James Grant of the Christian Commission was on the field after the battle of Antietam …

While moving around amongst the wounded … my attention was called by a disabled officer to a friend of his, badly wounded in the face, and lying out somewhere without a covering. Following his directions, and throwing the rays of my lantern towards the foot of a wooden fence, I soon discovered the object of my search … The ball had entered one side of the cheek and passed out at the other, grazing his tongue, and carrying away several of his teeth. His face was horribly swollen, and he could not speak. On asking him if he was Lieut. M. [Morin], of Philadelphia, he assented by a nod of his head.

During the next two days, the Surgeons were all so busy, that his wound, which had been hurriedly dressed on the field, remained untouched; yet he showed no signs of impatience. In the inflamed, wounded condition of his mouth, nothing could be passed down his throat. On the third day, as the Surgeons still had more to do than they could manage … [w]ith some hesitation, I took the Lieutenant’s case in hand, and, after two hours’ labor, succeeded in cutting away his whiskers and washing the wound pretty thoroughly, both inside and outside the mouth. This done, and all the clotted blood and matter cleared away, the swelling abated, and he began to articulate a little. A day or so afterward, he could swallow liquids; and being carefully washed daily, in less than a week he was able to travel to Philadelphia …

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Notes

This excellent photograph of First Lieutenant Anthony Morin of Company D, 90th Pennsylvania Infantry is from the collection of Scott Hann.

The quotes here from Edward P. Smith’s Incidents among Shot and Shell (1868), online from the Hathi Trust.

Here’s an impressive cavalryman you might like to meet: Charles L. Leiper of Rush’s Lancers – the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Although cavalry units were not significantly engaged at Antietam on 17 September, they battled all across Maryland in the week or so before.

On the 7th [September 1862], Lieutenant Charles L. Leiper was placed in command of Company ‘A,’ which he retained until the beginning of October. On the march to Antietam, when near Frederick, Maryland, on the 13th of September, he came upon a body of dismounted rebel cavalry in a wood. Although largely outnumbering his small force, he drove them in confusion, and made some prisoners. The enemy were armed with carbines, and though our men had only the lance and their pistols, by one determined charge they succeeded in dislodging the enemy, who fled in dismay.

This was Leiper’s habit through the war – taking aggressive action apparently without regard for the odds or his own safety.

He was seriously wounded twice as a result, and was promoted to Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, and Colonel of his regiment by early 1865, and had been their commanding officer in practice since mid-1864. In March 1865 he was breveted – honorarily ranked – Brigadier General of Volunteers for his service.

Amazingly, he was then just 22 years old.

Corporal John H “Highly” Coulston, Company A, 51st Pennsylvania Infantry was wounded at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain in September 1862. He was Captain by January 1865 and mustered out in July.

Tragically, he was severely injured in a train crash – known afterwards as the Exeter Station wreck – on 12 May 1899 while returning with many other veterans from the dedication of a statue of statue of General Hartranft in Harrisburg. He died the next day.

Superimposed on the front page of the Reading Times of 13 May 1899 above is a picture of him c. 1864 from a published photograph contributed to his Findagrave memorial by Charles McDonald.

The crushed train car below testifies to the force of the collision. Below that is a post-war photograph of Isaac E Filman – also of Company A and wounded at Fox’s Gap, and also killed in the crash (lower two photos from the Pottstown Mercury of 1 July 2012).

Sergeant Angelo M Crapsey of the “Bucktails” – the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves. Eyewitness to the Maryland Campaign.

After fighting at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain on 14 September he wrote a friend at home:

… It looked like a task to storm the mountain for it was very steep and more than one mile to the top of it. In we went. Company I was reserve awhile & the Rebels shelled us, wounding 3 of our men, 2 of which died that night. My right hand man was one to fall. Soon after this we were deployed & 3 with me were posted behind a rock wall. W Brewer & L Bard & Hero Bloom [Blom] were with me. The Rebels were behind a fence and rocks. Bard was wounded and Brewer helped him away & soon Bloom was shot by my side. He died that night. Northrop fell a few yards to the left. Maxson fell dead within a few feet of him.

Well it was close work. I only got my face and eyes full of bark for there was a tree just on the rock. That’s all of this …

Two days later, on the evening of the 16th, he and the Bucktails were at Antietam:

… Just as we emerged from a belt of woods into a plowed field, the Rebels fired across the field. We moved forward double quick & lie down behind a little knoll & commenced firing at the Rebels … It was soon dark. We kept firing so fast they could not stand it. My gun [a Sharps breechloader] was so hot I was afraid to load it but kept stuffing it and firing at the flash of their guns. We charged & drove them out of the woods … Col. McNeil was killed and Lt Ellison [Allison] also. I fired 70 times & was well satisfied to stop for the night.

