Sunday, November 7, 2010


At Antietam, ninety-six monuments dot the battlefield landscape from the edge of the North woods to south of the Burnside Bridge. Most are to Union regiments; five are to Confederate. Individuals are remembered in ten monuments and mortuary cannons mark where six commanders--three from each side--fell.

In the West Woods are other monuments not marked on official maps. A cairn of rocks stacked atop one another; odd constructions of sticks bound with vine hanging from branches; flags and flowers placed to accompany iron War Department tablets. The most elaborate of these unofficial memorials is a collection of objects--a plastic flower, an owl, a dove, and an angel. Who put this here? Why?

Cicero tells us that "the life of the dead consists in being present in the minds of the living." These monuments and memorials constructed by states, regiments, and individuals are calling us to remember those who stood in these fields--from places such as Worcester, Massachusetts and Cleveland County, North Carolina. Present in the minds of the living, they are with us still.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Historically Appropriate Transportation Returns to Antietam

Forget the car, here's a new old way of getting around the battlefield. I snapped this couple on Sunday touring the field in a reproduction Amish buggy (complete with padded seats and disc brakes).

Although the engine is only 1 HP,  this six-seater cruises nicely over all the roads including the Sunken Lane. Gardner would be envious.

Hourly tours are available at the Visitor's Center Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and on Monday through Thursday by appointment. To make arrangements, call 1-304-876-1307. This conveyance is National Park Service approved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Relic Hunters Strike the West Woods

While wandering the West Woods earlier this month, I noticed a number of three to five inch deep holes that had been freshly dug.

We are used to our ground hogs burrowing deep holes throughout the field but these had a different look to them. I took a photo and then reported it to Rangers.

It turns out that relic hunters had visited the ground in the night sometime during the first week of October and dug over 40 holes in the West Woods.

There is a lot of junk in the ground (the Woods was an active farmstead until fairly recently) and I can only hope that what they found were nails, horse shoes, and other metallic debris from the late nineteenth century to today. But I know they didn't and for that we are all the poorer for it.

Mary Grove Locher Cabin Rising

Interior hearth of the 1840s addition.
Thanks to the efforts of K.C. Kirkman and his Division of Cultural Resources crew, the Mary Grove Locher Cabin is rising once again.

This historic structure--actually two structures--constitute the center of the West Woods fighting the morning of September 17.

Original log structure, ca. 1760 looking south.
The 1840s addition is to the right.
For more on the cabin's history, see entry here on April 27, 2009. A new book on Sharpsburg farmsteads has also come out and volunteer and battlefield guide Jim Rosebrock has posted a review of it on his site South from the North Woods.

One of the chapters is devoted to the Locher Cabin and contains some important new information on what took place there that will have historians reconsidering at least part of the West Woods narrative.

For now, I am posting photos of the work being done to the structures and will update them from time to time. 

Looking north. The second story will be added in the
coming months.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"For this our son and brother was dead and is alive again:" Oliver Wendell Holmes' Hunt for the Captain, Part 4

Sometime between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on the morning of September 17, Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. advanced to the West Woods with his regiment, the 20th Massachusetts. As they neared the western edge of the Woods, they closed up to a bayonet's length between the 15th Massachusetts and the 82nd New York, Gorman's Brigade, who were busily engaged with what was left of the Confederate left then situated in and around the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead. Sixty-eight years later, Holmes remembered the moment: "Sumner who was an old cavalry officer I believe shoved our second line (I am talking of lines not ranks), a quasi reserve, up so close to the front line that we could have touched them with our bayonets, and we got hit about as much as they did, but of course could do nothing." [1]

Holmes and his men were in this position for only a few minutes when Confederate brigades, "broke through on our left we were surrounded with the front. Whereas had we been a little further back they would have got a volley." What, to then, had been an orderly advance, turned for many in the 20th Massachusetts, a disorderly retreat.[2]

Illustration 1.
Holmes drew the trajectory of the bullet
through his neck in a letter to his
father on September 22, 1862.
As Holmes made his way to safety, a bullet sliced through his neck. "When I was hit, we were getting it all around and I remember chuckling to myself as I was leaving the field, to remember that Harper's Weekly was flamboyant on my first wound at Ball's Bluff--about Massachusetts hit in the breast, etc. I though to myself this time I am hit in the back, and bolting as fast as I can--and it's all right--but not so good for the newspapers."[3] "Usual luck," he wrote his parents the day after the battle, "[The] ball entered at the rear passing straight through the central seam of coat & waistcoat collar coming out towa[rd] the front on the left hand side--yet it don't seem to have smashed my spine or I suppose I should be dead or paralysed or something--It's more than 24 h'rs & I have remained pretty cocky, only of course feverish at times--& some sharp burning pain in left shoulder Pen [3a] & I singular to say are the hardest hit officers [--] he I think will lose his left arm--bone smashed above elbow--We lay together for a while in a little house[4] on the field and were one time within the enemies lines, heard their orders &c (there were all round us) but they fell back & we escaped. Only one doct Haven the Surgeon of the 15. Mass[5] has yet looked--he glanced hastily yesterday & said it wasn't fatal--I shall try to get home as soon as poss. but have no plans yet." [6]

Somehow Holmes made his way to the Nicodemus farmhouse about 300 yards north of where he was wounded. Norwood Penrose Hallowell, Holmes' close friend and a fellow officer of the 20th Massachusetts, picks up the narrative. "Before long I gained the little farmhouse marked on the maps as the Nicodemus House. The yard was full of wounded men, and the floor of the parlor, where I lay down, was well covered with them. Among others, Captain O. W. Holmes, Jr., walked in, the back of his neck clipped by a bullet. "[7]

The Nicodemus farmhouse was soon overrun by Confederates (probably from Paul Semmes' brigade) in pursuit of remnants of Sedgwick's men. Hallowell recalled that "The first Confederate to make his appearance put his head through the window and said: 'Yankees?'" "Yes," came the reply from the farmhouse occupants. "'Wounded?' 'Yes.' 'Would you like some water?' A wounded man always wants some water. He off with his canteen, threw it into the room, and then resumed his place in the skirmish line and his work of shooting retreating Yankees. In about fifteen minutes that good-hearted fellow came back to the window all out of breath, saying, 'Hurry up there! Hand me my canteen! I am on the double-quick myself now!' Some one twirled the canteen to him, and away he went." Hallowell and his comrades were for "some fifteen or twenty minutes only we were within the rebel lines."  Sometime during his stay at the Nicodemus house, Holmes fearful that he would lose consciousness, scribbled on a scrap of paper "I am Capt O W Holmes son of Oliver Wendell Holmes MD Boston. 20th Mass Capt" [8] Late that afternoon ambulances carried Holmes, Hallowell and others to Keedysville.[9]

In Keedysville, William LeDuc, Dana's brigade quartermaster, took charge of the wounded streaming from the field. One of those was Holmes. Le Duc recounted years later that "a surgeon, who had looked at his wound and found that the ball had entered his neck, shook his head when I urged him to give attention to Holmes, and said his duty was to try to save those who had a chance of recovery--that Holmes had none. Then I said: 'Tell me what to do for him.' [The surgeon replied] 'Wash off the blood, plug up the wound with lint, and give him this pill of opium'--handing me a little brown pill--'and have him keep quiet."[10]

