Skip to main content.


This is the archive for May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass. remained in camp near Gaines Mills, Virginia

There was good news concerning the men from the 44th New York who had been struck by lightning, including the one thought to have died from the strike. A surgeon succeeded "by the use of a battery in restoring him to life again. It is said all will recover."

The pup tent had been introduced to the Regiment and was now to be used in place of heavier tents that had measured six feet square. Three pieces of cotton were divided among an equal number of men and were to be fastened together by matching buttons to holes. "This answers very well in pleasant weather, but we have to huddle pretty close to keep warm on a frosty night, or to keep dry in wet weather."

Those tents were going to be needed as orders were received in the afternoon to pack three days rations and "to be in readiness for any call." That call couldn't come soon enough for one Private. "I am becoming a little discouraged. We were in hopes of taking a hand in [Hanover Court House] to show the rebels what kind of metal we were made of." At this juncture it looked like his and the Regiment's time would come soon enough, after all Richmond was not that far off. In fact if one was willing to climb to the top of a large oak they could catch a glimpse of church spires and the imagined tranquility of the intervening Chickahominy River.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Note: the 18th Massachusetts was encamped "8 miles from Richmond"

On a "cool fine" morning the Regiment went about the business of standing inspection at 9 and then preparing lunch, which for some consisted of peas, dried peaches, and sweet potatoes. All in camp were reported in good health and spirits even as the distant thunder of "heavy firing" was detected in their front.

Another form of cannonading, this one compliments of mother nature, let loose with a sudden torrential downpour around four in the afternoon. The boom of thunder and sizzling crackle of lightning bolts, one after another, filled the ears and lit the sky. One such bolt zeroed in on a tent belonging to the 45th New York, "killing one" and injuring two or three others who were "not expected to live."

The downpour continued well after ten at night and rolled like small rivers through tents. "I never saw so much water fall in so short a time before." The rain, however couldn't mask the distinct smell of sulfur. "Brimstone seemed plenty all the time there being a strong smell of it."

Of note, too, was the letter of resignation and sudden departure of Second Lieutenant William V. Smith due to poor health. There was a certain amount of sympathy among fellow officers as Smith was considered a rather likable sort and very bright to boot. What was lacking was a demonstrated ability to lead men. Even the cooks seemed to know how to order a squad about in drill better than he did.

Smith recovered nicely at home; so nicely that in August, his father again used his political clout and called in markers to secure a Captaincy for him with the 44th Massachusetts Infantry, a nine month regiment that performed service in North Carolina. 1st. Lieut. George M. Barnard could only roll his eyes when he learned of Smith's appointment. "It is a most criminal thing to give him the command of a half dozen men and here he is in command of perhaps a thousand."

Like with so many of Boston's Brahman elite, the war represented a transformative chapter in Smith's life. Gone were the days of a pampered childhood and inherent claim of natural superiority. He'd still later serve as a Captain and Major with the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry from October 1863 until October 1866. If the "great calf," as Barnard had labeled him, had gone into the army as something of a Sunday soldier the grim realities of war certainly hit their mark, as did a minie ball when it smashed into his right elbow at Petersburg in September 1864.

After his discharge Smith resided in the Big Apple where he was added to the city's payroll as a Surveyor. The highlight of that career was his investigation of a head on collision between a passenger and freight train in New Hamburg, NY in February 1871 that claimed 22 lives.

2nd Lt. William V. Smith

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass. leaves Hanover Court House

The preliminary results were in and the news wasn't necessarily good for the Union side as casualties at Hanover Court House on the 27th were reported at "62" killed, "223" wounded, and another "70" missing or taken prisoner. The news for the Confederates was worse. Losses were totaled at "200" killed; another "200" wounded, while "730" were under the watchful eyes of Union guards.

Realizing there was no strategic advantage in remaining at Hanover Court, Fitz-John Porter’s entire Fifth Corps was ordered to return to the Gaines Mills area and resume their position on the right of the line. Although the roads were still in rough condition, the concensus was the march was relatively easy in comparison to others, as the Regiment was able to cover 17 miles in a little over 7 hours in spite of frequent halts to let the teams pass.

Yankee ingenuity created a new use for the shoulder straps picked up as souvenirs on the battlefield. In the absence of knapsacks on which to rest blankets during the return march to Gaines Mills, the straps were fashioned into carriers. Unfortunately, due to its pure bulk, one man had to leave behind the former Secesh owned buffalo robe he had slept on the night before, but the new frying pan he dangled from his belt served as adequate consolation. Meanwhile, others who had also claimed prizes marched along "dressed up in all sorts of secesh toggery."

Note: to find out what Private David C. Meechan of Co. E experienced on this date visit his Facebook page

Monday, May 28, 2012

On this day, set aside to honor those who died while shouldering arms under our Nation's flag, 146 National cemeteries should serve to remind all of the cost which allows the living to go about their daily lives with a relative notion of freedom. That men from common walks of life were willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause most just and greater than sense of self is exemplified by eight words chiseled into stone in Rowan County, North Carolina:

"Neither hunger, thirst, nor bribes affected their loyalty."

Even in the dead of a February winter Salisbury National Cemetery was strikingly beautiful. Headstones had been realigned using a laser so they were uniform in distance and height, a circular bed of mulch ringed trees, and the carefully manicured grass was still thick and plush from re-sodding that had taken place the previous year.

