Sunday, October 22, 2017

Remembering Private Henry Adams, 'City of the Living Dead'

Grave marker for 120 Union soldiers buried in a trench at Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.
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Deep in thought, the tall, mid-70ish man wearing a gray suit and blue tie stared down at the pearl-white tombstone. He had traveled to Florence, S.C., from Ohio to attend the funeral of a friend, a Korean War veteran, but was captivated for the moment by the marker for the unknown soldiers.

Under the government-issued gravestone we both examined at the national cemetery, the remains of 120 Union soldiers lie buried. In another trench only steps away, a gravestone marks the final resting place of 133 more Union soldiers. Yards from that marker, 128 more poor souls lie buried in another trench.

In all, there are 16 such markers at the Florence National Cemetery, where massive trenches hold the bodies of more than 2,000 Union soldiers -- mostly victims of disease, malnutrition or inhumane treatment at the Confederate prison stockade nearby. The bodies of the POWs were buried haphazardly on what once was land of a plantation owner who may have been a Union sympathizer. "Chucked 'em in like muttons," an observer recalled.

Pocket diary kept by 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams
while he was a captive at the Florence (S.C.) Stockade.
(Connecticut Histocial Society collection)
As we tried to take in the enormity of the Civil War tragedy, the elderly man and I reached the same conclusion. "What a shame," we said to each other, slowly shaking our heads.

Two years ago at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, I read the unforgettable diary kept by a POW whose remains probably lie under one of those 16 markers in Florence. Already weak from his imprisonment at Andersonville, in southwestern Georgia, 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams was transferred to the Florence Stockade on Oct. 8, 1864.

"Cool and pleasant," the 20-year-old soldier wrote on Oct. 19, 1864, in his leather-covered pocket diary. "We heard a sermon preached in our ward. There is talk of an exchange of the sick but can't tell." The entry in the diary the next day, written in another person's hand, stunningly read: "The writer of the foregoing died at 9 o'clock pm."

After my cemetery visit,  I drove the short distance down a narrow road to see what remains of where Henry had died nearly 153 years earlier. From September 1864 until the 23-acre camp closed in February 1865, more than 13,000 Union soldiers passed through the gates at the Florence Stockade. Nearly 2,800 of them died there.

Months after the war, the area next to the camp was "full of sink-holes and stagnant waters," according to a Chicago newspaper correspondent, and plagued by "miasmatic odors and malarial influences." It was, the correspondent noted, a "breeding-place of agues and fevers, typhoids and rheumatic complaints -- the rank and pestilerous home of disease and death." Today, the town's water treatment plant is located about 75 yards from a gravel road leading to the old stockade.

Nature and time have conspired to erase most of the original POW camp. But the remarkable, descriptive newspaper account, published in the Chicago Tribune on Oct, 30, 1865 (see below), fills in gaps in our imaginations. On a hot, stormy fall day "within the stockade," the correspondent found prisoners' pathetic huts, scraps from a Bible, a diary, a photograph of three ladies and much more in the "City of the Living Dead."

And on a sandy slope about a quarter-mile from the stockade, he discovered trenches filled with Union dead. Those soldiers "laid themselves down in long rows for final sleep," he wrote, "and for the glorious reward due unselfish souls."

        GOOGLE STREET  VIEW: Pan right to see gravel road leading to stokade site.

(From Our Special Corresponent)
Within The Stockade,
Florence, S.C., Oct. 15, 1865

Does it seem affectation that I date my letter from "Within the Stockade" at this place? At least I write it there -- write it in my note book, on my knee, sitting on a block of wood, in one of the hut houses built by the hands of those who served the cause of Union and Liberty in the prisons of Secession and Slavery -- write it to the accompaniment of glaring lightning and crashing thunder and driving rain. Will these mud walls shelter me through the storm on this hot Sunday afternoon? I cannot forget that they have sheltered men who perilled vastly more than ease and comfort; and as I look through the hold that they called a "door," and see the acres of such barbaric but sanctified habitation, I lift a reverent heart of thanksgiving to Him who gave us the victory and blessed the struggle and suffering of that great army through whom we have National unity and the assured promise of universal freedom.

