Saturday, February 11, 2017

KIA at Glendale: 'You are the dearest friend I have on earth'

Edmund Hale's remains may lie in Glendale National Cemetery in a grave marked "Unknown."
(Photo courtesy Shelly Liebler)
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Even after the Union army was routed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, 19th Massachusetts Private Edmund A. Hale was confident the Federals would eventually defeat the Rebels, whom he called "a pretty hard and ugly set of raskels to deal with."

"We had a battle on the Virginia shore, the 21st, which last one day & one night with pretty heavy loss on booth sides," he wrote to his wife on Oct. 24, 1861, three days after the disastrous defeat near Leesburg, Va., "but I believe we lost not one man of the 19th Regt, although we were pretty neigh surrounded by the rebels."

Colonel Edwin Baker, killed at Ball's Bluff.
"We felt the loss of him grately,"
Edmund Hale wrote to his wife.
(Library of Congress)
After they hastily scattered down the bluffs on the Virginia side of the river, some Union soldiers swam for Harrison's Island, a small spit of land in the middle of the river. Rebels picked off Yankees in the water, and days later, bodies of Union dead were spotted afloat downriver in Washington.

Casualties in the 19th Massachusetts, which covered the Federals' retreat, were slight. But the Union army lost Colonel Edwin Baker, a senator from Oregon and President Lincoln's longtime friend. "I believe he was a very fine man," Hale wrote in the letter from a camp near Poolesville, Md. "We felt the loss of him grately, but it could not be helped. He died in a noble cause."

Hale's four-page letter, found in a robust widow's pension file in the National Archives, provides a small window into the world of the 31-year-old shoemaker from Stoneham, Mass. For much of the correspondence, he professes his love for his "Dear little wife," whom he married in January 1861. (See below for original letter and complete transcription.)

Eight months later, Edmund, who stood 5-7 and had hazel eyes, light hair and a light complexion, enlisted in the Union army.  On Nov. 5, 1861, Mary gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy named Henry.

"Keep up good courage," he wrote to Mary after Ball's Bluff, "for I hope I shall be at home with you before long. Then,  my Dear little wife, I shall be some comfort to you, and get some rest myself which I think shall need, but we do not think this war will last long."

"Be ashured of my trust and constant love for you Dear Mary," Hale added. "You are the dearest friend I have on earth, and I wish I were with you now, but that cannot be quite yet, although I soon hope to be with you, my Dear little wife."

Foundation of R.H. Nelson house. The 19th Massachusetts moved past here on June 30, 1862.
The Battle of Glendale also was known as the Battle of Nelson's Farm,
Riddle's Shop and Charles City Crossroads, among other names.

 (Photo courtesy Shelly Liebler)
On a brutally hot early-summer day a little more than eight months after Ball's Bluff, the 19th Massachusetts formed to attack at Glendale, the fifth of the Seven Days' battles near Richmond.  At about 2 p.m. on June 30, the regiment was ordered to cross an open field and charge the Rebels, who held a thin belt of woods.

 "Faces turned pale as we looked over the ground," John Adams, a corporal in Hale's Company A at Glendale, recalled years later. "We grasped our muskets firmer and waited for the order. We had kept our knapsacks until this time -- they had become priceless treasures, filled as they were with little articles for our comfort made by loving hands, and with letters from dear ones at home — but we threw them into a pile, and the voice of Colonel [Edward] Hinks was heard: 'Forward, double-quick,' and we moved across the field and entered the woods."

A "galling fire" drove back the 19th Massachusetts soldiers, who mistakenly thought troops immediately in their front were from the 7th Michigan. Instead, Adams noted, they were Rebels outfitted in Union blue, confusing the soldiers from Massachusetts. After a few minutes of hand-to-hand fighting, the 19th Massachusetts discovered it was flanked and withdrew to the edge of the woods.

Colonel Hinks was seriously wounded and carried from the field, and the "ground was strewn with our dead and wounded comrades," Adams remembered. Briefly in disorder, the 19th Massachusetts re-formed and rallied by its colors. As he looked down the line in Company A, Adams saw "many places were vacant." Among the dead was Hale, who months earlier had written to his wife, "I do love you with my hole heart."

