Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Antietam: Private Henry Tracy found his wounded friend 'as white as marble' at German Reform Church hospital

The grave in Hazardville, Conn.., of Henry Tracy. Right, Tracy in a  post-war image in a newspaper.
The stories of many who witnessed or fought in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, have been pushed deep into the shadows of history, in many cases waiting to be uncovered in musty recesses of state libraries, archives, historical societies or family attics. One such story is that of  Henry Fitch Tracy, whose name popped up repeatedly during research for my book, "Connecticut Yankees at Antietam." This afternoon, I finally tracked down Tracy's final resting place in Connecticut. An old flower arrangement and a veterans marker, minus the American flag, lay next to the hollow zinc family monument near the graves of other Civil War veterans. Information on Tracy's life remains sketchy, but one incident at Antietam involving him is documented.

A private in Company C of the 16th Connecticut, Tracy was detailed to serve as a nurse after Antietam. The 24-year-old soldier, who missed the battle with a severe case of sunstroke, had already seen plenty of blood and gore as a member of a burial party after the fighting at South Mountain three days earlier. Tracy was stunned when his close friend, John Loveland of Company C, was brought to John Otto’s barn at Antietam with a gruesome battlefield wound: a fractured femur protruding two or three inches from his left leg, between the knee and hip.

Because Loveland was too weak from blood loss and exposure, surgeons would not dare risk performing an amputation, probably necessary to save the 23-year-old soldier’s life. In charge of 80 wounded men, including more than 40 from his regiment, Tracy gave special attention to his friend, a married man who earned his living as a barber before he joined the army. Over the course of the next several months, Tracy remained busy caring for sick, wounded and broken men.

Henry M. Adams, a private in the 16th Connecticut,
became "fast friends" with  Henry Tracy after the
 Civil War. Tracy helped care for Adams, who was
 wounded at the Battle of Antietam.

(Photo: U.S. Army Military History Institute)

When Loveland was transferred to the German Reformed Church hospital on Main Street in Sharpsburg, Tracy was sent there to help care for the many wounded from his regiment. (See my interactive panorama of the inside of the church here.) As he approached Loveland’s bunk early one October morning more than a week after his friend's leg finally was amputated, he noticed his face was “as white as marble.”  (1) Carefully lifting the bed cover, he discovered Loveland’s sheets saturated with blood. Suddenly, a gusher of blood spurted two or three feet in the air, the grisly result of Loveland’s leg artery disintegrating. Tracy frantically pressed hard with his thumb on the artery to stop the flow of blood, but the effort was futile. Loveland died a short time later. (In a chapter in my book, you can read much more on Connecticut soldiers who died at the German Reformed Church.)

Tracy befriended at least one other wounded Connecticut soldier during his experience at Antietam: Henry M. Adams, a private in Company G of the 16th Connecticut. After the war, the men became "fast friends," according to an account in the Hartford Courant, and Tracy attended Adams' 75th  birthday party in 1915. (2)

A little more than four months after Antietam, Tracy left the horror of the Civil War behind. On a train trip with wounded men from Harpers Ferry to Philadelphia in December 1862, he suffered from exposure and work stress during a heavy snowstorm. A broken man by the time he reached Philadelphia, he suffered from chronic diarrhea and was placed in a hospital. Tracy was discharged from the Union army on Jan. 27, 1863.

Nearly 57 years after Antietam, on July 17, 1919, 81-year-old Henry F. Tracy died. With members of the local Grand Army of the Republic Post in attendance, he was laid to rest three days later in Hazardville Cemetery in Enfield, Conn.

(1) National Tribune, Oct. 18, 1888
(2) Hartford Courant, July 20, 1919, Page 5
A circa 1890s image by J.H. Wagoner of the German Reformed Church, a Union hospital
after the Battle of Antietam. Henry Tracy, a private in the 16th Connecticut,
served as a nurse here after the battle. PHOTO: Courtesy Stephen Recker.

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