Sunday, May 28, 2017

10 to remember: 'What will father and mother do now?'

The Gettysburg grave of Corporal John Van Alstyne, killed at Culp's Hill on July 3, 1863.
(Photo: Laura Rowland)
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For this year's Memorial Day weekend post, I sought aid of my Civil War blog Facebook page readers, who submitted their own stories of soldiers who died during the war to go with some of mine. 

CORPORAL JOHN VAN ALSTYNE, 150TH NEW YORK: When Lawrence Van Alstyne read the report in his hometown newspaper of  his older brother's death at Gettysburg, his thoughts quickly turned to his parents. "Dear me," the 128th New York private wrote in his diary on July 22, 1863, "what will father and mother do now?"

Another newspaper Lawrence received in the mail while stationed in Louisiana did not include John Van Alstyne's name among those killed, giving him hope his brother was still alive: "On this peg," he wrote, "I hang my hopes of a contradiction of this sad piece of news, and shall feel very anxious until I learn the truth.”

Post-war image of Lawrence Van Alstyne.
"Poor John!" he wrote in 1863 regarding
his brother's death at Gettysburg.
But on July 27, 1863, five days after the initial, sad report, Lawrence received confirmation from his sister Jane that John was indeed dead. He had been shot in the head and killed while defending Culp's Hill on July 3, 1863.

Described as one of "best men" in Company A by his commanding officer, Van Alstyne was standing next to Lieutenant Henry Gridley behind breastworks when he was hit by a bullet just below the corner of his eye. "John Van Alstyne has got it!" another soldier told 108th New York Captain Joseph Cogswell, who recalled seeing "the stalwart form of that big, good soldier sink slowly to the ground." Van Alstyne's "life-blood," the captain recalled, "gushed out in a torrent."

"Poor John!" Lawrence wrote of his 34-year-old brother, "I'll bet he was in the front ranks, for he always was in anything he undertook. He was instantly killed. To know he did not suffer, as some have to, is a great relief. I had hoped the Pine Plains Herald report was not true, but I can hope no longer. I feel so for father and mother. I must write them oftener now, for they will feel more than ever anxious to hear from me."

His sister reported their parents in Amenia, N.Y., held up well when they received the news, "but I know that sort of bravery cuts like a knife," Lawrence wrote. John's colonel wrote the Van Alstynes a "nice letter," telling them what a good soldier their son had been.

"I suppose his body can sometime be brought home," Lawrence wrote, "that is, if it can be identified. If many were killed they were probably tumbled into a long ditch together, for that is the way it is usually done."

Initially buried on George Spangler's farm, John's remains were later disinterred and re-buried in the national cemetery in Gettysburg.

-- Information submitted by Van Alstyne descendant Laura Rowland

-- Van Alstyne, Lawrence, Diary of an Enlisted Man, The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., New Haven, Conn., 1901.
-- The Dutchess County Regiment in the Civil War, Based on writings of Rev. Edward O. Bartlett, D.D., Danbury, Conn., The Danbury Medical Printing Co., Inc., 1907, Page 35

GEORGE BATTLE, 4TH NORTH CAROLINA: Only 16 when he enlisted, Battle joined the Wilson Light Infantry, which would become Company F of the 4th North Carolina. Before the state seceded on May 20, 1861, he cheered the bombardment of Fort Sumter and hoped very much to become a soldier.

Teenager George Battle was
mortally wounded at
Seven Pines on May 31, 1862.
In April 1861, the Wilson militiamen helped secure Fort Macon before they were sent to Garysburg, N.C., to officially became part of the army. George's official enlistment date is June 28, 1861. The regiment arrived in Manassas, Va., a few days after the first major battle of the war and stayed there until the spring of 1862.

During the winter, George's father -- a prominent Baptist minister and founder of Wake Forest College -- tried to get his son out of the army, citing his age. George, however, did not want to leave, and his captain, Jesse S. Barnes, supported him, saying the teenager was big for his age, a good soldier and everyone liked him. He also promised the worried father he would look out for him.

The 4th North Carolina saw its first real action at the Battle of Seven Pines, near Richmond, on May 31, 1862. It was there that George was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the head. He lingered in a Richmond hospital for a few days before succumbing to his injuries, never fully regaining consciousness.

The teenager's death was a hard blow for his older brother Walter, who served in the same company. The captain who had promised to look out for him was killed outright in the same battle. George's final resting place is unknown.

-- Katharina Schlichtherle

PRIVATE DAVID SCHRACK, 51ST PENNSYLVANIA:  In the summer of 1862, Schrack was sick three or four days with erysipelas, an acute infection that typically results in a skin rash. His health quickly took an ugly turn for the worse.

David Schrack's grave in New Bern (N.C.)
National Cemetery. "Daniel" was 
incorrectly carved on the marker.
"His face and head swelled frightfully," noted Samuel Weed, ward master at Hammond Hospital in Beaufort, N.C. "He could not talk any after he was taken on account of the swelling and the last two days he seemed to be insensible except a very short time before he died. He spoke of his friends [and] wished [he] could see them once more and send his last dying words of love to them."

