Saturday, October 22, 2011

Avon's Wallace Woodford 'came home to die'

Wallace Woodford, a 22-year-old private in the 16th Connecticut, is buried in West Avon
(Conn.) Cemetery. He  died shortly after being released from a POW camp in 1865.
Wracked with pain, Wallace Woodford thrashed about as he tried to sleep, tormented by thoughts of his treatment by the Rebels. Woodford's parents desperately tried to nurse him back to health following his return home to Avon, Conn. on Jan 3, 1865, after eight months in Confederate prisoner-of-war camps. But the 22-year-old private in the 16th Connecticut Infantry was clearly a broken man.
Wallace Woodford is buried beneath this brownstone
marker in Avon, Conn. His parents, Corydon and

 Sylvia,  are buried in the same plot.

"He had been so long without proper nourishment that he was unable to eat even the most delicate morsels which his parents provided for him on his return," the Hartford Courant reported. "Continued hunger had destroyed his vitals. When asleep he would throw his arms about, thinking he was in Andersonville ... endeavoring to obtain food."

Exhausted mentally and physically, Woodford found it difficult to talk about his imprisonment in Andersonville, the most notorious Civil War prisoner-of-war camp, and later at a stockade in Florence, S.C. "Words could not describe the horrors," he reportedly told his friends. (1)

Unable to gain strength, Wallace Woodford, paroled by the Rebels on Dec. 10, 1864, died exactly a month later in his hometown, his parents Corydon and Sylvia likely by his side.

For Woodford and other members of the 16th Connecticut, Andersonville was hell on earth. By August 1864, the camp in southwestern Georgia was home for 32,000 Union prisoners of war jammed on about 26 1/2 acres. POWs, who often drank from the polluted stream that ran through the camp, suffered from overexposure, malnutrition and disease.

In his excellent book on his imprisonment published in 1865, Robert H. Kellogg, a private in Company A in the 16th, recounted the terrible, crowded conditions there.

"I ... wished that the President, under whose banner we had fought, could look in upon our sufferings, for surely the sight would move him to help us, if anything could be done," Kellogg wrote. "Live worms crawled upon the bacon that was given us to eat. 'It is all right,' we said; 'we are nothing but Yankee prisoners, or, as the rebels usually speak of us, 'damned Yankees.' " (2)

By August 1864, 32,000 Union soldiers were jammed into the 26 /1/2 acres of Andersonville
prison.
Wallace Woodford arrived at the camp in southwestern Georgia sometime in
the spring of 1864.  (Library of Congress photo)
Nearly 13,000 Unions soldiers died at Andersonville during the camp's 15-month existence from February 1864 to April 1865. Near the end of the war, when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through the state, many Andersonville prisoners were transferred to other camps in Georgia and South Carolina. (Private Van Buren Towle of the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, whose story I told in this post in May, also was imprisoned at Andersonville and Florence, S.C.)

One of the hard-luck regiments of the Civil War, the 16th was sent into captivity April 20, 1864, when the hugely outnumbered Union garrison in Plymouth, N.C. surrendered. University of Akron professor Lesley Gordon has an excellent account of the regiment's surrender and capture here.

Robert Kellogg (right) , a sergeant major in the 16th Connecticut, 
described the horrors of Andersonville in a book published in 1865.
(Photo courtesy
Connecticut History Online/
Connecticut State Library.)
Wallace Woodford enlisted in the Union army as a private on July 28, 1862, about a year after Bull Run, the first major battle of the war. Nearly a month later, he was mustered into Company I of the 16th Connecticut, one of about 1,000 soldiers from prosperous towns in Hartford County.

Like most Civil War soldiers, young Wallace probably knew little of the rigors of army life before the war. In fact, before the 16th Connecticut shipped off for New York on Aug. 29, 1862, he probably had never traveled far from Avon, a small farming town of a little more than 1,000 people about 15 miles northwest of Hartford. (3)

By the summer of 1862, the Union army had suffered a series of defeats around Richmond during McClellan's Peninsula campaign. It was obvious the war would not be over soon, but Woodford, like many men his age, probably was excited about his new adventure.

