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Monday, May 17, 2010

What's worse than being late for the start of a movie? Normally I'd say being a half hour late for the start of a tour of Seminary Ridge and the Lutheran Seminary. But there was a very good reason for being late.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Being Easter Sunday, this excerpt from a letter written by Benjamin F. De Costa, an Episcopalian Priest who served as Chaplain of the 18th Massachusetts from January 1862 to July 1862, is being offered for perusal. There’s an irony to De Costa’s judgments of and biases against Catholicism as he converted to that faith very late in life, disillusioned by the Episcopal Church he served for close to forty years. The 18th Massachusetts Infantry, as part of the Army of Potomac, was then encamped near Yorktown, Virginia.


Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did ya ere wonder lads if Saint Patrick his self downed a few pints of bitters? Tis a grand day to be Irish lads, a grand day indeed! It's a day when I'll play Sinead O'Connor doing the best version of "Molly Malone" I've ever heard in my life, which is saying a lot for a song I've been listening to since early childhood. Follow this link to see if you don't agree. I'll be thinking of my second great-grandparents, James and Margaret (Trainor) Kelly, my great-grandmother Margaret (Kelly) Jordan, and my father David as I watch and listen, remembering that all loved the sweet sorrow that was and is the song.

And it's a day, too, to pay tribute to the Irish of the 18th Massachusetts.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Pursuit is a series of posts that began July 5th and traced the day-by-day actions of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, as the Union Army pursued Lee’s retreating army following the battle of Gettysburg.

For a more expansive look at post-Gettysburg operations, two books are highly recommended: Kent Masterson Brown's Retreat from Gettysburg and One Continuous Fight, co-authored by Eric Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi, and Michael F. Nugent.

The long pursuit, which the Fifth Corps had begun in late June when the Army of the Potomac trailed Lee from Virginia to a Pennsylvania crossroads town and back into Virginia again, came to an end for the 18th Massachusetts around 9 a.m. on Monday, July 27, 1863. William Tilton, temporary Brigade commander, took his time before finally selecting a site for the 1st Brigade to encamp. Tilton picked well, at a place in Fauquier County, Virginia called Beverly Ford, because, as it turned out, days would stretch into weeks, then months, before the 18th Massachusetts or the other regiments under his command would permanently move on again.

Union troops had been steered clear of Warrenton, a disappointment to those who thirsted for whiskey or other alcoholic beverages. But that was the point; to keep them sober and from making mischief in a town known as a “rabid hole for Secesh.” There were some who believed rumors that the Stars and Bars still flew over buildings in the town, while others scoffed at the notion particularly because of the strong Union presence close by.

Another rumor flew. Meade was to be replaced by Grant.

Beverly Ford, Fauquier County, Virginia, a place at which to cross the mighty, mighty Rappahannock:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

For two hours following reveille, the 18th Massachusetts busied itself with striking their tents and packing gear, before finally resuming their march toward Warrenton at 6 a.m. Five hours later they had only made five miles even though traveling exclusively by road. By eleven with heat from the sun growing in intensity, those who couldn’t keep up, even under the slow pace, were dropping out by the roadside, most taxed beyond endurance by the climb over “Critter” Mountain. In the words of one veteran, “marching is tedious work.”

The primary concern for all was water. What little that could be found in the streams they crossed was described as neither cool nor clear.

Having been without a Chaplain for more than fifteen months, some of the men turned their eyes toward a large church as they passed. Joshua Wilber’s pen became reflective when the Regiment made camp that night in a field, still miles from their goal of Warrenton. “[I] wish I could be there today with a good preacher and a respectable congregation with a fair proportion of ladies to make it look natural.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Even the best of men, including those who are normally kind, moral, spiritual beings, and respectful of laws, are at risk of those traits and values being diminished when hardship, privation, personal suffering, and the suffering of others all around, as occurs in war, is thrust upon them. It doesn’t mean they become forever cruel, that their humanity is stripped away, or they’re reduced to a state of permanent barbarism by their experience on the battlefield. Even at their worst, when the blood flows deepest, men are capable of great feats of compassion or later, in reflection, shame and remorse.

