Not so with Sergeant Edmund F. Churchill of Company E, 18th Massachusetts Infantry. One of the Regiment's truly great souvenir hunters, he grabbed nearly everything of personal significance he could lay his hands on and, after carefully tagging them, shipped them home via Adams Express to Pembroke, Massachusetts. Lacking photographs to visually document his wartime experience, the relics would have allowed him and all who held them to have something tangible beyond memories by which to remember the war.
Tom and I both wrote recent posts about a letter written by his second great-grandfather Edmund Churchill that was returned "home" to Tom 146 years after it was written. Both posts spoke of a collection of letters, equipment, and souvenir relics that the Churchill family had been forced to sell due to financial hardship. Over time we've been fortunate enough to reassemble a few of those relics that were once scattered to the winds. Now we're happy to report that three more relics and another of Edmund's letters will be coming our way soon. Of course we're still chanting "C'mon Powerball, come to Papa" in our dreams. Herein are the latest finds.
Relic One: A piece of tent:
Churchill documented on the tag that the sliver of wood from a log hut built on December 16, 1863 at the confluence of the Rappahanock and Hazel Rivers in Warrenton County, Virginia where the 18th Massachusetts was encamped housed brothers Alden and Lyman Spooner, William Dunham, Henry Wright, and Churchill until May 1, 1864, when the Union Army mobilized and began its Overland Campaign. The Spooner brothers would never make it home, Lyman being killed at Bethesda Church on June 3, 1864 when a shell took off his leg, while Alden was killed in a freak accident during target practice conducted by the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry on February 9, 1865. A minie ball would tear into Wright's side at Bethesda Church, also on June 3, 1864, but he'd survive and live a long life, dying at the Soldier's home in Marshalltown, Iowa on March 20, 1926.
This photo, in the possession of the Dedham Historical Society, is the only known group shot of members of the 18th Massachusetts and shows officers from the regiment at Beverly Ford.
This photo of the Rappahannock River at Beverly Ford, Virginia, shot on July 4, 2009, and unbeknownst to me at the time, was taken about a hundred yards from where the 18th was actually encamped. Do I hear return trip to Beverly Ford in the spring in the making?
Relic Two: "Eddy's flag"
On January 16, 1863, Private David Meechan, of Company E, who would survive ten months of captivity at Andersonville and the Florence Stockade, wrote home, "Our old flag is so tattered and torn by constant use and the bullets and shells of the Enemy that there is hardly enough of it left to tie on the staff, but we love it all the more and the more we suffer for it the dearer it becomes to us..."
Edmund Churchill would become part of the 18th Massachusetts' Color Guard by default. Just four months into his military service, as members of the 18th's Color Guard fell one by one at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Churchill stepped forward to assume responsibility for the National colors and would bring them safely off the field during the Union withdrawal from Marye's Heights on December 14, 1862. Churchill, one of 11 members of Company E cited for bravery at Fredericksburg, would continue as a member of the Color Guard from that day forward.
Although I can't be certain, and could very well be wrong, it appears the swatch of blue cloth was taken from the seal of the State of Massachusetts which was emblazoned in the center of the State flag carried by all Massachusetts regiments and which had a deeper shade of blue than that of the National flag. The State of Massachusetts would replace the National and State colors referred to in Meacham's letter in March 1863.
Relic Three: slivers of wood from the Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia
The tag reads simply, "Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia, 1862." Tantamount to a holy relic in 1862, Churchill would secure his souvenir from the building where Col. Elmer Ellsworth of the 11th New York Infantry was killed by a blast from a shotgun wielded by James W. Jackson on May 24, 1862. Jackson, incensed that Ellsworth had cut down a large Confederate flag flying on the roof of his hotel, was, in turn, cut down by the blast from a musket wielded by Corporal Francis Brownell. Considered the North's first martyr, Ellsworth's body would lie in state at both the White House and City Hall in New York City.
Churchill was not the only the member of the 18th Massachusetts to shave pieces of wood from the staircase where Ellsworth fell. 2nd Lietuenant George M. Barnard, Jr. would seal his in an envelope and mail it to his brother Inman in Boston, while Marcus Soule, a descendant of Mayflower passenger George Soule, would present his as a gift to the editor of the Middleboro Gazette. "I also send a sliver from the flight of stairs on which Col. Ellsworth was shot in the Marshall House, Alexandria."
The Marshall House, which stood at the corner of King and South Pitt streets in Old Town Alexandria until the wrecking ball came calling in the 1950's, is marked by a plaque on the side of a Holidy Inn which now occupies the same spot.