Friday, August 29, 2014

Horace Sickmund: A soldier's story in widow's pension file

Horace Sickmund, wounded at Cold Harbor, likes buried in Calhoun Cemetery 
in Cornwall Bridge, Conn.

Horace Sickmund, a private in the
 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery,
 was wounded in the knee at Cold Harbor.
(Cornwall Historical Society collection)
Ancient Calhoun Cemetery, flush against scenic State Route 7 in rural Cornwall Bridge, Conn., is filled with weathered, slate-gray tombstones, many slumped at odd angles like weary sentinels. At least one especially large marker lay toppled in the grass, the name on the front probably forever buried with its subject.

Near the entrance to the cemetery, a repaired gravestone with a U.S. flag stuck in the ground beside it caught my eye late this morning. Once broken in half, the marker for Horace C. Sickmund of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery made for a compelling photo against a deep-blue sky and a backdrop of pines.  (An image of Sickmund may be found here and here.)

Only 29 years old when he died in Washington on July 19, 1864, Sickmund was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on or about June 6, 1864. On June 1 at Cold Harbor, the regiment's  first major battle of the Civil War, the "Heavies" had suffered more than 300 casualties, a result so horrific that a chaplain wrote to his wife, "Pray for me -- am not in a fit state of mind." Walk through almost any old cemetery in Litchfield County in Connecticut and you're bound to come across a gravestone, memorial or marker for a Cold Harbor casualty. The aftermath of that battle at a crossroads town in Virginia, 10 miles northeast of the Rebel capital of Richmond, was a time of  "intense anxiety" for a region that supplied the Union army more than 1,000 soldiers for the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

“…The telegraph wires had more news than they could carry," Abby Hubbard, wife of a Congressman from Litchfield, Conn., noted about the days after Cold Harbor. "It was impossible to get details. All we knew was that a terrible battle had been fought and that a great number were either dead or wounded. ... our house was a rendezvous for people hoping or fearing for news. They would often stay till late at night. I particularly remember one woman from Goshen who waited till eleven o’clock, and then went home, cheered with the thought that no news was good news. She had just gone home when we received word that her husband was among the slain.”

How Sickmund's family received word of his death is unknown. But documentation of the soldier's life may be found in a widow's pension file in the National Archives (and also available on Here's a short story of Private Horace Sickmund's life and death culled solely from some of those documents. (Click on each image to enlarge.)

Sickmund, who was from Sharon, Conn., and Ellen Berniss, who was from Kent, were married on Aug. 25, 1860, less than two years before the Civil War began. ...

... On Feb. 14, 1864, Horace  Chandler Sickmund Jr. was born, according to this minors' pension document. (He was eventually awarded $8 a month by the government.) ...

... Nearly four months later, "on or about the sixth day of June 1864," Horace's father, a soldier in Company G, was "wounded in the knee by a bullet from the enemy as he stood in his place in the line of duty where the regiment stood drawn up in line of battle ready for action" at Cold Harbor, Va., according to Sickmund's commanding officer, Edward Gold. In the document written from regimental headquarters in Petersburg, Va., on Jan. 25, 1865, the captain noted he saw Sickmund immediately after he was wounded and that he was taken to a hospital. Gold recalled that he received notice of the private's death from the surgeon in charge there  ... 

... Ellen Sickmund filed a claim for a U.S. government pension after her husband's death. (1) (Her claim was approved, and she was given $8 a month.) According to a surgeon general's report, Horace died on July 19, 1864, from a "gunshot wound lower third of right thigh." (2)  Gold could not remember the hospital to which the Sickmund was sent. (3) ...

... and in this undated widow's pension claim, presumably filed in the summer of 1864, Ellen Maria Sickmund of Cornwall Bridge, Conn., noted that she was 21. (1). Her husband, whose middle name was Clark, died at Columbian College Hospital in Washington  (2) -- one of the many military hospitals in the capital during the Civil War. (President Lincoln visited it during the war.) ... 

... a little more than a year after her husband had died, Ellen moved on with her life. According to this document, dated March 16, 1866, she married Charles Smith on Nov. 1, 1865, in Cornwall, Conn. Stephen Fenn, pastor of the Congregational Church, officiated.

1 comment:

  1. What struck me reading this account was the quote wounded in the knee by a bullet from the enemy as he stood in his place in the line of duty where the regiment stood drawn up in line of battle ready for action" at Cold Harbor, it gives a visual of what "in the line of duty" means.