Wednesday, May 19, 2021

13th Anniversary for 13thmass.org

 

This year is the thirteenth anniversary for 13thmass.org

This month, I paid another year's subscription to my web-host to keep The Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers website going, at least for another 12 months.  Time flies.

I must admit, I grow a bit weary of the constant work on the site.  I have never benefited from it monetarily, though I have greatly benefited from it in other ways over the years.  This, mostly from personal relationships formed, and doors being opened to me in places where they would otherwise be shut. 

It takes countless hours of time and dedication to build each page of my website.  The project began as a creative release born of my passion for story telling, and grew from there.  Much of that creativity and fun still exists as I build new pages for the site, but it coexists with hours of research, and work.  I have to divide this work between other interests.  

I am also having trouble getting transcripts of primary source materials for this later period in the regiments history. I have had setbacks.  With the pandemic, resources shut down just when I needed them most. And, several times now, CW dealers have refused me the privilege of getting transcripts of letter collections from this period in the war.  And, I tried hard to get copies of them.  These collections would have been  a great value to me in building new pages, as I would have a new unique and consistent source from the ranks of the 13th MA to quote from, in addition to my usual 4 sources, that are already widely available in print.  

I guess a sudden surge in this kind of source material would re-invigorate my enthusiasm, but it has not happened.

There was one very notable exception to this, and that was Seth Kaller auctions, who very generously shared with me a transcription of the Charles Conant Diary of 1863.  They should know I appreciate what they did for me very much.  Conant is heavily relied upon for the latest pages.

So along with the work, the source material grows thin and this kind of website format grows more obsolete.

Even Yahoo Groups shut down.  It was my primary means of promoting the site to descendants of 13th MA soldiers.

However, the next page is already well in progress and will eventually be posted to the site in the coming months.  It will cover the close of the Bristoe Campaign and the return of the Army of the Potomac to the line of the Rapphahannock in November, 1863.  I didn't wish to potentially end the project in mid-campaign.  A page for the forgotten Mine Run campaign would follow, followed by a page for the 1863-1864 Winter Encampment.  These are fascinating periods in the history of the regiment that I always wanted to cover.

I appreciate those who continue to support this project, there have been many.

Meantime, I still have come across several fascinating items that could occasionally be posted here on the blog. 


Saturday, May 23, 2020

"The Veteran"


For Memorial Day Weekend
I published a post earlier this week, but as Memorial Day is upon us, I am posting twice in one week.

This is a typescript of a hand-written story on 3 sheets of lite brown paper, size 12 1/2” x 8”.   I purchased the story from an on-line antiques dealer, who was selling 2 personal artifacts that had belonged to Arthur Kent, the Great nephew of Austin Stearns.  Sergeant Stearns is the author of "Three Years With Company K"  The tin dish and tin cup pictured in this post both belonged to Austin Stearns.  The dish he is writing about (top photo) is pictured in the Time-Life "Echoes of Glory" series, page 225 in "Arms And Equipment of The Union."

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
The Veteran.
or the autobiography of a Dish.

 
I am nothing but an old tin dish.  My sides are battered and burned and there is nothing about me that is pleasing to the eye, or that would attract attention, but I have a history, and if you will bear with me I will give a short account of my self.  I was designed by Copl. Charles Parker and made by Clark & Perry, tinsmiths of Ashland Mass.  There were six Hopkinton boys, and two of them brothers of Mrs. Clark in the same Company with Parker, so mr. Clark made made a group of 7 dishes, one for each.   We were made with handles and the name of each boys was stamped upon it, and also on the bottom.  If you look closely you can see my masters name now.  Oh how bright and shiny we looked that morning in July ’61 when Mr Clark string us on a wire and carried us down to Fort-Independence in Boston Harbor and gave us to the young men, who were there learning to be soldiers.  How proud we were of our looks, but not more so than those who then became our masters.  Now we were part and parcel of Co. K, 13th Regt. Mass Infantry.  Towards the last of July ’61 we with the other belongings of the soldiers started for the seat of war.  In the earlier days of the war, there were what was called “Company Cooks,” or men detailed to do the cooking

page 2 (back of sheet 1)

My master being fond of me, kept me in a good degree of cleanliness, washing and wiping me as often as once a week, or oftener if water was plenty.  I noticed when he wiped me with grass or leaves he al chose the greenest.  The fall and winter passed by without any thing worthy of note.   My master going regularly three times a day to the cook house to get his rations. I always accompanied him to hold his coffee.  In the spring of ’62 Company Cooks were discontinued with us, and each man with the exception of bread had to cook his own rations and make his coffee, I was now put to a severe test, for I was then set on a bed of hot coals, and my shiny sides were change to what you see them now.  It was down at Rappahannock Station in the summer of ’62 that my master lent me to one of his comrades to make his coffee, he only filled me half full, and when I got hot the solder melted on the upper half of my handle, and when he drew me away from the fire my handle was useless.   He returned me to my master with the remark that I was –––––––an old dish.  My master thought differently; for he went & with out a file or tool of any kid, twisted off a piece of telegraph wire using I fear using many swear words, and with his bayonet he pierced my sides and made a bale as you see it now, not very handsome, but very serviceable.  I was suspended now, by a stick or oftener the bayonet or ramrod, in the blaze and smoke of the fire, In addition to coffee

page 3 (new sheet of paper)

