Friday, March 31, 2006

141 Years Ago Today

John Steward joined the First Maine Heavy Artillery in January of 1864 as a late war recruit. Whether it was out of a sense of patriotic duty or the duty to provide for his family he left his wife and four children at home to run a farm they rented in Monson, Maine. When the First Maine Heavy Artillery left Washington in May of 1864 John Steward was in the ranks and on his way to experience the horrors of war.

After the Charge on June 18, 1864 Steward wrote to his wife "I do not want you to think that I am not as much as a Union man as ever but to witness such slaughter and butchering is awful to look at." He continued to express his dissatisfaction by writing "One glass of whiskey is worth more to our officers then a soldier's life."

Steward became quite sick in July and spent the next 5 months in and out of hospitals in Washington and Maine.returneduned to the regiment in December just in time to participate in the Weldon Raid wherewitnessingsned the hanging of 3 rebels in retribution for the killing of Union stragglers.

Steward’s disaffection with the war returned as he wrote in January “Our country’s cause is as good as ever but to see the way that it is carried on is enough to make a man hate those in command over him if not his country as every man seems to be trying to see how much he can make out of this war.”

Regardless of his dissatisfaction John Steward continued to provide guidance to his children urging them to get their education because he knew it was important. He held out hope that he would survive that war and be able to see his family again.

141 years ago today on March 31, 1865 Private John M. Steward of the First Maine Heavy Artillery was killed by a Confederate shell. He was one of the last soldiers in this regiment to be killed in action.

Hard Drive Blew Up

Sorry for the lack of posts. My hard drive blew up this week. It was less then a month old but I guess I got a bad one. I lost about 3 week’s work of data. Again the importance of backing up weekly has been shown to me. Good news is that I am up and running again.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

19 year olds and War: Then and now

As a result of the charge on June 18, 1864 over 600 men of the First Maine Heavy Artillery were either killed or wounded. Some of the wounds were minor and many of these men were able to return to duty after a short period of recuperation. Countless others would never return to the ranks and would bear their scars for the rest of their lives.

A contributor to the regimental history of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery wrote that some years after the war he saw “a big man from Maine,” who had been in the charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery and “who had seven bullet holes in him, one of which was through the throat so that he was unable to speak, but he survived and a few years later was peddling confectionery on the muster field at Concord, MA, minus an arm, breathing through a tube.” (Roe, The First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, 181-182.)

With this to go on I combed the through the records of the First Maine Heavy Artillery to see if I could locate soldiers with neck wounds as a result of the charge on June 18th. Once I limited the list of potentials I moved on the Federal Pension Records. Although not 100% conclusive the Pension Records, indicated that this surviving veteran was Private Winthrop Shirland of Company I from Winslow, Maine. Shirland was a 19-year-old recruit who joined the regiment in November of 1863 most likely because there was relative safety in garrison duty in Washington. Reading through Shirland’s pension record and the description of his wounds causes’ one to question how any man could have survived especially given the state of Civil War medicine. Here is what the examining surgeon wrote of Shirland’s wounds in 1867:

“One ball entered palm right hand and came out near right elbow, one ball passed through right arm at middle third (of the) humorous, at or near which point the right arm is amputated. One ball passed through the right leg near middle third, rendering the leg quite lame and weak, one ball entered top left of shoulder and emerged near base of scapula (collar bone), badly fracturing that bone, causing loss of many fragments of bone impairing use of left arm to great extent. One ball struck left wrist, (a pistol ball) which now remains beneath the skin on back of wrist, now attended with much inconvenience. One ball entered right side of throat and forced its way into the mouth where it escaped. Says he took cold, when diphtheria set in causing the throat to fill up to such a degree that an incision was made in the trachea just above the top of the sternum, where a silver tube is inserted to breath through. Just enough breath can be forced through the larynx to enable him to articulate, though very indistinctly. Says cord which holds the tube in occasionally allows it to slip out, and that he is unable to replace it himself, as he has but one hand and that is very much disabled. Therefore [it is] necessary that someone should be near him constantly. This is very dangerous and uncomfortable. He is unable to perform any manual labor and requires constant aid of another person. I consider him entitled to a pension of $25 dollars per month if any man ever was." (Pension Record of Winthrop Shirland, ms. Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, DC.)

