Saturday, September 06, 2014

Antietam veterans' recollections 53 years after battle

The Hartford Daily Times on Sept. 17, 1915 -- the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

 Like this blog on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter

On Sept. 17, 1915, the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, The Hartford Daily Times published short profiles and recollections of more than two dozen veterans who fought on the bloodiest day in American history. Images of many of the old soldiers, their mustaches or beards bathed in gray, accompanied a full-page story that spilled onto another page. 

Present-day view of 40-acre Cornfield.
Most of the veterans, all Hartford residents in their 70s, had served with the 16th Connecticut, whose first major battle of the war at Antietam was a disaster that resulted in 43 killed, 161 wounded and 204 captured or missing .

Three veterans recalled crawling off the battlefield as the Rebels poured fire into the 16th Connecticut in the 40-acre Cornfield. “We did not know what to do," two of them remembered, while another recalled being "thrown into confusion" as his comrades were routed. Another veteran lamented, "We were but a lot of green boys."

So frenzied was the fighting that one 16th Connecticut veteran had his little finger shot off but didn't realize it until another soldier told him. Moments after a comrade was shot and killed and fell into his lap, a veteran recalled being struck under the lip by a bullet that sent blood spurting and loosened his teeth but did no other physical damage. When the battle was over, another soldier discovered his clothing riddled by Rebel fire.

" certainly was best for us to break and run," a 16th Connecticut veteran remembered, "than to stay and be killed by the hundreds.”

Another veteran, a private in the 14th Connecticut at Antietam, suffered a disfiguring buckshot wound under his left eye. Six decades after the battle, he apparently couldn't put into words what he witnessed.

"Captain Murdock," The Harford Times reported, "is uncommunicative concerning his activities on the battlefield."

Here are accounts of Antietam veterans as they were published in The Times in 1915:                                              

                                  40-ACRE CORNFIELD: UNION PERSPECTIVE.
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience)

George Q .Whitney, 16th Connecticut

George Q. Whitney of No. 70 Lorraine Street is a veteran of Antietam who was in active service only one month of the great war, but into that month crowded more real excitement than was the lot of many another veteran. Although he enlisted July 14, 1862, with Company A of the Sixteenth, it was not until August 29 that the regiment was ordered into active service. They arrived at South Mountain after the battle for that position, and at once were sent on ahead to Holland’s brigade. They came up with the Confederate army the night of September 16, and the next day after being held in reserve for the forenoon, they were ordered to join the left wing under Burnside in the afternoon. In the attacks and counter attacks, Private Whitney was in the midst of the thickest fighting, so much so that when the little finger of his left hand was shot away, he thought the blood on his gun stock was only grease, and did not know his finger was gone until a companion called his attention to it. After the battle, when Mr. Whitney took inventory, he found that a bullet went through his cap without touching his hair, two bullets went through his knapsack, piercing a number of sheets of writing paper on which afterwards Mr. Whitney wrote an account of the battle home, one bullet went through his trousers between his knee and hip, and another hit the stock of his rifle, chipping off a piece of the wood. In short, the 17th of September, 1862, was Mr. Whitney’s busy day, and he is still wondering how he became a target of so many southern rifles without losing more than a finger.

                                 40-ACRE CORNFIELD: UNION PERSPECTIVE
                                 (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

William H. Lockwood, 16th Connecticut

Captain William H. Lockwood of No. 63 Farmington avenue was first lieutenant of Company A of the Sixteenth. He enlisted August 1, 1862.

“When we entered the cornfield,” said Captain Lockwood, “we saw ahead on a hill a Confederate battery, which we thought was supported by infantry, lying back of the battery. We advanced, little thinking of what would soon befall us. The cornfield had a stone wall between us and the open land beyond and there was a stone wall on each side. We were well into the field on the charge when suddenly the Confederates, who were lying behind the wall ahead and on each flank, poured a volley into our ranks. We were thrown into confusion. The Confederates kept on firing and our men continued to fall.

