Friday, July 30, 2021

"Union or Nothing"


One reason we know so much about Civil War soldiers is because they wrote so much about their experiences. One of the things that those fighting for the United States often mentioned was their love for the Union. 

In the rush of our modern day lives it is sometimes difficult for us to comprehend the deep commitment Federal soldiers felt toward the idea of an indivisible Union. In a letter in the collections of Pamplin Historical Park, and dated, August 13, 1864, Capt. E. Forrest Koehler of Company C, 114th Pennsylvania Infantry commented to his brother his willingness to sacrifice comforts for the preservation of the Union. “Today I have been three years and five months in the service, (the same time that you have) but Jack understand me distinctly, I am not tired of the service, but I am really tired of the separation from my dear wife & child . . . . But yet we have both made great sacrifices, but I know you will be like me, that is to glory in it, and feel that we have but done our duty to our country and at the same time feel, that we still owe her a debt that we can never repay. I often feel as if I would like to leave the service, especially when I think about the ‘dear ones at home.’ But Jack I am determined to say in the service until the ‘last armed foe expires,’ and this cruel rebellion is crushed out. You must not think that this determination of mine is made upon the spur of the moment, but it has been my object ever since the war commenced. I trust my course will satisfy you of that fact. If the rebellion is not crushed out, I do not wish to live. I recognize one flag, and that I have carried successfully through many a bloody field, and I pledge you my honor that it will never be disgraced so long as God spares my life.”

Koehler ended his letter with even more words of commitment to the principle of Union. “Believe me staunch for the Union at all hazards, and affectionately, Your Brother Forrest.” In post script Koehler continued the theme, “God bless you, stand by the flag. Union or nothing.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Still More Praise for New Market Heights USCTs

 Evansville, Indiana Daily Journal, October 13, 1864

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Col. William C. Oates Offers Reward for Enslaved Man

Today, while working on some research about a different topic, I came across the above advertisement in the August 6, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch.  

In it Col. William C. Oates offered a $500 reward for the capture of his enslaved body servant William. Oates was the colonel of the 15th Alabama, which is probably known best as one of the regiments of Gen. Evander Law's Brigade that assaulted the famous 20th Maine at Gettysburg's Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. The repulse of the 15th Alabama and Law's Brigade eventually made the 20th Maine's colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain a well known name.  

According the advertisement, the enslaved William, at about 20 years of age, was on his third owner. Raised in Richmond, but sold to a Thomas A. Powell of Montgomery, Alabama, one assumes that Oates purchased William from Powell. 

One wonders if William made successful on his bid for freedom. If he made it to the Federal lines, did the young man join a United States Colored Troops regiment and fight to end slavery and claim his right to citizenship?  

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

"To-day their praises have been on every tongue. . . ."

This clipping is part of a larger article filed by correspondent H. J. W. for the Chicago Tribune and ran in the October 6, 1864 issue. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Civil War Soldiers and Homesickness


An old saying goes, “there’s no place like home,” and for many Civil War soldiers that sentiment rang true. With so many young men in the ranks, most of whom had not ventured far from home before, their time as soldiers strained their sense of independence and self-assuredness and left them longing for the comfort, familiarity, and support of those back home.

Sometimes referred to “nostalgia,” “the blues,” and “melancholia”, homesickness often struck soldiers who were starting the process of seasoning into veterans. Those who returned from furloughs, and thus received a renewed taste of home life, suffered, too. Lt. Samuel S. Elder, 4th U.S. Artillery, wrote in March 1863 to his sister Annie, explaining, “I already feel as though I had not had . . . leave for five years. I really believe that I came nearer being homesick two days after my return to the army, than I did two days before I obtained my leave.”

While mail provided a connection with those at home, that form of communication sometimes only stirred memories and left soldiers yearning to be back home. Tally Simpson, 3rd South Carolina Infantry wrote, “A letter from home renders [the soldier] oblivious of all his trials and sends him dreaming such dreams as thought of home can alone suggest.” Not receiving mail could have a similar homesick effect. African American soldier Sgt. John Collins, 54th Massachusetts, wrote, “You can just imagine how they feel, when finding no news from home, from mothers, sister, wives, nor friends, they exclaim, ‘Well, I’m forgotten.’”

