Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving in Camp, 1861.

During the winter of 1861-62, the 13th Mass were encamped at Williamsport, Maryland, picketing the Potomac River, acting Provost Guard at Hagerstown and Williamsport, and protecting shipping along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.  Things were relatively quiet for the regiment that first winter and there was time for the boys to prepare a Thanksgiving celebration in camp.

Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts had declared Thursday, November 21st Thanksgiving Day. The transplanted New Englanders planned accordingly to celebrate New England style in Maryland.

The festivities proved novel to the locals as reported in the Hagerstown Herald & Torchlight:

“13th Massachusetts Regiment – Its Thanksgiving Day. Thursday last having been the day designated by the Governor of Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, the soldiers of the 13th Regiment from that State, now encamped near Williamsport, paid their respects to the day in an old-fashioned frolic.  Thanksgiving day originated with our Pilgrim forefathers, and was held in commemoration of their landing upon Plymouth rock, in 1620.  It was an appropriate and special recognition of the Providence of God, in bringing them safely through the perils of a long and adventurous voyage; and in New England it is still associated with such reminiscence, although they are gradually receding from public attention, and the day partakes more of the modern sentiment as it prevails with us.  This innovation upon time-honored custom the brave sons of old Massachusetts now in our midst fully illustrated by devoting the day to a grand festival, which terminated at night in a joyous dance upon a large platform erected for the purpose in their camp.  We understand that the Regiment was paid off on the previous day, which, in addition to the presents of pumpkin pie, turkeys, &c. received from home, enabled its members to do the occasion ample justice. It was a curious sight, however, to behold these descendants of the old pilgrim fathers celebrating a Thanksgiving day within full view of Virginia, the land of Secesh, and the “mother of statesmen,” but they came from their far-off homes as the defenders of the stars and stripes, and we honor them as friends and loyal citizens, while we despise the traitors who have dishonored that flag and rendered necessary the presence of an armed soldiery upon the soil of Washington County.”

     It was indeed a ‘big thing’ as the boys termed it.  The weather was splendid, with clear skies and moderate temperatures.  “The air was filled with shouts and emulations of mirth.”  Mule races, baseball games, and a greased pig chase made the day memorable.  Photographer George Crosby of Marlboro,Mass., had his photography studio in full swing, providing many soldiers the opportunity to have a likeness made and sent to loved ones waiting back home.  The evening was topped off with a dance in which ladies from the town of Williamsport were encouraged to attend.  Of course there were plenty of turkeys; many provided by the vigilant folks back home in Massachusetts.  Edwin Rice of the band, (pictured left) wrote to his sister:

“Thanksgiving passed off very well with us.  The stuff which was sent to the Band from Marlboro we took downtown to a hotel and put some more with it and had a first rate dinner.  We had the Adjt., (Bradlee) Capt. Pratt of Co E, Lieut. Frost, Co E, Lieut. Richardson of Co G.  The Lieut. Col. and Chaplain were invited but could not be present.  We bought all the extras besides what was sent to us, and we had to pay a dollar a plate for what there was there, 24 of us.  As there was nothing said about the price, we paid the bill and took away what was not eaten.”

The Westboro Transcript reported from a correspondent’s letter home: 

“Turkeys and chickens graced every mess pan and to give you something of an idea of the extent of our feasting I will state that Co. F. had 22 turkeys and 14 chickens, these were all stuffed and cooked by our neighbors of Williamsport.  This I think is about a fair sample of the whole, though Co. E of Roxbury was more fortunate than the rest of us in having had an excellent dinner all ready for the table brought to them by some of their friends in Roxbury; the weight of the whole I believe was about 1500 pounds.”

Chaplain Gaylord, (pictured right) an eloquent orator, preached a sermon on temperance to those who would attend, then a baseball game kicked off the festivities.  Teams were made up of three men selected from each company.  The right wing played the left wing, a member of Company K boasting in a letter home before the game,  that the left wing was sure to win.  I’m not sure which team won this particular match but the game must have been a hoot to watch.