“Finally Major George A. Washburn said ‘lie down boys.’ So we lay down. The bullets kept on coming and it seemed foolish to remain there. I crawled over to Captain Henry L. Pasco of my company and said: ‘Major Washburn has disappeared and you as captain of the senior company are now in command, What shall we do?’ Captain Pasco said we had better quit. So we started. Lieutenant Charles A. Tennant and I decided we would keep together. We two began to retreat. Men were falling on all sides.

“Finally we reached the rail fence which bordered the corn field. Tennant and I saw men being hit as they climbed the fence, but we decided to get over. We threw ourselves over quickly, breaking off part of the rail. We crawled across the 12-foot road and under the fence on the other side. Then we went up a short incline and dropped over the ridge on the other side, where we were safe. We went to Burnside’s bridge where we found others of our company and regiment.”

                                 40-ACRE CORNFIELD: REBELS' PERSPECTIVE.
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Norman L. Hope, 16th Connecticut

Norman L. Hope of No. 166 Wethersfield avenue enlisted as a member of Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut volunteers on August 7, 1862. While his experiences in Andersonville prison have made more of an impression because he is so often called upon to relive them as a speaker at various gatherings, Mr. Hope has by no means forgotten that day in the forty-acre corn field when 150 of the brave fellows in his regiment were killed or wounded. The battle ground is familiar to Mr. Hope, as he was the man selected to buy the ten-acre place of the corn field for Colonel [Frank] Cheney of South Manchester when the monument was erected and presented to the regiment by that gallant officer, who was badly wounded in the engagement. It was in the corn field that the “Rebs” came in shouting “don’t fire on your own men,” and the Sixteenth retired to the position behind the old stone wall.

Eugene D. Ames, 4th Rhode Island

When the parents of Eugene D. Ames of 191 Prospect avenue objected to his taking the field, he straight away left for Providence and enlisted in the Fourth Rhode Island battery at age 19. This was August 25, 1861. He was mustered out three years later. He took part in thirty-two battles and had seven horses shot under him. In speaking about Antietam, he says: “We were under fire all day and fought hard. That’s all.”

                         40-ACRE CORNFIELD: 16th CONNECTICUT MONUMENT.
                                 (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

William Huntington, 8th Connecticut

William Huntington of No. 60 Evergreen avenue was a member of Company D, Eighth Connecticut volunteers, and was in one of the severe charges of the day, during the course of which he was shot on the left side of the head.  He was carried off the field and from that day to this he has been deaf in his left ear, the shot having injured his ear drum. At the battle of Wathall Junction in an attempt to cut the railroad from Petersburg to Richmond, Mr. Huntington was shot in the leg.

16th Connecticut veteran John W. Loomis's grave
in Old North Cemetery in Hartford.

John W. Loomis, 16th Connecticut

John W. Loomis, of No. 7 Highland street, was not in the thick of the battle, but he saw to it that nobody ran away with the fighting boys’ knapsacks during the day’s struggle, and never knew at what time the detachment of which he had command would be called upon to fight. Enlisting in Company D, of the Sixteenth, August 5, 1862, Mr. Loomis was raised to the rank of quartermaster sergeant. At Leesburg, the command left knapsacks, and Sergeant Loomis was detailed to guard the paraphernalia as the rest of the troops went into the conflict. All day long he listened to the firing of guns at Antietam, fearful that at any moment the Confederates might break through.

George S. Merritt, 16th Connecticut

George S. Merritt of No. 63 Fern Street, a clerk in the office of the Aetna Life Insurance company, was a member of Company D, Sixteenth Connecticut volunteers, and on the 17th of September was with a brigade that went into action during the afternoon. Private Merritt and his companions had enlisted only a few months before. During the morning of the 17th they were held in reserve, but in such a position that most of the field was visible to Private Merritt and none of the fighting was missed by him. Toward 3 o’clock in the afternoon his brigade charged.

