Sunday, October 02, 2022

See battle damage on house in Sharpsburg, Maryland

Historic house at 111 East Chapline Street in Sharpsburg, Md.
Artillery damage visible near a second-story window.

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Artillery damage to stairs railing.
The circa-1854 Gloss House on East Chapline Street in Sharpsburg, Md., was damaged by artillery and gunfire in September 1862. A U.S. Army artillery shot penetrated an outside wall and broke a stairs railing — that damage and bloodstains are visible inside. Over the past 40 years, I’ve visited Sharpsburg dozens of times but didn’t know about the battle-damaged house until longtime Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member Dennis Frye pointed it out on a tour during the Center For Civil War Photography’s excellent Image of War seminar. Bullet damage appears on a window frame in the rear. Federal artillery often struck the roof of this house. 

Private property. Do not trespass.

            GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Battle-damaged house at 111 East Chapline Street. 

Artillery damage on side of the house on East Chapline Street
Longtime historian Dennis Frye points to an inscription on a brick.

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Sunday, September 04, 2022

Spared by the Union Army when it invaded Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Hey, that's me soaking in history (and beer) before the Utah State-Alabama football game.

This is the “Little Round House, one of the few buildings on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa not burned by the Union Army in 1865. It provided shelter for cadets on sentry duty in inclement weather. I think the Yankees also spared the football stadium. 

Roll Tide!



Sunday, August 21, 2022

Descending into a rabbit hole in 'Bloody Madison' County

Historical marker for the Shelton Laurel massacre.

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Seeking information about the Shelton Laurel Massacre of 1863, I connected last Saturday at coffee shop in the rural, hippy town of Marshall, N.C., with an “old, anarchist, ornery, hillbilly guy” named Shane, who connected me with the sweet lady at the hardware store down the street named Kathy, whose customer named Wilson, the dude with the excellent, braided gray goatee, warned me about traveling back into the area’s hollers without permission. That conversation led me to the funky bookstore across the street with the sign in a front window that read “Warning: No Stupid People Beyond This Point.” I went in anyway and visited with the proprietor, a man named Jamey, who suggested I visit in the department store across the street with Georgette, whose husband is a descendant of one of the massacre victims.

The 1970 slaying of VISTA worker Nancy Morgan
remains a mystery--at least officially.
Whew. I’m exhausted reading that first paragraph.

Georgette, who sold me an excellent fried apple pie for four bucks, connected me via phone with Vicki Lane, author of a novel on the massacre called “And The Crows Took Their Eyes.” She’s a longtime resident of this area in the rugged and mysterious Appalachians. And now I’m officially descending deep into the rabbit hole of this Civil War tragedy.

On Saturday afternoon, I had an enlightening conversation with Vicki about the massacre and the place she has called home since a move from Florida in 1975. As an outsider, she felt compelled to adapt to the ways of the locals in this county that earned the nickname “Bloody Madison.” 

“We came here to learn,” says Lane, who lives on a farm in the hills outside Marshall. “We learned how to make tobacco. We learned how to milk cows. And we learned how to butcher pigs.”

The Shelton Laurel Massacre cast a long shadow over this beautiful part of the country— once one of the country’s poorest areas. Some still live without running water. But “rich hippies” and other transplants have greatly changed the character of Marshall and the area.

“Marshall used to have a grocery store, a funeral home and two florists,” says Lane. “And a guy who swept the street with a push broom.” But most locals seem content with the changes, Lane says.

The Shelton Laurel Massacre—the murders by Confederate soldiers of area Unionists in January 1863—isn’t the only area tragedy to earn national headlines. In 1970, law enforcement discovered the body of a government worker for the VISTA program—an anti-poverty effort—naked and hog-tied in the back of her abandoned car off a mountain road near Hot Springs, N.C. The murder of Nancy Morgan remains unsolved, at least officially.

There’s no mystery who killed those Unionists. Lt. Col James Keith commanded the Rebel soldiers who murdered 13 near Laurel Creek—including members of the Shelton clan. Keith never faced justice, living out his final days in Arkansas.

Dozens of Sheltons still live in the area.

“A friend who was a mail carrier told me he’d have to deliver mail to 15 Daniel Sheltons and 18 John Sheltons,” says Lane. “He never knew if he was going to the right mailbox.”

For more, read my book, “A Civil War Road Trip of a Lifetime,” coming spring 2023. 🙏 For more on Lane’s book, go here or buy it on amazon.com.