Illustration 2.
William LeDuc
"I put my arm around him, and got him into the first vacant house (that is, not occupied by soldiers) I came to, and told the woman of the house to bring down the softest bed she had, as there was no bed on the lower floor, and I thought it better for him be be on the ground floor; and when she objected to bringing down any of her feather beds, I told her I would take the place for a hospital, and turn the family out; this threat was sufficient, and the good feather bed was made ready on the floor, and I washed and bandaged the wound, and gave the pill, and left him in care of the family." [11]

"While fixing him up, and washing the wound, I noticed that the ball had struck the middle seam of his coat squarely, and was amazed at his escape from instant death, but as he seemed cheerful, and amused himself with jokes, saying: 'Shot in the neck (Army slang for being drunk)--disgraceful for a temperance man!' and: 'I'm glad it's not a case for amputation, for I don't think you'd be equal to it, Le Duc,' and: 'Say, Le Duc, do you think it will be good for a ninety-day leave?' I thought possibly the surgeon was wrong, and that the boy's vitality might carry him through. So, in making up my telegram to send to his father, Doctor Holmes--lecturer on anatomy in Harvard Medical School--I ran it over mentally in several ways, and finally decided on: 'Captain wounded, shot though the neck, thought to be not mortal' and sent it to Doctor Holmes, Boston."[12]

On Saturday, September 20th, Holmes traveled to Hagerstown on a milk cart (See previous post, Part III). That afternoon, Mrs. Howard Kennedy took her children to the front gate of her house to hear a military band pass by. Years later, one of those children recounted what happened next. 

Illustration 3.
"[We] were at the gate and waved to the soldiers. My mother noticed a young officer across the way, evidently wounded, as he had a bandage around his throat and was walking very languidly. He and his companion sat down to rest. My mother sent my brother, who was about fourteen years old, to ask him if she could do anything for him. He came over to thank her; said he had been wounded by a bullet which had gone through his neck, and that he was suffering greatly at times; that he had gone to the railway station to inquire about trains, as he wanted to go to his home in Boston as soon as he was strong enough to travel. [13]

At this time there was no Union hospital in the town and he was in wretched quarters, with little care and attention. My mother asked him to come to our home until he was able to travel. He accepted the invitation and introduced himself as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Of course we recognized him as the son of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes."[14]

"He was a delightful guest, and the whole family enjoyed his stay with us. My young cousin from Philadelphia—a very brilliant young woman[15]—sang and played and entertained him, and helped to divert his mind when he suffered from his wound. He said it hurt him to write, so she offered to write for him. He dictated in Latin, a letter to his father; but she understood Latin as well as he did, as she confessed when she cautioned him that he was becoming a little too personal concerning herself in moods and tenses." [16]

My mother was a good nurse and dressed his wound every day, and it began to heal very quickly. He begged to be allowed to read after he retired, and one night swung a gas jet against a door and set the door on fire. He was so absorbed in his book that the smell of the burning paint penetrated through the house before he was aware of what he had done. The scar on the door was allowed to remain untouched for many years. [17]

The Captain was gaining in strength every day. He was enjoying himself and was evidently loath to leave; but Doctor Holmes had heard from Philadelphia that the Captain was at our house and it was my mother who insisted, in reply to a telegram from Harrisburg, on sending the following, which
ended Dr. Holmes' "Hunt": Captain Holmes still here. Leaves seven tomorrow for Harrisburg. Is doing well. (signed) Mrs. Howard Kennedy." [18]

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. watched the train slide into the Harrisburg station. Climbing aboard, there "in the first car, on the fourth seat to the right, I saw my Captain... even my first-born, whom I had sought through many cities." The simple exchange "How are you, Boy?" was met with "How are you, Dad?"[19] 

On Monday evening, September 29, eleven days after the start of his journey, Dr. Holmes was able to shelter his son once more. I "lay him in his own bed, and let him sleep off his aches and weariness. So comes down another night over this household, unbroken by any messenger of evil tidings,--a night of peaceful rest and grateful thoughts; for this our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."[20]


1. Oliver Wendell Holmes to Frederick Pollock, June 28, 1930, Holmes-Pollock Letters: The Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes and Sir Frederick Pollock. Volume II. Edited by Mark DeWolfe Howe, (Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1941), pp. 269-270 (hereafter, Holmes-Pollock Letters).

Pollock replied to Holmes's June 28th letter on July 17, 1930 and wrote: "And so you were nearly killed at Antietam because your superior had never learnt the use of supports: even the old Roman disciplines of the wars as preached by Capt. Fluellen might have taught him better. Certainly a considerable interval was prescribed and observed in our infantry drill of the 1870's. A supporting battalion was normally, I think , in open column of companies ready to deploy as might be needful and if all went well finally to deploy to the front and reinforce the attacking line." On July 27, Holmes sent Pollock a "post-script" to a letter written the day before. "Let me protect the reputation of my Superior at Antietam, our corps commander General Sumner, an experienced old soldier who I don't doubt knew as well as anyone the use of supports. That he was wrong in shoving us up onto the first line I can't doubt. Whether being an old cavalry man he thought he could slam right through the other line or what I don't know. It may have been hot-headedness, but it can't have been ignorance--except ignorance that I find it hard to believe that some of the higher powers weren't responsible for, viz. that Longstreet's corps was on the other side of a little hill, ready to walk into our rear as it did." Pollock to Holmes, July 17, 1930 and Holmes to Pollock, July 27 and July 30, 1930, Holmes-Pollock Letters, pp. 271, 273.

2. Holmes to Pollock, June 28, 1930, Holmes-Pollock Letters, p. 269-70. With Sedgwick's Division stretched on an arc running from the Dunkard Church to the south to 200 yards northwest of the Locher cabin, regimental experience of the action in the West Woods varied. The 72nd Pennsylvania on the division's extreme left was quickly overrun and broken while the First Minnesota on the division's far right undertook an more orderly withdrawal. For the 20th Massachusetts experience, see further, Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Hanover, NH, University Press of New England, 2005), pp. 154-180.

3. Holmes to Pollock, June 28, 1930, Holmes-Pollock Letters, p. 269-70

3a. Norwood Penrose Hallowell.

4. The "little house" was the Nicodemus farmhouse, approximately 800 yards north of where the 20th Massachusetts was positioned in the West Woods.

5. This was Dr. Samuel Haven, 15th Massachusetts.

6. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to Parents, September 18, in Mark De Wolfe Howe (ed.), Touched With Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1861-1864 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), pp. 64-65.

7. Norwood P. Hallowell, Selected Letters and Papers of N.P. Hallowell, (Peterborough, N.H., The Richard R. Smith Co., Inc., [1897]), p. 17 (Hereafter, Hallowell).

8. Illustration. OWH Jr. at Nicodemus.  Holmes Collection, Harvard Law School Library. Years later, Holmes would add a note to the scrap "I wrote the above when I was lying in a little house on the field of Antietam which was for a while within the Enemy's lines, as I thought I might faint & so be unable to tell who I was."

9. Hallowell, pp. 17-18.

10. Alice Sumner Le Duc, "The Man Who Rescued 'The Captain,'" The Atlantic Monthly, August 1947, p.  80.  In 1910, Le Duc in a memoir to Holmes in which Holmes is referred to as "him," recalled this episode as: "When I was doing my level best to dress the wound and fix him up safe for the night or until a surgeon could take him in hand. 'I'm devilish glad it ain't a case for amputation LeDuc for I haven't much confidence in your skill as surgeon.' Mark De Wolfe Howe (ed.), Touched With Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1861-1864 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 66, note 1). In Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.'s account, he noted that "The bullet had gone smoothly through, dodging everything but a few nervous branches, which would come right in time and leave him as well as ever. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Soundings from the Atlantic (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), p. 111 [Hereafter, Soundings].

