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.


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.

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.