Thursday, March 22, 2018

Antietam gallery: Supreme views from War Department tower

                          PANORAMA: Click at upper right for full-screen experience.

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To enjoy perhaps the most spectacular Civil War battlefield view, one must have a wee bit of Sherpa mountain guide in your DNA. The climb is steep to the observation deck of the 1897 War Department tower at the east end of Bloody Lane at Antietam. The old iron steps inside the stone structure can be a tad slippery, too. Wary of heights? You may wish to stay grounded; enjoy the impressive Irish Brigade monument near the tower entrance instead. For those who want to soar, go for it.

On a frigid, windy March afternoon, a visitor had the tower observation deck -- and
 this impressive view of Bloody Lane -- all to himself.
View of Bloody Lane through a portal in the tower.
Metal tablets in the tower -- which casts a long shadow -- provide distances to locales and
 prominent battlefield landmarks such as Dunker Church, also known as Dunkard Church (below).

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Facing the music: Maine officer explains Louisiana plundering

10th Maine officer John Mead Gould confiscated this music box from an abandoned  house in Louisiana.
                Listen in as 10th Maine collector Nicholas Picerno plays the music box.

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When 29th Maine Lieutenant John Mead Gould entered a house in Marksville, La., with two other men on May 15, 1864, he wasn't surprised to see it deserted -- or pillaged by the Union army. Men's and women's clothing, pots, kettles and chairs -- all were strewn about the place he described in his journal later that day as "not a rich man's house."

"The sight," Gould wrote, "was truly awful."

Amidst the ruins of the Red River Campaign, the 24-year-old officer found something of great interest to him: a beautiful music box.

"I was wicked enough to take [it] myself," Gould wrote, "knowing very well that if I didn't someone would, and the story I heard of the condition of the house an hour after my visit confirmed me in this idea."

Gould wrote when and where he obtained the war booty on a label affixed to the lid of the music box.
Five days later, Gould -- who was from Portland, Maine -- offered a weak defense of the great "but unavoidable" evil of pilfering by the Union army.
"There is one thing that he touched upon that I have said a good deal about and that is the plundering propensity of our army. I suppose that some things I have done in stealing sugar and music boxes and books would be questioned by the moral community of Portland and censured by the Christian community at large, but I will say this in defense that the whole property of an abandoned house when once the house is opened is sure to be destroyed by the passing army. It is better for negroes to jump onto pianos and break them to pieces than for a soldier to "confiscate" them for reimbursement to his lost property? I should not want to be engaged in such confiscation, should prefer to lose all I have, but I do not think less of a man who takes all the eatables he wants, all the raiment he needs and any memento he desires from an abandoned house that the army has commenced plundering. I have come to look upon this plundering as a great evil but an unavoidable one. When the war is ended this thing will stop and I hardly think it will before. There are thieves, scoundrels and rascals of every stamp in our expedition, and I do not think any General can prevent the scenes that we have witnessed without weakening his force very much."

Gould sent the music box back to Maine on April 5, 1865, four days before the war was effectively over.

In the video above, preeminent 10th and 29th Maine collector Nicolas Picerno briefly explains the history of the music box, which still is in remarkable working order. He acquired it from a Gould descendant.

The music box, shown next to a war-time image of John Mead Gould, still plays.

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

-- Do you have 10th, 29th Maine photos, other artifacts? Contact Picerno.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Video: A walk in The Bloody Cornfield at Antietam

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On Sept. 17, 1862, some of the fiercest fighting of the Civil War occurred in the rolling cornfield of David R. Miller.  “Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled by bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores." a Federal officer said of the battle in The Bloody Cornfield. "The smoke and fog lift; and almost at our feet, concealed in a hollow behind a demolished fence, lies a rebel brigade pouring into our ranks the most deadly fire of the war."

 Follow me on a tour of this hallowed ground at Antietam.


Cook, Bejamin F., History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers, Boston, Published by the Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Shooting gallery: At Antietam, it's about right angle of attack

The bodies of scores of Confederates lay in this old lane on Sept. 17, 1862.
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In war and in photography, it's wise to have a good angle of attack. On a brisk March afternoon at Antietam, one shooter's plan also included taking advantage of terrific sunlight. Click to enlarge these images, all shot at or near Bloody Lane. Remember: The "Portrait" function on your iPhone camera is your friend.

