Sometimes coincidences work in combination like tumblers on a padlock and really do leave one wondering about the possibility of a shadowy paranormal universe existing on the fringes of time, space, and dimension. But shelving the Rod Serlingesque script for a moment, ten days before the Veteran's Day ceremony in Dighton, Massachusetts honoring Frederick Anderson, I stumbled across this snippet from a 1996 edition of Forbes Magazine posted on the Web:
"[The flag of the 27th South Carolina Infantry which was captured] by Union Private Frederick C. Anderson (who won a Medal of Honor) for this action) was auctioned off at Lancaster, Pa. for $73,700. The buyer, Pamplin Park Civil War Site, is currently displaying the flag at its museum in Petersburg."
Approximately a week before seeing the reference to the flag my friend Lynn had emailed pictures of the actual Medal of Honor awarded to Anderson, which had passed through generations of Anderson descendants and now rests in the possession of his niece Cecilia. If you've read Parts One through Three of the Anderson saga there's no need to write anything more about the misty shadow of tumblers.
On the drive to Petersburg I passed Ft. A.P. Hill and then later, close by the entrance to Pamplin Park Historical Park
, historical marker S49, which read: "In the field a short distance north of this road, the Confederate General A.P. Hill was killed, April 2, 1865...." Two and a half years earlier than the date recorded on the sign, Frederick Anderson and the 18th Massachusetts Infantry had squared off against Little Powell's Division at Shepherdstown
, after which Powell wrote of the Potomac running red with the blood of Union soldiers.
If you can apply significance to and know the history of an artifact on display in a museum it takes on a completely different quality. The artifact becomes more than a curiosity, more than an inanimate object from the distant past. It takes on form, substance, and becomes a living, breathing testimonial. I was transfixed by the flag, studying every small hole, every tear in its fabric, seemingly every thread in the four foot square cloth; its red triangles, its blue cross, and its now browned borders and stars. I ran a movie in my head of a field hard by a railroad track on a late August afternoon in 1864 shrouded in a fog of smoke from discharged muskets, of men shouting, screaming, running, advancing, retreating, falling, standing still, and of one man in blue closing distance on another in gray, the latter at the head of his decimated South Carolina regiment lifting his staff skyward, waving it from side to side, trying to rally those not yet fallen, trying to rally those who had, until hands that had tilled soil in Raynham, Massachusetts tore the wooden pole from his grasp and leveled a gun barrel at his chest.
Mine has been a full circle journey in a universe of time, space, and dimension; a full circle journey that accompanies me on a short drive to a field hard by a railroad track; a full circle journey that has led me to a medal for gallantry and ultimately to a grave of one that I've never known, yet, at the same time, have known all my life.
Photo courtesy of Cecilia Miles
For a town founded in 1672 and with a current population a shade over 7,000 residents, Dighton, Massachusetts has an incredible number of cemeteries, 54 to be exact. Compare that to New York City, which has an estimated 33, and you’ll understand why trying to figure out where Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Frederick C. Anderson was interred was such a daunting task. According to one town official that task was the proverbial “needle in a haystack.”
How and why Anderson came to buried in Dighton, which had a historically long run as a nautical import-export hub before its evolution into a Boston and Providence bedroom community, is pure guess work, but the most probable explanation as to why his remains lie in a Unitarian cemetery is, according to a church member who doubles as the cemetery's caregiver, Anderson's membership in the Dighton Community Church. There’s speculation, too, that an illegitimate daughter, who preceded Anderson in death, lies two headstones away from his.
Gathering at the Dighton Town Hall on Veteran’s Day, a small group, including a videographer from the Boston Globe, heard Charlie Mogayzel relate first hand his efforts to find Anderson’s grave, while Dighton officials, in turn, spoke of the honor descended upon their town for having a bonafide, albeit deceased and heretofore undiscovered, hero in their midst.
Anderson’s grave is marked by a standard issue government headstone supplied by Sheldon & Sons of West Rutland, Vermont some six years after his death. There was a report of efforts to have his headstone upgraded by the Veteran’s Administration so that Anderson’s status as a Medal of Honor recipient would be displayed. The V.A., being the good bureaucratic agency that it is, responded that as Anderson already had a grave marker they could not justify issuing another. There is a real possibility, however, that funding from the town and private donations may result in an appropriate tribute.
