Sunday, April 01, 2012

Civil War tragedy: Deaths of the Hollister brothers

Gravestone for brothers Francis and Frederick Hollister, privates in the
 14th Connecticut  who died on the same day in December 1862. 
The Hollister brothers died at Falmouth, Va., across the
 Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg.
An old G.A.R. marker, apparently placed near the grave decades ago, and
 a faded flag next to  the brothers' gravestone in Union Hill Cemetery
 in East Hampton, Conn..
The brothers' well-worn marble gravestone, a half-step from a weathered, white picket fence in ancient Union Hill Cemetery in East Hampton, Conn., is probably seldom visited.

An old metal Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) marker, a telltale sign of a Civil War grave, and a faded American flag are embedded in the ground immediately in front of their white marker, splotched black by the elements over 15 decades.

A tiny, tattered piece of another flag, apparently placed near the grave months or perhaps even years before, rests in the grass in back of the gravestone.

The brothers' gravestone is next to a weathered, 
white picket fence.
I wonder if the family in the small, yellow house, a stone's throw over the picket fence, knows the sad story of the Hollister brothers, the young men noted on the gravestone, who tragically died two days before Christmas nearly 150 years ago.

The brothers' marker offers meager, but tantalizing, clues:

Francis Hollister, Aged 20 Yrs.
and his brother Frederick
Aged 18 Yrs.
Soldiers of Co. K 14 Reg. C.V.
Died at Falmouth, Va.
Dec. 23, 1862

Questions bounced through my brain as I placed two pennies atop the marker in the brothers' memory.

Did they die together?

Did their parents arrange for the return of their bodies to Connecticut, as many families did for their dead loved ones during the Civil War?

Or are the brothers really buried  near Falmouth, perhaps in unmarked graves, across the Rappahannock River from Civil War-ravaged Fredericksburg?

Who were Francis and Frederick Hollister and why did they die so young?

Cursory research provided stunning results.

George Crosby, the well-regarded lieutenant of the Hollister
brothers' Company K, was mortally wounded at Antietam. Crosby was
from Middle Haddam, a short distance from Chatham, where the
Hollisters lived before the war. (Left photo: Wesleyan University;
right photo: Middlesex County Historical Society.)
The Hollisters were from Chatham, Conn., a small town 25 miles southeast of Hartford known for the manufacturing of bells. The largest of those bell factories, founded by the Bevin brothers,  made sleigh bells, cow bells, ships bells and doorbells in the 19th century and is still in business today.

According to the 1860 U.S. census, a Francis Hollister lived in Portland, Conn., a short distance from Chatham, with the Payne family, Hannah and Alfred, a 72-year-old farmer. Francis' occupation was listed as laborer, perhaps an indication he was employed on Payne's farm. Frederick's name does not appear in the 1860 census.

The brothers enlisted as privates in the Union army in the summer of 1862, Frederick on July 21 and Francis five days later. Each young man was mustered into Company K of the 14th Connecticut on Aug. 20, 1862.

Soon after the 14th Connecticut was organized and trained at Camp Foote in Hartford, it was sent to Washington, where it remained until Sept. 7, when it was assigned to the Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Ten days later, the 14th Connecticut saw its first action of the Civil War, at Antietam -- the bloodiest day in American history.

The 14th Connecticut monument at Antietam, near 
William Roulette's  farmhouse. The Hollister brothers saw 
action here on Sept. 17, 1862.
On the William Roulette and Samuel Mumma farms outside Sharpsburg, Md, Frederick and Francis witnessed some of the worst carnage of the Civil War. The 14th Connecticut suffered 20 killed, 98 wounded and 48 missing, mostly in fighting near the infamous Bloody Lane. George Crosby, the well-regarded lieutenant of Company K and perhaps well-acquainted with the Hollisters, was mortally wounded at Antietam and is buried in Union Hill Cemetery, only 25 yards to the right of the brothers' marker.

Although they may have survived Antietam unhurt physically, they undoubtedly lost any illusions that the war would be over soon. And they also lost something else in western Maryland, something mundane, yet critical, to their futures.

A man walks through snow in January 1863  in this sketch  by
Civil War artist Edwin Forbes of a
Union army winter camp
in Falmouth, Va.
(Library of Congress collection)
After Antietam, the Army of the Potomac marched into northern Virginia, where it camped for several weeks. On Dec. 13, 1862, General Ambrose Burnside insanely ordered an attack on rebels behind a stone wall atop Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, Va. The 14th Connecticut again paid an awful price, suffering 11 killed, 87 wounded and 22 missing in the attack.

"Every basement and floor is covered with blood," 14th Connecticut lieutenant Samuel Fiske of Company I wrote of the aftermath of Fredericksburg. "Limbs, in many houses, lie in heaps; and surgeons are exhausted with their trying labors." (1)

After the great battle, the Union army went into winter quarters at Falmouth, Va., across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Although they apparently survived the fight unscathed, life was uncomfortable -- and often miserable -- for the young men from Chatham. At Antietam, each brother lost his blanket and stunningly had yet to secure a replacement.

Often shivering in the cold, Francis and Frederick, both ill, huddled around a campfire to stay warm in late  December in Falmouth, where disease was rampant in Union army.

The end came soon.

Under the heading Military Items on Jan. 20, 1863, the
Hartford Courant reported the cause of the Hollister
brothers' deaths. The newspaper reported the date of their
deaths as Dec. 24, 1862, but the date is a day earlier
on their gravestone.
One paragraph in the regimental history of the 14th Connecticut detailed the brothers' demise.

"A sad incident during the encampment at Falmouth was the death of two brothers, Francis and Frederick J. Hoillister, of Chatham, Company  K., who died within a half an hour of each other and were buried together," the history noted. "They lost their blankets at Antietam and for three months had to sleep out of doors or crouch scantily clad all night long over a smoky camp-fire, from which exposure they died." (2)

The cause of death was typhoid fever. Why the Hollisters could not obtain a blanket is baffling.

The brothers' bodies were returned to Connecticut, where the Hollisters were buried "with appropriate ceremonies" on Sunday, Jan. 11, 1863. (3)

(1) History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Charles Davis, The Horton Printing Company, 1906, Page 88
(2) Ibid, Page 110
(3) Hartford Courant, Jan. 20, 1863, Page 2

Two pennies atop the gravestone for the Hollister brothers in Union Hill Cemetery
in East Hampton, Conn., about 25 miles southeast of Hartford.


  1. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Great post John. Incredible that for the lack of blankets the brothers died. Today, a commander would be relieved of duty and possibly court martialed for the death of his soldiers from “preventable” causes.

  2. A sad tale indeed!Hard to believe no blankets for 3 months.

  3. Anonymous8:09 PM

    So sad and yet only one of many stories of useless death of our American soldiers in the Civil War. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention.

    Herb Parkinson

  4. Anonymous12:22 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this information, I have been working on my family genealogy and had not seen this. The Hollister family shows 1800 members in the VA Graves registry. You might also like to read about the 3 Hollister brothers that served in WWII.