Irish Brigade commander Thomas Meagher in bas-relief on monument in Bloody Lane.
While a comrade suffers from a wound, soldiers charge into battle on the Irish Brigade monument.
A wary flag-bearer on the Irish Brigade monument.
In bas-relief, Col. Richard Oakford, KIA at Antietam, on the pedestal of the 132nd Pennsylvania monument.
Colonel Henry Zinn's image appears on a plaque on the 130th Pennsylvania monument.
132nd Pennsylvania monument stands guard at the lip of Bloody Lane,
A plaque on the 5th Maryland monument at Bloody Lane.
14th Connecticut monument in a farm field near Bloody Lane.
130th Pennsylvania monument at Bloody Lane.
On the Samuel Mumma farm, two cannon long ago put out to pasture.
These iron stairs lead to the top of the old War Department tower viewing deck.
View of Bloody Lane and General Israel Richardson mortuary cannon through a tower portal.
Constructed in 1897, the old War Department observation tower casts a long shadow.
Confederate artillery position overlooking Bloody Lane.
Sunlight bleeds through openings in the Roulette barn, a makeshift hospital during and after the battle.
Reflection of sunset and the West Woods in the windows of the Dunker Church.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Video: Why you're far from solitude in the Wilderness

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Some of the most vicious fighting of the Civil War took place near the intersection of Orange Plank and Brock roads during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5-6, 1864. But on the morning of my visit, it was difficult to contemplate the momentous events that happened here long ago. Watch to see why.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Worried mother to drummer boy son: 'May Heaven protect you'

Only 14, Lucien Welles Hubbard posed for a carte de visite before he left Connecticut for war.
(Photos/letters courtesy Emilie Bosworth-Clemens  | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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Wearing a stern expression and a slightly oversized greatcoat, 14-year-old Lucien Welles Hubbard posed in a studio in Hartford, Conn., in front of a photographer's army camp backdrop of Sibley tents and cannon balls. After his keepsake image was taken, probably shortly after his enlistment in July 1862, the drummer in the 14th Connecticut began a momentous, 21-month journey.

Whether parents Calista and Timothy Hubbard -- a 52-year-old ship carpenter who sometimes plied his trade in New York -- gave consent for their eldest son to join the Union army is unknown. In addition to Lucien, the Hubbards had five other children, ranging in age from 4 to 24. What is certain is the great anxiety 45-year-old Calista felt because of her son's absence from home in Bridgeport, Conn.

Calista Hubbard, Lucien's mother.
On the very day Lucien experienced the bloodiest single-day battle of the war, at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, Hubbard wrote a heart-rending note to her son:
"We heard of battles and we think perhaps your regiment may be engaged in some of them and it casts a sadness over my feelings, and my heart is filled with anxiety until I shall hear that you are safe. I know that you must have had a pretty hard time since you left, but all that I can do for you is to pray for you that God would strengthen you and help you and give you courage to endure all that He in his providence shall call you to pass through.  
"You may think because you do not hear from me after that I have forgotten you. No, Lucien your Mother has not. I think of you in your long weary marches, in your tents, or your lodgings on the ground ... and I pray God that this dreadful war may soon be over, but He alone knows when it will be. ...  
"All the men most want to know if  I have heard from you. They think you have good pluck to go to war so young as you are. Do be careful of your health as I fear you will ruin your constitution for life. Take good care of yourself. Write as often as you can and try to improve in writing and composition, for your school days are gone. Good night my dear boy. May Heaven protect you."
As a drummer, Hubbard did not participate in much, if any, fighting. Unsurprisingly, his mother preferred that he avoid armed conflict at all costs. "Now Lucien," Calista wrote on Jan. 19, 1863, "if you love your mother for my sake do not expose your life unnecessarily, for we are commanded to use all means to preserve our lives and the lives of others."

But Hubbard was far from a bystander during the war -- he dressed wounds at Antietam, carried off war booty during the Union army's sacking of Fredericksburg in December 1862 and had the shell of his drum broken by an artillery fragment at Chancellorsville in May 1863. At Gettysburg two months later, he acquired souvenirs from Rebels, sending the prizes of war home to his mother. In April 1864, the private's war ended far behind enemy lines, 400 miles from home.

Excerpts from a remarkable cache of correspondence between Lucien and Calista Hubbard provide a small window into the youngster's war  -- and into a mother's love for her boy:

Patriotic envelope for letter dated Sept. 5, 1862, from Lucien Hubbard to his mother in Bridgeport, Conn.

Only weeks after the 14th Connecticut left Hartford, it fought in its first battle outside the village of Sharpsburg, Md. The regiment swept across William Roulette's farm and engaged Confederates in Bloody Lane, suffering 20 killed and 98 wounded. Among the regiment's dead were well-regarded captains Jarvis Blinn and Samuel Willard.

The battle field, Sept. 18, 1862

Dear mother

I have found a few minutes to spend and I thought I would write as you might think I was killed in battle Wednesday Sept. 17. I was in the battle bringing off the wounded, the balls flying thick and fast. The nearest I had one hit me was one through my hat. Our regiment was cut up terribly. We did not muster but 300 men this morning and before we numbered 1,000. I have been to work all day long and been up all night helping the wounded and dressing the wounds. Our regt. Lost 2 capt that were thought of a great deal of. Their names were [JarvisBlinn and [Samuel] Willard. It was one of the biggest & hardest battles ever fought. Gen. Morris (our old col.) says it has been the hardest battle every fought.