When you are footsore and hungry, when you have seen your comrades die at the hands of men intent on tearing apart “the best form of government ever created in the history of mankind,” and you come to a farm owned by a father who probably has sons who stood beneath the Stars and Bars on the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, and you eye his sheep, his cows, his smoke and hen houses, you do not do what you would have done in Wrentham, Massachusetts before the war. You do not honor the sanctity of the man’s property. You kill twenty-six of his sheep, his hogs, his turkeys, his ducks, and all but two of his cows and carry the bounty away with you as you continue your march away from Manassas Gap toward Warrenton on a cool breeze swept Saturday morning. If you have a pang of conscience like Joshua Wilber, you enter the house afterward, ask the father and his two daughters for a meal and pay them a quarter for their hospitality. If you are Wilber, walking away with a satisfied stomach, you do not see the youngest of the girls spit in your direction.

Pious men, men who two years earlier sat reverently beneath a tall white steeple in Pembroke, Massachusetts and praised God from whom all blessings flowed, now scrawl their names on the sanctuary walls of a small rural church, breaking up pews to fuel fires for their coffee, somewhere between Linden and Hume. Then as quickly as they have come, they move on like locus, the mud sucking at their brogans, while those horses that are used up are abandoned to the locals as fair trade for their losses.

At 4:30 and sixteen miles from their starting point, the 18th Massachusetts spied another wild blackberry patch on the outskirts of Orlean. In camp one wrote to his wife, “I ate until I got almost tired of doing so” and predicted they would be in Warrenton with one more final long push. The earlier portion of the day’s march went without mention.

In case you haven't guessed it, Orlean is a small town, a very small town. Just how small is it? According to Wikipedia: "The Orlean Post Office is purported to be the smallest post office in the United States."

Friday, July 24, 2009

In the same way attrition had attached itself to the 18th Massachusetts, the Fifth Corps was a mere shadow of its former self, reduced in strength to one sixth its numbers from the year prior.

On the morning of the 24th the First Division was positioned on the left of the line. While the second and third brigades began their further advance into Manassas Gap, the 1st Brigade was held in reserve, a precautionary measure in the event the advance was checked and driven back.

Both the aforementioned brigades went downhill, crossed a valley, and up the mountain, trying to sniff out Confederates and their masked batteries. Nothing. Nothing but more peaks to climb and more valleys to cross. In time the Division was recalled. The effort was not futile for the Third Corps, though. They bulled their way through the Gap virtually unopposed and emerged on the other side, taking full possession of Front Royal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Instead of continuing their easterly march toward Warrenton, the Fifth Corps now did an about face and swung west in response to reports that Lee’s army was trying to break out of the Shenandoah Valley through the wind gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A course was set for Manassas Gap where the the Corps was to rendezvous with the Third, Second, and Twelfth Corps. This generalized movement was, at the least, expected to block Lee, or, at best, would allow the Army of the Potomac to push through into the Valley themselves.

As each mile brought the 18th Mass. closer to the Gap the roads became rougher, but any physical difficulty was visually offset by scenery that became increasingly more spectacular. The towns the Regiment passed through melded into the other and the names, like Delaplane and Markham, faded from memory quickly. No one took note of a tiny hamlet called Linden.

Linden and Front Royal, Virginia sat like sisters at opposite ends of the table with the Manassas Gap between them. Though the Third Corps had begun their movement at three a.m. and were already inside the Gap, the Fifth overtook and passed them around noon. An exchange in position occurred again when those marching under the Maltese Cross were halted to allow the Third Corps to resume the lead.

The Fifth Corps, now marching “by brigades in full regimental fronts,” was hindered by a ribbon thin road and as a result began to resemble a sideways V; those in the front stuck to the road, while those behind spread out on the slopes where they contended with “underbrush, tough sassafras shrubs, or in some places, by over jetting rocks.”