Some soldiers not suffering from the malady viewed homesickness as weak and unmanly. Sgt. Bradford F. Thompson, 112th Illinois wrote to his wife from Lexington, Kentucky in the fall of the 1862 complaining about, rather than empathizing with, some fellow soldiers. “We have a few men who are always ready to shirk and pretend to be sick, but they are troubled only with . . . laziness, and homesickness,” he wrote.

Sgt. John Warrington Caldwell, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, penned his sister Kate from near Huntsville, Alabama in February 1864. He explained that he had been away from home for 30 months and only had six more to finish out his enlistment obligation. He wrote, “No person can feel what home is without going away.” However, to perhaps draw himself out of his funk or to refocus, he stated, “But that is enough of such talk. If I keep on, I will get homesick, and that will not do.”

Soldiers vehemently denied claims of homesickness, either to not worry their loved ones or to emphasize their masculinity. Pvt. Bryant L. Vincent, 12th Indiana Cavalry tried to reassure his mother: “You must not worry about me, for I am all right and have probably seen the hardest I will have to see. You said something about homesick. I ain’t homesick.” Similarly, early in the war, Pvt. William H. Morse, 3rd Michigan Infantry, writing to his wife said “the privations of camp life are far worse than the chance on a battlefield. They may say I’m homesick, or afraid, but I am neither.”

When most Civil soldiers enlisted they did not consider the many off the battlefield health threats that they eventually encountered while in service. Survival on the march and in camp required practical measures to endure those environments. However, even fewer probably realized the impact of being away from home for long periods, and the homesickness that often came with it, would have on their mental health and morale.     

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sgt. William Carney, Medal of Honor, July 18, 1863

Today, I honor of Sgt. William Carney, Co. C, 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Born enslaved in 1840, in Norfolk, Virginia, Carney's family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts after his father, who escaped slavery, purchased them.

During the Battle of Battery Wagener, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, "when the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier [Sgt. Carney] grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded."    

Although Carney did not receive the Medal of Honor until 1900, his courageous act was the first of the Civil War by an African American soldier who eventually received the medal. 

Carney died in 1908 and was buried in New Bedford, Massachusetts. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Wanted--Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons for the Colored Troops

 From September 29, 1864 edition of Portland, Maine, Daily Press.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Dying Far From Home – Pvt. Thomas Young, Co. A, 5th USCI


African Americans in mid-nineteenth century America experienced the road to freedom differently. Some found the course short and straight. They claimed personal liberty as a right of birth by place or circumstance. However, being a free person of color—regardless of residence in a free state or slave state—still often did not entitle them to the same rights afforded to white citizens. Others had a longer, steeper path, filled with hurdles and detours. Yet, in spite of the many obstacles placed in their way, many individuals made their way to freedom and went on to fight for liberty and equality for others.

Documents that help tell Pvt. Thomas Young’s biography are sparse. Gathering bits and pieces of information here and there we can only gain a small picture of his life before enlisting in the United States Colored Troops. Born in South Carolina around 1836—likely enslaved—Young somehow someway relocated to Ross County, Ohio, where he lived before enlisting. A draft registration from 1863 lists Young’s occupation as a farmer.

Young apparently married Margaret Hawkins in May 1863. Although Young does not appear in the 1860 census for Ross County, Hawkins does. At that time the future Mrs. Young lived in the household of Mary Jackson, perhaps her mother. Margaret, 14-years old at that time, attended school and was born in Ohio. Ms. Jackson was born in North Carolina. In their small family was six-year old Louis Jackson, also born in Ohio.

Enlisting on June 17, 1863, in Company A, 127th Ohio Infantry, which soon received designation as the 5th United States Colored Infantry (USCI), Young mustered in with his comrades at Camp Delaware on August 7. At enlistment, Young stated his age as 27, and blacksmith as his occupation. He was a half inch over 6 feet tall, and the enlisting officer described his complexion as “black.” At several places in Young’s service records the note “free on or before April 19, 1861” appears, which indicates that he was entitled to equal wages and allowances when Congress finally passed a bill in June 1864, equalizing pay between white and black soldiers that retroacted to January 1, 1864.