I will give you the names of some of our killed in our company. Company A Eldregg [Nathaniel Eldridge] was wounded in the leg and Frank Curtis of Startford had his shoulder all blown off. Philo knows him. Oscar Beers was not in the action. He staid back at Ft. Allen because he was sick. I am in good health and stand it very well. We have not received any letters since we left Hartford. The mail could not reach us. We were marching all the time day and night. If I could get home I would not care about coming again, not because I am sick of it but I do not like the looks of some of the wounds I have to see. You can’t imagine anything about it. See men wounded in the head, arms, hands, legs and all over their body.

One fellow had five balls in him and he did not stop fighting until a shell hit him and knocked his leg clean off. I don’t want to have you worry about me because I am all right and will take care of myself. I read a psalm every night and morning and read a verse in that book you gave me. Give my love to all the boys and girls. Tell them to remember old Lush. I have wrote to Charley Smith but have not received any answer. Give my love to my dear sisters and to [brother] Charlie. Tell him he must be a good boy and mind his mother.

On Dec. 13, 1862, the 14th Connecticut attacked an impregnable Confederate position at Marye's Heights. The result was disastrous: 11 killed, 87 wounded, and 22 missing.

Camp near Falmouth Dec. 18, 1862 (of Camp Abomination 25,000 miles from civilization)

Dear mother

We have been in a great battle. Our regiment went in the battle with 362 men and came out with 105. Our. Lt. Col, was wounded and our major. We had 1 Lieut. Killed and all the line officers except 4 are wounded. Our company lost two killed and considerable many wounded. George Carlock was killed. Fred Standish was wounded in the hand. We had a good time while we were in Fredericksburg, We rummaged the houses for …. sugar, butter, jellies, tea coffee and all the dishes you can think of. I made some slapjacks and I got some dried apples and made some apple dumplings and I found a piece of fresh pork and made a pork pie. …. We live high and slept in a cellar. I received your photograph and I never saw a better likeness in my life. I send you an old copper coin I found in Fredericksburg.

"I am afraid by your writing that you do not appreciate His goodness in sparing you through such scenes 
of carnage and blood," Calista wrote to Lucien two days before Christmas 1862.
Bridgeport, Dec. 23, 1862

My dear son

I received your letter last evening after waiting a whole week in the greatest possible anxiety. I had about concluded that you was either killed or taken prisoner. I hope if you are ever in another battle and escape unhurt you will try to let me know sooner if it is possible for you to write, for it is dreadful to be kept so long in suspense.

An undated. pre-war photo of Lucien W. Hubbard
 of Bridgeport, Conn. He was one of six hildren.
For my part I am full of gratitude to God for you again protecting you through so much peril and danger. I am afraid by your writing that you do not appreciate His goodness in sparing you through such scenes of carnage and blood. I wish that such scenes might have a tendency to lead you to repentance, so that if I should hear that you had fallen in battle I might have the fullest assurance that you had gone to be forever with the Lord, but I hope you will be spared to come home again.

Do Lucien try to be a good boy so that if you should live to get home you may make a good and useful man. My heart yearns over you lest you should fall into sin and temptation. I am inclined to think that war is a bad place for any one to live as they ought. You little know how many sorrowful and sleepless hours I spend on your account, how many prayers are offered for your safety and your good. There has been a great excitement here on account of the battle. A great many are ready to give up and think that this war is never going to be ended, but for my part I am not willing to believe that our armies can be conquered by the South. God forbid that we too should be slave to them.

Camp near Falmouth, Jan. 13/62

Dear mother

… I am nearly well with the exception of my feet and I hope this letter will find you and the family the same. I have had the best kind of care taken of me since I have reentered the hospital. My toes have turned black and scabbed all over and they pain me night and day. If I get them a little warm they will sting and it seems as though I should go crazy. My left foot is a great deal the worse. The toes are stiff as a poker.

"Remember that you have a precious soul ..." Calista Hubabrd wrote her son on Jan. 19, 1863.
Bridgeport, Jan. 19th, 1863

My Dear Child

On beautiful stationery featuring a camp scene, 
Lucien wrote: "Verses sent from a soldier
 to his mother. Mother please keep these verses
 and if I never come home remember that 
they were sent from a drummer to 
his mother at home."
I just received your letter this morning and received your letter this evening [and] was glad to hear that you are better. I have worried myself almost to death about you. I was afraid you was worse and was not able to be sent on to Washington, and I have imagined a thousand things about you which have made me very anxious to hear from you, but thank God it is no worse. I am glad you have good care where you are ...