I’ll skip the part where I was called upon to talk about the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, simply because I can’t remember much, if anything, of what I said, although I have some dim recollection of saying we, meaning Tom Churchill, Steve McManus, and myself, had been chasing “Our Dead Guys” for a long time and instead fast forward to the ceremony that took place at the cemetery.
Filming in a cemetery in which burials date from one year prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Boston Globe Videographer Darren Durlach captured the essence of the tribute to one ordinary citizen soldier who went above and beyond, as did legions of comrades in blue, white and black, to ensure we remained as an nation, though flawed, indivisible.
To watch Darren's video click here
Posted by Donald at 05:00 AM. Filed under: Chasing the Dead
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Note: if you haven't read the post yet, please see "Finding Private Anderson" which appeared on Thursday, October 27th and which provides background to today's post.
Here are some exciting developments that have come to light in the past two days in connection with Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Frederick C. Anderson's capture of the 27th South Carolina's battle flag at the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad.
We've learned the Medal of Honor still survives and is in the possession of Anderson's great-granddaughter Cecilia. We've also learned that the captured flag was auctioned in 1996 for a winning bid of $72,000 and is currently on display in a museum south of the Washington, DC area. A visit is planned in three weeks.
For those of you who may happen to be in the Dighton, Massachusetts area on Veterans Day, there will a late morning graveside ceremony at the Dighton Community Church Cemetery to honor Frederick Anderson. It just so happens that I had already planned to be in the area on Veterans Day before this story broke. I'd say that's a pretty darned amazing coincidence.
Over time those who knew died off, records became buried under blankets of archival dust, and ultimately the location of Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Frederick Charles Anderson's grave was lost to generations of the once were and the now living.
Anderson, a Private in Company H of the 18th Massachusetts, had been awarded the medal during a ceremony held on September 6, 1864 for his capture of the flag bearer and regimental colors of the 27th South Carolina Infantry on August 21st of that year during the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad. Many who had searched for the grave, myself included, had been thrown off track by an unfounded rumor that he was buried at the non-existent "Anderson Family Cemetery" in Somerset, Massachusetts.
There were numerous references on the Web to Anderson being awarded the Medal of Honor, most which included this brief citation:
"Rank and organization: Private, Company A, 18th Massachusetts Infantry. Place and date: At Weldon Railroad, Va., 21 August 1864. Entered service at:------Birth: Boston, Mass. Date of issue: 6 September 1864. Citation: Capture of battle flag of 27th South Carolina (C.S.A.) and the color bearer."
Largely forgotten, Anderson's life, which ended in its fortieth year when he dropped dead in a Providence, Rhode Island railroad freight yard, was seemingly resurrected through a two-part series written by reporter John Quattrucci, which appeared in the Raynham Call on July 20, 2009
and July 28, 2009
Unbeknownst to Quattrucci the story would inspire Call reader and Korean War veteran Charles Mogayzel to begin what ultimately became a two-year quest to locate Frederick's grave. That quest would lead through unsuccessful searches of numerous burial grounds in Somerset until, playing a hunch, Mogayzel obtained a copy of Frederick's death certificate.
Four miles separated Anderson from the center of his adopted home town of Somerset and his final resting place. Little did anyone think to look in the neighboring town of Dighton where Anderson had absolutely no connections. On October 20, 2011 the Taunton Daily Gazette
featured a story of a group of four men, including Charles Mogayzel, who came to pay their respects to a man who stood 5 feet three inches tall in life, but whose courage on August 21, 1864 belied his physical stature, at the Dighton Community Church Cemetery.
Note to readers
To read about the ceremony in which Anderson was one of three soldiers honored with the Medal of Honor on September 6, 1864 click on Read more.
To view a memorial for Frederick Anderson placed on the Find A Grave Web site click on
When last reported on June 24, 2010 the headstone marking the graves of 18th Massachusetts Infantry veterans Albert L. Jordan and George W. Thompson had been toppled by vandals. Although it's been 16 months, rather than simply leaving readers wondering what the outcome was, I'm pleased to announce that the headstone, with assistance from Stobbart's Nurseries of Franklin, MA, was once again placed in an upright position on its base. The accompanying pictures were taken on Memorial Day 2011 when I visited the graves for the first time since the restoration occurred. That occasion was marked with a singular ceremony in which two Civil War grave markers and flags were placed on both sides of the headstone.
