USS Despatch, the third US Navy ship of the name, was formerly the screw steamer America, purchased by the Navy in 1873.

She sailed 20 April 1877 for the eastern Mediterranean and a special assignment with the U.S. Embassy at Constantinople, Turkey. Arriving there 14 June, Despatch carried dispatches and transported the American minister to Turkey, in turmoil because of war with Russia and internal political unrest. She was detached early in 1879, and returned to her home port [of Washington, DC], where she was placed out of commission 9 July 1879.

Aboard for that cruise was a sailor named James Henry Bratton, late Private in the First North Carolina Infantry. James was wounded at Sharpsburg in September 1862 at age 17 but got through the rest of the war unharmed. Afterward he moved to Baltimore and was a marine fireman and engineer. He enlisted in the US Navy for four years in 1876, by then 31 years old.

Family lore says he told his wife he’d given four years to the Confederacy and four years to the United States (after his US Navy enlistment of 1876-1880). Maybe he figured that made him even.

The quote here from Despatch’s page in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, online from the Naval History and Heritage Command. As is her photograph.

William Rufus Barlow was conscripted into Confederate service in August 1862 and assigned as a Private to Company B of the 18th North Carolina Infantry. He was slightly wounded in his first action, at Sharpsburg in September 1862, and was afterward with his Company until captured at Spotsylvania Court House, VA in May 1864. He ended up in the prison at Elmira, NY and died there of pneumonia in January 1865.

This fine photograph of him is from a family researcher, shared online on WikiTree.

There’s a superb discussion about Barlow’s family and a collection of his wartime letters in Company Front (Issue 2, 2013) [pdf], the journal of The Society for the Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops, from Locke W. “Skip” Smith, Jr.

Mr Smith described the photo above:

The firearm held by Private Barlow in this image is a rapid-fire “sidehammer” Colt Model 1855 Revolving Carbine, in a rare variant known as the “Artillery Model.” This .56 caliber weapon never gained wide acceptance due to its propensity to “chain fire,” or discharge all five chambers of its firing cylinder in one dangerous explosion. This problem may have in part prompted the Federal government to transfer sixty of these long arms to the State of North Carolina on May 7, 1859, and Barlow’s carbine may be one of that number. Other images of North Carolina Confederate soldiers armed with this weapon can be seen in Mast’s State Troops and Volunteers, images 2.67, 4.2.12, and 5.4.11. A saber type bayonet could be fixed to this “Artillery Model” carbine. In this typical early war image Barlow appears in civilian clothing with a 6-pointed “secession star” device affixed to his low-crown bowler hat.

I’ve seen a number of these rifles in soldiers’ photographs. Perhaps they just made good photographers’ studio props, not that they had wide use.

I’ve also recently seen a large number of Sharpsburg veterans who died at Elmira. All of them said to have died of pneumonia. I wonder if that was really the case, or was it lazy medicine or lazy medical record-keeping? Pneumonia wasn’t the most common cause of death at other prison camps.

I’m exploring another Irish unit today – Company K of the First South Carolina Infantry (McCreary’s). Formed in June 1861 as the Irish Volunteers for the War, they came largely from a pre-war militia company organized in Charleston in about 1853: the Meagher Guards.

When the Guards’ idol and namesake Thomas F. Meagher began recruiting Irishmen for the Union in New York in 1861

the Charleston company condemned Meagher for “taking arms against us in this most unholy war in support of usurpation and oppression,” struck his name off their roll of honorary members, and on 9 May changed the unit’s name to Emerald Light Infantry.

Two former officers the Meagher Guard who formed the Irish Volunteers for the War – Company K – were wounded at Sharpsburg in September 1862:

Dublin-born Captain Michael P. Parker was a carpenter who “had acquired an education beyond his circumstances. He was an able mathematician, and an excellent writer.” Formerly First Lieutenant of the Meagher Guards, he was made Captain of Company K in January 1862. He was “dreadfully” wounded at Sharpsburg, and never really recovered, dying young at about age 35 in 1868.