VISTA worker Nancy Morgan was murdered near Hot Springs, N.C.


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Thursday, August 11, 2022

A slow-motion look at a vintage baseball game at-bat


A Nashville Maroons player in the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball belts the “onion” — the baseball — to right-center during a game at Bicentennial Park in Nashville. Read my story in America's Civil War magazine about my playing experience in the association.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

'Incredible bravery': A visit to New Market Heights (Va.)


Tim Talbott stands by Four Mile Creek, an obstacle for the USCT on Sept. 29, 1864.

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Dripping with sweat on a sweltering Virginia morning, I trudge behind Tim Talbott deep into the woods, a half-dozen or so miles south of Richmond. In the distance, traffic drones on the interstate. But it seems like we’re in another world.

Talbott's T-shirt, drenched in sweat, features a copy
of a painting of a USCT soldier.
“Is this remote enough for you?” says Talbott, the 52-year-old chief administrative officer for the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. We are tramping upon the New Market Heights battlefield, where, on Sept. 29, 1864, 14 U.S. Colored Troops and two of their white officers earned the Medal of Honor for valor.

Days before I set up my visit to Virginia, Talbott messaged me about New Market Heights: “It’s always an honor to be on that ground.” But this important battle gets stiff-armed in the history books.

Talbott grew up in Madison, Ind., a stop on the Underground Railroad—the network escaped slaves used to flee to free states and Canada. He has a deep interest in the experiences of Black people during the Civil War. The wallpaper on his phone is of Frederick Douglass, the famous orator, abolitionist, writer, and reformer. The copy of the painting on his maroon T-shirt, drenched in sweat, is of a one-legged USCT soldier on crutches. New Market Heights is his favorite battlefield.

During our nearly two-hour trek, Talbott and I examine the remains of earthworks of the famed Texas Brigade, swat away spider webs and mayflies, battle briars, remain wary of ticks, and explore Four Mile Creek—a major obstacle for the USCT as they advanced under withering fire toward the Rebel works. The USCT eventually forced the Confederates to abandon their line.

“Incredible bravery,” Talbott says of the Black soldiers at New Market Heights.

For more, read my book, A Civil War Road Trip of a Lifetime, coming soon.

Remains of earthworks constructed by the Texas Brigade
Tim Talbott navigates a path deep in the woods.

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

I love 'witness trees.' Plus, a true story about one in Nashville!

Sid Champion V, a great dude, at Champion Hill (Miss.) battlefield

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Mrs. B loves Civil War "witness" trees. So if you'd like to send me a hunk to add to my collection in the garage … 😁

True story: After a violent storm in Nashville, I noticed limbs from the witness tree scattered about. So, I called a friend, a lawyer and longtime relic hunter. My friend called the property owner, who let us inspect fallen limbs during a tree trimming.

“You get this one,” my friend told me. Several waves of his metal detector had determined no wartime metal embedded in my hunk.

Then he had five or six other large hunks of witness tree hauled away. A few waves of his magic wand over them indicated the presence of… well… something inside each.

Weeks later, he had the hunks X-rayed at his veterinarian, expecting the things to “light up like a Christmas tree” with battle relics. The result: Zip. My friend looked like his dog had just died. One of my hunks, probably filled with wartime lead, still rests in my garage.

In this post are a few of my favorite witness trees.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

Nashville: Granny White Pike, on old Lea Farm
Antietam: Burnside Bridge
Antietam: West Woods. This one is probably gone.
Fisher's Hill (Va.) battlefield. Magnificent.
Nashville: Secret location
Nashville; This one toppled in storm. My brother-in-law Nels gives perspective.

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Thursday, July 21, 2022

5 minutes at grave of Confederate Lt. general John Pemberton


Born in Philadelphia to a prominent family, John Pemberton married a Virginia woman named Martha Thompson in 1848, and lived in the South before the Civil War. A captain in the regular army when the war began, the West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran marched his troops to Washington, resigned his commission, and joined the Confederate army in 1861. Pemberton became infamous in the Confederacy for surrendering Vicksburg, Miss., on July 4, 1863. He died on July 13, 1881, and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadealphia. Read more on my blog here.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Faceoff: 'Sledge of Nashville' vs. 'Wizard of the Saddle'



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At the excellent Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, Union General George Thomas, a Virginian and West Pointer who remained loyal to the United States, faces off against Rebel cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest, a post-war KKK member and notorious slave trader. The life-sized painting of Thomas is something to behold. In July 2021, the bronze bust of Forrest was removed from the Tennessee State Capitol. The removal of Forrest followed years of protests and pressure by activists. In the summer of 2020, Gov. Bill Lee declared it was time for the bust to go. 

