Sunday, September 20, 2009

James Lascelle Forbes

Occasionally descendants of 13th Mass. soldiers contact me via email to share or request information. The correspondence always proves interesting. Sometimes I get a great story about a particular soldier. Other times I can provide the descendant with photos or stories about their ancestor. Sometimes nothing at all turns up. This summer I received 3 fascinating inquiries from persons living in England. The life story of James Lascelle Forbes was particularly intriguing as I received it, and, I was able to add some missing links to the story.

Forbes' descendant was writing a biography of James for the family genealogy. He contacted Art Rideout and me, seeking information about James, and his brother, Douglas Forbes. (Art maintains the website of the 13th Mass Roster.) James and Douglas Forbes immigrated to the US from Ireland, and fought in the Civil War, James with the 13th Mass., Douglas with an unknown unit. Art found records of Douglas in the 1900 census and sent them along to our English correspondent. I wasn’t much help with Douglas. An internet database search revealed four regiments with a ‘Douglas Forbes’ listed in the roster. I passed this information along to the descendant, who was also trying to identify a medal James Forbes received for service in the 13th Mass. Again, I could only guess that it was a GAR medal.

James record from the 13th Mass Vols roster states:

James L. Forbes; age 21; born, Dublin, Ire; theatre; mustered in as priv., Co. A, July 16, ’61; was discharged by War Department in ’63.

The story is that James L. Forbes, and his younger brother Douglas, with their widowed mother and another brother came to Boston following their father’s accidental death in Ireland.  James made his living as a scene painter in New York City's thriving theatres. When war broke out he enlisted in the 4th Battalion of Rifles (The nucleus of the 13th Mass) Aged 18 and a teamster, Douglas enlisted in March 1864 at Watertown, Mass, as a private in the Ordnance Corps of the Regular Army.  He was granted a disablity discharge at Watertown Arsenal, Mass, in March 1865.

Family lore had it that James fought at Bull Run, was wounded at Gettysburg, and was nursed back to health by Ella Rosalie Small, and her mother, at a hospital in Harrisburg, PA. He later married Ella.

My only contribution to this tale, was that James fought at 2nd Bull Run, not 1st Bull Run. I couldn’t document James wounding at Gettysburg; I don’t yet have a detailed casualty report for the regiment at that battle, but I promised to keep James in mind when I someday acquire that material.

I requested a copy of my correspondent's biography of James when the final draft was completed, and was grateful to receive it in July. From this I learned James Forbes met his future wife Ella at the German Reform Church Hospital in Harrisburg, PA. I have several descriptive letters written from this hospital by John B. Noyes, Company B, following the September 17, 1862 battle of Antietam. Noyes and several other men of the 13th Mass went there to recover from their battle wounds. Forbes wasn’t mentioned specifically in these letters, but Noyes comments about the number of ladies who frequented the hospital to visit the Massachusetts men. Then, I found a letter in the 13th Mass Circulars, written by James H. Lowell of Company A, (the same company as James L. Forbes) dated September, 1920. The letter reminisced about the battle of Antietam, an important engagement in the annals of the regiment. Lowell’s letter states in part:

“Antietam has always been a theme of deep interest - a sort of starting point in my life…

“…I had two assistants from the firing line to the hay stacks on the farm of Samuel Luffenberger. One was a Penn. bucktail, who, when we got past the rear guard, bolted. There came along, under fire, a fellow about my age in civilian rig, who stuck to the job to the hay Stacks. He took down my name, regiment, etc., saying, "I am a correspondent of the New York Sun." How stupid of me not to take his name and address, that I might remember to commend his bravery, later ! The space at this stack hospital was crowded and we remained there till evening, during that time first aid only was given. And there was disclosed the machine like habit of the drilled soldier - more interested in the fortunes of the firing line he had just left than the injury he received there. "How are things going?" was the topic discussed, while the surgeon was making his rounds. The tragedy of the firing line was the tragedy of the wounded, and its fortunes, their fortunes.

That night we were taken to Hagerstown, and our second hospital was "The little White Church," thence the next day through the Cumberland Valley to Harrisburg, where a hospital on Chestnut Street - the Sunday School room of the German Reformed Church was opened for some of us - a frame dining room in the rear. It was a new thing there and our treatment was lavish for quite a while, and always of the friendliest. Eight boys of the 13th were there, possibly I may miss others - John B. Noyes, Robt. Armstrong, Eugene A. Fiske, James L. Forbes, L. L. Dorr, James Dammers, William S. Soule. Alfred Brigham…

“…Dorr, Dammers and self survive. An intimacy life-long with Forbes, Soule and Fiske, has been my good fortune. Forbes inherited a large landed estate in India through an uncle.”

