Monday, April 10, 2017

'Til death do us part: What Union soldiers left behind

Unidentified Union soldier and a woman, presumably his wife.
(Liljenquist Family Collection | Library of Congress)
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While the marriage documents below don't have nearly the visual impact of the photograph of the couple above, they do have a certain poignancy about them. Each piece of paper, found in Civil War widow's pension files in the National Archives, represents a union tragically ended or disrupted during a war that forever altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. Two of the documents are in German, likely denoting the marriage of immigrants to the United States.  Another was completed in England, before the couple journeyed to America to begin a new life. Here are snapshots of the lives of those Union soldiers:

National Archives via
KILLED AT PORT HUDSON ON MAY 27, 1863:  Official word of Joseph H. Matthews' death apparently didn't reach his family in Michigan until weeks after he was killed during an assault on the Rebel fortress along the Mississippi River.  The 6th Michigan private "was a good soldier respected by his comrades," Sergeant Lewis Tryon wrote to Phoebe Matthews on Oct. 15, 1863. "I don't think that he lived anytime after he was shot. He was shot with a minie ball through the breast. He was close to the enimes works. He was buried with all the respect that could be shown in sutch a place."

No mementoes of the 29-year-old soldier were sent to Mrs. Matthews.

After the battlefield burial at about midnight, Tryon went through Joseph's pockets but only discovered a watch and a box of tobacco. The timepiece was given back to the soldier from whom Joseph bought it. Matthews' knapsack was found at the river, where he had left it before the assault, and given to the regiment's orderly sergeant. "[He] has since died," Tryon wrote, "and I don't know what has become of the things ..." Joseph's blanket and overcoat were lost on the battlefield.

In addition to Phoebe, whom he married on Jan. 8, 1855, Joseph was survived by four children: William, 8; Albert, 6; John, 4; and Frederick. 2.

National Archives via
MORTALLY WOUNDED AT ANTIETAM ON SEPT. 17, 1862: Wounded in the leg near the Dunker Church, Private Nicholas Decker of the 125th Pennsylvania was transferred to Camp G hospital near Frederick, Md. His leg was amputated, and Decker died on Oct. 11, 1862, leaving behind three children: Maria, 8; Letitia, 6; and William, 2. Elizabeth Heifner, whom he had married in Huntingdon, Pa., on Dec. 16, 1852, died in 1861.

National Archives via
KILLED AT FREDERICKSBURG ON DEC. 13, 1862: Richard Keegan, a private in the 69th New York of the famed Irish Brigade, married Ann Carroll at the Church of St. Joseph in New York on Oct. 7, 1853. He also left behind two children, Mary, 8, and Frank, 3.

National Archives via
KILLED AT FREDERICKSBURG ON DEC. 13, 1862: Matthew Robbins, a private in the 142nd Pennsylvania, married Margaret Swift on Sept. 1, 1862, in Connellsville, Pa. The couple had no children. Margaret died in 1902, having never re-married.

Narional Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON SEPT. 20, 1862: Joseph Heiland, an orderly sergeant in the all-German 20th New York, suffered from "disease of the lungs" at Harrison's Landing, Va., in July 1862, according to the regiment's surgeon. He died months later in a hospital in West Philadelphia, leaving behind a wife named Mary, whom he married in 1854 in New York City, and a daughter named Eliza, not quite 10 months.

National Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON FEB. 15, 1864: John Freeman of the famed 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments during the war, married Charity Thomas in Burlington, Vt., on Dec. 1, 1858. When he enlisted as a private on Dec. 16, 1862,  he also left at home a 3-year-old daughter named Mary. Shortly after he was mustered into the army, according to a comrade, he contracted a "disease of the throat" that bothered him during the regiment's journey south. In the winter of 1863, his condition worsened, and he died of "quinsy" at U.S. General Hospital in Beauforrt, N.C.

National Archives via
KILLED IN A SKIRMISH ON JUNE 7, 1862: Christian Essig, a private in the largely German 4th Kentucky Cavalry, married Elizabeth Albert in a ceremony at a church in Sandusky, Ohio, on Jan. 21, 1851. The couple had a daughter named Mary in 1856. While returning to Murfreesboro, Tenn., on scouting mission, the 4th Kentucky Cavalry was confronted by Nathan Bedford Forrest's horsemen, and Essig was shot and killed. Elizabeth re-married in 1863.

National Archives via
DIED OF DISEASE ON JULY 31, 1862:  On Oct. 29, 1848, 28-year-old miller James Cable, the son of a cordwainer, marrried 24-year-old Savannah March, whose 'condition" was listed as "spinster," in the Parish of Longsgtock in Southhampton, England. The couple moved to America with their son George, settling in Boston, where they had two more children, Elizabeth and William.

On July 25, 1862, Cable, a private in the 29th Massachusetts, suffered from a bad case of pneumonia and was admitted to the U.S. General Hospital in Point Lookout, Md. He died there six days later. On Aug. 1, 1863, the Point Lookout head surgeon wrote a short letter to Savannah noting the meager effects her husband left behind: one cigar case and a silver watch. "By you sending a receipt with the necessary expenses to forward them to you," the surgeon matter-of-factly wrote, "they will be sent."

National Archives via
DIED AFTER WAR FROM EFFECTS OF BATTLE WOUNDS: When he arrived at Armory Square General Hospital in Washington on May 28, 1864, Douglas Murray was in ghastly shape. At Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 18, a Rebel artillery shell had broken his collar bone and four ribs and mangled his left arm, necessitating amputation three inches below the shoulder. A little more than six months later, the sergeant in 63rd New York,  part of the Irish Brigade, was discharged because of the disability to go home to his wife , Mary Ann, and their three children: James, 8; Catharine, 5; and Elizabeth, 4. (The Murrays had another child, Susan, born in 1866.)

Douglas' wounds plagued him the rest of his few remaining days. While in Carlisle, Pa., where he married his wife in 1855, he came down with "traumatic fever" in the summer of 1866, apparently a result of the battlefield wounds he had suffered a little more than two years earlier. Sent to a hospital in Washington, he died there on July 19, 1866.

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1 comment:

  1. Sad us a glimpse of what our ancestors suffered...