Saturday, November 19, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Captain John McCall

John McCall, a captain in Company K in the 8th Connecticut, was killed
at Drewry's Bluff, near Richmond, on May 16, 1864. He is buried in
Yantic Cemetery in Norwich, Conn.
McCall was wounded and captured at
Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
 (Photos Mollus collection)

In researching backgrounds of Civil War soldiers, I often find accounts of the last words of dying men.

After he suffered a mortal wound at South Mountain, Union General Jesse Reno told his friend, General Sam Sturgis: "Hallo Sam, I am dead.!" Sturgis thought Reno was  joking and replied: "Oh, no, General, not so bad as that I hope" Reno reponded: "Yes, yes, I'm dead. Goodbye!"

Captain Edwin Lee of the 11th Connecticut, after being struck by an artillery shell at New Bern (N.C.), said:  "Tell my brother I died at the post of duty. Good-by. Go on for your country!"

Mortally wounded at Antietam, Captain John Griswold of the 8th Connecticut  told General Ambrose Burnside: "I am happy, general. I die as I have ever wished to die, for my country."

And Captain John McCall blurted out after he was shot through the heart at Drewry's Bluff in Virginia: "I shall be dead in a minute!" McCall then fell backward and died. (1)

Are these stories romanticized, spot on or a mix of truth and fiction? History can often be untidy, but it's another reason I find the Civil War so riveting.


The Civil War story of John McCall, whose grave I visited this afternoon, is compelling too.

Born in Bozrah, Conn., on June 3, 1835, McCall was the second of four children of Stephen and Judith Ann McCall.  The McCalls resided in Norwich, a major manufacturing town about 60 miles southeast of Hartford. A burgeoning textile and armaments industry, as well expansion of New England railroads, fueled the town's economy during the Civil War.

A year before the first shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the McCalls apparently were gainfully employed. Stephen supported his family as a carpenter, perhaps working in one of Norwich's many mills, and John was an engineer. His younger brother, Asa, was a machinist while oldest sister Amoret was a teacher. John's youngest sister, Sarah, was an 18-year-old student. (2)

In the 1860 U.S. census, John McCall's occupation was listed as engineer.  He was the second
of four children of Stephen and Judith Ann McCall. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)
Like thousands of other Connecticut men, John McCall heeded the call of his country and on Aug. 28, 1861 enlisted in the Union army. Well-regarded by his peers, McCall was elected sergeant and mustered into Company D  of the 8th Connecticut Infantry on Sept. 21, 1861. After the 8th Connecticut fought in two battles in North Carolina in the spring 1862, it was assigned to the Army of Potomac on July 2, 1862.

On Sept. 17, 1862 at Antietam, McCall, promoted to lieutenant a month earlier, and the 8th Connecticut advanced farther than any other Union regiment on the left flank. But the Connecticut men were unsupported and soon crushed by a Rebel counter-attack.

"No reinforcements come. Twenty men are falling every minute. Col. Applemen falls bleeding. John McCall falls bleeding," a book published in 1869 on Connecticut's role  in the war noted. "...Men grow frantic. The wounded prop themselves behind the rude stone fence, and hurl lead vengeance at the foe. Even the chaplain snatches the rifle and cartridge-box of a dead man, and fights for life." (2)  Wounded in the leg, McCall became a prisoner of war but was later paroled and exchanged, although I have been unable to uncover more details.==


In the video, I should have noted McCall was indeed a captain by the end of the war. Also, McCall was 28 when he died, not 27.

 the final months of his life, McCall -- described as an officer who "possessed all the prominent characteristics of a good soldier" -- continued to distinguish himself. (3) He was promoted to captain of Company K on Feb. 7, 1863. During the siege of Suffolk, Va., he led an attack on Fort Huger on April 19, 1863, crossing the Nasemond River in a daring daylight attack.

After he was killed May 16, 1864 at Drewry's Bluff -- "a battle fought in the midst of an Egyptian fog" -- McCall's body was returned to Norwich, where he was buried with military and Masonic honors in Yantic Cemetery. Hartford, Fishkill and Providence Railroad employees who worked with McCall before the war helped cover expenses for his beautifully carved tombstone, now well-worn by the elements. (4)

On the back it includes these words:

"He sacrificed his life upon the altar of his country."

(1) The  Descendants of Veach Williams, of Lebanon, Conn, Alexander Hamilton Wright, Page 86
(2) 1860 U.S. Census.
(3) The History of Norwich, Connecticut: From its Possession by the Indians, to the Year 1866, Frances Manwaring Caulkins, 1866, Page 665
(4) The Descendants of Veach Williams, of Lebanon, Conn, Alexander Hamilton Wright, Page 86

Close-up of the intricate carving on the reverse side of  McCall's grave.
On the back of McCall's tombstone: "He sacrificed his life upon the altar of his country."
McCall's grave is among many Civil War graves at Yantic Cemetery in Norwich Conn.,
about an hour southeast of Hartford.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:39 PM

    Thank You so much man for putting this blog up, it really helped me with my paper that I'm writing, It will be featured in the bulletin on April 7th, 2014 for the Civil war anniversary.

    ReplyDelete