Posted by Donald at 07:05 AM. Filed under: Chasing the Dead
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Arlington National Cemetery has been in the news lately for a number of reported transgressions, including misidentifying bodies and grave sites, dumping ashes of the cremated in a dirt pile, and using discarded gravestones to prevent soil erosion along a stream’s banks. Now a northern Virginia funeral home with a National Cemetery contract has been fined $50,000 for, among other violations, inappropriately storing the bodies of those waiting burial in a garage.
That this should be happening at any cemetery, least of all Arlington, violates one of the bedrock rules few in life will tolerate. To avoid bringing somebody’s blood to a boil: don’t play around with somebody’s heart; don’t insult somebody’s mother; don’t screw around with somebody’s money; don’t kick somebody’s dog; and, certainly least of all, don’t screw around with the dead, particularly if they have living relatives.
April 9th to 11th was what could be labeled a combination weekend at Gettysburg. Friday the 9th was, in part, spent cleaning up around the 18th's monument on Sickles Ave, while the better part of the next two days were taken up by attending the recently completed Gettysburg Seminar sponsored by the National Park Service at the Gettysburg Hotel. There will be more reported on the bi-annual seminar during the week, but first there's something I want to share, something that's seemingly out of this world.
148-year-old news of life in camp at Halls Hill, in Arlington, Virginia arrives at Donald's doorstep via a clandestine operative.
Posted by Donald at 04:00 AM. Filed under: Chasing the Dead
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As indicated in Part One, which ran yesterday, a footnote in a book by historian Allan Nevin set Donald on the path toward solving a 146-year-old mystery regarding the fate of a family member who died at Andersonville. Today's post picks up where Part One left off, with William Forster and a small band of Union soldiers being tracked as hunted men.
Posted by Donald at 04:00 AM. Filed under: Chasing the Dead
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A paragraph and a footnote in a book he's currently reading helps Donald to finally solve a 146-year-old mystery regarding the fate of a family member who died at Andersonville.
Posted by Donald at 04:00 AM. Filed under: Chasing the Dead
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Note: Okay, some would call this cheating, but I decided to rerun a post that first ran three years ago, on November 13, 2006. If you read it you'll see that it's wholly appropriate for today, being that it's Friday the 13th, when superstitions run high and we all make a concerted effort to avoid cracks in sidewalk, refrain from walking under ladders, steer clear of black cats lying in wait, and throw salt over our right shoulders if we knock over the shaker.
Here's a promise though. Me and the "dead guys" will be back with a brand new post on Sunday, the day when our thoughts run deepest and usually get blown out of the water by depth charges.
Note: the wading of the Potomac River from Maryland to Shepherdstown, West Virginia is an annual event sponsored by the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association.
A single calendar page shy of the 20th, and though 147 years had intervened, this day in September 2009 bore similarities to that one in 1862. The day of the week was the same, the blue of the skies matched, the clouds spaced in the same intermittent patterns, and the numbers on the thermometers were almost unchanged.
A day shy of September 20th, I stood with a group of twenty-two people eying the Maryland shoreline, the greenish tint of the Potomac, and the not so distant West Virginia side of the river, with its 60 foot cliffs looming in the background, listening to the instructions of our tour leader Tom McGrath, much in the same way that my third great-grandfather, then a Corporal in Co. I of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, would have listened to instructions from his commanding officer 1st Lt. Horatio Dallas, the same Dallas who would be promoted to lead Co. H when Joseph Collingwood fell at Fredericksburg eleven weeks later.
I wondered how close my feet were to the actual footprints left in the Maryland mud by George Washington Thompson, a native of Oxford County, Maine who had also left his straw working tools on a Massachusetts factory bench, his wife and his five children, to fight for the preservation of the Union, his brother Leander and nephew James B. Snow beside him in the ranks. There was a familial precedent in leaving a wife, children, and work to engage in war. George's grandfather had toted a musket against the British and his great-grandfather before him against Philip's revengful Wampanoags.
