Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Civil War at 100

Here is how the literary critic Alfred Kazin opened his essay "And the War Came" in the May 11, 1961, issue of The Reporter as the Civil War Centennial was just beginning:

Kazin's 1961 story in The Reporter, an activist
 news magazine in New York City from 1949 to 1968.
"This year we began to play Civil War. On February 12, in Montgomery, Alabama, the bells 'opened a week of pageantry commemorating the beginning of the Confederate nation and the Civil War that followed.' In the State House of Representative Chamber, where the Confederate convention met, legislators re-enacted the secession debates that took Alabama out of the Union. 'To make the celebration as realistic as possible,' it was announced that 'men would walk the streets wearing Confederate beards, top hats, and string ties. Their womanfolk have forsaken formfitting dresses for the ankle-length hoop skirts of Civil War days.' In Atlanta Gone with the Wind has been 'screened again to kick off Georgia's centennial observation of the War Between the States.'

"A more somber note was struck in Charleston, South Carolina, where it was firmly announced that a Negro member of the New Jersey Civil War Centennial Commission, which had planned to attend the ceremonies marking the firing on Fort Sumter, would not be allowed to stay at the hotel with other members of her state group. Major General Ulysses S. Grant III, Chairman of the National Centennial Commission, seemed puzzled by the disturbance over one Negro lady.When Allan Nevins, in his official capacity as adviser to the national commission, also protested, the general said to a reporter, 'Who's Allan Nevins?'

The prolific Bruce Catton, popular Civil War historian. 
"In Virginia, opening his state's commemoration of the great event, Gov. J. Lindsey Almond, Jr., drew a parallel between the present conflict over what he called states' rights and the 'unhappy difficulties' of the nation on the eve of the Civil War. He lamented, 'It has unfortunately been the course of our history that men have raised false issues which could influence the minds and stir the emotions instead of exercising constructive leadership in the effort to mold common opinion in support of that which is best for the nation and the world.' And in a special series of articles for the New York Herald Tribune, Bruce Catton (the last survivor on either side) pointed out that the war need not have happened at all. and would not have happened if responsible leaders North and South had been less emotional. By 1861, says Mr. Catton, it could be seen 'that the very cause of the dispute was itself dying and would , if men approached it reasonably, presently reduce itself to manageable size. . . . The American Civil War . . . settled nothing that reasonable men of good will could not have settled if they had been willing to make the effort.' "

The Columbia University historian Allan Nevins is less widely known now than he was in 1961. At the time Kazin wrote, Nevins was still working on his eight-volume Ordeal of the Union. Catton, of course, was the leading popular historian of the war. Kazin's reference to him as "the last survivor on either side" is ironic. He means Catton was the last survivor on both sides.

In American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, the Yale historian David Blight took an in-depth look at how the Centennial was celebrated. He found that slavery as a cause and emancipation as an outcome of the war were largely brushed aside in 1961-65. The role of African-Americans in fighting for their freedom was also minimized.

One section of Blight's book is a biography of Catton and an examination of his books. Blight cites Henry Patrick, who reviewed Catton for the Wall Street Journal, as having "captured something important in what appears to be a compliment." Seeking the secret of Catton's sympathetic and authoritative voice, Patrick found the manner "of a family elder discussing a quarrel between two favorite grandsons, each of whom seems to have much on his side."

Like a lot of people of my generation, I read Catton's books almost as breathlessly as he wrote them. They can teach you a lot about the strategy and  the fighting, including what happened both at headquarters and in the field. Catton's use of letters brings the soldiers of both sides alive. But Blight's work, and Kazin's before him, show that Catton was a product of his times: a historian reluctant to make waves by questioning the South's Lost Cause mythology.

Kazin was not at his most dazzling as a writer in the opening of "And the War Came." That was by choice. Sometimes the best approach is to get out of the way and present a straightforward tour of the facts, and that his what Kazin did.What I admire about his essay is that he saw in real time, without the advantage of historical perspective, that the Centennial celebration was being framed to appease the Jim Crow South.

Nevertheless, you can sense as Kazin moves from Montgomery to Atlanta to Charleston to Richmond the embers burning just beneath his own words and the ones he quotes: "the beginning of the Confederate nation," "a more somber note," 'unhappy difficulties," "false issues . . . which stir the emotions." Kazin makes you see the harrumph of General Ulysses S. Grant III, and you know without his saying so that he feels for the nameless African-American woman from New Jersey.  

Kazin understood when the Centennial was just beginning that it was a rigged game. It was a return, in a form so subtle it went unspoken, to the gag rule of the 1830s. That was the measure that banned discussion of slavery, the biggest issue in the country, in the halls of Congress.

Seen from half a century down the road, the events Kazin cataloged in his opening seem as anachronistic as the minstrel shows I remember from my southern boyhood. We've made progress, no doubt, but I wonder if enough attention is being paid during the Civil War sesquicentennial to why the war was fought and what it means today.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The decline of the book review

Like most things in our culture having to do with the printed word, the book review is in decline. In the survival struggles of several metropolitan newspapers the book section vanished early. Many small papers first cut and then eliminated the freelance budgets that allowed for the review of books of local interest.

This decline in reviews represents a big loss for readers. Sure, you can read what other readers think of books on Amazon and elsewhere on the web, but there is no filter for these. There is no telling whether the writers have personal connections with the authors or whether they have credentials as reviewers. There is no one to lay down a set of ethical and reader-friendly rules for the reviewers, no knowledgeable editor to select books worthy of review.

In the book world, pure democracy has its advantages, but it has drawbacks, too.

Michael Pakenham
For several years during the early 2000s, I was a horse in the stable of Michael Pakenham, the book editor of the Baltimore Sun. He knew my capabilities and sent me half a dozen books a year for review. He also sent boxes of Civil War books from which I was to choose five every six months or so for an omnibus review.

Michael had rules and enforced them. The length limit for a review was 600 words. Each review was to include a line written by the reviewer that would stick in the reader’s head. Each was to identify the intended audience for the book under review. And each had a tight deadline: Michael was a newsman, and books and authors were news.

This all seemed over-prescriptive when I started, but I came to appreciate Michael’s ways. The length limit allowed him to make the most of the space he had, serving the variety of interests that would be drawn to this space. The requirement for a line that would stick forced the reviewer to think about each sentence and write better throughout. Identifying the audience served readers as consumers.

Then one day Michael was gone, and with him much of the space he had filled so intelligently.

I love book reviews. Often I read them even though I know I will not read the book. I also read the book critics of bygone times, Edmund Wilson and Alfred Kazin, to name two.

Alfred Kazin
I have a shelf of Kazin, but recently at the Book Farm, a favorite used book store in Henniker, N.H., I found Contemporaries, a book I didn’t know. I bought it and put aside my other reading to read Kazin’s essays on Dylan Thomas’s death wish, Stephen Crane’s wife, the centenary of the Civil War, the posthumous battle over Emily Dickinson’s poems, Philip Roth’s first book, Kazin’s love affair with Moby-Dick and half a dozen more.

I subscribe to the New York Review of Books and the Book Review of the New York Times. In these hard times for the printed word, I worry about them both for different reasons. With the Review of Books my question is: How long can its editors keep this up? I always find fresh and surprising reviews and essays in its pages. Among periodicals, only the New Yorker consumes more of my time. I like many of the Review’s regular contributors, including my poet friend Charles Simic, a fine prose writer with eclectic interests.

What worries me about the Book Review in the Times may be as much about me as it is about the publication. I spend much less time with it than I used to. Either the reviews and essays are less compelling or I am less interested in contemporary literature.