First Lieutenant James Armstrong, Jr. was only slightly hurt at Sharpsburg and was eventually promoted to Captain of the Company after Parker. He was born in Philadelphia of immigrant parents but was raised in Charleston and lived for some time in Ireland in the 1850s.

At least 9 more men of Company K were casualties on the Maryland Campaign and many had probably been members of the Meagher Guard; with Irish surnames like Burns, Dillon, Feeney, Holloran, Kennedy, and Sullivan.

The announcement for the Guards, above, is from the Charleston Daily Courier of 16 September 1853. I found it and the quotes above in the excellent Meagher Guard, Charleston’s Fighting Irish by Bill Bynum, published in Company Front (Issue 1, 2011) [pdf], the journal of The Society for the Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops.

Private John Henry Libben did not impress his commanding officer at Antietam.

Lieutenant Peter C Hains later wrote of his battery, “M” of the 2nd United States Artillery:

All the men of the company behaved with their accustomed coolness and courage with one exception, Private Litten [sic], who was not at all remarkable for coolness or courage.

Language not often found in an officer’s after-action report.

Libben served with the battery until discharged at the end of his enlistment in March 1864 and he enlisted in the US Marine Corps immediately afterward, in April. He was promoted to Sergeant and spent the last part of his enlistment (c. 1866-68) aboard the beauty above – USS Vanderbilt. I expect he gathered some coolness and courage by then.

This photograph of USS Vanderbilt is online from the US Naval History and Heritage Command.

Huzzah! Hathi Trust

5 March 2021

My favorite basic source for Louisiana troops is Andrew Bradford Booth’s three volume set (in 7 books) of the Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Louisiana Confederate Commands (1920). A one-stop shop for the military basics on more than 102,000 individuals.

Until recently I’d consulted an online text transcription of Booth’s work, but it’s disappeared. A couple of days ago I found the Hathi Trust Digital Library has all 7 of the books, but had limited access to three of them for copyright issues.

Books published in the US before 1925 are now out of copyright – in the public domain – so I took advantage of the feedback form on the Hathi Trust site and pointed the problem out to them.

Amazing! Within an hour I had an acknowledgement and a few hours later Jessica from user support responded that she was passing my request to a copyright expert. The next day I got an email from Kristina saying she agreed the books are no longer under copyright and would open up access for US users. And she did, immediately. She also took the time to explain why they’d been restricted in the first place: there was a 1974 microfilming date on the copyright page.

This is in sharp contrast to the results I’ve had over the years from Google Books in many similar situations: Crickets. Nothing. Nada.

Bravo Hathi Trust!

Here’s an unusual view: the enlisted men of Battery M, 2nd United States Artillery at Culpeper, VA in September 1863. One of these men is probably Corporal Michael Frain, who was wounded at Antietam the year before. Corporal Frain had first enlisted back in 1854 and he served in Battery M to November 1873.

I found that great photograph while looking into an officer of the battery who was a Sergeant when they were in action at Antietam.

He was Terrence M. Reilly of Glasgow, Scotland. He enlisted in 1857 and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd US Artillery in March 1863. That’s him without a hat in the front row in the picture below, also taken at Culpeper in 1863. Both photographs are online from the Library of Congress.

Thanks to Jim Rosebrock for the pointer to Reilly in a bio sketch he posted to the Antietam Guides Facebook page.

This is Creswell Archimedes Calhoun Waller of Greenville, SC from a photograph published in the Greenwood Evening Index of 3 March 1910.

He was a Private in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry at Sharpsburg in September 1862. He later rose to be a Captain in the 36th Georgia Infantry and was a successful business man and politician in Greenwood after the war.

