Sunday, April 24, 2011

"The ominous booming of distant cannon admonished me to hasten on:" The Melancholy Mission of Bowen B. Moon to the West Woods, Part 3

This is the third and final entry of a multi part post on the journey from Herkimer County, New York of Bowen B. Moon to retrieve his brother-in-law William A. Salisbury, Company C, 34th New York who fell in the West Woods on September 17, 1862. [a]

In this post, Moon is in Sharpsburg and has spent the night sleeping on a bed of wood shavings in a cooper's shop in the village. It is now morning, October 2, 1862.

The location of the 34th New York in the West Woods, just west of the Dunkard Church.
The 34ths' monument ("erected on the extreme right of our most advanced position"[1]) is just to the right of the picture (the 125th Pennsylvania and Purnell's Legion monuments are in this frame). This view looks west south/west down the gradual slope of Confederate Avenue. At the time of the battle, this open field was filled with mixed hardwood trees, widely spaced, with little underbrush. The trees, mostly Northern White Oaks, included some that were over 300 years old.
About daybreak a large division of artillery went rumbling by; regiments of infantry and companies of cavalry were to be seen.

At the restaurant I again prepared for the days work. I should say that it was about 8 o'clock in the morning when the man who was to carry the coffin to the battlefield and thence to Hagerstown arrived at the shop. We were soon on the way. The man was to exhume the remains and take them to Hagerstown, ten miles, for ten dollars.

Arriving at the grave we found, as I had before observed, that the body lay between two other dead soldiers. The man I employed carefully removed the dirt until he came to a blanket that had been placed over three dead placed in one grave. Separating the blanket in the middle there I beheld the dead brother "sleeping the sleep that knows no waking." It was just two weeks subsequent to the battle, and the features and contour of his face was easily recognized.

But the most convincing evidence of recognition was the fact that he had a harelip; that mark was clearly observable. Thus the information received from Chas. Willoughby at Norway; the conversation with Capt. Corcoran of Company C. 34th N.Y., the map of the position of Company C of this Regt. during the battle which was received from Col. Suiter; and also assurance from a private soldier, Mr. William Chappel, with whom I was personally acquainted - he enlisted while residing a near neighbor of mine - and who belonged to the same Company C. [2]-- all these facts and circumstances thoroughly convinced me that I was not mistaken in the identification of the remains of brother William A. Salisbury.
William A. Salisbury's headstone at
Antietam National Cemetery and seen by
J.D. Henderson. The question then
and now: Who is buried here?

I am more particular about this identification as some time since our mutual friend J.D. Henderson (of Herkimer)[3] visited the battlefield and noticed a headstone erected to the memory of one Wm. A. Salisbury of Co. C N.Y. Vol. &c on the battlefield. I account for the fact that the government erected that headstone because they found there the head board erected by the soldiers when they buried him. I had left the headboard standing and had carefully refilled the grave after removing the body.

I relied on the recommendations of Judge Graves & Gov. Morgan[4] requesting all civil and military officers to assist me in executing the object of my mission. Except the experience at Albany hereafter mentioned I received unfailing courtesy and respect.

There were many other bodies being exhumed that day. The man I employed to do it for me had more orders than he could execute that day, as it was he took so many that he could not carry me: then I looked forward to my tramp of 10 miles to Hagerstown with rather uncomfortable prospects.

I had learned at Bolivar Heights that the 121st regiment in which many Russia boys and including my brother Clinton Moon had enlisted was encamped near the village of Bakersville on the turnpike from Sharpsburg to Hagerstown.[5] Of course I resolved to call on the boys and perhaps stay all night there. On arriving there I found several sick with typhoid fever and other malarial diseases. The regiment, such as were able, were drilling. I saw a portion of the drill and I must say that I would not want to face that line of soldiers with 'their fixed bayonets any more than the Rebels did at Rappahannock Station when after firing a single volley they rushed just at dusk through the Rebel rifle pits down to the Pontoons compelling 600 of the enemy to surrender.

After consulatation with brother Clinton, I decided to at once continue my journey. He (Clinton) said that there was much sickness in the camp; that they might be ordered to move any moment, and that I would be much hindered if any move was made, and that he would assist me to get out of the camp &c be. The consequence was that I did not have a chance to visit the Russia boys.
Subsequent events fully justified his advice and my acceptance of it. Being acquainted with the prominent men of Bakersville, he succeeded in getting a carriage or rather a ride for me to Hagerstown, distant some six or eight miles.