In 1910 Le Duc wrote holmes of the events of that day at Keedysville "[We were at the house] where I exercised my clumsy surgery and where the mistress of the mansion when I ordered her to bring down her bigest [sic] & best feather bed and place it on the floor for this wounded officer objected in Pennsylvania idiom 'Nah I dinks not I prings mine fetter bet on dem floor,' I puts im on der petshtet'--'No that won't do I want it here where is plenty of fresh air.' 'Nah!' -- 'Well then I'll have to turn you all out and take your place for a hospital.' So the feather bed came, and the boy was washed as to wound and face and given an opium pill prescribed by old Doherty I think--and left in care of the dutchwoman and her children, no man was seen." Mark De Wolfe Howe (ed.), Touched With Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1861-1864, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), p. 66, note 1). 

Alice Le Duc explained the source of the Le Duc memoir in the preface to The Atlantic Monthly article. She wrote: "Recent examination of our family papers brought to light some correspondence between my father, General William Gates Le Duc, and the Holmses, both father and son. ... From the unpublished volume of recollections that my father has left to his family I extract his brief account of what he was able to do for Captain Holmes, whom he found unattended just after the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. Alice Sumner Le Duc, "The Man Who Rescued 'The Captain,'" The Atlantic Monthly, August 1947, p. 80.

Le Duc's original manuscript, however, is in the Huntington Library. A copy of the Huntington manuscript is at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Library, Greenbelt, Maryland.

11. Le Duc, Op. Cit., p. 80

12. Le Duc, Op. Cit., p. 80.

13. Anna Howell Kennedy Findlay, "Where 'The Captain' Was Found," Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol 33 (June, 1938), No. 2, pp. 117-18 (Hereafter, Findlay).

14. Findlay, p. 118.

15. This was Ellen Jones. Findlay writes: "The head of the house was my mother, Mrs. Howard Kennedy, my father having died in 1855. Others of the family at the house at the time were my two brothers, Howard, aged sixteen, and Frank, aged fourteen, and I, a small girl of ten. A sister of my mother's, Mrs. Campbell, who was also a widow, was with us, with her two sons, Ben aged fourteen, and Hamilton, aged nine. At the time of the invasion, a cousin, Ellen Jones, from Philadelphia, a very brilliant and attractive young girl, was visiting us, and my first cousin, Benjamin Howell Griswold, whose mother's house was nearby, was constantly at our home during the Captain's 'visit.'" Findlay, pp. 114-115.

In OWH, Sr.'s account, he described how his son came into the Howard household: "The Captain had gone to Hagerstown, intending to take the cars at once for Philadelphia, as his three friends actually did, and as I took it for granted he certainly would. But as he walked languidly along, some ladies saw him across the street, and seeing, were moved with pit, and pitying, spoke such soft words that he was tempted to accept their invitation and rest awhile beneath their hospitable roof. The mansion was old, as the dwellings of gentlefolks should be; the ladies were some of them young, and all were full of kindness; there were gentle cares, and unasked luxuries, and pleasant talk, and music-sprinklings from the piano, with a sweet voice to keep them company." Soundings, pp. 110-11.

16. The original letter is in the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Collection, Harvard Law School Library, Oliver Wendell Holmes to Parents, Sept 22, 1862; Findlay, p. 118. 

17. Findlay, p. 118. Toward the end of Holmes' life, Anna Findlay saw Judge Holmes in Washington. On meeting him once again, she wrote: "I could not feel that his boyish spirit had changed very much. I recall that in one of his letters to my mother he referred to himself as the "erstwhile soldier boy," and I think he was still just that in spirit." Findlay, p. 124.

18. Findlay, p. 119.

19. Holmes, Soundings, pp. 106-107.

20. Holmes, Soundings, p. 123.


1. Detail from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. September 22, 1862. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Digital Collection, Harvard Law School Library. Civil War Letters and Telegrams. Folder 18-11. OWH to parents 1861-1864, seq. 184-188.

2. Detail of William LeDuc about 1862. The Dakota County Historical Society.

3. The house of Mrs. Howard Kennedy, Hagerstown, Maryland. The house has since been torn down and the lot is now a parking lot.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I will keep this stained letter for them until peace comes back:" Oliver Wendell Holmes' Hunt for the Captain, Part 3

Elizabeth Wright to James Wright, August 13, 1862.
Letter found on battlefield by O.W. Holmes, Sr.
Harvard Law School Library Digital Suite: 
Holmes, Oliver Wendell. John G. Palfrey (1875-1945)
 collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. 
Papers, 1715-1938: Civil War telegrams, 1862, seq. 42; direct URL

On Sunday, September 21st, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and two companions[1] set out for the battlefield with his driver, James Grayden, at the reins. "We followed the road through the village for a space, then turned off to the right, and wandered somewhat vaguely, for want of precise directions, over the hills. Inquiring as we went, we forded a wide creek in which soldiers were washing their clothes, the name of which we did no then know, but which must have been the Antietam. At one point we met a party, women among them, bringing off various trophies they had picked up on the battle-field. Still wandering along, we were at last pointed to a hill in the distance, a part of the summit of which was covered with Indian-corn. There, we were told, some of the fiercest fighting of the day had been done. The fences were taken down so as to make a passage across the fields, and the tracks worn within the last few days looked like old roads. A board was nailed to the tree, bearing the name, as well as I could make it out, of Gardiner, of a New-Hampshire regiment.[3]

On coming near the brow of the hill, we met a party carrying picks and spades. "How many?" "Only one." The dead were nearly all buried, then, in this region of the field of strife. We stopped the wagon, and, getting out, began to look around us. Hard by was a large pile of muskets, scores, if not hundreds, which had been picked up, and were guarded for the Government. A long ridge of fresh gravel rose before us. A board stuck up in front of it bore this inscription, the first part of which was, I believe, not correct: "The Rebel General Anderson and 80 Rebels are buried in this hole."[4] Other similar ridges were marked with the number of dead lying under them. The whole ground was strewed with fragments of clothing, haversacks, canteens, cap-boxes, bullets, cartridge-boxes, cartridges, scraps of paper, portions of bread and meat."

As he walked the field, Holmes picked up "a bullet or two, a button, a brass plate from a soldier's belt." He also picked up a letter "directed to Richmond, Virginia, its seal unbroken. 'N.C. Cleveland County. E. Wright to J. Wright.' On the other side, 'A few lines from W.L. Vaughn,' who has just been writing for the wife to her husband, and continues on his own account. The postscript [written by Vaughn], 'tell John that nancy's folks are all well and has a very good Little Crop of corn a growing.' [Holmes wrote] I wonder, if, by one of those strange chances of which I have seen so many, this number or leaf of the 'Atlantic' [Atlantic Monthly] will not sooner or later find its way to Cleveland County, North Carolina, and E. Wright, widow of James Wright, and Nancy's folks, get from these sentences the last glimpse of husband and friend as he threw up his arms and fell in the bloody cornfield of Antietam?[5] I will keep this stained letter for them until peace comes back, if it comes in my time, and my pleasant North Carolina Rebel of the Middletown Hospital will, perhaps, look these poor people up, and tell them where to send for it."[6]

That afternoon, September 21, Holmes turned away from the Antietam. After spending the night at Middletown, he continued his search for the Captain--a search with more false leads and dead ends. Four days earlier, on the morning of September 17, his son, whom he called Wendell, began a journey under very different circumstances--one that took him from a near-death experience in the West Woods through the Maryland countryside to a reunion with his father.

