Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A few weeks back I happened to see a dead rat lying on a strip of grass next to my work place in Southwest DC. It wasn't that large of a rat, probably about nine inches in length with its tail outstretched. I wasn't certain how it died, but I knew for certain what was going to happen if no one disposed of it. Sure enough no one disposed of it and little by little, day after day, nature took its course, until, after about ten days, only a skeleton remained. And I was struck by the absolute certainty of this thought as I observed the body decompose: we all go the way of the rat. The only uncertainty is when.
The uncertainty as to if or when certainly played on the minds of soldiers during the Civil War. It would have played in their minds before a battle. It would have played in their minds if they got sick and were sent to the hospital. It would have played in their minds if they were taken prisoner. It would have played in the minds of a nation when it was realized that 20 per cent of the men who marched off to war didn't return home. For those fortunate enough to have escaped death on the battlefield, in the hospital, or a prison camp, life was expected to be more certain after the guns were silenced. That is until circumstances that comprise life's uncertainty intervened.
George M. Barnard, Jr., a Captain in the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, labeled himself "bulletproof." During the Second Battle of Bull Run, where 55 members of the Regiment were killed or mortally wounded, Barnard escaped any serious injury even though "I was hit five times, once in the temple with a ball, which merely left a splinter of lead in the flesh, twice in the hand with balls which merely scooped out a little flesh, once in the ankle with a piece of shell as big as my hand, but its force was spent, and once in the body with a ball; the ball which grazed my temple took off two fingers of a manís hand with whom I was talking."
Barnard would return to Boston at the conclusion of his military service in September 1864, finish out his bachelor's degree at Harvard, marry the sister of a fallen officer from the 18th, father two children, work for Boston City government, and maintain memberships in the Massachusetts Military Historical Society, Military Order of the Loyal Legion, Society of the Army of the Potomac, the Temple and Officers Clubs of Boston, and serve as Secretary of the Fifth Army Corps Association, and the Somerset Club in Boston until late November 1898. Whether his horses were startled, or he lost control of them, Barnard was thrown from his carriage at the Mattapoisett train station and died a week later of his injuries on December 1st. In funeral services overseen by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion at the Arlington Street Unitarian Church, Barnard's body was then escorted to Forest Hills Cemetery where it was cremated.
Daniel F. Nichols, the son of a Congregational minister and a Private in Company G, survived not only a severe case of Dyspepsia, which hospitalized him for four months, but a year in Confederate prisons, including eight months at Andersonville before being exchanged in November 1864. After recovery from scurvy and intermittent fever, Nichols would serve as a Captain of Co. G with the 5th U.S. Colored Artillery in Mississippi, a commission that would allow him post-war membership in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion and Post Number One of the Grand Army of the Republic in the City of Brotherly Love. Marrying into one of the city's most affluent families, Nicholas worked as General Manager of the American Button Hole and Manufacturing Company.
At a time when improvements in the safety and comfort of bicycles, foremost being the creation of the pneumatic tire, led to a bicycle craze in America, Nichols was seriously injured when he fell while riding his bike in the town of Wayne. Sprawled on a roadside 19 miles west of Philadelphia, he succumbed to his injuries on October 23, 1899.
Milton Reed, a private in Company D, who knew the ins and outs of shoemaking when he enlisted on May 20, 1861, suffered a gunshot wound to the right ankle at the battle of Fredericksburg and battled a case of heart disease before his first term of military service was brought to a close on April 27, 1863. Nine months later, under threat of being drafted, he enlisted for a second time with the Second Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and wound up in North Carolina. Having been admitted to the hospital in Beaufort on April 7, 1864, Reed avoided the mass surrender of his comrades to Confederates at Plymouth just 17 days later. Those taken prisoner would experience the highest mortality rate of any Unit held at Andersonville, with over 250 of their number buried in the red Georgia clay.
Reed's path following his discharge is less clear. It's known that he had married, had three sons, worked intermittingly as a laborer, and in 1880, following his wife's death, resided with his brother Francis' family, providing care for his own 13 year old son William. Recipient of a six dollar a month disability pension, Reed died shortly after being admitted to Morton Hospital in Taunton, Mass. in February 1888 due to accidental injuries.
Thirty-three years after Reed's death, another son, Ira, then 45 years of age, down on his luck, and in admitted poor health, would send a written appeal for help to President Warren G. Harding.
Dear President...I am writing to you to ask you if you can give me an idea how I can get the money that is coming to me from the Government on my father pension which I know the money is there for me. Father died in the year of 88 in the month of Feb. I was a boy of 13 years and 10 months. After father died the home was broke up and my two brothers and I went in different places to live. I was the youngest and went to my Cousin June to live. We lived in East Taunton at the time and I went to Middleboro, Mass. I was borned in Middleboro, Mass. April 27, 1875. There is two years and two months pension due me until I was sixteen. Dear President can you and will you please inform me to preceed to get it as I am in need of it and it will help me as I am not in the best of health. That is something that belonge to me and I should have it.
One of Harding's secretarys would refer the letter on to the Pension Bureau for what ultimately turned out to be a flat rejection. "...if, as you allege, the above named soldier was your father and his death in February 1888 was due to an accident, it does not appear that you ever had a pensionable status as his minor child."
I suppose if someone did some digging we'd know if a Cornorer's Inquest was ever called to investigate the death of William L. Marshall, who had served as a private in Company D. After losing his left middle finger to amputation due to a gunshot wound at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 39, 1862 and assisting patients as a nurse while on detached service at an unknown hospital, Marshall, an English immigrant, would return to Taunton, Massachusetts and take up employment as a Brittania Worker. Eleven years after his discharge, the word "Poisoned" would appear on his August 2, 1875 death certificate. Was it the grieving widow who lived until October 31, 1930, or what would be a modern day OSHA violation? Your guess would be as good as mine.