Josie has just got home from Stratford. She and Philo and Gus spent the Sabbath there. They got a letter from Oscar which informed them that you had been very sick and that he thought you would get a discharge. At least he thought you had ought to for you looked so thin, so I had about made up my mind to see you walk in some day or rather to hear that you had been sent to New Haven, but it seems I shall be disappointed as you are not going to be sent on. I should think it would be a long time before you will be able to march on your sore feet. O dear what will you do?

Aunt Sarah tells me that when she was over to the Hospital that Fred Standish said that the drummer boys did not have to be much exposed in time of battle unless you are a mind to, but he says you and George Allen are always around.

Now Lucien if you love your mother for my sake do not expose your life unnecessarily, for we are commanded to use all means to preserve our lives and the lives of others. Remember that you have a precious soul which must spend an eternity in happiness or misery. You can’t tell how much I feel on your account surrounded by thieves and every thing that is bad and evil examples of every kind. Don’t you sometimes think you would like to be at home and have a quiet home life once more? I sometimes fear that I shall never see you again on earth. But if not I hope we may meet in Heaven.

In a letter about his experience at Gettysburg, Lucien Hubbard drew cannons. "The batteries from
 our side," he wrote July 3, 1863, "are mowing the rebels down with grape and canister and shell."
At the upper right, a mystery fingerprint.

Depleted by hard fighting since it had left Hartford in the summer of 1862, the 14th Connecticut barely had 200 soldiers at Gettysburg, where it suffered 10 killed and 52 wounded. In defending the Bloody Angle during Pickett's Charge, the regiment captured the colors of the 1st and 14th Tennessee. 

Camp on the battlefield, July 3

Dear mother

Confederate money Private Lucien Hubbard 
acquired at Gettysburg.
I take my pencil in hand to write you a few lines hoping to find you in good health as I am at present. We are having a terrible battle here. Our regiment is being all cut to pieces. This morning there were ordered (four companies) to charge a barn that was occupied by the rebels. They done it – not a man faltered and they succeeded in reaching the barn. Out of the four companies two lieuts were wounded and about 10 privates. Pretty soon the brig. rode by and said he wanted the 14th to charge a house that the rebel sharpshooters occupied. They charged the house and had just (indecipherable) when rebel batteries opened on them. Still they stood firm. Here was when they got cut so. Then was some killed and a great many wounded. Just think -- our regiment is now not as large as the Home Guards were when I was home.

I see Fred – he was in the fight but was not hurt the last I saw of him. The men fight nobly. Dr. Dudley of our regiment was wounded in the left arm. The second battery was engaged I believe. You must not feel worried about me. I will try and take care of myself. This is an awful fight. We have taken a great many prisoners. We are in Pennsylvania now at a place called Gettysburg. That is quite a large place and troops hold ½ of the town and the rebels the other. The troops will all fight tomorrow, it being 4th of July. The batteries from our side are mowing the rebels down with grape and canister and shell. They don’t seem to have a great deal of artillery here. At least they don’t reply a great deal. Their batteries seem to be all planted in one place while ours are all scattered around at different places.

I don’t think of much more this time. One thing I forgot to tell. Our line of battle extend about three miles and at present we are playing batteries all that distance and you can imagine what kind of noise it makes. Give my respects to Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Perry and all the rest of the neighbors. Give my love to Gus and Joe also Phil. Tell the children to be good and do all they can for you. Tell Father to write to me. Give my best respects to Father and my love to you and the rest. So good bye. Write soon.

A stamped envelope Lucien got from a Confederate prisoner at Gettysburg. He sent it home to his mother.

Envelope for letter Lucien sent to his mother from Belle Isle POW camp in Richmond.
On Oct. 14, 1863, Lucien was captured at the Battle of  Bristoe Station (Va.). Before he was sent to a POW camp at Belle Isle in Richmond, Hubbard said he briefly met J.E.B. Stuart. The Confederate cavalry commander "treated me very well indeed," Lucien told his mother.

Richmond Va., Oct. 24th 1863

Dear mother

J.E.B. Stuart
I take my pencil in hand to let you know that I am alive yet. I am a prisoner and am at Richmond. I was taken on the 14th but have not had a chance to write before this. I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. If you have sent them things on to my regiment you had better send back after them. Or else try to sell them. If you write to the regiment direct to Franklin M Bartlett Sargt Co. A 14th V.C. I was taken by some of Gen. Stuarts cavalry. I was before the Gen and he talked and treated me very well indeed.

We were taken to Warrenton Jail and stayed there a while and then to Culpepper and then here. As soon as I can find out how to direct my letters I will write and let you know. I don't know what place to have you direct to. What prison. You must not feel worried about me, for I will take as good care of myself as possible. You can write to the regiment if you are a mind to and tell them that I am a prisoner.

I guess we will not have to stay here a great while before we are exchanged. At least I hope not. I would like to get paroled and then I could get a chance to come home and see you once more. But I shall have a chance. Give my love to Sarah and Charley and Josephine and to all the rest of my friends. Tell father not to worry about me for I am all right. Tell him I aint but 15 years old. I can manage to get out all right.

