Friday, April 23, 2010

Who Are These Guys ?

      My friend Eileen, who runs a great site on the  26th Pa. Vols. just sent me a picture of Walter E. Swan 13th Mass, Co. A.    On back of the image it says, Walter S. Swan,  40th  N.J. Cavalry.  Walter S. Swan was a soldier in that unit.  Is this Walter E. or Walter S ?  The name faintly written in light pencil at the top looks to me like Walter E. Swan.  Also the frock coat uniform is probably more typical of an infantryman than a cavalryman; the color of the trim, blue for infantry, yellow for cavalry,  is hard to discern.  The photo was take in Boston.  I think someone erred when they added the N.J. Cavalry designation, and this is Walter E. Swan of the 13th Mass.

     Here is Swan's record from the roster:
WALTER E. SWAN ; age, 18; born, Charlestown, Mass.; clerk; mustered in as priv., Co. A, Aug. 4, '62; mustered out, Nov. 24, '62; residence, Boston, Mass.

     Walter E. Swan was Secretary of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment Association in its later years, 1918 - 1922.  In Circular #32, Sept. 1919, Swan wrote an account of George H. Maynard, the only member of the 13th Mass. who received a Medal of Honor.  Swan wrote the following personal experience in Circular 33; Sept., 1920:

     "It was my lot after being wounded, to be sent with hundreds of others from the Bull Run battle field, first to Washington, where I spent a couple of days at the Carver hospital, and then to Philadelphia.  When we arrived at the latter city we were conveyed to the different hospitals in ambulances belonging to the Fire department which in those days were very handsome being painted in an elaborate manner.  I happened to be taken to a hospital at the corner of Fifth and Buttonwood Streets a large six-story building formerly Dunlap’s carriage factory.  This hospital accommodated some four hundred patients and was filled to the maximum.  Each ward had from sixty to seventy single cots so near together that one could reach out on either side and touch his neighbor’s cot.  The nurses were all men and while they were not always over careful in handling wounded patients, still they took fairly good care of them.  As I had the use of my legs and was in good health I spent very little time in the hospital excepting nights.  I would get a pass each day after having my wound dressed, which allowed me to be out until 8 o’clock p.m.  As I was only a kid of eighteen years (?) and very boyish looking, with my right arm in a sling, I seemed to attract a great deal of attention from the many kind ladies whom I would meet on the streets and I was flooded with invitations every day to visit their homes.  I therefore made many delightful acquaintances and spent many happy hours with some of the best families in that city.  My Yankee manner of talking always seemed to please them, and likewise some of their peculiar accents and expressions in conversation were very pleasing to me.  I received my discharge on the 24th of November, 1862, and reached my home in Dorchester, Mass., on a Thanksgiving morning.  In March, 1864, I again enlisted as a recruit in the Eleventh Mass. Battery, but was rejected at the Long Island rendezvous in Boston Harbor on account of my former wound.  Perhaps it was all for the best as I might have got it worse a second time, though I was mightily disappointed when rejected."
Walter E. Swan

Another Photo
      Here is a well known image of the regiment, that I have seen reproduced many times in periodicals.  It appeared in Francis Trevelyan Miller’s 10 Volume “Photographic History of the Civil War,” in 1911. I have never seen the men identified.  “Soldiers of the 13th Mass in Camp” is usually the caption to this photo, sometimes Williamsport is added.  Second Lieutenant Charles B. Fox of Company K, is identified, seated at right,  but who are the others pictured?  The subject index attached to this image at the on-line Carlisle Massachusetts MOLLUS database, lists the following names: Charles B. Fox, John G. Hovey, and I. Hall Stimpson.   Fox, (company K) and Hovey (company B) were officers, Stimpson was a corporal in Co. C.  Here is Fox’s record from the roster:

CHARLES BARNARD FOX; age, 28; born, Newburyport, Mass.; freight agent; mustered in as 2d lieut., Co. K, July 16, '61; mustered out as 1st lieut., Dec., '62; promoted to 1st lieut., Aug. 16, '62; appointed 1st lieut., 2d Mass. Cavalry, Dec. 1, '62; maj., 55th Mass., June 1, '63; lieut.-col., Dec. I, '63; brev. col., U.S. Vols., March 13, '65; residence, Boston.

