Saturday, May 16, 2015

Roll call of death for a company of the 7th New Hampshire

Sergeant Teel was 21 years old when he was wounded at Fort Wagner. Evacuated
to Hilton Head, S.C., he died the next day . He was from Wilmot, N.H.
A couple of years ago on this blog, I wrote about meeting Dicky Ferry, an expert on the Battle of Olustee and a collector of things associated with that battle – letters, weapons, uniforms, caps and photographs of the participants. In Our War: Days and Events in the Fight for the Union, I told the story of the 7th New Hampshire Volunteers’ debacle at Olustee, the only major Civil War battle in Florida, on Feb. 20, 1864. For my book Dicky kindly allowed me to use several photos of 7th New Hampshire soldiers.

He had bought the collection from a dealer. The men in the photos, many of which were blowups of wartime cartes-de-visite (CDVs), were all from Company E of the 7th. Many of the men of this company had been recruited in and around Penacook, a village in Concord. Its captain, Abner Durgin, was a stalwart citizen of the village.

The Pencacook chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, the main Union veterans’ organization after the war, was named after Durgin. Dicky and I both surmised that the photos had most likely displayed in the GAR hall, an honor to comrades the company had lost in action.

I recount this story because several of these photographs are for sale on eBay. I included many of them on my earlier post, but here are the ones now being sold. While I understand economics and the collecting urge, I find it unfortunate that the collection will be scattered. After all, the resolute faces of these comrades-in-arms have stayed together for well over a century.

All these men of Company E were wounded or killed at Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863, when the regiment attacked the battery shortly after the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the famous African-American regiment, led the charge. The 7th lost 77 men killed or mortally wounded in the battle.
A rare non-New Hampshire private in the regiment, Daggatt was a 31-year-old from
Massachusetts. He was wounded and captured at Fort Wagner. Returned to Union
forces, he died on the hospital ship Cosmopolitan two days after the battle.
Baker, a Loudon, N.H., native who lived in Boscawen, was 39 when he died at Fort Wagner.
Sergeant Haven, a 34-year-old from Sunapee, was severely wounded at Fort
Wagner and captured by the rebels. He died four days later in Charleston.
Private Holmes, a 20-year-old from Concord, was killed at Fort Wagner.
Private Connor, 28, of Penacook died at Fort Wagner.
Private Prichard, 24 when he was killed, was from Boscawen, N.H.
Wounded and captured at Fort Wagner, Private Kimball died the next day in
Charleston. He was 24 and enlisted from Salem, N.H.

Private Abbott, a native of Boscawen, was wounded at Fort Wagner but returned to
duty. He was discharged in June 1865 and died a short time later. The Abbott family
was large. Oliver's brother George, also of Company E, was wounded at Olustee.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Was James Buchanan really our worst president?

James Buchanan
My friend Michael Birkner posted the column below on April 23, James Buchanan’s 224th birthday, on Lancasteronline. This is the news outlet in Lancaster, Pa., Buchanan’s hometown.

Birkner, who teaches American history at Gettysburg College, is co-editor, with John W. Quist, of “James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War,” published in 2013 by the University Press of Florida. For a take on this book, see this earlier post.


James Buchanan’s brand needs refreshing.

Outside his hometown, his name does not much register with Americans today. When it does, the reaction is usually negative. What a comedown from the high hopes associated with Old Buck’s election to the presidency in 1856.

Dating the start of the downhill slide for Buchanan’s historical reputation is not difficult. The firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, turned an uncomfortable breakup of the Union into a Civil War. “Buchanan’s War,” some called it, believing his bungling had a lot to do with the crisis Abraham Lincoln inherited and worked so hard to resolve.

Buchanan had not counted on civil war, believing he had done his best to prevent it. He had offered time for his successor to maneuver and possibly to cut a deal for a new constitutional amendment to assure slavery’s protection where it stood, in perpetuity. That, he thought, might end the unpleasantness before it turned really ugly.

Buchanan wasn’t back in Lancaster for more than a week before he began attending church services and visiting old haunts, including the Grapes Tavern in old town. But with the firing on Sumter, he noticed dirty looks and negative mutterings wherever he went. Consequently, Buchanan retreated to Wheatland, where he would closely monitor the progress of the war and commence the task of defending his controversial performance as president.

