Monday, February 19, 2018

Flashback: 1978 images of house where Antietam officer died

A 1978 image of the Jacob A. Thomas house, where Union officer Wilder Dwight died on Sept. 19, 1862.
The post-war bay window seen here has crumbled, leaving a gaping hole. (See this post on my blog.)
                                   HOVER ON IMAGE TO SEE PRESENT-DAY VIEW
           In 1978, the second-floor porch, a feature of several area houses, was still intact.
                                   HOVER ON IMAGE TO SEE PRESENT-DAY VIEW
            The circa-1850 summer kitchen and farmhouse have deteriorated since 1978.

Like this blog on Facebook

In a little more than 48 hours since I hit the publish button, a post on the crumbling house where a Union officer died from his Antietam wounds has cracked the top-10 most popular entries on my blog. The story of 2nd Massachusetts lieutenant colonel Wilder Dwight -- who succumbed in an upstairs bedroom of the old Jacob A. Thomas house near Boonsboro, Md. -- has many tentacles.

2nd Massachusetts officer
Wilder Dwight died of his
Antietam wounds on Sept. 19, 1862,
in a bedroom of Jacob A. Thomas'
house near Boonsboro, Md.
Since publishing the piece, I've learned that, upon receiving news of his son's wounding, Dwight's father traveled south to the battlefield via train from Massachusetts with the father of 20th Massachusetts officer Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had suffered a neck wound at Antietam.  (He recovered -- Oliver became a U.S. Supreme Court justice in 1902.) William Dwight received news of his son's death when he reached Baltimore.

Also, a reader of the blog has shared with me a letter from a 2nd Massachusetts officer, dated Sept. 19, 1862, to Chaplain Alonzo Quint, who was with Dwight  when he died.  "My best love to the Col.," Colonel George Andrews wrote. Wilder, a Harvard-educated lawyer, died early that afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, many of you wonder why the house hasn't been preserved, and I'll aim to write about that in another post. In the meantime, I want to share these 1978 images of the circa-1850 Thomas house and circa-1870 barn on the property. The photographs were part of a 1978 Maryland Historical Trust survey, which noted that even then the farmstead was "deteriorating seriously."

Compare the images here to photos from my recent visit. Also, hover on the second and third images in this post to see a present-day view of the summer kitchen and farmhouse. (Note: Hover effect does not work on phone or tablet.) At the bottom of this post, find an interactive, present-day panorama of the old Thomas farmhouse and summer kitchen.

I'm keenly interested in telling the story of Wilder Dwight's death. If you have information to share, e-mail me here.

The summer kitchen in 1978. It has deteriorated significantly since this image was taken.
Another 1978 view of the front of the once-stately home on a knoll near Boonsboro, Md.
The fence seen in this 1978 image has long since been removed.
The circa-1870 barn underwent significant restoration in 1999, 21 years after this photo was taken.
       INTERACTIVE PANORAMA: Present-day view of  summer kitchen and farmhouse.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Death spiral: A sad end for house where Antietam officer died

Boarded up and battered by time and nature, the circa-1850 Jacob A. Thomas house near Boonsboro, Md.
The summer kitchen and farmhouse have seen much better days.

Like this blog on Facebook

In its death throes, the circa-1850, red-brick house is cloaked in sadness.

As if scooped out by a massive hand, gaping holes expose the heart of the abandoned, two-story structure on a knoll just off a Maryland country road. Steps away, tall weeds grow from a pile of rubble -- all that remains of what once was a splendid bay window. An ancient, well-worn set of stone steps is an orphan due to the demise of small, wooden porch. Once an eye-catching accessory on an impressive house, a second-floor porch mirroring others in the area is nearly gone.

Because peeling green paint and graffiti on the front door aren't unwelcoming enough, a small sign on the weather-beaten, white transom warns would-be intruders: "Private Property Keep Out." Probably baked on the farmstead kiln long ago, bricks litter the sloping front yard. A stone's throw from the back door, a wooden privy and summer kitchen slowly lose their battle for life while yards away a beautifully restored, post-Civil War barn thrives.