As an early Veteran’s Cemetery, Salisbury was originally devoted to the internment of Union soldiers, most of whom died while being held as prisoners of war in a wooden stockade that was constructed a short distance away. The town of Salisbury asked for neither the prison nor the cemetery but received both due to its location as a railroad terminus and as a place where large numbers of the dead were congregated.

The mental image most people have of Salisbury Prison is fairly benign. That is in large part due to the legacy of a photograph turned lithograph of Union prisoners playing baseball.

While Union prisoners captured early in the war were released on parole from Salisbury after relatively brief stays, the decision by the North later in the war to forgo prisoner exchanges led to predictable overcrowding, food shortages, and horrific conditions that ultimately claimed an extraordinary number of lives and placed Salisburry on nearly equal footing with Andersonville as a death trap for those who entered through its gates in 1864 and 5.

The number of Union prisoners buried at Salisbury, all of whom were interred sans coffins in eighteen 240 foot long trenches, was pure guesswork by the U.S. Government, but originally established at 11,700. Those totals have since been revised downward such that 5,000 is now a more universally accepted number.

Regardless of which of the two numbers is correct, 5,000 or 11,700, what is perhaps most haunting about Salisbury are the very small number of identified dead who lie in marked graves. Without a Dorence Atwater to compile an Andersonville-like "Dead List", most nearly all lie in those trenches, unnamed and unidentified, including two from the 18th Massachusetts, George Bryant of Co. E and Richard Rowe of Co. B.

Of the known, there are but 62.

Note: each grave can be identified by placing the cursor on the picture

Benjamin F. Linke, Co. A, 120th Indiana Infantry, died May 16, 1865, Charlotte, NC Elisha C. Sabin, Co E, 8th Minnesota Infantry, died July 4, 1865 at Charlotte, NC George W. Flint, Co. K, 129th Indiana Infantry, died July 3, 1865 at Salisbury, NC Isaac T. Bird, Co. K, 130th Indiana Infantry, died July 7, 1865 at Charlotte, NC Silas F. Jillson, Co. I, 25th Massachusetts Infantry, died July 12, 1865 at Charlotte, NC Andrew Argo, Co. C, 174th Ohio Infantry, died June 17, 1865 at Charlotte, NC

Adam M. Cherry, Sergeant, Co. K, 180th Ohio Infantry, died June 16, 1865 William A. Henry, Co. A, Co. A, 174th Ohio Infantry, died June 28, 1866 Albert R. Holley, Co. D, 25th Massachusetts Infantry, died June 12, 1865 John T. Cash, Co. I, 180th Ohio Infantry, died May 28, 1866 Sylvester E. Meek, Co. H, 178th Ohio Infantry, died May 17, 1865 James B. Smith, Co. B, 8th U.S. Infantry, died October 19, 1866

Peter Brown, Co. F, 183rd Ohio Infantry, died June 9, 1865 George H. May, Co. H, 26th Kentucky Infantry, died June 4, 1865 __ Corrman, Regiment unknown, died 1862 T.S. Pangle, 5th Tennessee Infantry, died December 1864 John Edwards, Captain, Co. D, 11th Michigan Cavalry, died April 16, 1865 James Connoble, Co. F, U.S. Infantry, died January 1, 1865 William Rea, Sergeant, Co. G, 132nd New York Infantry; died May 10, 1865

Benjamin Taft, 1st Sgt., 15th Massachusetts Infantry, died January 15, 1862 Marcellus Bassett, Co. A, 29th Michigan Infantry Claiborne W. Howard, Co, E, 26th Kentucky Infantry, died March 23, 1865 George Duffy, Co. E, 99th New York Infantry, died May 18, 1865 James M. Jenkins, Co. A, 183rd Ohio Infantry, died June 3, 1865 William Hillea, Co. D, 80th Indiana Infantry, died June 8, 1865

Hugh Fern, Ohio Jackson Morehart, Co. A, 18rd Ohio Infantry, died May 16, 1865 at Salisbury, NC Patrick Goroing, Indiana Monroe Burnett, Co. F, 128th Indiana Infantry, died September 12, 1864 at Salisbury, NC Anthony Reynolds, Co. C, 183rd New York Infantry, died June 22, 1865 Henry C. Koogle, Lieutenant, Co. G, 183rd Ohio Infantry, died June 27, 1865 at Salisbury, NC

Carlton Stevens, Co. E, 23rd Michigan Infantry, died June 22, 1865 Valentine Hart, Co. H, 80th Indiana Infantry, died June 21, 1865 Robert D. Jeffries, Co. B, 50th Ohio Infantry, died June 11, 1865 Edward Dennison, Co. I, 29th Kentucky Infantry, died June 13, 1865 Friederich Fries, Co. E, 183rd Ohio Infantry, died July 11, 1865 H. Smith, United States Infantry

J. Moore, Private, United States Infantry Moses Taylor, Private United States Army, died January 2, 1864 C. Clark, 8th Indiana Cavalry, died January 24, 1865 Benjamin F. Powers, Co. A, 5th Ohio Cavalry, died August 31, 1865 at Morgantown, NC Millers McLaughlin, Sergeant, United States Infantry John A. Shimer, Co. L, 8th Indiana Infantry, died July 6, 1865