Michael J. Birkner, Gettysburg College professor
Buchanan’s defense was published early in 1866. It sold reasonably well but did not win many converts to the notion that his stewardship had been good for the country. In the view of most historians, Buchanan was a weak and vacillating figure, lacking Lincoln’s eloquence and Andrew Jackson’s character when faced by a challenge from South Carolina firebrands.

Harvard University’s Samuel Eliot Morison captured the general tenor of scholarly opinion in his generation when he observed, in the Oxford History of the American People, “Poor, foolish Buchanan! He prayed and twittered and did nothing” during the secession crisis.

Buchanan, Henry Steele Commager added, was “by universal consent the worst president in the history of the country”— an opinion shared by no less an authority than Princeton University’s James McPherson.

Is there no refreshing the brand?

The short answer is yes, there is. The trick is to avoid defending the indefensible and to pay attention to elements of Buchanan’s conduct of office little noted in textbooks or popular literature on presidents.

On the occasion of Buchanan’s 224th birthday, let us consider what cannot be defended — and what is worth putting into the mix in evaluating this canny politician who held the right office at the wrong time.

The indefensible:

— Meddling in Supreme Court deliberations over the Dred Scott case and, further, asserting that a decision that made slavery national would somehow “solve” the sectional crisis.

— Patronage dispensation, which punished Stephen Douglas’ adherents for no good reason except spite.

— Kansas policy, which, by insisting that a minority pro-slavery constitution was necessary for its admission to the Union, tore Buchanan’s beloved Democratic Party apart and opened the door to a Republican victory in 1860.

The standard wisdom on all three subjects convicts Buchanan of misfeasance if not incompetence during his tenure in the White House.

If that and the more complex matter of Buchanan’s handling of the secession crisis were all that there was to say about his presidency, a more textured view of the 15th president’s tenure could never emerge.

Buchanan’s presidency was mainly, though not entirely, defined by his blunders. Yet he was adept in certain affairs. Among these matters, Buchanan deserves credit for the following:

— Repressing the slave trade and prosecuting pro-slavery adventurers in Latin America, the so-called filibusters.

— Forging strong ties with the world’s then super-power, Great Britain.

— Removing a rogue leader of the Utah Territory, Brigham Young, from the governorship there and commencing Utah’s more “normal” integration into the Union.

— Giving Congress and incoming President Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to pursue an agreement on slavery, short of war, with the secessionists. (That proved impossible in view of Lincoln’s refusal to compromise on the issue of slavery’s expansion into the west.)

James Buchanan will never be ranked among the nation’s more popular or successful presidents. Even his warmest local adherents will concede that he will always inhabit the basement in presidential rankings, albeit joined there by other presidents who did not live up to their billing or potential.

There is something more upbeat to consider about Buchanan’s turbulent years in the White House: all the work he has provided for generations of historians to investigate and to argue what went right and what went wrong during his presidency. At the very least, we are in the Old Public Functionary’s debt for that.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Summer of 1862: In a green regiment on Capitol Hill, it was all confusion for the boys from Sutton

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army chased George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac across the Virginia Peninsula in late June of 1862. Union forces suffered thousands of casualties and departed altogether in August. A casualty of a different sort mattered most. McClellan’s defeat canceled the expectation of a quick and decisive capture of Richmond, the Confederate capital.

As discouraging as this was, McClellan’s defeat and retreat came early enough in the war that northern cities and towns still had men to send. Hundreds of New Hampshire men joined new regiments that summer. 

The town of Sutton, with a population of 1,431 in the 1860 census, was a case in point. Men from Sutton had been volunteering since April 1861. A new call for troops came in mid-1862 accompanied by recruiting meetings all over the state. Walter Harriman, a well-known officer from neighboring Warner, was appointed colonel of the 11th New Hampshire Volunteers, Sutton men flocked to its ranks. Thirty-four men from the town entered the regiment’s 100-man Company F. A few joined other companies. Their ages ranged from 13 to 68.

These men arrived in Washington, D.C., and camped on East Capitol Hill just as the battles of South Mountain and Antietam were being fought. Among the regiments on that campaign were the 6th and 9th New Hampshire, whom the 11th would join much later in a New England brigade in Grant’s army.

Hiram G. Little
The letter below, written by Pvt. George Morgan of Sutton, described the chaos of a green regiment marching off to war. “It is all confusion,” he wrote.

Hiram K. Little of Sutton joined Company F as its second lieutenant and was later promoted to first lieutenant. He fought in all the 11th’s battles until a bullet cut him down.