The Confederates, fighting under the Union flag, had surrounded the brigade on three sides, while the northern commander, deceived by the flag, failed to give any commands to fire. So when the Confederates opened the attack, many of the raw northerners broke and ran, and with them Mr. Merritt’s company. But they reformed later and joined with the famous New York contingents to regain four pieces of a field battery that the Confederates took in the first onslaught.

                               8TH CONNECTICUT MONUMENT AT ANTIETAM:                                                            The regiment's dead and wounded lay in this field after the battle.
                                 (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Timothy E. Hawley, 8th Connecticut

Deputy United States Marshal Timothy Hawley, who resides at No. 48 Crown street, enlisted in Company K, Eighth Connecticut regiment, at Meriden, October 6, 1861, and came through the war without a wound, but he says the nearest he came to being hit by a rebel bullet was at Antietam.

“Our regiment, reduced to 464 men, had just come up from the Peninsula campaign, and we lost 196 more – killed, wounded and missing – in the Antietam fight,” he says. “Early in the activities we were sent into support a battery on that twelve-mile battle line around Sharpsburg, and later we were taken down to the creek to ford it, but our guide carried us further than the ford, and we started across in water waist deep. I scooped up my canteen full of water as we passed through the stream and up the bank to get a crack at the Johnnies.

“God, how those fellows could fight. We pushed them a ways and our regiment got nearer to Sharpsburg than any other, but the enemy pushed us back, and in climbing over a board fence, we lost a lot of our boys. It was a pretty warm place, and after it was over I thought I would take a drink. I pulled up my canteen, but there wasn’t a drop of water in it. One of the Confederate bullets had gone straight through it. I threw it as far as I could and picked a canteen off one of the dead Hawkins zouaves from New York. Those fellows wore a red fez and had been shining marks for the Johnnies. Today I would give $25 to have that canteen I threw away."

“God, how those fellows could fight."

-- 8th Connecticut veteran Timothy Hawley on the Rebels

Walter E. Smith, 16th Connecticut

Walter E. Smith of No. 57 Plainfield street was one of the boys of the Sixteenth, enlisting July 26, 1862, in Hartford in Company G. He was in the Antietam fight from morning until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and saw his regiment cut to pieces in the slaughter in the cornfield. Smith with his comrades had been lying in the corn most of the day and when the order for the bayonet charge came he had risen to one knee.  At this moment a bullet struck his companion who fell dead across Smith’s lap. Then Smith, too, was wounded. He found the blood spurting from his lips and seeing Colonel [Francis] Beach leaving the field on his old white horse Smith made up his mind he would get out of there. How Mr. Smith managed to get out of that field and back across the stone bridge again without being further wounded he does not know. His wound he found was not very serious and resulted from a lead slug passing under his lip and into his teeth. These were knocked loose, but after Mr. Smith had picked the pieces of lead out he pushed his teeth back and they grew back in again.

John Gemmill, 16th Connecticut

“We were greatly surprised when the confederates opened fire on us in the cornfield,” says Sergeant John Gemmill of No. 53 Concord street. Mr. Gemmill enlisted July 15, 1862 in Company A of the Sixteenth.

“We were but a lot of green boys,” he says, “many under 19 years old when we went into the Antietam fight. Only a few knew anything about guns. We had received our guns at Arlington Heights but had not had any drills in shooting of the manual of arms. As we forded the creek on the morning of the battle, we could see the Confederates. After we crossed the creek, we marched in line of battle for some time. Shells were coming our way and some men of the Eighth regiment we could see falling. A shell burst and a part of it flew up striking me on the side, and making a sore place which lasted several days. Finally we were ordered to go by the left flank and enter the corn field. We could not see any Confederates and went out in that field. The Rebels opened on us with several volleys.

“We did not know what to do. After a while, Captain Pasco said, 'Boys, I don’t know what orders to give but you had better disband and get out of this field.'

