Sunday, December 15, 2019

Captured Flag + Captured Flag Bearer = Medal of Honor for Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson, 18th Mass. Inf.

Most Civil War enthusiasts know the important part flags played on that conflict's battlefields. And, a review of citations for Civil War Medal of Honor recipients only confirms the significance of battle standards, both as a symbol and as a practical marker.

The above flag is currently on display at Pamplin Historical Park's National Museum of the Civil War Soldier near Petersburg, Virginia. Its label states that it belonged to the 27th South Carolina Infantry and that it was captured at the Battle of Weldon Railroad, which occurred just south of Petersburg,  August 18-21, 1864. What is not mentioned is "the rest of the story," as the late great radio personality Paul Harvey used to say.

This fight, also known as the Battle of Globe Tavern and part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Fourth Offensive at Petersburg, began with a strong move in force by the Army of the Potomac's V Corps, led by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren. The goal was to capture and hold the Weldon Railroad (aka Petersburg Railroad) which ran south out of the Cockade City into North Carolina and linked with other rail lines to Wilmington on the coast.

The initial movement met with little resistance as the V Corps tore up sections of track near Globe Tavern on August 18. However, as was the case in most of Grant's Petersburg Offensives, it was finally met with a furious Confederate counterattack that resulted in hundreds of captured Union soldiers. Warren then counterattacked the Southerners, regaining control of the railroad, and digging in.

The following day, August 19, brought Warren some support from the IX Corps, but a flank attack by Confederates under Gen. William Mahone scattered the Union men on that part of the field and again resulted in more captured blue coats.

August 20 saw little fighting due to the heavy rains. However, on August 21 Confederates again took to the offensive and attacked the Union left, not realizing the Yankees had dug in firmly along the railroad supported with significant artillery. The lion's share of the Confederate attack fell on Gen. Johnson Hagood's South Carolina brigade, which included the 11th, 21st, 25th, and 27th regiments. The Palmetto State men ran into a buzz saw and suffered terribly.

During the assault and its resulting melee, 22 year old Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson, Company A,18th Massachusetts Infantry (Gynn's Brigade, Griffin's Division) somehow was able to not only capture the 27th South Carolina's battleflag, but also the man carrying it. His citation simply reads: "Capture of the 27th South Carolina battle flag (C.S.A.) and the flag bearer." Anderson's life story is almost amazing as his heroic deed on August 21, 1864.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1842, Frederick Anderson became an orphan as a young boy. The 1850 census shows Anderson as an "Inmate of the House of Industry" in Boston along with dozens of other poor boys and girls and men and women. In his early teens, Frederick was part of the "Orphan Train" that transported children out of the city of Boston to more rural parts of the state to work for families who needed help, while learning a trade or occupation. Frederick landed in the farming home of Stillman Wilbur in Raynham, Massachusetts. The 1860 census shows him there and lists his age a 14, apparently missing his true age by about 4 years.

Anderson enlisted in the 18th Massachusetts in August 1861 as a 19 year old private. He is noted as being 5 feet 3 inches tall. The 18th Massachusetts saw hard service, fighting in battles such as Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the 1864 Overland Campaign. Anderson received his Medal of Honor only a few weeks after his courageous effort. When the 18th disbanded after its three years of service, Anderson reenlisted with the 32nd Massachusetts and continued the fight. Wounded in the foot in December 1864, he soon returned to action and was treated to a furlough for his reenlistment. Back with the army in time to witness Gen. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Anderson mustered out in June 1865 with the 32nd Massachusetts.

After the war, Anderson married, had children, and enjoyed the family life he missed as a youth. Unexpectedly, Anderson died in 1882 at 40 years old while working on the railroad in Rhode Island. His grave was recently located in Dighton, Massachusetts, where he rests in peace; a former orphan, youthful Union soldier, Medal of Honor recipient, husband, father, and hero.   

No comments:

Post a Comment