Whichever is correct, I began writing this glimpse into my book world for positive reasons associated with the New York Times Book Review. This Sunday’s edition reminded me of the old days. In part this was because the subjects it took up were of interest to me. It included reviews of two books on how World War I started and two columns on the current fiction vs. nonfiction debate.

Jill Abramson
But the best of the Review was the meaty cover essay. Written by Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times, it addressed an issue that has bugged me for a long time.

The essay was titled “The Elusive President.” The president in question was John F. Kennedy, the occasion the coming 50th anniversary of his assassination. Abramson’s premise was that, for all his popularity, few good books have been written about Kennedy.

I’ve read, or tried to read, many of the books Abramson mentioned. As you can see from an earlier post, I’m a fan of Robert Caro’s monumental biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. But as Caro told Abramson, even though Kennedy is one of the great American stories, “there is no great biography of Kennedy.”

Abramson correctly argued that Robert Dallek’s An Unfinished Life is the best Kennedy biography, but frankly I couldn’t get through it. I just didn’t find Dallek a compelling storyteller. Abramson was also right in suggesting that one of the best Kennedy books is The Death of a President by William Manchester. The long excerpt she quotes told you why: Manchester was not only a good popular historian, but he was also a lyrical writer who knew how to rise to his subject.

You can read Abramson’s essay here. And here you can read Norman Mailer’s account of Kennedy and the 1960 Democratic convention, which Abramson also praised.

I hope the Book Review will do more such penetrating and important cover essays. Michael Pakenham was right: Books are news, and conflict and controversy swirl around them.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

'It would be a pleasure to linger here and write of the heroic deeds of those who fought.' – "Carleton"

I spent many days this past summer reading for possible book projects. One idea was to write the wartime life of Charles Carleton Coffin, the Boston Journal correspondent. “Carleton,” as he signed himself, was from Boscawen, N.H. He covered the war from beginning to end and appears in several chapters of Our War.

Charles Carleton Coffin
One chapter recounts his visit to Antietam a few days after the battle of Gettysburg. He had covered the battle there nearly a year earlier. I wrote of his return because I liked his reverence for the place and his attempt to describe its historical importance so soon after the battle.

This summer I read three of Carleton’s war memoirs. My book idea is to follow him through the war, showing where he was and what he did and assessing his reporting against later scholarship. The project has stalled for one reason: I have found a couple of his personal wartime letters but no large cache of papers in any archive.

I haven’t given up. Carleton lived to write, and his letters must be out there somewhere. If I find them, I plan to move forward. Without them I won’t. The details, thoughts and candor a subject pours into letters or a diary are essential to biography.

But today I thought I’d share another little piece of Carleton with you. It turns out he visited another battlefield not long after having covered the battle there. The differences were that it was two years later, not ten months, as at Antietam, and that by then the war was over.

On July 7, 1865, Carleton returned to the portion of the Gettysburg battlefield where the fighting raged on the second day, July 2, 1863. His letter to the Journal gives an almost panoramic view of what happened, mixing what he sees now with what he saw then with what he reported with what he was still learning through interviews with participants.

In addition to finding this piece interesting and informative, I am glad for the prominent mention of the 2nd and 5th New Hampshire and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Carr’s brigade, which included the 12th New Hampshire. In Our War I used soldiers from these three regiments to tell the story of the second-day fighting.

Note that Carleton also chronicles the battle on Little Round Top. More than a century later, this story became the basis for Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. Note also that Carleton sometimes refers to Little Round Top as Weed’s Hill. This is in tribute to Stephen H. Weed, a brigadier general from New York who was killed defending it. I have left Carleton’s imperfect spelling intact, correcting a few names in brackets.

[From the Boston Journal, July 17, 1865]

Second Day’s Fight at Gettysburg
                                                                             Gettysburg, July 8, 1865

The Codori house on the Emmitsburg Road,
Riding down the Emmittsburg road from the house of Nicholas Codoris [Codori], just east of which is the high water mark of the rebellion, we pass the houses of Mr. Velingel [Klingel] and Peter Rogers, and come to Joseph Sherfy’s peach orchard. At this point there is a by-road leading east toward Weed’s Hill, or Little Round Top. The orchard is on a high knoll – high enough to command the surrounding country.

This was the most advanced position of the Union troops on the second day of the battle, and here commenced the great struggle. Standing here by the peach orchard, I see the scene as I beheld it at two o’clock on that afternoon. Gen. Sickles had advanced from the main line to this point. The 2d New Hampshire was lying in the orchard behind the little cabin belonging to John Wentz. A portion of the regiment was forming west and a portion south, conforming to the angle made by the roads. The 3d Maine and 3d Michigan were in the orchard south of the by-road, all of them east of the Emmittsburg road. The only regiment across or west of the Emmittsburg road, I believe, was the 1st Massachusetts. The 11th Massachusetts and the other regiments of Carr’s brigade were along the road by Velingel’s [Klingel’s] house. Ames’ New York Battery was in the peach orchard. East of Ames’ was Clark’s New Jersey. Then continuing along the by-road were Phillips’ and Bigelow’s, both of them Massachusetts batteries, which did a great work for their country on that day.

Klingel house and barn. The trees behind them are along Emmitsburg Road. 
It is about three-fourths of a mile east to Little Round Top. Southeast of the peach orchard, sixty rods, is the house of John Rose, who has a large stone barn. The buildings stand in a hollow, where a cool spring gushes from the ground, which becomes a rivulet and trickles south through a rocky grove. Looking southwest from the orchard along a narrow road we see the house of James Worfield [Warfield], where the rebel pickets were showing themselves at noon on the second day. Gen. Sickles [commander of the 3rd Corps, whose units in and around the Peach Orchard are mentioned above] had thrown forward nearly all of his corps to this line, which I have indicated, who were lying almost at right angles with the true line of defense. The fifth corps had not moved into position, but were resting after the hard march of sixteen miles from Hanover that morning.

The rebels first in sight came from the woods behind Worfield’s house – a long line in the form of a crescent, reaching to the base of Round Top. They were Hood’s and McLane’s divisions of Longstreet’s corps, moving with the intention of gaining Weed’s hill. They advanced under cover of a rapid fire of artillery – not only here but all along the rebel line. It was not quite so fierce as that of the third day, when Pickett made his last desperate attempt. Ames’ battery, I believe, was the first to open. Thompson, who was to the right of Ames, followed. Clark and Phillips came next. Bigelow, from his position, could not get a sight of the rebels from his position till a minute or two later. The third Michigan, the third Maine and the second New Hampshire were the first [infantry] regiments to fire. It was the beginning of an obstinate struggle. Sickles, on his part, determined to maintain his position, but the advance of Hood threatened his left and he was forced to move his second line by the left flank to prevent Hood from gaining Weed’s hill. Ward’s brigade went down upon the double-quick, and came into position, on the rocky ridge directly in front of Weed’s hill, and east of Rose’s house.