Pvt. Young likely went through the same process that hundreds of thousands of other Civil War soldiers endured as they transitioned from civilian to military life. At Camp Delaware, Young drilled, learned army protocol, and formed close bonds with his mess mates, and other comrades in his company and regiment. He probably complained about the lack of variety in his rations, the long hours of drill, the high prices of the sutlers, and those officers he found overbearing. Regardless, his service records indicate he remained ever faithful to his military commitment, as he appears present for duty on each and every muster card.

Transferred to the seat of war, the 5th USCI reported to Norfolk, Virginia, in the fall of 1863, and participated in expeditions into eastern North Carolina. Moved to Yorktown, Virginia in early 1864, forays into the Old Dominion’s countryside freed enslaved people and helped recruit more men into the USCT ranks.

As part of Brig. Gen. Edward Hinks’ Division of the XVIII Corps, the 5th USCI found themselves in camp near City Point, Virginia, when May turned to June 1864. While much of May involved fatigue duty building fortifications to protect the Union army’s hold on City Point, June brought the 5th their first experience in combat. They performed marvelously during the first attacks on Petersburg on June 15, 1864. Both in the capture of an advanced Confederate position at Baylor’s Farm that morning, and later that evening in helping capture parts of the Dimmock Line at Petersburg, Hinks’ USCTs began changing doubtful minds about their ability in battle. During that day’s fighting, Pvt. Young received a wound of some kind. It may have been minor, as he was again present for duty the following month.

For Pvt. Young and many of his comrades, their next fight would be their final one. The September 29, 1864, Battle of New Market Heights tested the resolve of Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine’s 3rd Division of the XVIII Corps, but they proved true to the task. The first assault came from the 4th and 6th USCI regiments of Col. Samuel Duncan’s brigade. Taking heavily causalities among the double rows of abatis, they fell back. The 5th USCI of Col. Alonzo Draper’s brigade led the second attack. The 5th, along with the 36th and 38th ultimately proved successful in driving out the entrenched Confederate defenders along the banks of Four Mile Creek. During the fighting, numerous enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, and officers performed courageous acts under a terrible hail of rifle and artillery fire. As officers fell killed and wounded, NCOs and privates stepped up and led the way to victory. Four soldiers from the 5th USCI received Medals of Honor for their courageous fighting at New Market Heights.

During the furious battle, Pvt. Thomas Young received an undescribed wound. Evacuated from the field and transported by hospital steamer down the James River, ultimately to Balfour Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, Young battled for his life until he finally succumbed on December 5, 1864.

Today, Pvt. Young’s grave, number 1859, is among the thousands of United States soldiers in Hampton National Cemetery. Young’s participation as a soldier helped secure freedom for millions formerly held in bondage. It was his and his comrades’ hard service that helped ensure the Constitutional amendments of African American citizenship and male suffrage. Young’s commitment to duty and the hope of a better future outweighed the pains of battle and the chance of death. He fell in a noble cause, attempting to hold the United States accountable for the promises enclosed in its founding documents, while seeking a “more perfect Union.”  

Friday, July 9, 2021

"A Sad Incident Occurred"

Dutch Gap Canal (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In September 1864, Capt. Samuel Vannuys (Co. E, 4th USCI) served as Acting Assistant Adjutant General for Col. Samuel Duncan's Brigade headquarters, stationed at that time at Deep Bottom, Virginia. Before coming into the United States Colored Troops Vannuys fought with the 7th Indiana Infantry. Born in 1840, in Johnson County, Indiana, Vannuys often wrote home to his parents back in the Hoosier State informing them of his army adventures.