The interior of the once-stately home may be seen through gaping holes.
A warning sign to trespassers on the weather-beaten and graffiti-marred front door.
Who trod on these well-worn -- and probably original -- steps?
A view of the once-splendid second-floor porch.
A close-up of outside brickwork reveals effects of time and neglect.
Time, nature and trespassers conspire to wreak havoc inside the Greek Revival-style house. Debris spills from a fireplace on the first floor -- one of five in the once-stately home. A brown doorknob, perhaps a victim of a vagrant, lies on the floor, forgotten. Boarded-up windows block a magnificent view of South Mountain.

Wary of falling through rotting wood, two visitors gingerly make their way upstairs, carefully stepping over more rubble. Bricks choke the hearth of a bedroom fireplace while steps away, a beam of light from the outside reveals walls painted deep blue in a small room. Nearby, a chasm created by the collapse of a section of the second floor prevents further exploration. 

Briefly alone upstairs, one of the visitors closes his eyes and says a silent prayer for a long-ago inhabitant of one of the bedrooms.

Debris litters the steps leading to the second floor.
Bricks and debris clutter a second-floor bedroom. Could this be where Wilder Dwight died?
Light streams into a second-floor bedroom, revealing the remains of a bed (left) near a wall.
In late-summer 1862, this was the home of Jacob and Sarah Thomas and their daughter, 23-year-old Annie. In the vortex of the war in mid-September 1862, families such as the Thomases heard the boom of artillery and crackle of musketry as Union and Confederate armies clashed nearby at South Mountain and at Sharpsburg, near the banks of Antietam Creek.

Wounded at Antietam, Wilder Dwight 
died two days later in a bedroom at the
 Jacob A. Thomas house near Boonsboro, Md.
On the afternoon of September 18, war arrived on the doorstep of the Thomases "airy and comfortable" house. A sense of urgency spurred a group of Massachusetts soldiers, who carried their grievously wounded commanding officer into one of the family's upstairs bedrooms. The lieutenant colonel, a Harvard-educated lawyer, had somehow endured a harrowing, three- or four-mile mile journey on a stretcher from the Antietam battlefield, where his left thigh had been shattered by a Rebel bullet. As he lay in agony near the Hagerstown Pike on the morning of September 17, he completed a note, stained with his blood, to his mother: "All is well with those that have faith."

As comrades lifted him into his bed at the Thomases' house, the soldier repeated, "Now, boys, steady and true! Steady and true!" Soon after soldiers left the bedroom, the wounded man summoned enough energy to tell them, "Wait a minute, boys; you've taken good care of me, and I thank you very much. God bless you!"

Thankfully, the beloved officer was in good hands -- unlike many of their neighbors, the Thomases were a staunch Union family. A devout man and member of the United Brethren Church, 46-year-old Jacob Thomas may have even tended to the spiritual needs of his important house guest.

Also shot in the left wrist, the officer -- who "seemed quiet" -- suffered intense pain in his wounded leg that afternoon. But 2nd Massachusetts Chaplain Alonzo Quint still expected he would live a few more days. Growing weaker, the officer sent a note to a surgeon. "They tell me," he said, "that I may recover. I do not believe it ... " He wondered if his brother, William, a colonel in the 70th New York, were near. Preparing for the worst, he also had a dispatch sent to his father back home in Brookline, Mass., urging him to quickly travel to the red-brick house near Boonsboro, Md.

Painting of Wilder Dwight, completed in 1863. 
(Harvard University Portrait Collection,
 Gift of the children of Mrs. William Dwight
 to Harvard College, 1884.)
The next morning, the ever-attentive Quint kept the blinds closed in the soldier's bedroom and allowed no one to enter. At about 10 a.m., the chaplain noticed his comrade was "considerably weaker." About two hours later, Quint was in the kitchen with Sarah Thomas, who was preparing a beef tea. Suddenly, the wounded soldier's servant alerted the chaplain, "The Colonel is wanting you quick, sir." Quint rushed to the bedroom and  "instantly saw a change" for the worse. Grabbing the wounded man's hand, he said a short prayer; the officer, who couldn't distinguish Quint's features, slowly moved his lips in prayer, too, concluding with an audible "Amen."

Pale and his eyes sunken, the lieutenant colonel slipped away at about 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, 1862. "Oh, my dear mother!" he said shortly before he died.

Wilder Dwight -- "the best man in the world," according to a 2nd Massachusetts comrade -- was only 29. He left behind his parents, William and Elizabeth; three brothers and scores of comrades and friends to mourn.

