Sunday, September 25, 2011

The John Brown Bell Sept. 26, 1861

Tomorrow, Monday, September 26th,  is the 150th Anniversary of the taking of the 'John Brown Bell' by members of Company I, 13th Mass. Vols. from the ruined grounds of the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry.  Companies I & K were picketing the river crossings along the Potomac in September and October, 1861. Members of the Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department who had enlisted in what became Company I of the 13th Mass., wanted the bell  from the engine-house to send home for their fire dept. in Marlboro, which did not have one. The engine-house gained notoriety during John Brown's Raid when the famed abolitionist used it as his fort during the stand off with local militia and Federal troops in October, 1859.

If you live near Marlboro, Mass., Paul Brodeur, Trustee of the Marlboro Historical Society, is giving an in depth presentation on the bell Monday Night, at 7 p.m. in Marlboro.  The 150th anniversary of the first part of the long journey of the bell to Marlboro.

Here is the societies description of the event:

        Abolition, The War, and The Bell
Marlborough High School "Little Theater"
431 Bolton Street in Marlborough, MA
Drawing from Brad Forbush’s 13th Regiment website, local historian Joan Abshire’s account of the John Brown Bell, Silas Felton’s two volumes of local history, and the newspaper research of Kathy Lizotte Lynde, Civil War Re-enactor Alan Chamberlain and local historian and Historical Society Board Member Paul Brodeur will cover the fascinating period of rabid abolition in Marlboro, the formation of the fire department that helped staff and motivate Co. I of the Mass 13th, and their movements into Harpers Ferry and beyond.

In addition, the program will cover the untold story of the dramatic players in the story of the Bell.  Not only the soldiers, but the slaves of Harpers Ferry who had been neighbors to the Bell from their position at the Harpers Ferry Wager Hotel and came to Marlboro at the invitation of the Marlboro soldiers.  This account gives new meaning and substance to the Bell’s position as "The Most Important Ringing Bell in America."

Note that this is the first program this season.  Details on the other programs planned will be posted on our site and sent in a future newsletter.
I look forward to seeing you Monday, September 26, at the High School.
-- Janet Licht 

I've been corresponding with Paul this summer, and provided him a few details about the regiment and its personnel.  The exchange of information was mutually beneficial.  He knows the history of his town, and has access to materials I don't have.  The story of the bell is still controversial.

The greatest bit of information I received from Paul, was the story of  former slaves employed at the Wager House Hotel in Harper's Ferry, at the time of  John Brown's Raid, who connected with the 13th Mass. Reg't. when it was camped at Williamsport, Md. in the winter of 1861-62.   Two women and their cousin soon made their way to Marlboro, Mass. where they found a new home, settled and became prominent figures in the community.

I showed Paul the following image, taken in the camp of the 13th Mass, by  soldier/photographer George L. Crosby, (of Marlboro).  None of the people are identified, other than 'contraband.'

His response,
"Could never be certain, but the two women on the right are probably Fannie and her mother Avenia.  Wouldn't be surprised if the guy behind is cousin William Geary. "

We hope to follow up on this, but in the meantime, I hope the presentation is well attended.  He's covering in depth,  the story of the bell, its greater meaning to the community and the country.  I won't spoil it here, but I've had a preview.  I think it will be great

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Battle of Antietam

I neglected this blog to finish the latest web page at  The new page is up, posted last week September 9th, the 149th anniversary of the campaign.

Highlights include previously unpublished accounts of the action from John S. Fay, Co. F, Prince Dunton, Co. H, John B. Noyes, Co. B, and others.   Also included is Lt. Charles B. Fox's detailed casualty list prepared immediately after the battle.  I have made notes to the list with corrections applied from other sources.

The page contains biographical profiles on several soldiers wounded or killed in the fight, including James Lowell,  John L. Forbes,  Will Soule,  Bob Armstrong,  Levi L. Dorr,  Adna P. Hall and Samuel Shelton Gould.

Pictures are important and I spent a lot of time retouching some important images for the page.

Particular care was taken with this famous image of the rail fence along the Hagerstown Pike.  I wanted to use it but it is a bit rough.  My wife taught me some retouching techniques with photoshop, which were much more sophisticated than what I was used to, and I came up with a cleaner version as seen at the top of this post. (That is a lower resolution version of the image for the website, I  have a much larger file on the computer.) These images are available from the Library of Congress Digital Collections - a fabulous resource!!

Here is another sample. 

Adna P. Hall's story is compelling.  It was shared with me from family descendants along with this image of Adna.  I was a little tentative in deciding to retouch this image because the damage runs across the features of the face, but I gave it a concentrated effort.

Here is the result.

As usual, I tried to include a little humor, when possible, and the opportunity was provided for in the text, "New Recruits."

There were the usual uncanny co-incidences that happened to me while I was preparing the page this summer.  Someone wrote me requesting information on Commissary Sgt. Mel Smith.  Only a few days before he wrote I acquired an image of Smith.  Then I noticed Levi L. Dorr specifically mentioned Smith's role in helping him from the field hospital. I posted the photo with Dorr's reminiscence.

  Sorry for neglecting the blog, but I thought the new page had priority.  Comments are appreciated.