Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lt. Perkins Bartholomew: Bloody, alone, dying

In a four-page letter to his mother six days before his death, Perkins Bartholomew wrote of the
dangers of war, picking cotton for his Aunt Sarah and his interest in having his photo taken.
Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscript Project.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)

In probably his last letter home, 23-year-old Perkins Bartholomew wrote his mother in Connecticut from a camp near Petersburg, Va.

"Dear Mother, your letter dated Oct. 17, 64 arrived at hand last night and I was muched pleased to here from you and to here that you was well ..."

As Bartholomew sat in his tent near a roaring campfire, he could hear the booming of cannon and the firing of Union pickets less than a mile away.

The dangers of war always seemed near.
Bartholomew's impressive signature at the bottom of a letter to his mother.
(Connecticut Historical Society)  CLICK TO ENLARGE.

"It is nothing unusual for a man to get wounded in his tent," the first lieutenant in the 14th Connecticut wrote on the morning of Oct. 22, "and yesterday morning about 4 o'clock there was a man in the 10th New York that was at the privy and there was a ball [that] struck him in the head and wounded him and he fell in and was there for hours ..."

In the neatly written, four-page letter to his mother, Bartholomew also mentioned plans to have his photo taken in nearby City Point to send back home to "let you see how I look as an officer" and picking cotton for Aunt Sarah and perhaps being home in a month or two.

"I will close," he wrote, "hoping to hear from you soon. Give my love to all."

Five days later, the young soldier lay in the rain in a muddy trench, bloodied and alone in enemy territory, after being shot late in the afternoon during the Battle of Boydton Plank Road. A bullet tore through his haversack and ripped through his side. It was impossible for the nearly surrounded Union troops to carry Bartholomew from the field for more than an hour, according to one account (1), and the wounded soldier was a hopeless case anyway.
A brittle fragment of the 14th Connecticut regimental flag in a file with
letters  about Perkins Bartholomew at the
Connecticut Historical Society.

The next morning, Perkins Bartholomew, a carpenter before the war, died behind Confederate lines. Because Union troops were greatly outnumbered in rebel-held territory, his body was left behind for the enemy to bury by the plank road. The remains of the young soldier from New London were never returned home, the terrible fate of many soldiers during the war -- including this 20-year-old man from Connecticut whose story is also told on this blog.

On the brink of becoming a captain (2), Bartholomew was hailed in  resolutions adopted by officers of the 14th Connecticut as a "generous and noble comrade, a gallant and faithful officer and self-sacrificing patriot who fell at the head of his command, fighting in defense of the flag he loved."

I chanced upon a file on Bartholomew at the Connecticut Historical Society last Saturday afternoon while doing research on John and James Willard, brothers from Avon, Conn., who also died during the Civil War.

Three pieces of history, yellowed and brittle with age, stood out in the file: the letter from Bartholomew to his mother; a letter from a comrade to the dead soldier's sister; and a hauntingly sad letter from an officer in 14th Connecticut to Caroline Bartholomew explaining the circumstances of her son's death and why he was left behind enemy lines. (Amazingly, the file also included an extremely fragile 6 x 4-inch fragment of the 14th Connecticut regimental flag.)

In the 1860 U.S. Census, Bartholomew's occupation  was listed as a carpenter. He had two
siblings: Carrie and John. His mother, Caroline, was 40 years old in 1860. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)
The letters offer a fascinating glimpse into a soldier's final hours and a war that caused so much heartache, especially in Connecticut, which lost more than 5,000 men during the rebellion.

Horace Brown, a private in the 14th Connecticut from New Haven, was well-acquainted with "Perk," as he was known to many in the regiment. Sometime after his friend was wounded, Brown and several volunteers carried Bartholomew to a house about a mile away. Alone for a period of time after he was shot, the dying man asked Brown to stay with him after the other soldiers were forced to flee.

"He was all the time talking about his mother and how he would like to sea her," Brown wrote in a four-page letter to Carrie O'Neal about her brother's final hours a month earlier.  "I saw the sergeant and asked what he thought of his wound and he told me he couldn't live but not to tell him for it would make him worce so I tryed cheer him all that I could ..."

In a letter to Bartholomew's sister, Private Horace Brown of the
14th Connecticut wrote of  "Perk" wanting to see his mother
after he was wounded. (Connecticut Historical Society)

But the letter to Caroline Bartholomew is the most poignant. I imagine it was like one of thousands of such letters sent to relatives of soldiers -- North and South -- who died during a Civil War that claimed the lives of at least 620,000 men.

William B. Hincks, who earned a  Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg, was the adjutant for the 14th Connecticut. Although he wasn't present at the Battle of Boydton Plank Road, he wrote a detailed account of Bartholomew's death to his mother. The soldier from Bridgeport, Conn., had plenty of experience with the grim duty of informing relatives of the deaths of their loved ones.

"I know that it ... is very hard that he was not brought in and that we had to leave his burial to the enemy," he wrote in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1864, "but remember that we were in the enemy's country miles away from our own lines, the enemy upon almost every side of us in greatly superior numbers."

Trying to soften the blow, Hincks seemed to take pains to explain to Mrs. Bartholomew that her son did not suffer.

In a letter to Perkins Bartholomew's mother,
14th Connecticut adjutant William B. Hincks
wrote that her dying son "suffered no
pain except from the cold and wet."

(Mollus collection)
"He vomited occasionally," he wrote. "He had his senses perfectly and remained conscious of his condition. We had but two or three officers but one of them detailed a number of men to carry him away. The ambulances had all gone back with wounded men before. The lieutenant of the ambulance train agreed to send back an ambulance for him and did so. But it was an uncommonly dark night and rainy and the ambulance got lost in the woods and never found him."

Hincks wrote of how a soldier retrieved Bartholomew's shoulder straps and memo book and noted the lieutenant's last words. ("Tell my mother I die like a man fighting for my country.") The officer explained that her son had "the love and respect of us all," and "we sympathize with you in your grief."

And he also made a vow.

"...I think I can promise you in the name of the few officers who are left in the 14th," Hincks wrote, "that if it ever lies in our power we will have his remains sent home to Connecticut."

Sadly, that never came true.

(1) Letter from 14th Connecticut adjutant William B. Hincks to Mrs. Caroline Bartholomew, Nov, 13, 1864
(2) Memorial of Deceased Officers of the 14th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Henry P. Goddard, 1872, Page 25

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