I have had soups of all Kinds, Beans, Rice, Potatoes, and in fact all the nameable and unnameable dishes that were ever concocted  by the ever fertile brain of the soldiers cook in me, If skillygalee, and lobscouse were not not cooked in me, I was used to mix them in.  I used to be strapped to my masters Knapsack or havasack, and at times his canteen:  he has carried me thousands of miles through many of the most desperate battles fought by the army of the Potomac, and many times in the thickest  of the fight.  I had been so long with him, I had almost become a part of him, for of all the articles he had when he started for the seat-of-war, I was the only one he had left  
After I was old and burned and smokey he got a little cup that he called his drinking-cup, at which I was at first Jealous of, = but I soon found out that it could never take my place, and as long as I did not leak,   I was supreme.    In the spring of ’64 my masters time was almost out, and it was after we had passed through the three days fighting in the Wilderness, and I had rode all night strapped to his knapsack to prevent my making a noise by rubbing against my old friend the canteen,  down towards Spottsylvania, halting Just a few minutes for the dawn to come, so we could see, as the cavelry outpost said the enemy were in a revine Just ahead.  The morning was very hot and My master was very tired, and when we started, passing the cavelry out-posts they smiling to think that we were releaving them of a very disagreeable job, said “you will find them soon”;  The bullets began to sing and we were in for hot work, my master uncooked his knapsack, let it drop,

p. 4 (back of sheet 2)

to the ground.  I thought my time had come and I should be left to an inglorious  fate and so when I struck the ground, I made as loud a noise as I could to attract his attention  He heard me, stopped, turned round, and coming where I lay, Kneeled down and unhooked me from the Knapsack, and taking off his canteen passed the strap through my bale, and putting the same on said “Old dish we have been so long together that if one goes both go”.   I was happy, for I knew if master was spared to go home, I should go too.   My fondest hopes were realized, for after two months more of hard service, and when we were lying before Petersburg, the order came for the regiment to pack up and go home.  Many of the boys threw their dishes away, but my master put me in his haversack, and I arrived home in safety,   as I have  said before, I am only an old tin dish: no poet has ever sung, or romancer told story of my doings, and like the other old and servicable friend of the soldier = the army mule = have only received abuse, when we did our best to serve.

I will relate an  incident, that happened to one of my kind. One night in bivouace, when the boys were busy cooking their supper, my friend filled with water and coffee, was perched upon rails, in a very careless position, when nearly ready to boil, a member of the awkward squad thought to change his position;  he hit the rail with his foot, and my friend fell off, spilling its contents;  it so enraged the owner that without saying a word to the one causing the

page 4 (sheet 3)

mischief, he kicked the cup, and with expressions like these “Darn that cup” = “Darn the man that made that cup” = and “Darn the man that won’t darn the man that made that cup, Hurrah for Jeff Davis”.  He kicked and stamped it out of all semblance of ever being a cup, and out of the limits of our bivouace, came sullenly back, and took a seat by the fire amidst the shouts and laughter of his comrades.  In less than half an hour he was trying to borrow another dish to make coffee in.   A few years ago in the town where I was a fair was held, by the local grand Army Post and I was among the relics that were on exhibition.  My master had labeled me “The Veteran” whatever that might mean, and a paper stating my service and the uses I had been put to. 
My mistress wanted to clean me up, scrape my burned and blistered sides, and as she said make me respectable, but my master objected, and as I had no voice in the matter I went in the condition in which I was in.  I created considerable comment, and some said, “What a horrid old dish”,  And “Do you think any one would eat or drink any thing made in it?”  Others sneeringly remarked the “Old Vet” and passed by without a second look.  A few came and gazed at me long and earnestly, and said I was rightly named, for I was in truth a Veteran.  I sit around in unused places, but at times my master gets me out, and as he fondles me says, “this is my old dish, and where he went I went also, and that as long as he lives, I shall have a place,” so I am content.

NOTE:   The handwriting is in neat cursive, brown ink, with occasional corrections or revisions written above a line in pencil. 

The 3 sheets of paper are folded in thirds and a circular grease stain penetrates all three sheets, where the tin dish rested upon it. —Bradley M. Forbush, transcribed May 21, 2020.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Learning About the 13th MA via the 3rd Wisconsin


I've been doing research on the military units that fought at the Battle of Cedar Mountain,  for the volunteer organization, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield.  This is separate from my research on the 13th MA Volunteers.   But there are occasions where the research intersects.  Lately, I have been transcribing a huge cache of newspaper articles about the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteers.  They served side by side with 13th MA  early in the war, when both regiments were part of General N. P. Banks Dept. of the Shenandoah.  For example, men from the 3rd WI suffered the most severe casualties at the "Battle of Bolivar Heights" in October, 1861, when they fought along side Company C of the 13th MA.  (Companies I & K, were present, and shelled, but did not participate in the front-line charges).  The two regiments reunited during General Banks' advance into Winchester, March 12, 1862. 

I posted on my website in 2009, an entertaining article by Clarence Bell, Company D, 13th MA, titled, "A Hot Time In Winchester."  Bell describes the advance of Gen. Banks army into Winchester on March 12, 1862.   The following article covers the 3rd WI on that march, and mentions the 13th MA as well.  The regiments advanced together on opposite sides of the Valley Turnpike.  I think it is of interest because it provides more detail about the maneuver than Clarence Bell, or other sources in my collection.

I am uncertain which particular newspapers the following clips come from.

CAMP CORRESPONDENCE

–––––––––
Correspondence of the Times.

Winchester, Va.,
March 12, ’62.