John G. Hovey
 As I said, the name John G. Hovey is attached to the index for this page of photos at the Carlisle website.  First Lieutenant John G. Hovey of Company B, was promoted captain of Co. E in January of 1862, around the time this photo was taken.  (The photographer was active in the regiment from November, '61 - Feb. '62.)   The man seated, left, in the photo could be Hovey but I'm not sure.  The fellow in the Carlisle photo seems to have more of an upturned nose, while Hovey's is down-turned.   There is a hint of a shoulder strap on his uniform and I don’t see any corporal stripes on his sleeve (which would be Stimpson) but its hard to say all around. There are other photos attached to this record at Carlisle, so the reference to Hovey could mean something else.   His record from the roster:

JOHN G. HOVEY ; age, 33; mustered in as 1st lieut., Co. B, July 16, '61; resigned as capt., Jan. 7, '64; promoted to capt., Jan. 31, '62; residence, Philadelphia, Pa.

Here are a couple of photographs of Hovey with which to compare to the seated man at left.

   First Lieutenant John G. Hovey, of Company ‘B’, switched companies and replaced Charles R. M. Pratt as Captain of Company ‘E’.  John Noyes wrote of Hovey:  “He is a very gentlemanly officer and I am afraid is to be appointed Captain of Co. E.”  Noyes was sorry to lose a good officer to another company.

     Hovey’s appointment did not go over well with the Roxbury boys in Company E.  Joseph Colburn, the 1st Lieutenant of Company E, tendered his letter of resignation to Col. Leonard when Hovey's promotion was announced.  Col. Leonard must have made Colburn reconsider because Colburn did not resign, and continued to serve as 1st Lieutenant of Company ‘E’ under Captain John G. Hovey.

     I don’t have any images of Isaac Hall Stimpson. But he may be the gentleman in the tent -barely visible (behind the seated gentleman on the left).  Here is Stimpson's record:

ISAAC HALL STIMPSON; age, 22; born, Hillsboro', Ill.; clerk; mustered in as corp., Co. C, July 16, '61; died of wounds, Oct. 8, '62.

 Chandler Robbins
   Who might that bushy haired man holding the plate be?  I just happen to have a similar image from the archives of the Westborough Historical Society.  All the images at the Historical Society are labeled.  This image is from the book “On the Beaten Path” by Kristine Nilson Allen; published by the Westborough Civic Club and Westborough Historical Society  in 1984.

     That’s private Chandler Robbins of company K, center,  holding the plates & standing next to - Lt. Fox (again!) and First Lt. William B. Bacon.(both of Co. K).  The pose and the clothes match, and so does that bushy beard!  I think its a pretty good bet that Robbins is the man standing on the left in that photo from Carlisle.  His record from the roster:

CHANDLER ROBBINS ; age, 41; born, Plymouth, Mass.; wheelwright; mustered in as priv., Co. K, July 16, '61; mustered out, Aug. 1, '64; detailed as hospital steward; taken prisoner at Fitzhugh Hospital, opposite Fredericksburg; died, April 11, 80.

     I have two other images of Robbins, an interesting fellow, but the two images couldn’t be more diverse  In one, he is a clean-shaven civilian, in the other, a dapper soldier, with bushy beard, posing in his Scottish cap with his rifle by his side.

     I happen to have part of Robbin's lengthy obituary, which is interesting because he was an original "forty-niner" in California's gold rush!

WESTBORO CHRONOTYPE, (date unknown -Robbins died April 11, 1880.)

      Another of Westboro’s well-known and beloved citizens has been removed by death.  Chandler Robbins, the veteran undertaker, died on Sunday evening last, from cancer of the liver, after an illness of several weeks.  Mr. R. was born in Plymouth in 1819, where he learned the trade of a wheelwright, and removed to Westboro about forty years ago. He was one of the “forty-niners,” going out to California via the Straits of Magellan, on the first ship fitted at Boston for the then new gold regions.  He was connected with Fremont surveying party there, which was led by the famous path-finder Kit Carson. In the two years of his absence he had a varied experience, which included surveying, mining and exploring, and a few hours captivity among the Indians.  On his return trip, via the Isthmus, the train which carried the proceeds of his labors was robbed, leaving Mr. R. little but his experience.  His descriptions of what he saw in South America and California furnished many interesting stories for friends at home.

At the breaking out of the rebellion in 1861 Mr. Robbins was among the first who responded to the call of country.  He enlisted in Co. K, 13th Mass. Vols., and was detailed at once for hospital service. The skill and care he devoted to his labors among ht sick and wounded, both on the field, amid shot and shell, and in the hospital and camp, preserved valuable lives that otherwise would have been lost to country and friends.  Three times he was taken prisoner, being twice paroled on the field and once after a short confinement in Libby Prison.  His work brought him in contact with high officials, many whom owe much to the careful nursing he gave them, and they will learn with regret of the death of their old comrade, to whose efficiency and zeal they have testified in flattering terms.