Maybe it was the loss of his parents at an early age that would have explained a lot about William "Billy" Strong. Raised in the home of his paternal grandparents, his grandfather, Titus, was an Episcopal minister who held the pulpit at Greenfield, Massachusetts for 41 years. An affiant in Billy's widow's pension claim would state: "He was smarter than chain lightning. He did not marry just right and went bad. He was a wild sort of fellow." Wild enough that he would run off at age 16 to enlist as a drummer boy with the 46th Massachusetts Infantry on August 15, 1862 and, after being mustered out on June 3, 1863, enlist for a second time with the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery the very same day. Life with a garrisoned Heavy Artillery regiment was evidently not enough excitement, because on August 10, 1863, 17 year old Billy Strong, claiming to be a 21 year old clerk from New York City accepted $300 from Daniel Whittier, a homeopathetic physician, to serve as a draft substitute. According to Whittier's wife, who was also deposed in the case of Strong's widow, "I was not willing for him [Daniel Whittier] to go into the army. I well remember his coming into the house and telling me that he had been drafted and I well remember how I felt about it... he hired a substitute and paid him three hundred dollars...I was only too glad that my husband did not have to go and all that I knew was that the man was accepted to take my husbandís place. I donít even know where the man was from."
Strong would be drafted into Co. C of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry and see action at Rappahannock Station and Mine Run before the year was out. In 1864 he would see further action in the Overland Campaign and suffer a slight shell wound to a leg at Laurel Hill on May 8, 1864. Strong would see service with his fourth regiment when the 18th and 22nd Massachusetts regiments were consolidated with the 32nd Massachusetts. Dreamer, liar, or AWOL in Washington at the time, Strong would later tell all who would listen that he witnessed the four Lincoln conspirators hung at the Arsenal Prison.
Following his discharge on June 29, 1865, Strong bounced from one town and job to the next, residing in quick succession at Fitchburg, MA, Providence, RI, and Dover, NH, where he was employed at Sawyer's Mills, a textile manufacturer. There he set eyes on 23 year old Sarah E. Mills, another mill worker who originally hailed from Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. Married on July 19, 1873 their first child was born exactly nine months later. Two more children would join the brood, with one, Rufus dying at two years of age. Two more moves would take place before the family removed to Springhill, Nova Scotia, where Billy took employment with a mining company.
If Billy Strong was "smarter than chain lightning," he was smart enough to realize on September 22, 1879 what was about to happen when his foot became wedged in a railroad braking with a train approaching. Whether he had time to recite some of the prayers taught to him by his grandfather is unknown, but the train of coal cars "litterly pulled his leg off."
Sarah Strong's pension claim as the widow of William H. Strong, filed in 1912, when the rules for claimants had been relaxed thanks to the efforts of the Grand Army of the Republic, was rejected outright after three years of depositions and appeals, when Billy's past as a deserter from the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery caught up to both him and her.
Daniel Dunham lied about his age when he enlisted at Cambridge, MA on Nov. 4, 1861. Claiming to be 21, he was actually only 15 at the time and standing 6 feet tall was more than big enough to have successfully pulled off the lie. Three years later, Private Dunham, a member of Company C of the 18th Mass., was one month shy of being pulled from the trenches at Petersburg due to his impending expiration of three years service when a shell tore off his left arm four inches below the elbow. Age may have had something to do with what amounted to a quick healing process, as he was discharged three months later, on October 20, 1864 at Gallup's Island in Boston Harbor.
Dunham put the pieces of his life back together as quickly as his application sailed through the Pension Bureau, which awarded him eight dollars a month for the loss of his arm. He found work as a peddler and trader and a girl that saw beyond an empty sleeve. Two years his senior, Eunice Shurtleff would give birth to two sons and a daughter before dying in 1874. Daniel and the children, who ranged in age from three to six, moved in with her parents until he married Sylvia Chandler nine years later. Sylvia was no virgin. A widow and divorcee, she cast her lot with this one armed man and bore him two additional children.
With more mouths to feed and a hustler by nature, Dunham worked his way up to become a foreman for a cranberry grower. He'd be dead five years after his second marriage, the result of arsenic poisoning. Don't cast your eyes on the widow, because an investigation conducted after his death led directly to the culprit. Using testimony from Edwin E. Calder, a Chemistry professor at Boston University, and Dr. A.D. Harmon, Sylvia (Chandler) Dunham was able to prove to the satisfaction of the Pension Bureau, who initially rejected her claim that Dunham's death was related to his military service, that Dunham, due to the loss of his arm, had held pay tickets laced with arsenic between his teeth due to the loss of his arm. The poison was traced directly to a green dye used to color the tickets, which led Professor Calder to this conclusion: "The long handling and holding in the mouth of cards so strongly charged with an arsenic pigment, as those green ones, I think very probable would produce slow or chronic arsenic poisoning."
Sylvia Dunham would be rewarded for successfully arguing that the loss of her husband's arm was the chief contributing cause of his death with a pension of eight dollars a month, with two dollars each for her dependent children. She wouldn't marry a fourth time, but would remain faithful to Daniel Dunham's memory until her own passing in 1924 at age 74, even though she was residing with 76 year old Israel Hipson in 1920.
And lastly let's not forget Eugene Covert who was unable to work as a printer after returning from the war due to a gunshot wound to his left thumb. Reduced to laboring status, Covert was killed on May 22, 1886 when struck by a falling tree at Lemon, Pennsylvania.