The time of day was different though. The 18th Massachusetts and the rest of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the Fifth Corps had begun removing their shoes and socks sometime between seven and nine a.m. When the socks came off and when their feet first stepped into the river depends on whose account you read. I wasn't looking at a watch either, but estimated it was close to four in the afternoon when I exchanged Timberland boots for a pair of hip high dark green waders.
Accounts of the river crossing say the water was mid-shin to waist deep in spots and there was a sporting and light-hearted attitude among the men as they slogged their way across. Stepping into the water and moving only a few feet from shore, I was surprised by its clarity, as rocks of varying sizes and gently waving grass were clearly visible on the bottom. The slipperiness of those rocks was equally surprising. It was little wonder then that men from the 1st Brigade lost their footing and took a sudden bath, their ears subjected to their comrades' laughter when they righted themselves again. Most surprising was the current, which grew in strength, pushing hard like invisible hands against the legs as I neared the middle of the river.
Over 1700 men from the 1st Brigade made the crossing that morning. It's unknown how long it took them. Our little group completed it's own hundred and fifty yard crossing, with me trailing in the rear in order to keep an eye on one straggler, in about twenty minutes. Like that of the 1st Brigade, ours was not uneventful either, as one of our group took an unexpected bath. None in the group laughed, particularly not me. It was a warning to hold onto my camera that much tighter and to hope like hell it was waterproof if worse came to worse. I wondered, too, if Corporal Thompson would have barked at me for taking so long to arrive in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I wondered, too, if not for bare feet how many 1st Brigade brogans would have been sucked up by the mud that greeted our group as we emerged from the water. That mud nearly wrestled the right wader from my leg when I planted my first step on seemingly dry land.
The wading of the Potomac River was in many respects singularly the most personal experience I've ever had in regard in visiting a Civil War site. The rush of the current, water lapping over the top of the waders, the very real possibility of stepping on a rock or rocks that George Washington Thompson himself might have stepped on, in combination, made it very real and very personal. What waited for us next was the same exact steep and winding path the 18th Mass. followed to the top of the bluffs overlooking the Potomac. On this, my third trip onto privately held land which comprises the Shepherdstown battlefield I stood, for the very first time where the Regiment stood in battle line, listening to Tom McGrath quote from letters written by Captain Joseph Collingwood, Corporal Thomas Mann, and Sergeant Solomon Beals, with a lump in my throat and a sense of real pride, not only in George Washington Thompson, but in those shoemakers, farmers, seamen, clerks, carpenters, iron moulders, straw workers, organ makers, and mechanics who comprised the 18th Massachusetts and stood their ground for an hour against the best A.P. Hill had to throw against them.
Note: the next post will take a look at the only treatment devoted exclusively to the September 20th, 1862 battle of Shepherdstown, Tom McGrath's aptly titled "Shepherdstown: The Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign."
I suppose a lot of people would think it strange or unusual at best to use vacation time to grab a flight to Boston, rent a car, and pay for three nights of hotel rooms just to get a peek at a book from a defunct G.A.R. Post in Middleboro, Massachusetts. And let's not even talk about their reaction to someone walking through cemeteries searching for elusive graves instead of lying on a beach. Some people chase the sun. I chase dead people.
We first learned of the existence of the E.W. Peirce Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 8 book about two years ago. We didn’t know exactly what the book, kept in a safe at the Middleboro Town Clerk’s Office, contained, but, having seen excerpts from a similar book, we had a pretty good idea the book contained written memoirs of the wartime experiences for Post members. We had a pretty good idea, too, that some entries would be lengthy, others very brief, so the entire venture was undertaken with the realistic expectation there wouldn’t be a gold mine of information waiting, but more likely something akin to a thin vein of material.
We’ve paid others to help out with research on the 18th Mass. a few times, including twice when college students grabbed materials from their campus libraries. Those ‘finds’ yielded relatively small amounts of information, but shelling out $60 to $120 was more practical than paying travel expenses to, say, Hanover, New Hampshire. We had a similar hope with the Middleboro G.A.R. book, that we could find a local willing to help out, but, in spite of very generous financial inducements, we couldn’t entice anyone to visit the Middleboro Town Hall. Bull. Hands. Horns. You get the picture and understand the edict. Most times if you want something done you have to do it yourself and take the resulting credit card bills in stride.
