Anyone who reads newspapers from the Civil War years can sense the terror with which loved ones at home regarded them. In northern towns and small cities most papers were weeklies, but in New Hampshire, for example, the big Boston dailies were delivered by train. People at home knew where their soldiers were and pored over reports of any battle that might involve them.
Casualty lists might appear soon after a battle, but experience taught readers to distrust them. Occasionally a happy story circulated after a soldier was reported killed that in fact he had survived. These stories cheered people because they were the exception, not the rule.
|Then 7th's Pvt. Dexter E. Prichard, 24, of |
Boscawen, N.H. was killed at Fort Wagner.
The vast majority of mistakes in casualty lists ran the other way. A dead man had been left off the list or the somewhat hopeful notation that a man was only “slightly wounded” turned out to be false. Thousands of wounded men died slow deaths from dirty medical tools or wrongheaded procedures. The “missing” sometimes disappeared, buried by the enemy in common graves. Some withered away in military prisons.
Particularly in certain climates – Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana – lethal fevers became epidemic. To follow the deaths from these in the newspapers required careful reading. A death from disease might warrant a line or two, but the papers ran no long lists of men killed by sickness. When trains carried a regiment home, especially from Louisiana, wives, mothers and fathers often learned only after searching through train-car windows at the station that their loved ones were dead.
These thoughts occurred to me a couple of days ago when I came across a letter written in 1862 by Harvey H. Martin, a 22-year-old private in the 7th New Hampshire regiment. Wanting to know more about Martin, I Googled him and looked him up in Augustus Ayling’s invaluable register of New Hampshire Civil War soldiers.
I learned that Martin was from Weare, N.H., and had been killed in the 7th New Hampshire’s assault on Fort Wagner, S.C., on July 18, 1863 In Our War I tell the story of this battle through the eyes of a sergeant in the 7th. In near-darkness the men marched across a narrow strip of sand and attacked a fort that had survived a day-long artillery barrage with little human loss. Like the 54th Massachusetts before it, the 7th New Hampshire was slaughtered.
It was hard even to count the casualties, as many were left in the fort and initially reported missing. Wartime reports put the numbers at 41 killed, 119 and 55 missing, but Ayling’s register, published much later, lists 77 dead. The death of many of the missing probably accounts for the discrepancy.
|Pvt. Warren E. Kimball of Salem was badly|
wounded at Fort Wagner and taken prisoner. He
died in Charleston the day after the battle.
My search also turned up a contemporary casualty list for the battle. It ran in the New York Times on July 28, 10 days after the battle. The Times listed dead, wounded and missing from New York and New England regiments. The editor who prepared the list noted optimistically: “It must be remembered, however, that very many are included whose wounds will not incapacitate them for active duty for more than a few days.”
In the event, although some of the wounded did indeed recover, the true casualty list was far grimmer than the one in the Times. I compared the newspaper’s list for two companies – Harvey Martin’s Co. D and one chosen at random, Co. H – with the Ayling register.
In Co. D, only one wounded man died – 19-year-old Pvt. George W.F. Stevens of Somersworth, N.H., who was taken to Charleston by the rebels and died five days after the battle. At least six of the missing, including Martin, were already dead or soon would be. The other five were Gilbert F. Dustin, 27, the first sergeant from Hopkinton, and Pvts. Alonzo A. Busher, 20, of Chester, Jesse F. Cleaves, 22, and Benjamin W. Colby, 43, both of Somersworth, and Michael McKone, 23, of Dover. McKone died in a Richmond prison five months after the battle. Another missing man, 19-year-old Samuel A. Wood of Stoddard, was never heard from again.
Co. H fared even worse. Six of its wounded and seven of its missing died.
As you scan the list of 7th New Hampshire casualties, think what it must have been like for the families, friends and neighbors of soldiers from this regiment to read the list. The worry and dread these readers experienced spread across both North and South after every big battle.
The Times headline on the list read:
THE REPULSE AT FORT WAGNER
Partial Lists of Killed and Wounded in the New-York and New-England Regiments
Under “SEVENTH NEW-HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT,” here’s the list:
Field and Staff.
Col. H.S. Putnam -- killed.
Adjt. H.G. Webber -- contusion.
Sergt.-Maj. G.F. McCabe -- wounded.
Sergt. B. Cummings.
Corp. L. Miller.
Corp. A.H. Fess.
Corp. C.P. Aldneson.
Corp. A. Bell.
Corp. A.L. Foss.
1st Lieut. Ezra Davis.
2d Lieut. George Taylor -- severely.
Corp. Hunt -- severely.
Thomas Morse -- slightly.
B.R. Pratt -- slightly.
Sergt. Lawrence -- slightly.
Sergt. Lymington -- slightly.
Capt J.B. House, severely.
Corp. J.H. Harris.
Corp. M. Rowes.
1st Lieut. A.H. Cate, supposed dead
2d Lieut. A.J. Lane, supposed dead.
Sergt. C.E. Chase.
Sergt. E.A. Bruce.
Sergt. D.F. Hinksens.
2d Lieut. A.N. Bennett.
1st Lieut. W.C. Knowlton, slightly.
Corp. J.H. Caldwell.
Corp. L. Emery.
Corp. Geo. W. Berry.
Corp. O G. Burtt.
George W.F. Stevens.
1st Sergt. J.F. Dustin.
Corp. Harvey W. Martin.
Corp. R. O. Farrand.
Geo. W. Elliott.
|Private Bradford H. Holmes, 20, of Concord, was listed as missing, but|
he had been killed in the battle.
2d Lieut. H.W. Baker
Sergt. A.G. Stearns.
Sergt. Geo. W. Haven.
Sergt. Jos. W. Teal.
Corp. M.V.B. Perkins.
Corp. J.C. Bickford.
Corp. M. Hanson.
Sergt. F.F. Meeder.
Corp. J.M. Durgin.
Capt. H.B. Leavitt.
1st Lt. P.C. Ham -- severely.
Sergt. J.W. West.
Sergt. J.A. Jacobs.
Corp. G.A. Bridger.
Corp. M.H. Tash.
Capt. W.W. Ames -- slightly.
1st Lieut. J.H. Worcester -- missing.
Sergts. W.F. Spaulding.
Sergt. F. Lovejoy.
Corp. W.J. Spaulding.
Corp. D.W. Hayden.
Corp. O. Robinson.
Corp. J.N. Perkins.
1st Lieut Charles Cain -- severely.
Sergt. C.E. McPherson.
Corp. M. Mulligan.
Albert W. Worcester.
Corp. C.A. Rowell.
Capt. W.E.F. Brown.
1st Lieut. L.W. Fogg slightly.