Dead horses of Capt. John Bigelow's battery near Trostle's barn. 
Col. Edward E. Cross of the 5th New
 Hampshire was leading a brigade of
Caldwell's division when he was
mortally wounded in Rose's Woods.   
How fearful the fight in those woods, covering that ridge! Sickles’ front line, after a most desperate struggle, was forced back; but troops of the fifth corps and the second came in to help them. Caldwell’s brigade of the second came down past Jacob Trostle’s house, south of it, while Bigelow was thundering from the knoll west of the brick barn. Ayres’ division of regulars came down from Weed’s hill on Caldwell’s right. Barnes’ brigade of the fifth came through Trostle’s door yard and orchard. Zook’s brigade of the second was to the right of Barnes, and beyond him was Col. Tilton of the fifth. Regiments from three corps and from eight or ten brigades were fighting promiscuously. Sometimes they moved west, sometimes south, sometimes southeast, as the tide of battle surged in and out of the rocks and round and over the ridge. The 17th Maine was in the front line, about twenty rods east of Mr. Rose’s house. The 22d and 28th Mass. fought on the same ground during the afternoon. The 5th New Hampshire was on the left of Caldwell’s line when he came in, and then Col. Cross, who had fought the Indians and faced grizzly bears among the Rocky Mountains, faced the advancing foe until he fell mortally wounded. Gen. Sickles was wounded in the edge of the woods, but a few rods from Bigelow’s battery, east of it. His headquarters were at Trostle’s house. The Pennsylvania Reserves, under Crawford, made a gallant charge just at night to recover our lost ground – their right reaching up almost to Trostle’s, just after Bigelow went back firing his two guns – his others left on the field, with sixty of his horses torn to pieces by shells or disabled by sharpshooters.

The woods bear evidence of the conflict. Every tree has its bullet mark, and there in the path way, after every rain, you may pick up a score of bullets. The ground is yet strewn with knapsacks, hats, caps, bayonet scabbards, boots and shoes, and canteens and cartridge boxes. The sabots, which were fastened to the spherical case shot hurled by Bigelow and Phillips and Clark, are still to be seen. What lanes they mowed in the rebel ranks! Plum run, which trickles south from Trostles, was red with blood.

While standing on Weed’s hill this morning and looking down upon the spot, an officer of the 17th regulars came up. “We went down this hill upon the run,” said he, “and crossed the brook down there by that tree. It was like going down into hell, sir. The rebels were yelling like devils. Our men were falling back. It was terrible confusion – smoke, dust, the rattle of musketry, and the roar of cannon. We went up the ridge upon the run, reached the edge of the ridge, and there I lost my leg. Six of my men were shot while crossing the brook.” How thrilling it was to hear him, and to recall what I saw and heard of that contest! It was terrible to see our troops forced back side by side, but then when the rebels came within reach of the 2d corps batteries, east of Trostles, there would be another side to the story, and there was.

Brig. Gen. Weed was shot in the
chest after his brigade relieved
Strong Vincent's on Little Round
Top. Lt. Charles Hazlitt, an artillery
officer nearby, was killed trying
to hear Weed's last words.
There were about seventy thousand men on both sides, who took part in that struggle in front of Weed’s hill on the second day. It is generally known as the fight of Little Round Top, but most of the fighting was west of the hill, on the ridge between the hill and Mr. Rose’s house, on ground about a half mile square. The trees, fences, and rocks are all marked with bullets. Thousands of visitors have carried away relics and mementoes, and it is easy to find bullets, pieces of shell, especially after a shower. The grass is rank in the field across which the rebels marched in their attack upon Bigelow, enriched by the mouldering forms of the rebels who fell in the fight.

It would be a pleasure to linger here and write of the heroic deeds of those who fought, but there are other localities equally interesting.

On Weed’s hill, so named for Col. Weed, who was killed by a sharp-shooter on its summit, a desperate struggle took place, far less extensive, but not less important. The advance of Hood enveloped the force on the ridge below. Hood’s right skirted the base of [Big] Round Top, clambered over the rocks by the Devil’s Den, and began to pour into the gap – a depression between [Big] Round Top and Weed’s hill. This was not far from six o’clock in the afternoon. A portion of the 5th corps was down on the ridge – all of the regulars an the Pennsylvania Reserves. The 3d brigade of the 3d division – Vincent’s I believe – was holding the hill, with Weed, who commanded the 3d brigade of the same division. [Strong Vincent and Stephen H. Wood were both 5th Corps brigadiers, and both were mortally wounded on Little Round Top. Vincent commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division, Weed the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division.] The 20th Maine, Col. Chamberlain, was on the extreme left, the soldiers resting upon the rocks and looking down upon the conflict. The 83d Pennsylvania, 44th New York and 16th Michigan stood next in line, connecting toward the right. There began to be a dropping of bullets along the line from the skirmishers climbing the hill. Then Col. Chamberlain saw the rebels moving through the hollow to gain his rear. He immediately extended his flank by forming his men in single rank. The fight began fiercely – from rock to rock, and tree to tree. Chamberlain was outnumbered five to one, but he had the advantage of position. He was on the rest of the hill and at every lull in the strife his men piled up the loose stones into walls. He sent hastily for assistance, but before the arrival of reinforcements Hood’s troops had gained the eastern slope of the ridge and Chamberlain’s regiment was in shape like the letter U.

By war's end Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a major
general. For his actions at Gettysburg he won the
Congressional Medal of Honor.
Well do I remember the din of the conflict, while the summer sun went down and while the summer twilight lingered on the hills. Then it was that a division of the 6th corps, after a march of thirty-two miles on that lowering day, threw aside their knapsacks and came over the walls, along the Taneytown road, upon the run. Then it was that a portion of the 12th corps came down from Calf’s hill [Carleton must mean Culp’s Hill]. Gillis’ [Gibbs’] Ohio battery was dragged up the steep over the rocks and through the woods, while Martin’s 3d Massachusetts, I think it was, flamed upon the western slope. I only know that troops went up to help Chamberlain. I only know that there were dark lines of men moving up the hill, which became lost to sight under the deepening shade of the forest – that there were a few volleys – a lighting up of the sky by sudden flashes – a sulphurous cloud rising from the hill – a triumphant hurrah, and a sudden cessation of the struggle.

The tide had turned. The heroic endurance of the 20th Maine – holding on, although out-flanked – refusing to yield the ground – saved us that day, and also the battle of Gettysburg, for had he rebels gained possession of Weed’s hill, Meade I think would have been compelled to take another position. All honor to the men who held on with such bull dog tenacity to that rugged crest, though out-numbered and out-flanked and all but overwhelmed. Other regiments no doubt fought just as bravely, but they were in the breach, and had they given way all would have been lost. Hence the special service rendered by those men from Down East.

Friday, October 25, 2013

All hear this

David M. Blight
Terry Gross interviewed David M. Blight on Fresh Air yesterday. The subject is slavery in America. Inspired by the movie 12 Years a Slave, the interview is brief but enlightening. Please listen here.

Blight is director of the Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, I highly recommend his books on slavery and the way the Civil War and its causes are remembered. These include Race and Reunion, A Slave No More and American Oracle.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Finding Private Lamprey: the sequel

My wife Monique and I took a walk in Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord on Monday to find the grave of Pvt. Horace A. Lamprey of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers. It was a perfect day for such a mission, with maple leaves crunching underfoot but some trees still in the orange-yellow splendor of the season.

The Lamprey family stone at Blosson Hill Cemetery.
When we set out, I had just posted the story of Lamprey’s wounding on June 25, 1862, in a little-known battle on the Virginia Peninsula. He died the next day on a hospital ship.

Jim Tamposi, who came to my Civil War talk at the Temple Historical Society last week, shared a photo of the temporary wooden marker originally planted over Lamprey’s grave in Virginia. He found it for sale in a glass case at a memorabilia shop in Gettysburg. My educated guess is that the pine board was placed on Lamprey’s grave in the cemetery in Yorktown just before Union troops evacuated the place. George B. McClellan’s grand retreat began in earnest the day Lamprey died.

