In 1860, the companies [of the 4th United States Artillery] in Utah were kept busy protecting the parties of emigrants going West, and keeping open the mail routes. Light Battery B, operating as cavalry, marched during that summer 2000 miles over a barren and desert country, and though the Indians were continually hostile, the roads were kept open. The battery had a successful fight against 200 Indians at Eagan’s Canyon, August 11, 1860, losing three men wounded (one mortally).

From May to October 1860 Battery B was based at the small Pony Express station located at Station Spring at the southern end of Ruby Valley in western Utah Territory (now Nevada). 32 year old First Lieutenant D.D. (Delavan Duane) Perkins, USMA ’49 was in command; Lieutenant Stephen H Weed USMA ’54 and Surgeon Charles Brewer (Assistant Surgeon CSA 1861-65) were the other officers.

On 15 and 16 July 1860 US Census enumerator J.P. Waters identified 105 Americans there, but did not include the band of Shoshone who lived nearby. His three page [ page 1 | page 2 | page 3 ] listing of the residents is a great reference for students of the Battery.

Among the 70 soldiers listed in Ruby Valley that summer at least 17 were also in action with Battery B just over two years later at Antietam, including then-Sergeant James Stewart, who commanded the Battery at Antietam after Captain Campbell was wounded, and Private Richard L Tea, who was slightly wounded at Antietam, was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1876 for action against the Cheyenne in Kansas the year before, and retired from the Army in 1888 after 30 years in uniform.

Others of the Battery in that 1860 Census list known to be at Antietam in 1862:

William West (WIA Antietam)
John Mitchell
Andrew J Ames (WIA Antietam)
Joseph Brownlee (WIA Antietam)
John Brown (KIA Antietam)
James Cahoo
Frederick A Chapin
Henry P Lyons (KIA Antietam)
William Kelly
Joseph Herzog (MWIA Antietam)
Andrew McBride
John Wilsee/Wilsey (WIA Antietam)
Robert Moore (WIA Antietam)
William Kelly
William Moffitt (WIA Antietam)

_______________
The quote at the top is from the US Army history of the 4th Regiment of Artillery, online thanks to the Center of Military History.

The census pages are from 1860 United States Federal Census, Population, Schedule 1. NARA microfilm publication M653 (1,438 rolls). Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. The Ruby Valley, St. Mary’s, Utah Territory set are on roll M653_1314, Pages 1-3. I found these page images online thanks to FamilySearch.

The photograph of the Battery’s battlefield tablet at Antietam was taken by Craig Swain for the HMDB.

Old Man Guest

21 February 2022

Benjamin Franklin Guest was at least 55 years old when he was killed in the battle at Sharpsburg in September 1862; a Private in Company F, 53rd Georgia Infantry.

His is indeed a hard-luck story.

Family history, supported by the US Census, says he lost his Madison County, GA farm and his family due to his drinking, and by 1860 was living alone, an overseer on a farm in Griffin, Spalding County, GA. In May 1862 he signed-up as a substitute for one R.A. McDonald (possibly Robert Alexander McDonald, 1831-1904) of Company F.

The family story says he was killed by a “sniper” on 16 September at Sharpsburg, which is somewhat unlikely, as the 53rd Georgia and the rest of the Brigade arrived at Sharpsburg from Harpers Ferry at sunrise on the 17th. His very brief military record says he was killed on 17 September.

I don’t have a birth year for every soldier killed at Sharpsburg, but among those I do have, Guest is the 2nd oldest. The oldest being Private Adam Burkel of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry – who was about 57 years old at Antietam.

———————–
The photograph of Semmes’ Brigade’s battlefield tablet was taken by Craig Swain for the Historical Marker Database (HMDB).

Private William F. Ford of the Tom Green Rifles, Company B, 4th Texas Infantry had an extraordinary war.

At Sharpsburg on 17 September 1862 he and his regiment were part of Hood’s Division’s devastating charge into Miller’s cornfield early that morning. But that wasn’t enough for Ford.

… after the Brigade was relieved about 10 o’clock am, he was sent off and accidentally meeting the 9th Georgia Regt. reported to Capt King of Co “K” and fought with them till night. Capt King gave him a certificate complimenting him for his gallant conduct thro’ the the day, which certificate was endorsed by both the Col commanding the 9th Georgia Regt and Col Anderson – now Brigadier – commanding the Brigade …

He was captured at Gettysburg in July 1863 and sent to the US prison at Fort Delaware. From which he escaped in August or early September. Not an easy thing, as shown by the fate of Hoxey Whiteside, Company G of the 4th Texas, who attempted such an escape a couple of months after Ford, in November 1863, but drowned in the Delaware River.