This letter placed James L. Forbes at the hospital where he met his future wife Ella. Oddly, James does not appear on the casualty list for the battle at Antietam. This doesn't dispute his wounding at Gettysburg, but it defines the time and place where he met Ella, the girl who nursed him back to health. It is possible that James rejoined the regiment and fought at Gettysburg before mustering out on May 3, 1864 at Harrisburg. The rest of James' and Ella's story is fascinating:

Around 1868 - 1869 James traveled to North-western India to help manage his maternal Uncle’s indigo plantation. By December, 1873, James had re-located to another region of India, and changed jobs. He was one of 3 managers of the Tarapore Tea Company in Cachar. That’s when Ella Small set sail from America to marry James. They were wed in Calcutta, January 31, 1874. Soon they had two children, a son and daughter. Between extended trips to America, to visit Ella’s relatives, James Uncle died. He left 1/3 of his indigo plantation to James and Ella. James' siblings, who shared in the inheritance, agreed James should run the estate. In early 1881, the family, now with 4 children, settled on "Uncle’s" remote Indigo plantation in NW India. The plantation thrived and the family prospered.

It was a lonely existence with neighbors spread wide apart across the region. The social center was a club located at the nearest town 22 miles away. Celebrations, parties and dances were sometimes hosted there, giving the European population a chance to congregate.

"We would go into Azamgarh, and we would have a whole week there of very good times. We had races: races for men, races for the women. For instance, you had to mount your horse and ride around the course so many times, holding a tennis ball on your tennis racket, and get right round without letting it fall off." So wrote Mary Forbes; James & Ella's eldest daughter.

James died in 1899 at age 60 and was buried in India next to his uncle. His wife Ella continued to travel extensively through Europe and America with her daughters. In 1905 Charlotte, the youngest, married a member of the British Indian Civil Service. The plantation estate was sold in 1920. Ella settled in Paris, France with her two un-wed daughters. Later, her daughter Ella wrote a wistful poem in remembrance of bygone days, and the romantic life she led on a remote indigo plantation in India. Ella senior died in 1925 in Paris. The two girls later relocated to the US, settling finally in Boston, Mass.

Such was the life of James Lascelle Forbes, a one-time Union soldier who made his career in British Colonial India, and his wife Ella, the girl from Harrisburg who nursed him to health.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Two Friends Ted

Part I.
Well, actually I don’t know them well enough to borrow money; in fact you’d probably have to remind them who I am; but I have an active imagination and like to think of them as friends. They are both worth writing about.

The first Ted is the Chief Park Historian at Antietam National Battlefield, Ted Alexander. He is known for presenting great seminars on the Civil War, and is also the foremost authority on the retreat of General Lee’s army from Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863. In 1999 he edited a special edition of North & South magazine on this subject, and that is what brought me to see him.

There was an indecipherable notation in my G G grandfather’s diary for July 6, 1863:

“Monday 6. We came to Boonsboro Md. and the left Section went to a Rebel train of wagons and burnt them about 4.esn number and charged through Hagerstown. Hung a Spy and then Laid in the woods that Night.”

At that time Private William Henry Forbush was serving with the 3rd US Artillery, ‘Flying’ Battery C. He had transferred out of the 13th Mass. while recovering from wounds received at 2nd Bull Run. He joined the ‘Regulars’ in January, 1863, and began keeping a diary. The 3rd US Artillery was actively involved in the Cavalry pursuit of Lee’s Army in July, 1863. When I had the chance to visit Western Maryland in 2005, I made an appointment to see Ted.

“That would be the battle of Hagerstown,” Ted told me, “about 4 dozen wagons burnt would be a reasonable estimate.”

In the diary, ‘.esn’ must have been an abbreviation for ‘dozen.’ Trying to decipher this entry in the broad cursive pencil strokes of William Henry’s handwriting had baffled me for years.

I asked Ted about the fight at Smithburg recorded in William Henry’s diary for July 5th:

“Sunday 5. Came to within ½ mile of Smithsburg Md. and we came on the Rebels. We opened on them with our whole Battery and they with a Battery. Their Shells struck in the Town but done us no harm.”

“That’s Gardenhour Hill,” Ted exclaimed. “If you had more time I could take you there.” He told me he was working on a book on the subject.

I was immediately ready to book a tour with him, but sadly it never happened; and I had other places to see during this particular trip.