James M. Fletter, Co. B, 129th Indiana Infantry; died July 6, 1865 William G. Dodson, Co. E, 9th Ohio Cavalry; died July 19, 1865 James Pepper, Co. A, 2nd Kentucky Infantry; died June 9, 1865 E. Mathias, Co. B, Pennsylvania Cavalry; died June 8, 1865 Edward Sheffield, 1st Sergeant, Co. H, 18th Indiana Cavalry; died July 11, 1865

John Shimer, Co. L, 8th Indiana Cavalry; died July 6, 1865 W. Antrim, Co. G, 8th Indiana Cavalry; died June 17, 1865 Isaiah Chandler, Co. D, 174th Ohio Infantry; died January 30, 1865 Edward Moore, Co. C, 25th Massachusetts Infantry; died June 25, 1865 Miletus Andrews, Co. E, 130th Indiana Infantry; died June 16, 1865 James Griswold, Co. C, 128th Indiana Infantry; died July 5, 1865

Cassius M.C. Traver. Co. G, 28th Michigan Infantry; died August 28, 1865 M.M. Woodward, Corporal, Massachusetts __ Thomas; Indiana ___ Henry; Ohio ___ Clane; 10th Illinois Infantry Alfred Smart, Co. K, 22nd Indiana Infantry; died May 15, 1865

Daniel C. Coffelt, Corporal, Co. F, 123rd Indiana Infantry; died July 11, 1863 John T. Austin, Co. A, 21st Wisconsin Infantry; died January 20, 1864

Note: the 18th Mass. was encamped near Hanover Court House

In the aftermath of the fight at Hanover Court House and amid the stillness of the early morning, Corporal Harrison O. Thomas walked the woods near the 18th’s camp and stumbled across the bodies of “twenty” Confederates. “They were the most of them young looking men, and with two or three exceptions were shot in the head…Some of their officers could not be distinguished, as they were dressed like privates.”

Harrison, at first, had little appetite for gathering up relics strewn on the ground, leaving them to others. He observed brisk trading of blankets, writing paper, envelopes, letters, books, and even Jefferson Davis postage stamps. But then a single cartridge “from a box on one of the dead bodies” became an object of his desire. That cartridge was soon joined in his knapsack by “a little stationary and a Testament.”

Private Josiah Ripley of Co. C likewise had little appetite for burying seventeen Confederate dead, including a Captain, two Corporals, and 14 Privates from the 18th and 33rd North Carolina, but did as he was told. Col. James Barnes, who observed, reported to his superiors the unidentified bodies were "carefully buried," but neither Ripley nor Barnes gave any hint as to whether a last kind word, if there were any, might have been spoken for the fallen or their loved ones waiting further to the south. It is unknown, too, if the pressing lips of a son's aura on a Catawba County mother's forehead was mistaken for a dream.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Note: the 18th arrives too late for the battle of Hanover Court House

Pickets arrived back in camp at 3 a.m. just as the First Division was readying for a sixteen mile march toward Hanover Court House to "destroy the rail road bridges on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Road." Knowing close to half the Regiment had been on duty for close to 24 hours, Brigade Commander Charles H. Martindale thought it best to allow the 18th a couple of hours rest and then have them catch up to the Division with a full strength regiment later in the day.

With the rain having cleared off by 8, men built fires to cook coffee and dry clothes. Regardless of whether those clothes were fully dry or not, companies were called into line at 11 a.m. and issued 28 rounds of ammunition along with hard bread and more pork.

Though hurried along by a fuming and swearing Col. "Jimmy Barnes," the 18th, while wading through sloppy roads choked with mud, was for the most part oblivious to fighting that flared up at the Court House around one in the afternoon between Fitz-John Porter's Fifth Corps and Confederate defenders. The fight, which ended after a stubborn resistance and ultimately a disorganized retreat by the Graybacks, was over by the time the 18th arrived. "In consequence of the delay, we had not the good fortune to arrive in season to share the honors of victory achieved by the division." Still the 18th's march toward Hanover was not uneventful. "We did not get into this fight but we had to disperse several bands of Guerillas all the way along and our march was very hazardous. We did not loose a man, and captured an ambulance and 40 guns."

Though the Regiment would have to wait their opportunity to waltz with the bull elephant they heard first hand accounts that night from other regiments in the First Brigade, including members of the 2nd Maine, 13th New York, and 25th New York, who, with a combined force of 1,300 men, had reportedly driven a North Carolina brigade, two to three times their number, from the battlefield in disorganized retreat.

George Britton McClellan, in summing up the Battle of Hanover Court House, called it a "glorious victory over superior numbers." Estimates of troop strength , however, belied his statement, as the Union reportedly enjoyed an overall three to one numerical advantage. Irregardless of numbers Hanover Court House was further evidence the South could not stand before the Army of the Potomac, that their forces would, in fact, be pushed back further and further until ultimately their last stand would be made in Jefferson Davis' sitting room in the Confederate White House.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass. changes camp by moving another three miles

Three days rations, consisting of sugar, coffee, hard bread, and a slice of raw pork, were handed out just before seven a.m. at which time four of the Regiment's ten companies were siphoned off to relieve the 12th New York Infantry from picket duty. Soon after the other six were stepping along with the First Division towards Gaines Mills, some three miles away by a northeasterly direction.