Soundly defeated at Glendale, the Union army retreated to Malvern Hill, where it whipped Robert E. Lee's army on July 1 in the last of the Seven Days' battles. Edmund A. Hale's remains probably were hastily buried on the Glendale battlefield -- if they were buried at all. His final resting place may be in tiny Glendale National Cemetery with the remains of nearly 1,000 other unknown Union soldiers.

National Archives via fold3.com
Camp Benton, Oct. 24th

My Dear Wife

I am about to write a few lines to you once more after a few days hard work. We had a battle on the Virginia shore, the 21st, which last one day & one night with pretty heavy loss on booth sides, but I believe we lost not one man of the 19th Regt, although we were pretty neigh surrounded by the rebels. I tell you Mary, they are a pretty hard and ugly set of raskels to deal with, but we shall ketch them very soon. We have got a very large army of brave men, we have got them hemmed all around on all sides. I can tell you a battle field is rather a sad site to behold, but enough of this. I will tell you all when I get home. I wrote you last Sunday, but I thought I would improve a few leisure moments that we have got up to camp once more. But …

National Archives via fold3.com.
... I do not expect that [indecipherable] but a very short time. I hear that we have marching orders for Virginia. There is a grate many of our men over there now, Mary. Keep up good courage, for I hope I shall be at home with you before long. Then, my Dear little wife, I shall be some comfort to you, and get some rest myself which I think shall need, but we do not think this war will last long. I know Cournal Hinks [Edward Hinks] got us out of one pretty bad scrape all safe. We all place grate confidence. He  was calm and collected as any man could possibly be. General [Edward] Baker was shot dead. [Baker was actually a colonel.] I believe he was a very fine man. We felt the loss of him grately, but it could not be helped. He died in a noble cause. I think the Country will never be lost. Be ashured Mary, I shall try to take good care of my self but I must and will do my duty. Ned and I were together side by side, so if either one of us fall one is to take are of the other, but I do hope we shall …

National Archives via fold3.com.
… booth get home again to our famelys. We keep up very good courage. That’s one half of the battle. Be ashured of my trust and constant love for you Dear Mary. You are the dearest friend I have on earth, and I wish I were with you now, but that cannot be quite yet, although I soon hope to be with you, my Dear little wife. I sent that money to Stoneham, and I am agoing to risk a two and half gold piece for you, Mary. I should have liked to be with you to Lynn when you were there. You must give my love to Mother and all the rest. Tell them Mary I do love you with my hole heart, and Mary I know that you do me. Do not let your spirits go down but try and keep up good courage for my sake. You said you thought you would like to be out hear with me. I do not doubt it, but wait a little while. I shall see you again soon Mary. Be ashured of my love for you is constant and true and sincere. Mary, when I get home you will forget my long absence and feel proud of me. You can trust me and depend upon me, and know that I am not afraid to go and serve my ...

National Archives via fold3.com
... country, and that is more than some of them dare do. Then Mary we will live together and I will not go away and leave my little wife any more, but stay home with you and be happy together. We have lived happily together before and I hope that we may again. Keep up good [indecipherable]. I think of many the good times we have had togeather. Mary, I dare not send the money I spoke of in this letter for I understand there has been a grate many letters rifled of the money that was sent home and I want to write just as soon you possibly can. Wheather you received the money I sent to you, I would sent it to you now but I do not want to send it until I hear from you. Do write soon, Mary, tell Mother and Martha to write to me just as soon as they possibly can, for I do want to hear from you all. I saw a number of Stoneham boys to-day and they have lately heard from home. I suppose you have not heard from my folks. Mary write all you think. I aught to know Mary. Wish  that I could see you to tell you all, but keep up good courage for I do hope to see you before long, and be ashured Mary I love you with all my true and noble heart for I believe that I have a noble heart for you Dear Mary, one that loves better than life itself, and you to them. Believe me Mary I think of you all. I have not written to any of them at Stoneham as yet. Take good care of your self my Mary for your self and my own sake, for Mary we shall have some more happy time together then we can  talk over our past trials that we have past through then Mary we will live together in pease and pure happiness. Then Mary we forget the hard times that we past through, [indecipherable] those few times. 

From your true husband and well wisher, Edmund A. Hale

So [indecipherable] for the present, and may God bless you and watch over you, and remember I shall pray for you and think of you til the last. Write soon, I shall not forget your kindness for me Mary.

 Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

SOURCES

--Adams, John G.B., Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, Boston, Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1899.

-- Edmund A. Hale widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service via fold3.com, Washington

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