Private Ford “passed through parts of Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland in the disguise of a citizen, arriving safely in Richmond” and, not a shy man, made a request for a furlough directly to the CSA’s Adjutant General, General Samuel Cooper – “hoping sir, that you will grant this favor.” Cooper did.

He was commissioned Junior 2nd Lieutenant of his Company on 1 April 1864 “for valor and skill” and distinguished himself in combat again, in the Wilderness of Virginia, where he was wounded in the leg on 6 May 1864. He was promoted to Senior 2nd Lieutenant on 16 June.

In addition to all this, his is the second case [first, here] I’ve found of a Confederate officer applying to raise and command a “negro regiment.”

He made that request on about 12 March 1865 through his military chain of command, and a week later wrote to John H Reagan, the Postmaster General of the Confederate States, asking for help in expediting it.

Reagan forward a positive recommendation to Secretary of War Breckenridge on 22 March. The reply came back the same day (cover below).

Res. ret’d to the Post Master General. The application has not reached us, but the Dept. has decided not to grant authority to recruit larger organizations of col’d troops than companies except where a battalion of four companies can be raised from one estate.
By com’d Sec. War:
[Captain] John W. Riely, AAG

Word got to Lieutenant Ford on 30 March 1865. It was largely a moot point by then, anyway – Federal troops entered Richmond 4 days later.

He was surrendered and paroled at Appomattox Court House, VA on 9 April 1865, and went home to Austin, Texas. He died there in 1875.

Killed by guerillas

30 October 2021

I found a couple of excellent accounts which nicely bracket the military career of Captain Samuel A. McKee, 2nd United States Infantry. They are too good not to share and I hope both of my readers will appreciate them.

McKee was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, USA on 5 August 1861 and First Lieutenant 5 days later.

He led Company I of the 2nd US at Antietam, part of a consolidated battalion of companies from the 2nd and 10th United States Infantry regiments. They crossed the creek over the middle bridge about midday on 17 September 1862 and pushed a line of skirmishers up the pike toward Sharpsburg.

Battalion commander Lieutenant John Poland reported “Lieutenant McKee, commanding Companies I and A, Second Infantry, while deploying to the front, was severely wounded and compelled to leave the field.

Captain George F. Norton had been in Confederate service since April 1861 and led the First Virginia Infantry on the Maryland Campaign, seeing combat on South Mountain and at Sharpsburg. He was in command again at Gettysburg, where he was wounded, and afterward was promoted to Major. He was with the regiment to the end of the War – which for him occurred when he was captured at Sailor’s Creek, VA on 6 April 1865.

He jumps headlong out of the distant past, though, in this brief letter he wrote to President Jefferson Davis on 28 February 1865:

Sir,

I respectfully ask to be appointed Colonel of a Negro Regiment –

I am a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and accompany this application with recommendations from my Brigade and Division Commanders.

I am – Sir – very respectfully,

George F Norton
Major 1st Va. Infantry

I’ve never seen anything like this before.

In February 1865 there were no “Negro Regiments” in Confederate service, nor were any expected. So this seems like an off-the-wall request.

The idea of arming slaves had been argued before, and roundly rejected. In December 1863 General Patrick Cleburne formally floated the idea in a proposal he shared among his officers. Word got around the army, and the reaction was universally and understandably negative. Cleburne either misunderstood or underestimated the power that slavery held in and over the Confederate States.

Most of the leadership probably agreed with Howell Cobb, Georgia politician and Confederate founding-father, who later famously wrote:

I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began … If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong, but they won’t make soldiers.

When he received the proposal in January 1864, President Davis firmly rejected it and demanded the document and all copies be destroyed.

However, a year later the situation was desperate, and on 10 February 1865, and with the support of General R.E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, Congressman Ethelbert Barksdale of Mississippi introduced a bill (HR-367) authorizing arming slaves in the defense of the Confederacy. It passed the House on 20 February, and slightly amended, by one vote, the Senate on 8 March. President Davis signed it into law on the 13th.

So it may not be such a mystery that Norton wrote that letter. From a prominent Richmond family, with friends in the city, it is likely that he knew of the legislative activity. Perhaps he saw an opportunity for advancement and wanted his name in the running.

I have not found a reply from the President to Major Norton in the record.

_____________________

The CS War Department issued General Orders No. 14 to implement the new law on 23 March. Notably they included these among the provisions:

No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring as far as he may, the rights of a freedman …

It is not the intention of the President to grant any authority for raising regiments or brigades. The only organizations to be perfected at the depots or camps of instruction are those of companies and (in exceptional cases where the slaves are of one estate) of battalions consisting of four companies …

The war was effectively over less than a month later, and by that time only two such “companies” had actually been formed.

