Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Battle of New Market Heights Memorial & Education Association's Website Now Live

I am so happy to end June 2020 by sharing some great news. The Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association's (BNMHMEA) website is live! You can now keep up with the organization's efforts to memorialize the soldiers of the United States Colored Troops and educate the pubic about their courageous acts in the September 29, 1864 battle. If you are not aware, 14 African American soldiers and two white officers from the 3rd Division of the XVIII Corps in the Army of the James received the Medal of Honor for their bravery and heroism. People need to know about their inspiring story!

On the website you can read the stories of a number of the men who fought at New Market Heights. Be sure to check back often, as new stories are being added all the time. The website also allows visitors to support BNMHMEA's twin goals of memorialization and education by becoming a member and or giving a kind donation.

BNMHMEA hopes that you become a frequent visitor to the website and its accompanying Facebook page.

"Three Medals of Honor" image courtesy of Don Troiani 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Soldier's Trials and Tribulations

One of the things that often comes out in Civil War soldier’s letters is the toll that military service took on one’s body, mind, and spirit. Experiencing hard fighting, eating bad food, enduring long marches, and living out in all types of weather wreaked havoc on men’s physical and mental systems.

The Petersburg Campaign’s summer months of 1864 were particularly trying. After almost a month of constant combat in May and early June, the fighting transitioned to Petersburg for control of the area’s roads and railroads. On August 18, 1864, Lt. Joseph G. Younger of Company F, 53rd Virginia Infantry, sat down to write a letter to a cousin. This letter is now in the collections of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. Younger opened by stating that he had received his kinsman’s letter that he had “long looked for.”

Fighting in Company F with Younger were his brothers, Francis Marion and Nathan B. Younger. He informed the recipient that both of them were fine, but that he himself was not feeling well and had been sick “for some time.” Younger gives the reader a hint of his symptoms. “I do not think I shall be able to finish this epistle on account of my head swimming so bad it seems to me the paper is turning ‘round all the time.” Perhaps Younger was suffering from a high fever, or consequences of heat exhaustion. Regardless, he ached for kind medical attention: “Cousin, it is so bad to be away off here sick, where no feminine hand is to feel of one’s pulse, or any kind and affectionate sister, mother, relative, or friend to watch one as he lays and suffers upon the ground.”

Younger had enlisted in July 1861, and over his three years of service had experienced many hardships and viewed terrible sights on various battlefields. Soldiers often mentioned the callous nature that built up over time. Younger mentioned it, too. “Soldiers here become used to so many sufferings that they have no sympathy for one that is sick, so long as they can keep well. If one dies it makes no difference with them . . . . If one gets killed in battle it is the same case,” he wrote.

For a few lines—perhaps forcing his thoughts in a more pleasant direction—Younger writes about some of the young ladies back home and their current situations. However, soon he is right back to his present experience, without even a transition. “There was terrible shelling at Petersburg this morning before day. I have not heard the cause of it. We will have hot times here soon I think. A good deal of sickness is getting among our soldiers.”

With so much hardship to endure it is easy to see how one might become somewhat disheartened. That sentiment comes though: “I am in hopes the war will end soon. I have thought it would end this [past] winter, but I do not know how it will end, nor when. I know this much; it cannot end too soon for us. I think it has as well end this winter as to go on next spring, for it will never end by fighting no-how.”

Younger’s last thoughts include a few lines about facing African American Union soldiers in battle, or the “Yankee negro,” as he termed them. “I think if they fight negroes against us, we ought to conscript some of ours to meet them. I reckon our negroes will fight as well as theirs,” Younger wrote. He concluded the letter much as he started it: “I must close as I am getting so weak I cannot sit up. Write soon. I remain your affectionate cousin.”

Younger transferred to an artillery unit in December 1864 and survived the war. He died in Arkansas in 1916.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Confederate Captive at Five Forks

Confederate Soldiers Captured at Five Forks, Virginia, and their Guards
Union and Confederate offensive assaults during the Petersburg Campaign, and often the counterattacks that followed, produced thousands of prisoners of war. Grant and Lee's moves late in the campaign proved particularly effective in converting fighters into captives. The Battle of Fort Stedman, on March 25, 1865, cost Gen. John B. Gordon's attacking force almost 2,000 men. George Pickett's force lost even more men a week later on April 1 at Five Forks. One of the soldiers gobbled up at the April Fool's Day battle was Joshua Staunton Moore of Company B,15th Virginia Infantry.