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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Then & Now: Preservation at Cold Harbor (Va.) crossroads

Cropped enlargement of June 1864 image by Timothy O'Sullivan (Library of Congress)

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I recently spent time reporting in Mechanicsville, Va., for a Cold Harbor-related story. It was good to see the American Battlefield Trust had purchased the site of one of the taverns that once stood at the Cold Harbor crossroads. A post-war structure already has been demolished. Two inns stood at the crossroads in 1864—one photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan on June 4, 1864. It was run by W.P. Burnett. The “Now” image shows that site, although not from the same angle as O'Sullivan's. Here’s an ABT video about the inn. I counted 15 soldiers in this cropped enlargement of the O'Sullivan image, which you can click on to enlarge further:
 


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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Then & Now: Deep Bottom Landing (Va.) at James River

1865 image of Deep Bottom Landing pontoon (Andrew Russell | Library of Congress)
Present-day view of the site, a popular fishing spot.

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After the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864, Ulysses Grant had Benjamin Butler place a small force from his Army of the James here at Deep Bottom Landing to protect the pontoon bridge that allowed Union forces to cross the James River. It’s an important but seldom-visited spot. Apparently it’s a good place to fish. The site is south of seldom-visited Fort Harrison, Confederate defenses south of Richmond. A fabulous bike trail nearby. I’ll be back.
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

'Are you Union?': My first ghostly adventure in Gettysburg

Weirdness at the Sachs Covered Bridge
Your adventurous blogger

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So I went on a paranormal adventure in Gettysburg over the weekend, words I never in the history of ever expected to type. It was a night of spirit meters, ectoplasm, EVP recorders, and a bump in the night on the Sachs Covered Bridge at 12:03 a.m., which is roughly five hours past my usual bedtime.

Oh, that bump in the night isn’t what you think. It was merely a Rem Pod placed on the bridge to detect spirits. You can get one of those merry-go-round-like thingies online if you are interested, according to Hayden, the dude from an after-hours paranormal place in town.

A Rem Pod used to detect ghosts.
At the bridge, things kind of got weird, and that was long before I met a woman from Ohio named Janet (completely sober), whom I observed holding a sticklike thing and asking the spirits at the bridge:

“Are you Union?”

“Are you Confederate?”

I was told that a Sachs Covered Bridge spirit nicknamed “Tennessee” will smoke your cigarette if you leave one on the railing. I got a chill just writing that sentence, and I don’t even smoke.

Our lead investigator told me of a soldier ghost she spotted on the Baltimore Pike one night after her shift at the Dairy Queen. So, I clutched the steering wheel extra-hard and kept my eyes peeled on the drive back to my hotel. Don’t worry, Mrs. B. All is well.

Much more on this adventure in my book, coming soon. 🙏

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

A skirmish was fought here near the McCurdy Schoolhouse. But I detected no ghosts.
A device used to detect spirits.


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Thursday, June 16, 2022

An adventure near the Big Black River in Mississippi

The muddy Big Black River.

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On a recent adventure with the inimitable Sid Champion V, we stopped to admire the mighty and muddy Big Black, near where Ulysses Grant pummeled John Pemberton on May 17, 1863. The Union victory led to the 47-day siege of Vicksburg. You can still see the foundation stones of a destroyed wartime bridge in the water.

Champion, as he often does, told a story. He was giving a Civil War tour here to a husband and wife. From a spot above the river, far from the slow-moving Big Black, the woman spotted an alligator, ran to car, and locked herself in.

“No alligator is gonna chase her up here!” Champion scoffed.

This backwoods adventure also included me shooting of a photo of a huge “witness tree” in someone’s front yard, examination of ground where Yankee artillery killed Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman, and a brief side trip to the restored wartime Coker house.

I think we also passed a chicken processing plant and talked about squirrel hunting and squirrel brains.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊 | For more, read my book, coming soon. 🙏

Witness tree on Smith Station Road.
Restored Coker house, a wartime residence.
Death site of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman, killed May 16, 1863 at Champion Hill battle.


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Thursday, June 09, 2022

Meet the Mississippi museum owner who makes you think

Charles Pendleton opened his museum in May 2021.