     During Mr. R.’s early years in Westboro he worked at sleigh-making, and was afterward auctioneer and commission merchant for a short period.  After the war closed he established a furniture store here, and engaged in the business to some extent to the time of his last sickness, in connection with upholstering and repairing. 

(Some of the article is missing).

     Mr. R. was of a pleasant, genial nature, and a man of strict integrity of character who was always ready to give what assistance he could to his fellow men and do a neighborly act.  Consequently he had many friends and few, if any, enemies.

     In 1842 he married Miss Frances M. Mellen of Westboro, who survives him.  Five children were the fruits of their union, only two of whom are now living - Arthur W., of this village, and John B., of Stonington, Conn..

The article continues describing the funeral service followed by several resolutions passed by his comrades in Co. K, 13th regiment that attended his funeral.

     To conclude this lengthy photographic discussion, I think the men in the camp photo from Carlisle are, Chandler Robbins, priv. Co. K;  John G. Hovey, (?), 1st-lieut. Co. B, (later Capt. Co. E); possibly Isaac Hall Stimpson, Co. C,  behind him, and 2nd-lieut. Charles B. Fox, Co. K.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Letters of the Civil War

     In a brief e-mail exchange a couple weeks ago, Greg Taylor mentioned to me his appreciation of soldier’s letters home during the Civil War.  Greg runs a couple of websites that feature his ancestors war time letters.   and

     Like me, he felt this was a great source for real history, unfiltered by the passage of time, and presented as events occurred.  This got me thinking about a great site that once existed on the internet. 

     Between the years 1994 and 2006, there existed a website called “Letters of the Civil War.”  The site featured letter transcriptions and war news culled from the local area newspapers around Boston. The city of Boston itself had several papers at the time; the Boston Transcript, the Courier, the Herald, the Traveller and more. The papers would often publish soldier correspondents’ letters from the war front.  The Boston Public Library maintains microfilm copies of most, if not all of these newspapers. "Letters of the Civil War" was largely the effort of one person, Tom Hayes the creator, and he would transcribe and post these letters on the internet, indexed by year, month and date and subject.  With 4 companies raised in Boston there were naturally a lot of letters from the 13th Mass posted here.  Then sadly, one day the site disappeared.

     I had downloaded about 30 letters from the 13th Mass before the site vanished.  I often lamented the demise of such a great resource.  I know others familiar with the site have missed it too.  It inspired me to seek out and transcribe copies of the Westboro Transcript from the town library in Westboro, Mass. on  a rare visit to the east coast in 2005.  I’ve posted many of these transcriptions, with those I downloaded from Letters of the Civil War, at my website.  But I always wished I could go back in time and visit Tom’s site again.

The Web Archive
     In February, while seeking materials for my recent Roundtable presentation, I was repeatedly bounced over to a website called the web archive 'wayback machine.'   It proposed to be an archive of the early days of the internet.  I bookmarked the site and planned to return at a later date.  I wondered if I could dig up any trace of Letters of the Civil War there.  Two weeks ago I returned and did a search.  To my amazement, the search was successful !

How the site works
     Years ago, software from the web archive would periodically scan the internet and cache html pages it found.  A search for brought up several archives of the site saved between the years 2002 and 2006.  The archive cannot save java script run on servers which sometimes worked the navigation of a site, and this presents in-operable links on some of the archived web pages.    I was able to open the ‘home page’ and link to the ‘index’ page from a 2002 archive of Letters of the Civil War.  From the index page I could access several of the individual transcribed letters (html pages) that had been posted on the original website.  But in 2002,  there was a smaller selection of letters to view.   The links from a 2006 archive of the web site were broken, so I could not access the index page (which linked to all the individual letter transcriptions).   But I figured out a way to get there. 

 Here’s how.  (It’s a little tricky).   The web archive lists all the dates its software archived the site “Letters of the Civil War.”     I opened the 2002 index page and changed the date in the address window to a cache date from 2005; (the archive date is actually part of the page address that appears in your browser window).  Presto Chango! suddenly many more of the letter links were live and working!  There is a caveat however, and that is the pages are very slow to load.

     Suddenly I was back in time, navigating through this wonderful old database of Civil War letters.   I started going through each month of the war and downloading all the 13th Mass letters I could find!  I had thought the thirty or so that I downloaded years ago pretty much covered the material.  I was wrong.  I downloaded over 80 more letters, all relating to the 13th Mass. 