In  a previous baseball game the officers of the regiment divided into two teams and played against each other.  Private John B. Noyes reported: “Col. Batchelder (left) tumbled over several times in dodging the ball which was well aimed at him.”  Batchelder commanded the regiment when Col. Leonard was away at Headquarters.  Noyes also mentions Adjt. Bradlee’s propensity for ‘lying’ which was evident even on the playing field.  Bradlee tried to convince Batchelder he’d struck out at bat, when he clearly had not.   After the ball game the boys had a mule race which was reported to be a success.

Private Noyes relates how he spent the day:  

  “And now for Thanksgiving.  Of course it was a holiday.  Some spent it one way, some another.  Co. E. had a dinner at the Globe, for their friends at home sent them Turkeys, plum puddings &c.  Other companies fared differently.  In my company one mess dined together down town.  No others of that mess could get out of the lines on passes.  Never the less by hook, or by crook four of our mess dined together at the Eagle.  Six others in 3 different parties got out of the lines & rendezvoused at Parker’s.  I was one.  We had the parlor of the establishment which was the front 2nd story room, the gayest looking room I have yet seen in Md. We invited in one of our men who was stationed at the Eagle on guard.  We had no cranberry sauce.  That was because we had plenty of others such as peach, apple & pear; for one of the Co. had cranberry sauce in his box which came from home a couple of hours before dinner time.  I did’nt have the folks at home at the table; that was impossible, we however made ourselves at home, if we could not bring you to us.  A roast turkey & chicken, a la Massachusetts graced the board, into which we soon made inroads with fixed knives and forks.  Floating island succeeded the main staple of the dinner.  To that home made pudding & mince pies.  We could not proceed to the sardines and nuts we had at hand, but turned our attention to, - dulce est despere in loco – champagne, and cigars.  After dinner we sauntered round the streets, and finally five of us rode up to camp in a hack !!  and were landed at our tents.  Perhaps others may have had as good a dinner as I did, but they did not drive up to camp in that luxurious style.” 

     Noyes said his party arrived in camp in time to watch the greased pig chase.  Several members of the regiment chipped in and bought a small Maryland greyhound pig which was shaved and greased with animal fat.  A crowd of laughing spectators gathered on the parade ground “with an anticipation of an hour’s fun” as private Clarence Bell recalled.  At the word ‘go’ the pig was turned loose and the eager contestants followed. The race had hardly begun when a crafty Englishman of Company D charged in front of the crowd and seized the little piglet by the hind legs and lifted the squealing animal off the ground for all to see.  It was over all too soon; the winner had filled his hands with flour before stepping up to the starting line.  It was a sure thing for the Briton.   Many protested, but the Englishman loved an argument, his only handicap as private Bell remembers is that with the piglet tucked under one arm, he only had one arm with which to gesticulate.  There being no set rules in a pig race the winner was allowed to keep the prize more for his superior wit than his skill.  And so the race was a disappointment.

     Dress parade followed the greased pig chase, then dinner time, but of course everyone had already feasted on turkey.  In the evening came the ball for which the dance platform had been constructed.  A small sprinkling of ladies from Williamsport attended; a very small sprinkling indeed, in fact only six ladies attended.  “There were very few girls in Williamsport,” wrote Noyes.  But as he concluded, “The ball did not amount to a great deal, though it well rounded off a very pleasant day.”

   Wishing all who read this a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


     I remember one of the key moments that re-ignited my childhood interest in the Civil War.  It was 1998 or ’99 and surfing the web was relatively new.  I was showing my friend Marty the on-line Civil War sites I had found using a borrowed Apple computer with a dial-up connection, and commented that my family still had my Great-Great Grandfather’s diary from 1863.

     Marty asked what was in it. That’s when I realized, no one had ever read it.  He was as surprised as me at the answer.  “You really ought to read it,” he laughed.  And so the quest began.

     November 8th is Marty’s birthday he would be 47 had he lived.  His many friends lost him to the fatal disease A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig ’s disease in August, 2005.  He was a great friend whose passionate interest in the Civil War inspired me to research the 13th Mass Vols.   In his honor I’d like to share some memories.

