Saturday, April 13, 2013

The soldier's story behind the love story (2)

Second of two parts

The last post here took Private George W. Ladd of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers from the war’s first major battle at Bull Run to the brink of the Peninsula Campaign. Ladd’s regiment steamed from Point Lookout, Md., to Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula on April 6, 1862, to join Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s march west to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
(Little Mac), commander of
the Peninsula Campaign.
The 2nd took part in the siege of Yorktown, the battle of Williamsburg, more fighting closer to Richmond, and the Seven Days battles. It lost 18 killed, 62 wounded and 23 missing at Williamsburg on May 5. A year earlier, Ladd’s Company B, known as Goodwin’s Rifles, was 100 men strong when it mustered in New Hampshire. At Oak Grove on June 25, 1862, Goodwin’s Rifles went into battle with a roster of 42 and lost 22 killed and wounded. Less than a week later, the regiment fought at Malvern Hill.

I am grateful to Richard R. Long, a great-grandson of Carrie C. Deppen, Ladd’s girlfriend, for chasing down the manuscript of Ladd’s letters after they were sold out of his family. Long edited Dearest Carrie and saw to its publication. He also lent me Carrie’s photograph for Our War.

We pick up Ladd’s story on the Peninsula, where the days of sleeping on a comfy semi-permanent bed came to an end.

Camp Wilderness, Crab Point, 7 miles from Yorktown, Va., April 16, 1862:

“We have got some portable tents and each man carries a piece about as big as a sheet and we can button them together and make them as large as we please. If we had orders to leave, we could be ready in 5 minutes. We have to sleep on the ground now.”

Camp Grover, Williamsburg, Va., May 11, 1862:

“Last Sunday at 12 noon, our division started in pursuit of the Rebels with 6,000 cavalry and 6 batteries in advance. We marched till dark and then encamped. . . .

On the Peninsula, Gen. Joseph B.
Hooker led the division that included
the 2nd New Hampshire.
“At 7 o’clock the next morning [May 5], we got under way, our (Hooker’s) division being on the advance. Suddenly we came on their pickets and the regts. halted. Our brigade was a good ways ahead as the others had not started. Gen. Hooker sent sharpshooters to the front and we (Co. B) went forward and deployed into the woods and then began step-by-step to drive in their pickets and sharpshooters. To Co. B belongs the honor of firing the first gun on our side of the battle. They had cut down a large piece of woods and they were hid in behind the logs but we drove them into their fence. In front of their fence was a large, level field and they had it full of rifle pits and we got into them and picked off their gunners and officers. Our Co. was very fortunate, considering the exposure we had to their sharpshooters, as we had but few wounded and we held the ground for several hours till we received reinforcements. . . .

“After we got out of ammunition, the Mass 1st and our Co. charged into the woods to drive out some La. Tigers who were trying to outflank the New Jersey boys, and a rebel capt. said, ‘Don’t fire – you will kill your own men,’ and so we got close into them (it was in the woods and ruined) and they poured in a fire at us. One of our company who was taken prisoner at Bull Run and had been released was hit with 2 bullets in the heart, and six others of Co. B were wounded and a bullet grazed my arm and side, and one went through my dipper in my haversack, and then we went in and the way they ran was a caution. One of our boys killed the captain who spoke to us and got his sword. Our Co. turned the tables on them for they took 10 prisoners at B. Run and we took 13 of theirs and an orderly sergeant. . . .
“The next morning it was all clear and nice, but what a scene. Hundreds of our boys lay dead and hundreds of treacherous Secesh.”

[The Co. B soldier who had been captured at Bull Run and shot in the heart at Williamsburg was probably George C. Emerson, a 24-year-old private from Candia. The Battle of Williamsburg had no clear winner. The 2nd New Hampshire was part of the 41,000-man force McClellan sent into action against 32,000 rebels. Casualties were 2,300 Union soldiers, 1,700 rebels. Afterward, Joseph E. Johnston continued the Confederate withdrawal toward Richmond.] 

[Letter fragment, probably from Harrison’s Landing, Va.] July 10,1862:

[Apparently, like many soldiers, Ladd had believed a month earlier that the taking of Richmond was imminent and written as much to Carrie. That letter or those letters are missing from the manuscript. The letter from which the following excerpt was taken was written after McClellan’s retreat across the Peninsula, known as the Seven Days battles. Ladd was not alone in blaming politicians for the retreat, but history has placed more of the blame on McClellan’s excessive caution – the “slows,” to use Lincoln’s word.]

Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, a Rhode
Islander, was the 2nd New Hampshire's
brigade commander at First Bull Run.
“As to when Richmond will be taken, I cannot say. But, Carrie, I am as confident of success as I was at Fair Oaks and I was not the only false prophet, was I? Everybody thought that the city would soon be ours and God knew it was not this army’s fault that we didn’t succeed. If the powers at Washington would only leave us alone and give us the troops we wanted ere this we would have been in Richmond. . . .

“One year ago today we were in Fairfax on our way to Bull Run under Gen. Burnsides. When I came back to Washington then, I found a letter from you. . . . Of the 1,041 men who belonged to our regt when we came to Washington, but about 200 are left and we had over 300 join us before we came to the Peninsula.”

Berkley Place, Va., Aug. 8, 1862:

“I see by the Philadelphia Inquirer that 300,000 militia are to be drafted – bully for that, says this army. I am glad to see that a new leaf has been turned over as it is hard to fight and know that it is doing no good. But a new policy is to be inaugerated and I think that now the war will be speedily brought to a close. We have had too many traitors and drunkards for officers in our army. . . .

“I have read a number of times about girls having enlisted in regts., and I presume there are many here in this army now. Two were found in Gen. Pope’s army a short time since, who had enlisted with their lovers, but I shouldn’t advise anyone to do that. Rather romantic, is it not? But then few could stand the hardships that they would have to undergo if they were disguised although I think you would be worth a dozen of some soldiers we have in this brigade who are always playing sick or something is the matter so to get rid of duty. . . .

“Much love to you and sweet kisses. Dream of me, love.

Most truly yours,

This is Ladd’s last known letter to Carrie Deppen. He was shot at the second battle of Bull Run three weeks later, on Aug. 29, 1862, and died in a hospital in Georgetown four weeks after being wounded. In a letter to Ladd's mother in Concord, Lt. William W. Ballard of Ladd’s company wrote:

“He has fallen like thousands who left their quiet homes to lay down their lives if need be on the altar of their country, but their memory will ever be green in the hearts of a grateful people as the pines on the Hampshire hills. Their names will be honored through all times.”

As far as I know, Ladd’s name is on no monument in Concord or elsewhere. [As Richard Nixon would have said, this statement is no longer operative. Check out this post for an update.] 

After the war Deppen worked as a railroad telegrapher in Myerstown, Pa. This was her hometown when she went with her dad to cheer on the train carrying George W. Ladd and the 2nd New Hampshire.  She married William A. Fisher in 1867 and they had two daughters.

Carrie Deppen Fisher lived long enough to aid soldiers and their families as a Red Cross volunteer in Myerstown during World War I. In 1919, at the age of 73, she was stricken with apoplexy. She died three weeks later.

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