Company D's picket post was in a prime location. A bed of sweet potatoes discovered buried under a covering of earth made for a fine supper. Unfortunately ripened peas and strawberries had already been stripped from their bushes and vines. At six p.m. pickets were shifted further to the right and fortune again smiled on Company D, in the form of an old shanty constructed of rails and hay, a structure that would provide shelter when a hard rain began to fall at 10 p.m.

Fortune, however, even under the best of circumstances is fleeting. At midnight all the Regiment's pickets were ordered to return to camp. "The companies were formed and we started for camp; raining hard and terrible dark. We made our way thro’ fields of wheat, over brooks, low meadows, &c. "

Friday, May 25, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass. remained encamped at Kidds Mills, Virginia

A new confidence was building in the Regiment as six teams of wagons wheeled into camp this morning. The smoothbore muskets the Regiment had carried since being mustered were finally gone, replaced by 1861 model Springfield rifled muskets and ammunition. "We have for a long time been deserving of these improved and best arms in the infantry service and often felt as though we were neglected when seeing other regiments from New York and Penn." Now, at the least, members of the Regiment could fire retalitory shots at their Secesh counterparts when out on picket.

There were more muskets than men, however. Since Yorktown more than fifty sick and injured men had been sent to hospitals for treatment. "I expect we shall loose a large number of men out of the army by decease as this swampy country is not very conducive to health."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass. remained encamped at Kidds Mills, Virginia

The 18th's camp, located on the banks of the Hardware River, a tributary of the James, was site of saw and grist mills established by Henry Kidd in 1791. Virtually every house in the area and those along the line of march had sought protection by flying white flags. Woe be to those few families who abandoned their property.

"They have a strange idea of Yankees to leave so sudden. If they had staid and put up the flag every thing would have been protected. Now it is all destroyed by stragglers." Soldiers were seen carrying away lace veils, children's dresses, books, and even pictures. "One man had a picture of a child, 3 months old, weight 13 lbs, a little fat chubby fellow. I don't believe in the wanton destruction of property but they have brought it all upon themselves."

Kidds Mill and surrounding environs were also fertile breeding ground for snakes, lizards, wood ticks, and spiders. "I saw [a snake] killed yesterday, almost as big as my arm. He was a wicked looking fellow with yellow spots on his back. Lizards are harmless but than it is not pleasant to have them crawl over your face in the night."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Note to the reader: The “Down with the Traitors” series, which began its run on February 1, 2012, is a summary of the daily experiences of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry during the American Civil War. Material for each post is based on letters and diaries written by members of the Regiment, much of which still lies on the editing room floor.

Note: the Regiment remained at Kidds Mills

A stark and unsettling reality was starting to set its jaw. Prior to the Peninsula Campaign there was comfort in knowing that upon death remains would be sent home to loved ones whenever possible. Now Virginia clay was being excavated to create yawning holes and planks hewn from Virginia trees were being measured for headboards. Brig Harrington, a Corporal in Company K, must have considered that before he was claimed by measles on May 23rd and buried at sundown "between two large pines." In Quincy, Massachusetts, his 19-year-old wife Julia, who had lost her only child the year previous, would come to know all too well the sorrow of separation and distance.

Brig Harrington, like his father and grandfather before him, had cut stone. Stone spoke of permanence. Names written on wood fade with the wash of rain and the sun bearing down on them. Where Brig Harrington now lies in Virginia, like thousands of others, remains known only to his Maker.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Note: the Regiment arrives at Kidds Mills

Allowed to sleep in until six a.m., the march was resumed at eight. Passing "some splendid plantations" the men took note of ripening strawberries, pears, corn, and potatoes. It was almost enough to make their mouths water and take their minds off the pace maintained by the column, which was close to three miles an hour. When a halt was called at noon, arms were stacked and blankets spread on the ground. No one stirred, not even when a thunderous barrage of snores filled the air.

The respite was short lived, however. At 3 in the afternoon the entire Regiment began a six mile trek to stand watch over a railroad line running into Richmond.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Note: the 18th moved ever closer to Richmond

A few days before Company A Private Ray Reynolds had written a letter home confessing that he was loving Army life, particularly the camp part, and had gotten so used to the constant noise he didn’t know if he’d ever settle back into the quietude of his family’s Rhode Island farm. We'll never know whether his enthusiasm nose-dived, or if he was one of the first of the Regiment to fairly leap from their tent, and possibly with a smile on his face, after being roused from sleep by bugles sounding reveille in the middle of a rain storm at half-past three in morning.

The First Brigade stepped off promptly at six and, after advancing a couple of miles, were allowed a long respite. By the time the march resumed the rain had cleared off and the roadside filled with black women, who peddled hoe cakes, and black men, who “fixed canteens with ice water the sum of 10 cts per canteen.” The price for refilling canteens was deemed fair, as by late morning the sun was shimmering hot.

Camp was pitched at one in the afternoon after five tiring miles. That allowed time to prepare for yet another Company inspection, yet another dress parade, yet another cursive tirade by Capt. Joseph Collingwood. He was peeved that his hometown paper, the Old Colony Memorial, had misquoted him by carrying a story that the 18th Mass. had been in the fight at West Point. “When I write I state facts. We were not in the fight. It was all over before we got their. Such a statement places me in a peculiar situation as it touches my veracity.”

