Saturday, March 08, 2014

History revealed: Yankee graves near Fort Stevens

William Morris Smith took this image of a Union cemetery near Fort Stevens in August 1865.
(Library of Congress collection)
Graves for Lieutenant William B. Laughlin of the 61st Pennsylvania and Private Andrew Manning
of the 77th New York appear in this enlargement of the image at the top of this post.
Another enlargement of Smith's image reveals the graves of Private Andrew Ashbaugh of the 
61st Pennsylvania and John Dolan of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.
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Nine months before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln came under Rebel fire in a little-known, two-day battle about five miles north of the White House. Observing the fighting from a parapet, the president thankfully survived the Battle of Fort Stevens unscathed and veteran Union troops finally chased off the Confederates. But the Rebel general who led the attack on July 11-12, 1864, relished a consolation prize. “We didn’t take Washington,”  Jubal Early told his staff officers, “but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell.”

Rebels ransacked houses near the fort, leaving notes in books that the destruction was in retaliation for the Yankees' destruction of property in Virginia. The retreating invaders also carted away an "immense plunder," according to the New York Times, which reported that "many (Rebels) who came on foot will go back mounted, as they have cleared out all the stables wherever they have been marauding." The newspaper belittled the Southerners' desperate attempt to invade the Union capital.

The graves of Andrew Dowen, a private in the 77th New York, and Alanson Mosier, a private
in the 122nd New York. Both soldiers were killed July 12, 1864 during the Battle of Fort Stevens.

In this enlargement of the original Smith photo,
 wires extending from  a telegraph pole are revealed.
"The numerous little spurts of fight they have shown have been of the most feeble kind -- only the reencounter of last evening reaching the proportions of a respectable picket fight," the Times correspondent wrote on July 13, 1864, a day after the fighting ended. "Without doubt  they would have been willing, had they found the opportunity -- had they found Washington defenceless -- to have entered, sacked and burned it, and their expedition in this direction was probably a reconnaissance to see what the chances were. They did not find them promising, and after this they appear to have confined their efforts to keeping our large force cooped up in Washington, while the rest of the band devoted themselves to an extended system of pillage."

Although small in scale, the Battle of Fort Stevens -- the only battle of the war fought in the District of Columbia -- resulted in nearly 400 Yankee casualties. Afterward, 41 of the dead were buried about a half-mile north of the fort in the fruit orchard of a farmer named James Malloy, whose land was appropriated by the government. "With the rude tenderness of soldiers," wrote George T. Stevens, a surgeon in the 77th New York, "we covered them in the earth; we marked their names with our pencils on the little head-boards of pine, and turned sadly away to other scenes." Lincoln himself visited the cemetery on the evening of July 12, dedicating the site as Battleground National Cemetery.

The photograph site and photographer's initials are scratched into the glass plate of the image.
In August 1865, four months after the war effectively ended, an image of the cemetery was made by William Morris Smith, who was employed by famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner. At first glance, the digitized version of Smith's glass-plate photograph in the Library of Congress collection is fairly unremarkable. But upon closer inspection, compelling details are revealed in enlargements of the original image: a small building with a window open; a telegraph pole, three wires on it extending to another pole a short distance away; and another tall pole, probably topped with an American flag. Most remarkably, the last names on four of the 41 white tombstones are easily read, leading to definitive IDs of the soldiers. The identities of three other soldiers were revealed after some Internet sleuthing, including use of the American Civil War Research Database. Each of these soldiers was killed on July 12, 1864, the second day of the battle:

Grave of  Corporal Ambrose Mattott 
of  77th New York.
Lieutenant William B. Laughlin, 61st Pennsylvania: The son of Robert and Nancy Laughlin was a 24-year-old carpenter when he enlisted on Aug. 1, 1861. He was promoted from sergeant on March 22, 1864. From Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, he was one of six men in his regiment killed during the battle. Twenty-six other soldiers in the regiment were wounded.

Private Andrew Manning, 77th New York: A private in Company H, Manning was 35 years old when he enlisted in Charlton, N.Y. on Nov. 13, 1861.

Private Andrew Ashbaugh, 61st Pennsylvania: From Allegheny City, an industrial town just across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, he enlisted on July 14, 1863. Ashbaugh left behind a 52-year-old widow, Mary, and one child, a 12-year-old daughter named Louisa. Mary filed for her husband's pension three months after he was killed.

Private John Dolan, 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry: A shoemaker from Natick, Mass., he was 20 years old when he enlisted on Dec. 20, 1863. Dolan was born in Ireland.

Private Andrew Dowen, 77th New York: He enlisted in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Oct. 15, 1861 when he was 27.

Private Alanson Mosier (or Mosher), 122nd New York: He was 18 years old when he enlisted on Aug. 11, 1862 in Fayetteville, N.Y.

Corporal Ambrose Mattott, 77th New York:  He was 31 years old when he enlisted on Aug. 30, 1862 in Northumberland, N.Y.

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