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Sunday, March 28, 2010

148-year-old news of life in camp at Halls Hill, in Arlington, Virginia arrives at Donald's doorstep via a clandestine operative.

One of the amazing things about researching the 18th Massachusetts Infantry is that just when we get into a relaxed mode thinking okay, we're done, there can't possibly be anything left to find, something new comes along. I've used this analogy more than once, an analogy whereby we approach a darkened hallway and just when it seems we'll have to turn around a lighted directional arrow comes on to point the way. Since February 1st, for example, we've come into possession of 40 letters written by three different soldiers, the bulk of which were transcripts provided by our very good friend Len, the great-great-grandnephew of Richard Holmes, who, true story, found four years worth of letters written by Richard and his brother Edward sitting in a shoe box in a California attic.

You have to understand this about chasing the dead of the 18th Massachusetts. We've been tromping through an unmapped wilderness for more than ten years. There was no Regimental history, no central depository, or guide telling us to look here or there when we started. At best, too, there were only what amounted to thumbnail sketches in books, particularly in works published in the last fifty years. Everything we've discovered, letters, diaries, Carte de Vistes, and artifacts were scattered to the four winds and most of our finds were the result of mere chance and, okay, maybe a little perseverence. Or so one would think. Chance in this whole endeavor, I'm convinced, has had nothing to do with it. Our dead guys want the collective story they were never able to tell to be told.

1500 typed pages of raw research material and 180 grave photos later, items still come into our possession, while others slip away. In mid-February I was about a week too late in my offer to an antique dealer for this id badge once belonging to Nathan Grover of Company I.

There was consolation, though, when we received an early March email from Rachel of Enid, Oklahoma saying she was forwarding copies of documents related to her great-great-grandfather Henry she'd recently received from the Iowa Soldiers Home, in thanks for information we provided to her a year earlier.

So, what's this all leading to? It's leading to this graphic, which is sitting on a desk in front of me as I'm typing.


I've seen remarkable illustrations emblazoned on Civil War letters many, many times. However, I've never seen one gracing the upper left hand corner of a letter as beautiful as this. I might add, too, that the scan doesn't do justice, as the colors and detail are not as sharp due to the enlargement.

The letter on which the illustration is printed arrived Friday via FedEx. I didn't find the packet until later that night when I straggled home after dinner with my wife and her mother Gloria. I have to add this, and I know I'm getting sidetracked, but when I first met Gloria she was about 5 ft. 2 inches. Now in her 87th year, a woman who was a house guest of the late Jackie Robinson, played hostess to a number of jazz legends in her Narragansett, Rhode Island home, and cast one of four Electoral votes allotted to Rhode Island for Bill Clinton in 1992, is now about two feet tall. I exaggerate, because I love to kid Gloria, the woman who everybody loves from the first time they meet her.

Henry Warren's letter was unsolicited and totally unexpected, the kind of Christmas-like surprise you experience as a kid that makes you say "Holy Sh@# !' while your mouth drops open to your knees in stunned disbelief and was compliments of Tom Churchill, who stuck it to three dealers by outbidding them on eBay. I'll keep private what I wrote to Tom in thanks, but will quote him, "Since we all seem to be awful with accepting presents, let's just say it is great that the three of us are willing to work so well together and help each other out as well as we do. And most of all live with the code, what is the 18th's is all of ours."


We now have eleven original letters written by Henry Warren in our possession that, curiously enough, came from three different vendors. How the letters became separated and eventually wound up in different locations, in different hands, as they did, is a mystery open to speculation. The same type of mystery surrounds the burial site for Henry, who died on December 20, 1862, his right leg a stump following amputation at Mt. Pleasant Hospital at Washington, made necessary by a minie ball striking him a week earlier at Fredericksburg.

This was the same Henry Warren, a 24-year-old unmarried Sawyer from Middleboro, Massachusetts who William B. Shaw had cited in his "War Remembrance" when he became a member of the E.W. Peirce Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 8 in Middleboro on May 8, 1871.

"[While Shaw] was on the skirmish line at Shepherdstown or Sharpsburg [on Sept. 20, 1862] he received a minie ball through his arm and through his left lung, fracturing his ribs and out through his back and was left on the filed for dead when some of his comrades came upon him and saw he was breathing. Henry Warren took his blanket and made two folds & with 2 poles made a stretcher and with the help of Thompson Perkins, Charles Burbank, and Morrill Perkins carried him across the Potomac River and placed him in the Surgeons care for two days when he was removed to a hospital where he recovered and lived 40 years."

And it was the same Henry M. Warren for whom resolutions were adopted by the Titicut Division of the Sons of Temperance and appeared in the Middleboro Gazette on January 24, 1863.

Resolutions on H.M. Warren’s death

Whereas, in the events of Divine Providence, Bro. H.M. Warren, member of Co. D, 18th Reg’t Mass. Vol. has passed away from the scene of mortal strife and activity, from the effect of wounds received at the battle before Fredericksburg, while gallantly pressing on in the face of a murderous and fatal fire – “determined to conquer or die;” – therefore:

Resolved – That in his early devotion to the cause of his country – being among the first to respond to her call – in his christian and soldier like conduct, so full attested by his late comrades in arms, in his bold and uncompromising stand in behalf of Liberty, and the enforcement of Constitutional Law, and last, though not least, in the final sacrifice of his life upon the altar of our common country, he merits the highest praise of the citizen – the last remembrance of the patriot.

Resolved – That we deeply sympathize with the Parents, Brothers and Relatives of the departed in their sad loss and affliction; that by his sudden death, the community loses an esteemed citizen, the Division an efficient and valued member, one ever at the post of duty, unyielding in principal, yet imbued with a true spirit of conciliation and kindness, in behalf of the erring and fallen.

Resolved – That these resolutions be published in the columns of the Middleboro Gazette, also that a copy of the same be forwarded to the Parents and Relatives of the deceased.

P.M Sampson Com. for Titicut Division


Dear Donald - I was excited to read your post on Henry Warren. I have a letter that he sent to his brother Nathaniel on September 21, 1861, from Arlington Heights Virginia. He tells his brother about camp life, including details of his injured finger that the surgeon had recently drained. He also hand copied the notes and lyrics to the song "Over the River", which he mentioned was a particular favorite with the boys of the 18th. One of the lines he wrote about going over the river was: "there the angels wait for me". Pretty poignant when you think about what actually did await him when he crossed the river into Fredericksburg. Anyway, thanks for offering "Touch the Elbow" for all of us fans. - Mark Canjar

Posted by Mark Canjar at Tuesday, April 06, 2010 14:07:18


Thanks for the overly kind comment about Touch the Elbow. We try.

I'm going to email you about Henry Warren.


Posted by Donald Thompson at Wednesday, April 07, 2010 14:40:22

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