Thursday, December 17, 2009

"As grain before the scythe:" The Nineteenth Massachusetts in the West Woods

On September 17, the 19th Massachusetts found itself "hotly engaged" in the West Woods where they would lose half the regiment. In the midst of this stood John G.W. Adams (1) a shoemaker from Groveland, Essex County, Massachusetts. Years later Adams would publish a history of the 19th and in it would record the loss of one brother and the reunion of another. (2)

"We arrived at South Mountain while the battle was being fought, but took no part in it. The 16th of September we reached Antietam, and formed in line of battle. On the morning of the 17th, with our brigade in the centre, we advanced in three lines of battle, over walls and fences, through fields, under a terrible fire of artillery. (3) The regiment was growing nervous but did not break. Colonel Hincks (4) halted us, put us through the manual of arms, ending with parade rest. Having become steady, we moved forward to a strip of woods, and came upon the enemy strongly posted. Grape and canister, shot and shell, volleys of musketry greeted us, - and our men fell as grain before the scythe.

One-half of our officers and men were either killed or wounded. Colonel Hincks was the first to fall, again terribly wounded. Capt. George W. Batchelder (5) was killed, and the command of the regiment and companies changed fast, as one after another officer went down. At the time we were so hotly engaged in the front we began to receive a fire from our left and rear, and discovered that we were being flanked, and must change front to rear. This was done by the 19th Massachusetts and 1st Minnesota. We were now under command of Colonel Devereaux,(6) and were ordered to take a position near a stone wall. We fired as we fell back, holding the enemy until we had reformed our lines, when we again went in and continued fighting until dark, when we were ordered to support a battery. We then had time to count the cost of the battle. Colonel Hincks was reported dying, and we mourned the loss of our brave leader.(7) Captain Batchelder was dead. He had been my tent-mate since I had been an officer, and had rendered me valuable assistance. Every one loved him; he was an ideal volunteer soldier. Having graduated at Harvard, he entered the army as an enlisted man in the Salem Zouaves at the first call for men, and had worked hard to bring the regiment to the state of efficiency which it had reached.

I had not seen my brother (8) since we had advanced in line. He was left general guide of the regiment, and his place was on the left. As soon as we halted I went to the company, but he was not there. The following day I searched the hospitals, but could not find him, and on the morning of the 19th, the rebels having left our front, I went where their lines had been and found him, with Jacob Hazen of Company C and George Carleton of Company B, near an old haystack. He had been shot in the right side of the neck, the ball passing out of the left shoulder; it had cut the spinal nerve, and he could not move hand or foot. I saw at once that he could not live and had him placed in an ambulance and carried to our field hospital. It was the saddest duty of my life. We had left home together, and had often talked of a happy reunion around the old fireside when the war should end. Now I must write to my old mother that one of the three who had bade her good-by in '61 would never return.

This was war, terrible war! As I was kneeling by his side, hearing his last words, a woman's voice said, "Is he your brother?" I explained to her the fact that I was in command of my company and could not stay with him, but could not bear to have him die alone. With tears streaming down her motherly face she promised me she would not leave him, but would see him buried and would send me word where he was laid, - which promise she faithfully kept. The name of this good woman was Mrs. Mary Lee of Philadelphia, Pa.(9) She had a son in Baxter's Fire Zouaves,(10) who was with her that day. Several years ago, when Post 2, G.A.R., of Philadelphia, was in Boston, I saw that one of the old battle-flags was the Fire Zouaves, and was carried by Sergeant Lee.(11) He proved to be the son I had met that sad day at Antietam; a few months later I visited his mother in Philadelphia, who was working just the same for the soldiers as she had done during the war.