“Then it was every man for himself. So I started to get out of danger. I laid down and began to crawl. I had on my haversack and a woolen blanket and a rubber blanket strapped to my back. These I gradually removed as I crawled along, and kept only my gun and cartridge belt. After awhile I crawled into a large open field and crossed that to a ditch where I found several other soldiers. This was the first notice I had taken of anyone else, as I was so occupied in looking after myself as I had no thoughts for any other men. I got down by Antietam creek, where I stayed all night. The next morning I found my regiment and for the next two days we were busy burying the dead.”

" was every man for himself."

-- 16th Connecticut veteran John Gemmill on the fighting in Otto's cornfield (above)

James B. Whalen, 16th Connecticut

“We saw a few men killed in the Eighth Connecticut as we stood waiting orders, after crossing the creek, “ says James B. Whalen, who makes his home at Long’s hotel. Corporal Whalen enlisted July  18, 1862, in Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut. “But we knew that we must expect that more would be killed and we braced up and nerved for what might come,” he adds. “The shells were followed by minie bullets, which sang over our heads. The Confederates fired at us just as we had been ordered to fix bayonets for a charge. We were thrown into great confusion. The order was given to get back out of the cornfield. So we started. I crawled and ran in turn and got out of the cornfield to Burnside’s bridge. I was staying there when a soldier came from the rear and asked me to go to the regiment headquarters and dress two head of beef. I went and had no further part of the battle, which was then about over."

James B. Clancy, 16th Connecticut

“We were all green boys at Antietam, and badly frightened,” agrees James B. Clancy of Company A, Sixteenth regiment, who registers at Long’s hotel. “I enlisted,” he continued, “July 17, 1862. We got our guns at Arlington September 5, and when we went into the battle we had not had drills with the guns and most our men knew nothing about loading and shouldering a rifle. We forded a creek and formed a line of battle. Then we entered the cornfield. The corn was as high as our heads. The Confederates began to shoot into the field and men began to drop by our sides. We did not know what to do and when the order was given to break ranks and get out of danger I with the others ran and  crawled to get out of the way. Inexperienced alike were our captains and the minor officers and privates and it certainly was best for us to break and run than to stay and be killed by the hundreds.”

                               14TH CONNECTICUT MONUMENT AT ANTIETAM.                                                                        (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

William Murdock, 14th Connecticut

William Murdock: He was wounded at
Antietam and at the Wilderness.
(MOLLUS Collection)
As a lasting memorial of Antietam, Captain William Murdock of No. 86 Capitol avenue, carries a mark caused by a buckshot wound over his left eye. At the time he was hit he was not obliged to leave the field and never dreamed that the mark would show at this late day. Captain Murdock is uncommunicative concerning his activities on the battlefield. In 1864, he was wounded at the battle of the Wilderness and laid up for five weeks. Captain Murdock was born in Scotland, June 22, 1836. He went to Middletown in 1855 and joined the Fourteenth Connecticut, Company H, in August 1862, as a private. He rose from private to corporal, sergeant and sergeant major, then second and first lieutenant, until his appointment to captaincy of Company A. He was mustered out, May 31, 1865, in Alexandria, Va., and located in Hartford that spring.

Charles Jackson, 8th Connecticut

Charles Jackson, the one-armed letter carrier from the Hartford post office, had two arms before the battle of Antietam. He enlisted on September 8, 1861 in Willamantic in Company D of the Eighth Connecticut regiment – the Norwich Company. He was badly wounded in the right arm after the boys of the Eighth had crossed Antietam creek, worked their way up the hill under Confederate fire and had reached the farthest point of advance of the Union army on Sharpsburg.

Jackson was taken prisoner and taken toward Williamsport and when near that place his arm was amputated by a surgeon in the Twelfth Massachusetts who had been captured – assisted by two Confederate surgeons.

Strange as it may sound, the following day Jackson escaped. A band of Confederates told the Johnny guarding Jackson that he had better pick up his gun and come along as the Yankees were coming. Jackson induced the guard to go on the road with him and they started along toward the Union lines.

Meeting a troop of Feds, the sorry-looking pair were halted and asked where they were going. Jackson answered he was looking for his regiment and had brought this bare-footed Johnny along with his gun. Jackson was told where he could find the Eighth and he told his comrades to be sure to take good care of the Johnny.

