of them peers into the window of the house, perhaps still in use as a hospital. ...

... but the most interesting, and sobering, detail of Barnard's image is this enlargement of the foreground, which shows fresh graves of soldiers who died at Seven Pines. According to the image caption, more than 400 soldiers were buried in this field. Below, an illustration from the 103rd Pennsylvania regimental history shows burial crews interring bodies and dead horses burning near the Twin Houses. How many of these Yankees were disinterred after the war and reburied in Seven Pines National Cemetery is unknown. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Faces of Civil War: Reenactors in Woodbury, Conn. (Part 2)

Click here for images of reenactors whom I photographed Saturday in Woodbury, Conn.
From left: Wheeler DeAngelis (Willimantic, Conn.)  | 28TH MASSACHUSETS
Sam Weathers (Manchester, N.H.) | 6TH NEW HAMPSHIRE
Alex LaFontaine (Willimantic, N.H.) | 28TH MASSACHUSETTS

For two days at the Civil War Living History Weekend at Woodbury, Conn., Yanks and Rebs camped, cooked, drilled, slept on the grounds and attacked each other with vigor in two battle reenactments at Strong Preserve Park. Spectators got plenty of bang for their bucks ($10 entrance fee for adults, $5 for students and seniors) -- especially when the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery and its two cannon rocked the four-acre park bordered by a field of eight-foot-high corn. (For more info on that fun group, which hauls around an original, 887-pound  bronze Civil War cannon tube from its base in Sutton, Mass, check out its web site.)

But reenactor groups skew toward an older generation, and some among them wonder if younger people will be interested in filling the ranks. And there's another concern, too: "The controversy with the Rebel flag isn't doing us any good," a reenactor told me. "You wonder if we'll even be able to have one at a reenactment someday."

Don Skaar (Bridgewater, N.J.) | 6TH NEW HAMPSHIRE
Debbie Truin (Dutchess County, N.Y.) | NURSE IN U.S. CHRISTIAN COMMISSION
Andy Volpe (Worcester, Mass.) | SALEM ZOUAVES
Joe Mangini (Woodbury, Conn.) | CONFEDERATE ARMY

Clockwise from left: Tom Dengler (Westfield, Mass); Bruce Clark (Bridgeport, Conn.); Carl Hutchinson (Sutton, Mass.); Timothy Dengler (Westfield, Mass.); Tom Langlois (Chicopee, Mass.); Alex Temple (West Springfield, Mass.); Willie Hutchinson (Sutton, Mass.); Nelson Murphy (Westfield, Mass); and (standing in front of cannon with arms folded) Joseph Langlois (Chicopee, Mass.)
Elliot Levy (Longmeadow, Mass.) | 9TH MASSACHUSETTS LIGHT ARTILLERY
Levy portrays Captain John Bigelow, who heroically led the unit at Gettysburg.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Faces of the Civil War: Reenactors in Woodbury, Conn.

With one foot in the 19th century and another in ours, Civil War reenactors are a unique breed. In that spirit, here's a photo journal from Saturday's Civil War encampment in Woodbury, Conn., blending old and new. Reenactor images from Sunday are here. For my previous Faces of the Civil War from Connecticut  encampments, go here and here.
Tyler Wilkins (Epping, N.H) and Kevin Sellers (Dudley, Mass.) | 28th MASSACHUSETTS
Marty Cronin (Manchester, N.H.) | 6TH NEW HAMPSHIRE
Ryan Dolan (Granby, Mass.) | 10TH MASSACHUSETTS
Marty Minor (Springfield, Mass.) | 10TH MASSACHUSETTS
Reed Klein (Weston, Conn.) | LEE'S LIGHT ARTILLERY