Little had been born in Newbury, N.H., (formerly Fishersfield) in 1830. His father, William, was a farmer known to friends as “the best man to hew timber in town.” After William died in around 1840, Hiram’s mother, Eveline, took her four sons to Manchester. Educated there, Hiram moved to Sutton in around 1850 and joined his brother in manufacturing clothespins. Hiram married in 1856 and he and his wife, Susan, had a son in 1859.

During the war he led his men in Company F at Fredericksburg and in the siege of Vicksburg, the capture of Jackson, Miss., and the siege of Knoxville, Tenn.

On June 20, 1864, in the trenches before Petersburg, Little was shot in the neck. He never said another word.

With hundreds of other wounded, he was taken on the hospital ship New World to a hospital on Davids’ Island, off Connecticut in Long Island Sound. There he died on the Fourth of July. Six days later, he was buried in Sutton.

The Little family gravestone in Sutton Mills Cemetery. Note that Little's widow, Susan, died two months after he did.
She was just 28 years old.  [Thanks to David Morin for this photo and the picture of Hiram K. Little.]
The fortunes of war had their way with Little, Morgan and the rest of the 34 Sutton men who had joined the 11th. Eleven served till war’s end. Two deserted. One was transferred and one captured. Thirteen were wounded, three of them multiple times. In addition to Little, two were killed or died of wounds, Three were discharged disabled, and three died of disease.

Pvt. Morgan was 28 when he wrote the letter below to his brother-in-law, Wyman A, Kimball, in Sutton. Morgan fell ill in 1864 and died of disease on July 23 at Alexandria, Va.

                                                                                         Washington D. C.
                                                                                         September 16th 1862

Brother Kimball,

We got here to the City of Washington on last Sunday morning about eight o’clock. Then we went into camp on East Capitol Hill, about one mile and a half from the city. Our company has been on guard two hours this morning. We have just been relieved and I thought I would write you a letter now. We have just got orders to march. We have got to go over across the Potomac River into Camp Chase.

Wednesday, September 17th.

We got to the campground about dark last night and we laid right down on the ground — our tents had not got along. About midnight it began to rain and rained till morning. When I would stick my head out from under the old coat cape and blanket, it would spat right on my face. I stood it as long as I could, then I crawled out and got into one of the big wagons and had a good nap.

I am well and never felt better. I can carry my load without any help. The most of our company hired a man to carry their knapsack and paid him 50 cts. apiece. I told them that I would carry mine as long as I could and then they would have to carry my load and me too. I carried it all night.

Walter Harriman, colonel of the 11th New Hampshire
This morning we struck up our tents and about 11 o’clock we pulled down our tents and went a half a mile further. We have got on to a nice campground now but just like as not we shall have to move again tomorrow. I expect they will put us to fighting before long.

Little Charley Hart had a revolver to work on this morning and he fired it off and the ball went through his hand and come out through the tent and went close by me and through another tent and it went within inches of [Robert] McConnell’s head. Then they called the company together and took the revolvers all away from them.

I wish you and Austin were out here. There is enough to see but I can’t describe it to you so that you will know anything atall about it. I could tell you more in one hour than I could write in a whole day. It is all confusion.

I wish you could be on what they call East Capitol Hill and see the army horses that they have got there. I should think they had a thousand horses and mules. A good many of them have been old in the service and are wore out. I wish you could see them. There was two men found dead on the campground. They said they died by eating pies that were poisoned and there was another that got kicked by a horse and they say he must die. The rest are all pretty well.

I should like to know what you are all about to home but I ain’t a going to bother my brains about writing letters. It is news you won’t know any more after I write.

Newell J. Nye has just come in and says that George Putney is a going right home and he is a going to send his money home and I thought I would send you eight dollars. I have got about six dollars now. If I am out in the rain and get as wet as we did driving the cattle up, I should [send] the whole of it. If it should rain as hard as it did when we was a going from New Jersey to Philadelphia, it would wet through in a few minutes. I never see it rain so hard in my life. I have got as much as I want to look of it.

When George Jewett was a coming through Baltimore, someone cut his pocketbook open and took out wallet. It had five dollars in it.

I don’t know as you can read this nor I don’t care much. I hain’t no chance to write. I can’t tell where I shall be when I write the next one. I want you to write me a letter but I can’t tell you where to send it.