Note: to find out what Private David C. Meechan of Co. E experienced on this date visit his Facebook page

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass remained stationary at Tunstall’s Station

The Regiment’s day was fully mapped out: Reveille at 5 a.m.; Rain at 9; Company drill at 10; Cloudy skies at 11:30; Company inspection at 4 p.m., followed by dress parade at 6:30 p.m.

After dark virtually “every little shelter tent” in the First Division was lit up by candles, “so you can imagine how beautiful it must look.” The drums and fifes of the various regiments were “beating the tattoo and some of the bands were playing.” Intermingled with the instruments were groups of men raising their voices in song. Some were laments with their slow refrains that spoke of home and the longing to sit by the hearth surrounded by loved ones. “The more warlike are singing ‘Touch the Elbow.’ “

Capt. Frederick Forest, alone in his tent, was conveying his own thoughts. “I saw [Albert] in the morning…spoke of having a slight cold…at work untill noon…spoke of feeling chilly…went down to the hospital for some medicine…At four o clock the hospital nurse...said Albert was dieing…when I arrived he had departed this life….Albert was a gentleman…sympathise with you…in this your breavement.”

“You wish to know if his remains can be sent on…impossibility…buried in Porter’s Division Grounds…near Wormley’s Creek…place was marked…evacuation of Yorktown…impossible at that time.”

Private Albert Nutting of Company I, who is the subject of Forest's letter written to Albert's father Joshua of Wichendon, MA, was 24 years-of-age when he died of Typhoid Fever at Yorktown, Virginia on April 26, 1862 and was buried with full military honors at sundown. Winchendon with 2,624 residents in 1860, saw 236 of her sons march off to war. 48 of them would not return, dead from battle or disease. I paid my respects at Albert's grave at Yorktown National Cemetery on February 9th of this year.

Pvt. Albert Nutting (1838-1862)

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fire o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Note: the 18th was encamped at Tunstall's Station, an estimated 17 miles from Richmond

The noose was tightening about Rebeldom's neck. While George Brinton McClellan's Army of the Potomac centimetered its way toward Richmond, New Orleans, the largest of all Southern cities and arguably its crown jewel, had fallen to David Faragut on April 25th. Private Ray Reynolds, who hailed from East Greenwich, RI, predicted, "I do not think that the war will last long now." Those words had been spoken before, though. Repeatedly. By both sides. Somehow they always mystically transformed themselves into a crow laid out on a dinner plate.

Live crows were in evidence on land "owned by rich slave owners. Some own thousands of acres." In a land where wealth was measured by acreage and slaves, the aristocrats were taking a hit. Slaves were "leaveing their masters as fast as the army moves." Scare tactics aimed at keeping them down on the plantations weren't working, because those bound as chattel for perpetuity sniffed freedom. That scent quelled fear even after being told that Yankees "lived on human flesh...and had come here to steal [them] and send them to Cuba and sell them to pay the expenses of war."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Note: the Regiment moves to Tunstall’s Station

Per Army regulations no one can be held accountable for their actions or words in the first five minutes after being woken from sleep. If that regulation were in effect in 1862 it probably saved a number of men from charges of insubordination. To wit, standing Regimental inspection at four in the morning was no one’s idea of how to start their day, unless they were the one conducting the inspection.

Not necessarily bright eyed, or bushy tailed, but certainly fueled by caffeine the Regiment bade farewell to Marse Robert’s patch of earth at six a.m. and marched under threatening skies toward their next destination. The overhead bladder began to relieve itself three hours later and continued for the next five miles, or until shortly before a halt was called at Tunstall’s Station, where the Regiment staked tents in a wide open plain. George Brinton McClellan claimed a house situated on a hill as his headquarters. “The view from there was most magnificent, miles and miles of fields of wheat and corn and heavy forests stretching as far as the eye can extend.”

There was big, big news on the organizational front for the 18th Mass. The Fifth Army Corps, which had been under command of Nathaniel Banks and operated in western Virginia was no longer. Under a dramatic reorganization, McClellan protégé Fitz-John Porter, who had commanded the First Division of the Third Corps, now headed up an entire Corps. Not just any Corps, but the new and improved mighty, mighty Fifth Corps. Although tagged with a “Provisional” label until the War Department gave its final tacit approval, the Maltese Cross, symbol of the mighty, mighty Fifth, was birthed and ready to suckle at the teat of war.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Note: the 18th continued in camp at White House Landing

A heavy fog and dew enveloped the landscape at first light, but burned off by mid-morning on what turned out to be a warm and pleasant day. With Company inspection scheduled for 4 p.m. and dress parade penciled in an hour later most had a chance to survey the estate Martha Custis Washington had lived on prior to her marriage to the Father of our Country. “It is a splendid plantation and a good landing place for quite large vessels.”