To be continued...


[1] Oliver Wendell Holmes, Soundings from the Atlantic (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), p. 67 [hereafter Soundings]. In Soundings, Holmes writes: "On the battle-field I parted with my two companions, [the 'Chaplain and the Philanthropist'] they were going to the front, the one to find his regiment, the other to look for those who needed his assistance." Holmes mentioned in Soundings that they exchanged cards on parting. In the Harvard University Library, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Civil War Letters and Telegrams, Folder 18-12, Sequence 217-18 is the calling card of William Henry Rice, Chaplain of the 129th Pennsylvania Vols. The 129th was part of Humphrey's Division, V Corps. The "Philanthropist" was probably Frank B. Fay who in his Reminiscences describes a journey to the battlefield (see previous post, August 13, footnote 9).

[2] Holmes identified his driver, James Grayden, as "born in England, Lancashire; in this country since he was four years old." Soundings, 67-68.

[3] Soundings, 58, 62-64. The identify of "Gardiner" is a mystery. The board that Holmes describes was probably near the Sunken Road since he later describes area in some detail. If so, then the only New Hampshire regiment engaged in that part of the field was the Fifth New Hampshire (there were a total of four NH outfits at Antietam: the Sixth and the Ninth, part of the IX Corps, were engaged at the Burnside Bridge, and the 2nd Company NH Light Artillery, part of the I Corps, Doubleday's Division, were operating near the North Woods and reported three wounded only). There was an Isaac L. Gardiner, serving in the Fifth New Hampshire, Richardson's Division, but he survived the battle and was mustered out later as a Second Lieutenant. There is a possibility that this was Corporal O. Winslow Garland of Company D, 5th N.H., who was killed in action. Thanks to James Feindel and James Blake, Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers for their research and correspondence related to this individual's identity. For more on the 5th New Hampshire, click here. Any further information on this individual will be added if it comes in.

[4] Holmes is correct: Brigadier General George Burgwyn Anderson was seriously wounded but not killed in the Sunken Road action. He later died of his wounds on October 16, 1862 in Raleigh, N.C. Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web under Anderson's biography at

[5] This may have been James Wright of the 14th North Carolina. A James D. Wright from Cleveland County NC enlisted as a private on Feb. 6, 1862 in Company D, North Carolina 14th Infantry Regiment (Cleveland Blues) on June 2, 1862. The 14th NC fought in the Sunken Road. The 1860 Census of Cleveland County North Carolina, records that James Wright (46, born Virginia about 1814) resided with his wife Elizabeth Wright (43, born Virginia about 1817). He gave his occupation as a wagon maker. They listed in their household a Nancy Wright (19 years, born Va.) and seven other children. James Wright survived the war and is listed in the 1870 Census of Township 9, Cleveland, North Carolina along with his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Nancy and seven children. James' brother, John, also served in the same regiment and was killed at Antietam.

As for W.L. Vaughn, the 1860 Census for Cleveland, Co. shows a William Vaughn, 35 years old, living in Cleveland County.  Later a William L. Vaughn of Cleveland County enlists in the 34th North Carolina in April 1864, survives the war, and is mustered out on June 17, 1865. 1860, 1870 U.S. Census, N.C., Cleveland County; Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Harvard Law School Library Digital Suite at

[6] Soundings, 66-67. Holmes noted in his memoir an encounter in Middletown with a lieutenant from North Carolina: "He was of good family, son of a judge in one of the higher courts of his State, educated, pleasant, gentle, intelligent." Soundings, 57.

Images: Elizabeth Wright to James Wright and (verso) W.L. Vaughn to James Wright: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Civil War Letters and telegrams, Folder 18-12, Sequence 235-238. Retrieved at:

Friday, August 13, 2010

"I started as some faint resemblance…recalled the presence I was in search of:" Oliver Wendell Holmes' Hunt for the Captain, Part 2

Col. Edward A. Wild
By the evening of September 20, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and his traveling companions reached Middletown. [1]. There the “gentle lady who had graced our homely conveyance with her company here left us. She found her husband, the gallant Colonel, in very comfortable quarters, well cared for, very weak from the effects of the fearful operation he had been compelled to undergo.” [2].

Late the next day he searched the town’s churches that had been turned into hospitals. [3] “Boards were laid over the tops of the pews, on these some straw was spread, and this the wounded lay, with little or no covering other than such scanty clothes as they had on.”[4] As the elder Holmes searched, he thought “was it possible that my Captain could be lying on the straw in one of these places? …Many times as I went from hospital to hospital in my wanderings, I started as some faint resemblance…recalled the presence I was in search of.” [5]

On Sunday morning, the 21st, Dr. Holmes set out from Middletown for Keedysville. Along the way, he searched all the Boonsboro hospitals with no result.

At Keedysville, Holmes met “the tall form and benevolent countenance, set off by long flowing hair, belonging to the excellent Mayor Frank B. Fay of Chelsea, who had come promptly to succor the wounded of that great battle. It was wonderful to see how his single personality pervaded this torpid little village; he seemed to be the centre of all its activities.”[6]

Frank B. Fay
Francis Ball Fay (1821-1904), mayor of Chelsea, Massachusetts, traveled with the Army of the Potomac looking after the boys in Chelsea's regiment, the 35th Massachusetts. The Thirty-Fifth, less than a month after leaving home, received their baptism of fire at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain. [7]. On reading about the South Mountain battles in the papers the morning of the 15th, Fay hurried by train to Frederick from Washington. There he met Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, Inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, who asked him to wait until the next day to bring a wagonload of supplies to the front. When the wagons did not arrive, Fay set out for Middletown by foot “hearing the guns of the battle of Antietam not far away.” At Middletown, Fay “began to work at once among the wounded at that place.” That evening the wagons came up and he went on with them reaching Keedysville at dawn on the 18th. There he set up his headquarters in the home of a “Mr. Keedy” whom he found “generous and hospitable.” [8]. It was there that he met Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Years later, Fay recollected their meeting: “We were strangers, but I ventured to ask if I could help him, and he replied, ‘Yes, I am anxious to go through the hospitals, if you can point them out to me.’ I replied that every house, barn, mill, and church within a radius of miles was a hospital, but that we could undoubtedly find his son. I then remembered that I had seen some of the wounded men of the 20th regiment in a house near by, and we went in search for him.” [9]

As the men visited the Keedysville locations were the wounded and dying lay, Fay answered all of the Doctor’s questions “clearly and decisively, as one who knew everything going on in the place. But the one question I had come to ask, Where is Captain Holmes ? he could not answer.“ [10]

Finally they ran into a medical officer “who answered my question by pointing to a house, saying he is staying there.” Holmes described the house as “a cottage of squared logs, filled in with plaster, and whitewashed. A little yard before it, with a gate swinging.” He described what happened next: “the door of the cottage ajar,--no one visible yet. I push open the door and enter. An old woman, Margaret Kitzmuller …is the first person I see.