Austin, I will send this to you. — George Morgan

Sunday, April 26, 2015

No New Hampshire marker for Washington's slave

From Christopher Klein's fascinating commentary in today's Boston Globe citing eight reasons that some major events don't make the history books, here's a fascinating example with a New Hampshire angle:

Don’t be a downer

“SOME FORGOTTEN stories cast a negative light on society and for that very reason people want them to be forgotten,” says Andrew Carroll, who toured America’s unmarked historic sites while writing his 2013 book “Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History.” Among the stories Carroll chronicles is the little-known tale of fugitive slave Ona Judge, who in 1796 escaped to New Hampshire from her well-known owners — George and Martha Washington. Although Judge personified New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto, Carroll found no marker commemorating her Greenland, N.H., home, in part because her story is a stark reminder of a shameful past connected to an American icon. “That’s just not something we really want to remember,” Carroll heard time and again when digging into uncomfortable stories about the past.

(You can read the whole story here.)

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Oney (Ona) Judge, which includes a lost-property ad for her from a 1796 Pennsylvania newspaper.

And here is an interview with Judge in which she describes her escape.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

'How soon I am to fall only God knows': A soldier's account of The Wilderness and Spotsylvania

Last year in this blog, I wrote about a project being carried out under Graham Warder, a Keene State College associate history professor. Warder put his students to work transcribing the Civil War letters of Willard Templeton, a soldier from New Hampshire who fought with the state’s 11th volunteer infantry regiment during the Civil War.

Simon G. Griffin
The letters are in the State Library in Concord, but Warder arranged to have them moved to the college library. There are about 140 of them, and the transcription work has progressed since my last post post about the project.

Templeton, of Hillsboro, enlisted in 1862 as a 20-year-old from Hillsboro, N.H.  About two years later, the 11th New Hampshire fought with a New England brigade at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. The brigade’s commander was Brig. Gen. Simon G. Griffin, who had been born near Keene.

Below, thanks to the students, are transcriptions of the letters Templeton wrote home from what is known as Grant’s Overland Campaign. Unlike other leaders of the Eastern armies, Grant did not retreat and rest after a battle. Templeton’s letters reflect the hard marching and constant fighting of soldiering under Grant in the spring of 1864..

Templeton was killed at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, just 71 days after the last of these letters was written.

Battle Ground of the Wilderness
May 6th 1864

Dear Parents:

I have just been through a terrific battle almost equal to that of Fredericksburgh. Our brigade formed a line in front of 4 lines of the 3d Div & we all to-gether charged on the rebels driving them half a mile over two lines of rifle pits. They fought desperately for the bullets were showered among [us] like hail stones during a shower. I was not scratched though the bullets were buzzing about me for three fourths of an hour.

Col. Walter Harriman of the 11th New
Hampshire was captured at the Wilderness and
held captive until September of 1864. After the
war he served as governor of New Hampshire.
We drove them through the woods to an open field. They retired over beyond the field, but in a few minutes we discovered that the rebels were marching on our flank and in another minute we heard the bullets whizzing by us from that direction. We all commenced running back. Many were taken prisoners. Col. Harriman was taken prisoner, Lieut Col Collins killed, two Captains, Clark & Dudley, wounded, 5 men wounded in Co D. Geo. Prichard was slightly wounded. He was the only Hillsboro boy hurt.

Near or at Chancellorville
Sunday May 8th

I will try & send this by some of the wounded. We had no fighting yesterday & to-day we are moving towards Fredericksburgh. Evrything is all bustle & moving I learn we whipped the rebels all round. It has been a terrible battle thousands killed & wounded and I fear it is not half over.
Good buy and
In Haste
W J Templeton


Battle ground in front of the enemy
Near Spottsylvania Court House
May 17th 1864

Dear Friends at Home

I sent James a letter yesterday which I suppose you will receive from him before this reaches you. In that I attempted to give you an account of our first days fight May 6th called “The Battle of the Wilderness.” I confess I was ashamed to send you or James such a letter as I sent yesterday especially the last sheet. As you will see by the writing I commenced yesterdays letter expecting to have time to give you an account of the desperate fight the 9th Corps had on this ground.

We only received notice at 10 that a mail would leave at 12 n, but for some reason or other it left before 11 o clock & I had but just began my letter I thought I must send it for it was the first chance I had since we left Bristoe Station knowing that you & James would be curious to hear from me, as I expect my name appeared in the Boston Journal among the slightly wounded. I hope no mistake has made so as to class me among the dangerous.