FLORENCE IS A NAME rather than a place -- or, say, a point at which three railroads centre, rather than a town. There is a hotel and a church and a machine shop, and two so called stores and three bar-rooms and twenty-five or thirty residences, and a great pine forest. There is a long broad street -- at one end of which is the hotel -- a somewhat pretentious, two-story wood building, with a wide and lofty piazza in front, and an ungainly tower in the centre. At the further end of the street are the stories and the machine shop. Midway are the apothecary's and the hospital, and a vacant law office. Back of the street, in the pines, are the dwellings which constitute the town. The three railroads have a common starting-point just in front of the hotel. Passengers from Wilmington to Charleston reach here about seven in the evening, and leave about three in the morning, after paying two dollars each for supper and lodging of a passably good character. Passengers from Charleston to Wilmington reach here about the same hour, leave at the same time, and pay the same tax of support of the landlord. Those from Columbia get supper here, and are taxed one dollar. Those for Cheraw are obliged to disburse three dollars for supper, lodging and breakfast. The town is, therefore, a railroad eating-house with sleeping rooms attached.

Months after the Civil War ended,  the Chicago Tribune
published a remarkable, descriptive account 
of what remained at the Florence Stockade.
Situated at the intersection of the great cross line of railroad with the great coast line, about one hundred miles from either Wilmington or Charleston, and about seventy-five miles from either the coast or Columbia, it was peculiarly adapted for the location and safety of a prison.

THE STOCKADE is about a mile and a half north of east from the hotel, about a third of a mile from the railroad, and near the centre of a great opening in the pine forest, which is locally known as "the old field." The field is a sandy, rolling, fenceless, irregularly-shaped tract of 400 acres, more or less, which probably at some time formed the tillable portion of two or three plantations, mostly given up to turpentine and rosin making. The stockade is about thirty-five yards wide, north and south, and some seventy-five yards long, east and west, containing, perhaps, sixteen or seventeen acres. Through the middle of this enclosure, from north and south, flows a little stream of water, five or six feet in width and four or five inches in depth. It is a swiftly running stream, and the water has a not unpleasant taste. From either end the prison-pen slopes off to this brook -- making five or six acres of low, marshy ground, laying principally east of the stream, full of sink-holes and stagnant waters, and misamatic odors and malarial influences -- the breeding-place of agues and fevers, typhoids and rheumatic complaints -- the rank and pestilferous home of disease and death, than which hellish malignity could scarcely have fashioned one more fit to the purpose of that foul treason which laid its foundation in slavery and sought to enthrone Rapine and Anarchy as twin deities in the land of Law and Liberty.

Everything remains as the rebels left it when they evacuated Florence -- remains almost as it was when the hill-sides swarmed with our soldier prisoners. On the east and on the west, twenty rods or so distant from these walls, are long lines of earthworks reaching away to the timber on either side, and far down in front of these again are the numerous rifle-pits commanding the advance for nearly a hundred yards. The main entrance to the stockade was at the northwest corner. Near this corner were the log houses of the guard, and a half a dozen small ovens. The barracks stand almost as they did when last occupied, but the houses over the ovens have been burned. Just north of this entrance is a handsome little grove of half a dozen trees, among which yet remain the benches and stools of the officers of the guard. Fifty feet in front of the middle of the northern wall was the flag-staff whence floated the banner of treason and slavery. Its stump only remains, and loyal and disloyal alive cut chips of a memento therefrom. Across the pestinlential quagmire, beyond the northeast corner, is another deserted village of log houses -- houses of the guard for the rear of the prison pen, not one of which has been touched. I went among them with the wonder if some long-haried, lean-bodied, leering-eyed Johnnie might not spring out with ready musket and bid me halt; and sure enough, from one of them suddenly emerged a fellow in gray, who looked at me a moment, and then strode away with a swinging and defiant step. In the southeast corner of the pen was the rear entrance -- thence the prisoners went to fetch wood, a dozen cords of which yet lie piled only five or six rods away.

In an 1897 illustration by a former POW at the Florence Stockade, the camp's commander fires
 at captives from atop a wall. (Library of Congress)
"THE WALLS OF THE STOCKADE are fifteeen feet high, built of unhewn logs and some nine or ten inches in diameter, set deeply in the ground. This solid wall of oak and pine logs is unbroken except by the gate openings and the quagmire -- the marshy ground necessitating the substitutions of a stout board fence for the wall of logs. Outside the wall is, of course, a wide and deep ditch, the earth from which is thrown against the logs and forms a narrow path about three or four feet below their tops, whereon the guard walked and overlooked this prison-pen, and from whence fiends in human shape shot half-crazed boys who straggled over this dead-line, which runs just behind the hut within which I set. A ditch could not be dug through the quagmire, and so there are picket platforms built on the fence there -- one, noticeably, on each side over the brook.