In my last letter I promised to write you again, and although a long time has elapsed, yet here I am fulfilling my promise.  And where do you suppose I am?  In the home of the notorious James M. Mason, the confederate of Slidell, sitting by a good fire and writing upon an old desk I found in the cellar.  The floor of the room is covered with blanket, knapsacks, holsters, swords, pistols, overcoats and all the etcetera of military trappings.  Now, as to how I got here.  I will not trouble you with a history of the winter’s campaign, as of course, you have kept track of the whereabouts of our regiment by the papers.  I will write only of today’s proceedings.  Last night, while encamped at Bunker Hill, we received orders to make a reconnoissance at 4 o’clock this morning.  At half past three the reveille was sounded, and we were ordered to take our coffee before starting. ––Aroused by the rub-a-dub of the reveille, I rubbed my eyes.  It was as dark as Egypt; the stars twinkled down at us as if they thought we had made a mistake the camp-fires blazed up merrily on all sides.  A reconnaissance under such circumstances, seemed absurd; we were ordered to get ready and wait till dawn. During the interval we extemporized quite a respectable meal, and sat around our huge fire cracking jokes and enjoying ourselves. Two hours passed before a faint streak of light appeared; then a bustling among the men, and soon the band was playing Dixie, and the companies rapidly falling into line.  Just as we were ready to “forward march,” the General and Staff rode up and announced that the reconnoisance had been given up and that the whole column would advance towards Winchester.

Three regiments were selected to deploy and lead the march.  Ours in the centre, on the right of the road the 12th Indiana, and on the left the 13th Massachusetts. The regiments being drawn up in line of battle, each regiment sent forward three men from each company as videttes, then two companies as skirmishers.  Three companies went forward at gun-shot distances and then deployed out:  i.e. spread apart as skirmishers, making a beautiful dotted line, the men five paces apart. Beyond them, about the same distance ahead, went the videttes, skulking along behind trees, crawling up the hills on hands and knees, looking cautiously over, approaching every house with gun cocked ready to fire at a moment’s warning.  Behind these two advance guards followed our three regiments, led by the mounted officers, watching eagerly every movement of the skirmishers, and listening intently for the firing of the videttes.  Each regiment was followed by a gloomy train of ambulances with the surgeons, and the band to carry litters and assist the surgeons when the fight began.  Thus we went on across lots, through woods, taking down bars and pulling down stone-walls.  It was most fascinating, everything so well planned and so complete.  Thus we proceeded until we are within slight of the intrenchments, when we halted and waited  for the report of our skirmishers. It was soon deserted, and then we were ordered froward and with bands playing and colors flying we marched into Winchester. –– The streets are lined with people, the greatest part being the negro form diving in every conceivable variety. One or two wave their handkerchiefs, an one hangs out a United States flag. They look at us as they would at a traveling menagerie or circus.  We march in and out a few streets, and then marching to the outskirts of the town, select a camping place.

Our regiment pitched upon a hill-side orchard, and the Colonel ordered me to go and ascertain if a house which stood near by was occupied.  I went up to it; it was a large, white stuccoed house, on a hill-side, the lawn filled with trees, and a winding road leading to the door.  It was deserted. I went in.  Piles of public documents, old letters and papers addressed:  Hon. James M. Mason. Winchester, Va., lay scattered over the bare floors.  The furniture had been carried off, the curtains torn up, the carpet destroyed and the house abandoned.  I established a guard, and sent the servant to clean it up.  Now we are here quite comfortable.  We sleep upon the floor hang our clothes int eh closets, have established our office in the library, and hung our large garrison flag over the portico.




EDITORIAL CORRESPONDENCE.
––––––––––––
Winchester, Va.
March 15, 1862.

Here at last !  Here where “Stone Wall Jackson” has long reigned supreme and persecuted the faithful; here, where Patterson ought to have come last July; here, where the revel tracks are fresh and their camp-fires yet smoldering; here, in the stronghold of the enemy’s left flank are we at last, snugly quartered.

We came in on the 12th inst., but the duties of the camp and field have prevented my telling of it before.

The Column that first enter the town was commanded by Gen. Hamilton, and consisted of some ten thousand men.–– Hamilton’s Brigade moved out from Charlestown on the 7th, to Smithfield, and thence south to Bunker Hill.  Thence, on the 11th, we moved out upon the Martinsbug ‘Pike’, within four miles of Winchester, and camped for the night.  Our company had joined the regiment, to be in at the fun.  During the latter part of the day our advance guard, the 46th Pennsylvania was skirmishing with the enemy, and a continued fire of musketry and occasional cannonading kept us in a state of excitement, until darkness closed in.

At night the Adjutants and Aids were around communicating orders––ammunition was distributed to the men in double quantities, and the general expectation was for a battle on the morrow.

At three in the morning the cooks were roused up to prepare breakfast.  The men jumped up with alacrity and gathered around the camp fires, elate with the prospect of a brush.

At day break we formed lines of battle, our regiment on the left of the turnpike, the 12th Indiana and 13th Massachusetts on the right, and our our left he 16th Indiana.  The flank companies of each regiment were thrown out, and deployed as skirmishers.  Our Regiment was assigned by Gen. Hamilton to the front of the enemy’s heaviest fortifications.  We pushed on through fields and groves, tearing down stone walls, and capsizing rail fences.  All eyes bent forward, watching eagerly and hungrily fo the enemy that yd come so far and had wanted so long to see.  It was a splendid sight to see that line of burnished arms glistening in the morning sun of the brightest day of the season.––  And then, the line of skirmishers, moving so regularly, every man five paces from his comrade; the line extending from a ridge to the right of the “pike”, far down through the fields, completely covering the line of battle, and some four hundred yards in advance of it.  Immediately behind the line of battle were the batteries, drawn upon the “pike,”, and behind them the 1st Michigan Cavalry, moved in column, the clatter of their thousands of hoofs blending with the crunching of collapsed stone walls, the crashing of underbrush and the clarion words of commands of the Colonels. If Jackson had been there to see it, I dare say the sight of that sturdy line would have affected him somewhat as its advance did the other stone walls.

At length, emerging from the the grove, the frowning ridge on the right, covered with camp  huts and battery plats and earth works, was in sight.  In front of us was a fortification of earth and barrels filled with stone –– a lunette fort, as it is called, commanding the pike and the rail road.  The advance began to be interesting.  Altho’ we supposed the enemy had evacuated, still we were not sure, and felt our way with as much care and vigilance as though we expected the battlements to cover a formidable foe.  Finding the fort and earth works evacuated, our skirmishers assembled and Companies A and B of our regiment marched boldly into town.  The boys grumbled that no enemy had been seen, their rear guard having scattered out of  town just as we came in, but found consolation in the reflection that we could not furnish spunk for ourselves and the enemy too.