Art Williamson, the friendly owner of the old Jacob Thomas property, on the front steps
 of the crumbling farmhouse. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

Understandably, this Civil War story of the old house and the Massachusetts officer fascinates more than just its two visitors.

"If only I had known this history back then," says 76-year-old Art Williamson, who bought the Jacob Thomas house and surrounding property, including a barn, in 1986.

A peek inside the decrepit summer kitchen, 
which also pre-dates the Civil War.
A retired Bethlehem Steel employee, Williamson and his wife, Judy, originally intended to restore the farmhouse. A contractor gave the couple an estimate of what it would cost to make the place liveble and to modernize it. But the price tag was exorbitant, Williamson says, so Art and Judy moved instead into a large house they had built nearby on the property. Even as long ago as 1978, the homestead was on life support. "... deteriorated seriously in recent years," a Maryland Historical Trust report noted then about the Thomas farm and other area properties.

In 1999-2000, Williamson did sink a considerable sum into renovating the circa-1870 barn on the farmstead. Justifiably proud of that fabulous structure, he also enjoys showing visitors about his farm, where he raises llamas, emus, toy donkeys and an assortment of goats. "It's my funny farm," Williamson says with a chuckle. On a recent morning, the gregarious man flaps his arms to shoo away two pesky llamas while an inquisitive donkey nudges a visitor.

Some think the Thomas house is haunted, says Williamson, who regrets that wayward youths have used it for parties and other mischief. As visitors inspect the back of the house, he tells the story of a local man who used a first-floor room for much more ceremonial purposes. His fiancee relished old houses, and so one day the man took her to the Thomas house, where he had a bottle of wine, two glasses and an engagement ring placed on a small table. He proposed right there. "How 'bout that?" says Williamson.

The bedgraggled backyard outhouse.
As the visitors leave the "funny farm," they try to imagine the awful September day the mortally wounded Wilder Dwight was brought to this beautiful western Maryland countryside. And they also mull many questions, perhaps unanswerable:

Could the property somehow have been saved long ago?

In what room did the courageous 2nd Massachusetts officer die?

What was Dwight thinking as his life flickered out?

What was the reaction of the Thomas family upon his death?

What written record, if any, exists of the family's thoughts about that day?

As the visitors drive off, a small part of them also grieves. A remarkable house is dying, and a sliver of our history will soon die with it.

I thank my friend, longtime Washington County (Md.) resident Richard Clem, among the best Civil War detectives around, for his tremendous assistance on this story.

Donkeys and an emu approach a visitor on Art Williamson's "funny farm."

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Dwight, Wilder and Dwight, Elizabeth Amelia, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, Lieut.-col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols, Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1868.

-- Wilder Dwight battlefield letter to his mother, Sept. 17, 1862, Massachusetts Historical Society Collection.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Antietam Then & Now: Exploring site of 1891 Gould photo

Like this blog on Facebook

In September 1891, 10th Maine veteran John Mead Gould and his son, Oliver, traveled to Sharpsburg, Md., to photograph the Antietam battlefield. Keenly interested in documenting where his regiment fought, the 51-year-old former Maine officer had his son photograph sites in the East Woods, including where Union General Joseph Mansfield was mortally wounded. In all, the Goulds may have documented dozens of spots at Antietam, but only seven of the photographs have surfaced. In January, I was fortunate to acquire six of them.

War-time image of John Mead Gould
(Courtesy Nicholas Picerno)
On a beautiful February afternoon, Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images of Antietam, joined me, Antietam expert Tom Clemens, preeminent 10th Maine collector Nicholas Picerno and battlefield guide Gary Rohrer to match up five of my Gould images to present-day sites. (A sixth site, on private land, was inaccessible.)

For Civil War photo nerds, it was nirvana -- sort of like getting a double helping of your favorite dessert or watching the Patriots lose in the Super Bowl.  (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

Of the photographs we matched up, the image of the Smoketown Road and the unheralded Samuel Poffenberger "10-acre Cornfield" is my favorite. By using the slider, you may toggle from Gould's 1891 view to a present-day image that I shot there.