Sutler S.S. Mann was very much in evidence and ready to deal his wares to those from the Regiment willing to pony up their hard earned pay. By 2011 standards Navy Tobacco and molasses were going for the equivalent of $18.40 a pound and gallon respectively, while butter fetched $11.50 per pound. Ginger and sugar were a relative bargain at $4.60 a pound. English herring could be had for an 1862 nickel, or ninety-two cents by current standards, and pig’s feet at 12 cents each would have set us all back $2.21. Everyone's favorite, pie, though not quite like Mother used to lay out on the windowsill to cool, like ginger and sugar, set each man back an 1862 quarter, or equal to $4.60 in today's supermarket bakery section.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Note: the 18th marches to White House Landing

The day began at four a.m., with a march scheduled to begin at six, but as with previous days there was no movement until hours later. The culprits were the roads which were traffic jammed by wagons and artillery pieces mired to their hubs in the infamous Virginia mud. “No one who is not here can have any idea of the difficulties the Army has to encounter on the march to Richmond.”

The 18th certainly had an idea of the difficulties. In what was called the “worst short march” since leaving Alexandria in March, the Regiment finally halted at White House Landing, after a two mile advance, smack dab in the middle of a large field covered in clover that stood nearly two feet tall. That is before feet trampled “Marse Robert”’s fine, fine clover. And make no mistake this was, in fact, Marse Robert’s clover, and Marse Robert’s plantation, and those 100 slaves standing about shyly gawking were Marse Robert’s; the very same Marse Robert who had forsaken the Union to defend his native Virginia. “Lees house is the only one in sight except a long row of negrow houses on the bank of the river.” It was the second time Robert E. Lee, Sr. had played unwitting host to the Regiment, the first being when they were encamped briefly on his Arlington estate in September 1861.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Note: the 18th leaves Cumberland Landing, VA

There is a truism in the Army: “Hurry up and wait.” That was certainly the case with the 18th Massachusetts on this date when they were assembled with the First Brigade at 7 a.m. ready to route step their way toward White House Landing. Seven hours later, after being drenched by a soaking rain, they finally got underway. To say progress was slow would have been an understatement. After nearly seven hours, and after having progressed only two miles from their previous camp at Cumberland Landing, troops were mercifully ordered to bivouac for night. There was no rest for twenty of the weary, however. Those twenty were sent back to assist with extracting wagons and teams stuck in the mud over the same two mile stretch of road.

Civilian volunteer Oliver C. Gibbs was anxious to leave West Wareham and return to Virginia, where he felt his assistance was most needed. Although granted no civil authority by Governor Andrew, Gibbs was now armed with a letter of endorsement from Andrew dated May 14th requesting cooperation from George Brinton McClellan and General John E. Wool at Fortress Monroe which would enable Gibbs to fulfill his self-anointed mission.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass was encamped at Cumberland Landing, VA

The 18th, as it turned out, was now encamped on “bottom land” reportedly owned by Col. Robert E. Lee, Jr., the son of you know who. Officers, who had slept under the stars the night before, but were none the worse for the experience, finally saw the arrival of their tents in wagons hauling baggage and provisions. The tents were raised in the nick of time when a thunderstorm struck the area about two o’clock in the afternoon. No one was complaining as the air temperature lowered to a more tolerable level.

Although the Regiment was under marching orders there was seemingly no rush to push forward toward Richmond, an estimated 25 miles away. Perhaps George Brinton McClellan was content for the peaches, apples, and blackberries, which were in pre-mature abundance everywhere, to ripen to full maturity. No doubt that fruit, when harvested, would have been able to sustain an army for a period of time. It’s unknown if McClellan or Secretary of State William Seward had their eye on those blackberries, but, at the least, they did have their eyes on Fitz-John Porter’s Division whom they reviewed at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

At Boston, civilian volunteer Oliver C. Gibbs filed a report with Governor John Andrew regarding his experiences and observations at Yorktown. Gibbs was pleased to report that most of the infirmed from the Bay State were quartered in buildings converted for hospital use, but also shared his concern that as the weather heated and troops were exposed to the unhealthy climes of Virginia’s swamps the number of sick were certain to increase. Impressed by the fact that some northern States had contracted for hospital ships to convey and provide for their sick and wounded, Gibbs had caught the ear of the Sanitary Commission, who he hoped, in turn, would recommend to Andrew that Massachusetts follow suit. Singling out his visit to the 18th Mass’s camp, where he had “found plenty to do,” Gibbs urged the Governor to send more civilian volunteers, but cautioned the type needed were those “who will not wait at the Fort and Newport News but that will follow our Mass. Regts in the advance… if need be to relieve the sufferings of those who are in arms to put down this rebellion.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Note: the 18th breaks camp and moves closer to Richmond

All were roused from sleep by bugles sounding at 3 a.m.. After roll call and breakfast Fitz-John Porter's Division was in full motion by 5, but only made a mile or two when a long halt was called in order to allow another division to pass. By the time the marched resumed the sun was at its zenith and burning hot. To lighten loads overcoats and blankets by the hundreds were simply tossed by the side of the road. Water, too, became an overwhelming concern as there was none to be found with which to replenish canteens. Men dropped by the wayside, felled by the heat and canteens that didn't slosh when shaken side to side.

