Thursday, May 23, 2013

Standing proudly before a fate unknown

Men of Company A, 16th New Hampshire Volunteers, on the Lyme Common in 1862. 
On the second floor of the smartly restored Academy Building in Lyme, N.H., hangs a blown-up photograph of about 45 men from Company A of the 16th New Hampshire Volunteers. The men stand erect on the town common before the white buildings and nearly barren hills of Lyme.

The picture captures what must have been a proud moment for the men and their families. Nothing about it hints at their grim future.

The picture was probably taken in late October or early November of 1862. The soldiers are unidentified, but Company A was recruited in and around Lyme. Most likely the men are from Lyme, Orford, Dorchester, Hanover, Lebanon and other local towns. Two officers stand in front of the enlisted men. Possibly they are 38-year-old Lt. Bela Sawyer of Lyme and 26-year-old Capt. Elias Smith of Plainfield.

The 16th New Hampshire was a nine-month regiment recruited to help fill the state’s quota in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 troops. (The normal Union enlistment term was three years.) After mustering in, the regiment trained briefly on Concord Heights and headed south on Nov. 23. In its nine months of service the regiment never fought in a battle. Instead it was sent to guard Fort Burton, a former rebel outpost in the Louisiana bayou country.

This proved to be as deadly an assignment as almost any in the Union army. I found many letters and accounts of the regiment’s time at Fort Burton and its return home in August 1863. Sick men died all along the way, and many more died after reaching home. The dying continued for months after they regiment mustered out on Aug. 20.

Using the data in regimental rosters, I calculated that of the more than 900 members of the regiment, 300 died of the fevers, diarrhea and dysentery they contracted in Louisiana. I used these calculations and the  documentary record to write one of the most tragic chapters of Our War.

Below, from Augustus Ayling’s Register, is a list of dead Company A men from Lyme and neighboring towns. The age listed after each name is from the time of enlistment, in late 1862. As you’ll see, some died in Louisiana, some on the way home (Vicksburg, Miss., Mound City, Ill., Buffalo, N.Y.), some after reaching Concord.

There are 30 dead men in all from just one of the 16th New Hampshire’s ten companies. Eleven of them are from Lyme. No doubt some of the men in the photograph on the Lyme Common are on this list, but there is no telling who or how many.

Pvt. Charles J. Allen, 22, Lyme, died June 7, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Charles M. Avery, 36, Orford, died June 17, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Charles Baker, 36, Orford, died June 17, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Lewis Biathrow Jr., 23, Grantham, died June 5, 1863, New Orleans.

Cpl. Ransom Brocklebank, 43, Plainfield, died June 14, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Benjamin W. Chapman, 41, Plainfield (musician), died Aug. 5, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. George F. Chase, 19, Lyme, discharged with disease July 10, 1863, died Jan. 4, 1864, Lyme.

Pvt. Norman D. Comings, 20, Cornish, died Aug. 14, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Freeman J. Converse, 22, Lyme, died Dec. 23, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Joseph B. Cutler, 39, Plainfield, died June 21, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Seneca Ellis, 45, Cornish, died Aug. 26, 1863, Cornish.

Pvt. Phineas P. Gilbert, 33, Lyme, died Aug. 29, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Asa F. Gordon, 21, Lyme, died May 25, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pvt. Edwin R. Houston, 31, Dorchester, died May 5, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pvt. John L. Howard, 21, Lyme, died Aug. 24, 1863, Orford.

Pvt. Ira A. Johnson, 39, Plainfield, died August 4, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. Joseph Moore, 24, Lyme, died Aug. 21, 1863, Concord.

Pvt. Frank Norton, 28, Lebanon, died Aug. 18, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Alphonso Palmer, 18, Orford, died Aug. 9, 1863, near Vicksburg, Miss.

Pvt. Frank B. Porter, 19, Lyme, died Sept. 13, 1863, Lyme.

Pvt. Austin Ramsey, 27, Lyme, died Aug. 18, 1863, Concord.

Pvt. Enoch P. Smith, 33, Orford, died July 26, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Silas Spaulding, 38, Cornish, died Sept. 20, 1863, Cornish.

Pvt. Alonzo Stark, 27, Bath (musician), died June 16, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. Irenus Stark, 21, Lyme, died June 3, 1863, Brashear City, La.

Pt. Luther S. Stone, 18, Plainfield, died July 7, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. John M. Vinton, 23, Plainfield, died June 16, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. John H. White, 23, Lebanon, died Aug. 12, 1863, Mound City, Ill.

Pvt. Edward C. Whittaker, 26, Lebanon, died July 25, 1863, New Orleans.

Pvt. William W. Williams, 18, Lyme, died Aug. 26, 1863, Buffalo, N.Y.

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