What's really cool about my six Gould images -- the cherry on top of the sundae, if you will -- is his detailed descriptions in his own handwriting on the reverse of each photograph. That's gold for a historian. Regarding the Smoketown Road image,  Gould wrote:
"The 10th Maine crossed the Smoketown Road (as well as I can tell) about where the small bush is growing to the right of the mulberry tree. We came to 'front' here east of the road, then advanced down & up the gentle slope & deployed about in the shadow of the tree on the extreme right."
In the video, Recker explains the significance of the Smoketown Road photograph -- a unique window into the state of  Antietam in 1891, four years before the War Department added avenues for tourists.

Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images of Antietam, shows the reverse (below closeup) of the
 framed Gould image of Smoketown Road on the site where the photo was taken on Sept. 21, 1891.
Veteran John Mead Gould's handwritten description of the Smoketown Road photograph.
 (Blogger's collection)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Video: Visit to 16th Connecticut monument at Antietam

On a crisp February afternoon, I visited the 16th Connecticut monument in the 40-acre Cornfield at Antietam, where the Nutmeggers were routed on the afternoon of  Sept. 17, 1862, in their first battle of the war. Seldom-visited by battlefield tourists, this is my favorite spot on the field. My aim was to shoot a "Now" image of the photo William Tipton took the day the monument was dedicated on Oct. 11, 1894. I'll post the result soon.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Help ID veterans, ladies in 1894 Antietam monument image

AFTER DIGITALLY RESTORED: An image of 16th Connecticut veterans at the dedication of their
monument at the 40-acre Cornfield at Antietam on Oct. 11, 1894.
BEFORE RESTORATION: The original albumen is tattered and separated into two large pieces.
Like this blog on Facebook

On Oct. 11, 1894, 16th Connecticut veterans gathered in a rolling field at the south end of the Antietam battlefield for the dedication of a monument where the regiment had shed so much blood. A prominent inscription on the multi-colored granite obelisk told of the regiment's sacrifice in the notorious 40-Acre Cornfield on Sept. 17, 1862 -- the Nutmeggers' first battle of the war:

"Number engaged --779
Killed 43
Wounded 161
Total 204"

Post-war image of  Frank Cheney,
 the former 16th Connecticut 
lieutenant colonel.
The afternoon was marked by speeches, of course, as well as by the invocation by former 16th Connecticut chaplain Charles Dixon, who recalled "noble men whose hearts glowed and burned with patriotic fire." But the most poignant moment that day may have been the reading of a poem by 60-year-old Nathan Mayer -- the regiment's former surgeon -- which brought many of his comrades to tears.

At least two photographers were there to document the solemn event. Before the dedication -- one of four such events that early-fall day at Antietam for Connecticut regiments -- an unknown photographer shot an image of the monument blanketed by a massive American flag. Afterward, Gettysburg-based photographer William Tipton took several images, including the previously unpublished photo seen at the top of this post. The tattered and torn original -- digitally restored with the magic of Photoshop -- was found in a box with other family items by Willa Biewald, who has generously allowed me to dig into its secrets. (Hat tip: Matt Reardon, executive director of New England Civil War Museum.)

Unfortunately, there are no identifications on the front or reverse for the 28 people shown in the 13- x 16-inch albumen. The white-bearded gentleman to the immediate right of the monument almost certainly is former 16th Connecticut Lt. Colonel Frank Cheney, who suffered a severe wound to his left arm at Antietam and was discharged from the army on Christmas Eve 1862. A 62-year-old wealthy businessman and a beloved figure in the regiment, he contributed a large sum to pay for the land where the 16th Connecticut monument was located.

Further research surely will yield the names of some of the other veterans, several of whom hold canes, as well as the women who appear to the right of the monument. Those ladies, probably wives of veterans, may have traveled from the village of Sharpsburg, Md., to the dedication site in the carriage seen in the left background. Thanks to a complete list of the "excursionists" published in October 1894, we have a starting point for our investigation into the names of all subjects who appear in the photograph.

We do know with 100 percent certainty the photograph was taken by Tipton, whose name appears near the bottom left of the image. A meticulous record-keeper, Tipton compiled a catalogue of images he shot at Gettysburg and elsewhere in 1894. But the 16th Connecticut monument dedication photograph surprisingly does not appear in his 40-page booklet.

Perhaps by sharing this post with readers we'll soon know much more about this old image taken in the 40-acre Cornfield.