No sooner had our company reached the center of the town, halted in front of the Court house, than the mayor and a committee of respectable citizens gathered around us, while the Mayor formerly tried the town over to Capt. Bertram for protection.  There seemed on the countenances of all an aspect of relief, when assured that we had come to protect and not to destroy.  The more ignorant, and the little folks expressed their surprise at not finding us hobgoblins, griffins and monsters. ––They stared at our good clothes.  They marveled at our good manners and declared that, for all the world, the Yankees were very much like other folks after all. 

Hastening back to  our regiment, and reporting the town clear, our column then marched in, colors flying, and the banks doing “Hail Columbia” with a vigor that electrified us all.

A healthy Union sentiment gazed out of numberless windows ––sparkling in glad eyes ––fluttered here and there in handkerchiefs waved timidly   Here and there a maid or mother might be seen in tears. ––  Perhaps her dearest friend was in the rebel army, but the boldest Unionists of the town were taken captive to Richmond, by Jackson in his retreat, and their families were left in mourning, and this might be the cause of the grief we observed.

Winchester is a respectable town of five thousand inhabitants or so with indications of wealth and thrift, lately obliterated. –– A sprinkling of Quakers, the cut of the municipal jib &c., remind you of the Pennsylvania people.  The bilious “Secesh” have all gone with Jackson.

My company is still on provost duty, and we are quarter in the guard house of the Georgia 1st Regiment, where many a poor fellow, suspected of a little leaven of loyalty, has been incarcerated.  On the walls are penciled names and records of victims confined for weeks, with no charge brought against them.

On the whole our advent into the valley of Virginia has been hailed by the majority with gladness. The fortifications that made Winchester so formidable to Patterson’s command, don’t, in reality, amount to much, the heavy batteries he had –– Doubledays ––would have disposed of their forts, and the ridge running westward of the town, on which their commanding batteries were placed, cold have been carried by a charge covered by a brisk cannonade.

The valley of Virginia ought to have been held by our forces.  It would have turned the enemy out of their richest forage and plunder districts.  Its people protected by our arms would have still clung to the old Government, and not have been forced into acts of enmity.

Jackson has fallen back upon Strausburgh.  His rear guard, consisting of a force of infantry, cavalry and a battery or two, is some eight miles distant south of us at Newtown. Part of our regiment went down yesterday and tried to draw the into ambush.  Failing to do this we reconnoitered, and had much excitement skirmishing along for some two or three miles.  A hey fog settling down made our dance in an unknown country quite risky, and we returend.  To day another regiment, and a battery went out an dhad quite a little efight, driving the rebels from the town.

As soon as depots can be established and communications opened from our base of operations to the several corps de armies an advance will again be made.
Gen. Hamilton has left us.  He is promoted to Acting Major General of Heintzelman’s Division. His efficiency, and soldierly qualities are fully appreciated by McClellan.  He will do honor to Wisconsin.  With the deepest regret we part with him.             E. E. B.

A couple of weeks after the advance, the 13th MA separated from General Banks' Army and was attached to General Irvin McDowell's command, then at Manassas.  Banks & McDowell's Divisions would soon become part of Maj.-Gen. John Pope's newly minted Army of Virginia.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

An Appeal to Civil War Dealers/Collectors


I've added a couple additional thoughts to this post.  Perhaps it would be more properly directed to dealers in artifacts than collectors. ––May 5, 2020

I'm reluctant to post this in some respects because so many people have been so generous to me in sharing their collections that I in no way intend to disparage any one.  But I get frustrated sometimes at good source material that briefly appears at dealer sites, and offered for sale, and then just as quickly disappears.

I have received over the years a great deal of source material from generous collectors & dealers of Civil War artifacts and letters.   The information these relics hold, even if trivial, is often valuable in some other way to a researcher/historian.  Letters are especially important to my endeavor to present to the public at large, the 3 year history of the soldiers of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers ––through their own writings.  To this end, unpublished materials that have been shared with me by descendants and collectors is extremely important.

Pictured a number of personal artifacts that belonged to 13th MA soldier Melvin Smith, shared with me recently by his descendant.

 I would ask any dealers/collectors who have this kind of material to be aware that the contents of the artifacts and letters that they prize so much, is invaluable to researchers.  In my case, it would be collectors or dealers with 13th Massachusetts documents.

I’m saying this because there is a lack of source material for the regiment between the battle of Gettysburg and July, 1864.  There just weren’t many soldiers left in the regiment after Gettysburg.   The number dwindled to a few.   This isn’t a problem for the early days, when 1,000 men were sending letters home, to family, the newspapers or the Governor’s office.  Where so much information is at hand its possible to create a daily record of events within the regiment.   Not so for late 1863 - early 1864.  To be fair, some sellers have gone out of their way to share what they have with me, and it has helped tremendously with my project.   Very recently, a dealer contacted me with a detailed diary from 1863.  I helped with the transcription.  I was thrilled to get the snippets, but the dealer very generously decided to share the whole document with me!  I cannot praise him enough because these short diary entries add a whole new dimension to my website.  I have already posted several entries.  But, at least twice in the past few years, I was unable to obtain transcriptions of numerous letters written during this time period, that came up for sale, and then disappeared. 

I’ve been able to utilize some of the snippet summaries of these letters which were offered by the sellers, but its a poor substitute for the whole thing.  Snippets don’t capture the diarist or letter writer’s personality, or details that might be insignificant to a seller, but have great interest to a researcher. 