(you can find something about all those names from the Bucktails’ page on AotW)

Crapsey was captured at Fredericksburg in December, was a prisoner at Libby in Richmond, was released and saw action again at Gettysburg, but was very ill afterward and was discharged for disability in October 1863.

He went home probably suffering from PTSD and attempted suicide twice. He succeeded in killing himself the third time, with a friend’s rifle, in August 1864. He was 21 years old.

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His picture from a photograph posted on Crapsey’s Findagrave page by Dennis Brandt, author of Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the American Civil War (U of Nebraska Press, 2008) – the tragedy was Crapsey.

Washington, DC-born William J.H. White was 35 years old in September 1862 and had been an Army doctor since he graduated from the Columbian College Medical School (now George Washington University) in 1849. At least 10 of his 13 years service had been in the frontier West, with the 2nd US Cavalry in Texas and New Mexico. His had not been soft duty.

Earlier in 1862 he had seen considerable action with the 6th Corps and gained experience with large numbers of casualties, notably at Gaines’ Mill in June and Bull Run in August.

He arrived with his Corps at the battlefield of Antietam about 10am on Wednesday, 17 September and his job as Medical Director was to set up and staff the Corps field hospital; the battle had been underway for some 5 hours when he arrived, which made his work both important and urgent. He established a hospital on the Michael Miller farm, known later as the Brick House Hospital, and nearby at Dunbar’s Mills, both at the north end of the East Woods. He probably didn’t treat any soldiers himself, but would have been closely involved with their care.

The troops of his 6th Army Corps were placed largely in holding and supporting positions on the field at Antietam, but one Brigade, Irwin’s of Smith’s 2nd Division, made an attack toward the West Woods about mid-day.

That afternoon something went terribly wrong with Dr. William White.

During the whole of the terrible battle of Wednesday Dr. WHITE was superintending the care and removal of the wounded from the battle; and it is supposed the excitement consequent to the occasion produced a species of temporary insanity, for after the battle had lulled somewhat, he rode up to Gen. FRANKLIN and said, “General, if you will give me a regiment of men I will clear those woods of rebels,” pointing to a piece of woods on his right in which was stationed a very large force of rebels.

Gen. FRANKLIN replied, that fifty regiments would be unable to dislodge the enemy from the position, and that it would be useless to attempt the experiment. Dr. WHITE rejoined, “If you will not give me the men to take those woods, I will go and take them myself,” at the same time proceeding in the direction of the place where the rebels were concealed, at a rapid gait. When within about twenty or thirty rods of the edge of the wood, he was fired upon by several rebel sharpshooters, two balls taking effect, one in the forehead and another in the breast, killing him instantly.

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Edwin Forbes’ engraving of Irwin’s attack is from the Century Magazine of June 1886.

The extraordinary narrative of his death quoted here is from a Memorial of 20 September issued by US Army Surgeon-General William A. Hammond and published in the New York Times of 12 October 1862.

This story also cross-posted to CivilWar Talk.

Ben Witcher’s Story

26 June 2019

 

B. Witcher’s battlefield map (detail, click for full)

 

The map above is centered on the eastern part of the Miller Cornfield near the East Woods at Sharpsburg on the morning of 17 September 1862. There has been heavy fighting here since dawn and, along with other regiments in action, the 6th Georgia Infantry has been nearly wiped out. It is between 8 and 9 in the morning.

Stephen Sears, in his classic Antietam book Landscape Turned Red (1983), wrote this dramatic vignette of that time and place:

Private B. H. Witcher of the 6th Georgia urged a comrade to stand fast with him, pointing to the neatly aligned ranks still lying to their right and left. They were all dead men, his companion yelled at him, and to prove it he fired a shot into a man on the ground a few yards away; the body did not twitch. Private Witcher was convinced and joined the retreat. 

Over the years since I first read it, I had forgotten Benjamin Witcher’s name, but not that story. Who could forget that imagery? Even in combat, the shock of shooting into one of your own mess-mates would have been horrendous.

At least three other well-known books on the battle have used this anecdote, too, citing Landscape as their source. If you’ve read any of the basic literature, then, you will have seen it, and you’d remember.

But I’ve just found it isn’t true. It didn’t happen that way.

This lovely piece is a decorative military record – “very tastefully printed in 10 colors” – for Private Samuel Wilson Evans of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves. He served from 1861 to 1864 and saw action at South Mountain on 14 September and at Antietam on 17 September 1862.