_____________________
Notes

The image above, of Major Norton’s letter (along with the accompanying recommendations from Generals Corse, Terry, and Pickett, and Thomas Haymond’s forwarding letter) is in the US National Archives in his Compiled Service Record; I found it online from fold3 (subscription required).

The Howell Cobb quote is from a letter he wrote to then-Secretary of War James Seddon on 8 January 1865, which is online from the Encyclopedia Virginia.

The text of the approved Act of the Confederate Congress and of War Department General Orders No. 14 authorizing enlistment of black soldiers is online thanks to the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland.

George F Norton’s bio page is on Antietam on the Web.

For a deeper look at the issue of enlisting slaves for Confederate service, from an early 20th century perspective, you might consult N. W. Stephenson’s The Question of Arming the Slaves (American Historical Review, January 1913), and Thomas Robson Hay’s The South and the Arming of the Slaves (American Historical Review, June 1919), both online from JSTOR.

[Nathaniel Wright Stephenson (1867-1935), a prolific writer of history and biography was appointed professor at the College of Charleston (SC) in 1902 and at the new Scripps College (CA) in 1927.  T.R. Hay (1888-1974) was a Penn State-trained electrical engineer who became a noted historian and editor.]

With a nudge from a record in the Frederick Patient List database, I went looking for 2nd Lieutenant J. Corfro of Company I, 1st North Carolina Infantry, only to find he probably never existed, despite his shiny new government-issue marker at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, MD.

The Lieutenant lived only on paper, in Federal hospital and burial records, which have him admitted to a US Army hospital in Frederick in September 1862 and buried at Mt. Olivet after he died on the 20th.  He appears in no roster, muster roll, or other military record for the First North Carolina or any other military unit.

I believe he was actually Lieutenant William D. Scarborough, who, incidentally, has an equally nice stone at Mt. Olivet.

The bits of available information about Scarborough, recorded under many names including Corfro, are sometimes confusing and contradictory, but I think I have made some sense of them.  Follow along and see what you make of him …

In his diary after the battle of Antietam Private Julius Rabardy wrote:

The air is full of explosions and the smell of brimstone, missiles of all kinds strike the trees and dead branches fall among the wounded. I was shot through the right thigh. A poor fellow with uplifted arm begs for water. The arm is shot off and the man speaks no more. A Confederate lies in front of me with a horrible wound. It is Hell. I close my eyes. It is probably from loss of blood, sick at the sight of such carnage. I became unconscious. When I recovered all is quiet.

The regimental surgeon amputated his leg later that day. He was not yet 30 years old and it would seem his best years were now behind him …

H.T. McKay, 26th Alabama

27 August 2020

Harley Tuttle McKay was a 27 year old shoemaker in 1861 when he left his wife and two year old son and enlisted in the Sons of ’76 – Company H of the 26th Alabama Infantry regiment.

On 14 September 1862 near Turner’s Gap on South Mountain he was seriously wounded in the leg by a “bombshell. Soon afterward his leg was amputated and he was sent home to Marion County, Alabama on furlough. In April 1863 he was detailed from his Company to Columbus, Mississippi to use his skills as a shoemaker for the Confederacy. He was there for at least a year, but I have no further military information for him after April 1864.

After the war he was a shoemaker and farmer, and probably a preacher; in his native county to about 1880, then in Texas. He lived to be 84 years old.

Although his life story is not especially noteworthy for a Civil War soldier, the way it became tangled with another McKay’s after his death is very interesting. And, for a researcher like myself, also very confusing. I’m not certain I’ve sorted it out, even now. See what you make of it …

The issues first jumped out at me through a couple of cemetery markers.

Lieutenant Richard C. Shannon of the 5th Maine Infantry was assigned as aide-de-camp to Major General Henry W. Slocum, commander of the First Division, 6th Army Corps, in March 1862. Although a well-educated young man, he was still learning his profession as a staff officer in August and September 1862.

Shannon left behind some wartime diaries which, although not especially dramatic as narrative, offer insight into his day-to-day experience in the field.

Of particular interest to me is this field notebook/diary he had with him on the Maryland Campaign.

It is a flip-page style that he probably carried in his pocket, and he used it both as a traditional diary – writing a brief summary of each day’s activity – and as a working notebook to keep orders, names, maps, and other things he needed to remember.

I’ll pull out some pages to give you a flavor, here. Click on any of them to expand for easier reading.

I should be doing something else, but got pulled off track by a trooper of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry, James Williamson, who was killed in a little-known cavalry skirmish at the Quebec Schoolhouse near Middletown, MD on 13 September 1862.

His regiment’s historian, former Corporal William N. Pickerill wrote a fascinating account of that ‘desperate little cavalry battle’ for a newspaper in 1897, and put it in his regimental History in 1906. Because of him, I’ve spent the last couple of days putting names and faces with some of the men who were there.