Saturday, June 09, 2012

Antietam: Private Horace Lay's death

Horace Lay was wounded in John Otto's cornfield (top) during the Battle of Antietam and later
 treated at the German Reform Church  (bottom left) in Sharpsburg, Md.  Lay  died there nearly

 two months after the battle and is buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg. 

Bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds in each leg, Private Horace Lay was carried from John Otto's field to a chaotic, makeshift field hospital in a nearby barn. For men in the 16th Connecticut such as Lay, a 36-year-old soldier from Hartford, the Battle of Antietam was a nightmare.

For Lay's wife back in Connecticut, her husband's extreme misfortune in a farmer's cornfield near Sharpsburg, Md., set the course for several tragedies during her lifetime.

Nearly three weeks after the battle, Lay was moved to Sharpsburg's German Reform Church on Main Street, a Federal hospital where many 16th Connecticut men were treated. According to two comrades in his regiment, Lay was shot in the right leg between the ankle and knee and in the left leg between the knee and hip. (1) A surgeon at the church wrote in his casebook that a bullet had fractured Lay's left femur, probably making amputation necessary.

"...his thigh being quite small, would seem to invite the knife," the doctor noted, "but I am sick today myself and cannot pursue action." (2)

In his casebook, a surgeon who treated Lay at the German Reform Church in Sharpsburg
 noted that the soldier had a "fracture of the left femur by a ball..."
Upon receiving news back in Connecticut that her husband was wounded, a worried Charlotte Lay faced agonizing questions:

Like many loved ones of wounded soldiers, should she travel nearly 400 miles to Sharpsburg, a small town she probably never had heard of weeks earlier, to help her husband? Who would care for her young son if she were to go? Where was her husband wounded? Were his wounds mortal?

How would she survive if her husband of 14 years died?

Charlotte and Horace Lay were married on Jan. 3, 1848, and their union had produced one son, an 11-year-old boy named Horace Edward Lay. A shoemaker, Lay had enlisted in the Union army on Aug. 5, 1862, mustering into the 16th Connecticut 19 days later. Less than two weeks later, he was on the march from Washington with the rest of his untested regiment to join the Army of the Potomac.

In perhaps his final letter home to his wife before the Battle of Antietam, Horace Lay
closed a letter with these words. (Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project)
During a break after the 16th Connecticut left its camp near Fort Ward on the outskirts of Washington, Horace wrote perhaps his final letter home to his wife before the Battle of Antietam.

"We are about 8 miles north from Washington and expect marching orders at any hour," he noted in the  letter, dated Sept. 8 from Leesboro, Md. "My health is first rate but one foot is so sore that I cannot bear my boot. In case we march before it gets well I shall ride on the baggage train.

"I feel anxious to hear from you," he continued. "No doubt you have written before this, but I have not got it. I shall write you as often as I can but if that is not often as you expect don't be too much alarmed. I may be too busy or I may not have the conveniences, but I expect they mean to keep us pretty busy at present and for some time to come.

"So Good Bye," he concluded. "Write soon. From your affectionate Husband. Horace Lay." (3)

Nine days later, Lay and the 16th Connecticut met disaster. Many of the men in his regiment had never fired their weapons before Antietam, their first battle of the Civil War, and most were unfamiliar with complicated battlefield maneuvers. Routed in Otto's 40-acre cornfield by veterans of A.P. Hill's division, the regiment suffered 43 killed and 161 wounded. Many in the regiment, scared out of their minds, simply ran for their lives.

In an affidavit in Charlotte Lay's widow's pension file, 
 Henry Tracy of the 16th Connecticut  described Horace Lay's 
injuries at Antietam. "Was wounded severely in  the right leg 
between the  knee and ankle," the private noted, " and in 
the left leg between the knee and hip."
Ultimately, Charlotte Lay decided to make the journey to Sharpsburg to tend to her husband. (3). Although the record is unclear, Lay probably had his left leg amputated, typical with severe wounds such as his. He lingered at German Reformed Church for weeks, but died with Charlotte by his side on Nov. 16, 1862, almost two months after Antietam.

Charlotte Lay undoubtedly grieved for her husband, but a little more than a year later, she decided to move on with her life. On May, 8, 1864, she married an Englishman named John Oldershaw, a photographer from Old Lyme, Conn. That marriage lasted until Dec. 5, 1876, when Oldershaw died of a stroke. A widow once more, Charlotte married again on Nov. 15, 1894, this time to an old farmer named Harvey Buell. But he died of natural causes in South Windsor, Conn. on April 23, 1899. He was 82 years old. (4)

A three-time widow, Charlotte lived out her days in Connecticut. She re-applied for a Civil War widow's pension after Buell's death, and received $12 a month. Those payments ceased when 78-year-old Charlotte died of heart failure on May 25, 1909. (5)

Perhaps because his wife could not afford to transport her first husband's body back to Connecticut in 1862, Horace Lay was buried near the German Reform Church. His remains were later disinterred, and today he lies buried in the Connecticut section at Antietam National Cemetery under a weather-worn marker that simply notes his name, state and Civil War allegiance.

(1) Widow's pension file affidavit
(2) Report Surgical Cases in German Reform Church Hospital, Sharpsburg, Md., 1862
(3) Connecticut Historical Society, Civil War Manuscripts Collection, MS Civil War Box II, Folder 2
(4) Widow's pension file affidavit
(5) Ibid


  1. Latoya M.9:36 PM

    I just love this blog... I can't tear my eyes away! Keep it all coming!! I am an amateur Paranormal Investigator, but first and foremost a History Lover, especially anything dealing with the Civil War. My place of attraction (that I am more so called back to) is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The Soldiers there and Residents, have plenty to say about how they lived. My group, Ethereal Zeal - Paranormal Investigators have now been eating this info up!! Thanks again! I shall return for more. OH Is there anyway to find information about the background of Otto Farm, the farm and property itself, as I have seemed to hit a wall...

    Thanks again!!

    Latoya M. - Washington, D.C.

  2. Hi, Latoya. Thanks for the kind words. I have a ton more stories coming, some good ones about Antietam and the Connecticut regiments that fought there (8th, 11th, 14th and 16th). I am pretty tapped into Antietam and Harpers Ferry; i used to live in that area a long time ago. If you are looking for more information on the Otto farm, a really good resource is this book on Farms of Antietam by Keven Walker, who works in the cultural resources division at the park:
    Hope that helps. JOHN BANKS