If you have in your possession letters of a particular unit, whether to cherish or to sell, consider sharing the contents with  researchers.  Reach out to someone else who would value and appreciate your collection as much as you do.  Its the information that we need, not the item itself.  In my case, I have been unsuccessful following the trail of these particular items that quickly disappeared into obscurity.

Its pretty darn easy to know there is a detailed website chronicling the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.   I’ve even seen information from my website used to advertise the sale of artifacts.  Just know, that I’m interested and would appreciate whatever lights you care to shine into the history of these men.  I will be thankful, and the many descendants I have helped will be grateful too. 

When I began my web history, there was a question as to whether or not I should share everything I found.  I decided to share, because in the end these aren’t my stories.  They belong to the soldiers’ themselves.  This policy brought many happy results, beyond monetary considerations.

So thats my pitch.  Please help if you can by sharing/linking this post with your friends.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Some Estates Around the Rapidan


This post is dedicated to Issiah.  

I remember my first visit to Maryland and Virginia from California.  It was exciting to actually visit places and discover sites I had been researching and reading about for years.  Now I live within driving distance to most of these places.  Its a kick to be able to just hop in the car and go out sightseeing.  A couple days ago my friend Brett, intrepid and unsung CW researcher extrordinare took me by Lessland, one of the estates of Jeremiah Morton.  I was unaware that it was still standing.  Its visible in the drawing artist Alfred Waud sketched of General Alexander Webb's 2nd Corps Brigade picketing Somerville Ford in October, 1863.   I didn't have a camera with me, so as the weather was nice yesterday I took another drive out there.  This is just a photo travelogue of some of the historic properties still standing, or no  longer standing in some cases, along the Rapidan River, which was the border between North & South during the winter of 1863-64.

Some Estates Along the Rapidan River. 

Here's my map.  I began my drive on the south side of Clark's Mountain in Orange County, south of the Rapidan River, and swung around to Lessland.  Jeremiah Morton owned two estates south of the river, and from what I understand, he called the smaller estate "Lessland" for less land.  Guess what he called the other?  Jeremiah invested heavily in the Confederacy and lost everything.  But I was thrilled to learn this estate still stood.

Lessland.

I drove from Lessland across the Rapidan to the Culpeper side of the river and turned east on Algonquin Road.  I was finally able to capture a descent photo of the entry to what was once Retreat Farm, owned by Robert II Stringfellow, who died in 1858.  I have not been able to explore the grounds, there is a family cemetery still extant, but the house I was told was torn down about 30 years ago.  That structure was supposedly a re-build of the original 18th Century farmhouse that burned during the war.  Lizzie Stringfellow left a wonderful description of the estate in her memoirs, published in 1930, "The Life and Times of Horace Stringfellow."  Robert II was Lizzie's grandfather and she with her sister and many cousins spent several summers of her youth on the property.  On October 2nd 1863, Lt. Edward Rollins of the 13th MA, spent a pleasant evening in conversation with Dr. John Stringfellow, of Kansas, who inherited the estate.  The article Lt. Rollins wrote is fascinating and will be on my website soon.

Site of Retreat Farm.

Here's part of what Lizzie wrote:

"The distance between the house and the public road was divided into three fenced-in-fields.  The first, counting the house, was for grazing purposes; the second for some low growing crop such as wheat or oats; the third was corn which grew so high that the tallest man could not be seen when the crop was a good one as it generally was in that rich ground.  As the fields were fenced in, there had to be gates to pass through before you reached the house.  The one opening on the public road was know as the "Big Gate” and to see it plainly from the house, a spy glass was kept on a table in the front porch. On fair days, it was the duty of young an old to use it and report if a carriage could be seen coming through.  If so, it meant from four to six visitors were coming to spend the day.  Then Mistress and servants got busy preparing a dinner which would reflect credit on The Retreat.  Giving and receiving visits was the order of that day and the only members of the household who did not enjoy it were the children who, having been taught that they must be seen and not heard, were generally miserable fearing that they would soil the clean clothes before they had been inspected by the visitors.  Another serious grievance with them was the knowledge that they would have to wait for the ”second table” before getting any of that extra good dinner."

I didn't stop to take a picture of historic "Lime Church" or St. Paul's, because I had already done that on an earlier visit.  In fact I have other pictures of most of these places, but on this particular day, I re-photographed some of them.   Here is the church in case you missed it on my website.

Historic Lime Church, same site, probably a different structure.

When the First Corps was picketing the river here in September & October of 1863, Col. Charles Wainwright, artillery officer, when out to explore the ground.  The pickets told him it was unsafe to ride beyond the church, as the enemy were fortified across the river and within firing distance.

Up the road a bit was Sumerduck, one of Reverend Thornton Stringfellow's two properties.   Lizzie Stringfellow, again tells a wonderful story about this estate.

Sumerduck Farm

Here is part of Lizzie Stringfellow's reminiscence of Sumerduck.  Lizzie's Aunt Ann Stringfellow was wounded in the foot during a skirmish at Retreat Farm on Sept. 15, 1863.  Fearing for her safety and that of the two nieces then visiting from Northern Virginia, the commanding officer removed the ladies and servants of the household to Sumerduck, which was acting Head-quarters of the cavalry picketing the river.  The ladies were loaded in an ambulance and taken up the road in the dark of night.

"It took Aunt Ann to find out from the driver where they were going.  When she heard that the Headquarters was none other than your Cousin Lawrence Stringfellow’s attractive home, she passed the word to the others.  There was general rejoicing for he was as clannish as the rest of the family so they knew they would be made welcome.  The house had been planned along Tidewater Virginia lines.  A broad portico ran the length of the house, the roof of which was supported by large pillars.  The upstairs front windows looked out from beneath the portico roof.  Those windows were low and the sills formed most comfortable seats from which one could see and hear all that went below.  The house was large and roomy and could have accommodated many more refugees than were coming to it then.