My wife and I sat in Ted’s office until 6 o’clock, on a bitter cold afternoon in March, sharing our research and visiting. He opened the small folder in the park library containing 13th Mass materials for me to browse.

“I can add to that,” I said.

I told him about the 13th Massachusetts Regiment Circulars I had collected and he became increasingly interested in them. “Have you tried to have them published ?” he asked.

I explained that I did. One publisher I mentioned happened to be a friend of his and he promised to put in a good word for me, for which I was very grateful.

He told me he had always wanted to be a historian and he had worked hard to obtain the post he enjoyed so much. For my part, I was getting the kind of thrill I guess some people associate with meeting movie stars, while sitting in his office and discussing the battle of Antietam and other events, with someone as knowledgeable as Ted. Especially since we were on the very ground where these momentous events took place. He reciprocated and was just as fascinated to hear about my work in animation, back in California.

“I used to work on Futurama,” I said, as I sketched Bender and Fry, “but now I work on “King of the Hill.”

“Can I have that?” “Can you draw me a picture?”

I was happy to oblige and sketched Hank Hill with a balloon caption that read: “You know Ted, the Civil War is okay, but you really ought to write a book about Texas.”

I thought it was funny and in keeping with Hank Hill’s character. My wife, Sue kept up the conversation while I concentrated on the drawing.

Ted autographed my issue of “North & South,” – the special edition on the cavalry pursuit which he edited. It was a mutual admiration society.

He encouraged me to keep trying with the book, and we parted, agreeing to exchange copies of our 13th Mass ‘Antietam’ files with each other.

Ted was a ‘Simpson’s’ fan. They make it at the same studio, upstairs, where I was working. When I got home I had a friend put up a “Simpson’s Halloween” poster in the hallway of the studio. There are hundreds of these hanging in the halls inviting crew members to sign this poster “…for my friend, so and so.” When the poster was sufficiently plastered with crew names and sketches of Homer shouting “Sharpsburg!” I sent it to Ted as a thank-you.

Every once in a while I send him an email, reminding him that we met. I still want to get that guided tour.

Part II
My second friend Ted, Ted Savas, is a successful niche publisher of history related books.

In February 2008, I wrote to his company, (of which he is Managing Director) Savas Beatie describing my proposed book; an anthology of Civil War stories by men in the 13th Mass, written in such a manner that it gives the history of the regiment in the soldiers’ own words. Ted’s company was recommended to me by fellow members of the San Gabriel Valley Civil War Roundtable in Pasadena, CA. They knew about Ted from his work at the Roundtable’s annual West Coast Conferences, where he has taken over duties from Morningside Press as the official bookseller at the conference. After checking his company’s submission guidelines to see if they were a match I fired off a query letter.

I could hear the excitement crackling over the Ethernet… [crackle…crackle]. After a month passed without receiving a reply I sent a follow up letter; “Did you receive my query?” (I didn’t feel the ground shake.)

The next day I received a personal message from Ted himself! He explained he had sent a reply 3 weeks earlier; which proves the electronic age is not without fail. Maybe my spam folder ate it. He told me the project sounded publishable, but it wasn’t what they were seeking. He added that regimental histories were a tough sell in today’s market; I might have more luck with a University Press. I wrote back and thanked him for his personal response to my query, and I also thanked him for the advice. He responded again in a friendly note urging me to have more of an internet presence, and to check out his marketing and publishing blogs for useful information. I follow the blog, (you can too, it’s linked at left).

Ted has posted more than once about the creative responses he has received from would-be authors, following his gracious personal replies to their queries.

“Stick it in your ear Ted you patronizing Son of a Bitch;” and, “am not interested in reading your damn blog nor am I interested in dealing with you… So you can KMA you arrogant and rude SOB.”

Being a bit more reserved I opted in my responses to merely say, “Thank you for your personal attention, I appreciate it,” perhaps I’m just old fashioned.

I followed Ted’s advice. A couple University presses gave my project some serious consideration before declining to publish. Now I’ve started this blog to increase my visibility on the internet and I’m having fun doing it.

Every once in a while I’ll post a comment on Ted’s blog (just to keep in touch.)

I bought two books from his company and they are instant favorites. The first is author Larry Tagg’s new release “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln.” (Autographed for me personally by Mr. Tagg.) The second book is titled…wait (let me get a running start) thesecondbookistitled: “One Continuous Fight, The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863,” [inhale] …by Eric J. Wittenberg, J.David Petruzzi, and Michael F. Nugent.

Isn’t that second book something ?! Oh, yes, the forward is written by my friend, Ted Alexander.