A severe head wound felled Horace Lamprey
 on June 25. He died the next day on a hospital
ship and was originally buried in Virginia.
A note with the temporary grave marker in the Gettysburg shop said that Lamprey’s family had managed to have his body dug up and returned home to Concord. With the help of Jill McDaniel, Concord’s cemetery administrator, Monique and I easily found him at Blossom Hill.

He is in good company there. For one thing, he had many brothers and sisters. He is buried in the same 15-by-20-foot plot as nine other members of his immediate family. He was the third child buried by his parents, Ephraim and Bridget Lamprey, who died a week apart in 1884 at the ages of 84 and 82. Three of the brothers in the plot were also Civil War veterans – Maurice in the 10th New Hampshire and later the Signal Corps, Austin in the 13th and Clarence in the 18th. (The grave should have an American flag, as do those of many veterans around it.)

The fifth Lamprey brother to serve, Maitland, is buried elsewhere. He left Dartmouth College in 1862 to join the 16th New Hampshire, a nine-month regiment. He survived the regiment’s sickening experience in the swamps of Louisiana, the story of which is told in Our War, but came home so ill he could not work for two years. Dartmouth gave him his degree in 1863 despite his early departure. Once he was well again, he began a career as an educator, culminating in a 24-year tenure as  high school principal in North Easton, Mass.

The stone erected by the 2nd NH for Harriet P. Dame
The good company Horace Lamprey keeps on Blossom Hill extends beyond his family. The Lampreys are buried just a few yards from the mausoleum of two prominent Concord abolitionists and philanthropists, Nathaniel and Armenia White. The mausoleum sits on a hillock and is the size of a small house. The Whites’ New Year's party in 1863 celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation is featured in Our War. Nathaniel was a founder of the American Express Co, but the Whites are best known in Concord for the vast central city park named for them. Armenia conveyed the parkland to the city after Nathaniel’s death.

Maybe 75 yards up the road from Horace is the monument that veterans of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers installed to honor Harriet P. Dame. She was the 2nd’s nurse and helper throughout the war. The 3rd Corps’s diamond-shaped emblem tops the monument.

Part of my fondness for Blossom Hill, which slopes upward from the Lamprey grave to a northward facing ridge, derives from my past life as a newspaper editor in Concord. Many of my predecessors lie here. Three of them are Isaac Hill of the New Hampshire Patriot, a member of Andrew Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet; Asa McFarland, whose gravestone bears the nameplate of his newspaper, the New Hampshire Statesman; and my favorite, George Gilman Fogg, editor of the Independent Democrat and, for a brief span, the Concord Monitor, which I edited for 30 years.

Hill was Mr. Democrat.
Hill and Fogg were strong-willed polemicists in an age of partisan newspapering. As both an editor and a U.S. senator, Hill was a staunch Democrat with southern sympathies. He ruled the New Hampshire party until Franklin Pierce took the reins in the 1840s.

Fogg became the voice of New Hampshire Democrats who broke with the party over the extension of slavery and eventually merged with Whigs and Know-Nothings to form the Republican Party. He took a staunchly antislavery line during a time when only a slight minority held this position. Fogg attended the 1860 Chicago convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln and traveled to Springfield with others to deliver the news to Lincoln. He later served as U.S. minister to Switzerland.

George Gilman Fogg's monument
Fogg has one of my favorite epitaphs of all time. In fancy letters across the top of his stone, almost unreadable now, is a mysterious quotation from Solomon 2:17: “Until the day break and the shadows flee away.” Farther down the stone are these words commemorating Fogg: “A faithful advocate of equal liberty and exact justice to all men without distinction of race or color.”

One more sidelight to the Lamprey saga: Maurice S. Lamprey, the 10th New Hampshire veteran, became a photographer, working first in Fisherville (now Penacook), a village of Concord, and later in Manchester. Maurice lived until 1912 and is buried two spots from brother Horace. Here are two of the scenic river stereoviews he made in Fisherville and the backmark from one of them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A temporary grave, and then what?

I never visit a local historical society in New Hampshire without picking up something new about the state’s Civil War history. One night last week after my talk, Jim Tamposi, a member of the Temple Historical Society, showed me a photograph of a temporary grave marker he had seen in a Civil War memorabilia shop in Gettysburg. It was accompanied by the following note:

The rough pine marker
“Temporary grave marker of Horace A. Lampry, Co. B., 2nd New Hampshire Infantry. Killed at the Battle of Oak Grove, June 26th, 1862. Co. B had 22 men killed and wounded out of 42. Lampry’s family paid to have his body shipped home. This marker was nailed to the coffin. Lampry is buried in Concord, N.H. Temporary markers were almost always discarded, this being one of only a few that survived.”

History is mystery. If I were an American history teacher, I would give the photograph and this note to a student and say: “Your assignment is to see what you can find out about this. Who was Horace A. Lampry? What was the Battle of Oak Grove? What’s the story here?”

I devoted a couple of hours to this assignment myself, and I had a blast. I also emailed my friend Dave Morin, a web-diver extraordinaire, about Lamprey (as his last name was actually spelled). The information we found led to the following narrative:

A native of Groton, N.H., Lamprey was an 18-year-old apprentice harness-maker in Concord when the war began. He was the first of five sons of Ephraim and Bridget Lamprey to join New Hampshire infantry regiments during the war. His eldest sister, Delia, served as an army nurse, first at a temporary hospital in Concord and later at Fort Monroe, Va., and in Washington, D.C. (After the war she made $208 a year as a nurse in the Discharged Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts.)

Horace A. Lamprey
Horace enlisted in the 2nd New Hampshire, the state’s first three-year infantry regiment, on May 27, 1861. He was a private in Co. B., known as the Goodwin Rifles. The 2nd fought in the first battle of Bull Run less than two months after he joined. On May 5, 1862, the regiment had an even worse fight at Williamsburg, Va., during George B. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.

After the battle of Fair Oaks on June 1, the two armies camped opposite each other in a testy standoff that lasted 3½ weeks. The Confederate army had its back to its capital. Union soldiers climbed trees to see the spires of Richmond, seemingly within easy reach. Picket duty was dangerous and often deadly.

At around 9 a.m. on June 25, elements of McClellan’s army advanced in what the New York Times correspondent “Argus” described as “the battle for the hour of whose coming many thousand hearts had throbbed, and many thousand bosoms had beat high.”

The reporter was mistaken. McClellan was already thinking defensively, planning his army’s retreat across the Peninsula rather than commit it to the capture of Richmond. But he did want to push back the Confederate picket line in a tree-strewn morass at White Oak Swamp.

The 2nd New Hampshire was part of a small force ordered to accomplish this task in what became known as the Battle of Oak Grove. The regiment’s commander, Gilman Marston, sent his men to extend both ends of the line of the 1st Massachusetts, which was already fighting. Under fire, the men advanced “through the fallen timber and into a swamp covered with a dense growth of bushes,” Marston later reported. Armed with Sharp’s Rifles, Co. B., including Private Lamprey, pushed even farther forward. Marston reported that in addition to rebel balls, Union artillery shells began hitting his men.

Co. B bore the brunt of the fight. Lamprey was badly wounded in the head. The Times reported that he suffered “a severe fracture,” whether from a Confederate ball or a Union shell it did not say. 

Cpl. Thomas B. Leaver 
Cpl. Thomas B. Leaver, one of Lamprey’s comrades in Co. B and a man well-known to readers for his regular dispatches to Concord’s Independent Democrat, was killed outright. He and George H. Damon died at nearly the same moment.