Massachusetts had 210 Grand Army of the Republic Posts; Rhode Island 27; Vermont 116; New Hampshire 94; Maine 167; Connecticut 87; Virginia 28; South Carolina 6; Mississippi 3; Florida 21; North Carolina 17; Georgia 13; New York 670; and Illinois, where the G.A.R. was founded 779. Each individual Post kept a “Personal War Sketches” book supplied by the National Commandery. From what I’ve been able to ascertain very few survive. The question is what happened to them? Were they simply thrown out with the trash, or are they are in private hands? The George H. Maintien Post No. 133 in Plainville, MA provides a good example of what fate can have in store. Their records were inherited by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, but then simply disappeared about 15 to 20 years ago. I remember, too, scouring around for papers written and presented by members of the O.W. Lull GAR Post No. 11 in Milford, New Hampshire and finding a cold trail, as neither the local library or historical society had anything in their files.
I spent about seven hours over a two day period at the Middleboro Town Hall in a room that lacked air conditioning, on what turned out to be the hottest days of the summer, transcribing page after page of biographies. I didn't complain though. How do you complain when you're looking at something from a hundred years ago that very few people have had the opportunity to view with their own eyes? It was pretty exciting stuff to me, though Gail and Liz, who manned the Clerk's office, seemed less enthusiastic about my periodic pronouncements over the latest find.
Let me share this observation, based on years of having lived in New England, about the attitude of most people in that region toward the Civil War. It ended a long time ago.
So what secrets did the book hold? Not too many unfortunately, although there were enough of them to have made the trip worthwhile. But the 318 pages of bios, most written for vets from other regiments, went pretty much according to expectations. There were long entries and short entries. Those at the beginning of the book seemed to have the longest, while those at the end the shortest. Typical of the contrast are these two entries:
Comrade Albert Shaw, who was born the Thirty-first day of May, 1841 in West Bridgewater, County of Plymouth, State of Massachusetts, enlisted from Middleboro and was mustered into the U.S. Service in Co. D, 18th Mass. Vol. Inft., August 24, 1861 to serve three years; participated in engagements as follows: at Yorktown, Va. April 5th to May 4th, 1862; Williamsburg, Va., May 5th; Fair Oaks, Va., May 31st; Seven Days battle, Va., June 25th to July 1st; Second Bull Run, Aug. 30th; Antietam, MD, Sept. 17th; Shepherdstown, Va. Sept. 20th; Fredericksburg, Va., Dec. 13th; Richards Ford, Va., Dec. 30th, 1862; Chancellorsville, Va. May 1st to 4th - 63; Rappahannock Station, Va. Nov. 7th 1863; Mine Run Nov. 26th to 30th, 1863; Wilderness, Va. May 5th to 7th, 1864; Laurel Hill, Va. May 8th; Spottsylvania, Va. May 10th to 18th; North Anna, Va. May 23rd to May 27th; Shady Grove Road, Va. May 30th; Cold Harbor, Va. June 1st to 12th; and Petersburg, Va., June 20th to July 20th, 1864. Was never wounded or sick in hospital during his service and on Sept. 2nd, 1864 was discharged by reason of expiration of term of service.
His father's name was Darius Shaw, his mother's Emeline Billings.
He was a charter member of Post 8, now resides in Wareham, Mass.
Died Jan. 16, 1909.
Joined E.W. Peirce Post No. 8 as a Charter Member on March 16, 1867. No offices are listed.
Comrade Charles C. Mellen, who was born Thirteenth day of December 1824 in Quincy, County of Norfolk, State of Massachusetts, enlisted at Readville, Mass. May 7th, 1861 as private in Co. D, 18th Mass. Infantry and was discharged at Emery Hospital, Washington, April 18, 1864 by reason of disability. Was present at Siege of Yorktown. He mentions as the most important event in his service the retreat of the Seven Days fight.
Died April 9, 1896 [sic]
Joined the E.W. Peirce G.A.R. Post No. 8 on March 26, 1881, but held no offices.
So what did we learn about Shaw? That his father's name was Darius and not Dennis as we had on file and we were also able to confirm additional battles he was engaged in, as well as the date he joined the E.W. Peirce Post. Regarding Mellen,, the book lists an incorrect date of death. We know the date of death is incorrect, because its been confirmed through his pension record at the National Archives.
One of the real surprises and one that we probably wouldn't have found from any other source was this citation for William S. McFarlin, former Captain of Company C. I think this qualifies as a definite 'wow.'