Inside the stockade there has been very little change save such as time makes. In the northwest corner, near the main entrances, was the hospital -- seven log house, each some forty feet long and twenty feet wide. These the guard partially burned when they left. Through the centre of the enclosure from east to west is a narrow graded road -- the bridge over the creek has partially fallen in, but the road-bed is as hard and smooth as it was six months ago. The rebels attempted to burn the stockade wall by firing piles of wood thrown against it on the inside, but the fire refused its work and only scorched the logs at seventy-five or a hundred points of the long line, and the half burned sticks of wood and the little bundles of pitch-pine remain in the their places to show how the mist destructive of the elements enlisted in the service of the Union and saved this prison pen as an eloquent token of the cost of Liberty.

DOES ANY MAN, horrified by the stories told concerning it believe the famous and imfamous "DEAD-LINE" a myth? However it may have been elsewhere, here it was a hateful reality. It is about twenty feet inside the stockade walls. Part of the way is marked by a light pole laid in crotches -- elsewhere it is only marked by the line, which distinguises trodden from untrodden ground -- of earth rank with grass and earth bare of grass. Just back of this hut, in the northeastern quarter, there is only this line of grass and no grass. Doubtless this was the best of the Southern prison pens; but  even here, if current reporting among such of the town's people as can be induced to speak of all of the stockade, is true, the guards indulged in that very pleasant and exceedingly humorous amusement which consisted in tossing pieces of meat or bread into the stockade, between the wall and dead-line, in order to get a shot at some Yankee boy who was so hungry as to thoughtlessly rush for it, There fellows would have their joke, you see! Shall we mudsills complain thereat? At least we may give thanks that the days of the chivalry were numbered when our sons of Illinois moved on their works in the spring-time. If they also serve who stand and wait, did not these also serve who died between the wall and the dead-line?

Go no more, even in dreams, to Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried cities of the old world. Here is the ...


In this late-19th century illustration by a former Florence Stockade POW,  a prisoner has his
wounds dressed as a guard looks on. (Library of Congress.)
City as populous as those, as fruitful as those in the signs and tokens of a life that was and is not. On those eleven or twelve acrres there were at least 2,500 houses -- perhaps 3,000 would be a more correct figure; and no less than three-fourths of them are nearly as good as there were on the day of their sudden evacuation, and in hundreds of them are memorials of life of want and woe which 13,000 men knew here, and from which 4,000 passed through the door of the dead-house to the slope way yonder by the timber, and laid themselves down in long rows for final sleep, and for the glorious reward due unselfish souls.

In the construction of these habitations there is almost variety on a common general plan. This one in which I sit, and through which the still driving storm begins to beat, furnishes that general plan, with very little elaboration or decoration. Come in and see it. Do you find the door low and narrow, and have you a horror of this squat roof and these smoky walls, and this earth floor? Yet here lived three or four men -- for many weeks doubtless and, perhaps, for many months! The hut is six and half feet long four feet and three inches wide, and about five feet high in the centre. A hole of fifteen inches depth was dug ; at either end of it was set a forked stick; in these two forks was laid a ridge pole. The wall of our house is the side of the old; the roof is the slope of sticks or slabs or wood resting on the ridge pole, and at the edge of the hole. This is the general plan. The huts smaller than this are more numerous than those larger. The back end is made of sticks driven into the ground against which earth has been thrown. The front end is built with more care. Half of it is mud brick, and the door and the little chimney at the corner occupy the other half. The door is simply a hole; the chimney is seemingly built up of little bricks, and gives a tiny fireplace of about fifteen inches square. The roof was first covered with pine brush and then with six or eight inches of earth.

Perhaps a hundred of the huts are entirely above ground. Possibly a score are so high that an ordinary man can stand straight in them. But then there are a thousand built over holes three feet deep -- a thousand not more than four feet high in the ridge -- a thousand not more than four feet square -- some hundreds that show only such height above ground as a well-filled grave. Do you deem it awful that men should live in such habitations as these? Yet they were palaces beside the burrows of Salisbury. The thousands of tiny brick used here were made from the reddish earth of the hill side west of the brook. The graded flat extending back sixty or seventy feet from the stream suggests a parade ground; but it was only the bed on which these little bricks were sun-baked. In the use of the brick there was sometimes a great deal of skill and ingenuity displayed. One sees with pleasure a score or two of chimneys that are modeled after architectural beauty; one finds not a few fire-places that are constructed with elaborate improvements. So, too, a few of the huts have doors curiously braided or woven of splinters. There is, indeed, over in the southwest corner, one whole house, above ground, woven, walls and roof, like a basket. These things, though, are exceptional; generally there was only so much as would answer the baldest utilitarianism.

