Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Picket Duty


Picket duty during the Petersburg Campaign was one of the most trying responsibilities that a Civil War soldier faced. Whether he was fighting off mosquitos in summer, shivering in winter, or suppressing his fears of being attacked and captured by the enemy, he was required to sit in a dark rifle pit with few comforts and not fall asleep. It’s no wonder that most soldiers dreaded this task.

Writing to his local newspaper in 1882, Pvt. Patrick Henry Reilly, of Company L, 1st South Carolina Infantry, described his experience on picket duty the night before the April 2, 1865, Breakthrough at Petersburg: “During our last night on picket guard it seemed ominously still, and we heard, or imagined we heard, smothered orders and an occasional rattle of canteens, and we became impressed with the idea that the enemy meant mischief and were massing troops in our immediate front. . . . After a time the enemy’s movements became more apparent, for on the still night air came expressions not contained in the Holy Writ, confusion and noise. We felt that the enemy would soon advance.”

To break the tension one of Reilly’s comrades yelled out to the Federals to sing them a song. A Yankee yelled back requesting one from the Southerners. The South Carolinians sang out a short stanza about the Palmetto State. It fell quiet again, so the Confederates asked for a reply. A Union man yelled, “Hold on, Johnnie, we will give you a song directly.” Then suddenly, the charge was on!

Reilly described the dark early morning scene: “But this night’s fight was something terrible, and ‘twas well for us it was night, as this mighty host that was hurled against us would have swept us instantly from before them. . . . Just in front of us was a morass, which impeded the enemy’s advance on us, and we stood at our posts until the [earth]works on our right were in almost possession of the enemy, and our little band beat a hasty retreat and made double-quick time to the trenches.”

Pvt. Reilly somehow avoided capture at Petersburg and along the route to Appomattox, where he surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Clara Barton Comments on USCTs

 I just finished reading Donald C. Pfanz's book Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital. While working at the Point of Rocks Hospital near Petersburg, which primarily served sick and wounded soldiers of the Army of the James, Barton made a complimentary comment about soldiers of the United States Colored Troops. She wrote: "They are ever the objects of my deep commiseration and care, so patient and cheerful, so uniformly polite and soldierly. They are brave men and make no complaints, and yet I cannot pass one without the keenest desire to give him something; and it is enough they need, poor fellows. One feature especially pleases me, the excellent nurses they make, and the kind care they take of each other, in camp and hospital. But I am well satisfied that they are not a class of men that an enemy would desire to meet on a charge. They have wants as soldiers now, as well as 'Freedmen,' and I sincerely hope this fact may not be overlooked by their northern friends."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Memento of Misery


Among the many unusual artifacts in the collections of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier there is a small piece of wood, apparently kept as a kind of souvenir. Fortunately, there is a soldier-link to this particular scrap from the past. It belonged to Pvt. John Troutner, Co. A, 30th Indiana Infantry. Troutner, born about 1842 or 1843 according to census records, lived in Allen County, Indiana, before the Civil War. The 1860 census shows eighteen year old John living in the household of his aged father, John, much younger mother Francis, and two siblings, Phillip and Phebie. Young Jon mustered into the 30th Indiana in nearby Fort Wayne on September 24, 1861.

The 30th Indiana Infantry fought in a number of western theater battles, including: Shiloh, Corinth, Stone’s River, the Tullahoma Campaign, and Chickamauga. It was at Chickamauga that John Troutner’s war experience changed. During that desperate battle’s first day Troutner ended up a prisoner of war. Eventually, he landed at Camp Sumter, Georgia, better known as Andersonville.

Becoming a prisoner at this point in the Civil War was one of the worst fates that a soldier could endure. Earlier in the war an agreed upon system often allowed for prompt and efficient prisoner exchanges. That system broke down after the Emancipation Proclamation when the United States army started enlisting large numbers of African American soldiers. Confederates, unwilling to recognize black men as legitimate soldiers, refused to include them in exchanges. In retaliation, President Abraham Lincoln suspended all further exchanges. The breakdown in the exchange system resulted in rampant overcrowding and deplorable conditions at both northern and southern prisoner of war camps.