After covering two miles over some of the “vilest of roads,” the Fifth Corps came to a halt around four p.m., not to pitch camp, but to prepare itself for a fight. According to Assistant Surgeon Joshua Wilber, who kept eyes fixed on the proceedings, the men blundered around, climbing “over stone walls, up and down steep hills, scarcely a square foot of which but had a stone as big as your head.” The 18th would stop for the night on a hillside, occupying space where others had been fighting an hour before. Wilber saw signs of blood splattered on rocks and discarded equipment in the midst of where the the 18th now rested. He lauded efforts by the troops, writing, “It was a hard place for our men and required great bravery to charge up such a hill.”

Responsibility for the main Union thrust had fallen primarily to the Second Division of Daniel French’s Third Corps, which launched their attack close to 4:30 p.m., and initially succeeded in driving the defensive minded Confederates under James Walker for one to two miles. When Robert E. Rodes’s infantry and artillery arrived to bolster Walker, the Union attack fizzled and darkness put a stamp of finality on further fighting. Casualties on both sides in dead, wounded, and missing, were estimated at 450 men.

Union troops slept on arms where they were positioned, while those in grey, unbeknownst to their enemy, were to utilize cover of darkness to retrace their steps back into the Valley. That the morrow would present another opportunity to seize the initiative loomed in the minds of Union commanders. But as silence enveloped the surrounding elevations, the reality didn't escape anyone that in the Battle of Manassas Gap, or Wapping Heights, both sides had failed to grab the upper hand.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Delaplane, VA dates from 1859. During the Civil War the church was used by both Confederates and Union troops as a shelter and hospital. Ancestors of Kilroy inscribed their names on wood for posterity, the markings of which in some cases are still legible.

The Markham, VA Post Office has been sorting and delivering mail out of this building since 1818


Manassas Gap

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Colonel Joseph Hayes, who had suffered a broken leg at Gettysburg when his horse fell and rolled on top of him, and six Sergeants were sent to Massachusetts on this date hoping to return with 400 to 500 conscripts to fill the ranks. Of the original 1,042 officers and men who were mustered into service with the 18th Mass. between August 24, 1861 to January 14, 1862, when Company C finally joined the Regiment, only 345 were still carried on the muster rolls. Those 345 had been supplemented by the last great wave of volunteers in the summer of 1862, when 135 new men arrived in camp. From November 1862 through June 1863 only 21 additional recruits had been added. In all, allowing for further reductions through deaths, discharges, hospitalizations, capture, and desertion since the previous November, the effective fighting strength of the 18th was in the neighborhood of 350 men on July 22nd.

With Hayes and the Sergeants safely off, the tranquility of the 18th’s camp was disturbed by the sudden bugle call at 11 a.m. to “strike tents.” An hour later the 1st Brigade had struck the road toward Middleburg, then veered off toward the right in the direction of Upperville. A rapid pace was maintained on what was described as a decent road, but as the column moved further away from Unison the country grew “sandy and poorer” and there was growing concern over the ability to find quality drinking water.

Around 4:30 in the afternoon the Brigade marched past the cluster of ten houses that comprised Rectortown. An estimated two days march from Warrenton and hard by the Manassas Gap Railroad, the Brigade pan-fried or soaked their hard bread in coffee trying to make it more digestible. As always, those who relished the stuff tried to scrounge from those who didn’t.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A complete day of rest was called with the 18th Mass. continuing their encampment near Goose Creek, a tributary of the Potomac. The lull presented Sgt. William Alderman of Co. I with time to write his parents and advise, while he was well, he hadn’t received a letter from them in weeks and worried it meant they had both been drafted into the army. “This is the 36th day we have been marching and after having marched all over Maryland have got back to Virginia again.” He expressed disappointment that he was not one of the six Sergeants selected to retrieve draftees in Massachusetts, which might have given him an opportunity to see family after a two-year absence from home. One of those fortunate enough to have drawn this plum assignment was another sergeant from Co. I, George Washington Thompson, the third great-grandfather of yours truly.

Alderman didn’t see any prospect of immediate fighting on the horizon, but penned this lament while holding paper to his knee: “I am sorry that we did not capture Lee’s Army in Maryland and I believe it could have been done.”