     Marty had many interests and many friends to share each passion. For a while he and a friend brewed and bottled their own beer.  Baseball was his favorite sport, and he attended games whenever or whereever he could.  The Yankees were his favorite team.   Mark Twain was his favorite author and he enjoyed American Folk Tales. Steam engines were another passion.   He collected watercolors in the plein air style and was an accomplished artist himself.  He enjoyed reading history and was a Civil War Buff. I was his ‘history’ friend.

     I met Marty at art school in the late 80’s.  Later we shared an office at our first professional job.  I didn’t know him well then, but his gag drawing of ‘Klan Dog’ cracked me up. “He’s a racist and a bigot” it says beneath the tiny thumbnail sketch. It was the extreme cuteness mixed with incredible bad taste that made me laugh. I got such a kick out of it he gave it to me.  Its not what he'd want to be remembered for, but these silly gag drawings where a part of his persona.  So, I learned that summer Marty was a Civil War buff.  The Confederate flag was a hint.

     We became friends during the next few years and discovered our mutual interest in history.  I took Marty’s advice and transcribed William Henry Forbush’s 1863 diary the first chance I had.  For a week I was transported back to 1863, and followed the movements of the 3rd US Artillery, Battery C, through the countryside of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The movements didn’t register with me for I was just beginning to learn about the war.  When I returned to California I shared the diary transcription with Marty.  I told him I wanted to learn more about the 3rd US Artillery and the 13th Mass., the regiment William Henry had belonged to before transferring to the artillery in December, 1862.  Six photos of the 13th Regiment at Williamsport, Maryland were tucked into the flaps of the diary.  I had very little information about the unit.

     It was Marty who discovered the memoirs of a 13th Mass Soldier listed in the bibliography of one of his many Civil War books; Austin Stearns’ “Three Years with Company K.”  I learned to use the same technique to check bibliographies at bookstores for more references on the regiment.  That’s how I found the 1894 regimental history written by Charles E. Davis, Jr.   I purchased the Stearns book and the Davis book and started reading.  Marty prepared a glossary of terms to aid my research.  They explained military organization and orders of battle.  He also gave me a book on the Dahlgren Raid of 1864, because Battery C, 3rd US Artillery participated in that controversial action.  “It would be great if your Great-Great Grandfather wrote something about it,” he used to say.

Our mutual interest in the Civil War, and sketching, led us to attend re-enactments at Historic Fort Tejon in the mountains of Southern California.  This was one of the few venues for re-enacting in our region at the time, and group participation was high. Marty would pick me up in his red Ford Ranger Truck with the bumper sticker that read “Steam Engines have a Tender Behind.”  We’d chug up the mountain 35 miles to Tejon Pass. At the fort Marty donned a broad brimmed straw hat, and carried a carpet bag stuffed with his watercolor kit.  He would tramp across the field searching for an appealing subject to draw.  Then he would open his black leather-bound sketchbook and set to work penciling in soldiers, women in period dress, fifers, drummers, and cannon, anything that caught his eye.  When he’d completed enough sketches he’d find a shady spot and pull out the watercolor kit from his carpet-bag.  This usually drew a small crowd.  His subjects often wanted to purchase his drawings.  Always modest, he was reluctant to part with them, but he frequently obliged much to their delight.   He had an amiable disposition which got us invited to a Confederate camp one afternoon where we shared some shots of whiskey. The Rebels were always more hospitable it seemed.  Sometimes we’d stay into the evening to watch the dances, with period costumes and music.  At days end we’d hop into his truck and head back down the mountain discussing the different people we had met and our good or bad sketches for the day.

The opportunity to attend a large re-enactment came at the 135th Anniversary of Gettysburg.  Marty traveled across country by train with a girlfriend to see it. In the same  straw hat and carpetbag, he was allowed on the field and met and painted re-enactors from all over the country.  He told me the most memorable moment he experienced, was the sound of taps played by a distant bugler coming from the direction of Devil’s Den.  The mournful sound floated across the still fields, and then all was silent again.  It was eerily affecting.