‘Captain Holmes here?’[10a]

‘Oh, no, sir; he left yesterday morning for Hagerstown in a milk-cart.’” Furthermore, he “was in good condition—good spirits—wound doing well.” [11]

51 N. Main Street, Keedysville, MD
The Keedysville home of Margaret Kitzmiller is located at 51 North Main Street. Margaret and her two daughters, Malinda, 21, and Margaret, 17, tended to Holmes there until he was strong enough to continue northward in the hopes of catching a train in Hagerstown and then on to Philadelphia where he could recuperate at the home of his friend Norwood Penrose Hallowell. [12]

Satisfied that his son was headed to friends and sure he could not catch up with him given his 36 hour head start, Holmes decided to return north by way of Frederick and Baltimore and reunite with his son in Philadelphia. But before doing so, he thought it “impossible to go without seeing” the “great battlefield” only a few miles away. [13]

To be continued…


1. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Soundings from the Atlantic (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), p. 51 (hereafter, Soundings).

2. This was Col. Edward Augustus Wild, 35th Massachusetts, who was wounded at Fox Gap on South Mountain. His left arm was severely injured by the explosion of a shell and was amputated at the shoulder after three surgical operations. Two months earlier, he had nearly lost his right hand at Fair Oaks. A graduate of Harvard University, Wild was a homeopathic physician before the war and resided in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife Frances Ellen (Sullivan). Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. to Amelia Lee Jackson Holmes, September 22, in the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Civil War Letters and Telegrams, Harvard Law School Library at; Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web bio for Wild; Thomas Clemens, The Maryland Campaign, Vol. 1, Fox’s Gap map, 3 p.m. until dark; Bradford Kingman, Memoir of Gen. Edward Augustus Wild (Boston: Privately Printed, 1895), pp. 4, 6, 7. For more on Wild, see Frances H. Casstevens, Edward A. Wild and the African Brigade in the Civil War (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Publishers, 2003).

3. Soundings, 55.

4. Soundings, 55.

5. Soundings, 56

6. Soundings, 59-60; In his letter to his wife Amelia, Holmes describes Fay as “the benevolent general of the place.” Oliver Wendell Holme to Amelia Holmes, September 22, 1862, Harvard Law Library online at

7. The 35th Massachusetts recruited at Boston and Chelsea and Company H originated as The Chelsea Light Infantry. The 35th, part of the IX Corps, participated in the action around Burnsides Bridge. 35th Massachusetts, Civil War Archive at; Clemens, The Maryland Campaign, Vol. 1, p. 343; Brian Downey's Antietam on the Web at

8. There were a number of Keedy families residing in Keedysville in the 1860s. Christian Keedy appears to have held the most property, and the most likely location for Fay's operations, but there were others: Samuel Keedy, a retired farmer, John Keedy, a physician, Alfred Keedy, a carpenter, and Jacob Keedy, a farmer. U.S. Census, Maryland, 1860 and 1870; U.S. Tax Records, 1862 and 1863; My Families at Antietam: A Genealogy Website at

9. William Howell Reed (editor), War Papers of Frank B. Fay With Reminiscences of Service in the Camps and Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865, (Privately Printed, n.p., 1911), p. 41 ff.

10. Soundings, 60.

10a. Holmes described Margaret Kitzmiller [not Kitzmuller] as a “beady-eyed, cheery-looking ancient woman [who] answers questions with a rising inflection, and gives a good account of the Captain, who got into the vehicle [the milk cart] without assistance, and was in excellent spirits.” Soundings 61.

11. Soundings; Holmes to Amelia, September 22, 1862, Harvard Law Library and posted at

12. Norwood "Pen" Hallowell served with Holmes in the 20th Massachusetts. He was wounded in the West Woods. U.S. Census, Maryland, 1860; Kathleen Ernst, Too Afraid To Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1999), p. 174; Keedysville: An Illustrated Atlas of Washington County, Maryland (drawn by Margaret Burtner Moats from surveys by Lake, Grifing and Stevenson, Philadelphia, Pa. 1877)—special thanks to Thomas Clemens for providing this map; William LeDuc to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1910 and cited in Mark De Wolfe Howe, editor, Touched With Fire: Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), pp. 65-66.


First. Edward Augustus Wild, ca. 1863.
Frank B. Fay, Jr. This photo is not contemporary to 1862.
Third. No. 51 North Main Street, August 2010. Perhaps somewhere within the remodeled current house are remnants of the original home of Margaret Kitzmiller.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"It was a pitiable sight...this great caravan of pilgrims:" Oliver Wendell Holmes' Hunt for the Captain, Part 1

As the guns grew quiet on Antietam Ridge the evening of September 17th, the telegraph carried the news of the great struggle that day. Correspondents, when they could find an open line and cooperative telegrapher, filed stories with their papers late that evening and into the next morning. Comrades of the fallen also dispatched telegrams to small towns and big cities alerting distant families of the fate of their loved ones.

Early on the morning of September 18, a messenger from the American Telegraph Company knocked on the door of Oliver Wendell Holmes in Boston. The telegram, sent by William G. Leduc{1} from Hagerstown at 11:45 PM on September 17 , brought news of his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment that had fought in the West Woods that day.{2}

The father took the envelope from the messenger's hand, opened it, and read: "Capt. Holmes wounded, shot through the neck. Thought not mortal at Keedysville." The father, a distinguished surgeon, knew all too well that a bullet wound through the neck "ought to kill at once" and in any event was serious in nature. "Thought not mortal, or not thought mortal--which was it?" the elder Holmes anxiously wondered.{3}

Later that day, the doctor climbed aboard a southbound train where he joined William Dwight who had also received a telegram that night informing him that his son, Wilder, also of the 20th, was lying "grievously wounded" at Boonsboro.{4} Also joining was Dr. George H. Gay "an accomplished an energetic surgeon" who would attend to Wilder Dwight when found.{5} In Philadelphia, they were joined by Dr. William Hunt "on an errand of mercy to the wounded" and by an unnamed "lovely, lonely lady, the wife of one of our most spirited Massachusetts officers" then lying wounded in Middletown.{6}

Transferring to a carriage in Baltimore, Holmes headed west to Frederick where he ran into Lt. Henry Wilkins of the 20th who was accompanying the body of Regimental Assistant Surgeon Edward H.R. Revere home to Boston. Wilkins "mentioned incidentally having heard a story that recently that [Wendell] was killed."{7}

Upset but undaunted, the senior Holmes pressed on by wagon to Middletown. This step in the long journey from Boston would be one of the hardest: "As we emerged from Frederick, we struck at once upon the trail from the great battle-field. The road was filled with straggling and wounded soldiers. All who could travel on foot--multitudes with slight wounds of the upper limbs, the head or face--were told to take up their beds--a light burden or none at all--and walk. ... Through the streets of Frederick, through Crampton's Gap, over South Mountain, sweeping at last the hills and the woods that skirt the windings of the Antietam, the long battle had travelled, like one of those tornadoes which tear their path through our fields and villages. ...[and] those who could walk were meeting us at every step in the road. ...It was a pitiable vast...this great caravan of maimed pilgrims."{8}

To be continued...