He was one of 8 children – 7 boys, one daughter – of Albert “Squire” Waller and Jane Elizabeth Creswell “Betsy” Waller, who had a substantial and successful plantation near Greenwood before the war. Many of the boys had interesting names like Creswell, who was named for his mother’s family, the Greek mathematician, and the US Senator from South Carolina. Among his brothers were Codrus D., Cadmus Garlington, and Pelius Augustus Waller, who was killed at Olustee, FL in February 1864.

Two of his brothers were also at Sharpsburg, and both were killed.

Robert Aurelius Waller was Captain of Company B of the 8th Florida Infantry and commanded the regiment briefly after Colonel Coppens was killed, but was himself shot down near the Sunken Road “with the colors of the regiment draped over his shoulders.”

Private James Leonidas Waller was with Captain Garden’s Palmetto Light Artillery at Sharpsburg and was mortally wounded by an exploding shell. He died in October at a hospital in Winchester, VA.

Columbie et Guyanes (1870)

26 February 2021

Doctor Thomas Smith Waring, late Assistant Surgeon of the 17th South Carolina Infantry was living in Venezuela in 1870. Like thousands of other ex-Confederates, he’d left the United States after the Civil War, perhaps hoping to recreate something of the Confederacy in South America.

By 1880, though, he, like most of the ex-pats, was back in North America. He practiced medicine in Colleton County, South Carolina to his death in 1901.

The map above, by P. Bellier, Paris, c. 1870, was sold by Sephora Antiques in May 2020.

This is the outside of a 30 October 1863 application submitted by Lieutenant George H Kearse, then commanding Company G of the 17th South Carolina Infantry, concerning Private Jones Frank Jones of his Company. Jones had been wounded by a buckshot through his left hand at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain on 14 September 1862, 14 months before.

It was the second or third such application for discharge made on his behalf.

Regimental commander Colonel Fitz William McMaster passed it along with the following illuminating note:

Hd Qr 17th Reg S.C.
Nov 2nd 1863

Approved and respectfully forwarded –

I made two applications for the discharge of Private Jones last Spring but failed to procure it.

His hand was badly mutilated at Boonsboro Sep 14th 1862 and he has since been an inconvenience to the Regiment. I know him to be a good & faithful soldier anxious to serve his country and hope he will not be compelled to ___ [?] out a miserable existence in camp unable even to attend to his own personal comforts, much less to benefit the service.

F.W. McMaster
Col 17th Reg S.C.

Private Jones was discharged 3 days later.

The inside of the application is shown below. It’s from Jones’ Compiled Service Record at the National Archives.

The capacity of the [US Army Hospital Steamer] ‘Connecticut’ was four hundred patients. She made altogether forty-seven trips and conveyed eighteen thousand nine hundred and nineteen (18,919) patients.

One of those patients was Private George Perry Williams of the 17th South Carolina Infantry. He’d been captured at Petersburg in March 1865 and was a prisoner at Point Lookout, MD. Although probably not previously wounded, in late July he had “partial paralysis of left side of body,” and was sent to a hospital in Washington, DC aboard the Connecticut. He was finally released in August 1865.

George had a tough early life, too. In October 1843, when he was 5, his father Rev. Martin Jones Williams (b. 1806) was murdered – poisoned by arsenic. His mother Sarah Kearse Williams (1807-1865) was tried for the crime but not convicted, for lack of evidence to prove it was her. She later had children with at least 2 men but did not remarry. She was from a wealthy and influential family but by 1850, when George was 12, she’d lost her land and the slaves her father had left her in 1838.

The quote above is from the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1870), online from the US National Library of Medicine. The picture of the US Army Hospital Steamer Connecticut is from Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War (Vol. 7, 1911), online from the Hathi Trust. Georges’s postwar photo below is from Charles L.D. Carlson, SCV Camp 842.


Another soldier of the 17th South Carolina got a trip on a USA Hospital Steamer, in May 1865.

Private Nicholas Welsh of Company I was wounded at Turner’s Gap and at the very end of the war at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865, after which he was sent to a hospital in Washington, DC on the State of Maine, seen below. That photograph is from the collection [pdf] of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.