It was long after midnight before Aunt Ann was laid in a bed at Summer Duck House, the home of Cousin Lawrence, son of Uncle Thornton.  Two United States surgeons examined her and decided that the only thing to be done was to amputate the foot.  But before they could make the necessary preparations, she fainted so dead away that, hearing how much blood she had lost they concluded it was too great a risk.  So she was left to get along as best she could.

"The next morning, the girls, being young, had to agree upon a suitable course of action.  Until then, they had never met an enemy face to face.  That there must be a certain degree of aloofness on the part of Southern girls who had four brothers in the Confederate army, they fully realized but, “To speak or not to speak” was the question which they finally decided to lead to circumstance.  But, when Cousin Harriet, wife of Lawrence, came in to welcome them to her home and informed them that no inmate of the house was to be allowed to put foot to ground, such being the order from Headquarters, they immediately decided, “not to speak.”

"For, to girls who had been riding the country over to hear that they were now to be confined to a few rooms seemed tyranny of the worst sort.  Soldiers in front of the house and soldiers at the back kept the house encircled night and day for the six weeks that they were there."
The story continues with much excitement when Aunt Ann's son, Confederate Spy, Frank Stringfellow, sneaks into the home to visit his mother, but that's for another time.

On the other side of the river, not too far away is historic Greenville, a place whose name I can never recall correctly.  I've called it Glenview, Glenville and other things but Greenville is correct.  It sits far back from the road, so until I get an invite to visit, I had to settle for a very long shot of the manor house.  Its quite impressive nontheless.

Historic Greenville.

Here is a better view, although I didn't take it.
Historic Greenville, close up.

Continuing east, Struan is easily visible from the road.  This is the home in front of historic Morton's Ford.  General Alexander Hays had a crazy battle here in early February 1864, but there is no time to go into that now.  This is just about the picturesque views and historic houses. 

Struan.

I'll close this portion of the river tour with the site of what once was Reverend Thornton Stringfellow's beloved Farm, Bel Air.  When the current owners acquired the house many years ago, the original home, which had gone through a victorian remodel, was in a derelict condition. It had to be raised and a new home constructed in its place.  The farm however is still beautiful, and bears the name Bel Air Farm to this day.

Bel Air Farm.  Once the beloved home of Rev. Thornton Stringfellow.

I ended my drive this day at the Stevensburg Baptist Church, which was founded by Rev. Thornton.  He is buried there.  Its not on my map above, but if you drove directly north a few miles from Bel Air Farm, you would arrive at Stevensburg.  Some new interpretive markers were installed recently to pay homage to historic Stevensburg.  I was unaware of this, until my friend Brett took me there.  He really doesn't get enough credit.

Stevensburg Baptist Church,

Stone marking the burial plot of Thornton Stringfellow's family.

"Thornton Stringfellow was ordained in 1814.  He continued to minister in Fauquier and Clupeper Counties throughout his career and advocated for domestic missions, the temperance movement, and Sunday School programs.

On October 23, 1833, Pastors Thornton Stringfellow and John Churchill Gordon organized Stevensburg Baptist Church.  The congregation elected Stringfellow as the pastor for the new church and split from Mount Pony Baptist Church, which had relocated from the base of Mount Pony to Culpeper Courthouse.  At that time, new churches often developed from the division of some older local congregations.  …By 1847, [the church]  listed 97 black and 88 white members in its congregation.  The first church was a 40-foot by 50-foot brick building constructed in 1856.  The congregation continued to grow with 124 black members and 67 white members by 1860.  Blacks were the majority in the congregation, as well as in Culpeper County’s population at that time.”  ...From the Historical marker.
Is this a reason why Rev. Stringfellow was such an adamant defender of the institution of slavery?  He truly believed bringing the word of God to the people, of all communities, was the most important mission of his life.   He was not opposed to ending slavery, he just thought it would happen in God’s time, and like many of his era, he thought the abolitionists were the ones stirring up all the trouble.  Prominent members of his family thought much the same way.  Thornton lost everything in the war, which came right to his front doorstep in 1863; including his slaves.

The original church burned too.  The building was rebuilt in 1874, remodeled in 1961, and veneered with brick in 1978.

In closing, it is truly satisfying to be able to spend a day like this driving from one historic site to the next.  Each of these places is filled with stories and they are right here, for those willing to notice.  

Monday, January 27, 2020

East Meets West on the Rapidan –– a teaser



This is what I am working on now.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, (1816 - 1891) and his brother Dr. John H. Stringfellow, (1819-1905) were born to Mary “Polly” Plunkett, the 2nd wife of Robert Stringfellow of Retreat Farm, also known as Robert II.

Retreat Farm was adjacent to Raccoon Ford along the Rapidan River though the family purchased the property well after the Stringfellow brothers’ formative years.  In September & October, 1863, the 13th MA was picketing the river in this area, and Retreat Farm was the picket-reserve command post.  And therein lies a tale.

These two Stringfellow brothers were educated in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, and went on to acquire higher degrees elsewhere, before moving west at different times.  Both ended up prominent figures in the State of Missouri.  Ben, pictured right,  was Attorney General 1845 - 1849.  He subsequently gained the prefix, ‘General’ Stringfellow.  With this appellation B.F. Stringfellow was synonymously associated with Senator David Atchison, the leading proponent of bringing slavery to Kansas during the bleeding Kansas territorial period, 1854 - 1860.  Both Stringfellow’s were vigorously active allies of Senator Atchison in his efforts to bring thousands of Missouri residents into Kansas Territory to vote for pro-slavery candidates in early elections.  Ben lobbied Southern Congressmen to encourage their Southern slave owner consituents to move and settle in Kansas.  Dr. John Stringfellow helped found the town of Atchison, and with partner Robert S. Kelley, founded the vociferous pro-slavery weekly, Squatter Sovereign, issues of which you can read on-line at the Library of Congress, Chronicling America site.  I highly recommend it for insight into one side of those turbulent partisan times.