I saw with gladness that there was plenty of wood. Some of it, as I have already said, is still piled in a long rank just outside the stockade. There is an abundance, also, scattered all about the enclosure -- particularly east of the brook. Look into a hundred huts, and you shall see wood ready cut for the little fire-place in seventy-five of them surely. In a few cases it even yet lies nicely piled against the chimney on the outside.

A prisoner struggles to haul a large log into the Florence Stockade while guards watch.
(Library of Congress)


Here is a great pine knot fashioned into a barber's chair, for which many a many would be glad to bid a hundred dollars at a Sanitary Fair. It is nothing but a rough bit of log, but its purpose is evident enough. They putched quoits sometimes, I judge, for over there in the southeast corner is even now the little post at which it was aimed, with an old horse shoe lying near. So, too, they seem to have indulged in cricket in the sweet spring days when Gen. Sherman and his forces were in the State above, for I found one wicket in its place. Did they indulge in games at bows and arrows? -- for I picked up what was clearly an arrow. That they played checkers is certain, for just down the hill a little is a hut in which is a rude checker-board, and in the corner near the fire-place I tumbled out half a dozen of their pieces -- four round and two square, cut from pine splinters. I guess they also played cards, for, in one hut I picked up the ten of clubs, the five spot and the queen of hearts, and the ace and the jack of spades. You see, life came to a sudden pause here -- there was no time for blotting out all the marks of this daily existence; and walk where you will stumble against something that suggests it was but yesterday these prison-boys found liberty.

The occupant of one house was German. Here is a scrap from some German newspaper, a leaf from a German testament -- parts of the second and third chapters of Second Corinthians -- and a bit of German manuscript, probably a letter.

In this hut I found an old tin plate, part of an iron fork, the blad of a table knife, an empty bottle, and the bowl of a clay pipe, An Irishman lived here -- he wrote his name on one of the posts, "MIC O'LARY," and I have half a leaf from his prayer book: "O Lord God, I would not only pray for myself but for all men. Bless my relatives and friends wherever they are. Bless, too, my enemies, and may they become my friends. May universal peace soon prevail." So the simple heart lifted sublime prayer in the night time, and consecrated his tent with the balm of forgiveness.

In this little square, deep hole-house, was a page of Hazzlit's Table Talk, a rude wooden spoon, a pair or wooden knives, a tin plate, and an armful of pine wood. Was it this morning that the tenant moved out into the large world?

The final entries in 16th Connecicut Private Henry Adams' diary, written at the Florence Stockade.
Adams died there on Oct. 20, 1864. (Connecticut Historical Society)


It is six months since he last passed through the door, yet everything is as orderly and neat as if aranged but an hour ago. His wood is carefully piled in the corner next to the fire place, his tool is sound and strong, his seat against the wall has not fallen down, the bowl of his brier-wood pipe is sweet  and clean. He was saving and thoughtful -- here is the spring of a pocket knife laid away against a possible need; carefully in the pine bush covering of his roof is a little roll of blue army cloth for patches; on a string tied in the corner are strung three buttons. He read somebody's history of English literature, for here is a leaf from a book -- page 229 and 230; he kept the roll of his company, I judge, for here is a page, wet and dingy, from his diary, on which are a dozen names.

In still another hut, I find a rude pipe-bowl, dug out of a sassafras root, and a wooden spoon large enough for a giant. The boy was a home, too, to the tract distributor, for here is No. 80: " Do You Know the Way?" "published by a South Carolina Colportage Board."

The boys who lived here -- a most wretched hut, with its pile of straw in the centre -- were also visited by the tract man, who left with them "An Old Blade in a New Scabbard" -- thus: "Deserted: This is to certify that, within the last twelve months, one Peter Weakhearted has deserted from the army of Jesus Christ. One of our scouts saw him last Sabbath, walking arm in army with Captain Lovesin, of the Whisky Guards, in Cursing Grove, near Lake Perdition. A gracious reward will be give for th recovery and restoration of this deserter to the army."

Sixteen trenches in Florence (S.C) National Cemetery hold the 
remains of more than 2,000 Union POWs.
In the house, with a door at each end -- and there is but one such house -- I found the rarest treasure of the morning. It was tucked into the piney thatching, and concealed by a scrap of red woolen cloth. It is a dagurreotype -- with the cases half worn away by long shuddling in the knapsack and the whole tied together with a bit of black thread. It is apparently the picture of  a mother and two sisters.

