Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sandy Hook, August 1861; Revisited

     I decided to retro-fit one of my earlier web pages and chose the 'Sandy Hook' page to start.  ("History > 1861 > Sandy Hook").  The idea is to update my earlier web pages with css code, to match the current page designs.  The Sandy Hook page was short, and I thought I could finish it over a weekend. But with new material to be added it proved to be more challenging.

     The regt. camped at Sandy Hook, MD for about a week, Aug. 24 - Sept. 3rd 1861.  As the page stood, the most noteworthy event in camp during this week at Sandy Hook was the arrival of state issued uniform coats and hats.  For most of the men, the apparel didn't fit, and regimental historian Charles E. Davis, jr. had fun describing the results,

"the person who selected the sizes was under the impression that every man from Massachusetts had a head like Daniel Webster"

      In contrast to the quiet at Sandy Hook, there was a lot of shooting  going on up river at Harper's Ferry where companies K & I were posted.  There were two alarms of note; one on Aug. 24th, the day the regt. arrived, the other on September 2nd.  The new material describes these 'engagements' with divergent terms.

     One man wrote of the former, it was a "fruitless alarm," while another said "we kept up a fire all night."  Inconsistencies appear in descriptions of the latter engagement too.  So, who was more accurate in their reporting?  That's when I noticed subtle attitudes in the soldiers' letters that corresponded to the company they belonged to. (as in Co. B, Co. I or Co. K)

     There was a jealous rivalry going on between the Boston Companies and the other companies during the first year or so of service and the letters subtly reflect this.  A Company K man, reporting from the Maryland side of the Potomac, opposite Harper's Ferry, describes events in a pretty straight forward manner. -- The captain commanding, spotted some rebel cavalry in the town, and called for re-enforcements from the ranks camped at Sandy Hook a mile and 1/2 away.   The writer called the affair a "fruitless alarm."  But one of the re-enforcements, a Co. B man, (from Boston) adds a bit more excitement when describing the event,

"we all rushed out pell-mell... to the rescue of our comrades.. They kept up a fire all night, but no one else was hurt on our side."

    The tone of these last comments can be attributed to the excitement of the soldiers on both sides early in the war.  The regt. had only been out 3 weeks, and they were eager to enter the fray.  But could there also be a touch of bragging in the letter, as the boys from Boston, "rush to the rescue of our comrades." The two companies at the ferry were from the so called 'country towns' of Marlboro and Westboro.  

     If there was a fire kept up all night, the boys were probably shooting at phantoms as evidence suggests this was indeed a 'false alarm.'   And the boys of the 13th were a bit 'trigger happy' at this time.

"The gallant 13th kept up a constant fire on the few inhabitants of Harper's Ferry, suspecting or affecting to suspect them of being rebels." 

     So wrote Harper's Ferry Historian Joseph Barry.

     There was another more serious skirmish on Sept. 2nd which is called "Beller's Mill" although no official reports were made of the engagement.   Both sides claimed to have killed several of the enemy.    Again the accounts of the event are somewhat sketchy.  Evidence suggests Co. I & K were attacked by elements of Turner Ashby's cavalry, when they ventured a couple miles into Virginia, to confiscate supplies at a mill.   Only one man in the 13th was wounded, George Brown, of Co. I.  Turner Ashby wrote in a letter to the Conf. Adj. Gen'ls office in September,

"I had occasional skirmishes with the enemy in this vicinity, ...having only 1 man wounded, and he doing well.  I have killed several of them each time." 

         In contrast, Joseph Barry wrote about this engagement,

"a rebel soldier named Jones was killed near the graveyard, a bullet having penetrated through the palm of his hand and then into his stomach."

     The rivalry between companies becomes evident again when a Company I man describes the event to a friend in the hometown of Marlboro,  

"The 4th Battalion (from Boston) are not used any better than the other companies, and, perhaps, not as well as Co. I, which undoubtedly stands at the head of the Regiment as the best company."

     The web page is better now.  I added more letters, found and added Turner Ashby's letter regarding his activities at this time, [from the Official Records], and discovered traces of the subtle friction between companies beginning to show up in these early letters home.  One other quote in particular stood out, from a soldier's letter to his mother.  I added the quote to the footer at the bottom of the page.  (The old page designs  don't have a footer).

"The Colonel says we will all be home in three months."

Here's the new link:
Camp at Sandy Hook

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Experiment - Feedback welcomed

While preparing another blog post for this site, (which I'm juggling with my website) and lamenting the lack of posts lately, an idea occurred to me.

We are nearing the 150th Anniversary of the formation of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Militia groups began forming in April and May, 1861.  In June, the original 5 rifle companies reported to Fort Independence, Boston Harbor.  They mustered into federal service as the 13th Mass. in July.

 With all the soldiers' letters I have, I could 'blog' the war in real time.   That is, I could post a letter from the rank and file of the '13th Mass.' on the date which it was actually written, -- only 150 years later.

If successful, I could probably keep this up until September 2012, at which time the amount of letters might drop off somewhat significantly. (But it has the potential to go on longer).  I thought the idea was sound.  
My website contains many of these materials already, but it might be interesting to follow them along in 'real time.'  Of course, I would include materials not on the website, and continue with other regular blog posts.

Those of you who happen to read this, leave a comment and let me know what you think!