Bad maps and unfamiliarity with the roads didn't help either. The original estimate that Cumberland Landing lay 12 miles from West Point increased significantly, padded as it was by wrong turns and forced countermarches to correct the errors. Reaching Cumberland after dark, rumor swirled two soldiers in Butterfield's brigade had dropped dead in the middle of the road.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Note: the 18th remained in camp at West Point, VA

The day passed off with relative quiet in camp. After Company drills in the forenoon most took advantage of the weather by bathing in the river and scrubbing clothes, thereby vastly improving the air quality in the tents.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Note: the 18th remained in camp at West Point, VA

A fine day weather wise, this Sunday; fine enough for the entire Regiment to undergo a full morning inspection. Shortly after the inspection hurrahs rang out along the line for George Brinton McClellan and staff when they passed in front of the camps before noon.

The hurrahs were not shared by Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson or other Radical Republicans, according to Pvt. Henry B. Paulding of Duxbury. "[They] take [Yorktown] as a defeat instead of a victory, but I think it was a great victory & so does every man in the armey." Paulding also didn't relish the idea of chasing Secesh around the Virginia countryside. "I wish if they are going to show fight they would make a stand some where...It is not very good sport to march [in] this weather with a knapsack on your back."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Note: the Regiment was encamped at West Point, VA

The weather continued warm, warm enough that Private Ray Reynolds of Co. A wrote to his mother not to send him a pair of boots. "The weather is so hot that shoes are the best." Further advise was rendered by Lt. George M. Barnard, Jr. "The Herald (NY) generally has pretty correct accounts and you can rely upon them more than anything else."

George Brinton McClellan's pursuit of the Rebels was becoming slowed. "If the country was only like New England we could move fast enough, but here it is all heavy forest with very narrow roads with big trees felled across and the bridges all torn up to obstruct our advance." Still, as Capt. Joseph Collingwood informed his wife Rebecca, "No obstacle can stop the onward march of the Grand Army of the Potomac."

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Note: the Regiment was encamped at West Point, Virginia

On another dry and pleasant morning four Secesh prisoners were brought into the 18th's camp. "They were rather rough looking" and as they passed they were greeted with shouts of "torpedoes, Yorktown, &c." Fighting men weren't the only thing to fall into Union hands. "Thousands of bushels of corn" raised their handles in surrender as well.

Non-combatants, in the form of runaway slaves, continued to enter Union lines in "two and threes and by the dozen. We don't meddle with them, only to keep them within the lines after they once get in."

The 18th was fairly in the dark surrounding events of the past few days. " We have to read the New York or Philadelphia papers to get the news ourselves." One thing they did know for certain was that in late morning they were ordered to pack up, including the striking of tents. Just before they got underway, those expecting a severe march threw away their overcoats and extra clothing. They could have saved themselves the trouble and the government the expense of replacing the items as camp was moved only a mile and a half further to the front.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Note: Yorktown disappears into the fleck and foam of the James River

Steamers carrying Fitz-John Porter's Division finally got underway in the morning and traveled 25 to 30 miles upriver dropping troops off at different assigned points, including West Point and White House Landing. The 18th disembarked on the bank of the river opposite to West Point where the day before a brief firefight had erupted between elements of Edwin V. Sumner's advanced Division and backpedaling Confederates. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated as to the cause of death for a number of the Union dead.

For Lieutenant George M. Barnard, Jr. there was no doubt as to their fates. "I am within talking distance of 26 dead soldiers laid out in a barn who were killed yesterday. It was bad enough to see the poor fellows so mangled in the course of fighting but when I saw in addition to the wounds that caused their death, the stabs they received after lying wounded and dead, it was enough to make a Saint mad. Our army is furious."

Volunteers from the 18th were called for to assist in burying the dead and bringing wounded from the battlefield. Private Thomas Mann of Company I recalled, "There was but very few volunteered. I went over and helped them. It was trying to ones nerves to do it..."

Monday, May 07, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass gets ready to leave Yorktown

At 10 a.m. the Regiment was ordered into line and waited until 2 p.m. when they marched a short distance to a wharf and began boarding the steamer John A. Warner. When three companies were safely aboard the ship suddenly broke loose from the skids causing considerable delay and it wasn't until after dark that the entire Regiment, and a part of the 25th New York, were aboard. During the down time at the wharf all had a good view of steamers loaded down with "immense quantities of army stores," the water battery and the deserted works at Gloucester Point across the river from Yorktown.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The rain let up very early in the morning and skies broke clear and pleasant. Everyone from the Regiment was scurrying around the abandoned Rebel fortifications gathering up relics, being careful to avoid booby traps in the form of torpedoes and "infernal machines" that had been planted as calling cards around the forts.

About 11 a.m. the 18th was ordered back to Camp Winfield Scott to repitch tents. Prior to leaving a number of men from the Regiment took the opportunity to gather up Secesh canvas and when the 18th established camp again tents marked "Ga., Va., &c," dotted the landscape. Confiscated stoves, chairs, and tables also made their appearance, but most prized were barrels of quality flour and lard. "The boys are having a fine supper of flippers."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

"The Southern Chivalry, they could not stand the Northern Shovelry."

Rain began to fall at an early hour and continued throughout the day. While a large combined force of artillery, cavalry, and infantry were off in pursuit of the fleeing Rebels, Fitz-John Porter's Division stayed put. But something was cooking besides coffee, as the 18th was ordered to add an additional day's rations to their haversacks, which already held three. Near dark the Regiment was finally ordered to "fall in" with their blanket rolls and the First Bridgade, led by Brig. Gen. Charles H. Martindale, began their march over a bridge and right up to those very same fortifications Secesh had deserted less than 48 hours earlier. The 18th to a man could finally taste this victory under McClellan, provided they stuck out their tongues and let rain drops splash on it. No tents. No shelter. The rain was seemingly endless. No matter. The taste of victory was sweet. Like honey from a hive. Let it pour.