A good-looking, sober-faced woman of forty-five, wearing a black bonne  and veil and cape and dress, and holding a dark parasol; a young lady of nineteen or twenty, wearing a hat trimmed with black, a light spring, or fall dress, and a gray sack cloth, and holding a fan; and, between and behind the two, a sweet-faced miss of large and loving eyes, who stands in such position that the only article of dress visible is a black silk cape.

Said I not that here was life arrested in the very pulse-beat. The tale of Florence can be half read even now by the dullest eye.

A quarter of a mile from the entranceway are the eight long rows of mounds, to which so much of this life finally came -- 2,352 -- that is the highest number of the graves, but there are many score unnumbered, and the negroes say the men were often buried at random in the old field. "Chucked 'em in like muttons," said an intelligent negro carpenter, who was often in trouble for trying to feed and help the boys in blue. The half acre of ground occupied by these numbered and known graves, is not enclosed, and grant cows wander at will over the low mounds. Of course the rebels kept a record of this Potter's Field, else why the numbered graves? But that has not been, and probably never will be found.

The storm has passed by, and the sun, now almost in its setting, sufluses the low west with a flood of golden glory. I have spent the entire day in the stockade. The little accessories of its prison life remain as I have drawn them; its body and substance are told in the fact that from one-third to one-fourth of the prisoners brought here are lying yonder in the sandy hill-slope.


133 unknown Union soldiers lie below this marker in Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

So THAT's why the horses behaved strangely at Antietam

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Eighty years ago at the Antietam battlefield, the big problem apparently wasn't relic hunters, it was marijuana. "The drug on which the Federal government has been waging a war for years,” the Hagerstown (Md.) Morning Herald reported in a Page 1 story, “has been found in abundance in Washington county including, of all places, Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg."

Battlefield workers and narcotics agents “formed an army of destruction,” burning the weed near Burnside Bridge and on nearby farms. The marijuana plants were discovered by Federal investigators who “were enroute to an alleged still.” At least one farmer may have been pleased by their work.

“… the mystery of the peculiar conduct of his horses which have been eating the plants at random,” the newspaper reported, “has been solved.”

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hidden Fort Sumter: History comes alive in Charleston Harbor

This weighty chunk of a Civil War cannonball was spotted  on rocks outside Fort Sumter.
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Probably washed ashore recently by Hurricane Irma, a huge chunk of iron amazed history geeks at Fort Sumter on a clear-blue sky Saturday afternoon. The weighty piece of Civil War cannonball was discovered by an eagle-eyed Center For Civil War Photography member among seashells and large rocks outside the walls of the fort in Charleston Harbor, which still may hold tons of ordnance. Thanks to Fort Sumter historian emeritus Richard W. Hatcher III, CCWP president Bob Zeller and vice  president Garry Adelman, who led an epic tour, history came alive at the massive fortification where the Civil War erupted on April 12, 1861. On a special day, the old, brick fort gave up some of its secrets.

           PANORAMA: Exterior of the fort. The huge cannonball chunk was found just
             beyond the sign (pan right). Click at upper right for full-screen experience.


                           Fort Sumter historian emeritus Richard Hatcher III explains.


Fired by Union artillery, this Parrott shell is buried deep in a thick wall.
Probably fired from nearby Morris Island, this shell juts from a wall.
The unexploded Parrott shells in Fort Sumter's walls are not believed to be a danger to detonate. 

Hatcher III talks about the most exposed Parrott shell.


At water's edge, original bricks appear among thousands of seashells outside the fort. Fort Sumter 
suffered great destruction during the Civil War. In a clean-up effort after the war, these bricks
 were dumped into the harbor.


Ships once docked here at the fort's original wharf, which extended about 140 feet into the harbor.


A massive cannonball peeks through a ventilator shaft at the site of the fort's magazine.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

In historic Charleston, South Carolina, a kaleidoscope of color

A nod to to the seamier side of the city's past.
Market Hall, where men and boys enlisted in the Confederate army.
In brilliant sunshine, a flag hangs from an 18th-century building.
Freshly watered garden on a windowsill.
A window garden and a backdrop of yellow.
A doorway surrounded by ocean-blue wall.
An ornate entranceway, a number painted in gold.
A majestic magnolia reaches to the sky.
Old Glory waves in a slight Charleston Harbor breeze.
A cat nap in a cemetery near historic St. Phillip's Church.
Light at the end of picturesque tunnel.
On a cobblestone street, two feet planted firmly in the past. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

'Stairway' to heaven? A visit to Fredericksburg Baptist Church

This ladder leads to the steeple of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Baptist Church.
A Union artillery shell fired from across the Rappahannock River smashed through these beams ... 
... and struck this interior wall in the attic of the church.
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Exterior view of the church.
For the past several months, I eagerly anticipated my visit to the Fredericksburg (Va.) Baptist Church, used as a Union hospital and observation point. I couldn't wait to climb into the steeple to see the view Federal officers had during the great battle fought here in the winter of 1862.