That ride was a great relief to me, being acquainted with all the roads the gentleman not only would take no pay for my ride, but was of great service to me at Hagerstown, recommending a good union hotel and giving me much valuable information as to route to take be.

The main road was filled with army transportation teams and at his suggestion we took other roads, going substantially in the same direction, so we arrived at Hagerstown much more early than we otherwise would. Bidding him good bye with heartfelt thanks, I proceeded to find the coffin at the place appointed.

I found it at once and not only that, but found that it was under guard of a U.S. soldier. He challenged me as I looked at it and asked me what I wanted of that coffin. I told of my errand and proceeded to show him my recommendations and he ordered me to his superior officer who upon a brief examination of my documents ordered the guard to deliver the coffin to me and asked if I wished any help to put it on the cars, which of course I did and thereupon four soldiers carefully, and as I then thought sympathetically, assisted me to put it aboard the car. I offered to pay them but they seemed to almost spurn my offer. Of course I thanked them and one of them remarked that he did not know how soon some of them might be in similar circumstances.

Just previous to this I had purchased tickets, one for the transportation of the body and one for myself, to some point in the state of Pennsylvania. I think it might have been Chambersburg or Lancaster and it might have been to New York.

The hotel keeper at Hagerstown where I had asked for lodgings for the night had advised me to stay and take the express train that would overtake the freight train on which I had put the coffin on, as I now remember Chambersburg or at least where we would have to change cars.

Having thus arranged matters for the night I took a stroll around the town of Hagerstown. I had not gone very far before passing a grocery or perhaps it might have been a saloon, I saw a group of men and heard them talking very excitedly about military matters. I very quietly stepped into the place and soon perceived that they were in positive sympathy to say the least with the rebels. I heard one of them with cursing and swearing about the D-- Yankees &c.

He and some of the company said that an expedition had started or was about to start that would show these — Yankees a thing or two.

His remark alarmed me to such an extent that I hastened back to my hotel, settled my bill for a meal I had taken there, cancelled my engagement for a room and started at once for the freight train about to start, aboard which was the coffin containing the body. The railroad agent again advised me to stay until morning as they would overhaul the freight at such a place on the line and that I would ride much more comfortable after a nights rest.

But I was (known to me only) badly frightened at what I had heard in the saloon and I said to them that I chose to take the same train on which the body was if possible - that I would be near if anything should happen to delay the train. Hence I took the caboose and slept on the seats the best I could. Soon after arriving home I learned that the rebel Gen. Stuart had made his celebrated march around the U.S. Army and had burned a portion of the city of Chambersburg, capturing much property and taking many prisoners and that this took place Oct. 10, 1862 and that previously a scouting party had captured an express train robbing the passengers be.

It was the evening of Oct. 2nd that I heard the men talking in the saloon and taking into consideration the distance from Hagerstown to Chambersburg, I came to the conclusion that the Express that I had thought of taking in the morning was the identical train taken by the scouts and that thus by acting on my fears I had escaped a peril of considerable magnitude.

It was early on a Friday morning that I had to change cars at the place above referred to and soon after the change I was speeding my way to New York. On my way through the State of Pennsylvania I took no note or observations of passing stations or cities, being content knowing that I was with my charge out of reach of hostile people. I arrived at New York just as the lamps were being lighted for the night.
The station agent informed me that I must get a permit to move a body out of the city so in haste I made my way, making frequent inquiries, to the Mayor's office and got there just as he was giving instructions to the police for the night.

The Mayor received-me very cordially and I returned to the railroad station; and giving some porters a dollar, I had the coffin put on the cars and soon was off for Albany. At an early hour on that Saturday morning I procured the necessary tickets to go to Ilion.

As I was about to have the coffin put on the cars I received notice that the railroad did not carry dead bodies that had begun to decompose. Procuring a mixture for filling any apertures I might find in the coffin, I proceeded to fill them and succeeded in doing so with fair success. I then applied for permission to load the body on the cars and was again refused; then I showed my recommendations to the agent but to no effect.

At this time I became quite urgent and indeed stated my case with much feeling - that I had come a great distance with the body and that I had been treated by the people along the route with great friendliness--that I was conveying home the remains of one who had given up his life for his country - that the Governor of the state recommended me--that I had purchased and paid for two tickets to Ilion - that I should immediately report the case to Gov. Morgan if I were not allowed to proceed.

