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.

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