{1} Captain William Gates Leduc, later XI Corps Quartermaster, ended the war as a brigadier general. He went on to become the fifth Commissioner of Agriculture and in that post established the Division of Veterinary Science and organized the Division of Forestry. He died in Hastings, Minnesota in 1917. Biographical sketch from the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
{2} Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 20th Massachusetts. The regiment, sometimes referred to as the Harvard Regiment, was part of Napoleon J.T. Dana's Brigade, and stood approximately 60 feet behind the 15th Massachusetts and the 82nd New York in the West Woods. Cope-Carmen Map, 1908.
{3} Telegram from William Leduc to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harvard Law School Library; Oliver Wendell Holmes, Soundings from the Atlantic (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), p 24 (hereafter, Soundings).
{4} Lt. Colonel Wilder Dwight (1833-1862) did not survive his wounds and died in Boonsboro on September 19. His father, upon arriving in Baltimore, received a telegram telling him that his son's remains were on their way to him there. (Soundings, 37; biographical information at Brian Downey's definitive Antietam web site, Antietam on the Web, at; Soundings, p. 25.
{5} Dr. George H. Gay was a prominent Boston surgeon. William Richard Cutter, William Frederick Adams, Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of the State of Massachusetts (Boston: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1910), p. 2676.
{6} Soundings, pp. 34-35.
{7} Dr. Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere, was the older brother of Major Paul Revere. A graduate of Harvard Medical School (1849), maintained a practice in Greenfield, Massachusetts at the outbreak of the war. He was "performing field surgery when he suddenly found himself in front. He remained and calmly finished the operation before he was shot and killed." Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts (Lebanon, N.H., University Press of New England, 2005), pp. 25-26, 177; Soundings, p. 41.
{8} Soundings, 45-46.

(Image 1) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. in 1862 and (Image 2) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., ca. 1861 (Harvard Law School Library Digital Collection).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recovering Fence Lines

Sometime in the 1930s an aerial photograph was made of the battlefield looking eastward in the direction of the New York monument and the Dunkard Church (second illustration).

Although the West Woods had been cleared and the land turned to agricultural use, the original fence lines depicted in the Cope-Carmen map were still visible.

In the intervening years, these fence lines were nearly obliterated by agricultural and residential development. Using the Cope-Carmen map, the aerial photo, and a 2010 Google Earth image, we can once again locate the nearly vanished original fence lines.

Here is how it was done. First the Cope-Carmen map (first illustration) is marked with letter coordinates (A-G, H) with F marking the Dunkard Church and H marking the location of the Maryland Monument.

Next the letter coordinates and unit locations (using the Cope-Carmen map) were marked on the aerial photo. Note that the map is oriented North while the aerial photo is oriented East.

G.T. Anderson's position and the positions of the 7th, 8th, and 2nd South Carolina are shown here.

Finally, an image of the same ground from Google Earth was downloaded.

Using the Cope-Carmen and the 1930s aerial map, the letter coordinates were layered onto the Google Earth image (third illustration).

Next, following the traces of the original fence lines marked by small trees and other growth, the fence lines were marked on the Google Earth image using transparent gray lines (fourth illustration). The result is a modern "map" of the original fence boundaries.

As with all images on this blog, click once on the image to enlarge.

For those tramping the ground you can now align yourself with the position of Anderson (C - E) and the 2, 7 and 8 South Carolina (straddling North and South of coordinate A).

Thanks to NPS Ranger Alann Schmidt for supplying the aerial photograph.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Cope-Carmen Map Revision of 1908

Recently, the Library of Congress posted on its American Memory Project website the 1908 revised Cope-Carman maps of the "Atlas of the battlefield at Antietam" showing the position of troops at various times during September 17.[1] This revision is posted here as the first map image on the left--click to enlarge. The Library had posted the earlier version of the map series--the 1904 series[2]--on its website some years ago--this is posted here as the second map image--click to enlarge.

Both map series can be examined at the Library of Congress' Map Reading Room but the online versions are as adequate as an in-person view.

So how have the two maps depicted action in the West Woods between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.? Here are some observations.

1) The most significant revision is that of the placement of the 69th Pennsylvania from its 1904 location between the left and right "wings" of the 72nd Pennsylvania to further north between the right of the 42nd NY and the left of the 106th Pennsylvania. (Why the map continues to break the 72nd Pennsylvania into two wings is a mystery--I would certainly like to find something in Carman's papers that explains this.) The repositioning of the 69th brings Col. Joshua T. Owen's official report into line with the 1908 alignment. He writes: "As the brigade reached the top of the hill [marching east to west the brigade crests the Antietam Ridge about 100 yards east of the Hagerstown Pike and in clear view of the Dunkard Church], I noticed many of the regiments to the left of Sedgwick's division falling back in great confusion...[this would have been the 125th Pennsylvania pulling back from their position just to the west of the church and which is marked on the Cope-Carman map as leaving that position around 9:20 a.m. ]. ...The Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers...was posted on the right; the Seventy-second Pennsylvania Volunteers...on the left; the One Hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers...on the right center; and the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers...on the left center." This narrative, applied to the 1904 map does not jibe since it depicts the 69th further south and sandwiched between the two wings of the 72nd Pennsylvania. With the 125th Pa. "falling back" and the 69th positioned further north, the 1908 map shows a much different view of the action as Anderson's and Kershaw's brigades swirled around the 34th NY, just north of the church, the split winged 72nd Pa., aligned on the Hagerstown Pike, and the 7th Michigan straddling the fence between the clover field (now part of Philadelphia Brigade Park) and the West Woods.

2. The 42nd NY is shown in the 1908 map to have at least refused its left in order to meet the onslaught of Barksdale's Mississippians--a much better position than depicted in the 1904 series--although the results remain the same.

3. The left of the 15th Massachusetts is shown in the 1908 to be angled further into the West Woods than in the 1904 map and the 59th NY, which fired a fatal volley into its rear, is directly behind the 15th's left. The 1904 map places the 59th in an overlapped position with its right situated behind the 20th.

4. The 125th is shown to have angled its right (or is it depicted as "falling back"?).

5. Smaller adjustments--in the 1908 map, the 106th Pa.'s alignment is less north and south but slightly angled to conform the the 20th Mass. to its front. The 106th and 71st Pa. also have shifted in the 1908 map further north and directly behind the 20th Mass.

6. As for the Confederate positions, there appears to be just one revision, that is the alignment of Jackson's Division to a position along the Hauser farmstead fence line and immediately to the east of the farmyard.


[1] The map's full bibliographic title is: "Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908." Washington, Government Printing Office, 1908. Retrieved at this location.

[2] "Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam / Surveyed by Lieut. Col. E. B. Cope, engineer, H. W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Positions of troops by Gen. E. A. Carman. Published by the authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, 1904." Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904. Retrieved at this location.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"No place for artillery:" McCarthy's Battery (Richmond Howitzers) in the West Woods

This post opens a series on Confederate artillery units in and adjacent to the West Woods. In the morning phase of the battle (5:30 to 8:30), artillery units were positioned, among other places, in the Philadelphia Brigade Park which was then an open field. In the second phase of West Woods action (8:30-10:30), units were positioned on Hauser's Ridge 600 yards west of the West Woods boundary while other units were literally in the woods south of the Dunkard Church.

Thanks to the Cope/Carman maps, we can determine the identities of most Confederate artillery batteries in and adjacent to the West Woods and can do so nearly hour-by-hour. There are, still, some mysteries. The first illustration is a detail from the Cope/Carman map showing unit locations from 9:00 to 9:30 a.m.. This section of the map depicts three artillery formations. McCarthy's Battery is clearly labeled; two others are unidentified; I have marked these two units A and B. Very few units were unidentified in the Cope/Carman map series--who were these artillery units? The blue arrow associated with McCarthy's Battery indicates the view angle of the third picture below. Note all illustrations can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Unit A (for want of any other description) is mentioned by Col. Alfred Sully of the First Minnesota in his Official Report on September 20. After describing the regiment's advance across the cornfield, he states that the regiment came "into a woods close to the enemy and in front of our line of battle. Here we were posted behind a rail fence. The enemy soon appeared in force on the left of the brigade, opened a very severe fire of musketry on us, while some of their artillery in front of us also opened on us." This artillery, according to the map, lay in front of the 13th Virginia. Who were they? [1a]

Unit B, which occupied a knoll just south of the Hauser farmstead, also remains a mystery. The second picture here shows the knoll in the far distance viewed from the Poffenberger farmstead.