Both of them, but especially Leaver, were well known to Harriet P. Dame, who had served as the 2nd New Hampshire’s nurse and resident mother from the beginning of the war. In his 1896 history of the regiment, Private Martin Haynes reported that Dame was caring for wounded soldiers at White House Landing in the rear when the blankets bearing the bodies arrived. When she lifted one blanket, she gasped, “My God! It is Tom Leaver!” She prepared both his body and Damon’s for burial and watched as them disappear into a grave under a nearby oak tree.

The wounded Lamprey was carried to the St. Mark, a clipper ship that the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a forerunner of the Red Cross, had just fitted out to care for hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers. The ship drew too much water to make it up the Pamunkey River and was thus anchored in Yorktown harbor. Lamprey died aboard the ship on June 26, one day shy of his 20th birthday.

Harriet P. Dame, guardian angel to the 2nd NH
I’m not sure where he was buried, but I think it was in the cemetery at Yorktown. I suspect the temporary grave marker was originally planted there. The deterioration of its base suggests it was planted in the ground for some time.

The Seven Days battles – McClellan’s retreat and Robert E. Lee’s pursuit – had begun in earnest with the fight at Oak Grove. Frederick Law Olmsted, the noted landscape designer and social critic, served as executive secretary of the Sanitary Commission in 1862. He was on the Peninsula, at White House Landing, directing care of the wounded in late June. On the evening Lamprey died, he planned to visit the St. Mark, but rumors that Stonewall Jackson was about to attack changed his mind. The hospital ships had to clear out and head to Fort Monroe.

The New York Times reported the July 7 arrival of the S.R. Spaulding, a steam transport, which had towed the St. Mark from the fort to New York harbor in 36 hours. Aboard were 426 sick and wounded soldiers from the Peninsula.

I was not able to learn online when Lamprey’s body was removed from its temporary grave and moved to Concord, or by whose request.  This afternoon I’m going to the cemetery office in Concord to see what I can find out about those questions. I’ll also look for his grave.

In a later post  I’ll let you know what I find and also share more information about Lamprey’s family, including the four brothers who went to war.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Little Round Top, summer morning, 2013

Little Round Top, summer morning, 2013. My wife Monique's painted this after our Gettysburg trip for the 150th.
Summer is gone in New Hampshire, but along with the changing of the leaves, October has delivered several warm bright days. This month, as I sat reading and writing, my wife Monique often set up her easel on the porch overlooking the pond and Mount Sunapee. Every year she makes beautiful paintings of the pond in fall, but this year she also painted a scene from Gettysburg.

She and I walked the battlefield every day we were in town late last June. It had rained often early in the month, and the grass was lush, the foliage thick. Twice we walked from the Peach Orchard on Emmitsburg Road to the Wheatfield.

In an earlier blog post, one of a series called "A Gettysburg Journal," I remarked on how this walk had deepened my perspective on the battle. In my book Our War, I wrote about the actions of the 2nd, 5th and 12th New Hampshire regiments on July 2, 1863, but not until this walk did I see how the key locales of the fighting on that day lined up west to east along the Wheatfield Road: Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Rose's Woods, with Little Round Top farther east to complete the foursome.

We took many photos all around the battlefield that week, but the ones Monique found most art-worthy were the ones from the Wheatfield Road walk. In the foreground of her painting is the Wheatfield, where Col. Edward E. Cross's brigade fought. Just beyond it are trees from Rose's Woods, where Cross was shot while conferring with the lieutenant colonel of the 5th New Hampshire. Little Round Top looms in the background.

This was Monique's second foray into battlefield painting. You can see her picture of two of our grandchildren at Bull Run here. I hope there will be more to come.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A change of direction?

Here are the most popular posts of the last two months and the top 15 all-time. One post appears on both lists – my brief piece on my backstage encounter with the poet Billy Collins. This came out of an event earlier this month in Concord, N.H.

From time to time I have blogged on non-Civil War subjects. I am considering morphing this blog into one that would combine several interests: the Civil War, current events and issues, books, art – anything I think might engage readers.

I welcome any comments you have on this idea.

Here are the top ten recent posts on the basis of readership:

And here are the top 15 all-time, with a range of 148 to 497 hits. The numbers in parentheses are the entries’ rankings a month ago, if any:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

'We were in the open, without a thing better than a wheat straw to catch a Minnie bullet that weighed an ounce'

Charles A. Fuller was a lieutenant in the 61st New York, one of the regiments in the brigade of Col. Edward E. Cross of the 5th New Hampshire at Gettysburg. Fuller had been with his regiment from the beginning, fighting in the same battles as the 5th: Fair Oaks and the Seven Days on the Virginia Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Lt. Charles A. Fuller
In 1906, using his wartime diary and letters, official reports and other papers relating to his regiment, Fuller wrote Personal Recollections of the War of 1861 as Private, Sergeant and Lieutenant in the Sixty-First Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry.

Cross commanded the First Brigade of the First Division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps. The brigade was ordered into the Wheatfield at Gettysburg late on July 2, 1863, to prevent a Confederate breakthrough. Fuller’s account of the battle offers just a glimpse of Cross but shows what it was like to fight under him that day.

It also emphasizes how singular and particular each soldier’s experience of battle was. As a longtime student of Cross and the 5th on the second day at Gettysburg, I was amused to read that Fuller did not even know the 5th was there that day even though the regiment, small as it was by then, was in his own brigade. 

Fuller considered his Gettysburg story “tame and personal (and) of but small interest,” but, he added: “It shows what was going on in thousands of families the land over – North and South – and it is the kind of matter that does not get into books on war subjects. The reality of war is largely obscured by descriptions that tell of movements and maneuvers of armies, of the attack and repulse, of the victory and defeat, and then pass on to new operations. All of this leaves out of sight the fellows stretched out with holes through them, or with legs and arms off.”

Here is Fuller’s account, beginning with an anniversary celebration of the battle of Fair Oaks, his regiment’s – and the 5th New Hampshire’s – first battle.

While in this camp [near Fredericksburg], June 1st, 1863, the First Brigade of the First Division, fell in and passed in review by quite a body of officers, including Hancock, [O.O.] Howard and [Francis] Barlow. Gen. Howard made appropriate remarks to the remnants of the 5th N. H., 81st Pa., 64th and 61st N. Y., which he commanded in the battle of Fair Oaks that day, the year before.

But a small fraction of the men he commanded that day at 7 a. m. were present to hear his words. He said we were in this great strife to win, and we would fight it to a finish, and we applauded his sentiments by lusty cheers.

After this we returned to our quarters. Barlow appeared and gave us a chance to grasp his hand. I am sure this great soldier always had a special affection for the men of the 61st N.Y. He had their entire confidence. Unquestionably they obeyed his orders, first, perhaps, because they didn’t dare do otherwise, and, second, because they trusted his judgment and ability to perform what he set out to do.

Now everything indicated a move at short notice. Sunday, the 14th of June, the Confederates shot off their big guns on the heights of Fredericksburg. I think our people crossed the river on a reconnaissance. At 8 p. m. the Second Corps moved, marched four miles and halted for the night. Monday, the 15th, we passed Stafford Court House. Tuesday, the 16th, the march took us beyond Dumfries’ Court House. This day was excessively hot, and it was stated that quite a number of the Second Corps died of sunstroke. Lieut. Elmore was stricken down by it. He lay on the ground almost motionless – was quite out of his head and talked crazy. He was put into an ambulance, and sent to hospital.

