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This is the archive for March 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thursday, after fighting the evils known as I-526 Westbound and I-26 Westbound (I-526 is a half loop around Charleston that intersects I-26 and yet somehow both go East and West, unless you bring a compass in and then itís all over the place) I arrived home and was given a card from the Post Office.

By the time it was given to me, it was long past the time the Summerville Post Office closes, so it was just one big tease. You see, the packages contained artifacts from my Great-Great Grandfather. Although I wanted them badly, I would have to wait a day to get them.

Friday, I woke up with a terrible sinus headache. Instead of just calling it a day, I decided that I would take some medicine, sleep a little bit and then try to make it into work. Because of this, I didnít need my wife to pick up the package, I could. So after a short nap, I headed to the Summerville Post Office.

Hopefully with the new stamp prices they will be able to afford more people. There were only two people working the counter, plus one woman, not in uniform that kept walking back and forth and talking to the employees. Normally, I would not have cared but today I was sick and wanted my package.

After the 4 people in front of me finished, I stepped up to the counter 30 minutes after I arrived and quickly got my package. As I walked out, I noticed the line had grown since I arrived, from 5 to 18. I felt sorry for number 18 and thought, the only thing worse would be if there was a screaming child in there with number 19. I am not sure if this happened but number 20 walked in with two kids.

As I drove to work, I debated about opening the package but finally decided to put it in my office and just let it be. So it sat on my visitorís chair, staring at me all day. Some people asked what it was but I never said anything in particular. I really didnít want to get into a conversation about it and didnít want to discuss why there was such an expensive box on my chair.

When the day finally finished, I fought the interstates again Ė they was nice enough to also give me 3 accidents to get around Ė which further delayed my homecoming. Upon arriving, my children and I open the package and I was able to gaze at 3 sets of items that at least 3 generations of my family had touched over 100 years ago. I opened each up, touching them, looking for a feeling of a connection to my Great-Great Grandfather. As silly as it sounds Ė there was something there.

While holding the knife, I wondered how Edmund had found the time to pick it up. The 18th had a marvelous time visiting Fredericksburg, getting separated from its brigade and ending up trying to visit a wall, which the southerners didnít like too much. Several men would carry the colors that day, yet somehow Edmund walked off the field with it, without a wound. He would carry the colors for the regiment till it was disbanded. Yet, at one point he picked the knife up as a souvenir.

I wonder though, what he told his family about the different treasures he had. Iíll just have to imagine and hope I come close.

It was nice to see the kids so interested. It gives me hope that what I am doing will survive going forward. Perhaps there will be a second generation 18th Mass historian or two.

As time goes on, I hope to be able to pick more of Edmundís stuff up Ė who knows, maybe Iíll hit the lottery. Until then, I am one happy guy with a bunch of old stuff.

Left Ė Collection of artifacts including
Piece of a rebel fort on Petersburg and Norfolk RR
Fired bullet from the Battle of Gettysburg
Stone from the Gettysburg battlefield
Top Right Ė 2 Rebel bullets collected by Frederick Churchill in Hampton, VA
Bottom Right Ė Pocket Knife picked up at the Battle of Fredericksburg

Thursday, March 29, 2007

One of the truly all-time great driving songs is Radar Love by Golden Earring. Itís the type of song that makes you want push the accelerator further down toward the floor and jack up the volume, even if youíre middle age and driving a seven year old Dodge Caravan. But, this is not a saga of trying to recapture a wasted youth on roads leading south, east, west, and north in the State of Virginia and Maryland. Rather itís a recapitulation of my recent trip that took me to Richmond, Appomattox, Sutherland, Petersburg, and finally to a stop one- tenth of a mile south of Mile Marker 122 on Rt. 301, 9.3 miles north of the town of Bowling Green.

Frazzled, fried, and dragging after weeks of protracted workdays, during which time I occupied my cubicle 60 of 64 calendar days, I was taking my duffle bag out to the van Thursday morning with the intention of returning for some other items, when a sudden realization hit me. It was one of those moments when a combination of panic, anger, and denial sweep through your brain and stomach at the same time, because itís the moment when you realize youíve just closed a locked door and your keys are still inside the house.