This certificate was produced by the Army and Navy Record Company, which was started in about 1883 by Walter C. Strickler (c. 1837-after 1920) of Philadelphia – an outgrowth of his personal project to gather an exhaustive timeline for every Union military unit and action of the Civil War. Strickler’s son Theodore compiled some of that work in When and Where we Met Each Other on Shore and Afloat … (1899).

The colorful parts of this decorative record were printed, but Evans’ name and service details are hand-written. It was “presented” in his name to his wife Sarah Jane and daughters Margaret, Nellie May, and Mary Belle on 1 October 1905. The original is about 19×27 inches and it’s online thanks to the Maryland State Archives.

Below is an advertisement in the National Tribune of 5 October 1905. By that time the National Tribune had bought out Strickler, and was offering these certificates on their own. Strickler and the Tribune had been in a marketing relationship for some years before.

County Donegal native Lieutenant James McKay Rorty was Ordnance Officer of the First Division, 2nd Army Corps (Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson) at Antietam. He was heroically and famously killed at Gettysburg in July 1862 while in command of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery – a remnant of the old Irish Brigade/2nd Artillery Battalion in which he’d originally been commissioned in 1861.

Equally famously, as a Private in the 69th New York Militia he’d been wounded and captured at First Bull Run on 21 July 1861 and held in a warehouse in Richmond, VA. On 18 September he and two other men, 1Sgt. William O’Donohue and Pvt. Peter Kelly, disguised themselves in civilian clothes and escaped. A week later they made it to the Potomac River and rafted out to Federal gunboats.

That’s the scene in the illustration above, from Frank Leslie’s Pictorial History of The War of 1861, posted online in company with a piece about Rorty from The Wild Geese.

The escapees are (probably) seen in the photograph below – left to right, Kelly, Rorty, O’Donohue – taken later, after all three were commissioned officers. It’s from owner Matt Regan and is online from Harry Smeltzer.

[updated February 2021]

Captain Charles F Walcott is a hero to those who study Massachusetts soldiers in the Civil War (or at least to me) because he wrote the Regimental History of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry (1882). In the preface he apologized for taking more than 15 years to complete the book while raising children and running a law practice in Boston.

A Harvard man, he’d adventured West during a “gap year” in 1857 before law school. He had travelled to Minnesota, “living with the Sioux and Winnebago”, went down the Mississippi to New Orleans and returned home by ship by way of Cuba.

Walcott was the original Captain of Company B of the 21st, commissioned in August 1861, and he commanded it on the Maryland Campaign of 1862 – at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain and right behind the 51st PA & 51st NY over Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam.

He left the 21st Massachusetts in April 1863 and married Anna Morrill Wyman in October.

He did a 90-day stint commanding a local militia unit in the Summer of 1864 then was appointed Lt Colonel (soon Colonel) of the new 61st Mass in September. He mustered out in June 1865.

In 1866 he was honored by brevet to Brigadier General of Volunteers.

He was a lawyer in Boston for the next 20 years and died at age 50 in 1887.

In about 1980 his grandson Dr. Charles F. Walcott (Harvard, Harvard Medical School) donated a box of Indian artifacts to the Cambridge (MA) Library, a few of which are identified as local to Massachusetts, collected by Dr. Walcott. The rest are apparently of unknown provenance. That collection is pictured online via Flickr.

“The only outlier to the Native American objects in the collection is a box containing two bullets and a minie ball from the Battle of Antietam”  – actually 2 minie bullets and a musket ball or cannister shot, I think.

Although not documented, I can guess who first collected some of these objects, can’t you?

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The late-1864 photo with his wife is at the Library of Congress (part of the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs).

Lieutenant Evan Thomas commanded the consolidated Batteries A and C of the 4th United States Artillery on the Maryland Campaign.

He was the 3rd son of US Army Colonel and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas (USMA 1823), and at the start of the War in April 1861 received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant, 4th United States Artillery.  He was promoted to First Lieutenant in May. He was then just 17 years old.

He was assigned to Battery C which, due to a manpower shortage, was consolidated with Battery A in October 1861. He was in action with his battery on the Peninsula in mid-1862 and succeeded to command by order of seniority sometime after Captain Hazzard died of wounds in mid-August 1862. Evan had just celebrated his 19th birthday.

Here’s Lieutenant Thomas with a group of his fellow officers taken at Sharpsburg in September or October 1862, shortly after the battle of Antietam:

The caption on the picture is Lt. Rufus King, Lt. Alonzo Cushing, Lt. Evan Thomas and three other artillery officers in front of tent, Antietam, Md. (click to enlarge) There is no guide to who is who, but I have had some expert help working to identify them.