At places like Andersonville, which held as many as 30,000 prisoners in an area originally designed to hold 10,000, soldiers were left to their own devices to erect shelter and find ways to survive. Unable to obtain new clothing, proper nutrition, or medical care, soldiers in prisoner of war camps, North and South, died by the thousands. Andersonville claimed nearly 13,000 alone.

In addition to all the threats to one’s health, soldiers also suffered from boredom. To pass the time men carved rings from meat bones or whittled wooden chains or other trinkets. John Troutner carved a wooden ball-in-cage during his confinement, which also resides in the Park’s collections.

An accompanying post-war tintype photograph of Troutner includes a paper label stating: “Captured at Battle of Chickamauga and sent to Andersonville prison. Released from prison at the end of the war and sent to an Army Hospital. Lived out life in Adams County, Indiana as a ‘feeble minded’ shell of a man.” Records show that Troutner mustered out of his unit on May 30, 1865. Census records show him living until at least 1910. His veteran’s gravestone in Allen County does not record a death date.

For some reason John Troutner kept that small scrap of wood from the stockade that confined him and challenged his very survival. Perhaps it was a memento of what he had endured, or maybe it served as a memorial for comrades who died there. We will likely never know why he saved it, but its mere existence shows it contained some importance to him and that time in his life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Dying Far From Home - Lt. William W. Moore, Co. C, 38th USCI

Lt. William W. Moore was only 23 or 24 years old when his life ended violently on September 29, 1864, at the Battle of New Market Heights. Serving as second lieutenant in Company C of the 38th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), Moore received a fatal wound in the desperate charge against the Confederate earthworks defended by the famous Texas Brigade just southeast of Richmond. Little is known of Moore other than what is provided in his service records and other official documents. His youthful image, though, survives among those kept and protected in the collections at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. 

Moore began his Civil War military career when he enlisted in August 1862, as a private in Company B of the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers. While with this distinguished unit, Moore first received a promotion to artificer on October 7, 1862, and then a couple of weeks later to corporal. He apparently served well in that role before receiving a promotion to second lieutenant when he transferred to Company C, 38th USCI, on January 26, 1864.

Few issues better illustrate the racism that pervaded America in the mid-nineteenth century than the U.S. Army’s unwillingness to allow black commissioned officers to lead black regiments. At that time it was widely believed that African American recruits required strong capable white officers in command to make black men effective fighters. However, despite this prejudicial measure, the army did establish a system that attempted to ensure the best white candidates received appointments to these positions.

In most instances, in order to obtain a commission with a United States Colored Troop regiment, candidates like Moore had to undergo and pass an examination. At locations like Washington D.C., Cincinnati, and St. Louis, those seeking officer roles with black regiments went before a review board to test their knowledge and abilities, and weigh their prejudices. The purpose for the rigorous examination was to both weed out those men who were only looking to advance for the sake of rank and or pay, and to try to identify and then incorporate those competent leaders who had genuine interests in advancing African Americans’ abilities as enlisted men and non-commissioned officers.

Lt. Moore, first stationed in the Old Dominion with the 50th New York Engineers, and then appointed to a black regiment partly raised and serving in Virginia, likely faced the Washington D.C. review board for his examination. To assist those men who had promise but perhaps not the strongest educational backgrounds pass their board examinations, a free officer’s school was set up in Philadelphia, too. It is unknown whether Moore took advantage of the officer’s school opportunity.

Naturally, despite the army’s attempts to limit the number of incompetent and abusive white officers, some made it through the screening process. However, the majority of the men, like Moore, took their responsibilities seriously and fulfilled their duties, many giving the last full measure of devotion along with the men they led.  

Image courtesy of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Dying Far From Home - Pvt. Joseph S. Money, Co. C, 6th USCI


Conscripting (drafting) men for United States military service and the expanded enlistment of African Americans following the Emancipation Proclamation coincided in the spring of 1863. Black men of military age were just as subject to conscription as white men. At the time, drafted men could either pay a $300 commutation fee to get out of their service obligation, or they could provide a substitute. In most cases, the substitute charged the drafted man to serve in his place.