What strikes me about this story is that minus the reference to $25 per month pension this could be the story of hundreds of 19yr old Private Shirland’s who as I write this are trying to come to grips with their own physical and mental scars as the result of war.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Faces of War, another ACW Blog

Found another ACW related Blog today. Ron Coddington who is the author of Faces of War and a columnist for Civil War News has a blog dedicated to his research and interest in Civil Photography and the stories of common soldiers. A quick read of his blog indicates Ron is working on a Confederate version of Faces of War.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Brothers One and All and Beyond

Last week I had the pleasure of exchanging some emails with Mark Dunkelman. Mark is the author of few books including the very well received Brothers One and All. Mark has spent a good deal of his life researching and writing about the experiences of the 154th New York Infantry. Some may think that after the regimental history what more can be gleamed from the history of civil war regiments. I think Mark has proven that there is a lot more of the story to tell then just the movements, battles and military experiences of the typical Civil War Regiment. Mark has gone the next step to investigate and tell the story of individuals in the regiment and how these individuals came together to function as a “band of brothers.”

What is evident in “Brothers One and All” is that these bounds did not cease to exist in 1865 when the war ended but continued to helped shape the lives of the survivors. To that point Mark has written another book on the 154th NY that deals with how the Civil War was the ”cataclysmic event” for at least 12 soldiers that shaped the rest of their lives.

I know that in my own research on the First Maine Heavy Artillery there are plenty of standalone stories around the lives of individual soldiers that would make good reading. I am sure the same could be said about these soldiers from the 154th NY. I look forward to reading Mark’s book when it comes out later this year because his interest in understanding the individual stories of Civil War Soldiers greatly mirrors my own. I have included a description of Mark’s forth coming book below. This information and more on Mark’s research regarding the 154th NY can be found at his web site.

"War's Relentless Hand: Twelve Tales of Civil War Soldiers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006). A happy-go-lucky soldier falls at Gettysburg. An officer survives a hair-raising escape after capture at Gettysburg, only to die in the Atlanta campaign. A young volunteer retreats into insanity. Though they did most of the fighting and dying in the American Civil War, “ordinary” soldiers largely went unheralded in their day and have long since been forgotten. Mark H. Dunkelman retrieves twelve of these common soldiers from obscurity and presents intimate accounts of their harrowing, heartbreaking, and occasionally humorous experiences. Their stories, true to the last historical detail yet as dramatic as the most powerful fiction, put a human face on the terrible ordeal of a country at war with itself.

These were soldiers from the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, a regiment that Dunkelman has studied for forty years. He weaves a complex and personal portrait of each man--portraits that reveal how, even for the common soldier, war was a cataclysmic event forever marking his life and the lives of those around him. Through a vast array of primary sources, Dunkelman reconstructs the lives and legacies of soldiers who died on the battlefield and others who later died of war-related injuries, some who were permanently disabled and others who saw their families undergo trauma.
A reluctant soldier is doomed by red tape. A veteran is crippled for life because of his brutal treatment as a prisoner of war. Father and son are killed at Chancellorsville. A dying private is immortalized by Walt Whitman. Separated by the war, a husband and wife agonize when their children contract a deadly disease. A veteran claiming he was blinded by campfire smoke is at the center of one of the largest pension scandals of the postwar era.
Recalling a lost world, War’s Relentless Hand tells of the resilience, perseverance, and loyalty that distinguished these men, the families and communities that supported them, and the faith and character that sustained them. Though the full human cost and grief of the Civil War can never be calculated, deeply felt and carefully retold lives like these help convey its magnitude.”

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The light of History doesn't lift all shadows

Interesting article in my local Boston Globe today entitled A City's Timeless Allure. It is about how the city of Charleston’s, portrayal of history is “a high-wire act for the city”, because to really grasp the history of the city is to understand that it’s “beauty was built on the backs of slaves." I couldn’t help but laugh over the quote from the elderly docent at the Confederate Museum who indicated that any remaining ill will towards Yankees is not over the Civil War but rather Reconstruction. I still don’t know how you can separate the two but as long as places still exist where the presentation of history fails to provide a “clear pronouncement to visitors and locals alike that, for the record, slavery was bad” then we will never really come to grips with our history.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Anti Mr. Turberville

A few recent posts by my fellow bloggers David Woodbury and Kevin Levin have criticized rightly so) Mr.Turberville and his simplistic (and incorrect) explanation on the causes of the American Civil War and how there were numbers of African Americans who willing fought for the Confederacy. In contrast to how Mr. Turberville would like to educate Americas school children on the real story of the Civil War, Terry Handy also a CW Reenactor and a history teacher, has organized an interactive, hands on Civil War encampment where 130 middle school students will spend the weekend experiencing a taste of what life during the Civil War was like. The news article in the Santa Marie Times gives a pretty good account of what this Civil War encampment will provide the students. Speakers such Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln will also be providing students with the perspectives on the larger issues surrounding the Civil War. A lot the encampment will also be focused on the life of Civil War soldiers and will also include the reenactment of a field hospital. I will take a little exception to his quote that kids will love seeing arms and legs sawed off, hopefully that part of the encampment will reinforce the message that war does have mortal consequences. I give Mr. Handy a lot of credit for embarking on this approach and for trying to make history come alive in an age of cell phones, PSPs and iPods and I hope his students have a rich and rewarding experience that will inspire a desire to learn more.