Encouraged by a number of soldiers standing near, and they were new recruits awaiting orders to proceed to the front, I assumed a bolder tone and in substance told the railroad authorities that I was going to Ilion that day and if the body could not go on that train the train would not be allowed to move--in fact I was told by a military officer to insist on my rights and that the soldiers would totally wreck the train if I were not allowed to proceed. This threat of the soldiers made a sudden change in the situation. A trainman beckoned me to the back side of the car and told me if I would pay the baggage man a couple of dollars that he would take the body on the train. Taking counsel of prudence I paid the baggage man the two dollars and was soon on my way to Ilion.

I arrived there in due time. I stopped at Ilion because Mr. Harvey Farrington[6] (bless his memory) was an especial friend of the Salisbury family and I doubted not that it would be his pleasure to assist in getting to Norway. I found it so and after a brief talk one of his sons[7] hitched up a very convenient rig and in due time we were at Norway on a Saturday afternoon.

The news of my arrival spread like wild fire and the good people of that town greeted me with many a 'Well done.'

(Signed) Bowen B. Moon Sept. 12, 1907 "


a. 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. Bowen B. Moon's "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 pp. 7-10) 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. 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.
1.  Louis N. Chapin, A brief history of the Thirty-fourth regiment, N.Y.S.V.: embracing a complete roster of all officers and men and a full account of the dedication of the monument on the battlefield of Antietam, September 17, 1902 (New York:1903), p. 152.
2. Bowen Moon is probably referring to James Chappell who, at age 31, enlisted in Company C at Poland, Herkimer County, New York. There are no other Chapels or Chappels or Chappells listed in the regimental rosters.  Louis N. Chapin, A brief history of the Thirty-fourth regiment, N.Y.S.V.: embracing a complete roster of all officers and men and a full account of the dedication of the monument on the battlefield of Antietam, September 17, 1902 (New York:1903), p. 122.
3. John Dryden Henderson (1846-1910) an attorney and treasurer of the Herkimer Historical Society. As the Hon. J.D. Henderson, he delivered an oration at the dedication of the 34th's monument at Antietam on September 17, 1902. Arthur T. Smith, compiler, Papers read before the Herkimer County historical society During the Years, 1899, 1900, 1901, to July 1, 1902, Volume 2 (Herkimer and Ilion, N.Y.: Citizen Publishing Co., Printers, 1902), p. 55; 1870 Federal Census for Herkimer County, New York; Chapin, Ibid., p. 152;     p. 105.
4. Judge Ezra Graves (1809-1883) and Governor Edward D. Morgan (1811-1883), see previous post, April 20, 2011.
5. Captain Clinton Moon commanded Company C of the 121st New York. Mustered into service on August 23, 1862 it "left the state Sept. 2, 1862, and was immediately assigned to the 2nd (Bartlett's) brigade, 1st (Brooks') division, 6th corps, with which command it continued during its entire term of service. It joined McClellan's army in Maryland and was present but not active at the battle of Crampton's gap." James M. Greiner, Subdued by the Sword: A Line Officer in the 121st New York Volunteers (Albany: State University Press, 2003), p. 39; New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 34th Regiment New York Volunteers, Civil War Newspaper Clippings at
6. In June of 1860, Harvey Farrington, a farmer in Herkimer County, headed a family of six children. 1860 Federal Census.
7. This was probably Harvey Farrington's oldest son, John Farrington, 20 years old in 1862. 1860 Federal Census.


Michael O'Brien said...

Here's a rather bizarre article involving a 34th Regiment soldier (William H. Lewis of Herkimer, Co F, Capt. Charles Riley), who was thought to have been amongst the killed at Antietam. There was (is?) even a headstone for him in the Antietam Nat. Cemetery (# 844 it looks like from the article, hard to make out). He was instead terribly wounded, then taken prisoner. He was subsequently exchanged, sent to Washington, and there honorably discharged for "surgical disability". Imagine his surprise when some years later while applying for a pension, he was promptly informed by the pension dept. in Washington that he had been killed at Antietam, and therefore, there was no such man as William H. Lewis of the 34th Regt. The latter part is extremely hard to read.

"Officially Dead 5 Years":\inetpub\wwwroot\Fulton_New_form.html&.pdf

Michael O'Brien said...

Much clearer version of the same article.
"Dead, Yet He Liveth" from the Amsterdam NY Evening Recorder, Tuesday, May 17, 1904:\inetpub\wwwroot\Fulton_New_form.html&.pdf

Jim Buchanan said...

Thank you Michael for these posts and the article links. I will try to get a photo of the headstone this weekend and post it here. I see from the cemetery records that it is indeed grave 844 in Section 25 / A /108.