Moore was an eager and early enlistee. He signed up on May 14, 1861, in Richmond, his home town. Absent sick for a significant amount of his service, Moore returned from the hospital due to a severe case of diarrhea on January 2, 1865.

The 15th Virginia, part of Gen. Montgomery Corse's Brigade in Gen. George E. Pickett's Division, served on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula during much of the campaign. However, they were transferred to Dinwiddie County in late March 1865 and ordered to hold the important crossroads at Five Forks. On March 31, Pickett's Division battled Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's force near Dinwiddie Court House. The Confederates did well, but due to pressure from the V Corps on other Southern forces along White Oak Road, Pickett fell back to Five Forks. Ordered by Lee to hold Five Forks at all hazards, Pickett and other Confederate commanders neglected to maintain proper vigilance. When attacked by Sheridan's cavalry and the V Corps, the Southern resistance proved too meager to make a stand.

Caught up in the turmoil west of the Five Forks intersection was Corse's Brigade, the 15th Virginia, and of course, Pvt. Moore. In his reminiscences, published at the beginning of the 20th century, Moore explained the situation: "We were in a cul de sac produced by the forks of the roads. I continued to fire as before, but after firing about ten or twelve rounds my ramrod got hung in the gun, and I was about to fire ramrod and all into a cavalryman, who was about to shoot me, when someone dismounted him. I got the ramrod down again and resumed my position on the ground."

Moore was about to fire into a group of enemy soldiers when he heard a "click, click" and received an order to surrender. Moore claimed, "I threw up my hands in token surrender, and with many others was ordered to the rear. Nearly half of our division (Pickett's) captured.

As was often the case with battlefield captives, they were marched off the field to a relatively safe location away from the fighting. Moore said that, "I confess when ordered to throw down my rifle and go to the rear I felt very sad, but I also felt a relief that it was over, and that the inevitable had come . . . . As I threw my half emptied cartridge box into a ditch I breathed a prayer of thankfulness to God, Who had spared my life."

During my research I've located numerous accounts from Union soldiers who were robbed of their equipment, food, and money from their Confederate captors. However, Moore claimed that he was "ordered to open our haversacks and surrender their contents." Moore told them that as he was now a prisoner he needed his surplus clothes. They let him keep his underwear but he had to give up half of his tobacco and the little food he had. Moore borrowed a pocket knife from one of the guards and conveniently forgot to return it, "which proved useful in prison."

Moore and the other Confederate prisoners were marched from Five Forks to City Point, the Union supply base and command center located at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers in Prince George County. Moore remembered plodding along the muddy road, not allowed to walk in fields beside the roads. Escorted partly by Union cavalry, he felt an attempt at escape was futile. When he arrived at City Point, Moore was amazed at the Union's stock of wagons, artillery, and  reserve troops.

From City Point, the prisoners were put aboard ships for transport to Point Lookout, Maryland's POW camp. Moore and the others were issued hardtack and salt pork rations to eat on the trip. His service records tell us that he took the oath of allegiance on June 15, 1865, and was released.

After the war, Moore married, had a son, and worked in the grocery business in Richmond. He died on May 13, 1913, just about a month shy of his 70th birthday. He now rests in peace in Hollywood Cemetery. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Col. Joseph Kiddoo Reports on Baylor's Farm Fight, June 15, 1864

The United States Colored Troops division of the XVIII Corps, Army of the James, certainly saw their fair share of combat during the Petersburg Campaign. These soldiers are best known for their fighting late in the day on June 15, 1864, taking several battery emplacements on Petersburg's Dimmock Line, and, of course later, at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864.

However, often overlooked is their true baptism in combat early on the morning of June 15 at Baylor's Farm during the approach to Petersburg's defensive line.

The USCT division, commanded by Gen. Edward Hinks, consisted of two brigades. Col. Samuel A. Duncan led the brigade composed of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 22nd United States Colored Infantry regiments. Col. John H. Holman was in charge of the other brigade, which only contained the 1st USCI and 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry.