A cropped enlargement of an April 1865 photo of a graveyard for Union POWs at Belle Isle.
(Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress collection.)
At Belle Isle, a small island in the James River, Union POWs lived in tents or without any shelter at all because there were no barracks or other buildings to house them. Sanitary conditions were equally primitive.  "The water in the river at this time was about two feet deep," a POW at Belle Isle in the summer of 1864 wrote after the war. "This was the privy, as also the only place where we were allowed to get any water, to either drink or wash with...the river was full of filth from houses." 

In the spring of 1864, Lucien Hubbard suffered from chronic diarrhea. Severely weakened, he died from the disease on April 16, 1864. 

Calista Hubbard doggedly pursued the story of her son's death. On May 21, 1865, a soldier who was imprisoned with Lucien replied to her inquiry about him. "He often told me," wrote Patrick Carroll, "that he was afraid he would never see home."

The drummer boy's final resting place is believed to be Richmond (Va.) National Cemetery.

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


My thanks to Rich Condon, who provided the Hubbard correspondence and images for this post via Lucien's descendant, Emilie Bosworth-Clemens.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

'Romantic errand': In 1898, Rebel vet returned Antietam sword

 Union Lieutenant Hardman Petrikin and his reconnoitering squad stumbled into a large Confederate force
 near the East Woods on the night of Sept. 16, 1862.  This area at Antietam was wooded in 1862. 
(Photo courtesy Kevin Pawlak | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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Nearly 36 years after the Battle of Antietam, a Confederate veteran traveled to  Bellefonte, Pa., for an event a local newspaper called a "rather romantic errand." William M. Robbins' intentions certainly were noble: The former major in the 4th Alabama planned to return the sword of 5th Pennsylvania Reserves Lieutenant Hardman P. Petrikin* to the soldier's sister.

Robbins' connection to the Petrikin family began on the inky-black night of Sept. 16, 1862,  eight hours or so before the carnage began in the East Woods and David R. Miller's cornfield. At about 10 p.m., while Robbins and his exhausted troops were resting in an open field about 400 yards northeast of Dunker Church, the major was startled by two or three volleys fired by Confederate troops to his left.

"Springing up and inquiring the reason of this," Robbins recalled decades later, "I was informed that they had heard a party of what must be the enemy, who were just in front of us, and had thereupon fired."

Moments later, Robbins heard a cry in the field from a seriously wounded Union soldier.

Confederate veteran William Robbins, who was a 
 member of the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission,
returned Hardman Petrikin's sword to the soldier's sister.
"Rebel boys!"

"Southern boys!"

Wary of venturing into the blackness, Robbins yelled that he would provide aid only if any Yankees in the area would hold their fire. After he received that pledge from Petrikin, Robbins and a search party sought the crippled Federal about 20 or 30 yards away. When he arrived at the site with his soldiers, the 4th Alabama officer discovered "two or three" Union dead; a private who died "almost immediately" and Petrikin, who had been shot in the chest. In charge of a reconnoitering squad of 24 soldiers, the Pennsylvania officer told Robbins he had no idea he had stumbled upon a large Confederate force.

Petrikin, the 30-year-son of a man who had a "keen sense of the ridiculous," thought his wound was mortal. As Robbins made arrangements to send the Pennsylvania officer to a field hospital, the wounded man pulled out "quite a fine" watch.

"I make the request of you that if you possibly can you will have my watch sent to my mother," Petrikin said, according to Robbins. Then, he added, "Tell my comrades of the Union army for me that I died like a soldier should, doing my duty." In the confusion that night, someone apparently snatched Petrikin's sword, undoubtedly a prized trophy for a Confederate soldier.

"As [Petrikin] was borne away to the hospital," Robbins recalled, "I bade him good-by in the darkness, and promised to obey his requests if I lived and ever had the opportunity." Petrikin died early the next morning at a Confederate field hospital at Dunker Church. In his after-action report on Sept. 22, 1862, Colonel Joseph W. Fisher of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves lamented the death of  one of his "most daring and gallant officers." (According to a post-war newspaper account, Petrikin's body was found by comrades in Dunker Church stripped of his clothes.)

During a truce on Sept. 18, the day after Antietam, Yankees met Rebels near the Dunker Church and Smoketown Road. Walking up the lane "about half its length," Robbins visited with a friendly Union officer no older than 27 and of medium build. Years later, Robbins couldn't recall the soldier's name, but the Alabaman clearly remembered handing over Petrikin's watch to him and telling the Yankee of Hardman's dying words.