We do not know the motivation behind Joseph S. Money’s decision to serve as a substitute for a man named Henry Johnson. Unfortunately, due to Johnson’s common name, details into his life cannot be ascertained. Regardless, Joseph Money enlisted on August 5, 1863, at Frankford, a suburb northeast of Philadelphia. At 32-years old, Pvt. Money, born in Salem, New Jersey, was older than the average Civil War soldier. He was not a tall man, measuring just under 5’4”. The enlisting officer described Money’s complexion as “brown.”

Information on Money’s family and his pre-service life is unfortunately scarce. He does not appear in either the 1850 or 1860 census. Due to lack of information, this soldier’s story would be much shorter if Phoebe Money had not filed for a mother’s pension. In her pension application materials we get some better family details. Phoebe Money was born about 1805 or 1806. She shows up in both the 1850 and 1860 census, however without Joseph. In 1850, she lived in Deptford in Gloucester County, New Jersey, with three children ages 15, 13, and 4. By 1860, she lived in neighboring Woodbury, New Jersey, south of Philadelphia with son Ebenezer, who was the four year old in 1850. Phoebe worked as a washer woman.

In the pension application papers Phoebe Money stated that her husband, Anthony, passed away in 1848. Joseph Money would have been about 17 years old at that time. Perhaps Joseph lived and worked outside the family to be one less mouth Phoebe had to feed. In the pension records Phoebe also mentions that before enlisting Joseph worked in a livery stable earning $5 per week. She claimed that for ten years before the war Joseph gave her financial assistance to purchase “food, fuel, apparel, & paid house rent.” In addition, she reported that Joseph was not married and did not have children. By all appearances Joseph seems to have been a loving and dutiful son.

Pvt. Money’s service records indicate that was just as loyal to the 6th United States Colored Infantry as he was to his mother. He was present for duty on all of his record’s muster cards. He fought with the 6th at Petersburg on June 15, 1864, and worked “extra duty” on the Dutch Gap Canal project in August. On September 29, 1864, at the Battle of New Market Heights, Money stepped off with his comrades in Col. Samuel Duncan’s Brigade and stepped into history. Three of Money’s fellow 6th USCI soldier received the Medal of Honor for heroism; Lt. Nathan Edgerton, Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Hawkins, and 1st Sgt. Alexander Kelly. Commander of the Army of the James, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commented in the days following the attack at New Market Heights: “The colored soldiers, by coolness, steadiness, and determined courage and dash, have silenced every cavil of the doubters of their soldierly capacity, and drawn tokens of admiration from their enemies.”

Among the scores of casualties that littered the battlefield, Pvt. Money writhed in pain with a gunshot wound to his left shoulder. Evacuated to Deep Bottom and transported by ship to the general hospital at Fort Monroe, he received treatment for his wound. Pvt. Money’s wound likely became infected and he died on October 24, just less than a month after the battle.

Surrounded now by fellow black and white United States soldiers, Pvt. Money’s grave number 1114 in Hampton National Cemetery peacefully witnesses the sun rise and fall each day. The days pass, the season’s change, and the years and decades continue to roll by. However, Pvt. Money is not forgotten. We thank you Pvt. Money for your decision to join the fight for the rights, liberty, equality, and justice deserved by all.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Dying Far From Home - Pvt. William Roy Wright, Co. B, 5th USCI


The obvious purpose of Civil War-era’s minie ball was to inflict damage. The soft lead bullet traveled at a relatively slow speed (about 950 feet per second) compared to present-day military rifle projectiles. However, the size and weight of the bullet added significantly to its ability to produce grievous wounds. Measuring over half an inch in diameter, and weighing just over an ounce, the spinning motion created by the rifling inside the musket’s barrel helped ensure the missile flew accurately and carried a serious amount of kinesthetic energy. Upon impact the bullet often flattened and or tumbled causing tremendous destruction to human tissue and bone. It is a wonder that as many soldiers wounded in Civil War combat ultimately survived. Of course, those men who received wounds to the body’s extremities had a better chance of living than those injured in the core of the body or head.

During the Battle of New Market Heights, Pvt. William R. Wright, Co. B, 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) charged forward with his comrades. As the assault stalled near the rows of abatis, and within easy rifle range of the Texas Brigade defenders, the attacking soldiers fell in droves, wounded in every conceivable manner. It is highly likely that Pvt. Wright received the gunshot wound that perforated his chest at this point in the battle.