Schrack, who had the "best of care," according to Weed, died on July 12, 1862, six days before his 29th birthday.  "Twas willed that he should die another martyr to his country's liberty," the ward master wrote to the soldier's sister, Annie.

Unmarried, Schrack was buried in the hospital cemetery, his grave marked by a wooden headboard upon which his name, regiment and company were carved. His death was recorded in the hospital records, Weed wrote, "so he can be found at any time even years after the war, for the records will be sent to Washington and there kept.

"I would say for your comfort in the great trial that he had a good, decent Christian burial," Weed assured Annie, "and that he bore the name of a good, faithful soldier."

Perhaps Schrack's well-marked grave ensured his remains were recovered after the war. At an unknown date, his body was disinterred and re-buried in New Bern (N.C.) National Cemetery.

SOURCE: Schrack's pension file, National Archives in Washington D.C., via

PRIVATE AUSTIN FULLER, 16TH CONNECTICUT: When Fuller was exchanged along with other sick and wounded POWs in December 1864, the 23-year-old soldier was just a shell of the man who enlisted in the Union army in August 1862. Eight months' imprisonment in squalid Andersonville in Georgia could wreck a man. In fact, after he finally arrived home in Farmington, Conn., the day after Christmas 1864, he "was taken immediately to his bed, which he never left." Never regaining his health, he died on Jan. 8, 1865. Fuller "expired very suddenly and expectedly," the Connecticut doctor who treated him wrote in February 1865, "very much as I am told many of the men died at Andersonville during the last summer." On a recent visit to Greenwood Cemetery in Avon, Conn., his grave was adorned with two American flags and an old Grand Army of the Republic marker.

SOURCE: Fuller's widow's pension file in National Archives in Washington D.C., via

PRIVATE ROBERT TYLER, 38TH VIRGINIA LIGHT ARTILLERY -- Under cause of  Tyler's death on an application for a widow's pension in 1914, 73-year-old Emily Tyler wrote: "Mashed and cut into pieces by the cars." Apparently returning to his regiment from a furlough, Tyler was struck and killed by a train near Fredericksburg, Va., in 1863. According to records, Private Tyler was AWOL in August 1862, and was listed as a deserter later in the war.  His final resting place is unknown. Emily Tyler never re-married.

-- Submitted by descendant Lorraine Kish

SOURCE: National Archives, Washington D.C., via

PRIVATE PETER MONNEY (Or MOONEY), 57TH MASSACHUSETTS: Of the 15,243 Civil War soldiers buried in Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery,  only 2,474, about 16 percent, are identified. Count Pierre "Peter" Monney among the "fortunate" few.

Marker in Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery
for Peter Mooney, a Swiss-born private
in the 57th Massachusetts.
Born about 1816 in Fribourg, Switzerland, he served with the military in Naples, Italy, in 1850. In 1853, he emigrated to America with his wife and three children, eventually settling in Berkshire County, Mass., where he worked as a laborer. (His name also appears as Mooney in various records.)

Monney, who stood 5-10 and had a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair, was mustered into the 57th Massachusetts in February 1864. His service in the Union army was brief. During the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, 1864, he was shot in his right breast while the 57th Massachusetts supported the assault on the eastern side of the Mule Shoe salient, the regiment's first major fighting of the war. He died in a field hospital a day or two later.

Originally buried at Widow Alsop's farm, he was reinterred in Fredericksburg after the war.

-- Information submitted by descendant Sherrie Westmoreland.

SOURCE: American Civil War Research Database

Found in Richard Morrell's widow's pension file, a record from the family Bible with the birthdates
of his 10 children with his wife, Margaret. (National Archives via
CORPORAL RICHARD MORRELL, 108TH NEW YORK: When he went into battle at Antietam the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, Morrell bore immense responsibility. The 45-year old shoemaker had a family that included his wife, Margaret, and 10 children -- four boys and six girls -- ranging in age from 17 to 11 months. The Morrells had emigrated from England in the 1850s, settling in  Rochester, N.Y.

Despite his family obligations, Morrell enlisted in the 108th New York as a private in July 1862 -- he was promoted to corporal later that month. Less than two months later, he marched through a farmer William Roulette's field with rest of the 108th New York en route to an assault on the Rebels' position in a sunken farm lane.

Sometime during the attack on Bloody Lane, a bullet or piece or artillery shell tore into Morrell's arm, which required two operations. He was taken to General William French's division hospital at Otho J. Smith's farm, less than a mile from the battlefield.

While Morrell recuperated there, a man from Rochester visited with the grievously injured soldier, whom he noted was in dire condition. "[He] is well cared for, but the Doct is much concerned about him," S.D. Porrter wrote Sept. 28 in the one-page note, presumably to Margaret. "He may recover, but you must be prepared for bad news."