Union troops in front of the Old Stone Bridge, which still spans Goose Creek and was not closed for use until the 1950's

Monday, July 20, 2009

Breakfast was eaten around two-thirty a.m., a half-hour after reveille sounded. Placed at the rear of the Fifth Corps again, the 18th and the rest of the 1st Brigade were finally rolling at five. The column averaged a shade over one mile per hour and at ten halted in a grove just beyond the village of Unison.

Unison, in 1863, was comprised of a brick church, “a broken down tavern,” a blacksmith shop that had been closed up tight by its owner, and about a dozen houses, “most of them shaky, tumble down affairs, occupied by women who don’t wear hoops and smoke pipes.” There seemed to be an overabundance of children for a place its size, the overwhelming majority of them “dirty, ragged, and barefoot.”

Collecting their gear after a short rest, the column moved on for another four miles before they halted again, this time near “a beautiful mansion,” which General George Sykes, placed in command of the Fifth Corps three weeks earlier, appropriated as his headquarters. The 1st Brigade was left to its own devices to find a campsite nearby and Col. William B. Tilton set off what seemed like a fox chase, leading his men over stone walls, hills, and through streams, but as Assistant Surgeon Joshua Wilbur wrote to his wife: “The country is so rolling and beautiful and the streams of pure water so plentiful that you could hardly find a poor place to camp about here.”

Warning! Drive slowly, very slowly for the next three to four miles, unless you really want a new axle(s) for your car.

Population in 2000: 70. If you're in the Middleburg, Virginia area, the scenary along the roads leading to the village is alone worth the drive.

Want to engage in a very interesting fifteen to twenty minute conversation with a total stranger? Ask Pete Weinberg about his house, the rear portion of which dates from 1730.

Although I can't say for certain, this house may have been the one used by Gen. George Sykes as his headquarters. Unfortunately there was no one around to ask.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moving an entire army, most of it on foot, was a very slow process. It took almost three hours from the time the order was first given at 6 a.m. for other divisions and brigades to pass before the 1st Brigade joined the line of march at the very rear of the Fifth Corps.

Once again, the march wasn’t taxing, the 1st Brigade maintaining a speed of about a mile and a half an hour. At noon, with Purcellville five and a half miles in the rear view mirror, regiments picked their spots to make camp, the 18th situating itself in an oak grove outside the town of Philomont, Virginia until the following morning.

Assistant Surgeon Joshua Wilbur, whose mid-day meal consisted of bread, butter, and coffee, blamed the last ingredient for his apparent insomnia. “I don't think it is good to drink so much coffee and have no doubt it has something to do with my not sleeping nights as I slept very well last night after drinking tea. But when a person has been traveling all day and eating nothing, coffee does taste good.”

Madeline standing behind the counter at the Philomont General Store. She said it was the last country store in Virginia to also serve as a Post Office.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Having experienced the physical pounding of a 25-mile forced march just three days earlier, no one was complaining when the column came to a screeching halt after covering eight miles in a shade just under four hours. Not when there were twenty-five acres of wild blackberries on the outskirts of Purcellville ripe for the picking. Men gouged themselves, letting the juice run freely down their chins, letting rivers of juice drip from their hands, and then gouged themselves some more until their bellies cried “Uncle!”

A copy of the July 18th edition of the Middleboro (Massachusetts) Gazette wouldn’t arrive into the hands of the 18th Mass. by mail until this story on page two was already stale news.

A Night in Boston During the Riot

On Tuesday [July 14th], about noon, a crowd of foreigners influenced by liquor assaulted an officer in the discharge of his duty. Soon after crowds commenced assembling in the north part of the city, uttering curses long and deep against the draft, and relating the various plans adopted by the New York mob. In the afternoon stores in the vicinity were closed. The civil authorities were wide-awake, and at the request of Gov. Andrew, several companies of heavy artillery were on hand. The 11th Battery and the 44th Regiment, and a cavalry force were soon under arms, the whole under command of Brig. Gen. Richard A. Pierce. Next the mob attacked the armory in Cooper St. Inside the arsenal were artillery and infantry forces. Soon the mob, with bricks and paving stones had battered in the windows and one of the doors. Capt. Jones saw the danger, and instantly gave the word “fire!” The chief ringleader, a North St. bar-keeper, was killed, and many wounded, four or five of whom have since died. The mob were thus kept back, but not till they had killed an old gentleman and wounded several soldiers. The mob next visited the hardware stores in the vicinity of Dock Square. From one of these they were repulsed by the police, but from the other they stole $3000 worth of hardware. Other stores were also sacked. Before morning, thanks to the military and police, the riot was essentially quelled….