William Roy Wright entered this world about 1832 under unfavorable circumstances. It unknown whether he was born enslaved or free. Regardless, he was born in Caroline County, Virginia, a slave state that placed significant restrictions on both enslaved and free people of color. By 1850, William Wright was a resident in the free state of Ohio. He appears in that year’s census in Chillicothe, Ross County, as an 18-year old living in household of Joseph Wright, who was likely William’s older brother, as Joseph was only 29 years old. William’s listed occupation is laborer, and he is described as “mulatto.” A decade later, William was head of his own household. His wife, Mary, and young children, Louis A., James, and William B., formed the family’s circle. William was not a wealthy man. He only claimed $20.00 in personal property. Interestingly, in the 1860 census, Wright and his family are described as “black.”

Perhaps having such a young family discouraged William from enlisting earlier. And maybe it was his financial circumstances which finally motivated William to join Company B, 5th USCI on August 17, 1864, as by that point in the war the government had equalized pay between black and white soldiers. A 32-years old, he was a little older than the average soldier. Before enlisting he worked as a carpenter. 

While many of his 5th USCI comrades had participated in raids in southeastern Virginia and fought in the opening attacks of the Petersburg Campaign, Pvt. Wright was a true “fresh fish” when thrown into battle on September 29, 1864, at New Market Heights. Having traveled hundreds of miles from Ohio to join the regiment, Wright was only a soldier for about a month and 12 days before he received his first and only taste of combat.

Pvt. Wright may have first received medical attention near the battlefield from Sister Lydia Penny, the wife of 5th USCI soldier Thomas Penny. “There she could be seen, the only woman present, like an angel from above, giving words of cheer, and doing all in her power to relive the suffering of the wounded and dying,” wrote a black soldier.

Placed on hospital transport ships at Deep Bottom landing on the James River, and then evacuated to hospitals at Point of Rocks, Fort Monroe, and Portsmouth, Virginia, the injured received treatment for their various wounds. For some soldiers there was not much the surgeons could do. In cases like Pvt. Wright’s where wounds occurred to the chest, medical science’s limitations were clearly evident. It is probably a testament to Wright’s will to survive that he lived as long as he did with such a severe wound. However, he finally succumbed to death on November 22, 1864.

Mary Wright filed for a widow’s pension and received $8.00 per month and an additional $2.00 per month per child until they turned 16 year old to help her and William’s young children. The pension file records that the couple had two additional boys since the 1860 census; John and Leroy. However, one can only imagine the heartbreak they must have felt learning of the wounding and death of their husband and father so soon after he left their hearth and home for the war.

Today, Pvt. Wright rests in peace in grave number 2844 in the Hampton National Cemetery. We honor you for your service and for sacrificing of your life in the effort to move the United States closer toward a “more perfect Union.”   

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Zooming in on a USCT Camp Scene

Many of the photographs found in the Library of Congress' "Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints" collection that contain African Americans state so in their various descriptions, and thus are quite easy to search for. However, recently while looking for generic images of Civil War soldier's encampments, I came across the above photograph. It is not easy to see much in it as it appears, but downloading the TIFF file, and then enlarging it, shows some fascinating details.

In the center right of the photo are three soldiers. They stand and looking at the photographer. The man closest to the camera wears a greatcoat and has his hands behind his back. He is wearing a forage cap and apparently turned his head while the photographer took the shot. A long-handled shovel rests at his feet. To the right stands a soldier with his hands in his pockets and wearing a four-button fatigue blouse. Between but behind these two soldiers is another man who looks like he is wearing a large checked shirt and appears to have his right arm in a sling. One wonders if these three soldiers were mess mates, and what caused the injury to the soldier in the arm sling.  

Behind the three soldiers in the foreground is another soldier standing among the tents. He has his right side toward the camera and also seems to moving his heard to look at the photographer as the image was being made. Either corporal or sergeant's chevrons look to be on his coat's right sleeve. In other parts of the photograph are a couple of other "phantom" images where soldiers moved and appear "ghosted."

The only other clear soldier that I was able to locate is in the far background. All we can see is the top half of his blurry face and his forage cap. However he looks like he's spotted the photographer and camera as he peeks over the field of tents. 

