Sunday, December 11, 2016

In Middletown, holiday cheer, grim news from Fredericksburg

Killed or mortally wounded at Fredericksburg (clockwise from left): 14th Connecticut 
privates David Lincoln,  Daniel Otis, Andrew Scheurer, Enoch Wilcox II and Dwight Wolcott.
(Middlesex County Historical Society)
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The temperature had recently plunged to minus-3, but the frigid weather had not put a damper on Christmas preparations in Middletown, Conn., in 1862. Thanks to the ladies of their congregations, the town's Episcopal and Universalist churches were decorated with evergreens, and Christmas trees were adorned with ornaments for Sunday school children.

"Saint Nicholas will visit this place on Wednesday night," the Middletown Constitution reported in its Christmas Eve edition. "He will come by private conveyance. Such as expect a visit from him need not be particular to leave their doors unlocked. He prefers to come in by way of the chimney. The little folks had better hang up their stockings in a good place where Santa Claus can find them."

At several stores in the town along the Connecticut River, "valuable and beautiful presents may be found," and A. Putnam's local bookstore was especially well-stocked with gift books. "What is more acceptable in most cases as a Christmas or New Years gift," the local newspaper cheerily noted, "than a handsomely bound volume with something valuable between its rich covers? Any one in search of such a present can satisfy himself at Mr. Putnam’s."
A cropped enlargement of a war-time image of Fredericksburg, Va.
(Timothy O'Sullivan | Library of Congress)
1891 image shows where 14th Connecticut crossed into Fredericksburg on a pontoon bridge. 
(Souvenir of Excursions to the Battlefields)
But for many area families of men and boys in the 14th Connecticut, mostly soldiers in Company B from Middletown, the holiday season brought anxiety and grief, not cheer. In the weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, grim news had been reported in the local weekly newspaperFor those who had not heard details of the Federals' disaster along Rappahannock River, the Constitution also published on Christmas Eve a detailed letter written three days after the battle by Middletown citizen-soldier John Pelton, a sergeant major in 14th Connecticut:
"The rebels had awoke as well as ourselves, and the way they played into us from their batteries was a caution to poor folks. They were very strongly entrenched behind earth works and rifle pits of the heaviest kind. At ten minutes to twelve we, that is our division under Gen. [William] French, were ordered to the front and to charge the rebels, and take their pits and batteries. We went forward as ordered and went willingly, but went in vain.  
"The rebels poured in a terrible volley of both musketry and artillery, consisting of grape and canister shell and railroad iron which literally mowed us down. It was utterly impossible for us to stand before such a tremendous force. They were behind entrenchments, and we in an open field, and on a hill side at that, and mud knee deep, a stone wall in our front which they used as a screen for their sharpshooters. The fire was awful. Our regiment went into the action with 362 men, and came out with 106. Think of that will you, and then ask why we did not take their redoubts. We also went into the fight with eighteen field staff and line officers, and when we came out we had three line officers left that were not wounded or killed."
Added Pelton, whose only physical injury during the battle was a leg bruise from a trampling by a horse:
"To tell the truth the regiment is cut to pieces, in fact, we have not got one hundred men that are able to march a mile. We left Connecticut the 25th of August with 998 men, and have not been out 4 months yet, and look at us now! Take those that are in hospitals and here, and we could not muster over 180 men. If that is not using up men fast, your humble servant would like to inquire what is. How I have escaped being killed both at Antietam and Fredericksburg is a mystery to me, but it is nevertheless so."
14th Connecticut Captain Elijah Gibbons was mortally
wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862.
In the letter to his brother, Pelton also listed the casualties from Company B: "D. B. Lincoln, killed ; Sergeant H. N. Shaw, in arm; Sergeant G. A. Hubbard, slightly; Corporal H. A. Lloyd, in arm; Corporal W. H. Johnson, Jr., in arm; James H. Marble, in leg ; Chas. S. Brooks, in foot ; Daniel H. Otis, leg shot off ; James H. Sage, slightly ; Wm. H. Johnson, Sen., missing, think killed; James H. Hillieker, eye; John Vanderwort, in leg."

The final death toll for Middletown soldiers was 11 -- 10 in Company B alone -- a horrific toll for the town of about 3,500.  Among the dead was one of the town's leading citizens, Captain Elijah Gibbons, an ardent abolitionist and a sexton and Sunday school teacher at the First Baptist Church on Main Street.

In the charge on the Confederates' impregnable position on Marye's Heights, Gibbons' thigh bone was shattered by a Confederate minie ball. After he was wounded, the 31-year-old officer was briefly aided by 2nd Lieutenant David Canfield, a marble carver in Middletown who was shot through the head and killed instantly. The night before the disastrous charge, Gibbons read to Canfield and other Connecticut soldiers verses from a Bible found in a battle-damaged Fredericksburg house. "Canfield made many anxious inquiries as to his views of life and death," a 14th Connecticut regimental history noted years later about the solemn evening,  "and announcing his willingness to face the grim conqueror for the sake of his country and God, relapsed into silence."

2nd Lieutenant 
David Canfield
(Middlesex County

Historical Society)
Six days after the battle, Gibbons died at a Federal hospital in Falmouth, Va., across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg. His body was recovered from the regimental graveyard and returned for a funeral in Middletown on Jan. 3 -- "a day of funerals" on Main Street for "two brave sons" of the city, according to the Constitution. Services also were held that bright, winter day for 14th Connecticut Private Robert Hubbard, a friendly-fire casualty whose remains had finally been returned from Antietam nearly four months after the battle.

In the funeral procession into town for Gibbons, bells tolled, and the Baptist church was filled with mourners, who filed past the officer's coffin on the porch. A photograph of Gibbons hung just above his remains, which had been so well embalmed in Virginia that his coffin remained open. Gibbons' name, age and occasion of death were inscribed on the coffin, which was nearly hidden by huge flags.