We have seen hard times for the last 12 days. If not marching in the heat, we were obliged to be ready to spring to our guns any minute night or day & I know not how many times I have been woke from a sound sleep by the excited whisper from the comrade on guard “fall in” or a still more exciting command to fall in, by the whizzing of bullets over our heads & the crashing volleys from our pickets & the enemy in front. Thus we have lost half & more of evry nights sleep. Last night I slept from dark till 2 am & this forenoon I have occupied in sleep so I guess I have got rested so as to be able to write more intelligibly than I did yesterday.

I have got no paper envelopes & know not how to get them so please send me a sheet of paper & an envelope in evry letter. I lost a new portfolio full of paper & envelopes on the march from Washington. In short some one took my knapsack & everything in it. I have left only a good suit of underclothing. I have been well since I left A [Annapolis].

This photo of Sgt. Edwin Chamberlain of the 11th New Hampshire
shows what the cut of the regiment's uniform. (Library of Congress)
I was hit by a spent ball in last Thursdays fight. It struck me in my left arm. It swelled considerably but is not much lame now. I have been on duty evry day since. Yesterday I went with the Reg. in front to feel if the rebs. & see if they are on the move in force. Gen Burnside thought they had left but we found enough of them. We lost in 22 minutes two killed 12 wounded & one missing.

Now I will commence where I left off in yesterdays letter to James. Wednesday pm. & during the night it rained hard at intervals & we slept but little on the cold wet ground. Before daylight we were ordered to fall in to line and just at break of day we heard loud cheering or rather yelling all along the line for miles to our right. It was 2d Corps beginning a terrible charge on the rebel brest works. In a minute after the cheering then came the booming of cannon & long & continued rolls of musketry.
In another minute the order came for us to advance. We were in front & throughout, two companies as skirmishers, & advanced the 17th Vt. on our right 7th RI on our left. We rushed through bushes & thickets, over mud holes & brooks, driving the rebel skirmishers & there supports as fast as there legs would carry them. We rushed on passed there camp ground, tents all standing & blankets just as they lay in them. They had left almost everything in their hast.

After advancing ¾ of a mile we came up within a few rods of the rebel brest works. There we could see the pits full of heads. They resumed their fire, expecting we should charge on their works, but we were only to hold our position. Our line ran north & south while just at our right it formed a almost right angle running east & west. At our right the 2d Corps charged bravely while we lay flat on our faces but received a terrible hot fire from the rebels in their brest works.

If we had been in line & standing we should have been almost annihilated. As it was we lost more in proportion in a few hours than we lost in the battle of Fredericksburgh. In the battle of the Wilderness May 6th we lost killed wounded & missing 60. In the battle on this ground we lost 91 killed wounded & missing. In yesterdays reconnaissance we lost two killed twelve wounded & one missing, making 165 total loss.

As we advanced I got a bullet hole through my right pants leg than. In about half an hour I got hit in the left arm & went of[f] the field, the cords of my arm being useless & I could not use my hand for several hours. But I am getting off the tract a little.

We lay on our faces, the bullets spotting by the hundred into evry tree around & dropping into the ground on all sides. Such a terrific fire I was never under before, how any of us got out seems most a miracle. We held our possition or rather fell back a few rods in the afternoon and through up brest works. The rebels were driven out of the brest works in our front for the 2d Corps boys flanked them.
They took 8000 prisoners, two major Generals, & killed several brigadiers. We took 18 pieces of artelery. Two pieces and two caisons were captured by the 2d Corps.

Thursday afternoon May 19 1864

I have picked up a few bits of paper & will write you a little more before I send my letter. We moved last night at 1 am evacuating our possition on battle field where we fought last Thursday & moving to the left wing of our army & taking a new position in an immense corn field. We rested for breakfast on a deserted plantation called the “Anderson plantation.” It was before our troops drove the rebels of[f] here two days ago, a splendid place for trees, shade trees walks parks & groves the most beautifully aranged I ever saw. But the yankees are now in possession and the Virginia aristocrat, if he ever sees his plantation again, will see the fruits of seccession.

I have just been reading your letter No. [3/8] which I received this afternoon. We got a big mail, the first since we crossed the Rapidan. I only got one letter. I was glad to hear from you & to learn that you were all well. It seems you got the box & and money all right. I received your letter No 2 dated Apr. 16 while we were at Bristoe Station. The money I sent I did not need & as it has happened I might have sent more instead of buying articles which I have lost. I was well supplied with articles of comfort when I left A [Annapolis] but have lost most all.

