Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Antietam soldier snapshots: 'What desolation fill'd our home'

A figure of color sergeant George Simpson,  killed in the West Woods at Antietam, 
tops the 125th Pennsylvania's monument on the battlefield.
               125th Pennsylvania entered the West Woods behind the Dunker Church.

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After the bullet tore through his bowels at the Battle of Antietam, 125th Pennsylvania Private John Rose of Company D was carried to a barnyard-turned-field hospital, where he died the next morning, Sept. 18, 1862. Two wounded comrades observed the 21-year-old soldier's pockets being emptied after his death, the contents turned over to a lieutenant in the regiment for delivery to friends, before the son of  John and Sarah Rose was buried in a makeshift grave nearby.

An iron worker in Altoona, Pa., John lived with his parents and was the "main and almost only support" for his mother and sickly father, whom he gave most of his $6 weekly wages. "Another family circle mourns a loved one lost," reported the Altoona Tribune a little more than three weeks after the death of Rose, whose remains lie in an unknown grave. The private's hometown newspaper also published a few words by noted poet George Morris, an expression of "the sentiments of parents and friends":

He died, as he had lived, beloved,
without an enemy on earth;
In word and deed he breathed and moved,
the soul of honor and of worth:
His hand was open as the day, 
his bearing high, his nature brave;
and, when from life he pass'd away,
our hearts went with him to the grave.

What desolation fill'd our home
when death from us our treasure born,
Oh! for the better word to come
where we shall meet to part no more:
The hope of that sustains us now,
In that we trust on bended knee,
While thus around his faded brow,
we twine the wreath of memory."

The grave for Private Joshua Cretin's wife, Sarah, in
Saint Augustine Cemetery in Cambria County, Pa.
The soldier's final resting place is unknown.
(Find A Grave)
For families of  other Blair, Cambria and Huntington county soldiers in the 125th Pennsylvania, there was plenty of grim news after Antietam. Mustered into the Union army only six weeks earlier, the nine-month regiment suffered 54 killed among 229 casualties on Sept. 17, 1862, mostly in the West Woods behind the small, white-washed Dunker Church. Soldiers in the regiment, one veteran noted decades after the war, fell "thick as leaves of autumn" during fighting in the West Woods. (See interactive panoramas in this post.)

Recalled Lieutenant Theodore Flood, whose Company C shouted its motto "In God We Trust" as it went into battle:
"As we stood firing into the ranks of the enemy [in the West Woods] the second man to me, George A. Simpson, while bravely holding the flag aloft, was hit with a bullet from a Confederate gun, which pierced his brain, and he fell dead. A second man picked up the flag, and he was shot down. A third, and he fell; the fourth took it up, and he was shot and fell."
Initially diagnosed with a mortal wound, Simpson's brother, John, survived because a bullet narrowly missed vital organs after passing near his ribs. Thanks to "careful home nursing," the sergeant survived and became an attorney after the war. He never showed his Antietam scars for "public gaze."

Antietam victims in 125th Pennsylvania: Private James Long is buried in Carson Valley Cemetery
in Duncansville, Pa.; Private Lewis McDermitt is buried in Saint Augustine Cemetery
in Cambria County, Pa. (Find A Grave left and right)
Struck in the leg by a gunshot and in the back by a "shell or ball," Private Joshua Cretin died of his wounds, an especially cruel blow for his wife, Sarah, who was pregnant with the couple's third child. Married a little more than five years, the 37-year-old soldier in Company K left behind two young children, Sarah Jane, 4, and John Andrew, 1. Almost two months after her father was killed in action, Mary Elizabeth Cretin was born. (Nearly two years later, Sarah's brother, Daniel, a private in the 190th Pennsylvania, died in Alexandria, Va.)

Wounded in the thigh, Lewis McDermitt, a 23-year-old private in Company K, lingered for nearly two weeks after his leg was amputated and died at Hospital No. 6 in nearby Boonsboro, Md. After Lewis' death, his widowed mother sold her unmarried son's unfinished house for $275, using much of the proceeds to settle his debts and pay for his funeral. His mother planned to live in the house once her son returned from the war.

After nearly five years of marriage, 21-year-old Elizabeth Lier became a widow when her husband, John of Company E, was killed instantly when a bullet struck him in the head. She was left to raise their 1-year-old son, Daniel.  A 28-year-old private in Company G, James Long survived until Feb. 5, 1863, when he died of a gunshot wound to his left thigh in a hospital in Frederick, Md. He left behind a wife named Caroline and two young daughters, Susan, 4, and Sarah, 4 months.

"He served his country faithfully," Long's pastor noted at his funeral on April 23, 1863, "[and] poured out his life on the altar."


Find A Grave

History of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-1863, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1906

Hollidaysburg (Pa.) Democratic Standard, April 28, 1863

Reimer, Terry, One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Hospital Sites in Frederick, Maryland After Antietam, The National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Md., 2001

John Rose, Lewis McDermitt, James Long, Joshua Cretin and John Lier  pension files, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington via

         West Woods: Where 125th Pennsylvania, 34th New York suffered heavy losses.

The 125th Pennsylvania and Confederates blasted away at each other in the West Woods.

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