A Couple of Letter Excerpts
     Early in the war, the correspondents wrote frequently to their hometown papers.  Great interest in the soldiers’ fortunes was exhibited at the homefront.   The letters tapered off as the war dragged on and people tired of its dismal tidings.  But these early letters provide an almost daily chronicle of the regiments activities.  Arguments were even carried on within the pages of the newspapers.  The following excerpts illustrate the seething rivalry that developed between the 4 Boston Companies (the ‘4th Battalion’) and the rest of the regiment early on in the war.  The subject of the argument is a favorite topic from the annals of the 13th Mass.; “Who Took Martinsburg ?”

Letter from Winchester, Va.
March 12, 1862

“…I suppose you have seen a letter written to the Traveller, dated at Martinsburg, at the time of our occupying that place; since seeing and reading that letter the query has been who took Martinsburg?  Answer Co. A.  Is this so, or is it not?  Co. A. was thrown out as advance guard to reconnoiter, when the Regt. was within a few miles of M. to give the alarm to us, or to take care of what few of the enemy they might find.  They took different roads, and were to meet at the rear of the town; the balance of the Regt. passed into M. and being very tired, after halting, laid themselves down on the doorsteps and other places most convenient.  All at once firing was heard, causing all hands to spring to their feet.  The communication states that two Rebel Officers were seen approaching, who, on being challenged by a portion of the advance (Co. A.) turned and tried to escape.  They were fired upon, but got away.  These two Rebel Officers turned out to be Officers attached to one of our own Batteries, stationed in town; the other part of the advance coming up at that moment, discharged their pieces at the first named portion of their own Company; fortunately their aim was too high, the balls passing over their heads.  The two Union Officers who were fired at, immediately turned one of their guns so as to command the street, to repel the attack from the supposed enemy.  You will perceive at once the mistake on both sides.  The two Officers took our Boys for Rebels, and vice versa; ’twas all a mistake; instead of sending a letter full of triumph home, they should have been thankful no harm came from what was a very natural mistake.

The letter referred to, was a letter too much on the bombast order; did no harm, merely causing a feeling of disgust, originating the question of–“who took Martinsburg?”

From some unaccountable reason, the so called 4th Battalion has always seemed to feel themselves superior to the balance of the six Companies composing this Regt.  Their superiority has not, and never will be admitted.  In what respect are they our superiors?  Do they possess more general intelligence?  Are their moral characters cast in a purer mould?  Have they, at any time, excelled in point of military discipline or drill?  Have they even in a physical point, attained a higher standard?  If the assertion is made, I deny it.  Like some proud old Aristocrat, to whom even a slight contact with the so called Plebian, causes a feeling of horror, they cling to the proud, the high, the lofty position, attained by them, at a certain time in the past, while playing Sojer in the good old City of Boston.  Should any skirmish occur, and any Company of the 4th Battalion be very near, you will hear of brave deeds–daring exposure–samples of tall fighting, &c., &c.  If one of the other Companies are near, they are never seen; all the hard fighting is done by the invincible four Boston companies.  One would suppose, from the perfect shower of adulation, which greets them, that they were the descendants of a long line of warriors, the might of whose power had fallen upon this particular branch of the 13th Mass.  Several great battles have been faught by this noble and valiant portion of our Regt.  One of which (at Antetim)* must have caused the spirits of an Alexander or a Cesar a pang of jealousy.  Four rifles, aimed with deadly intent, were discharged into their midst, causing the spirit of these heroes no small amount of confusion.  No guns were discharged by them (as I understand) at the enemy, on account perhaps of serious scruples in regard to the taking of human life.  If we are wrong in our statement, impartial history will see the wrong righted.  Many other fearful engagements might be mentioned, but for fear of engendering a spirit of pride in the hearts of these noble Union soldiers, we forbear.
The Response   
      This is a pretty scathing indictment from a member of Company E raised in Roxbury, and it  caught the attention of the ‘4th Battalion.’  The following letter appeared in the paper a month later as a response:


Manassas, April 13, 1862
Editor of the GazetteDear Sir:
            Being a constant reader of your paper, I happened to notice a letter from the Mass. 13th dated March 12, and signed “Roxbury.”

            Now, I have not the slightest idea who this “Roxbury” is, but should suppose from the tenor of his letter that he belongs to Co. E.  I think he is rather hard on the 4th Battalion, and especially Co. A, of that corps.