While my brother lay wounded on the field inside the rebel lines an officer of the 8th South Carolina came along, and seeing 19 on his cap asked to what regiment he belonged. Being informed that it was the 19th Massachusetts, he said he had a brother in that regiment named Daniel W. Spofford.(12) My brother told him that his brother was wounded in the battle, and might be on the field. He searched for him but did not find him, as he was able to go to the rear before we changed front. Returning, he had my brother carried to the haystack where I found him, and rendered all the assistance possible. The name of the South Carolina officer was Phineas Spofford.(13) Both brothers survived the war. The Union soldier resides in Georgetown, Mass., the rebel in South Carolina, but he often visits his native State.

I also missed my boy Patch.(14) He was last seen helping a sergeant from the field. He turned up in Libby Prison a few days later. My old company had met with other losses than death. Four men had deserted on the eve of battle. They had taken the canteens of the company to go in search of water. No doubt they are searching yet, as they did not return. Two were non-commissioned officers, and all were intelligent men."


1. The 1860 Federal Census lists John Adams (age 18) and his brother Isaac (age 27) at home in Groveland, Essex County, Massachusetts. Both listed their occupations as shoemakers. They resided with their parents Isaac and Margaret. The 1850 Federal Census lists an older brother Asa F. Adams, then 23, who would have been about 35 in 1862.

2. John G.B. Adams, Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, (Boston: Wright, Potter Printing Company, 1899). This account was transcribed by Kerry Webb from a copy of Capt. Adams' book held in the National Library of Australia. The transcription can be retrieved at

3. "The Nineteenth Regiment was on the extreme right of the second line of battle, the Minnesota regiment being on the right of the first line, when the Minnesota was the last regiment in its line to leave the position, and was immediately followed by the Nineteenth." Official Report by Captain Harrison Gray Otis Weymouth, Bolivar, Virginia, September 29, 1862.

4. Col. Edward Winslow Hinks or Hincks.

5. George W. Batchelder was a 23 year old lawyer from Salem, Massachusetts. Commissioned 1st Lt. August 1861 and commissioned Captain March 1862.

6. Lt. Col. Arthur Forrester Devereux (1838-1906).

7. Col. Hinks (Hincks) survived his wounds. "In November 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers, and served on court martial and recruiting duty, was a prison camp commander, and commanded the 3rd Division/XVIII Corps (US Colored Troops) at Petersburg. He then had draft and recruitment duties. Continuing in US Army service he was Lt. Colonel of the 40th US Infantry in 1866, transferred to the 25th Infantry in March 1869, and retired at the rank of Colonel in December 1870. He died on February 4, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. " Retrieved from Brian Downey's definitive Antietam website: Antietam on the Web at .

8. Isaac Adams.

9. Mary Lee was one of the leading organizers of the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon founded on May 26, 1861. Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Philadelphia: Published by the City, 1913), p. 207. See further, Marjorie Barstow Greenbie, Lincoln's Daughters of Mercy (New York: G.B. Putnam's Sons, 1944).

10. The 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized in Philadelphia.

11. Probably William H. Lee, Company A, 72nd Pennsylvania. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5; prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature, by Samuel P. Bates.
Author: Bates, Samuel P. (Samuel Penniman), 1827-1902.

12. Aaron and Betsy Spofford sent three of their sons to war from Boxford. Daniel W. Spofford (b. 11.30.34) enlisted in Company A of the 19th Massachusetts on August 9, 1861 and was mustered in two days later for a duration of three years. His wound put him in the hospital where he remained until October 12, when he again joined his regiment. His brother, Aaron (b. 4.20.33), had enlisted in Company E of the 12th Massachusetts on June 11 and was mustered in June 26 for three years. Aaron was killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862. Their older brother was Phineas F. Spofford (see note 13 below). Sidney Perley, History of Boxford, Essex County, Massachusetts, From the Earliest Settlement Known to the Present Time: A Period of about Two Hundred and Thirty Years (Boxford, MA: Published by the Author, 1880), p. 324.

13. "[T]hey spent the night following the battle in a neighboring barn [probably the barn in the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead], reviewing the past and present situation, and recalling the memory of their brother [Aaron] who had previously fallen a victim of the fratricidal strife."