Most of the shelters appear to be rigged up for colder temperatures, although none seem to have improvised chimneys. This may be in late fall or early winter of 1864. Many of the structures are composed of both wood plank castoffs and pieces of canvas. Many of the canvas pieces appear to be buttoned together, so they are likely shelter halves issued to the men. One of the shelters shown in the cropped image above shows a rubber blanket strung to the end of it to perhaps block the wind and rain. 

In an attempt to keep dry the soldiers have cut several lines of ditches to channel the rain water away from their shelters. The shovel shown in the first detailed image probably came in handy for this type of work. What looks to be an old wool blanket covers the end of one of the shelters.

Some soldiers, perhaps the three men shown in the foreground, have rigged up a clothes line behind their shelter for their laundry. Stretched out on it are a couple of pairs of trousers and maybe a fatigue blouse and shirt. 


A more stable log structure appears in the background. This could be the officers' quarters. It features vertical log walls, a canvas roof, and square window. A stovepipe pops from a side of the shelter, indicating that the occupants had better access to heat than the soldiers in the tents.

Behind the camp is a large field and then what looks to be a river or other body of water. Nothing in the photograph's description gives a clue as to where it was geographically. This location may be along the James River where much of the XXV Corps occupied winter quarters. However, it could also be along the Appomattox River near Petersburg. Many of the trees on the hillside were victims to the soldiers' axes.


Barely visible on the other side of the river is another group of winter quarter structures. One wonders if this is another USCT camp. Regardless, the ability to "zoom in" on details of this photograph gives us a better idea of how black soldiers weathered camp life and gives us an even greater appreciate for their service and sacrifices. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Corp. John Osborn and Late War Casualties


Soldiers who died late in the Civil War present particularly tragic stories. The battlefields and cemeteries around Petersburg offer many such cases. Walking the grounds of this area's national cemeteries show that soldiers from various states fell in combat the last week of the war. For example, Corp. John Osborn, Company F, 6th Maryland Infantry  rests in peace at City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Virginia. Engraved on Osborn’s headstone is the date of his death, April 4, 1865; just two days after he received his wound in the VI Corps Breakthrough.

Osborn’s story epitomizes that of the so-called “common soldier.” He enlisted as a private on August 13, 1862, in Baltimore. Although perhaps older than the average Civil War soldier, the 34-year old Osborn signed up to fight for three years. Captured on June 15, 1863, at Winchester, Virginia, Osborn fortunately only experienced life as a prisoner of war for a little over a month. A quick parole and exchange returned him to his regiment. A promotion to corporal came in September 1864, after his predecessor was killed fighting in the Shenandoah Valley. During the winter of 1864-65, Osborn received a furlough to get a break from the front lines. However, he was back in the VI Corps earthworks at Petersburg for the spring campaign.

On April 2, 1865, as part of Col. J. Warren Keifer’s Brigade, the 6th Maryland attacked along with the rest of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour’s Division on the left end of the VI Corps assault. During the fighting, probably near the Hart House, Osborn received a severe gunshot wound. Taken to the VI Corps Depot Field Hospital at City Point, Osborn received treatment but died on April 4. Among his personal effects were a silk handkerchief, a “looking glass,” a wallet, a razor and brush, a knife, and one pair of shoes. These items were handed over to unnamed friends.

If you come to the Petersburg area to visit its battlefields, I encourage you make time to also include  visits to the national cemeteries. Show your appreciation for the sacrifices of soldiers like Corp. John Osborn, who gave their lives for our country.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Things were a little slow this month in terms of expanding my library. However, I did pick up some gems.

The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship by Deborah Willis brings a bounty of period photographic images (many seldom seen) and numerous documentary excerpts that provide an excellent look at the United States Colored Troops experience. 


Clara Barton is one of those Civil War-era personalities that I just haven't taken the time to get to know better. I'm hoping that Donald C. Pfanz's Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital provides me with a better understanding of this important figure that I've always admired from afar. I'm particularly interested in learning more about her experience while ministering to the wounded at Point of Rocks hospital during the Petersburg Campaign. 

Kenneth Noe's The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War is a book that I've been hearing about for quite some time. I was so happy to hear about its recent release, and even happier to grab a copy for my library. At almost 700 pages it is sure to be the go to source on this subject for quite some time. 

Happy reading!