In the left background, a carriage used by some of the "excursionists" to get to the remote field. 
Photographer William Tipton included his name near the bottom of the image.
Among those who attended the dedication were four women, probably wives of 16th Connecticut veterans.
A photograph number and date the image was taken appear near the bottom right of the albumen.


* Hover effect does not work on phones, tablets

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

February freeze frames: Battle Monument at West Point

Generals Joseph Mansfield, mortally wounded at Antietam, and James McPherson, killed at Atlanta, 
are  among soldiers honored on the Battle Monument. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Like this blog on Facebook

Thankful early-morning rain showers had ended, 5,000 people gathered at West Point on Memorial Day 1897 for the dedication of the Battle Monument -- a Civil War memorial conceived of decades earlier. It was a grand occasion on the bluff above the Hudson River, with all the usual ceremonial trappings: red, white and blue patriotic bunting, flags, a military band and lots of dignitaries.

And speeches -- many, many speeches.

At the 1897 Battle Monument dedication,
Secretary of War Russell Alger expressed
hope that mankind  could settle differences
 without war. Ten months later, America
 was at war with Spain.
"It is the fond hope of the best minds of every land," Secretary of War  Russell Alger said during his oration on an uncomfortably hot afternoon, "that the time may come -- and that in the near future -- when armed forces in the field shall no longer be required, when all differences between nations shall be settled by benign influences of man's best judgment, and that arbitration shall be substituted for artillery, musketry, and the sabre."  Ten months later, the United States was engaged in a war with Spain.

Regular army vets contributed $75,000 to build the memorial, which honors 2,230 U.S. Regular Army soldiers who died during the Civil War. They must have believed their money was well spent. A massive work of art, the monument has for its centerpiece a 46-foot shaft topped by a winged figure of "Fame." Representing cannon balls, eight huge stone spheres surround the pink-granite column. Names of fallen officers are inscribed on plaques on the round base of the monument or near the base of the column; names of fallen enlisted men appear on bronze bands on the "cannon balls."

On a frosty February morning in 2018, the Battle Monument unsurprisingly received far less attention than it had nearly 121 years earlier. A group of a dozen people from China posed for photos near the granite column. Intent on taking close-ups of  bronze memorial cannons, one curious soul nearly lost his footing on a sheet of ice and snow.  Far more interested in the spectacular view of the Hudson River from Trophy Point, most in a small busload of tourists largely ignored the monument that honors the long-dead heroes.

     PANORAMA: On a frosty February day, a view of Battle Monument at Trophy Point.
                                      (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Battle Monument is on Trophy Point, which offers a spectacular view of the Hudson River.
Names of those from the U.S. Regular Army who died during the Civil War appear on the monument.
Bronze cannon are also part of the massive memorial.
5,000 people gathered here on Memorial Day 1897 for the dedication of the Battle Monument.
         PANORAMA: View from near the granite column, looking toward Hudson River.
                                   (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- New York Times, June 1, 1897.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Meet 'The Patriot Printer Boy,' whose image turned up on eBay

12th Connecticut Private Howard Hale died in Louisiana in 1863. (Courtesy George Bittner)
Like this blog on Facebook

During a research trip to the National Archives in Washington in 2015,  I found in a pension file a terrific cache of letters written by Howard Hale, an 18-year-old private who served in the Deep South with the 12th Connecticut. Eloquent and lengthy, the letters were a joy to read. But there was a major gap in Howard's story: a photograph of him. No image of the teenager turned up at the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut State Library archives or any of the other usual places I look.

Then came an e-mail Monday morning. Ebay seller George Bittner told me he discovered a CDV of Hale, with distinctive bushy eyebrows, among others in an album he had purchased at an auction. On the back of the photograph, perhaps a copy of an earlier image of Howard, Hale is identified as "The Patriot Printer Boy." Looking the part of a freshly minted soldier, the eldest son of David B. Hale of Collinsville, Conn., wears a fresh kepi and a serious expression. (Perhaps the image will somehow make it back home to Collinsville.)

Not surprisingly, Hale's father worried about his son and prized news from him throughout his army journey.  The pension file also included a letter from David Hale himself -- a letter that sadly proved prophetic.

Adapted from my book, Hidden History of Connecticut Union Soldiers. E-mail me here for information on how to purchase an autographed copy.