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Meet Charles Pendleton, a 53-year-old Vicksburg, Mississippi-born owner of three oil change stations; former classic car collector; father of three (a registered nurse, attorney, and a Marine); and president of the remarkable Vicksburg Civil War Museum, where for the $7 entrance fee you can examine his collection of thousands of Civil War artifacts and stimulate your mind. It’s the only museum I’ve visited where you can get a scoop of Blue Bell Ice Cream (five bucks a cone) and listen to the blues played on a continuous loop.

A Battle of Chattanooga war log.
Pendleton, whose Civil War collecting began in 2018, may be a universe of one. I know of no other Black person who owns a Civil War museum. His opened in May 2021. The museum, at the corner of Washington and China streets, is housed in a former drugstore. Its owner displayed Civil War relics and sold “voodoo lotion” in the back. 

Pendleton’s wife runs the oil change business while he pursues his Civil War passion. Most of his collection he purchased at Civil War shows. “People know when I’m there, I’m there to spend money,” Pendleton said.

To your right, as you enter the museum, Pendleton displays copies of the letters of secession, word for word, for the 11 Confederate states. Turn left to see a collection of artillery shells. In the back, you’ll find a replica slave cabin and one of the most remarkable set of documents you’ll see anywhere: framed bills of sale for a young slave named Ella from 1848.

The Mississippi River cruise boats empty nearby, so Pendleton gets a steady flow of visitors—“100 to 150 a day,” he told me. As we chatted, a visitor from London offered Pendleton a museum review.

“Amazing job. Brilliant.”

For 90 minutes the next day, Pendleton and I discussed Civil War monuments and race. He asked hard, thought-provoking questions. I plan to visit with him again soon. Until then ...

Read more about Pendleton in my book, coming soon. 🙏

Pendleton's huge collection of artillery shells.
A display on slavery.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Cold Harbor, ghosts, spirit energy and black vultures

      2nd Connecticut Heavies suffered more than 300 casualties here on June. 1, 1864. 
                        (CLICK AT UPPER RIGHT FOR FULL-SCREEN PANORAMA.)

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Now I’m highly suspect of battlefield ghost stories, but open to the concept of spirit energy. During my first visit years ago to Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864), the killing ground in Virginia, the hair on my arms and neck stood straight up on ground where the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery suffered dozens of losses. The place felt eerie then and has during each subsequent visit. 

As darkness settled over Cold Harbor a decade or more ago, I met a local couple walking their large dog. They said they often walk the battlefield.

Remains of Cold Harbor trench.

“This was an awfully bloody place," the man said.

The woman nodded and then glanced at their dog.

“He often goes into the woods," she said, "to chase the ghosts."

The story about the ugly birds gets me most.

“Black against the pale hot sky they drifted into sight by ones and twos, floating high above the overgrown creek bottoms and zigzag trenches,” Ernest B. Furgurson wrote in “Not War But Murder, his book on Cold Harbor. “Gradually there were dozens of them, wheeling, banking, slowly spiraling lower, slipping down toward the fields so thickly dotted with Union blue.”

In June 1864, the black vultures had come to feast on the dead and wounded. I have lain in the very same fields, staring at the sky.

What an awful place.


SHARE: Have your own spirit energy/ghost stories? E-mail me at jbankstx@comcast.net. Your story could end up in my book, coming soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

'Where dreams come true': Reenacting on Georgia battlefield

Melea Medders Tennant and her family reacquired their hallowed ground. 

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So I attended the annual Battle of Resaca (Ga.) reenactment on the very ground fighting occurred in May 1864, and naturally Nashville-based Mrs. B gave me grief.

“I want my axle to come home with my car.”

We can trace Mrs. B’s angst to my recent adventure in rural Mississippi in her SUV — she calls it “Murray” — on roads that were, ah, a little suboptimal. Let it go, Mrs. B! Murray can take anything I dish out. Well, except for that ford on the Potomac River when I was following the September 1862 route of A.P. Hill to Antietam.

I passed on these Ulysses Grant cigars.
Anywho, the day at Resaca became sublime when I spotted my friend Melea Medders Tennant. The ground upon which the reenactment was held—hallowed ground—had been in her family for generations. Then it slipped away.

Months ago, Melea and her family banded together to reacquire the property, more than 400 acres in all. Her sister received the news of the deal closing as she arrived at Disney World and spotted the “Where Dreams Come True” sign. Melea and I hugged.