Position of  4th Alabama the night of Sept. 16, 1862. This view is looking east from the Smoketown Road.
(Photo courtesy Kevin Pawlak)

Decades after the war, Petrikin wondered about the whereabouts of Hardman Petrikin's watch. So at the urging of a Northern vet, he wrote a short story for The National Tribune, a newspaper for Civil War veterans, inquiring about it. Shortly after publication of his story in the summer of 1891, he was contacted by Petrikin's sister. Mother had received the timepiece, Marion Petrikin wrote the Confederate veteran, but the family would relish the return of her brother's sword. Could he help find it?

In this photograph from Confederate Veteran magazine,
Major D. Sterrett poses with fellow Southern vet
T.M. Freeman. Sterrett, who lost his leg at Antietam, had
Lieutenant Hardman Petrikin's sword after the war. He

readily agreed to ship the weapon back to Pennsylania in 1898.
Motivated, Robbins began his search for the sword, but the dominoes didn't begin to fall until seven years later. In Gettysburg in 1898, Robbins had a serendipitous visit with a 4th Alabama veteran. He recalled helping carry the grievously wounded Petrikin to an aid station and later giving the sword to his captain, Major D. Sterrett of Company C. After he was contacted by Robbins, Sterrett -- who lived in tiny Beckville, Texas -- readily agreed to ship the weapon by express to Gettysburg. A member of the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, Robbins contacted Pennsylvania Governor Daniel Hastings, telling the Bellefonte-area man of his desire to personally re-unite the sword with the Petrikin family.

"Being informed that his sister still lived in Bellefonte," the local newspaper reported, "[Robbins] determined to come here in person and with his own lips deliver the last message of the dead and tell the sad story, then deliver to Miss Petrikin the sword so gallantly won by her brother ..."

Gleeful about the discovery of the sword, Bellefonte citizens turned Robbins' three-day visit there in spring 1898 into "one round of entertainment." The veteran was a house guest of a local bank teller, and a dinner party was held in his honor.  "Major Robbins was the center of attraction everywhere," a newspaper noted, "and his courteous, genial manner made him more popular than he had become even before his arrival."

On April 1, 1898, the Harrisburg (Pa.) Telegraph 
reported about the return of
 Lieutenant Petrikin's sword.
On March 30, 1898, the sword was formally presented to Marion Petrikin at the local Grand Army of the Republic post. The 69-year-old veteran shared a bond far stronger than the sword with Marion -- he had lost four brothers during the Civil War. Among the dignitaries that night were former Pennsylvania Governor James A. Beaver, who had lost his leg at the Battle of Reams Station in Virginia in 1864, and Major William C. Patterson, perhaps the last Union soldier to speak with Hardman before he was wounded at Antietam.

After a speech in which he recounted Hardman Petrikin's fate, Robbins presented the sword to Marion. Newspaper accounts made no mention of the unmarried woman's reaction, but the last surviving member of the Petrikin family in the county surely must have been touched.

Before the grand evening concluded, resolutions were passed in appreciation of Sterrett and Robbins for the return of the sword. Then the crowd broke into patriotic songs and slowly walked into the chilly Pennsylvania night. The men and women of Bellefonte were "full of kindly and fraternal feeling," a newspaper reported, "realizing that after all the American people are one in heart."

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


-- Altoona (Pa.) Tribune, March 30, 1898.
-- Carolina Mascot, Statesville, N.C., April 14, 1898.
-- Harrisburg (Pa.) Telegraph, April 1, 1898.
-- Lewisburg (Pa.) Chronicle, April 2, 1898.
-- Linn, John Blair, The History of Centre and Clinton Counties Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Press of J.B. Lippincott, 1883.
-- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. LI, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1897.
-- The National Tribune, July 16, 1891.

* Spelling of his last name also Petriken

Sunday, March 04, 2018

'Herculean task': How dead were recovered after Civil War

African-American workers collecting Union dead on the Cold Harbor battlefield in April 1865.
(Library of Congress)
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In the years immediately after the Civil War, the Federal government mobilized to locate and disinter remains of Union dead for re-burial in 73 newly established national cemeteries. By the time the  costly program was completed in 1870, nearly 300,000 remains had been recovered -- on battlefields, in prisoner of war camp cemeteries, in private graveyards and elsewhere. Officially neglected, Confederate dead were mostly left to private organizations throughout the South to recover and re-bury.

In the Frederick News on May 23, 1907,
 an account of the discovery of  the remains
of six Confederate soldiers near the
Antietam battlefield.
Unsurprisingly, recovery efforts for remains of soldiers from both sides weren't 100 percent successful. In 1887, fishermen from Charleston, W.Va., found the skeleton of a soldier and the blade of an officer's sword in a thicket on the Antietam battlefield. "There being no clew [sic] as to the identity of the remains," a report published in several newspapers noted, "the bones were interred by the fisherman where they were found."

