Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"The ominous booming of distant cannon admonished me to hasten on:" The Melancholy Mission of Bowen B. Moon to the West Woods, Part 1

Bowen B. Moon
Herkimer County
Historical Society
In 1987 the Herkimer County Historical Society New York published an account of one man's journey to the West Woods to recover a family member lost there on September 17. "In the Wake of The Battle: An Account of a Journey to the Field of Antietam on a Most Melancholy Mission," featured a letter written on September 3, 1907 by Bowen B. Moon to his niece Clara Spencer recounting his journey to recover the body of his brother-in-law William A. Salisbury of the 34th New York. Salisbury was one of 33 from the regiment that fell that day in the West Woods just west of the Dunkard Church; another ten went missing.[1]

I would like to thank the Herkimer County Historical Society for their permission to republish this remarkable letter and acknowledge the work of Arthur Moon and his son Joseph Moon  who assisted the Society in the preparation for publication of Bowen Moon's account. I have added annotations to the original letter.[2]

Bowen Moon to Clara Spencer,

Russia, N.Y. September 3, 1907

At the Salisbury Reunion of the present year you very kindly requested me to give you an account of my journey to the battlefield of Antietam and the bringing home of the body of William A. Salisbury who was killed on the 17th day of September, 1862 in that sanguinary battle.

Rosena Salisbury Moon
Herkimer County
Historical Society
About the 25th of September of that year, we were living at Russia, we heard or rather read the account of William's death. Rosena, my wife, (and sister of Wm. A. Salisbury) and I hastened to Norway to sympathize and to take counsel as to the future in those dreadful days.[3]

At father Salisbury's request and at the urgent wishes of the family, I consented to attempt the finding and bringing home the body of the soldier boy. I confess that I accepted the task with many forebodings as to the result. But every step I took seemed to encourage me that I would be successful.

The first was on going to the village of Norway from Dairy Hill, I saw Charles Willoughby[4] who had returned from the army wounded. He assured me that the grave of brother William was properly located and that in all probability I might find it. And I might say here that I found the grave as indicated by Mr. Willoughby and having exhumed the remains of the soldier brother, I returned to Norway and the good people of that town in appreciating expressions of gratitude and honor received and reinterred in the Norway Cemetery the one representative of the Salisbury family who in the hour of his Country's peril hastened to offer himself, if need be, a sacrifice for the honor and preservation of his country and its laws. The memories of the incidents of this journey are somewhat veiled in the mists of advancing years, but it gives me a somber pleasure to rehearse, though imperfectly, the narrative.

Starting from my interview with Chas. Willoughby at Norway, I called upon Judge Ezra Graves[5] at Herkimer and he and he very kindly gave me letters to Gov. E. D. Morgan,[6] who in turn gave letters to Gen. Wool[7] who was then commanding the U.S. forces at Baltimore, Md. Arriving at Baltimore, I soon learned that Gen. Wool was absent from town and would not probably return in a week or ten days. Fortified by the letters of Judge Graves and Gov. Morgan, I decided to go ahead and trust to luck for the outcome.

Accordingly I took the cars for Harpers Ferry at which place I had previously learned that the 34th Regt. to which brother William had belonged, was stationed. It was with some misgivings that I began threading my way through crowded cars, and among railroad men, travelers, officers and soldiers all under a high state of excitement, discussing the then recent battle of Antietam and the possible and probable outcome of the great rebellion. But I had decided and go ahead I must and take the consequences.

By a fortuitous event I heard two military officers aboard the cars talking about the then recent battle. I overheard one of them remark that the 34th N.Y. Regt. had distinguished itself in the battle. You need not guess that I kept my eye on that officer until an opportunity presented itself to speak to him, for I certainly did with as much zeal and success as a good detective would ex­ercise in bagging his game. At an opportune moment, I accosted this officer, saying to him that I had overheard his remark about the 34th NY and that I was on my way to that Regt. to get the remains of one of the slain. I soon learned that he was the Lieut. Col. of that Regt. and that he was Lieut. Col. Byron Loflin of Herkimer.[8] I explained my errand, showed him my letters from Gov. Morgan and Judge Graves, and asked him if he would assist me in getting in and out of the lines of the army. He replied that he "certainly could and would." This meeting with Col. Loflin relieved my mind very much for I felt more assured that my mission would be successful.