Four and a half-hours later the cavalry came to the rescue, but during that respite I was able to catch up on a little sleep, finish off the book I was reading, and spent a lot of time looking at my watch. The second hand is an amazing mechanismÖ.

So, while Thursday would almost prove to be a wash, with all the plans I had for that afternoon in Richmond down the tubes, I took a leisurely drive, following a secondary road to the former capitol of the Confederacy. Had my start not been delayed I probably would have zipped down Rt. 95 and not gone past places like Port Royal or Hanover Court House, or the historic marker noting Gabrielís Rebellion. And arriving in Richmond when I did gave me an opportunity to walk virtually deserted streets.

This was my fourth trip to Richmond and Iím still uncertain as to what to make of the place. Iím not certain that even Richmond knows what to make of Richmond. In some ways itís shining, whereas in other ways itís shabby. But one thing is for certain, Virginia Commonwealth University, conqueror of Duke in the first round of this yearís NCAA menís basketball tourney, is swallowing up large chunks of the city, in all directions. Richmond is a city proud of its past, yet it seems itíll rip down a historic building and put up a parking garage or lot in a heart beat. Never fear finding a place to park should you decide to visit.

I spent Friday and half of Saturday attending a conference sponsored by the American Civil War Center. Iíll be writing separate posts on a number of topics, the reason why this piece is titled Part One, including the conference. Saturday afternoon was complete with an aborted attempt to cross over the James River to Belle Isle, site of the former Confederate prison, a visit to the American Civil War Center at Tredegar, and more sightseeing in Richmond. Sunday, I finally got past my hang-ups and toured the Museum of the Confederacy and the White House of the Confederacy and Hollywood Cemetery, before heading out of Richmond and traveling west toward Appomattox.

I tried to stay true to Leeís line of retreat, but somewhere along the line, maybe about the time I finished touring Sailorís Creek battlefield, I began running out of daylight and finished the drive into Appomattox in darkness.

Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck, bahuk. Iím trying to come up with a phonetic imitation of the sound a chicken makes. Hmmm. I guess that works. Someone came up with the very bright idea of building a suspension bridge for pedestrians to walk or ride their bikes over to Belle Isle. The pedestrian version runs underneath two traffic bridges that span the James River and stands about thirty feet above the water. It all goes back to a very vivid dream I had a number of years ago, in which I crashed a car through a guardrail while crossing a bridge. In that dream I had the very real sense of looking through a windshield as the car first tilted upward into the wild blue yonder and then downward as the front of the car began its descent toward a very wide river. Ever since that dream Iíve had anxiety about driving over bridges that cross water. If you know about the Bay Bridge that runs across the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore youíll understand that itís been pure hell for me the six times Iíve crossed it. Twice I was tempted to simply stop the car in the lane I was traveling in. In spite of this I gave Belle Isle my best effort, making it all of ten feet before I came to the conclusion that I didnít want to see the place that badly.

Iíll close this piece with what is an astonishing piece of trivia. While the Civil War claimed an estimated 600 to 620,000 lives, 1.5 million horses and mules died during that same period. I had some idea that large numbers perished in the fighting, but never realized the extent of the loss. A statue on the grounds of the Virginia Historical Society brought this fact to light.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yesterday was an excellent day.

It was one of those days that rank up there as the best day ever - at least in my Civil War related life. As a matter of fact, Christmas two years ago and learning I was going to be a published author are the only ones that beat it out.

So why is it so great? Because I have the greatest wife in the world along with one of the best friends a guy could have.

Simply put, they did something huge, unexpected and just downright nice.

It started a few days ago when Donald emailed me and told me that there were 4 items of Edmund Churchillís on eBay.

For new readers, Edmund is my Great-Great Grandfather who fought with the 18th Massachusetts. He was one of four brothers, all of whom fought in the War. Two joined up with the 90 day regiment, the 3rd Massachusetts. One would die with the 3rd, while the other would stay in the army, joining the 18th when the 3rd disbanded. Unfortunately, he would die in battle also.