A war-time and post-war photo of Henry Adams, who was severely wounded at Antietam.
(Left image: U.S. Army Military History Institute. Right: Connecticut State Library)

Henry M. Adams, 16th Connecticut

At the age of 21 years on August 7, 1862, H.M. Adams of No. 621 New Britain avenue, enlisted in Company G, Sixteenth Connecticut. He received his baptism of fire at Antietam where he received a wound of which he still bears the marks. He was struck between the knee and the thigh by a minie ball which passed entirely through the leg, taking a part of the bone with it. Mr. Adams lay on the battlefield for forty-two hours, fully conscious, before he was found and taken to a field hospital. Here he remained from September 19 until April 1 when he was discharged because of disability.

Jeffrey D. Miller, 16th Connecticut

Jeffrey D. Miller of No. 131 Wethersfield avenue enlisted in Company A, Sixteenth Connecticut in this city August 5, 1862 and served to the end of the war as a private. In speaking of Antietam, he said: “I remember they (the confederation) woke us up mighty early in the morning. We had to leave our position and marched away and around somewhere. I was nothing but a boy and didn’t know anything about war and fighting. Finally we got into the corn field and began to blaze away. First thing I knew I was all alone. The Eleventh Connecticut  [probably 8th Connecticut] was a few yards away and I joined. Two wounded men said, ‘Don’t leave us ‘ and so I stood by. Then the southerners came up and I took at shot at them thinking I was going to die anyway. The two wounded men plead for their lives and an officer replied ‘all right boys, we won’t hurt you.’ I surrendered and just then a nearby confederate took a shot at me. I dropped and pretended to be dead. Then our reinforcements came.” Mr. Miller’s clothing was hit five times.

Ethelbert French, 16th Connecticut

Ethelbert French enlisted in Company A, Sixteenth, August 6, 1862 at the age of 24 years. At the battle of Antietam, he received a severe wound in the left breast, which necessitated his remaining in the hospital from more than a month, and which finally led to his discharge nearly two years later. He returned to Hartford still in ill health and has since lived here. Mr. French is 77 years old and lives at No. 103 Ashley street.

16th Connecticut veteran Henry Tracy's grave in Hazardville Cemetery in Enfield, Conn.

Henry F. Tracy, 16th Connecticut

Henry F. Tracy of No. 115 Oakland terrace enlisted in Company C Sixteenth, July 25, 1862. In September, the regiment joined Burnside’s command. The day was hot and Tracy was overcome. He was left within a fly tent within cannon range. Recovering, Tracy reached a building near the Otto farm, used as a hospital, where Dr. [Abner] Warner, a surgeon in the Sixteenth, was in charge, who gave him work in the place. He pays a tribute to the work of the late Dr. [Nathan] Mayer, a surgeon in the regiment.

After the battle, the men were removed to Sharpsburg. There the Dutch Reformed church was made over into a hospital. Mr. Tracy tells about the death of John Loveland, whose leg was shattered by a cannon ball. The operating surgeon had the reputation of saving every man put under his knife.  Some time after the operation Tracy saw that Loveland’s face was becoming ashen. He threw back the covering and saw that the main artery had burst. Clasping his thumb, he stopped the flow until the surgeon came running up. The dying man requested that his trinkets be sent to his wife. Tracy stoutly refused to withdraw his thumb. Finally, his hand all a tremble, he let go from sheer exhaustion. [Loveland died and was buried in an orchard near the church. His final resting place is Antietam National Cemetery.]

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

1 comment:

  1. Great stories John! It’s incredible that these young volunteers were given rifles and asked to do battle with practically no basic training. The 16th was formed in late August 1862. 3 weeks later they found themselves in an exposed forward position at Antietam and were completely surprised and overwhelmed by the arrival of AP Hill’s veteran S. Carolina regiments. They lost their brigadier general that day and many line officers were casualties. The result is not surprising.