Wednesday, the 17th, at the close of the day, we halted at Pope’s Run on the Orange & Alexandria R. R. Thursday, the 18th, no move was made, except to change camp. In the afternoon of Friday (the 19th) we moved and halted in the evening at Centreville, the place we had been in about nine months before. Saturday about noon we left Centreville for Thoroughfare Gap.

We passed over the two Bull Run battlefields, which were fought about a year apart. On the field of 1861 the dead had been buried with the least expenditure of labor. I should say the bodies had been laid close together, and a thin coat of earth thrown over them. As the bodies decayed, the crust fell in exposing in part the skeletons. Some of our men extracted teeth from the grinning skulls as they lay thus exposed to view. On the field of 1862 from one mound a hand stuck out. The flesh instead of rotting off had dried down, and there it was like a piece of dirty marble. Such sights are not refreshing to men going forward in search of a new battlefield. . . .

After dark [on June 25] we camped at Gum Spring. It had rained all day. I was placed in charge of the picket line that night, and visited the posts wet to the skin. In the morning a young and innocent calf was sporting in the field we occupied. Some of our wickedest men ended the life of that calf skinned it, and gave me a chunk. I expected to have an unusually good meal out of it.

No time was found to cook this meat until we halted at Edward’s Ferry on the Potomac, where we expected to spend the night. Collins and I proposed to have a great meal out of our piece of veal. Our man “Robert” fried it in the stew pan, which was the half of a canteen, and brought it on smoking hot. The experiment of trying to eat it disclosed the fact that it was “deeken veal” and very “stringy,” I think the Spanish war soldiers would have called it. We discarded it and went back to “salt hoss.”

That night we crossed the Potomac on a pontoon, and were again in “My Maryland.” The performances this night were such as to justify vocal damning on the part of a very good Christian. The men were tired, but they were marched and countermarched, and halted and started, and placed and unplaced, until it was fair to conclude that someone was drunk.

At last the person directing the column got his bearings and we proceeded. We were plodding along a road in which there was on the right hand side a ditch about two feet deep. Having been up and awake all of the night before, I was fearfully sleepy and hardly able to drag myself along. All at once I went into this ditch, and struck full length. In its bottom there was about two inches of mud, thick enough to encase me. By the time I had pawed out, I could not, if laid out, have been distinguished from a mud sill; but I was too near gone to speak bad words, and so went on in silence, weighing five pounds more than before my descent. . . .

Officers of the 61st New York Volunteers 
The next morning, the 27th, our regiment started about 10 o’clock, and was thrown out as an advance guard to our baggage train. Along the line of this march there were numerous wild black cherry trees. They were loaded with ripe fruit, and we ate our fill. I think we covered 25 miles this day, and went into camp near Frederick City. We were over this same ground less than a year before, and everything looked as it then did.

Sunday, the 28th, we moved up, and camped just before crossing the Monocacy. We spent the day very comfortably, and went to bed by rolling up in our blankets, when an order came to “fall in.” This we did of course, but wished it had been otherwise. We marched about two miles, and were posted to guard a ford of the Monocacy. . . .

Monday, the 29th, we made a march of over thirty-two miles. We halted for the night some miles beyond Uniontown, at about 10 p.m. I know I was so completely tired out, that, as soon as arms were stacked, I stretched out without unrolling my blankets, and I knew nothing till the next morning, when I was awakened by the sun shining into my eyes. I was so stiff that it took some time to get on to my legs, but, after moving about for a while, I was all right.

Tuesday, the 30th, we remained in camp, many straggled in the march of the day before, and during this day most of them came up.

Wednesday, July 1st, we started out, none of us knowing for where. We heard no sound of battle that day. No doubt the lay of the land shut off the thunder of the guns. A rumor soon became current that a fight was in progress, and that Gen. Reynolds had been killed. We marched through a little village, perhaps it was Taneytown. Our signalers were up in the steeple of a church on the street we were passing through, and their flags were we-wawing at a great rate. Before long the ambulance containing the corpse of Reynolds passed us. We halted for the night.

After sundown our brigade, and probably the division, were in line of battle. As soon as arms were stacked, we went to a rail fence, took down the rails, brought them to our line, and, before going to bed – i. e., spreading our blankets on the ground – we had staked up those rails and banked earth against them so that they would have served quite a purpose as breastworks. By this time lines of camp fires were burning as far as we could see, indicating that the army was massed here, or the ruse was worked to make the enemy think so.

Thursday, the 2d, we were quietly ordered to turn out. Breakfast was eaten, the guns and ammunition were inspected, and by six or seven o’clock we were in motion. On the march I remember we went through a small piece of open timber, where our doctors were posted, and as we went by we shook hands with them, and exchanged little pleasantries. I remember saying to them, “We’ll see you again later.” I tried to say this with a jaunty air, but down in my shoes I did not feel a bit jaunty. I think we all felt that this should be a death grapple, and, if Lee went further north, it ought to be over the played out ranks of this army. We continued our march and halted in a large open field to the left of the village of Gettysburg. Our brigade was massed, and commanded by Col. Edward E. Cross of the 5th N. H.

Col. Edward E. Cross
We remained in this place during the long hours of the day [the brigade was on the southern end of Hancock’s 2nd Corps line on Cemetery Ridge; the right of Gen. Sickles’s 3rd Corps was supposed to join it, but Sickles moved his corps forward so that Cross’s brigade formed the exposed flank of the line along the ridge]. There was no noise, save occasionally slight picket firing, but it was not the silence of assured quiet. It was the painful waiting before the descent of the certain cyclone.
Our regiments were so small that, except in the case of the 148th Pennsylvania, each regiment made a single line. I think the 148th was divided into two battalions. The 61st had about 90 muskets.

While waiting for something to “turn up” Col. Cross came up, and after a little said, “Boys, you know what’s before you. Give ’em hell!” and some of us said, “We will, Colonel!”

After a time “the ball opened” on our left. A determined attack was made on Sickles’s position. He could not hold it, and re-enforcements were sent to him. I do not remember seeing the 5th N.H. move away but Col. Broady says it was detached before the brigade started [the 5th was in fact on the ridge]. I think it was between 5 and 6 o’clock when our orders came, and we were ready. It was preferable to advance into action, rather than to wait in expectation of the order to move.

Lt. Col. Oscar Knut Broady was the 61st New
York's retimental commander at Gettysburg.
The direction we were to take was to the front and left. There was no time to countermarch so as to bring the men right in front, so we simply left faced and started. The 61st, since the withdrawal of the 5th N.H., was the right regiment [the 5th was in fact the left regiment, meaning there were three regiments between the 5th and the 61st.] We advanced in this manner, the brigade in a chunk, until we struck a cross road. In this road we deployed by filing right and advancing until the regiments were deployed, then we left faced. This undoubled us, and we stood in line of battle, officers and sergeants in front of the rear rank in front.

In front of us across the road was a wheat field, which was bounded by a fence. We were ordered forward; we scaled the fence and advanced into this wheat field in line of battle. Finally we were halted, markers were thrown out, and we lined up. The 61st N.Y. was the right of our brigade line. I am not sure what regiment was to our right. It is my recollection that no regiment was in close contact with us. As soon as the alignment was perfected, the officers and file closers passed through the ranks and got in rear of the men. Up to this time not a confederate had been seen in our front.

At the further edge of this wheat field there were the remnants of a stone wall and scattering trees and brush, which made a natural line for the opposing force to form behind. As soon as I got into my place, I kept my eyes to the front, and in a few seconds I saw first one or two men come toward us on a run, and throw themselves down behind this partial stone wall. But a brief time passed when a solid line of men in gray appeared and placed themselves as had the first comers.