On September 15, just two weeks before his death at the Battle of New Market Heights, Vannuys sent his second to last letter home. He wrote:

"Affairs remain quiet here. The work on "Butler's canal" progresses slowly; the rebels keep tossing mortar shells regularly during the day at the working parties--of late their practice has been much better than usual. Yesterday, three men were killed and two wounded. Butler has lately erected an enormous 'signal tower' about 140 feet high near us, at which the 'Howlett Battery' sends her iron complements. So far they have missed their mark and their shells whistle over us a half a mile to the rear. I will add for ma's information that our Head Qrs. are sheltered from this battery, or at least so concealed that they can't discover us.

Last evening a sad accident occurred by which one of the members of our staff lost his life. About 7 P.M., Lieutenant Kingsbury went over to the Head Qrs. of the 6th [USCI] Reg. While there, a shell which had been been thrown during the day accidently exploded, a piece struck Lieut. Kingsbury on the forehead. He lingered unconscious until 2 o'clock this morning, then died. Today we had his body embalmed and sent home. No news from the left [Petersburg]--guess Grant is waiting for something to turn up. Recruits are said to be arriving rapidly at City Point.

Look out for something important from this quarter soon."

That "something important" came on September 29, 1864, when Vannuys and the Third Division of the XVIII Corps attacked the Confederate defenses along New Market Road. And although the young Hoosier lost his life battling the foe with his men, he helped achieve a monumental (albeit too often overlooked) victory.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"Our Colored Soldiers"

 As you can see from my recent posts, I've been digging into the newspaper archive again. There is so much rich stuff waiting to be found, it just takes a good deal of curiosity, time, patience, and sometimes luck, to locate the gems. 

The above article appeared in the October 19, 1864, issue of the Lewistown Gazette (PA). This story included a couple of things that I found interesting. 

First, it included several names of soldiers from, or had ties to, the Lewistown area. Fortunately, it got some of the information incorrect in terms of the men killed during the Battle of New Market Heights. Newspapers of the day often rushed information to press and sometimes got things wrong, so when possible, it is always a good point to double check against other sources.

Pvt. David Criswell, Co. H, 6th USCI, was in fact killed in action.

Pvt. George Anderson, Co. E, 22nd USCI, was not wounded. 

Pvt. Walker Stills, Co. F, 22nd USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. Joseph Patterson, Co. E, 6th USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. William Snowden, Co. K, 6th USCI, was wounded.

Pvt. Abe Patterson, Co. F, 22nd USCI, was not wounded.

Pvt. Peter Johnson, Co. B, 6th USCI, was killed in action.

Corp. Charles Miller, Co. G, 6th USCI, was wounded.

Second, I found it rather progressive (and refreshing) for a newspaper of that day to share the ending of the article: "We commend their fate to sundry men, women, girls and boys in this town who cannot see a colored person on the street without uttering a low-bred remark as mean as it is cowardly. They may think themselves 'smart' in doing so, but forget when they do it they are not lowering the negro, but themselves."

Monday, July 5, 2021

One Way to get a Reader's Attention

The above advertisement appeared in the October 19, 1864, edition of the Lewistown Gazette (PA). I've happened across these type of ads in several mid-19th century newspapers. They make use of current events in the headline text to help draw in the reader's attention. I can't help but wonder how successful they ultimately ended up being in getting the sales they were looking for.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

"Put the Enemy to Confusion"


The above article ran in the Washington Evening Star on October 3, 1864, just four days after the Battle of New Market Heights. In the post war years, and especially from the Confederate perspective, (but also from some noted historians, too) there has been a stream of interpretation that claims the southern defenders received orders to withdraw to the Fort Harrison line further west, and thus the United States Colored Troops charged into a virtually undefended position along New Market Road.

I've previously argued that the high number of casualties sustained by the second wave of USCT attackers (5th, 36th, and 38th USCIs) seems to provide a solid counter claim that they did not charge virtually unopposed. As I continue to seek out evidence from diverse sources, I continue to find it, like that above, that says "The successful accomplishment of their task put the enemy to confusion, and sent them in rapid retreat up the road toward Richmond." 

I'll continue to provide evidence here and other places as I find it, so that the old traditional narrative can be replaced.