Friday, June 24, 2016

Brothers' lives tragically intersect at Battle of Fredericksburg

Historical markers note the Union army's crossing of Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Va,
                          Upper Crossing from Falmouth side of Rappahannock River.


      Upper Crossing from Fredericksburg: Union engineers built pontoon bridges here.

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This post is a snapshot of the lives of Samuel and Moses Little, brothers from New England who served in the Union army. Do you have information that could shed more light on their lives, perhaps a newspaper account, letter or photographs? If so, please e-mail me at

For Samuel Little, the youngest of the six brothers from Newbury, Mass., life was difficult almost from the start. His father was described as an inadequate provider, so the family was "wholly dependent for support upon the industry and energy of a most excellent mother." Poor Mrs. Little died when Samuel was only eight months old, leaving the brothers and presumably their father to rely on the "cold charity of the world."

Somehow, Little overcame those unfortunate circumstances.

When he was 10, Samuel went to live with, and work for, a farmer, and by the time he was 16, he had learned the house painting trade. When he was only 18, Samuel went into business for himself as a painter in Brookline, Mass., before he moved to Claremont, N.H. There, in 1849, he married a woman named Mary Gould and began a partnership in the house painting business with his older brother, Joseph, until the war broke out in 1861.

On Sept. 27, 1861, Samuel enlisted in the 5th New Hampshire as a private, accepting a meager $10 state bounty, and later was appointed sergeant in Company G. A month earlier, his 38-year-old brother Moses, a shoemaker from West Newbury, Mass., had joined the 19th Massachusetts as a private.

A little more than a year later, the brothers' lives would tragically intersect at a Virginia town that had a close connection to George Washington.

At Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, Samuel, who had been promoted to lieutenant that August for "bravery and meritorious conduct" during the Seven Days' battles, suffered a severe thigh wound near Bloody Lane. Sent home on furlough to Claremont to recuperate, Samuel ignored orders from his doctor and began a trip south on Dec. 8 to re-join the "Fighting Fifth" near Fredericksburg, Va., where a long-expected battle loomed.

                   Another interactive panorama of Upper Crossing at Fredericksburg.
View of Upper Crossing, where Moses Little was killed while helping build a pontoon bridge.
Union engineers and soldiers under fire during the building of a pontoon bridge at
 Fredericksburg on Dec. 11, 1862.  It's unclear whether this sketch is of  the Upper Crossing. 
Visit the Mysteries & Conundrums blog for a detailed exploration.
(Alfred Waud/Library of Congress)
Hours before dawn on Dec. 11, 1862, Union engineers began the laborious and dangerous task of building a pontoon bridge across the 250-yard-wide Rappahannock River to facilitate the crossing for thousands of soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. (Pontoon bridges also were constructed downriver at the Middle Crossing and two miles southeast of Fredericksburg.) A thick fog hovered, temporarily obscuring the bridge-builders, and the temperature dipped into the 20s, Across the Rappahannock in Fredericksburg, Confederate soldiers from Florida and Mississippi kept a watchful eye.

Colonel Edward Cross (above)
 tried to talk Samuel Little out
of fighting at Fredericksburg,
according to one account.
"We remained undisturbed until the morning of December when we were ordered to the banks of the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg," a 19th Massachusetts soldier recalled. "Here we found a pontoon bridge partially laid, and the engineers doing their best to complete it. Our batteries were posted on the hills in rear of our line, and were vigorously shelling the city, but the rebel sharpshooters were posted in cellars and rifle pits on the other side and would pick off the engineers as fast as they showed themselves at work."

Among the casualties was Moses Little, a married father of two young children, who was shot and killed as he aided the bridge builders. Only a day earlier, his youngest child, Carrie, had turned 2.

It's unknown when the news of his brother's death reached Samuel, who, according to one account, arrived in Fredericksburg an hour before the massive battle began on Dec. 13, 1862. "...Colonel Edward E. Cross and other officers seeing the feeble state Lieut Little was in tried to dissuade him from going into the battle," a history of Claremont noted,  "but he persisted."

After 5th New Hampshire Captain Jacob W. Keller of Claremont was severely wounded during one of the futile charges on Marye's Heights beyond town, Little, still weak from his Antietam wound, took command of his company. In the bloody chaos, Samuel was shot in the left calf and shoulder -- one of 186 casualties among 249 in the regiment. "The Boys look down hearted enough, I tell you," a 5th New Hampshire soldier wrote to his mother in Claremont days after the battle. "I wish they would let us come home now there is so few of us. Lieut. [Samuel B.] Little was all cut up – hit in 3 places."

The bullet that struck Little in the shoulder could not be removed by surgeons, and he died on Christmas Eve at the Lacy House across the river in Falmouth, Va. **

Hundreds gathered in the Claremont town hall for a funeral service for Samuel, whose remains had been returned home, undoubtedly a great comfort to his wife, Mary. Shortly after the war began, that same hall was packed with enthusiastic supporters of the Union cause. "Claremont," a town historian later wrote, "was all on fire to do her share toward putting down the Rebellion."

 A  "most appropriate and impressive sermon" was given by Little's friend, Reverend Carlos Marston.  "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth," he preached, quoting from the 14th chapter and 13th verse of Revelations. "Yea saith the Spirit that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them."

After the service, Samuel body was borne to a nearby Pleasant Street Cemetery and laid to rest. There is no known record whether Moses' remains were also buried in New England. His final resting place may be among the 12,770 unknown Union dead in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Lacy House, also known as Chatham Manor, where Lieutenant Samuel Little died on Dec. 24, 1862.
(Timothy O'Sullivan/Library of Congress collection)
** Some accounts note Samuel Little died on Dec. 23, 1862.


Moses Little widow's pension records, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C.

Samuel Little's widow's pension records, NARS

History of the Nineteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, The Salem Press Co., Salem, Mass., 1906

Waite, Otis F.R., History of the Town of Claremont, N.H., for a Period of One Hundred and Thirty Years, John B. Clarke Co., Manchester, N.H., 1895

Waite, Otis F.R., Claremont, War History, April, 1861 to April, 1865, McFarland & Jenls Printers, Concord, N.H., 1868

Do you know of other brothers who died in service of the Union or Confederacy during the Civil War? If so, email me at


  1. Awesome! The monument in (I think) the 2nd picture was put there by a Civil War Reenactment Group, the 7th Michigan. Their regiment was one of the regiments that crossed the river in boats to confront the entrenched Confederates in Fredericksburg.

  2. Sad...well illustrative of the tragedy that was the War...