While camped near steamy New Orleans with his 12th Connecticut comrades, teenager Howard F. Hale delighted in writing long letters to his father, who lived 1,500 miles away in Collinsville and missed his eldest son desperately.

An engaging writer and highly literate, Howard wrote sarcastically about “our beloved [Pvt. Marcus] Edgerton,” the “man with one lung, who has done no duty since leaving Hartford” and was due to be discharged.  In another letter, he wrote how pleased he would be if older sister Anna could make a frame for his photograph out of the sea shells he picked out of the sand “one awful hot day” at Ship Island, the desolate barrier island off the coast of Mississippi where the 12th Connecticut was stationed in early spring of 1862.

Striking a serious tone, he also worried whether the army would “make something of me” during his three-year enlistment.  “I very often wonder what I was ever destined for,” the teenager wrote to his father, David, on August, 19, 1862, “and whether I am ever going to be good for anything or not. I get so overly discouraged a … great many times. You must write me a good cheering fatherly letter, and advise me in my troubles of mind, not of the body.”

Back of CDV of Howard Hale,  killed in Louisiana in April 1863.
The image may be a copy of another photograph.
(Courtesy George Bittner)
And Howard Hale also wrote about pests.

For soldiers from Connecticut, the Deep South was a strange, and often exotic, place.  After operations in Mississippi along the Mississippi River, the 12th Connecticut on May 1, 1862, became the first Union regiment to occupy New Orleans, camping its first night in the city in Lafayette Square. The regiment was later based at Camp Parapet, a former Rebel fortification about 10 miles upriver from the city. Especially during the wretched summer months, insects and other pests made life more miserable there than the Rebels, who never counter-attacked the fort after the Yankees assumed command and expanded it.

Howard and his friend, John Phelps, a sergeant from Simsbury who liked to swear, built a bed a foot and a half high over which they spread mosquito netting. It allowed the soldiers, Hale wrote, to “safely bid defiance to the bloody-thirsty wretches, whom we can hear buzzing outside, as if in rage.”

Flies were “thick enough in all conscience,” the private noted, and red ants, as “thick as were some of Pharaoh’s pests,” would get into anything edible -- even soap, which they would eat all the inside out into fine crumbs. “Then if you dare dispute ownership with them,” Hale wrote, “they invade your person and bite like the d-----d!” Lizards would often drop from trees onto soldiers, startling them before the little reptiles dropped to the ground. “Hadn’t I better try to bottle one up in spirit to take home?” the young soldier wondered. “I believe I could do it.” Camp Parapet even exhibited three alligators -- one that was “six or eight feet long.”

An envelope Howard Hale used to send money to his father in Collinsville, Conn.
Howard Hale's name appears on a monument in Collinsville, Conn., among the names 
of other soldiers from the area who died during the war.
A bigger worry, of course, was disease. In June 1862, Hale’s friend Phelps ate “anything and everything” although he had a bad case of diarrhea, which along with malaria often crippled the regiment.   “He’ll have to reform his ways,” Hale wrote in a letter home about Phelps, “or he’ll take his ‘six feet by two’ in the ‘Louisiana Lowlands’.”  Joseph Toy, the 12th Connecticut’s captain, had been sick since the regiment’s stay on Ship Island, wracked with the fever. He later died and his body was shipped back home to Simsbury strapped to a chair placed in a cask of liquor to preserve his remains. In mid-September 1862, Hale was given a “delicious does of castor oil” for his own bad case of diarrhea and later was prescribed quinine and even morphine, which he figured would make him sleepy.

In 1862, the 12th Connecticut bounced from bayous to sugar cane fields, destroying railroad bridges, hunting bushwhackers and destroying  Rebel camps. Writing that September that he was hopeful that he could be home at the expiration of his three-year enlistment in November 1864, Hale noted: “I won’t ‘crow before I am out of the woods,’ though.”  On October 27, 1862, the regiment saw its first fight, dislodging Rebels led by Gen. Dick Taylor, the son of former President Zachary Taylor, at Georgia Landing, near the La Fourche Bayou, about 60 miles upriver from New Orleans. In January 1863, the regiment helped destroy the Rebel gunboat “Cotton” on the Teche River.