Phineas F. Spofford was captain of Company D of the 8th S.C. He survived the war and in 1870 was living in Cheraw, South Carolina. He left the family home sometime before 1850 since that year's census shows him living and working in neighboring Georgetown. He was 22 and was listed as a shoemaker. He was living in company housing provided by a shoe factory probably owned by Luther D. Perley, listed in Census as "shoe manufacturer." The Spofford and Perley families were related by marriage at the turn of the century and there may have been some sort of familial arrangement that brought Phineas into the Perley shoe manufacturing business in Georgetown. What brought Phineas to South Carolina and into the 8th South Carolina remains a mystery. By 1860 he had established residence in the large household of South Carolina native R.L. Edgeworth in Chesterfield, South Carolina. One of Phineas' housemates was J.W. Kibbin, a shoemaker from Massachusetts. He remained in South Carolina after the war--the 1870 Census shows him living in Cheraw--and ten years later he had moved back to Chesterfield where he assumed duties as the town sheriff, was a bachelor, and "resided" with five men listed as prisoners. Perley, ibid., p. 324; Memoirs of Robert E. Lee, eds. Armistead Lindsay Long, Marcus Joseph Wright, (New York: J.M. Stoddart, 1886), p. 664; (; D. Augustus Dickert, History of Kershaw's Brigade (Project Guttenberg eBook, release date August 6, 2004 [eBook #13124]; 1850 Federal Census for Massachusetts; History and Genealogy of the Perley Family, M.V.B Perley, compiler (Salem, MA., self published, 1906), p. 80 and retrieved at; 1870 and 1880 Federal Census for South Carolina.

14. George H. Patch (1844-1887), Company I, 19th Massachusetts. Patch survived the war and settled in Framingham, Massachusetts. Adams, op. cit.; Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009; 1880 U.S. Census for Massachusetts.


First: Detail from Carman/Cope map, Library of Congress.

Second: Life Magazine Collection, Google Images.


Jim Rosebrock said...

Great story about the 19th Massaachusetts. We will have to do some digging at the LOC some day soon. Hope you had a great holiday and Happy New Year to you.

Jim Buchanan said...

Thanks! for the post Jim.

Re LOC. Let's try to get there early in the new year. I'd like to look through some of the Carman materials there among other things.

See you!

Don Gallagher said...

Great post Jim. I had the Honor to be part of the Color Guard at a graveside ceremony to remember and celebrate Mary Lee's service to the soldiers. She is largely forgotten today but she was well known during her life for her devotion to "her soldiers".

Jim Buchanan said...

Thanks! Don for your comment and you contribution to posts here. If you have any photos of the ceremony, I would sure like to post them here (or link to them if posted elsewhere). Meanwhile, I hope to put something up on her in the next couple of months.

Ward Clarke Griffing said...

Thanks for your posting. It helped me to learn more about Pvt. Daniel W. Spofford. I recently transcribed a letter he wrote in November 1861 that will be sold on e-bay soon. -- Griff

Jim Buchanan said...

Hello Ward. Thanks for your post. When the Spofford letter goes up on eBay, please let me know.

Ward Clarke Griffing said...


I can't say for certain when it will go up for sale on e-bay -- probably within the next couple of weeks. You may want to schedule an alert on e-bay. I don't actually own this letter. I transcribe letters and provide biographical material on old letters for an acquaintance of mine who buys and sells them on e-bay. In exchange for this "service", he authorizes me to post the letters on one of my blogs. You can see this letter at:
I have many such letters posted in Spared & Shared blogsite 1 through 7. -- Griff

Ward Clarke Griffing said...

One of my most enjoyable treks across a Civil War Battlefield was at Antietam. I hired a personal guide from a local university and we literally walked the ground of the opposing armies for several hours. I must say, nntil you've walked the terrain at Antietam, you can't begin to comprehend the battle. -- Griff