Well into the 20th century, remains of soldiers were found on or near battlefields. While plowing a field near Antietam in the spring of 1907, two laborers discovered the well-preserved bodies of six Confederate soldiers buried side-by-side. A sword, epaulets and large buttons were found with one soldier, denoting the remains of an officer. A bullet was found in the skull with another body. "The clothing and shoes were intact until exposed to air, when they crumbled to dust," a Maryland newspaper reported about the discovery.

In 1927, also at Antietam, a farmer who was working on the foundation of a new silo discovered the skeleton of a Union soldier. His allegiance was confirmed by the pieces of uniform and brass buttons found with the body. A bullet was embedded in the poor soul's backbone.

In 1939, the skeleton of a Union soldier was discovered at the Railroad Cut at Gettysburg. Fifty-seven years later, a tourist -- a National Park Service employee from Oregon -- found remains of another soldier at the Cut. A forensic examination determined that the unknown soldier, probably a Confederate, had been shot in the head.

Charles Bertrand Lewis, 
a Union veteran, wrote 
about recovery efforts 
of Civil War dead.

As detailed in the following account, published on Christmas Day 1881 in the Detroit Free Press, recovery efforts of soldiers' remains sometimes were slipshod and unseemly. "It is an unpleasant reflection, but the contractors who exhumed and reburied the bodies were paid so much for each, and this led to base trickery and worse frauds," wrote M. Quad, pseudonym of former Union soldier Charles Bertrand Lewis, a popular newspaper writer after the war.

The passage of time often made identification of remains of soldiers impossible. But reckless and hasty burials during the war frequently were contributing factors to the burials of many soldiers under "Unknown" markers, Lewis wrote.

 "At least ninety-nine soldiers out of every hundred had note book, wallet, watch, key-tag, Testament, or something from which his name could be learned with little trouble," he noted, probably exaggerating to a degree, "and there was no excuse for burying him without a search."

Photographed in April 1865 by John Reekie, the collection of dead near Cold Harbor, Va.
(Library of Congress.)
Hardly had the civil war closed before steps were taken to establish national cemeteries adjacent to great battle fields for the reinternment of the Union dead; and Southern people, to their great honor, though impoverished, collected their dead as far as possible and gave the bones a resting place in grounds donated for the purpose. The sentiment of the country today would let the dead in blue and gray sleep side by side.


The idea of gathering all Federal dead together at certain points seemed at first an utter impossibility. Men had been covered by the sod in every State in the South, and there was not a highway in some of the States without a grave almost every rod of pike. But the work was long ago accomplished by both Union and Confederate hands, and the cities of the soldier dead, visit them where you may, are and always will remain points of deepest interest.


Of course the great portion of the dead at Antietam were killed right there on the battle-field, and the work of resurrecting the skeletons and transporting them to the graves in which they now rest was comparatively easy, although by no means pleasant, When those in the near vicinity had been removed wagons were sent out for a distance of twenty miles. Those who were buried at Halltown, Shepardstown, Hagerstown, and other points within reach were resurrected and conveyed to Antietam.


Burial site for 133 unknown Union dead at Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.
It was generally supposed that all who fell in battle were identified by the burial parties, or at least the greater number, but such was far from being the case. Many of McClellan's dead at Sharpsburg were dropped into the trenches without the least effort to discover their identity, and hundreds more had their names written on  slips of paper pinned to their clothing. Time had reduced the paper to mold and dust, and unless a finger ring or a button could furnish a clue the bones had to be buried "unknown."

But for the gross carelessness of certain officers it would now be possible to find the grave of almost every Union soldier who fell in battle. At least ninety-nine soldiers out of every hundred had note book, wallet, watch, key-tag, Testament, or something from which his name could be learned with little trouble, and there was no excuse for burying him without a search. In one part of the field at Antietam, the dead were placed side by side in the trenches, each one's name plainly written and inclosed in a bottle, and canvas covered over the bodies before the dirt was heaped on. These bodies were rapidly handled but in other cases the diggers had to search among the dirt and mold and bones for a clue even to the division to which the dead belonged. What is said here of Antietam applies equally well to other battlefields. A shameful neglect of plain duty has given up a big corner of every national cemetery to the "unknown" dead.


At Winchester are collected the dead from half a dozen of the battlefields in the valley, and from a hundreds skirmishes between Staunton and Harper's Ferry. The Federal cemetery is situated just out of town on the Berryville pike, and the Confederate dead are buried in the city cemetery close by. Both grounds shook with the turmoil of battle in the struggle between Sheridan and Early. Where the
 headstones have been planted for the Federal dead Early made a last fierce stand against Sheridan during the battle of Winchester. Where the Confederate dead sleep their last sleep and the marble figure of Stonewall Jackson overlooks all, bullets chipped the headstones of those who were buried there years before, and the soldiers rested their muskets on the grass-grown graves as they fought at bay.

