Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Private Charles H. Walker

Charles Walker of  the 8th Connecticut Infantry posed for this image
 in a photographic studio on Main Street in Norwich, Conn., his hometown. 
Walker survived Antietam physically unharmed.  
(Photo: Matthew R. Isenburg collection)

As the 8th Connecticut Infantry came under intense artillery and musket fire from its front and both flanks during the latter stages of the Battle of Antietam, one of its color-bearers was shot.

Another man picked up the flag and he, too, was wounded.

And then another man grabbed the flag with the same result.

And then another.

And another.
Charles Walker's signature appears on the reverse
 of his CDV image.
(Matthew R. Isenburg collection)

Finally, Charles H. Walker, a  20-year-old private from Norwich,  courageously grabbed the fallen national colors and "seized them in a storm of death." In a singular act of defiance, he planted the flag and shook it out before the rebels as the enemy advanced.  (1) Flag-bearers were prime targets for soldiers on both sides of the war.

"Twenty men are falling every minute," a history of Connecticut's service in the war published in 1869 noted about that part of the battle. "Col. (Hiram) Appelman is borne to the rear. John McCall falls bleeding. (Jacob) Eaton totters, wounded, down the hill. (Marvin) Wait, bullet-riddled, staggers a few rods, and sinks. (Eleazur) Ripley stands with a shattered arm. (James) Russell lies white and still. (Henry) Morgan and (Edwin) Maine have fallen. Whitney Wilcox is dead.

"Men grow frantic. The wounded prop themselves behind the rude stone fence, and hurl leaden vengeance at the foe. Even the chaplain snatches the rifle and cartridge-box of a dead man, and fights for life." (2)

Ordered to fall back, Walker, clutching the flag, and the hundred or so remaining members of the 8th Connecticut retreated from the field. Although whipped by the rebels, no regiment of the Ninth Corps advanced farther on the left flank, a fact trumpeted in post-war accounts. "By their stubborn fight they have saved many others from death or capture," the post-war history noted, "and by their orderly retreat they save themselves."

A C.H. Walker from Norwich, aged 18, is recorded in the 1860 census. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)

Incredibly, Walker survived physically unharmed but no doubt shocked by the carnage. The 8th Connecticut suffered 34 killed, 139 wounded and 21 missing that Wednesday afternoon just outside Sharpsburg, Md.

For his courage on Sept. 17, 1862, Walker earned a prominent mention in an after-action report written by Major John Ward  two days later. "I will notice particularly the conduct of Private Charles Walker, of Company D," Ward wrote, "who brought the national colors off the field after the sergeant and every corporal of the color-guard were either killed or wounded." Walker's action probably was the reason for his promotion to ordnance sergeant of Company C one month after the great battle.

As an anonymous reader of this blog
pointed out, the star denotes Charles Walker
was promoted to an ordnance sergeant.
On a trip back to Connecticut after his promotion, Walker plunked down a couple bucks at a Norwich photographic studio at 103 Main Street, where he proudly posed wearing his uniform with sergeant's stripes for a carte de visite image. On a break from the war, Charles may have been in Norwich visiting his parents, Francis and Mary, who had three other younger children, Worthington, Abby and Henrietta. The Walkers lived on Cliff Street, and Francis was employed as a cabinetmaker; Mary was a housekeeper. (3)

Walker, who had originally enlisted in the Union army in September 1861, re-enlisted on Christmas Eve 1863. He apparently fell out of favor with superiors early the next year, as he was demoted to private on Feb. 22, 1864. Walker was mustered out of the Union army on Dec. 12, 1865, eight months after Lee surrendered to Grant in Appomatox, Va.

(1) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morris 1869, Page 272-73
(2) Ibid
(3) 1860 U.S. Census


  1. Anonymous6:58 AM

    Not only does he have sergeant's chevrons, but those are of a color sergeant. There is in inverted star in the middle.

  2. Anonymous7:50 AM

    thanks anonymous...i added a blown-up image above. john banks

  3. Below are links to two additional photographs that clearly show these chevrons. Both are color sergeants in the 1st Minnesota Infantry. The first is William N. Irvine and second is Sam Bloomer.

    - http://www.1stminnesota.net/popPic.php?pid=4+1st+Mn+Soldiers+1.jpg
    - http://behind.aotw.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/bloomer_s.jpg

    Thanks for posting this.


  4. Anonymous11:09 AM

    When you do see chevrons for a color sergeant (which was not always used), it will be crossed flags in the chevrons. The images you have with a star in the chevrons is actually the rank of ordnance sergeant! There are quite a number of images available for this rank that will conform this. Hope this helps you.

  5. Anonymous11:42 PM

    Ed: Thanks for the heads-up...appreciate.

  6. Wish he was in my collection! Well, at least I have the sword of Captain Eleazur Ripley, and a couple casualty photos from the regiment. Ripley's sword is on a 5 year loan to the Visitor's Center at the Antietam National Battlefield, along with a CDV of him after he lost his arm at Antietam.

  7. Anonymous5:00 PM

    Antietam Collector: I would LOVE to be able to share that image (and image of sword) on this blog. You can email me at jbankstx@comcast.net. Take care... John Banks

  8. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Thanks 11:09 a.m. anonymous: I did not know that. Check a few sources and you are spot on. I tweaked the caption to the photo above. John Banks

  9. In response to the statement below. Yes cross flags also indicate color sergeants. An ordnance sergeant will have the star pointed upward. Notice these stars point downward. The vast majority had neither on their chevrons.

    Below is another example, and it's tough to see the star.


    I have a CDV of a color corporal with the inverted star chevron. I only know of one other image of this type of chevron.

    "When you do see chevrons for a color sergeant (which was not always used), it will be crossed flags in the chevrons. The images you have with a star in the chevrons is actually the rank of ordnance sergeant! There are quite a number of images available for this rank that will conform this. Hope this helps you."

  10. At the link below is pictured a memorial print for Color Sergeant Lowell H. Hopkinson of the 11th and 59th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments. Notice, on the right, the incorporation of the crossed flags and inverted star above his chevron. I wonder if his actual chevrons featured both together.


  11. Anonymous3:13 PM

    As far as I know, the rank of Ordanance Sgt did not exist in the volunteer service. These were appointments in the regular army only to take charge of government stores at perminant military instillations. The badge of rank is unusual though. I'd like to know more. I really don't think this man was an Ordnace Sgt, but I could be wrong.

  12. Anonymous11:26 AM

    It is amazing how many "experts" there are. Read a book called Chevrons. Also check Don Triani's book on uniforms. The crossed flags above the three stripes was the early version of the color bearers chevrons. Later in the war, a star above the chevrons indicated flag bearer. I do not think there is a difference to which way the star points, or that there is a difference between ordnance Sgt and later flag bearers cherons. One of the final authyorities would be Mike McAfee curator of uniforms at West Point Museum.Contact him.