During the night of June 14/15, Duncan's Brigade moved from their encampment at Point of Rocks on the Bermuda Hundred to the south side of the Appomattox River via a pontoon bridge placed at Broadway Landing. At near the same time, Holman's Brigade moved from their City Point camps to junction with Duncan's Brigade in preparation to attack Petersburg. White divisions in the XVIII Corps maneuvered just to the west, near the City Point Railroad line.

Blocking Hink's route to Petersburg along the City Point Road was an earthwork emplacement containing infantry and artillery at Baylor's Farm. The location of this engagement is now near where I-295 and Hwy. 36 intersect in Prince George County, on the southwest side of Hopewell, Virginia.

The following is the portion of Colonel Joseph Kiddoo's (22nd USCI) official report that concerns the action at Baylor Farm:

"On the morning of the 15th I moved with the rest of the brigade from Spring Hill on the City Point road. Approaching the enemy's advanced line of rifle-pits near Baylor's house, I received orders from the colonel commanding the brigade [Duncan] to form line of battle and advance, the Fifth U.S. Colored Troops being at the same time on my right and the Fourth U.S. Colored Troops on my left. I also received orders from the colonel commanding to be ready to charge when ordered. After I had gotten under the fire of the enemy's artillery, concluding that on account of the broken nature of the ground orders could not reach me to charge, or that I could not be found, I took the responsibility and ordered my regiment to charge the line of rifle-pits in my front. The effect with which the enemy's artillery was playing upon my line was the strongest inducement for me to give this order. The charge was gallantly made, and that portion of the rifle-pits in front of my line possessed, together with one 12-pounder howitzer, from the fire of which my men suffered severely while coming through the woods. From thence I marched with the rest of the brigade to the left and toward the main line [Dimmock Line] of the enemy's works."

As Kiddoo's men charged, they yelled "Remember Fort Pillow!" The New York Herald correspondent, Mr. J. A. Brady, shared a report that published on June 20, 1864. It reads:
"With a wild yell, that must have certainly struck terror into the hearts of their foes, the Twenty-second and Fifth United States colored regiments, commanded by Colonels Kidder [sic] and Conner, charged under a hot fire of musketry and artillery over the ditch and parapet, and drove the enemy before them capturing a large brass field piece, and taking entire possession of their works."

Brady continued: "When the negroes found themselves within the works of the enemy no words could paint their delight. Numbers of them kissed the gun they had captured with extravagant satisfaction, and feverish anxiety was manifested to get ahead and charge some more of the rebel works. A number of the colored troops were wounded and a few killed in the first charge. A large crowd congregated, with looks of unutterable admiration, about Sergeant Richardson and Corporal Wobey [sic], of the Twenty-second United States colored regiment, who had carried the colors of their regiment and had been the first men in the works."

The 22nd USCI went on to have tremendous success later that day at Petersburg capturing a portion of the Dimmock Line. However, it is important to remember their marked success earlier in the day, too.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Flag Day Remembers: Sgt. William H. Carney

Sgt. William H. Carney, Company C, 54th Massachusetts Infantry
Medal of Honor Recipient, May 9, 1900, "for most distinguished gallantry in action . . . ."
"Severely wounded in left hip at assault at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July 18, 1863."

Born: February 29, 1840 in Norfolk, Virginia
Died: December 9, 1909 in Boston, Massachusetts

"Boys the old flag never touched the ground."

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Corps Badges - Ready Recognition

When the American Civil War began there was no formal method for a United States Army military organization to distinguish itself from another. Tradition attributes the conceptual idea of a corps badge to Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny from the Army of the Potomac. Kearny, a veteran of the Mexican-American War who had lost an arm in that conflict, supposedly became frustrated when on a retreat he could not tell his division’s soldiers from others. Apparently soon thereafter, men started wearing a red piece of cloth cut into the shape of a “lozenge” or diamond. Kearny received a mortal wound at the Battle of Chantilly (also known as Ox Hill) on September 1, 1862, but the idea of an army-wide system of corps badges was born.