Edmund and his twin, Isaiah would later join the 18th and make it home at the end of their 3 year enlistment. During the war Edmund collected relics off the field of battle and sent them home. After the war, he tagged each and had quite a collection. Our family lost them, along with picture albums and letters due to hard times when my Great Grandfather died. They became a thing of legend, and one I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

A few years ago they appeared again. The owner had just bought them from someone who had purchased them from someone else and he tracked me down and offered the collection to me. Unfortunately, I could not afford the asking price, $30,000. If Donald, Steve or I had a spare $30,000 lying around, we would have bought it on the spot. Unfortunately we did not and so the collection has been slowly sold piecemeal.

My second greatest regret, besides not being able to afford the collection, was the inability to get copies of the pictures or letters. The seller felt that this would lessen the value of them. The seller is a business man and as much as I would like to argue Ė I have to admit this is in his rights.

I continue to hope that whoever buys them will one day contact me and let me see them Ė until then I feel there is a large, gaping hole in my soul and it hurts every time I am reminded about it. You see, we are writing a history of the 18th and currently, Edmund's letters will not be included.

Two Christmases ago, my parents bought me a piece of the collection. The seller was nice enough to include a scanned picture (printed on picture paper no less) of Edmund. It was one of the best gifts I ever received and I cried upon receiving it. Those reading may think this was a silly thing to do but really I donít care. Today, they sit on my Civil War shelf, near where I write, reminding me of what a family did so long ago. Whenever I look, I hope that something will happen that will allow me to get more of the collection or even access to it.

The other day Donald did what he does on a regular basis, he emailed me. I get so much email from him that my wife has an Outlook rule that puts his emails in a special folder - this way she does not accidentally delete them. Donald though, did not just email as normal. This day he did it to tell me the items were up on eBay and to let me know something fantastic. He emailed me to say, ďpick one, I'll win it and itís going to home, to you.Ē I was floored and couldnít even respond until a couple hours later. When I told my wife about Donald's incredible generosity she smiled and let me know that she had been saving money for a time like this and said that I should buy an item too.

So all day yesterday I was checking the auctions, hoping that some rich cat didnít come out of the blue to buy them. As luck would have it, we won both auctions that we had targeted and they are now coming our way.

I couldnít be happier. The hole in my soul is still there but it is a tad bit smaller thanks to two people who are dear and good friends. I will never be able to thank either enough and just hope that the friendship I offer them comes close to what they have done for me.

Now, if I could only get those letters and pictures, the hole may disappear.

The knife Donald won. It was picked up by Edmund at Fredericksburg.
The knife Donald won. It was picked up by Edmund at on the field of battle at Fredericksburg

A block of wood, 2.5 inches X 2 inches, with half a 58 caliber minie attached to the top, upon which Edmund had written " Fired Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863. E.F.C.". Next is a block of wood 2 inches X 1 inch, upon which is a tied a stone. Written on the wood is "Stone from Gettysburg, PA. E.F.C." The third relic is a nice piece of wood, 4 inches long, tied to a period card, upon which is written "From a Rebel fort on Petersburg & Norfolk R.R. July 1864 brought home by me..E.F.C."
Just as I posted the above entry, Donald emailed me to tell me that he had made a deal to get the one item that had not sold. A set of bullets picked up by Frederick Churchill Ė one of the brothers who did not make it back home.

Sometimes, life is just damn good.

From the Civil War battlefields at HAMPTON,VA. " 2 REBEL SHOT from Hampton VA. F.S.C.".

Monday, March 12, 2007

Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, NY, the largest National Cemetery in the country, and Arlington National Cemetery, which holds the remains of 15,000 Union soldiers, both dwarf Battlefield National Cemetery in Washington, DC, with its 41 graves. The cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Ave. NW, is not the smallest National Cemetery. That distinction belongs to Hampton National Cemetery, which was established in 1898 and is the final resting place for 22 former residents of the Southern Branch of the National Home for Volunteer Soldiers and Sailors. Battlefield National is the smallest when you consider that virtually every grave represents a man who died in battle. In this regard, Balls Bluff National Cemetery stands second with 54 burials and tragically has only one identified grave.