To be continued...


[1] The total number of dead from the regiment varies from source to source. The Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York: Register of the 34th NY Infantry Regiment (Albany: New York State Adjutant General Office, 1893-1905) shows 40 killed, one missing, and, of the wounded, three who later died. Frederick Phisterer lists in his New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. (Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1912) one officer and 32 enlisted men killed; an additional 13 wounded who died; and one officer and nine enlisted men as missing.

The 34th's companies were formed from the following towns and counties: Company A recruited at West Troy; B recruited at Little Falls; C at Graysville and Norway; D recruited at Champlain; E drew from Addison; F and G both recruited at Herkimer; H at Crown Point; I at Hammondsport, and K recruited at Salisbury. Frederick Phisterer, New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. (Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1912); The Union army: a history of military affairs in the loyal states, 1861-65 -- records of the regiments in the Union army -- cyclopedia of battles -- memoirs of commanders and soldiers (Madison, WI: Federal Pub. Co., 1908) and retrieved from New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs online at:

[2] Moon, Bowen B. "In the Wake of the Battle: an account of a journey to the field at Antietam on a most melancholy mission." LEGACY - Historical Magazine Published By The Herkimer County Historical Society. 2:1 7-10.

[3] In 1857, Bowen Buck Moon (1829-1924) married Rosena Salisbury (b. 1834-1892), the sister of William A. Salisbury. Bowen, a graduate of Fairfield Academy and Union College, served as the local school teacher in Russia, Herkimer County, New York for several years, before turning to dairy farming. He later found time to serve as Russia's School Commissioner and Justice of the Peace.

Rosena and William Salisbury came from a large extended family. Their father, Ackland Salisbury (1803-1865) and mother Mary Ayers (1806-1850), produced a family of six children--five girls and one boy, William A. Salisbury (1841-1862). Rosena Salisbury (1834-1892) was his older sister.

Their father listed himself as a farmer in the 1860 Census of New York. The Census also recorded that William Salisbury, then 19, had attended school within the past year. By that time, his father had remaried and the family grew by another six children. William, at the time of his enlistment in Company C of the 34th New York, was living at home with his stepmother, Maria A. Salisbury (b. 1813) and seven siblings and step-siblings, five girls and two boys. Retrieved from; entry for Ackland Salisbury; Rosena Salisbury; William Salisbury; New York State Archives, Albany, New York; Town Clerks Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War, ca 1861-1865; Collection Number: (N-Ar) 13774; Box Number: 27; Roll Number: 16 retrieved from; U.S. Census, New York, 1860.

[4] The 1860 Census records a 17 year old Charles Willoughby living with his father and mother and three siblings in the town of Norway, New York. His father is listed as a carpenter and Charles a laborer. Charles joined the 34th New York on May 1, 1861. 1860 Census; Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York: Register of the 34th NY Infantry Regiment (Albany: New York State Adjutant General Office, 1893-1905) under Charles A. Willoughby.

[5] Ezra Graves (1809-1883) of Herkimer County, New York. Wikipedia under Graves.

[6] Governor Edwin D. Morgan (1811-1883). Mr. Lincoln and New York at

[7] General John E. Wool served as military commander of Baltimore from June to October 1862. Baltimore: Its History and Its People, Volume 1, Clayton Coleman Hall, ed. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912), pp. 192-193.

[9] This was Lt. Col. Byron Laflin.


Michael O'Brien said...

Thank you for posting this Jim, great stuff.

Jim Buchanan said...

Thanks! Michael. Please feel free to contribute anything you may have on the 34th at Antietam. Best regards, Jim.

Michael O'Brien said...

Not directly related to Antietam, but I recently discovered that my GGG Uncle Michael S. O'Brien was elected the first treasurer of the 34th's Veteran Association. They held their first meeting in Herkimer, NY in October of 1884. From the Auburn News & Bulletin, Thursday Oct. 16th 1884:

"At a recent reunion of the 34th N.Y. vols. at Herkimer, M.S. O'Brien, of this city was made treasurer. This was the first meeting since their return from the war."