The third unit recorded on the map is McCarthy’s Battery also known as the First Company, Richmond Howitzers. It was a small unit that may have played some part in slowing Gorman's Brigade's advance from the West Woods.

The Richmond Howitzers was founded in 1859 by George Wythe Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, and a Richmond lawyer. By May 1860, the Howitzers had been organized into three companies. An observer wrote that all three, "were made up largely of young business men and clerks of the highest grade and best character from the city of Richmond, but included also a number of country boys, for the most part of excellent families, with a very considerable infusion of college-bred men." In April 1861, the second and third companies became part of the First Virginia Artillery Regiment. [1b]

The First Company participated in the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, Seven Pines (May 31-June 1), the Seven Days’ Battles (June 25-July 1), and were at Second Manassas. [2] By September 1862, the company was known as McCarthy's Battery[3] and was reported as being comprised of two 10-pounder Parrotts and two 6-pounders. Only two pieces, the 6-pounders, however, were brought into action on September 17 at Sharpsburg. [4]

Led by Robert Meriwether Anderson (1822-1880),[5] the battery was part of McLaw's Division. It included thirty-two enlisted men and remained in line of battle all day, losing one killed and one wounded.

Ezra Carman writes: "Two guns of the 1st Company, Richmond Howitzers, under Lieutenant Robert M. Anderson moved on Semmes's right, but the open, exposed field was no place for artillery. It could not live under the fire that swept it, and--under orders--Anderson withdrew his guns to the high ground in rear, south of the Houser [sic] farm." [6]

The position of the battery during the fight swirling around the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead was about 300 yards due south of the farmstead. The third picture to the left shows the view northward from the battery's position.

According to Carman, there were two other companies of the Richmond Howitzers at Antietam. They are the Second Company, Watson's Battery, and the Third Company, Smith's Battery. A section of Watson's Battery supported Stuart at Williamsport on September 19 and withdrew the night of the 20th along with the rest of Stuart's force. Carman does not report activity for the Second Company. [7]


I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help provided by Capt. Wayne Rowe of the 1st Co. Richmond Howitzers (reenactment). Any errors in this post, however, are mine. The website of the group can be found at:

[1a] This unit was probably Pelham's Battery. Carman, describing action between 7:30 and 9 a.m., writes: "Pelham's Battery, supported by the 13th Virginia and a small cavalry force, was left near the northwest corner of the West Woods." (p. 247). Describing the advance of the First Minnesota he writes: "The regiment now …pushed through the woods to a rail fence bordering them on the west, and halted at the fence, beyond which was a cornfield on gradually rising to the crest of Hauser's ridge (on which was a small piece of woods concealing the 13th Virginia in support of Pelham's Battery). …Immediately on the Minnesotans coming to a halt, the skirmishers of the 13th Virginia opened fire from the cornfield but were driven back to the woods about 220 yards distant, soon after which Pelham's battery opened fire." p. 261.

[1b] Encyclopedia Virginia (The Virginia Foundation); "Four Years Under Marse Robert," by Major Robert Stiles retrieved from

[2] Encyclopedia Virginia (The Virginia Foundation).

[3] "Like almost all Civil War units, the First Richmond Virginia Howitzer Company was often known by an alternate designation derived from the name of its commanding officer. Names of this type used by or for the company are: John C. Shields' Artillery, William P. Palmer's Artillery, Edward S. McCarthy's Artillery, and Robert M. Anderson's Artillery." Typescript notes, Unit Vertical File, Visitor's Center Files, Antietam National Battlefield. Edward McCarthy did not go to Antietam and instead remained in Richmond overseeing the repair and maintenance of the two 10-pounder Parrots (Wayne Rowe correspondence, 2.6.2010).

[4] Some accounts state that the battery left their 2 6-pounders at Leesburg at the opening of the campaign. Wayne Rowe offers, however, that "There was only one section at Antietam and it was lead by Lt. Anderson and it contained the 6-pounders and not the 10-pounder Parrotts." (Wayne Rowe correspondence, 2.5.2010). See also,

[5] Ezra Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, p. 258.

Anderson, like the founder Randolph, was from a long line of Virginia gentry and was a direct descendant of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (his grandmother, Jane Meriwether Lewis (1770-1845), was Meriwether Lewis’ sister); Genealogies of the Lewis and Kindred Families, John Meriwether McAllister and Tura Boulton Tandy, eds., (Columbia, MO.: E.W. Stephens Publishing Co., 1906), pp. 23, 47-49. Anderson survived the war and settled in Essex Virginia. He married Harriet Shore Lewis (1839-1892) in Essex on Christmas Eve, 1864. They produced five children. On November 9, 1880, his house caught fire and Anderson died from inhaling flames while rescuing his effects. After Robert’s death, the mother and the children relocated to Richmond. Lewises, Meriwethers, and Their Kin, (Richmond, Va., 1938; reprinted for Clearfield Company by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, 2008), p. 117; Warner Broaddus’ Genealogy retrieved at

[6] Carman, p. 263. Carman also notes that the 15th Massachusetts suffered additional "fire of several pieces of artillery that were run-up on Hauser's Ridge and poured an incessant stream of canister and shrapnel along the entire front of the three right regiments of Gorman's brigade and upon the exposed and defenseless lines in rear." [p. 263] Typically, canister was ineffective beyond 400 yards. The distance to Hauser's Ridge from where the 15th stood is over 600 yards. Could the canister have come from McCarthy's Battery?

[7] Carman, p. 376. The two batteries were part of the reserve artillery led by Brigadier General William Pendleton. The units formed under Col. John Thompson Brown's Battalion along with three other Virginia artillery outfits: the Powhatan, Salem, and Williamsburg Artillery. Carman, p. 433.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"I shall never Cease to mourn his death"--Letter of Lemuel Stetson to His Sons

An earlier post (November 11, 2009) chronicled the journey of Lemuel Stetson to Sharpsburg to bring his son, John L. Stetson, home. John Stetson was a Lt. Col. with the 59th New York Volunteers in the West Woods. The letter below, written by Lemuel Stetson to his sons Francis and William, is from the Stetson Family Papers, Fort Worth Public Library Archives.

Baltimore, September 28, 1862

My Dear Sons:

You were doubtless informed by Mr. Platt[1] of the sad news of your dear brother John. He was a noble & [ ] man and his Conduct on the field of Battle was resolute and gallant beyond my hopes.

More than a dozen wounded Men of his own regiment at Keedysville testified to his Cheerful, Courageous demeanor upon this field and upon his way there as shells from the enemy was ploughing up the ground. The [telling] of one was that his face looked Smiling as a May Morning. He died in a glorious Cause and nobly__Still I shall never Cease to mourn his death. We are now alone in the world[2] and I hope that we shall all endeavor to soften our Solitary Condition by acts of sure [ ] kindness to each other. I rely upon you for appropriate bearing under the impressive Circumstances of our [ ] merit. Do not disappoint me I entreat you.