The conclusion of one of Howard Hale's Civil War letters to his father.
On  Feb. 12, 1863, David Hale encouraged his son to preserve his 1862 diary and   other keepsakes: 
"Soon you may be sick or killed." (National Archives)
Worried about his son, David Hale urged him to preserve his 1862 diary -- “I should prize it highly,” he wrote on February 12, 1863 -- and all the letters he received from home. “You may sometime be called suddenly to move and lose or leave some of your things, which you would like to preserve,” Howard’s  fifty-one-year-old father noted. “If you and your comrades have things which you would like to send to your friends, I wish you would now or very soon  get together such things as you would like to send.

“… Talk the matter up now, do it at once,” David Hale emphasized. “Soon you may be sick or killed, and all will be lost. Act now.”

On April 9, 1863, a large force of Yankees that included the 12th Connecticut crossed Berwick Bay to attack the Rebels behind entrenchments at Centerville, in western Louisiana.  Four days later, the Federals led by Gen. Nathaniel Banks attempted to cut off  Taylor’s army near Brashear, Louisiana, at Fort Bisland, an unfinished, earthwork fortification with a ditch that “scarcely offered an obstacle to the advance of an army.” Sometime during the fighting, Howard Hale was shot in the abdomen. He died nearby two days later. His final resting place is unknown.

The first page of Howard Hale's letter home from Camp Parapet, near New Orleans, on June 15, 1862. 
"I joyfully take the present time to write and let you know how I  am progressing," he wrote. 
(National Archives)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


Howard Hale pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington
--Hale letters home, June 15, 1862, August 19, 1862, September 11, 1862.
--David Hale letter to Howard Hale, February 12, 1863.

-- New York Times, April 22, 1863.

Video: Finding Custer, Buford, more at West Point Cemetery

On a frigid Saturday afternoon, I was the only soul on the grounds of West Point Cemetery, the final resting place for Civil War notables George Custer, Alonzo Cushing, John Buford, Winfield Scott and many more. Take a tour with me at the historic site overlooking the Hudson River at the U.S. Military Academy.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

General studies: Custer to Kilpatrick at West Point Cemetery

A bas-relief plaque on George Armstrong Custer's memorial at West Point Cemetery.
Like this blog on Facebook

George Custer | John Buford | Hugh Kilpatrick | Daniel Butterfield | Joseph Kiddoo | Winfield Scott 
On a frigid February afternoon, a lone visitor crunches through a thin coating of snow and ice as he slowly walks through West Point Cemetery. A wild turkey bounds past an ancient oak and among pearl-white stones.  The low whoosh of nearby traffic is barely noticed. In this outdoor art gallery, ornate markers, some topped by eagles, soar into a deep-blue sky. Here near the semi-frozen Hudson River lie the remains of military heroes -- and perhaps a few villians, too. There's Custer, Cushing, Scott and other Civil War notables. Close your eyes and imagine their long-ago deeds.


A buffalo peers from Custer's memorial.
Undoubtedly homage to Custer's Indian fighting days, this plaque adorns his memorial. 
He was killed by Sioux at Little Big Horn in 1876.
Visitors leave stones atop Custer's popular memorial.


Eagles on the memorial for cavalry commander and Gettysburg hero John Buford.
Always vigilant, these eagles stand watch on Buford's memorial, paid for by soldiers who served with him.
Another eagle boldly stands watch at the grave of Buford, who died of disease in 1863.
Markers for Buford and Alonzo Cushing, another Gettysburg hero, cast shadows on a February afternoon.


Cavalry commander Hugh Kilpatrick's bronze plaque has seen better days. He died in 1881.


In 1892, Army of the Potomac General Daniel Butterfield was awarded a Medal of Honor for gallantry 
at Gaines' Mill during the war. He died in 1901.
Columns on Bufferfield's ornate memorial note the battles in which he fought.
A deep-blue sky serves as a bold backdrop for Butterfield's impressive memorial.
An interior view of Daniel Butterfield's massive memorial.


Snow and ice partly obscure this tablet for Joseph Kiddoo, who was shot in the spine while leading
  charge of U.S. Colored Troops at The Crater in Petersburg  in 1864. He survived the war, dying in 1880.


An ornate fence was no defense for a curious bird, which pranced on Winfield Scott's gravestone. 
 "Old Fuss and Feathers" was general-in-chief of Union forces when the war began,. He died in 1866.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.