What great history!

After we climbed a small ladder into the church attic this afternoon, church administrator Dennis Sacrey quickly pointed out Civil War damage. A Union artillery shell fired from across the Rappahannock River had crashed through wooden beams and smashed into an interior brick wall. (The church suffered significant war damage,  Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park chief historian John Hennessy notes in this post on the excellent Mysteries and Conundrums blog.)

We then deftly avoided duct work, pipes and wires to make our way to space near a wall in the old church on Princess Anne Street. I stared up at the confined area that led to my ultimate objective.

"It's only about 60 feet up there," Sacrey told me as he shined a light on the ladder to the historic lookout point. The ladder looked like it went on forever. I deliberated for a minute or two. Fear of heights finally did me in. I chickened out.

But I did leave with a souvenir from my brief visit: a splinter in my hand.

A lifelong member of the church, Sacrey has been up in the steeple dozens of times. Here are images he took from that fabulous spot:

LOOKING SOUTH. (Steeple photos courtesy Dennis Sacrey)

From the safety of ground level, I shot the "Now" image below to pair with the 1864 "Then" image by James Gardner. For a large-format version , go to my Then & Now blog here.

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Saturday, October 07, 2017

A last supper, then 'dread realities of war' for brothers

       PANORAMA: Antietam National Cemetery. Ephraim Eager's remains may lie here.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

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Shortly before two momentous battles, Private James H. Eager of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves was fortunate to enjoy supper with his older brother in the camp of the 19th Indiana. A sergeant in the Hoosier State regiment in the Iron Brigade, Ephraim Eager had moved west in 1857, leaving behind his sisters, brother and widowed mother in Lewistown, Pa.  In Pennsylvania, the Eager boys had worked as printers at a newspaper published by their brother-in-law.

This tattered newspaper obituary for Ephraim Eager
 was marked "B" in the pension claim file of his mother.
Elizabeth Eager was granted a Civil War pension at the standard
 rate of $8 a month. (National Archives via
The chance meeting in mid-September 1862 was the last time James saw Ephraim alive.

On Sept. 14,  1862, the Federals forced the Confederates from the passes at South Mountain, a prelude to much more severe fighting three days later by the banks of Antietam Creek. "We drove the enemy from one of the best and strongest positions they ever occupied," James wrote to his mother about his first battle. "Families were robbed of fathers and brothers on that day." At Turner's Gap, Ephraim led his battle-hardened company against troops from Georgia and Alabama.

At the "desperate fight" at Antietam,  the "dread realities of war," James wrote, "were brought to our own door."

In the brutal, back-and-forth fighting near the Hagerstown Pike, Ephraim fell with a bullet wound in his stomach while leading Company A, the Union Guards. Carried from the field by comrades, he died a short time later and was "decently buried by the boys of his company." In battle nearby, James narrowly escaped being maimed himself when a bullet passed over his shoulder and struck Private Henry Couts standing behind him above the eye, killing him.

Eager was "killed almost
 instantly,"  wrote 19th Indiana
 Captain Alonzo Makepeace,
 shown in a post-war image.
"We fell back, and the rebels, thinking we were whipped, advanced with a cheer," James wrote Oct. 6 from a camp near Sharpsburg, "but were driven back by a flank movement. You would be surprised to hear them cheer. It resembles a lot of school girls at recess. It is far different from the manly voice of the men of the north."

Only 25, Ephraim "fell in the cause of his country," the Lewistown (Pa.) Gazette lamented, "gallantly fighting for those rights handed down to us by our revolutionary fathers." In Eager's adopted state of Indiana, the Anderson Union also offered an impressive tribute.

"Among those who have fallen victims to this wicked rebellion," it said, "we know of no one who was more generally regretted, and whose death cast a deeper gloom upon society, than our dear friend Ephraim B. Eager."

"He was a young man of much promise and high social qualities," the Union noted in a finishing touch in the obituary, "kind and generous in his nature, had gained the friendship of a large circle, and was respected by all.

