Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Antietam: Remembering Private Hallowell Dunham

Hallowell R. Dunham, a private in the 19th Massachusetts, was mortally wounded at the 
Battle of Antietam. Here's his marker in Staffordville Cemetery in Staffordville, Conn.,
a small town near  the Massachusetts border.

Twelve days before his regiment was cut to pieces at the Battle of Antietam, 21-year-old Hallowell R. Dunham, a private in Company B of  the 19th Massachusetts, wrote an entry in his journal.

"Today is Sunday 7 a.m. but how different from our quiet New England Sunday," he scrawled in pencil on Sept. 5, 1862. "Nothing round me to remind one that it is God's day of rest. Much would I give if I could spend only one more Sabbath at home. But that cannot be. It may never be again. But I pray God that it may be. God help me to live so that if I never spend an earthly Sabbath at home with friends I love, that I may meet them in Heaven." (1)

Dunham's journal entry proved to be prophetic. He never did spend another Sunday at home.

On the morning of Sept. 17,  the youngest son of Marcia Dunham was wounded in the foot in the West Woods at Antietam, a charnel house for soldiers from Massachusetts. In the strip of old-growth forest on the right flank of the Union army, near the small, white-washed Dunker Church, the 19th and 15th Massachusetts regiments suffered 78 killed and 442 wounded, many of whom died later. 

"One-half of our officers and men were either killed or wounded," 2nd Lieutenant John Adams of the 19th Massachusetts wrote shortly after the war. "Colonel (William) Hincks was the first to fall, again terribly wounded. Capt. George W. Batchelder was killed, and the command of the regiment and companies changed fast, as one after another officer went down. At the time we were so hotly engaged in the front we began to receive a fire from our left and rear, and discovered that we were being flanked, and must change front to rear." (2) Captain Henry A. Hale of Company H suffered an especially gruesome wound when he was hit by a minie ball in the mouth, taking away all of his front teeth and part of his tongue. (3) (Justus Collins Wellington of the 15th Massachusetts was among those killed. A ruby ambrotype of the private from West Brookfield, Mass., is in my Civil War collection.)

A clerk before the war, Dunham was eventually taken to the II Corps field hospital on the Hoffman Farm, well behind the Union lines. He lingered there for a little more than two weeks, occasionally writing in his journal. But on Thursday, Oct. 2, Hallowell, known as "Hal" to his friends, succumbed to his injuries.

HOFFMAN FARM: Probably the largest Union hospital at Antietam, this was headquarters
for the Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency that tended to sick and wounded soldiers.
(Images courtesy Richard Gold)
According to this pension document, Dunham died of his wounds at Hoffman Hospital, 
one of several large Union hospitals near Sharpsburg, Md., after the Battle of Antietam. 

For Marcia Dunham, the mother of nine children, the death of her son was another cruel blow. Her husband, Julius, had died in 1841 and before Hallowell enlisted in the Union army on July 26, 1861, and afterward, the 62-year-old woman relied on her son's support. Hallowell paid the rent for his mother, who was a boarder, according to the 1860 U.S. census, at the home of a 38-year-old farmer named William Hoar in Littleton, Mass. "We well know that her said son contributed the greater part of his earnings for her support prior to his enlistment and that he left her an allotment of his pay and has regularly paid her board and for her clothing," a pension document noted. Shortly after her son died, Marcia filed for an army pension, and she soon was granted a payment of $8 a month.

Although Hallowell Dunham didn't survive Antietam, his words live on today. His inch-thick, light-brown Civil War journal, which includes faded entries from his last days at the Hoffman Farm, was discovered after the battle in the barn. Today, it's in a private collection. Although Dunham has a marker in the family plot in a cemetery in Staffordville, Conn., a small town near the Massachusetts border, it's unclear whether he's buried there or under a tombstone marked "Unknown" at Antietam National Cemetery.

(1) Dunham diary, quoted in "Dim and Flaring Lamps," John Schildt, Page 12

(2) "Reminiscences of The Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment," Captain John G.B. Adams, Wright Potter Printing Co., Boston, 1899, Chapter VI

(3) "History of the Nineteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry,"  The Salem Press Co., Salem, Mass., 1906
An old metal  Grand Army of the Republic marker and U.S. flag are planted by 
Hallowell Dunham's marker in Staffordville (Conn.) Cemetery.

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