I supposed when at Annapolis that I might possibly be at Head Quarters of 2d Div & there could get my baggage carried, but Gen. Grant has cut down baggage trains greatly. I guess the army of the Potomac never moved with so little baggage. Our teams carry supplies & ammunition instead of all sorts of baggage for officers. Then just before leaving Annapolis the order cam putting evry man who was detailed from his reg. back into his reg., employing citizens instead of them, so that now I carry a few little comforts & but a few.

Perhaps my pictures don’t look much like me 20 months ago. But evry one said they were good pictures. My whiskers which are sandy and don’ take well make me look odd. My old dress coat I sent home because it was too warm for summer & I could not carry it. The over coat you may keep. Perhaps I may want it sometime. I will sent a button to putt on the strap behind when I find one those Suspenders I did not need as I had two pr. Tell Aunt Mary I am much obliged to her for kind rememberance of me.

We all hope for the best. I have been in four battles during the last fortnight, right in the hottest of it evry time, & have escaped with but slight injury. How it is possible for one to escape in such a shower of death dealing missels seems almost a miracle. How many more such scenes of death & carnage I am to witness & go through unharmed or how soon I am to fall no one but God knows.

Friday Morning May 20th

I have picked up another sheet of paper so will try & fill it up. I have to buy or pick up all that I have. I shall have to send this letter without a stamp.

That checker board I got out of one of those houses which were afterwards burnt during the siege of K. [Knoxville, Tenn.] I have got a good rubber blanket which is better than a coat, for one can’t carry but little. I am glad to get such long letters from you. Please write often. Tell Anna I will write to her soon. I don’t get much time to write. We move & fight so often.

Now I will try & write you a little account of our last battle day before yesterday. I told you in my other sheet that great movements were going on Tuesday night. Artilery was rattling & troops moving all night. Some thought [we] were going to evacuate, others that an advance was to be made.
We were woke up at 3am at day break. Corcorans Irish brigade 2d Corps advanced arms at night shoulder shift, on the run over our pits & in an instant the whizzing of shells & buzzing of bullets told us what they had met. Soon after, our brigade was ordered to their support and we advanced amidst a shower of shells & covered ourselves under the brow of a hill.

The Irish Brigade drove the rebels from two lines of pits & held their ground. We were then in a thick woods of hard wood trees. We were right up to a big rebel fort within twenty rods of the musles of the guns. We could see them run their guns out & fire grape & canister at us. We were in the rear line & but one or two got hurt. The Irish brigade got badly cut up in the charge & by shell & grape & canister. Our brigade went to work throughing up brest works, the rebels throwing shells & knocking away the logs we lay up to pile durt on, but they could not do us much harm under the hill & in a thick woods.

We worked busily & by 4 pm had a very formidable rifle pit. About 11 am the rebs through a charge of grape into the ranks of the Irish brigade & they broke & run pell mell through our lines & the 6th NH. The 9th NHV & 32d Maine also broke & run & left the 11th & the 6th almost alone to hold the line, but we stuck to our ground/ The 9th was not to blame for running for the Cap. commanding their reg. run like a coward. But as I said before we held the line till 4 pm then the rebels made a dash on our right flank and partly turned it but were repulsed by the 6th and 9th.

 We soon found out we must get away or be gobbled up and while some were throughing the dirt over the brest works others were creeping away to our old rifle pits on the left. Silently & slowly we made our way back & all got out safly. I tell you I felt some relieved to get into our strong lines again We had been under fire all day & but few of us had fired a gun, but it was harder to bear than though we had been fireing.

I guess our movements Wednesday were to fool the rebs as we could fall back & evacuate Wednesday night, as we did. Then last night the latter part of the plan was carried out. We had 40 guns planted so as to rake evry rod of ground we evacuated. They were all covered up or masked, then they left out 2d Div supply train there to bait on the rebs.

About 6 o clock last night we heard heavy fireing where we come from. It was the rebs driving in our pickets, they expecting to get our hard tact & sugar. Our lines fell back. The train moved away slowly till rebels were in just the spot we wanted them. Our 40 guns opened & in a few minutes many rebels did not need any more corn bread.

Report says 2000 were killed & as many taken prisoners but my sheet is full.

Good Buy


Sunday, April 19, 2015

'Pen cannot discribe nor imagination picture . . .'