I recovered Johns horse and equipage from Sumners Camp[3] at the top of Bolivar Heights at Harpers Ferry Va. I arrived here night before last, almost Exhausted by fatigue and nearly sick. I wait to [ ] . Tomorrow I go to Washington to look after Johns affairs and return to N.Y. Tuesday morning or evening. The horse will be Shipped from here tomorrow 3 p.m. by The Northern [Steamer?] via Phild. & Canals[4] to Pier No. 7. N. River N.Y. care of Wm. L. Stetson & Co.

I hope to be home by Thursday or Friday.

Call at Express office and pay Charges on Johns parcel. ...

Love to Mr Platts family and all friends.

Affectionately, L. Stetson.[5]


Source: Manuscript letter, Stetson Family Papers, Fort Worth Public Library Archives Collection.

Square brackets [ ] indicate that the word is not decipherable.

Notation on verso. "Lemuel Stetson to F.L.S. and W.S.S. about Johns death." F.L.S. is Francis Lynde Stetson (4.23.46-12.5.1920) and W.S.S. is William Sterne Stetson (4.2.1850-5.29.1883). Stetson Family Papers "Biography."

[1] Probably the father of Lucy Maria Platt (1835-1860), the late wife of John Stetson.

[2] Lemuel Stetson's wife, Helen Hascall Stetson, had died in 1860 and a son, Ralph Hascall Stetson, passed away in 1859. The death of John left only the father and two sons from a family of six.

[3] Reference to the Second Corps encampment at Bolivar Heights, Va.

[4] Probably reference to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Opened for business in 1829, it provided a shortcut for shipping from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and down the Delaware River to New York.

[5] Lemuel Stetson (March 13, 1804-May 17, 1886). The Cyclopaedia of American Biography under Lemuel Stetson.

Photograph: Lemuel Stetson. The Cyclopaedia of American Biography.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter in the Woods

On Saturday, I wandered over in the direction of Hauser's Ridge in order to take a few pix for an upcoming post on Confederate artillery positions.

On my way back, I veered north toward the position of the First Minnesota--the extreme right of Sedgwick's Division (Gorman's Brigade).

Along the way, I ran into a herd of about 20 to 25 deer. Here are a couple of them--at first curious and then cautious. The park in the winter may be a slow time for visitors but it is still full of life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"My men were behaving beautifully:" E.M. Morrison and 15th Virginia advance on the West Woods

Captain Emmet Masalon Morrison (1841-1932) led Company C of the 15th Virginia Regiment into the West Woods as part of Brigadier General Paul Jones Semmes brigade's attack against the middle of Sedgwick's division (see previous entry under Paul Jones Semmes). A sketch of Morrison and a description of his actions that day can be found at Brian Downey's definitive Antietam Web Site at

Below is a transcription of an account of the 15th's action in the West Woods written by Morrison in 1905. Excerpts of this account have been widely published. Here it is in its entirely save one elision on my part (it is noted). This particular transcription was made by S. Calvin Mumma around 1935 as part of the New Deal WPA records project and resides in the Antietam National Battlefield Library.

"Behold Sharpsburg, now the historical as the Federals put it, the 'Antietam' battlefield. Up to that moment I do not believe we knew the battle was on in our immediate front. The field that we fought over was enclosed by a chestnut rail fence, and near its corner a gate, and near the gate a small but beautiful tree. The head of the regiment filed through the gate on the run, rapidly swung into position as best we could, forming on the regiment to our right and firing as we came into line. As we got close to them, one hundred to two hundred yards, I should say, we could see individual men, officers, I suppose, running backward and forward through the smoke.

As we got into line and commenced firing with much precision, I heard the greatest cheering a little to me right, and recognized General Semmes (gallant old Paul Semmes, brother of Raphael, both born fighters) standing on a pile of rocks, swinging his hat and cheering 'to beat the band.' I rushed up to him. 'General, are they retreating?' says I. 'No," says he. I rushed back, naming myself a fool, but that brave old man and two officers or orderlies with him kept making so much fuss, I was compelled to see what was the matter.

Just here I must digress only briefly to say a word for General Paul Semmes, our gallant old brigadier. General M.D. Corse[2] became our brigadier when General George E. Pickett's division was formed. Paul Semmes was the brother of Raphael Semmes, the Confederacy's great sea fighter. All survivors of the "Old Fifteenth" well remember General Paul Semmes, our first brigadier. He fell at Gettysburg and, like Marmion---'With dying hand aobve his head, He shook the fragment of his blade.' and died like the bravest of the brave for his beloved Southland.

My men were behaving beautifully, loading and firing as deliberately as if on drill, but the 'old rebel yell' they were putting up in their intense excitement.

Men never battled and lost in a nobler cause in and the 'tide of time.' As we continue to grow older in years and reminiscenses, the memory of the past becomes dearer and more sacred.

I should say the regiment carried in about 114 men, and, although they were not in action very long, perhaps some three or four hours, they suffered a loss of 58, or 58 per cent. Their names ought to be on record somewhere. 'Marse Robert' had no braver or more devoted band of gallant men than they who composed the Fifteenth Virginia Infantry. Its old commander often dwells in fondest memory of the dear 'old boys,' and their many deeds of true heroism in those memorable days of trial and suffering. Many times in the past two-score years his heart has melted and his eyes dimmed with kindly tears in sad and tender recollection, and now he most earnestly and lovingly wishes he had the capacity to portray for their posterity their patriotic devotion to duty and the suffering and sacrifices they endured to uphold a cause they knew to be right. Ah! surely it was right, time has only the more firmly grounded us in our convictions; nothing has occurred in the past two-score years in anyway calculated to change our views and opinions about our 'Lost Cause' with every idea and principle it involved and embraced, and for which we contended and suffered; it ever remains with us a sweet and sacred memory. It is true to-day we are all American citizens, living under one flag, and giving hearty allegiance to one government; but we are still very human, and while we may forgive many wrong and cruel things, we can never forget the old, old days, for then it was we willingly, bravely, risked our all in a common cause in the hopeful lusty days of our youth. It will never enter our minds and hearts in our mature years that our cause was anything but right and just and so we will continue to believe as our shadows lengthen in the sunset of life ere we join our dear old comrades who have gone hence. ...[1]

The writer is fully aware he has written in a rambling, discursive, reminiscent manner, and for such offense he pleads in extenuation the natural and time-honored privilege that is kindly granted to age and the reminiscent period. When two-score years are added to youth, forebearance and indulgence are quite in order, then it becomes every chivalrous nature to reckon kindly with old friends and comrades.

E. M. Morrison
Lieut.-Col. 15th Va. Inf.
Smithfield, Va., November 1905"


Signed and transcribed by S. Calvin Mumma, ca. 1935.

1. Morrison writes a long paragraph "About Our Artillery and 'The Boy Battery' of Parker." This will be included in a future post on artillery in the West Woods.

2. Montgomery Dent Corse, at Antietam was Colonel of the 17th Virginia, Jones Division, Kemper's Brigade.


First. From the Cope/Carman map--Semmes' advance across the then (and now) open ground leading to the West Woods.

Second. What Morrison and the 15th Virginians saw as they advanced towards the West Woods. The tree line of the West Woods is on the horizon; the Alfred Poffenberger farmstead is in the near distance with the foundation of the barn visible.