During the spring of 1863, the Army of the Potomac, now under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, instituted a formal system of identifying the army’s various corps. Apparently, Hooker’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Daniel Butterfield worked out the basics of the badge system for the army. Each corps of the Army of the Potomac was designated with a shape or symbol. For example, the I Corps was a sphere or circle, the II Corp was a trefoil (clover), the III Corps inherited the lozenge, and the V Corps a Maltese Cross, etc. In addition, a color denoted each division of each corps. The first division was red, the second division was white, and the third division was blue. Therefore, for instance, one could recognize the second division of the I Corps by its white sphere, and so on.

The corps badges were often no more than shaped swatches of colored cloth that soldiers often sewed onto their hat or cap. However some soldiers also sewed corps badges to their uniform jackets, and some decorated their canteen covers or knapsacks with painted corps symbols.    

Soon, other Union field armies adopted the corps badge system, although they sometimes incorporated different colors than the Army of the Potomac’s red, white, and blue scheme.

Among the collections at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier there are a number of corps badge examples. One, shown here, is from the Army of James’ X Corps. Constructed of brass, it contains a blue center, indicating that its wearer was from that corps’ third division. The Third Division of the X Corps was composed primarily of men serving in various regiments of United States Colored Infantry.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Dog Jack

Civil War soldiers often sought ways to bring pieces of home to war with them as reminders of more pleasant times and to gain a sense of normalcy. They did so sometimes by adopting a pet mascot. Common animals like dogs and cats became the boon companions of hundreds of men in companies and regiments, both Union and Confederate. Some fighting units preferred more novel mascots. A Mississippi regiment kept a camel named “Old Douglas.” “Old Abe” was the eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. Some men caught and tamed raccoons or other wildlife for their mascots. However, dogs seemed to be preferred and were the most common Civil War mascots.

Several dogs, like Sallie of the 11th Pennsylvania, and Jack of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry became famous in the Union’s Army of the Potomac. Sallie, sadly killed in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run during the Petersburg Campaign was so prized the 11th Pennsylvania immortalized her on their monument on the Gettysburg battlefield. Jack’s image appeared in different photographs during the war, one of these images, a carte de visite, is in the collections at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

Jack’s career as a mascot began even before the conflict. He appeared one day at the Niagara Volunteer Firehouse in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and was quickly adopted by the firemen. When many of the men went off to fight in the Civil War they took Jack, too, as a good luck charm.

The 102nd Pennsylvania served in the Army of the Potomac’s IV Corps early in the war. They saw action during the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days’ Battles—where Jack received a wound at Malvern Hill, and the Antietam Campaign. It was reported that Jack was very intelligent and even understood bugle calls. In the fall of 1862, the 102nd transferred to the VI Corps and experienced fighting around Fredericksburg. In combat at Salem Church, just outside of Fredericksburg, Jack became a prisoner of war. Apparently, about six months later, he returned to the 102nd, formally exchanged in a prisoner swap.

The 102nd Pennsylvania fought through the severe Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864 and in the Petersburg Campaign. It was during the VI Corps’ detached service from the Army of the Potomac, helping protect Washington D.C. in the fall, summer, and winter of 1864 that Jack went missing at Frederick, Maryland. Some of the regiment’s soldiers believed he was taken for his expensive silver collar. Jack was never heard from again. The 102nd mustered out of Union service in June of 1865 but remembered Jack by having his portrait made from one of his famous photographs. Such were the strong bonds between some soldiers and their mascots.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dying Far From Home - Pvt. Richard Armstrong, Co. A., 38th USCI

It has been some time since I last shared a "Dying Far From Home" post. Way too long, actually. In all of my previous posts I've included a headstone photograph of the soldier profiled. However, I am unable to do that for this particular story. It will become apparent why that is as you read. But, first, a related aside.

I opened 2020 here on Random Thoughts on History by sharing news concerning the formation of the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial and Education Association (BNMHMEA). We had our first board meeting in late February. The next board meeting will be on June 20. Things continue to progress nicely. Hopefully it won't be too much longer until I can share a link to the organization's website. I've had a "sneak peak" look at it, and I am very pleased with its look and the educational information it offers readers. One section of the website is titled "Soldier's Stories." Its purpose is probably obvious--to tell the life stories of the African American enlisted men and non-commissioned officers, and white commissioned officers, who fought in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments at New Market Heights. It includes those who are famous, like some of the 14 black Medal of Honor recipients, but it also covers some men that few people have heard of. The following story is one of those little known soldiers. They deserve to be remembered, too.