Company nurses were firsthand witnesses to the carnage of the Civil War. The letter below provides a glimpse of that experience and the frame of mind it required. To do the work, the nurse wrote, “I have to harden my hart.” 

By the time he wrote this letter during the siege of Petersburg in June 1864, Pvt. George Murdough of the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers had served as a nurse at Fort Wagner in July of 1863 and in other battles. Most recently he had set up with the regimental surgeon at Drewry’s Bluff near Richmond, where 49 of his comrades were killed.

“When I tell you that I have seen wounded men by the thousand or that I have seen them laying around by the Acher, I am only telling you as it is,” he wrote his brother Edwin.

Murdough, a native of Acworth, N.H., had enlisted in August of 1861 at the age of 42. He was assigned to Company H. During battles he was often called upon to work for makeshift regimental and corps hospitals.

He closed his letter by saying he was counting the days until his three-year hitch was up. During those weeks the 3rd New Hampshire continued to lose men at a rapid rate (though not at the rate the letter suggests). In the July 30 battle after the Mine Explosion at Petersburg, 22 members of the regiment were killed.

Murdough indeed made it to the end of his tour, mustering out on Aug. 23 and heading north to settle in West Manchester.

The letter is addressed to Edwin R. Walker in Boston. Edwin, who may have been Murdough’s half-brother, worked for Burrage Brothers, a wholesale woolen house on Franklin Street in Boston.

                                                                                        Bermuda Hundred
                                                                                        June 14, 1864

Brother Edwin,

Pictured here during the 3rd New Hampshire's long stay at Hilton Head, S.C.,
is the regiment's first surgeon, Albert A. Moulton of Concord, with his wife
and son. Moulton himself became ill and returned home in 1862.  (Henry P.
Moore photo, New Hampshire Historical Society).
I will improve upon moments in scribeling a few hasty lines to you. It is about eight weeks since we with the rest of the tenth Army have left Floriday and South Carolina for the Sacred Soil of Virginia. We landed here some six weeks ago and have been with General Butler since. Of his doings, you have seen through the papers perhaps quite as well as I can tell you. We have had hard marches hard fiting, & hard fare I can ashure you and ar still having them. Nether can I see the end yet but of one thing I hope & pray that God will in His good Providence bless this effort and that Richmond may be taken and this cruel war be closed up.

Pen cannot discribe nor imagination picture what I have seen since I come here. When the Armey goes into a fite, there is a place selectid at some safe and convenient place where a Hospital is established for each Army Corps and surgeon appointed to operate and dress the wounds. Our surgeon was one of the operators for this core and I was detailed to assist him and when I tell you that I have seen wounded men by the thousand or that I have seen them laying around by the Acher, I am only telling you as it is. It was enough to make an Angel weap but I have to harden my hart and go to work at these times. We have to work day and nite. I have only had my clothes of[f] to change them for six weeks — only my coat and shoes. [I] lay down anywhere and get rest whenever I can.

Our Regt. has lost heavily both in officers and men. Perhaps you may have seen some account of the (Fighting Third). We have lost some four hundred in killed wounded and missing. Only a small number ar amongst the missing. We ar now laying in front of the enemy where they can throw shells into our camp any time, liable to be called out any moment. The men have either been on picket outsid of our intrenchments or laying in the trenches with their Armes in their hands every night but too for the last fourteen. It is telling on all of us I think and unless we get som rest soon we shall get worn out.

I hope in ten weeks from today if the good Providence of God spares my life to get out of the army. I shall be verry thankful I can assure you, hoping to see this war nearly closed up by that time.

I must close. Please remember me to your Father Frank & all my old friends there when you see them. Write soon. Direct to me, 3rd Regt. NHV, 10th Army Core, Virginia, and it will come all rite and accept this from your friend and brother as ever

                                                                                                    Geo. Murdough

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I have again met the enemy and am still unharmed

View of and from Bolivar Heights
One of the highlights of the shoe-leather research Mark Travis and I did for My Brave Boys, our history of the 5th New Hampshire under Colonel Edward E. Cross, was our trip to Bolivar Heights. Along with much of the rest of the Army of the Potomac, the 5th camped there to rest between the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Just west of Harpers Ferry, it is a beautiful place atop a hill along the Shenandoah River in West Virginia. The hills of western Maryland rise just across the river. President Lincoln was right to criticize George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, for not pursuing and destroying Robert E. Lee’s army after Antietam, but surely McClellan’s men didn’t croak about their campground here.