Remains of soldiers on the Gaines' Mill (Va.) battlefield, probably April 1865. (Library of Congress)

Riding out towards Malvern Hill from Richmond, one finds the National Cemetery strangely located in the woods -- a dismal, lonely location, and one attracting but few sight-seers. Between the spot and the battlefield are a dozen beautiful locations for such a cemetery, and one can but wonder what influence passed them all by. Outside of the hundreds who fell at Malvern Hill, there are buried here hundreds who died at Harrison's Landing and other points, of disease and wounds. Indeed, some of the bodies were transported thirty miles


Granite blocks designating graves of unknown dead at the
 national cemetery in Fredericksburg, Va. Of the 15,243 
Union soldiers buried there, 12,770 are unknown.
Many of the dead of Chancellorsville were reburied at Fredericksburg, together with those who fell at Ely's and Germanna fords. From this point wagons were dispatched twenty-five and thirty miles to bring in bodies buried here and there by the roadside. Many a poor fellow, who gave up his life in a skirmish at some crossroads and was hastily buried while the column waited, has been resurrected to sleep his last sleep where his comrades lie thickest. One has but to walk up and down the graveled streets of these cities of the soldier dead to see what brigades and regiments were foremost in the fray. Here a captain of a New York company has grouped around him thirty -- forty -- even fifty of the brave men who followed him into the charge and fell beside him. Here is Michigan -- there Ohio, further on Illinois, and Indiana with their sacrifices, and the names of battles engraven on the marble stones will thrill the blood of him who reads them fifty years hence.

It is an unpleasant reflection, but the contractors who exhumed and reburied the bodies were paid so much for each, and this led to base trickery and worse frauds. Coffins were furnished for each "subject," and in scores of cases two and three bodies were made to fill from four to six coffins. In opening the battle-field trenches, "about so much" was averaged off to represent a corpse, and was duly coffined up and taken to the cemetery. One of the men who had assisted to resurrect over 6,000 corpses told me that he had often seen three skulls in one coffin. In other instances three or four coffins would be filled with bones and dirt. The idea was to hurry the work as fast as possible, and make as much money as possible, and it was not always that the diggers would stop to look for the identification of the skeleton before them. Military reports gave the names of those who fell in this or that battle, and there is cause to believe that they were called into use to give names to headstones covering no one knows what poor fellow's bones. The more corpses the more coffins; the more coffins the more headstones; the more graves the more pay. That was the scale on which all worked, and if all did not get rich out of their contracts it was not the fault of the government.

                            PANORAMA: Fredericksburg  (Va.) National Cemetery.
                                  Click at upper right for full-screen experience.


In uncovering the bodies the diggers found plenty of evidences of reckless and hasty burials. Many of the cemeteries have glass cases filled with rusty watches, rings, keys, medals, knives and other articles taken from the dead, and yet the cemeteries did not secure a hundredth part of these rusty treasures. Gold and silver watches, often in good order, were appropriated by the diggers, and in more than one instance the captured sums of gold and silver.


A curious story is told of a body uncovered at Chancellorsville, The poor fellow had crawled into a thicket to died of his wounds, and though the Confederates held the field and buried our dead, they did not discover the body in the bushes. Only when Federals, years after, were gathering up the dead for reburial did one of the party stumble upon the moldy blue cloth covering the wasting skeleton. A gold watch was the first valuable secured, and upon opening the back case this much of a will was found written in pencil, and perhaps during the darkness of night:

"If my body is found by Federals I want my watch and money sent to my wife."

"Who was the wife? Who was the soldier? Had the body been discovered directly after the battle the name would doubtless have been found with it but now there was nothing left but blackened bones and moldy fragments. There was no money, but there was a handful of black mold which had once represented greenbacks -- perhaps a large sum.

Unburied dead on the Gaines' Mill battlefield, photographed by John Reekie on April 15, 1865.
(Library of Congress)

Few soldiers are sanguine enough to believe that all the Federal dead were gathered into the cemeteries, although the contractors had every inducement to hunt them out and bring them in. Every highway in Northern Virginia has its forgotten graves of men suddenly stricken down and hastily buried by those who could not have recognized the spot a week afterwards. The same is true of portions of Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, and other states. And those riddles by canister and shattered by shell and buried in one horrible mass of blood and shreds -- what of them? The Potomac River has never given up a tenth of its dead. So with the Mississippi and other streams.

And yet it was a grand, noble thought alike in Union and Confederate, to search out the dead of war and give them burial in some sacred spot, over which men may walk with uncovered heads as they remember the fierce cries of war and realize the blessings of peace. They sleep peacefully and well, whether there is a name on the tombstone or not, and only to be awakened on that day when the names of men shall count for nothing.


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


-- Baltimore Sun, July 2, 1997
-- Elizabethville (Pa.) Echo, Aug. 18, 1927.
-- Frederick News, May 23, 1907.
-- Los Angeles Times, Aug. 20, 1887.