Friday, May 04, 2012


Skedadeled! Vamoosed!

While pickets from the 62nd Pennsylvania had watched Secesh pack up their bags the night before and slip out the back, Jack, the news didn't break in the 18th's camp until the sun rose. Elation, exaltation, relief, and disbelief all rolled themselves into one raw emotion. Bands struck up national airs and great cheers rolled through one camp after another. Still something rang hollow about this relatively bloodless vanquishing of the foe. "When are the cowards going to make a stand?"

Rumors flew. Pack up and get ready to chase them. Don't pack up and don't chase them. In the end tents that had been taken down were raised once again. Regardless, first hand accounts of abandoned and spiked guns, 57 in front of Porter's Divison alone, of "huge looking knives, swords, spears, daggers, pikes, &c., with bedding, flags, drums," and a river full of whiskey decanters by those who had been inside Secesh fortifications rolled into camp. There was only one conclusion to be drawn from Secesh's sudden and hasty departure: "They dread the Army of the Potomac. "

Thursday, May 03, 2012

A large detail left camp at 5 a.m. to work on what else but the entrenchments. Secesh shells flew at a more leisurely pace, an estimated eight per hour. One large shell, though caused considerable excitement as it struck the ground directly in front of the trench the 18th was working on "bounced and went through the top of the breast work right over our heads and struck the ground about 200 yards in our rear and exploded. It looked like a great fat ball flying over our heads." Other shells skipped, some exploded and merely threw up sand, but one thing was certain "It was a constant bang!! whang!! buzz!! buzz!!"

There was little doubt that while civilians had grown impatient with the length of the siege and George Brinton McClellan's seeming hesitancy to bring on the ball, the Army of the Potomac stood firmly behind the General Commanding. The end was near and, according to Capt. Joseph Collingwood, it had all been made possible by "the science and good Generalship of McClellan and good judgement of Lincoln...[The fall of Yorktown] I think will be brought about without a great sacrifice of life. Perhaps that wont suit the people at the North, those who have no friend and relations in the Army. Some are not satisfied unless blood flows freely. We are ready to settle it any way but think McClellan's plan the best. He is slowly crushing them here in Virginia."

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Note: things heat up at the siege of Yorktown, maybe.

On a warm and pleasant day more than 500 shot and shell were fired by Secesh cannon toward Union positions, claiming two lives. One projectile hurled by an Armstrong gun landed more than a mile beyond the 18th's camp, apparently trying to knock out river batteries, but became useless when it reportedly burst. Union gunners, in turn, kept up a more leisurely pace by lobbing a 200 pound shell every five minutes or so.

In the absence of an all out bombardment on Secesh fortifications life went on. Battalion drill in the 18th's camp was held in the afternoon, though rumors spread like wild fire that a Secesh deserter taken into Union lines had reported the evacuation of Yorktown was in progress. Hurrah boys! Hurrah! "I begin to think that Secesh is being played out and will come to an end very sudden. I think it will." Three cheers for George Brinton McClellan and his shovels!

Those shovels continued to bite into earth and in the process discovered the remains of two soldiers from George Washington's Revolutionary army. "The buttons of their coats were in good condition, also the coffins and part of their buff vests." The solemnity of that discovery was short lived and as was proven with regularity the war held little regard for historical significance. "There is a house just outside of our trenches in which the articles of surrender of Cornwalis were signed. One room was torn to pieces by a shell yesterday."

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Recommended reading: As it's May 1st readers should be reminded the information contained in the “Down With The Traitors” series regarding the Siege of Yorktown is drawn exclusively from letters and diaries written by members of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry and, in effect, represents a singular view of what occurred during the four week siege. For a more comprehensive overview of those events and the rest of the impending Peninsula Campaign, Donald recommends Stephen Sears’ To the Gates of Richmond, which can easily be obtained through his favorite online source for ordering books, the American Book Exchange, better known as AbeBooks

Note: the envelopment of Yorktown continued

Oliver C. Gibbs, the civilian volunteer from West Wareham, MA left the 18th's camp in the morning to move on for a visit with another Massachusetts regiment. "I think he will have quite an idea of soldier life, as he ate and slept with the privates a part of the time. I hope he is not so disgusted with this life as not to come again soon.."

The 18th suffered their first casualty in the three week old siege, a mule, who was taken out by a Secesh shell. Whether that shell had the mule's name etched on it we'll never know, but Capt. Joseph Collingwood wrote his wife Rebecca to reassure their five-year-old son Herby that "it was not his mule."

A Secesh deserter found in a boat on the James River was taken into custody. The story he told was that his family, who lived close by and consisted of a wife, five children, and an elderly father, were in desperate circumstances. Given one of two options, voluntary or forcible enlistment in the Confederate service, he choose the former. It was the smarter choice by his own calculations as he was given a $50 bounty and one month's pay in advance. As if to prove to him that Yankees had a heart, a barrel of flour and other provisions were ordered sent to the family.