"After his discharge [October 19, 1862 due to disability] he was assigned to a storeroom in Washington where hospital parcels were handled and later was in charge of the corral where wagons, horses, & mules were cared for. The funeral of President Lincoln was due on the 19th. He planned to attend it when he learned a pass was necessary & only 500 were assigned. Boston Corbett had received one and being busy he gave it to the Capt..."
Boston Corbett, for those who need their memories jogged, was the man who allegedly fired the shot that mortally wounded John Wilkes Booth a week later at Garrett's Farm. It'd be interesting to learn if McFarlin and Corbett actually knew one another, or if Corbett simply gave his ticket away to first person looking for one. A small thing for sure, but one of those little tidbits of history that keeps you coming back for more. Just like a not so little black book kept in a Town Hall safe that someone will probably pour through a hundred years from now and say "wow!"
Of the more than 320,000 Union soldiers who died during the Civil War only an estimated 20,000 were embalmed and had their remains sent back home to their loved ones. The rest were buried close to where they died, either on the battlefield, or in cemeteries located in proximity to hospitals. The cost of embalming and transporting a body back home was borne exclusively by the family, or through the occasional generosity of comrades, but the sad reality then was that it was, practically speaking, a financial burden most could not bear.
In researching the 18th Massachusetts, we've found a few examples of family members or friends traveling to battlefields or hospitals to bring bodies home, or comrades accompanying the bodies home on trains. Most of these retrievals, however, occurred early in the war, when casualties, or deaths from disease, were still relatively low in comparison as to what would come later. Martin Scorsese's vision of rows of wooden caskets running the length of a New York City dock in "Gangs of New York" spoke more of Viet Nam then it ever did of the Civil War.
The question of whether family members were ever able to visit cemeteries so distant from their homes, such as Arlington, the Military Asylum in D.C., Andersonville, or countless others, has always nipped at my heels whenever I've walked among the rows of graves at those hallowed places. I don't have the answer and I suppose that nobody else does. I'd like to believe that widows and children and parents and siblings laid flowers on those graves, but the sad reality was that in all probability, and practically speaking, it was a financial burden most could not bear.
There are two men, among others from the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, who lie buried at the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington, Cyrus Hall and Peleg Benson. Hall died of Typhoid Fever at Carver Hospital in Washington on October 19, 1862 and was buried in Section G, Grave No. 5372, leaving a widow Armenia and five children, Armenia, Albert, Cyrus, Rufus, and Edward, who ranged in age from 10 months to 12 years. Benson, who was 28 when he died of disease at Washington on Nov. 17, 1862 and was buried in Section F, Grave No. 1490, was survived by his parents Asa and Sally.
Both men have this in common: they were Shoemakers from Middleboro, Massachusetts and they have monuments at the Rock Cemetery located in that town. They were loved by their families, who each had a stone cutter carve a name into granite, giving each family a place to mourn and a place to leave their flowers.
Cyrus Hall's grave - Military Asylum Cemetery
Cyrus Hall's grave - Rock Cemetery, Middleboro, MA
Peleg Benson's grave - Military Asylum Cemetery
Peleg Benson's grave - Rock Cemetery, Middleboro, MA
Corey Gardner came through with the information on William "Billy" G. Gardner, who, as a Private in Company A of the 14th Georgia Infantry, claimed to have shot and captured Rutherford B. Hayes either at Chancellorsville or the Wilderness. The claim first surfaced when Hayes was running for President in 1876, and, while dismissed as poppycock by the Northern press, rallied the State of Georgia to Gardner's defense.
This 1876 story, from an unidentified and undated Charleston, SC newspaper clipping, was responsible, in part, for fueling Gardner family lore.
"A Charleston paper says that Mr. W.G. Gardner, a gentleman and an old Confederate soldier (Gardner was about 45 at the time), living at Gogginsville, in Forsyth county, says he shot and captured Gen. R.B. Hayes at the battle of the Wilderness or Chancellorsville. Mr. Gardner was a member of Company A, 14th Georgia Regiment. Capt. Robert Merritt, commanding the company, confirms the statement.
"Is the identity of the Republican nominee in dispute?"