            He speaks of the affair at Martinsburg, and seems to think that Co. A believed they had made heroes of themselves on that occasion.  His account is not very complimentary to Co. A, and as a member of the company, allow me to make an explanation.

            As he says, when we were within a few miles of Martinsburg, A was detailed to go round to the rear, and cut off any rebels who might attempt to make their escape.  Accordingly, we proceeded under the guidance of a loyal citizen of Virginia, across the fields to the rear of the town.  When we arrived there, our captain drew up the first platoon in two ranks, on the Tuscaroras road (a road leading up into the mountains), and sent the second platoon, under command of Lt. Judson, round to the Winchester turnpike.  The signal was then given that we were ready, and we soon heard the regiment advancing into the town.  I being in the second platoon, knew very well all that transpired.  We (the second platoon) marched down the street with our arms loaded and bayonets fixed.

            When we got half-way down the street, and had halted to ascertain how near the centre of the town we were, the clatter of the horse’s hoofs attracted our attention.  The noise came a cross street on our left, and we supposed that some of the rebels we expected to meet were endeavoring to make their escape.  We could distinguish only two men.  Our lieut. stepped forward and challenged them; instead of answering the challenge, they (supposing that we were rebels) wheeled their horses and started up the street to a gallop; at this one of our boys fired without orders, the ball taking effect in the neck of one of the horses, and brought him to the ground.  His rider jumped from his back, and started on foot to alarm the regiment.  Just then our Lieut. Colonel, who had heard the firing, came down and ordered us to rejoin our regiment.

            The two horsemen proved to be a Lieut. of Artillery and his bugler, who were looking round to find forage for their horses, and who did not know that we were there.  All this trouble would have been avoided had he answered the challenge instead of running.

            This is a correct account of the affair at Martinsburg.

            The “letter full of triumph,” was undoubtedly written by a member of Co. A, but who the writer was we cannot find out:  suffice it to say that it was considered by all as an absurd and ridiculous epistle, and the writer has probably heard many unpleasant remarks with regard to it.  The general supposition seems to be that he is an officer, but it is impossible to say whether this supposition is correct or not.  The query– “Who took Martinsburg?” originated, it is true in Co. A, but it was only used to express their indignation of the manner in which things were transacted on that night, and not, as “Roxbury” supposed, in a boastful spirit.

            My object in answering the letter of R. was merely to place before the people of Roxbury, some of whom have relatives in Co. A, a true account of the affair at Martinsburg.

            Hoping that you will give this a place in the columns of your paper, I remain

                        Yours very respectfully,
                                   A Member of the 2nd Platoon.
     Such is the kind of detail that can be discovered from mining local newspapers for Civil War history.  I’ve always been more interested in the personal experiences of the soldiers than anything else.  After rediscovering this buried treasure I felt compelled to try and contact the sites creator, to inform him that a shadow of his excellent work still exists.  As a site owner myself, I appreciate the time, effort and expense that go into building a website.

A Talk with Tom
     I was fortunate in tracking Tom down and we had a pleasant phone conversation two weeks ago.  I told him how much I admired his site and gave him the web address of the archive so he could check it out.  Tom told me a little about his work.  All the papers came from the Boston Public Library collection.  He had a couple fellows offer to help him transcribe the letters, one guy doing as much as Tom could send him.  Of the several papers in the Boston area he thought the Herald was one of the greats.  The Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer was the paper he spent the most time with.  He discovered the unflagging efforts of Mayor Fay of that city to support the soldiers in the field. Mayor Fay made constant trips to visit the troops, raised money and supplies for the men in the field and those in the hospitals, and otherwise did everything he could to support the boys from his community who went to war.   One of the interesting details lost to history was the name of the soldier who raised the American Flag over the Confederate Capitol when Richmond fell.  It turned out it was a Chelsea boy, and Mayor Fay, who was visiting the troops at the time reported it to the paper back home.

     The website disappeared for various reasons, partly because of time constraints and other commitments,  but the material still exists; perhaps over 2,000 letters, and Tom thinks one day, though it might not be until he retires, it will return.

The Archive
    For now, if you want to check it out, follow the link below which will take you to the index page laid out like a calendar.  Click on a month, and another page will load listing all the letters available to read for that particular month.  There are letters for several Massachusetts regiments; some from Connecticut, and other war items of interest too.  WARNING:  This page will take a LONG TIME to load, but it’s worth it.  (If you get a message saying the java script won't load, just cancel the action.)

*This refers to a skirmish at Antietam Creek in August, 1861, when Companies A and B were picketing the Potomac;  not the major battle that came a year later.