I used to drive by the cemetery on a regular basis when I worked on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C., but had only stopped to visit once before. My second visit was made the same day I visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine, the subject of an earlier post.

41 graves. 41 men all reported killed on July 11th or July 12th, 1862 near a place where 20,000 Confederate troops under Jubal Early almost had the Capitol buildingís dome within their sight. Early had marched his men from Petersburg, taking a circuitous route deep into Maryland, where the citizens of Frederick paid a ransom of $200,000 under threat of their town being torched, then swung southward, taking direct aim on Washington. But for a stalling action by Union troops at Monacacy, itís possible that the Rebels could have visited the White House, because the delay allowed veterans of the Sixth Corps to hurriedly bolster the Cityís weakened defenses. With Grant besieging Petersburg, Sherman plodding through Georgia, and Sheridan in the Shennadoah Valley, the time had seemed right to attack Washington. Though little more than a probing action against Fort Stevens occurred, Earlyís foray across the Maryland line and down the 7th Street Pike was the only time Confederates tested the outer defenses which surrounded Washington. Fort Stephens, too, is the only place that a sitting President ever came under hostile fire.

The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two six pound smoothbore guns and diagonally behind them to the left are monuments to the 25th and 122nd New York Infantry, 98th Pennsylvania, and Co. K of the 150th Ohio National Guard. The 98th Pennsylvania monument not only lists 7 of its members who were killed, but the names of another 28 who were wounded in two days of fighting. I canít recall seeing another monument in which a regiment paid such a tribute to its men. Interesting, too, is the fact that in all the information posted on the Internet, thereís no mention of 98thís role in defending Washington, including an excerpt from their own official Regimental history.


One grave in particular drew my attention, that of John Dolan, a member of Co. D of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. One of my side projects, whenever I visit a cemetery, is to try to photograph graves of Massachusetts soldiers. I came up with the idea during my last visit to Andersonville and, although I didnít succeed in capturing all 767 graves, I came awful close with 696. Iím grateful for the advent of digital photography, because I never would have attempted a project of that magnitude with a film camera.

Pvt. John Dolan's grave

What becomes clear when you visit National Cemeteries is the ability to identify bodies and correctly mark graves has become more successful with each successive war this country has engaged in. The Viet Nam War, if Iím not mistaken, has yet to yield an unknown. Battleground National Cemetery on the other hand, small as it is, and as supposedly well documented as it is, offers up a number of mysteries among those interred there. While all 41 graves are identified by name and State, there are, in fact, six soldiers whose identities become questionable.

I took on this small research project because I was curious about the men buried at Battleground. Utilizing the American Civil War Research Database and a National Park Service Web site I surmised errors had occurred. These men include Private C.S. Christ, who is buried in Grave No. 5, and is identified as having been a member of Company G of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. There is no record of a man with that surname, or close to that surname, having served with the 2nd. Likewise with H. McIntire, who is listed with Co. K, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry. Using ACWRS, I checked both the individual records and the regimental records. Additionally thereís no record of a William Tray with Co. D or a William Ruhle of Co G serving with the 77th NY Infantry. Edward Campbell, whoís supposedly buried in Grave 41, was mustered out of Co. G of the 1st Vermont Infantry on May 13, 1865. There is a notation on the National Park site that Campbell was interred in 1936 as a retired Major. And last, thereís the mystery of Private Mark Stoneham of Co. G, 43rd New York Infantry. There are two men by that name who served with the 43rd NY and theyíre probably one in the same. The first, whose surname is spelled Stoneham was discharged due to disability on May 31, 1862, while the second, whose last name is spelled Stonham, is reported to have died of disease on January 4, 1863 and is buried at the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington.

I donít have an expectation that the National Park Service will correct their records based on my findings. Iím also allowing for the possibility that the information I used could be incomplete. But correct or incorrect, Iím led to conclude that it was probably far more comforting for family members to have a place to mourn their loss then to experience the prolonged and everlasting grief of those related to the Unknowns and to those who to this day remain undiscovered.

25th New York Infantry