Sunday, February 05, 2017

'I fear that Louis is dead': Searching for Private Souvey

Close-up of a marker for an unknown New York soldier in Antietam National Cemetery.
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Weeks after the Battle of Antietam, Ellen Souvey must have been filled with dread. She had not heard of her husband's fate since the fighting on Sept. 17, 1862, and battle accounts and casualty lists published in local newspapers since then were grim.

"This day will be memorable for one of the bloodiest fought battles on the American continent," the New York Times reported about Antietam on Sept. 23, 1862. In the days and weeks afterward, the newspaper published on its front page lists of Union dead and wounded from the battle in western Maryland.

A private in the 42nd New York, Louis Souvey probably was wounded in the II Corps' attack about 9:30 a.m., when General John Sedgwick's division was flanked near the West Woods. The 345-man "Tammany Regiment," mainly Irish immigrants from New York City, suffered 181 casualties, more than 50 percent of its strength.

Aware her 35-year-old husband was in a hospital, Mrs. Souvey wrote to an officer in the 42nd New York inquiring about his health. But what little news he shared in a short letter in return was bleak. (See letter and transcription below.)

"... I cannot give you certain information about him," Lieutenant Henry Van Voast of Company E wrote from the regiment's camp in Falmouth, Va., opposite Fredericksburg, on Nov. 26, 1862, "but from all the information that I can get I fear that Louis is dead though I am not certain that he is dead." Captain Thomas Abbott of Company E may have been in the same hospital as Louis, the lieutenant wrote, but he had no idea where the officer might be found.

The Samuel Poffenberger farm, known as the "Stone House Hospital," is adjacent to the Antietam
battlefield. "Dangerously wounded" 42nd New York Private Louis Souvey may have been taken here.
Abbott, who had been shot in the thigh during the regiment's attack and carried from the field, heard Louis was "dangerously wounded," a victim of "raking fire" from the enemy on a "rise of ground." But he also was unsure of the fate of Souvey, who almost certainly was wounded near the Hagerstown Pike and Dunker Church.

Abbott recalled Louis being taken to a hospital "adjacent to the battle field," perhaps the farm of widow Susan Hoffman, George Line or Samuel Poffenberger, all used as Federal hospitals during and after the battle. The captain himself was eventually cared for in nearby Frederick, Md., a hospital town after Antietam.  (He was discharged from the army for disability on Sept. 8, 1863.)

In a letter to an unknown man, perhaps a Souvey family member, Abbott wrote he was especially fond of Louis, who took care of his tent during the army's Peninsula Campaign in Virginia months earlier. The private was a "faithful, honest fellow," the captain added, "and as brave a man that ever shouldered a musket." (See letter and transcription below.)

Concluded Abbott about Souvey: "Hoping that he is spared to family and friends."

Exactly when Ellen and her 9-year-old daughter, Adelaide, received word of Louis' fate is unknown. According to a document in the widow's pension file in the National Archives, he died at an unnamed hospital at Antietam on Sept. 22, 1862, just five days after the battle. Although his final resting place is unknown, his grave may be in Antietam National Cemetery, where the remains of 4,776 Union soldiers are buried.

National Archives via
Falmouth, Nov. 26th, 1862
Mrs. Souvey

I received your letter yesterday enquiring about your husband. I am sorry to say that I cannot give you certain information about him, but from all the information that I can get I fear that Louis is dead. I know of no one that was in that hospital except Capt. Thomas Abbott and I cannot tell what has become of the Captain as I have not heard from him since he was wounded altho he may be home, but I don't know where he lives in New York. This is all the information that I can give about your husband. I have made all the enquiries that I could about him.

Yours truly
Henry Van Voast
Lieut. Company E 42nd

National Archives via
City Hotel, Frederick, Md.
December 1, 1862
(Third line indecipherable)

Dear Sir
I have received your note asking for information requesting a member of my company.

I am sorry I cannot inform you whether he is alive or not. When we first engaged the enemy, my command, being the third company in line, were resting on high mound, or rise of ground, which exposed them to the raking fire of the enemy. There the brave Louis fell with several others, badly wounded. Seeing that I was fast losing my men ...

National Archives via
... I advanced the remainder of my command about ten paces off the high ground, into a hollow, where there was some cover.

There I had the misfortune to fall myself, being shot through the thigh, from which I was still confined to my bed on the following day. When I was carried off the field I was informed that Louis had been taken to one of the hospitals adjacent to the battle field and that he was dangerously wounded. I have not heard from him since but I trust that he is still living for I was much endeared to him. He attended to ...

National Archives via
... my mess and took care of my tent during our campaign on the Peninsula, which relieved him of much hard labor and picket duty. I found a faithful honest fellow and as brave a man that ever shouldered a musket. You can receive information whether he died there or was sent to hospital by writing to Lieut. E. R. Pierce of the Regt, Falmouth, Va., 2nd Army Corps.

I have written for a list of the wounded and dead but have not yet received it. Inquire for Louis Souvey as his name is thus spelled on the roll. Hoping that he is spared ...

National Archives via his family and friends.

I remain yours respectfully,

Thomas Abbott
Captain Co. E 42 NY

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- Louis Souvey widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service via, Washington

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