W.P. Wright, a doctor in Gogginsville, submitted an affidavit in support of Billy Gardner's pension claim. Again, the document is undated.
"Mr. W.G. Gardner the faithful old soldier and very worthy applicant did on the 6th days of April 1863 capture his highness expresident Hayes then a General in the U.S.A. and one orderly by himself having to shoot off his magistys forefinger before he would surrender, bring him into camp and turning him over to the provo guard. Said capture was made to the left of the old plank road near Chancellorsville in the Wilderness in old Va. He is also burdened with an afflicted wife and has been for twenty years and prays that you may accept this application for a small pension."
What is immediately wrong with this story is that Rutherford B. Hayes did not hold the rank of General in April 1863 and wasn't anywhere close to Chancellorsville in either April or May 1863. According to his diaries from 1861 to 1865, which are accessible on Google Books, Hayes was at Fort White near Charles Town, West Virginia. At the time of the Wilderness fight, Hayes was with Crook's command crisscrossing the border between North Carolina and Virginia
In Part One of this story, which appeared on August 3rd, the possibility that Billy Gardner may have shot Col. Joseph Hayes of the 18th Massachusetts at the Wilderness was raised. Joseph is now discounted because he wasn't taken prisoner until the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad three months later. Which raises the possibility that Brig. Gen. William Hays was the person Billy was referring to.
Billy's story turns problematic again, even if allowing for a case of mistaken identity, because while William Hayes was wounded and taken prisoner at the battle of Chancellorsville, along with over 6,000 other Federals, his capture, confirmed in a May 8, 1863 report from Little Powell Hill, was credited to William Dorsey Pender's brigade, which was comprised entirely of North Carolina regiments.
I've steered Corey toward Roy Duberry's "History of the 14th Georgia Infantry Regiment," published by Heritage Press. The book focuses entirely on Company A and is based on letters written by some of the original 119 enlistees, tracking them from Second Bull Run to the surrender at Appomatox.
When you read Billy Gardner's story, it makes you wonder why he made his claim about Rutherford B. Hayes in the first place. We're not dealing with somebody who sat out the war, somebody who skulked, or somebody who was a constitutional coward. We're talking about a soldier who was wounded a number of times while engaged in some of the most brutal fighting the Civil War had to offer as a member of A.P. Hill's division and later Corps. Maybe the story started off innocently enough, i.e. throwing around bullshit on a general store porch, and it snowballed from there, until it was totally out of Billy's hands, and ultimately became something he couldn't retract without being labeled a liar.
I think Corey Gardner suspects the truth, but in some ways still wants to cling to Billy's story. It really is a neat little Civil War saga, one that can be handed down from generation to generation, and has been, although Corey admits other relatives are and have been skeptical.
I'll let Corey tell Billy's story now. There's more justice than if I try to summarize, so I'll simply let it speak for itself. However, maybe there's a reader out there, more authoritative than I am, who can shed additional light on this subject.
"William G. Gardner was born abt. 1832 at South Carolina. The family migrated to Georgia where his grandfather, John Gardner owned a plantation and his father, Jim Gardner was a gunsmith. Billy Gardner was a skilled gunman and became a sharpshooter.
He was a farmer, married, fathered children, and enlisted in the 14th Georgia Infantry as a private in 1862, serving as a sharpshooter throughout the entire war. He never served in a sharpshooter regiment so he must have been the best shot in his regiment. Gardner was probably the gunslinger of his regiment and had been the champion shooter I am assuming.
"He was wounded in the head in 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He claimed he shot and captured Hayes on April 6, 1863 in VA. He fought at Chancellorsville in 1863 and was wounded in the shoulder. He then fought at Wilderness and Richmond and received gunshot wounds in the forehead and shoulder. He then fought at Petersburg and was wounded in the foot, being captured in a hospital near Richmond, being released in May of 1865 at Newport News, VA.
"Gardner was a war hero and a seasoned warrior. He lived out his days as a farmer and died in 1912 from old age. He first made his claim in 1876 when Hayes was campaigning for the Presidency. The Northern press of course denied it, but his home state of Georgia hailed him as a hero and never questioned his claim. Gardner was a distant cousin of mine."
Note: William G. Gardner's service record and that he was wounded at Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Petersburg is confirmed by information on the "Civil War Data" Web site (www.civilwardata.com).