Kelley wrote most of the articles, but Dr. John, pictured left, frequently ran pro-slavery polemics penned by brother Ben, and Uncle Thornton Stringfellow, the most widely respected clerical apologist for slavery in the South.  And when Dr. John Stringfellow became Speaker of the House of the 1st Kansas Territory Legislature, he reported in the pages of his newspaper their daily proceedings.

Because of the huge number of pro-slavery voters imported from Missouri,  the Free-State settlers of Kansas Territory refused to recognize the legitimacy of the representatives elected.  This “Bogus Legislature,”  passed draconian pro-slavery laws, including hard labor and the death penalty for even speaking about abolition in the territory. 

In protest, the Free-Staters formed their own rump government, and elected as their choice for a future State Governor, Dr. Charles L. Robinson, pictured right, of Massachusetts.  Robinson was an educated man, a Massachusetts native, with many frontier experiences.  A California 49er, he served a term as representative in the California State Legislature.  Robinson returned to Massachusetts in 1851, married and founded the Fitchburg News. When the Kansas-Nebraska act became law,  Robinson became an agent for the abolitionist Emigrant Aid Company, and led the organization’s first group of 29 free-soil settlers to Kansas.    They founded the town of Lawrence.  Robinson was a great coalition builder, and his political skills were such that he strengthened the free-soil movement in Kansas Territory.  Consequently he was one of the Stringfellow brothers arch rivals during this time of Kansas’ history.  This history by the way is a great primer on what followed in the tragic Civil War.  I highly recommend readers learn more about it.

And now for the climax of this story.  On October 1st & 2nd, 1863, Lieutenant Edward Fay Rollins, 13th MA commanded the picket post at Retreat Farm.  He was called to the porch of the house to sit and visit with the current owner of the property, Dr. John H. Stringfellow, former Kansas Territory Speaker of the House.  Dr. John left Kansas in 1858 when his father Robert II died, and took over ownership of Retreat Farm.  Rollins and Stringfellow spent an agreeable two days in conversation debating slavery, and the prospects for the outcome of the war, then in progress.  Rollins was an editor by profession and had worked at the Fitchburg News.  His former employer was Dr. Charles Robinson, who in 1863 was the first Governor of Kansas, the free state arch rival of Dr. John.  Rollins wrote, “I had not met so agreeable a Southern man to talk with the whole two years I had been in the service. I could express my sincere views on the questions talked about without his taking offence, and I did my best to sustain my side of the argument.”  Then, “when relieved by another detail, he came to me and bade me good-bye, and presented me with a half blood-hound and half setter puppy which I had been admiring the previous day."


There is more, and the full story will be posted on my website, when the new pages are completed.  This is the last essay being developed for that new section.  And, if any readers know of where I might find a photo of Edward Rollins, please contact me. ––Hoping this generates some interest.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Petersburg Forts


          My wife and I went to Petersburg on the 4th of July.  More than a year earlier, I went with my friend Brett, and we followed the route of the Army of the Potomac from Spotsylvania, to the North Ana river, and then, eventually down to Petersburg.  We stopped at each location and did some exploring on foot.  At Petersburg we found the field opposite what became known as Fort Crater, where the 13th MA with their Division rolled into a steep railroad cut under enemy fire on June 19, 1864.  They had 1 month left to serve before their 3 year enlistment expired.  Only about 80 of the original 1,000 men were present in the ranks at that time.

         At Petersburg, we took a walk down the Jerusalem Plank road, probably the very same road the happy soldiers traversed to begin their long yearned-for journey home to Massachusetts.  On this trip we also found Fort Warren, later changed to Fort Davis, the fort the 13th Mass helped construct, and the very location from which they departed for home.  It was their last position on the front lines.

       I returned this year to capture some of these places with photographs, something we forewent on that initial exploratory trip.  And, we returned nearly 155 years to the day that the regiment left the front for home.   The temperature hovered around 100 degrees on July 4th, so my wife and I didn’t walk around too much, but we got to experience the same weather the soldiers experienced. 

       What follows are some excerpts from the history of the regiment, "Three Years in the Army";  by Charles E. Davis, Jr., and a few pictures.

"Saturday, June 18, 1864.
     Advanced at daybreak and found the rebels had abandoned their line of last night ; our brigade, which was in the first line, passing over the dead bodies of both armies that laid in our path, driving the enemy’s skirmishers about a mile, when we came in sight of the rebel earthworks.  We then halted and threw up works for our own protection.


 
Pictured is Fort Morton, looking to what became known as Fort Crater in the distance.  From here the regiment/brigade made the charge described below:

     "We soon made another advance across a field toward the railroad.  A deep cut, dug out for the railroad, passed through the hill about one hundred and fifty yards in front of us, to gain which we had to run the gauntlet of musketry and artillery from the enemy intrenched on a hill the other side of the railroad.  




The Field that was passed through to the deep railroad cut.  The Confederate line was in front of "Fort Crater" in the distance.  They had a clear shot at the approaching Yankees.  I wanted to take a photo from the edge of the cut but the weeds and brush were too high to pass through comfortably.  Plus it was 100 degrees.

     "Word was passed along that a dash was to be made, under fire, directly into this cut, and it was done.  As the men in the front line reached the edge of the cut, fifteen feet high, they jumped over the edge into the soft yielding sand, followed by the men in the rear lines, who came tumbling on top of the first line, before the men could extricate themselves from their uncomfortable predicament, rolling over each other clear to the bottom.  A more ludicrous sight could hardly be imagined in spite of the seriousness of the occasion.   The lines were reformed in the cut.

