Monday, September 17, 2012

'Why did I not die?': Antietam veteran recalls hellish experience

Veterans of the 16th Connecticut gathered for this photo on Sept. 17, 1921 -- the 59th anniversary 
of the Battle of Antietam. It was published in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 2, 1921. Henry Adams 
is in the middle front row, holding a cane. (Connecticut State Library archives )
Henry M. Adams, a 16th Connecticut private, was wounded in the 40-acre Cornfield during the
  Battle of Antietam. The 16th Connecticut monument peeks above the corn in the left background.
Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter

Obituary for Henry Adams in the 
Hartford Courant on July 10, 1922. 
The former 16th Connecticut private 
was 81 when he died.  

Wounded twice in his right leg, Henry M. Adams lay incapacitated in a 40-acre cornfield for more than 40 hours before he was finally rescued. But the 22-year-old private, a teacher in civilian life, was among the lucky ones in the hard-luck 16th Connecticut.

He was still alive.

In its first battle of the Civil War, the untested regiment -- comprised of farmers, mill workers, blacksmiths, cigar makers, a professor and other citizen-soldiers -- lost at least 43 killed and many more wounded in a one-sided fight late on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam. The regiment was pummeled by veterans of A.P. Hill's division, many of the Connecticut soldiers sent fleeing to the rear as far as Burnside Bridge about a half-mile away.

"One thing I can tell you is there was some pretty tall running in the 16th," Private William Drake of Company B of the 16th Connecticut wrote his cousin 12  days after the battle, "and I guess that I made myself scarce rather fast."

For Adams, the days after Antietam were just the start of months of recovery. Indeed, the horror of the bloodiest day in American history was seared into his brain and the physical wounds plagued him the rest of his life.

In an account written decades after the Civil War, Adams recalled the moment he was shot and the long convalescence in makeshift field hospitals in the Sharpsburg, Md., area.

"Between 4 and 5 p.m. we were ordered to charge on a certain rebel battery and take it," he wrote. "We were prompt to obey as far as lay in our power. But just before we reached our battery of cannon, the hideous rebel yell arose from behind the stone wall and we were shocked and repulsed."

A short time later, a spent minie ball -- "a momentary sting, that was all," the private in Company G recalled -- burrowed into his calf. Seconds later, another minie ball smashed into Adams' right leg, shattering his femur between the knee and thigh and knocking him to the ground.

"For 42 hours I lay where I had fallen, unaided and unharmed," the soldier from East Windsor, Conn., recalled.

In the hours after the fighting ended, Confederates controlled the field where Adams and other wounded and dead Union soldiers lay. Among the 16th Connecticut dead found on the field was Captain Samuel Brown, a 26-year-old former teacher, who was stripped of his outer clothing and shoes. Confederates often snatched clothing and souvenirs from Yankee dead.

In the Sept. 26, 1862, Hartford Courant,
Henry M. Adams  was listed among the many
casualties of  Company G of the 16th Connecticut.
After Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated south across the nearby Potomac River on the night of Sept. 18, Union soldiers finally found Adams. Carried by four comrades using an improvised stretcher, he was taken to the nearby Joseph Sherrick farm, where he received a change of clothes and food. Later, he was taken to Sharpsburg's German Reformed Church, where many soldiers in his regiment were treated.

"To this date I had two wonderments," Adams noted. "1st, why did I not die -- the other -- why my limb was not set."

Moved again, this time to a nearby country house, Adams was tended to by his mother, who had traveled from Connecticut.  "I spent the winter months with other injured soldiers, five of whom had each his mother as a nurse, at the 'Big Spring' hospital, two miles from Keedysville (Md.)." Adams recalled.

Adams was treated at Crystal Spring Hospital, near Keedysville, Md. It was also
 known as Big Spring Hospital or Locust Spring Hospital. The site is still a farm today.
(Photos by friend of the blog Richard Clem)

Nearly seven months after Antietam, on April 1, 1863, Adams was finally discharged from the Union army because of disability and sent back home to Connecticut from Maryland. He bitterly remembered that day.

"Was no April Fool day to me, when my mother and her cripple boy on crutches started 'Homeward Bound.' " he noted. "I received my discharge papers at Hagerstown (Md.) and my full pay for doing ... nothing -- except to be maimed for life and to draw a U.S. pension."

After the Civil War, Adams returned to teaching in Connecticut public schools. He eventually became superintendent of the Hartford County Temporary Home for Dependent Children. A staunch Republican who held several political offices after the war, he was fond of travel, reading, current events and telling Civil War stories.

"It is his great delight to read stories of the stirring times of the Civil War and recall the battles in which he took part," the Hartford Courant reported on Adams' 75th birthday. He died nearly seven years later. Civil War veterans attended his funeral in Melrose, Conn.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project
-- George Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library
-- Hartford Courant, Aug. 8, 1915, Page 3.

No comments:

Post a Comment