     Marty was an accomplished water-color artist and his paintings won awards around the country.  They include the New England Watercolor Society’s “Original Creative Thought” award; Texas Watercolor Society “Award of Excellence; Purple Sage Distinction,” and inclusion of his work in the Adirondacks six-month National Traveling Exhibition of American Watercolors.

     After he returned from one such show in Pittsburg, my wife asked him what he thought of her hometown.  He was a westerner and he told us it was the number of trees back east that most impressed him.  “I’m from Nevada,” he would say, “If we see two trees standing together its woods, three trees is a forest.”

His married friends frequently invited him over to dinner because he was such good company. At our house he always brought his sketchbooks along, which were detailed travelogues of the places he’d been and people he’d met. Over a beer or two he would narrate stories with the turn of each page.  There were sketches of waitresses he befriended at his favorite hangouts.  There were preliminary studies for paintings with color notations with close up details.  His favorite subjects were the fruit stands and orchards along highway 126 in Ventura County, California; the ranches and mountains in the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierras along highway 395; and the ranches up near Sierra City in Northern California.  He did some paintings of Chinatown, and one sketchbook was filled with drawings created during a family trip to Western Europe.  He gave my wife and I a painting done near Bishop, California, because it was one of our favorite places.  His work and his sketchbooks were inspiring.  His sudden departure from the world shocked all his friends.

     The cryptic e-mail I received in March 2004 nearly knocked me out of my chair.  Marty simply wrote to tell Susan and I he had A.L.S., it was terminal, and he was moving back home to Reno. 

     He came back to Los Angeles a couple of times to gather up his things and sell off what he didn’t need.  On one of these return trips his roommates threw him a going away/moving out party.  Since they were animation people, always joking, the cake was thoughtfully adorned with the touching sentiment “Get Out You Bastard.” Marty loved the joke, and his friends loved him.

     Before the disease robbed all his mobility he decided to travel.  Some of his friends accompanied him to Hawaii.  His friend Brian shared Marty's passion for baseball and took Marty on a whirlwind tour to New York, Boston and Chicago.  Marty was a huge Yankees Fan.  They visited the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, and saw games at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Chicago’s Wriggly Field.  The Red Sox won the series that year.  Brian said it was because Marty, a life long Yankees fan went to Fenway, and cheered the Red Sox; but only that one time.

Marty kept painting as long as he could but the disease spread rapidly, affecting his right side first, and he soon lost the ability to wield a pen or brush.  It effects different people at different speeds. It went quickly through Marty.  His family provided him with a comfortable home and as attentive care as anyone could give.

     “My father is a doctor,” he used to say, “my two brothers are doctors; my sister married a doctor; I’m the black sheep of the family, I became an artist.”  His devoted friends remained loyal to the end. His parents carefully recorded the names of the many visitors that came from all over the country to see him. Beginning in the Spring of 2005 his best friends Ernie and Dan traveled from Los Angeles to Reno every other weekend.  His friend Brian went up on the weeks in between. When things got worse they made weekly visits together.  The visits were a chance to cheer Marty but also help the family care for him.  They brought him to movies, museums, for drives in the country and played board games out in the front and back yards.  He laughed at them for keeping him out so long one afternoon he got sun-burned.  My wife and I went up twice in the summer. The first time we visited the train museum in Carson City.  The second time we hung out at his house telling him about our recent trip to Antietam Battlefield, Harper’s Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley.  On the first visit, Marty asked me to take all his Civil War Books.  He had a large library and told me, “All the art books are spoken for, but no one wants the literature or history books.”  I was a bit reluctant to take them, because there were so many, but he insisted. “I want someone who cares about them to have them,” he said. There were four or five boxes of books, several of them classics in the field.  It was then that I realized he knew a great deal more about the Civil War than he ever let on.

We last saw Marty in late July 2005, he died a month later at age 42.  In September his family organized a remembrance service at the Nevada Museum of Art giving his friends a last chance to gather together with family and say good bye.

His friends still miss him.  The lucky ones have a painting or two hanging on the walls of their homes.  I think of him every day.  I often fact-check Civil War articles I’ve written for the website and find myself consulting one of the many books in my library inscribed “received from Marty Scully, February 10, 2005.”