Inside the church, Gibbons' pew was draped in black, and flags hung above the pulpit and covered the organ. After a sermon and a short prayer, the choir sung in a "most admirable manner," the Constitution reported, then Gibbons' coffin was escorted a short distance down Main Street to Mortimer Cemetery. The procession included the Middletown mayor, city council, the Colt Armory Band, military men and workmen from the Douglas Pump Works, where Gibbons was employed as a foreman before the war.

After Gibbons was laid to rest, three volleys were fired over the grave. "He was a brave soldier, an esteemed citizen, an earnest Christian," the Constitution reported about the beloved officer, who left behind a widow and two young children.  "May his example long live after him."

At least he had a marked grave.

Enveloped by fall leaves, the grave of 14th Connecticut Captain Elijah Gibbons in
 Mortimer Cemetery in Middletown, Conn. 
Brownstone memorial in Mortimer Cemetery for 31-year-old Elijah Gibbons, who died in Falmouth,Va,
A 28-year-old private in Company B, David B.Lincoln had both legs nearly torn off by an artillery shell at Fredericksburg. He was taken to the makeshift division hospital set up at Absalom Rowe's house near the Rappahannock River. (See image below.)

"Near the south porch lay our Lincoln, his two legs dangling from the trunk by naught but the slender cords," 14th Connecticut Chaplain Henry Stevens recalled years later. "Though the sight of his poor, mangled form forced out our tears, his smile was beatific as he gave us words of love for his young wife and friends and expressed his devotion to his country and his readiness to die." As Stevens visited with the stricken private, an artillery shell narrowly missed Lincoln, who had no hope of surviving his grievous wounds.

"We buried him in the garden," the chaplain recalled, "taking sixty seconds of precious time for a little service at his grave." Lincoln's wife, Adelaide, was pregnant with the couple's first child, a girl she named Estelle. Her husband's final resting place is unknown.

The burial sites are also unknown for three other privates in Company B: William Hilliker, an 18-year-old farmer; William Johnson Sr, a 40-year-old farmer/factory worker; and Enoch Wilcox II, a 22-year-old farmer. Hilliker served with his 15-year-old brother, Joseph, who was shot through the eye at Fredericksburg but survived. Johnson, the married father of six children, served with his son, William Jr., who was severely wounded in the battle

Two teenagers in Company B also died at Fredericksburg.

As he crossed a bridge over a millrace, Daniel H.Otis, a 15-year-old private who lied about his age when he enlisted, was mortally wounded by the same artillery shell that nearly severed Lincoln's legs. The remains of the youngest soldier in the regiment were recovered by his father and re-buried in a small Middletown cemetery.  Private Dwight Wolcott, an 18-year-old post office clerk, was also killed in the charge.

1891 image of  bridge across millrace where privates David Lincoln and Daniel Otis were 
mortally wounded. (Souvenir of Excursions to Battlefields)
A circa-1940s image of the Rowe House at 607 Sophia Street in Fredericksburg.  
14th Connecticut soldiers were among the Union wounded treated in the divisional hospital here. 
The house no longer stands. (Library of Congress)
Private Andrew Scheurer, a 24-year-old mechanic and German immigrant, lingered until he died of his wound on  Jan. 3. His body was brought home and buried in Pine Grove Cemetery. Wounded in the chest, 19-year-old Private Harmon Farmer of Company E died at a Washington hospital a month after the battle. He was buried in Military Asylum Cemetery.

Although grimacing with pain from a bullet to his wrist, color bearer Henry A. Lloyd was seen joking in the Rowe house "in a way that seemed ghastly," Chaplain Stevens recalled. The corporal, a telegraph operator when he enlisted, was transferred to Trinity Hospital in Washington after he had his arm amputated just below the elbow. On Jan. 12, 1863, a day before he died of complications from his wound, Sarah Lloyd received a letter from her husband that he was recovering and soon would be home.

"For a time he did well, but owing to exposure on his part, a change took place and he rapidly declined," the Middletown Constitution reported on Jan. 21. "We learn that he was well cared for while living, and was buried with military honors ... A large number of ladies and friends of the hospital attended the funeral, the services of which were of a very interesting character." Three volleys were fired over the temporary Washington grave for Lloyd, whose remains were eventually re-interred in Middletown.

For Sarah Lloyd, the cycle of grief and mourning was repeated 18 months later. On June 5, 1864, her 4-year-old son Harry died in Middletown.

Gravestone for 14th Connecticut Private Daniel H. Otis  in Maromas Cemetery in 
Middletown, Conn. The 15-year-old soldier was mortally wounded by an artillery shell.
NOTES AND SOURCES:

-- American Civil War Research Database
-- Middletown Constitution, Dec.24, 1862, Jan.7, 1863,Jan. 21, 1863.
-- La Lancette, Thomas E., A Noble And Glorious Cause: The Life, Times and Civil War Service of Captain Elijah W. Gibbons,  Godfrey Memorial Library, Middletown, Conn, 2005. (La Lancette's fine work is a go-to source for information on Company B of the 14th Connecticut. His work is cited for the circumstances of the mortal wounds of Daniel Otis and David Lincoln.)
-- David B. Lincoln, Henry A. Lloyd, William Johnson pension files via fold3.com, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
-- Fuller, Ted,  Biographies of Middletown's Honored Dead, revised with corrections 2014, accessed online Dec. 11, 2016.
-- Page Charles D., History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Meriden, Conn.: The Horton Printing Co., 1906
-- Stevens, Henry, Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields by the Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment and Reunion at Antietam, September 1891, Washington: Gibson Brothers Printers & Bookbinders, 1893.

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