Following in the footsteps of the regiment you are writing about allows you to see, as best you can so many years later, the land they camped and marched on and the fields they fought on. Among other stops on our travels, Mark and I walked the 5th’s route to battle at Antietam, tromping through land that was not part of the battlefield park. We drove the long route they marched to Fredericksburg and followed their path on the battlefield there.

This research made its way into the book in subtle ways. Here’s how we described Bolivar Heights:

“A more secure or healthier campground would have been hard to imagine. Bolivar Heights was a mile-long tongue of land seventy-five yards wide at its broadest expanse and several hundred feet above the Shenandoah Valley. The river whispered past on its way to the Potomac less than a mile away. In the cool of those early autumn dawns the mist rising from the Shenandoah and the Potomac formed long feathers of fog that obscured the bases of the highest ridges across the way.”

Because we had visited Bolivar Heights at the same time of year that the 5th camped there, we felt confident using what we saw to describe what the men of the regiment saw.

Winfield Scott Hancock
I recount this experience because another letter has turned up from Daniel K. Cross, an officer in the 5th. I recently posted a letter from Cross to his dad in Hanover, N.H., about his role in the Seven Days, the early summer retreat across the Virginia Peninsula. This one, written three months later from Bolivar Heights, tells about an excursion to Charles Town, the 5th’s first action under Winfield Scott Hancock, who would later lead them at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

Here it is:

Camp on Bolivar Heights
Near Harpers Ferry, Virginia

October 18, 1862

My Dear Father,

Ere this reaches you, the papers will probably publish throughout the North a flaming account of a large battle at Charlestown, Virginia and you may feel a little anxious as to my safety, knowing that Hancock’s Division was at the front.

Well, Father, I have again met the enemy and am still unharmed. Thursday morning, General Hancock (now in command of the Division) took his own Division, twenty-four pieces of artillery and two thousand cavalry—there was also one brigade from Howard’s Division – all of this under General Hancock, marched out from this camp in the direction of Charlestown.

When two miles from camp, we met the enemy’s pickets, driving them before us. Soon, however, we encountered one of their batteries and about two thousand cavalry. We formed in line of battle and marched through the fields to Charlestown. Not without opposition, though. Our skirmishers exchanged many shots with the rebs, and we were exposed to their solid shot. Our loss was small, only one or two killed and not more than ten or twelve wounded, while the enemy’s was still greater, besides some fifty prisoners we took.

This day, Father, our brigade was in the advance, and I had charge of the skirmishers from our brigade – six companies – and was most of the day with this front line, sometimes in advance of it. And here I must tell you that I came the nearest to being shot by a solid ball, a ten-pounder – the nearest that I ever have – while riding from a field in which our skirmishers were, onto a road, passing the line of skirmishers, and up quite a steep hill. As I was riding up this hill about the center of the road, this ten-pounder struck, just grazed the top of the hill and thence came thundering down, passing between myself and the fence not more than four feet from me.

Perhaps I have been quite as near these fellows before, or rather perhaps these shots have passed quite as near me, but being in the road and knowing that this ball passed between myself and the fence, it seemed to impress me that this was the hairbreadth escape of my experience. Here we are again back at our old camp, after a very successful reconnaissance. We did not meet as many rebels as was expected, but we ascertained their position.

Daniel K. Cross
Charlestown (where John Brown was executed) is a beautiful place about the size of Montpelier. Has six or seven churches, several stores, is beautifully situated on elevated ground and would be a pleasant place to occupy this winter, a pleasure we expected to experience, as orders were given yesterday morning to move all of our tents, camp equipage and et cetera of this division, and make our camp, intending to hold the town in spite of the secesh inhabitants (most of them were rebs). But when our wagons had got about half the distance, the order was countermanded, wagons ordered to return and tents put up on the old ground at “Bolivar Heights,” much to our disappointment. About noon yesterday, the troops started, came back some three miles, to Halltown (some ten or twelve houses, railroad station and one large grist mill) where we formed line of battle, thinking the enemy might offer battle, but nothing indicating such a result. This morning at daybreak, we marched into our old camp, somewhat fatigued, but otherwise quite as well as before we went on the expedition.

I have been looking for a letter from some of you for several days. When shall I hear from you? With kind regards and love to all, I am as ever, your affectionate son.