Wednesday, September 14, 2016

10 Antietam stories of courage, perseverance and death

Sunrise at Antietam from Branch Avenue.
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The stories of many of those who served during the Civil War have been lost to history. Here are 10 stories brought to light on this blog -- stories of courage, perseverance and death at the Battle of Antietam, fought Sept. 17, 1862, in the farm fields and woodlots near the village of Sharpsburg, Md.:

George Marsh
"TRUSTY SOLDIER WITH A SPOTLESS REPUTATION" -- Shortly after sunrise on Sept. 17, 1862, “some curious fools” in the 8th Connecticut climbed atop a knoll on Henry Rohrbach’s farm to sneak a look at their enemy, alerting Rebels on the far side of Antietam Creek. Suddenly, a 12-pound solid shot burst from a cannon and crashed into the regiment’s ranks in a field near Rohrbach's farmhouse, killing Sergeant George Marsh and two other soldiers, wounding four and splattering 19-year-old Lieutenant Marvin Wait with blood and dirt. At least one report speculated that railroad iron fired by the Rebels killed Marsh, but the real cause was the massive concussion of the solid shot that plowed into the ground in front of the prone officer. Read more.

Philo Pearce
"I  WAS LAYING ON ARMS AND LEGS" -- In a 1925 memoir of his Civil War experiences, Philo Pearce, a private in the 11th Connecticut, wrote vividly about the battle. Of the fighting at Burnside Bridge, Pearce recalled, "I fired so fast that my rifle got hot and I had to pour water on it to cool it." Detailed to aid surgeons, he recalled getting dizzy from the fumes of chloroform used to anesthetize the wounded, staggering outside and briefly falling asleep. When he awoke, he lay upon a pile of amputated arms and legs. Pearce's account, believed to have never been published, also includes details of the mortal wounding of highly regarded 11th Connecticut Captain John Griswold. Read more.

John W. Hilldrup
SET ASIDE TO DIE -- When the regimental surgeon saw John Wesley Hilldrup's grievous bullet wound in his right side, he decided the 22-year-old private in the 30th Virginia was a lost cause and had him put aside to die. Wounded during an attack near Dunker Church, Hilldrup was left in the hands of Union surgeons after the Rebels retreated across the Potomac River two days later. But like this 11th Connecticut soldier who was terribly wounded at Burnside Bridge at Antietam, Hilldrup miraculously survived, was paroled and eventually made his way back home to Spotsylvania County, Va. He later re-joined his regiment. Read more.

Samuel Gould
"SHRANK FROM EVERYTHING ... SELFISH" -- On the morning of the bloodiest day of the Civil War, in a battle in which more than 130 soldiers in his 13th Massachusetts would become casualties, Samuel Shelton Gould was woefully unprepared to fight. It wasn't his fault. A new recruit -- he had just joined the regiment days earlier straight from Harvard, where he was a member of the senior class -- the private wasn't supplied a musket. Assigned to be a stretcher-bearer, he picked up a weapon from another soldier in his regiment who fell wounded in the awful chaos during the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. His war that morning was brief. Shot through the heart, Gould apparently lingered a short time before he died. Read more.

Francis Mobley
"SAVED FROM INSTANT DEATH" -- Francis Mobley, a lieutenant in the 50th Georgia, couldn't believe he initially survived a bullet wound to the chest. "...it was God's mercy that saved me from instant death," he wrote to his wife, Rhoda, in rural Nashville, Ga., "as there is not one in a thousand that could live after receiving such a wound." In the months leading up to Antietam, frequent correspondence from Mobley to his wife of nearly six years revealed a range of his emotions -- anxiety, fear, love, agony, hope. When he left Georgia for a camp in North Carolina in the spring of 1862, he begged his 25-year-old wife -- "Rodey" was his nickname for her -- for her understanding. Read more.

Jarvis Blinn
"I AM A DEAD MAN!" -- Pierced through the heart by a bullet, Jarvis E. Blinn knew it was time to meet his maker. "I am a dead man!" the 26-year-old captain in the 14th Connecticut Infantry said moments after he was shot. Barely a month after he enlisted in the Union army, Blinn -- a man who had an "expression of quiet but earnest resolve tinged with a dash of sadness in his air" -- was one of 38 men killed or mortally wounded in the 14th Connecticut. A mechanic from New Britain, Conn.  before the war, Blinn left behind a wife, Alice, and two young children.  A Hartford undertaker named W.W. Roberts brought Blinn and the bodies of seven other soldiers killed at Antietam back to Connecticut in the second week of  October 1862. Read more.

Bela Burr
"FOR GOD'S SAKE A DRINK OF WATER!" -- After the major fighting stopped late in the afternoon, the misery was only beginning for 16th Connecticut wounded who lay in John Otto's cornfield, no-man's land between the Rebel and Yankee armies at Antietam. Collapsing with gunshot wounds just 15 feet from the body of Company I captain John Drake, Private Bela Burr of Farmington, Conn., was unable to leave the field. His brother, Francis, who served with Bela in Company G, was severely wounded in the groin. Wounded six times, 18-year-old Private James Brooks, the son of a farmer from Stafford, Conn., stunningly clinged to life. Private John Loveland, a 23-year-old barber from Hartford, drifted in and out of consciousness as he lay wounded among the cornstalks. His fractured femur protruded two or three inches from his left leg. Read more.

Maria Hall
"FORGET NOT, MY FRIEND" -- After his right leg was torn apart by a cannon ball, 12th Massachusetts Corporal Frederick Swarman spent six months at Smoketown Hospital, where he was cared for by a nurse named Maria Hall. On April 24, 1863, three weeks after he was released from the hospital, Hall included this line in a four-page letter to the soldier: "Forget not, my friend, to whose gracious protection and care you owe your life and its blessings." Apparently eager to re-join the army, Swarman re-enlisted again on Aug. 17, 1863, in the Veterans Reserve Corps, but his Antietam wounds wouldn't allow him to serve for long. In January 1864, he was discharged for good. Read more.

G. Chamberlain
A SLOW, AGONIZING DEATH --  After he sliced open George F. Chamberlain’s shot-up right knee on Oct. 17, 1862, Surgeon Edward McDonnell drained more than a pint of pus from the 18-year-old soldier’s wound. His patient was “very nervous,” the surgeon noticed, undoubtedly because the Rebel bullet in his leg still had not been removed a month after the battle. A private in Company G of the 16th Connecticut, Chamberlain at least could count on the comfort of his mother, who traveled from Middletown, Conn., and remained by her son’s side in Maryland hospitals for six months while he recuperated. Read more.

Henry Adams
"GOD, HOW THOSE FELLOWS COULD FIGHT" -- On Sept. 17, 1915, the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, The Hartford Daily Times published an ambitious project: 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. "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." Read more.

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