At once, and without any ordering, the firing opened by both sides. It was slightly descending from where we stood to the position of the enemy. I think their location was the best, independent of the protection afforded by the old wall. It was a case of give and take.

As a rule our men behaved splendidly; with a single exception I saw no flinching or dodging. I saw a certain second lieutenant doubling himself together so as to bring his head below the line of the heads of the men in front of him. Capt. Keech saw his posture and came up to him and said, “Stand up! What are you crouching for?” The fellow replied, “I’m not crouching.” Keech replied, “Yes, you are!” and he hit him across his humped-up back a sharp rap that made him grunt, and said, “Stand up like a man!”

In battle the tendency is almost universal for the men to work out of a good line into clumps. The men of natural daring will rather crowd to the front, and those cast in more timid or retiring molds will almost automatically edge back and slip in behind. Hence the necessity of not alone commissioned officers in the rear to keep the men out in two ranks, but sergeants as well. . . .

For the less than ninety muskets in the ranks we had . . . officers enough in our regiment in this great battle to have commanded three hundred men, and it is a standing proof of the gross ignorance, or the villainy of the New York government that such was the case. In the early part of the day I remarked to a number of the men nearby that when some one of them was knocked out I was going to take his musket and get into the firing line.

The 61st New York monument in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg
We were in this wheat field and the grain stood almost breast high. The Rebs had their slight protection, but we were in the open, without a thing better than a wheat straw to catch a Minnie bullet that weighed an ounce. Of course, our men began to tumble. They lay where they fell, or, if able, started for the rear.

Near to me I saw a man named Daily go down, shot through the neck. I made a movement to get his gun, but at that moment I was struck in the shoulder. It did not hurt and the blow simply caused me to step back. I found that I could not work my arm, but supposed that hurt was a flesh wound that had temporarily paralyzed it, and that it was not serious enough to justify my leaving the fighting line. So, I remained and did what I could in directing the firing.

Sometime after this, I felt a blow on the left leg, and it gave way, so that I knew the bone was broken. This stroke did not hurt, and I did not fall, but turned around and made a number of hops to the rear, when my foot caught in the tangled grain and I went down full length.

While lying here entirely helpless, and hearing those vicious bullets singing over my head, I suffered from fear. I had, as most men do, got over the dread of battle after I was once fairly in it, and was enjoying the excitement, but when I was “done for” as a fighter, and could only lie in that zone of danger, waiting for other bullets to plow into my body, I confess it was with the greatest dread.

Legend on the 61st monument
While so lying and dreading, in some way, I knew that two men were going to the rear. I yelled out to them, “Drag me back.: They heeded the order, or entreaty, and one man grabbed one arm, and the other man the other arm, and they started back with me between them, not on any funeral gait, but almost on a run. My right arm was sound, but the left one was broken at the shoulder joint, and on that side it was pulling on the cords and meat. I wobbled much as a cut of wood drawn by two cords would have.

These men pulled me back in this fashion for a number of rods, and until I thought they had pulled me over a rise of ground like a cradle knoll, when I shouted, “Drop me” and they dropped, and went on without note or comment. I had a tourniquet in my haversack, and with my one serviceable arm, I worked away till I got it out, and did the best I could to get it around my leg, for anything I knew I was bleeding to death, and, if possible, I wanted to check the flow of blood. . . .

After a time the firing tapered down to occasional shots. Of course, I did not know who was on top. Certainly no body of our men had fallen back near my bivouac. In a short time I heard a line of battle advancing from the rear. As the men came in sight I sang out, “Don’t step on me, boys!” Those in range of me stepped over and on they went, to take their medicine. . . . It was not many minutes after these troops passed me that the rattle of musketry was again heard from that wheat field. It was kept up for a good while, and then it died down. No body of our men went back past me.

After a while I was aware that a skirmish line was coming from the front, and soon discovered that the skirmishers were not clothed in blue. The officer in command was mounted and rode by within a few feet of me. . . . A short time after these gentlemen in gray moved back in the same manner they had advanced, greatly to my relief. I did not fancy remaining their guest for any length of time.

As the Rebs went back, a nice looking young fellow, small of stature, with bright black eyes, whose face was smutted up with powder and smoke, came along where I lay. My sword was on the ground beside me. He picked it up, and said, “Give me that scabbard!” I said “Johnny, you will have to excuse me, as my arm is broken and I can’t unbuckle my belt.” He made no comment, but went off with my sword.

Then matters quieted down, and there was no sound to be heard in that vicinity, except the groanings of the wounded. As long as I lay perfectly quiet, I was not in much pain, but if I attempted to stir the pain was severe. I had heard that wounded men always suffered from thirst, but I was not especially thirsty, and I wondered at it. I did not have any desire to groan, and take on, as many about me were doing. So I wondered if I were really badly hurt, and if I could groan, if I wanted to. I determined to try it, and drew in a good breath, and let out a full grown-man groan. I was satisfied with the result and then kept quiet. . . .

After a time I was satisfied our people were establishing a picket line some ways to my rear. I succeeded in securing the attention of a sergeant. He told me the number of his regiment, which was a new Pennsylvania regiment. I told him I wanted to get back out of this debatable belt of land between the skirmish lines. He said he would go and see his officer. In a little while he came back with a lieutenant. He was a good hearted man, and commiserated my condition, and inquired what he could do for me. . . .

Drummer boys of the 61st New York, photographed in April 1863.

I told him I thought if he and the sergeant would make a chair of their hands, as children often do, they could carry me between  them. With difficulty they got me up, and their hands under me, and started, but the broken leg hung down, and caught in the trampled wheat, and I told them I couldn’t go it. Then the lieutenant said he could carry me on his back. . . . So he squatted, and the sergeant helped get me on his back with my arm around his neck. Then he attempted to raise me up, but my weight and the tanglefoot were too much, and we all went down in a heap together, I under.

As soon as I could express myself in words, I told the men, if they would straighten me out and cover me up with my blanket, I would excuse them with thanks for their kind intentions. This they did, and left me with no one in sight. It now grew dark rapidly and soon there was as little light as at any time that night. . . .

I think it must have been about midnight – for hours I had heard no sound but the groanings of the men lying on the field about me. All at once I heard a voice. It came from the mouth of Phil Comfort, a private of Co. A. Phil had always been one of the incorrigibles. He would get drunk, and brawl, and fight on the slightest provocation, but he also had the credit of doing much for the wounded of the regiment. I do not know what Phil’s business was, out there between the picket lines at midnight of that day. I suspect he may have been there for the purpose of accommodating any corpse that was desirous of being relieved of any valuables he was possessed of, fearing they might be buried in an unmarked grave with his dead body. . . .

I made haste to call Phil up to me. He responded to my call, and in a moment was staring down on me in the starlight. He said, “Why, Lieutenant, that’s you, ain’t it!” I admitted the allegation, and said I wanted to get out of here. . . . Before long he was back with man and stretcher, and after much working they go me loaded and started for a point at which the ambulances were assembling. I was set down in the dooryard of a house built of hewed logs, whitewashed. . . .

After an hour’s waiting, I was loaded into an ambulance without taking me from my stretcher. . . . A man was placed beside me shot through the body. He was in an agony of pain, and it was impossible for him to restrain his groans. When the ambulance started, it went anywhere but in a good road, and as it bumped over logs and boulders, my broken leg would thrash about like the mauler of a flail. I found it necessary to keep it in place by putting the other one over it.