The bad news came in a short note to Morrell's wife dated Oct. 14, 1862, from Bolivar Heights, Va., and signed by two 108th New York officers:
"Dear Madam, I take this opportunity to inform you of the death of your husband. He died on or about the 4th day of this month after having his arm amputated twice. Once at the elbow and again at the shoulder. He seemed to be getting along well when lockjaw set in and after intense suffering [of] three days died. His remains were neatly draped and he was buried at Sharpsburg, Maryland. His personal effects I will forward to you by Express tomorrow. Anything further in regard to him will be cheerfully furnished by your obdt. svt. and sympathy in affliction."
Although Morrell's final resting place is unknown, he may be buried among the thousands of other Union soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery.

                  Antietam National Cemetery, where the body of  Corporal Richard Morrell
                         may lie today. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)                   

Guttermuth's grave at
Antietam National Cemetery.
His name is spelled Gutemuth
on the marker.

(Find A Grave)
FREDERICK GUTTERMUTH, 20TH MASSACHUSETTS -- There was no dignity in death for Guttermuth, a 31-year-old cabinet maker from Boston. After the Battle of Antietam, a burial party found the German immigrant's body "stripped by the enemy," a common occurrence. The 20th Massachusetts -- the famed Harvard Regiment -- was one of the regiments in General John Sedgwick's I Division that was flanked in the West Woods.

A married father of 2-year-old son named Hermann and a 1-year-old son named Frederick, Guttermuth was buried beside his comrades, wrote 20th Massachusetts Captain George Macy, who added: "I am pained to lose so good a man -- he fought well always and did nobly in defense of his country." In 1870, Guttermuth's wife, Mary Mathilda, re-married.

SOURCE: Guttermuth's widow's pension file, National Archives, Washington, D.C. via

COLONEL HUGH MCNEIL, 13TH PENNSYLVANIA RESERVES (BUCKTAILS) -- Nearly two months after the highly respected officer's death in the East Woods at Antietam on Sept. 16, 1862, a Pittsburgh newspaper published an unnamed soldier's account of the colonel's supposed feat of marksmanship at South Mountain:
Colonel Hugh McNeil was killed
in the East Woods at Antietam
on Sept. 16, 1862, the day
before major fighting there.
During the battle of South Mountain [Sept. 14, 1862] the rebels held a very strong position. They were posted in the mountain pass, and had infantry on the heights on every side. Our men were compelled to carry the place by story. The position seemed impregnable; large craggy rocks protected the enemy on every side, while our men were exposed to a galling fire. 
A band of rebels occupied a ledge on the extreme right. As the Colonel approached with a few of his men, the unseen force poured upon them a volley. McNeil, on the instant, gave the command: 
"Pour your fire upon those rocks!"
The Bucktails hesitated; it was not an order they had been accustomed to receive; they had always picked their men. 
“Fire!” thundered the Colonel, “I tell you to fire at those rocks!” 
The men obeyed. For some time an irregular fire was kept up, the Bucktails sheltering themselves as best they could behind trees and rocks. On a sudden McNeil caught sight of two rebels peering through an opening in the works to get an aim. The eyes of the men followed the commander and half-a-dozen rifles were leveled in that direction. 
Hugh McNeil's shattered gravestone
in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, N.Y.
(Doug Nightingale Jr. | Find A Grave)
“Wait a minute,” said the Colonel, “I will try my hand. There is nothing like killing two birds with one stone.” 
The two rebels were not in line, but one stood a little distance back of the other, while just in front of the foremost was a slanting rock. Col. McNeil seized a rifle, raised it, glanced a moment along the polished barrel; a report followed, and both the rebels disappeared. At that moment a loud cheer a little distance beyond rent the air. 
“All is right now,” cried the Colonel; “Charge the rascals.” 
The men sprang up among the rocks in an instant. The affrighted rebels turned to run, but encountered another body of Bucktails, and were obliged to surrender. Not a man of them escaped. Everyone saw the object of the Colonel’s order to fire at random among the rocks. He had sent the party around to their rear, and meant this to attract their attention. It was a perfect success. 
The two rebels by the opening in the ledge were found there lying stiff and cold. Col. McNeil’s bullet had struck the slanting rock, and passed through both their heads. Their it lay beside them, flattened. The Colonel picked it up and put it in his pocket.
The body of the 32-year-old commander of the famed Bucktails was transported to New York for burial in Auburn, where he lived before the war.

SOURCE: The Daily Pittsburgh Gazette, Dec. 8, 1862.

A tintype of Henry Pearson atop his gravestone in Fredericksburg, Va.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL HENRY PEARSON, 6TH NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Soon after Lieutenant George E. Upton of the 6th New Hampshire spied a Confederate battery through his field glasses on the afternoon of May 26, 1864,  Pearson stepped up on a stump and peered above the Union field works to have a look for himself. Moments later, a bullet crashed through the 24-year-old officer's head, killing him. Last year, I purchased on eBay a tintype of Pearson. Weeks later, I took it to Henry's grave at Fredericksburg National Cemetery for the photograph above. Read more.

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