The rest of the day was kind of a blur. For a buck, I bought a bumper sticker reading “We Will No Longer Be Called Hillbilly Rednecks. We Will Henceforth Be Known As Appalachian Americans.” (Mrs. B refuses to let me stick it to Murray.) A sutler named Chuck, who was eating venison meatloaf, baked beans and mashed potatoes and sweating profusely, called Union Army renactors who skedaddled early “pansies.” I ran out of money and tried to score a free Sno-Cone at the cash-only stand on hallowed ground but struck out. Ugh. I’m a longtime journalist/freeloader, lady!

By the way, Mrs. B’s Murray made it home sort of OK.

Let’s keep history alive.

For more, read my book, coming soon. 👌

Rebel musicians in action.
The reenactment took place where the fighting did in May 1864.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

In a Connecticut cemetery, two brothers are not forgotten

A before and after of the Hollister brothers' marker in a Middle Haddam, Conn., cemetery.

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More than a decade ago, I spotted a grimy gravestone for the Hollister brothers—Francis, 20, and Frederick, 18—in Union Hill Cemetery in Middle Haddam, Conn. Both served in Company K of the 14th Connecticut and died of disease within a half hour of each other in a camp near Fredericksburg, Va., two days before Christmas 1862.

“They lost their blankets at Antietam and for three months had to sleep out of doors or crouch scantily clad all night long over a smoky camp-fire, from which exposure they died,” according to a regimental history. The brothers' bodies were returned to Connecticut and buried "with appropriate ceremonies" on  Jan. 11, 1863.

Now the good news from Kimberly, who read an old post on the brothers on my blog. She and her husband cleaned the stone. Fabulous work.

“It took about three separate cleanings to get the gravestone as white as you see it. It could stand to use at least two more cleanings this season because there is still some very slight staining over the epitaph, and it's still a bit spotty at the bottom of the gravestone. This was one challenging stone to clean! It was black with years of biological growth and sticky tree sap, forming a thick cement-like layer on the gravestone. We also planted some daffodil bulbs (which have since bloomed) and placed a new GAR marker for the brothers.”

Let’s keep history alive. 👊


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SOURCES
  • Page, Charles, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Meriden, Conn.: The Horton Printing Company, 1906
  • Hartford Courant, Jan. 20, 1863

Thursday, May 12, 2022

An Antietam story comes full circle for me

A collection of documents and a war-time image of William Horton, courtesy of a
Horton descendant. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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When we lived in Connecticut, I visited an unforgettable cemetery in rural Stafford Springs. The place became seared into my brain for two reasons: the yapping (and unchained) dogs nearby and the beautiful, ornate gravestone of William Horton. On Sept. 17, 1862, the 31-year-old lieutenant in the 16th Connecticut suffered a mortal wound in the 40-Acre Cornfield at Antietam.

William Horton's gravestone in Stafford Springs, Conn.
Nearly 10 months later, another tragedy rocked Horton’s widow Laura: the death of the couple’s young son, James.

Ten years after my visit to the cemetery, Horton’s story came full circle for me. I recently opened a packet mailed by a Horton descendant. It included a copy of a wartime image of Horton, pension documents, and a copy of the sermon preached at his funeral on Oct. 8, 1862.

The crowd was so large at the service that Reverend Alexis W. Ide moved it outside and preached from the steps of Stafford Springs Congregational Church, "under an awning formed by the national flag."

Ide's 27-year-old brother, George, a private in the 2nd Massachusetts, had been killed at Cedar Mountain in Virginia nearly two months earlier.

Ide delivered a sermon that was equal parts eulogy, political diatribe and instruction on how the country should remember its fallen soldiers.

"A nation should mourn for its slain in view of the fact that the cause of patriotism is a holy cause," Ide said. “Human governments are institutions of God. The powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God."

Late in his sermon, Ide addressed Horton’s 27-year-old widow.

"It is God who has removed your husband, your nearest earthly friend; and He thus designs to bring you nearer to Himself. He is the God of the widow and fatherless. A most weighty responsibility now rests upon you, for a wise improvement in this providence. Your husband, and the event, you must leave in hands of the supreme Ruler of the universe. Real good from your present affliction can only be found in God.”

Let’s keep history alive.

16th Connecticut monument in the 40-Acre Cornfield at Antietam.

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SOURCE
  • "Sermon Preached Oct. 8, 1862, at Stafford Springs, at the Funeral of Lieut. William Horton of Co. I, 16th Conn. Regt. Volunteeers, Who Was Killed at the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862," A.W. Ide