At last we stopped and were unloaded. It was still dark, but in due time light broke in the East, and a little later I could roll my head and take in some of the surroundings. Most of the wounded of the regiment had been gathered at this place, and we made by far the largest part of it. . . .

After a time two of our regimental doctors appeared. They cut open my trousers leg, found where the bullet went in, and, I think, put a strip of adhesive plaster over the wound, and they did the same with the shoulder. It was clear to my mind that the leg, at least, must come off. I expressed my opinion and said, I thought it would be better to do it at once, than to wait till inflammation set in. At my earnest request they promised me that they would see to it that I should be among the first operated on.

While in this place my lifelong friend and companion, Lieut. Isaac Plumb, came to me. We had been side by side since the organization of the regiment, and, until now, neither of us had been badly hurt. He told me that he saw me as I went down, and sang out “Uncle Fuller, that’s good for sixty days.” He said I made up quite a face, as if it hurt.

Shortly afterward he said he had a remarkable experience. He was struck and knocked down, and he supposed a bullet had gone through him, and he was done for. He said he clapped his hands over the place of the supposed wound and held on tight, with the thought that conscious existence might be a little prolonged. He expected to feel life ebbing, but he retained consciousness, and, after a while, lifted his hands, expecting to see an eruption of blood, but he did not. He began to move his body with no bad results, and, finally, got onto his feet, resumed his place and left the field with his men.

He did not discover what had happened till he prepared to bunk down for the night, when he unbuckled his sword belt and discovered a strange formation in his vest pocket. In it he had a bunch of small keys on a ring. A Minnie bullet had struck his belt plate square and had glanced so as to go under the plate into his vest pocket, where it met the bunch of keys. There was enough force and resistance to bed the bullet into the ring and the key heads, and there the keys stood out held in place by the embedded bullet. He was able to send this relic of that great battle home, and his mother has it now among her choicest mementos.

After a time the division operating table was set up in the edge of a piece of timber not very far away. I was on the watch, expecting every minute to be taken out, but I waited and waited and no one came for me. . . . At last I asked my friend Porter E. Whitney and another man to take me down to the table. . . . The men set me down as nearly under the noses of the doctors as could be, [but] the enemy began to drop shells that exploded in and about the locality. It was not a fit place to pursue surgical operations. [This was the start of the artillery barrage before Pickett’s Charge.]

The doctors knew it, so they hastily gathered up their knives and saws, and moved to a place where those projectiles did not drop. The two friends who had taken me there, picked up my stretcher and started for a like place. We had to move several times before the greatest artillery duel of the War began. When that opened we were out of range of it, but we could not hide from the tremble of the ground – the surface of the earth at that place shook and quivered from the terrible concussion of the artillery. The roar was enough to deafen one, and inspire the dread that no one would be left alive and unhurt. Generally however, the noise is a considerable part of such a bombardment. Probably comparatively slight damage was done by it until our artillery opened on the advancing lines of Pickett’s men.

The boys who were toting me came to a stone house with a wide piazza clear around it. I was laid on the floor of it, which made a hard bed. I ached in every bone. . . . After a while Frank Garland of Co. G was brought and laid on the floor near me. He could raise upon his elbow, but his breathing was painful to hear. A bullet had gone through his lungs and every time they filled a portion of the air went through the wound with a ghastly sound. . . .

That evening about 10 o’clock, an ambulance came for me, and I was taken to the ground selected for the 2d Corps hospital. It was another rough ride across lots. Once there I was taken out of my stretcher, the one Phil Comfort took me off the field on, and taken at once to the operating table. A napkin was formed into a tunnel shape, a liberal supply of chloroform poured into it and the thing placed over my nose and mouth. I was told to take in long breaths. To me it seemed a long time before the effect came, probably it was a short time, but at last my head seemed to grow big and spin around.

At this stage I remember a doctor had his fingers in the wound in the shoulder and said to the others, “Here is a fine chance for a resection.” I did not know what that meant, but learned afterwards. When I came to myself, I looked down far enough to see a quantity of bandage wound about a stump of a leg eight inches long. My shoulder was bound up, but otherwise not operated on.

Failure to resect [remove] may have been due to the great amount of work pressing upon the surgeons. They were worked as many hours continuously as they could stand, and still many a man had to be neglected. I was taken off the table and put back on my stretcher, which was set down in a wall tent. This tent was as full as it well could be of amputated cases. For the most part the men bore their suffering without a groan.

Among the number was a young Confederate officer, that had lost an arm. He probably felt that he was a good way from home, and he “took on,” bemoaning his fate as a cripple and a sufferer. He wore out the patience of every other man in the tent. At last I yelled out to him to shut up, or I would get up and kick him out doors. My bark was effective, we heard no more from him. . . .

During the night a doctor came, and gave every man a dose of morphine, which produced a happy state of mind and body. As I was taken from the table one of my doctors said, “Fuller, you may drink all of the whiskey you can get, and want.” . . .

The surgeons were continuously engaged upon new cases that had received no attention. Those of us that had been treated knew this, and we found no fault at what otherwise would have been terrible neglect. I think it was six days after my amputation before a doctor could be found to look at my stump.

The night before I had been made very nervous by crawly feelings on that side of me, just where I could not tell. It is, I think, the rule with amputations, that the patient cannot from the feeling put his hand on the place of amputation. It takes a good while for the nerves to realize where “the end” is. They were made to carry the news to the brain from the extremities, and, until the new arrangement has become somewhat acquainted with the change, these lines of communication are doing duty for parts of the body not there.

My bad feelings were not at the end of the stump, but down in the foot and ankle, where there were constant beats, and pulls and cramps. I think this is the foundation for the many fairy stories to the effect that an amputated leg or arm buried gave the owner of it great pain, as if something pressed on it, or it was cramped in its box, and when it was opened up there was found a stone between the fingers, or the cover jammed upon the foot, and that when the cause of discomfort was removed then the stump of the arm or leg was easy. As in the various phases of faith cure, the imagination has a powerful effect. So it has in these cases. It is never that there is a real feeling connected between the severed part and the body, but the belief in it creates a supposed reality.

It was the good fortune of our tent that a civilian surgeon from Ohio visiting the field came along and offered his services to any of us that wanted him to do for us. I told him how I had felt through the night, and I would be glad to have him dress my stump. He took the bandages off and found that there were a large number of full grown maggots in the wound. This discovery for the moment was horrifying to me. I concluded if all the other things did not take me off. the skippers would, but the good doctor assured me that the wigglers didn’t amount to much in that place, and he would soon fix them. He diluted some turpentine, took a quantity of it in his mouth and squirted it into the wound, and over the stump. It did the business for the intruders, and I had no more trouble of that sort. . . .

[A few weeks later] my shoulder was operated on, and three inches of the humerus taken out from the shoulder joint down. . . . A week after that operation, an incision was made into the stump and the bullet that broke the leg was taken out. That it was in the stump was, of course, a surprise, and when the surgeons of my regiment were informed what had been done, they claimed to be much surprised, and said that they traced out the bullet that they amputated for, and that the bullet extracted by Dr. King must have been a second one. . . .

In December, 1863, I was ordered to report at a hospital at Annapolis, Md. I started alone with one crutch, and my arm in a sling. At Albany I stopped over night with my cousin Stewart Campbell, and well remember that evening reading in the Atlantic Monthly that wonderful story, “A Man Without a Country,” by Edward Everett Hale. It made a deep impression on my mind and it confirmed the sentiment I had cherished that it was well worth hardship, wounds, loss of limbs, or life even, to have a hand in preserving in its integrity such a country as ours.