This picture was taken July 4, 2009. I'm betting the McCain-Palin sign will still be there 146 years from now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The 18th Massachusetts packed up their cares and woes, bid farewell to Petersville in the middle of the afternoon, and were soaking wet, again, by the time they hurried through Berlin (now Brunswick). After hoofing it for a little under three miles they waited patiently for their turn to cross a 1500-foot pontoon bridge spanning the Potomac. There was no love loss for what waited them on the opposite shore. They loathed Virginia, its sacred soil, and its First Families. And the women! Not a pretty one had been sighted within the boundaries of the Old Dominion in two years. Too, there was no love loss for Meade, that “four eyed loafer,” either. Rumor had it he was leading them straight to the “graveyard of the Army of Potomac,” Fredericksburg.

Lovettsville, six miles distance and reached around half-past six, was the stopping point for the night. Hostility and anger now crept to the surface and there was a growing chorus demanding retribution for perceived Confederate desecrations in Pennsylvania; a growing chorus that wanted to dismantle the town, board by board, brick by brick, and set the torch to the entire pile. General Charles Griffin and his staff officers quickly stepped in to diffuse the situation, stuffing that cork back into its bottle.

For the first time news of draft riots in New York and Boston by “malcontents and copperheads in the rear, together with the dough-faced office-holders and politicians” swept through the camps. Captain George M. Barnard, Jr. of the 18th summed up the reaction of soldiers: “If I have ever heard an earnest wish expressed it is that we should be allowed to go home and clear the rioters out.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grumbling is a sacred military tradition and it would have necessarily followed the merciless notes sounded at three a.m by buglers. The 1st Brigade followed the lead of the 3rd just after four-thirty. By six-thirty all four regiments of the 1st would have seen the last of everything the town of Burkittsville Maryland had to offer. In the year 2000 it had a burgeoning population of 170 residents and its claim to fame was as the setting for the film "The Blair Witch Project."

The next six miles, covered in three hours beneath a clear blue canopy, brought them to the unincorporated village of Petersville, where at nine-thirty a.m. knapsacks were unslung and muskets stacked until the following morning. The Brigade caught sight of the wagon trains for the first time since before Gettysburg.

The only sour note for what turned out to be a day of rest and relaxation for the 18th Mass. was Bernard Glancy, a Private in Company D, being declared a deserter. Colonel Joseph Hayes had no way of knowing that Glancy had been taken prisoner on May 29th at Ellis Ford in Virginia and was still three days away from being paroled at City Point. It was the first of two periods of confinement Glancy experienced in Confederate prisons. The second lasted from May 5, 1864, when he was captured at the Wilderness after suffering gunshot and shell wounds, until escaping near Mobile, Alabama on May 3, 1865, a fact confirmed by official documents in his military service record. Long exposure to the subhuman conditions all prisoners faced at Andersonville and the Florence Stockade, had resulted in Glancy losing thirty-five percent of his body weight.

Captain George M. Barnard, Jr., who was on detached service from the 18th Mass. as Assistant Commissary Muster, utilized the down time to catch up on correspondence, starting with a letter to his father, a wealthy and politically influential Boston merchant. Herein, at long last, was an explanation as to why Meade had maintained a cautious post-Gettysburg approach.

I suppose that Meade will have to stand a heavy fire in the rear for allowing Lee to get away. Gen. [Charles] Griffin told me that Gen. Meade told him after the battle of Gettysburg that all the men that he could rake and scrape together were 45,000. Lee crossed into Pennsylvania with 120,000 and if, after Gettysburg he had lost as many as 30,000, he would still have left 90,000 men to oppose our 45,000.