     Pictured is the railroad cut where today's park road crosses the track.  The cut was deeper in 1864, but some idea can be grasped of the soldiers tumbling over one another as they jumped into the cut and rolled to the bottom.

     "The Thirteenth was then deployed as  skirmishers and marched out of the cut by the right flank partially protected by scattering woods and a ravine, then faced to the front and advanced up the side of the hill where the enemy was intrenched, and where we halted and worked all night throwing up breastworks.  The enemy could be distinctly heard doing the same thing on the top of the hill.

     "A gully made by heavy rains was soon found in this ploughed field extending from the bank of the river to the upper line of earthworks.  This we deepened and extended so as to form a sunken way that could be safely traversed.

     "This hill was afterwards known as “Fort Crater.”

     "We were expecting to make a charge at half-past seven O’clock on the works in front of us, but it was abandoned.



This is the reverse view of the field the Federal Troops charged over into the rr cut.  The picture was taken from the Confederate skirmish line in front of Fort Crater.  The chimney in the center background is the Taylor House ruins. Fort Morton is on the right edge of the field in the background.

     "We had six men wounded.  In building our works, we utilized the dead bodies of the rebels by burying them in the earth which we threw up from the trenches, serving the double purpose of burial and increasing the size of the breastworks.  

"Sunday, June 19. 
     At daylight we found ourselves within a hundred and fifty yards of a rebel fort, high above us on the crest of the hill, with guns staring us in the face.  The rebels were unable to depress their artillery sufficiently to trouble the skirmish line so near them, but the infantry made it lively for us.  Any portion of a human body exposed above the earthworks was sure to draw a perfect shower of bullets.


     "That they might waste as much ammunition as possible, we frequently tried that old gag, so often told, of raising a cap above the works by means of a ramrod to attract their fire.  Collecting the guns of the men who had been killed or wounded, we extracted the ramrods and fired them over into the enemy’s works.  The enemy soon discovered what made the peculiar noise and returned the compliment, until both sides became tired of the novelty.  We had five men wounded during the day." –– END QUOTE.

PART 2

     After getting these pictures, we proceeded to the site of Fort Davis.  I wanted to go inside the fort, but a nasty moat surrounds it, which prevented climbing up the overgrown sides.  There are some good mentions of this fort from Charles Davis, Austin Stearns and Sam Webster, from which I quote below.

From "Three Years In The Army" by Charles E. Davis, Jr.

"Monday July 11.
     The enemy taking advantage of the quiet which prevailed to-day, and the carelessness that occurs on such occasions, suddenly opened fire with artillery.  For a few minutes the scene was very lively.  Nobody of our regiment was hurt, thought the colonel of the Thirty-ninth Massachusetts was killed. (Col. P. Stearns Davis).

     "At night the regiment was moved back to assist in building Fort Warren, afterward Fort Davis, in honor of the colonel of the Thirty-ninth.

"Wednesday July 13. 
     Still at work on the fort, which was laid out so as to be, when completed four hundred feet square.  It was hard work and continued night and day, the men being relieved every two hours for rest.  It took eight men to get one shovelful of dirt from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the work, the men standing on little niches cut in the side and passing the earth from one to another." –– END QUOTE.

Austin Stearns told a good story about this fort.  He wrote:

     "July 13 “My birthday, and the fourth one since I have been in the service. Spent the day in looking at the works and watching the colored men work.

     "…We are quartered inside the Fort, which is a large five sided one, containing about 2 acres, with a traversee running through the middle.  We are behind the traversee, and as our time is about out we do not feel like work.  I was up on the ramparts watching the Colored men work when Gen’l Warren and Crawford came along.  I heard Warren tell Crawford that he must have some traversees put in on that side, for if the Rebs should shell it there would be nothing to protect the men.  A little while after I saw Rawson up there taking his ease, for it was a great deal cooler there then down in the centre where there was not a breath of air; and the sun pouring down his hottest rays.  Giving Sanborn the wink, and going up so Rawson could hear, I said to Al, “Did you hear what Gen’l Warren told Crawford.”

     “No,” said Al, “what is it?”  “Well,” said I, “Warren told Crawford that if the Rebs should open fire this would be a very unsafe place to be in.”  Rawson said nothing, but got up and went down into the Fort, and didn’t go a rod away from the traversee all day.  I really pitied him.  We boys stayed up, laying around where there was a shade while Rawson lay down, pretending to be asleep in the sun.

     "A brigade of Penn troops were sent to work chopping down the trees in front of the fort.  They went to work in a very systematic manner, cutting the trees part way down and then cutting one at the edge and having it fall on the others, would take down an acre or more.

     "July 14  “Received orders last night to pack up, and turn over our recruits and reenlisted men to the 39th Mass and go to the rear.  …At last, just before sunrise, all was arranged and we were permitted to depart…  We marched from the fort with eighty guns, but when we reached the rear and the teamsters, detailed men, and sick and wounded reported, we had a very respectful regiment."  –– END QUOTE.


I am standing in front of the historical marker for Fort Davis, Petersburg.  The high overgrown bank behind me is the south wall of the fort.  A moat runs around the outside walls.  I'm holding a copy of a map Sam Webster drew in one of his memoirs, with a diagram of the fort, that shows where the 13th MA lined up inside, before marching off to go home.  That spot as indicated on Sam's map, would be inside the fort, directly on the other side of the wall where I am standing.


Sam Webster wrote:

"Thursday, July 14th, 1864

     At sunrise this morning, as the 13th marched out of the Sallyport, I was being transferred to the 39th Mass.   …Lt Rollins, Acting Adjutant, whom I messed with when I joined Co. D, turned us over (some 25 or 30, mostly “substitutes,” but a few old recruits and re-enlisted men) to the Adjutant of the 39th, and then commencing at the left bade them all goodbye…..”