The USCT regiments who participated in the primary assaults at New Market Heights were the 4th, 5th, 6th, 36th, and 38th USCI. The 1st, 22nd, and 37th USCI, and 2nd US Colored Cavalry also supported the attack. Browsing through the service records of these regiments one comes across soldier after soldier who gave up his life or health by making that historic charge.

Private Richard Armstrong of the 38th USCI is one such soldier. Armstrong's service records give us precious little information about his pre-war life. He was likely enslaved before the war. We do know that Armstrong was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, and later lived in Princes Anne County. His occupation is noted as "farmer," and the army described him as five feet, six inches tall, with a "dark" complexion. Pvt. Armstrong's age at his enlistment is given as 17. Other records later in 1864 indicate he was 19.

Richard Armstrong's Civil War experience apparently began with his enlistment on January 11, 1864, in Norfolk. He formally mustered into Company A, 38th USCI on January 23. He signed up for three years, but would ultimately serve less than a year. Armstrong's records show he was always present for duty until his September/October 1864 card. That one shows him as absent by reason of "wounded in action Sept. 29/'64. Sent to Hospital."

Of course, September 29, 1864, marks the Battle of New Market Heights. Other information in Armstrong's service records tell of the wounds he received on the battlefield. A hospital card from Summit House General Hospital in Philadelphia shows that Armstrong received wounds to his right hand and right thigh. The wound to his right thigh is described as a "compound fracture of femur," caused by a minie ball.

It appears that after being wounded at New Market Heights, Armstrong initially received treatment at the vast hospital complex at City Point, Virginia. Perhaps due to the seriousness of the wound to his thigh, Armstrong transferred to Summit House hospital in Philadelphia. His hospital records do not indicate whether he endured an amputation, which was a common treatment for similar wounds that broke bones in the extremities. A hospital "Treatment" card only states that Armstrong received: "Cold water dressing and stimulants internally."

Despite whatever treatments Armstrong did receive, they ultimately proved ineffective, as he died on October 31, 1864; just over a month after his wounding.

Pvt. Armstrong was buried the day after his death in Philadelphia's Lebanon Cemetery, a predominately African American burial ground. Notable black individuals such as Octavius V. Catto and Absolom Jones were also buried in Lebanon Cemetery. Apparently, Lebanon was condemned in 1899 and the burials were reinterred in Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. Armstrong apparently now rests in Eden among famous African Americans including Underground Railroad operative William Still and opera star Marian Anderson. If anyone happens to be in the area and is able to locate and photograph Armstrong's grave (if it is marked), I would be happy if they would share a copy with me.

Young Pvt. Armstrong performed his enlistment commitment faithfully. He ended up giving his life serving a country that did not yet recognize him or people of his race as citizens. It was with the hope of citizenship, and being treated as an equal, that many black men risked their lives fighting in USCT regiments. Is a purer sacrifice possible for a soldier?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

I posted a few weeks back about the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winning history book citing a post I made here on "Random Thoughts on History." In that post I mentioned that I had been monitoring the price of Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel. After receiving the Pulitzer Prize its price went up considerably, but then dropped again and I snatched up a used copy in great condition. I am really looking forward to delving into this Kentucky story about an early case of justice to right a grave injustice.

As I've been posting and mentioning for some time that I am constantly on the search for prisoner of war accounts from the Petersburg Campaign for a study that I am currently working on. Well, I happened to stumble upon As if it were Glory: Robert Beecham's Civil War from the Iron Brigade to the Black Regiments, edited by Michael E. Stevens a few weeks back and found an inexpensive soft cover copy. Beecham's story, although a memoir written in 1902, tells of his long service as a soldier, first in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry and then as an officer in the 23rd USCI. During the Battle of the Crater, Beecham was captured and held in South Carolina. Although I have already noted several cases of Crater captures, I look forward to finding out more about Beecham's personal experience.

Keep reading!