A New Civil War Blog

Thanks to Kevin at Civil War Memory for pointing out Mark Grimsley’s new blog on the Civil War called Civil Warriors. I looked forward to adding it as one of my daily stops on the web. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Mark’s award winning Blog Them out of the Stone Age which is focused on the larger field of Military History.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The First Maine Heavy Artillery in California

I am still trying to pin down where soldiers from the First Maine Heavy Artillery who died while on garrisoning duty in Washington are buried. I know from one reader (Tim Abbott) that at least one solider who died of disease was mostly likely embalmed and shipped home with his brother. I am am sure there were others but they are most likely the exception not the norm. Peleg Bradford of the First Maine Heavy Artillery indicates in his letter that the soldiers who died while on garrison duty in and around Fort Sumner (the one in Washington) were buried in Tenalleytown. Some have suggested that this may have been a temporary burial ground with the soldiers being eventually removed to Arlington or the Soldier’s Asylum. The listing I have of Maine soldiers buried in Arlington does not indicate any the names I am looking for. My thoughts are that the 100+ soldiers who died in the regiments from August 1862 to May of 1864 are more than likely buried at the Soldier’s Asylum. I have been unable to find a list yet to confirm that so if any one has one please let me know.

So while this part of my research still goes on I did receive some interesting and useful information from a reader of the Maine Civil War Forum who gave me a link to the Sons of Union Veterans Graves Registration Database. I had not seen this site before so I was exited to try it out. My query captured over 107 grave sites listed for soldiers from the First Maine Heavy Artillery throughout the country. Out of these 107 sites 19 of them are listed in California and there are another 12 or so listed for Colorado, Washington State and Oregon. To me this points out that as a result of war was a sense restlessness was awakened in many of the survivors that could not be contained within their bounderies of their home states. After experiencing the trauma of war first hand many veterans were inspired to put behind them the lives they had left in 1861 and set out for a life more full of risk, adventure and reward on the frontier.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Remembering the Civil War as War

One of the things that has always struck me about the Civil War is that the fact this was a war with mortal consequences that gets over looked. Two resources that help bring the destructive nature of the Civil War home for me are the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion and The Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries. Neither of these resources is for the faint of heart as the pictures, illustrations and descriptions are graphic. The majority of the cases deal with soldiers who were wounded in battle who received some level of medical care. This is important to note since it indicates that the pain and suffering of these soldiers was not relived by immediate death on the battlefield.

The First Maine Heavy Artillery has no shortage of soldiers whose cases are highlighted in both of these resources. There are at least 37 soldiers from the First Maine listed in the Medical and Surgical History and a handful of First Maine Soldiers also listed in The Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries.

The Medical and Surgical history is available on DVD-ROM at and it appears The Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries can be found through Amazon.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

CWPT adds Washington, DC forts to list of sites at risk

Sorry for the lack of posts. Business travel has a way of getting in the way.

Today in the news the forts defending Washington have been added to the list of the most at risk Civil War sights by the Civil War Preservation Trust.

I think this is significant for those interested in the history of the Heavy Artillery regiments like the First Maine. Originally enlisted as the 18th Maine in August of 1862, the First Maine Heavy Artillery spent from the fall of 1862 to the spring of 1864 in the defenses around Washington. Not only did these men garrison the forts and batteries but they spent a great deal of time clearing the land and adding to the strength of the defenses. I think the engineering achievement alone makes these forts worthy of protection.

Benjamin F. Cooling wrote in Symbol, Sword and Shield: Defending Washington during the Civil War, that “by late 1863 Washington, DC was a fortress city surrounded by a chain of fortifications, connected by a line of earthworks mounting the most powerful guns of the period. Fifty Three enclosed forts and Twenty Two batteries surrounded the city. The forts and their clay sides were naked of grass, and both in front of and behind them stretched acres of fields - strewn only with random brush piles and tree stumps. These fields were cleared in order to improve fields of fire for the artillery. In many cases these acres were cleared by regiments like the 18th Maine.” (pg140)

Garrison duty was in no way as hazardous as active campaigning as the First Maine would come to find out in May 0f 1864; however this duty in the forts was not without risk as ravages of disease took a heavy toll.

For those interested the National Park Service has a website with more information on Washington’s Civil War Defenses. On a related note one of the sites that is actually protected is Fort Chaplin, which is named after Col. Daniel Chaplin, First Maine Heavy Artillery, who was mortally wounded at Second Deep Bottom on August 17, 1864,
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