Less than a month after it was mustered into the Union army, the barely trained 16th Connecticut was under fire, struggling to ford Antietam Creek about a mile upstream from the Rohrbach Bridge, during the Battle of Antietam. Later that afternoon on Sept. 17, 1862 -- the bloodiest day in American history -- it was positioned on the extreme left flank of the Union army, in the field of a farmer named John Otto.

John Otto's 40-acre cornfield at Antietam, viewed from the Confederates' vantage point.
"We could not see the rebels, but could hear them and their bullets," a 16th Connecticut
soldier wrote.  The 16th Connecticut monument, dedicated in 1894,  is in the distance.

Charles Clark, a sergeant in Company A of the 16th, described the fighting outside Sharpsburg, Md.

"A piece of shell struck very near me," he wrote in an account published in the Hartford Courant on Sept. 25, 1862. "Our Chaplain had his clothes torn, our Surgeon's horse was wounded, and a private in Company I was hit in the left arm. About noon we advanced again, and were informed that our right was whipping out the rebels. In the middle of the afternoon, we went into the fight, and a terrible one it was, piles of our men were wounded. Our regiment was in a corn-field, where we could not see the rebels, but could hear them and their bullets."

On Sept. 25, 1862, the Hartford Courant printed a list of 
16th Connecticut soldiers killed at Antietam. Seven men
from Woodford's Co. I were listed , including Henry Evans
of Avon, Conn. Woodford was among the wounded.
The 16th was thrashed that September afternoon, struck in the left flank by veterans of A.P. Hill's division who had just arrived on the field after a 17-mile march from Harpers Ferry, Va. Many of the Connecticut men broke and ran during the battle, a stigma the regiment never erased. Out of 779 men, the 16th Connecticut suffered 43 killed, 161 wounded -- losses of about 26 percent.

At some point during the fighting at Antietam, Woodford was wounded and perhaps later treated at a field hospital at the Henry Rohrbach farm nearby. Seven members of Company I, including Corporal Henry D. Evans of Avon, were killed.

Many men in the 16th Connecticut never got over Antietam or imprisonment in Andersonville.

Wrote Lesley Gordon:

An estimated three hundred members of the 16th Connecticut were imprisoned at Andersonville and nearly one third of them perished there. Even for those who survived and returned home, many found their health destroyed by their long captivity, and struggled to adapt to civilian life. It is unclear how many soldiers from the 16th Connecticut battled mental depression, but several spent their final years in the state’s Insane Asylum. (4)
Sixteeen months after Antietam, Private Wallace C. Woodfoord's short life ended. Sometime during the middle of a New England winter, he was mourned and eulogized at West Avon Congregational Church. His body lies today in West Avon Cemetery beneath an 8-foot brownstone monument inscribed with these words:

"8 months a sufferer in Rebel prisons. He came home to die."

A closeup of Wallace Woodford's well-worn grave marker.
(1) Hartford Courant, Jan. 12, 1865
(2) "Life And Death In Rebel Prisons," Robert H. Kellogg, 1865, Page 166
(3) U.S. census
(4) “The ‘Rebs Took Us All”: The 16th Connecticut in War and Captivity, Lesley J. Gordon, 2009,
University of Akron

4 comments:

Guy Clinch said...

Thank you for this entry. I'm in the midst of reading an 1867 copy of Kellogg's book about Andersonville (found for $2.00 in a Washington, DC, bookstore! Amazing!) and am happy to get a look at him in the photo you have posted.

Anonymous said...

You would be surprised at the numbers of brothers or cousins penned up together at Andersonville---all from the 16th CT...would be quite a geneaology project.

Pierce Debbie said...

John, I have a CDV of Robert H. Kellogg in my personal collection. He is in uniform with his Sgt. Major stripes. I also own his book. My wife and I took a trip to Andersonville to visit the prison and the cemetery. I also have a letter from Leander Chapin who was in Co. A, 16th Connecticut. He died at Andersonville and is buried there we visited a lot of the graves of the brave soldiers of the 16th Conn. If you would like a copy of the letter and a copy of the CDV of Robert H. Kellogg, just let me know how to send it to you. Randy

John Banks said...

Randy: thanks for reading the blog. I'd love to have copies of the letter and the Kellogg CDV. I recently bought an original copy of the book. Interesting stuff. Aim to go to Andersonville soon. You can reach me at my email address: jbankstx@comcast.net.