Marker for Indiana unknown
at Antietam National
"But he's dead -- and over his green tomb shall ever wave the emblem of fadeless recollection. He sleeps for the flag, and may its stars shed their tears over his loyal soul forever."

A little more than a month after Ephraim's death, Captain Alonzo Makepeace of the 19th Indiana wrote a brief note to Eager's sister, Marion Shaw. Ephraim was "killed almost instantly while behaving handsomely in command of the Co.," he explained. His marked grave had been visited by his brother, the officer wrote, and "all regret his death."

Perhaps because the marker for his makeshift grave was destroyed by the elements, Eager's remains were never recovered by the family. Instead of a grave in his native or adopted state, the former newspaper printer's final resting place is unknown. He may lie among the nearly 4,800 Union soldiers in Antietam National Cemetery.


National Archives via


Eager lived in Anderson, Ind., which he described in a letter to his mother Elizabeth in January 1860 as a "rather sickly place" because of the "great many deaths" that had occured there that winter. Of his marriage possibilities, he told his mother, "No prospects of your prodigal getting married – haven’t thought of it yet." This letter was found with his mother Elizabeth's claim for a Civil War pension.

National Archives vis
Anderson, Monday morning, Jan. 10, 1860

Dear Mother,

This morning I again assume my seat to write to you. I have been well since you heard from me last. Christmas and New Year’s passed off very quietly in Anderson [Ind.], but not so with it in Lewistown [Pa.] I suppose. I rec’d one very nice gift from a lady friend. It was a gold pencil and pen – cost about eight dollars. There has been a great many deaths in Anderson this winter – rather a sickly place. No prospects of your prodigal getting married – haven’t thought of it yet. I enclose ten dollars $10, which I should have done New Year’s day had it been convenient. Please answer immediately on receipt of this that I may know you rec’d it.

Your affectionate son,

E.B. Eager

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-- Ephraim B. Eager pension file, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via
-- Lewistown (Pa.) Gazette, Oct. 1, 1862 and Oct. 15, 1862.
-- Eager's obituary in the Anderson (Ind.) Union was reprinted in a Lewistown newspaper on an unknown date.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Antietam soldier snapshot: Carried off by a 'very bad fever'

Gravestone for 57th New York Private Henry F. Bugbee at Antietam National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
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As he lay dying in a tent in Frederick, Md., 57th New York Private Henry F. Bugbee wanted a "few lines" written to his wife back home in Hyde Park, N.Y. Wounded by a gunshot during an attack at Bloody Lane at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the father of four young children was sent to a field hospital before be was admitted Oct. 6 to Camp A, a tent hospital in a field about a mile and a half west of Frederick. Throughout the town, the Union army medical staff had set up makeshift hospitals in churches, schools, an old army barracks, private homes, a butcher shop and elsewhere.

By Oct. 19, 1862, Bugbee's condition had worsened significantly, and the 31-year-old soldier died at about 6 that night.  He was "wounded in the left leg," wardmaster L.F. Buck of Ward H wrote in a short condolence note to Bugbee's wife, Sarah, "but catch'd a very bad fever to it, which carried him of (sic)."

Bugbee left only meager effects: less than a dollar, "several likenesses" and letters, all of which Buck noted were "under the care of the clerk of this hospital." Whether the "likenesses," perhaps photographs of Henry's wife and children, were returned to the family is unknown.

Shortly after her husband's death, Sarah applied for a widow's pension. Government assistance, approved at a rate of $8 a month, was discontinued when she remarried in November 1865. The Bugbee children -- Sarah, 8; Isabella, 6; Phillip, 4; and Oliver, 1 -- were entitled to receive a pension until each turned 16. (For an excellent explanation of Civil War pensions, go here.)

After the war, Henry's remains were disinterred in Frederick and re-buried in Sharpsburg, Md., at the national cemetery in Lot F, Section 25, Grave No. 270.


Page 1: National Archives via
Page 2: National Archives via

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
For more Civil War condolence letters on my blog, go here.


-- Henry F. Bugbee widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Note from Antietam: 'You must be prepared for bad news'

Union surgeon Anson Hurd cares for wounded at the Otho J. Smith farm, near the 
Antietam battlefield. 108th Corporal Richard Morrell died there on or about Oct. 4, 1862.
(Library of Congress collection)
                  An Alexander Gardner photograph of the Otho J. Smith farm hospital.
       (HOVER ABOVE  FOR "NOW" PHOTO | Then: LOC collection | Now: John Banks.)

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When Richard Henry Morrell went into battle at Antietam the morning of Sept. 17, 1862,  he 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 11 months to 17 years. The Morrells had emigrated from England in the 1850s, settling in Rochester, N.Y.

"(He) is well cared for, but the Doct is much concerned about him,"
 S.D. Porter wrote of Richard Morrell, seriously wounded at
the Battle of Antietam. (National Archives via
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 amputations. 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.


PAGE 1: National Archives via
PAGE 2: National Archives via

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-- Richard Morrell widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Message in a bottle: How Antietam soldier's remains were ID'd

The marked battlefield grave of a Union soldier from Pennsylvania who was killed at Antietam.
(Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)

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Shortly after the war, the grim task of disinterring bodies of Union soldiers from the Antietam battlefield and the immediate surrounding area fell to the United States Burial Corps. Most remains were re-buried in a national cemetery established on a hill overlooking the south end of the field, Confederate-held ground on Sept. 17, 1862.

The Corps' work was daunting.

7th Maine Private William C. Stickney's
 weathered gravestone at Antietam National Cemetery.
(Find A Grave)
"The country is dotted over with soldiers’ graves," a  New York Tribune correspondent wrote from Sharpsburg, Md., in January 1867. "Some were killed in battle and in skirmishes, others died of disease or woods in the hospital, and not a few at private houses. They are buried by the roadside, in the woods, in the fields, and frequently in gardens."

Interestingly, bodies with red hair and whiskers were "invariably found in an almost perfect state of preservation," the reporter noted, "while all other colors are found in a state of decay." Sometimes "relics" were found in the graves -- "three ambrotype likenesses," a silver watch and ring, rusted pocket knives and even a rosary, "which some pious soldier had carried, perhaps as a charm against deadly bullets." Burial crews occassionally found a piece of artillery shell with a skeleton or a bullet rolling around the interior of a fractured skull -- awful reminders of the carnage that occurred in late-summer 1862.

Identification was impossible for many soldiers. "The ‘frail memorials’ erected by their comrades have disappeared," the Tribune reporter explained, "and everything seems to have been taken from their persons that could lead to their identification."

A soldier from Maine, however, was among the "lucky" ones. When his remains were uncovered, a bottle was found containing a small piece of paper that read: “Wm. C. Stickney, Co. C, 7th Regt. Maine. Died Sept. 26, at 11 o’clock p.m. Residence, Springfield, Maine.” The 22-year-old son of a farmer was originally buried either at Smoketown, one of the two large tent hospitals near the battlefield, or at a VI Corps hospital, perhaps at Hagerstown, Md.

Whoever performed the noble act of identifying his body with the messaage in a bottle is lost to history.

One of 12 children of Rachel and Moses Stickney, William was shot in the left shoulder, probably during the 7th Maine's futile charge on Henry Piper's farm. "... he was a sound and able bodied man," Charles D. Gilmore, an officer in the 7th and 20th Maine during the war, recalled in 1869, "and one of the best soldiers I ever knew.”

            PANORAMA: The 7th Maine made a futile attack through the Piper orchard.
                                    (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

For William's parents, their son's death undoubtedly was traumatic. Neither Rachel, 56, nor Moses, 59, was in good health, and the couple depended on William for financial support. During his little more than a year of service in the Union army, William sent home about $10 a month.

“Mrs. Stickney has no property, either real or personal excepting a cow worth about thirty five dollars," neighbors noted in an affidavit in Rachel's claim for a mother's pension. "She has since the death of her said son William C. Stickney supported herself by working for her neighbors (and) with what assistance she has received as charity from her friends." William, the neighbors recalled, "contributed regularly and constantly to the support of his said mother."

William's father may have been in more dire condition than his mother.

Able to do "but very little labor" for years, Moses suffered from "chronic rheumatism & hemorrhoids of a very distressing character," the family's longtime physician noted. "... His disease was brought on by hard labor & exposure, river driving, and hard fare.”

Mrs. Stickney's pension claim was approved at the standard rate of $8 a month. The national cemetery where her son was buried was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1867. Whether the Stickneys ever visited William's simple grave there is unknown.

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-- New York Times, Oct. 2, 1862.
-- New York Tribune, Jan. 8, 1867.
-- Stickney, Matthew Adams, Stickney Family: A Genealogical Memoir of the Descendants of William and Elizabeth Stickney From 1637 to 1869, Salem, Mass., Essex Institute Press, 1869.
-- William C. Stickney pension file, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via