Monday, July 17, 2017

155 Years Later: On Hallowed Ground Honoring the men who Fought Here.

There is no doubt the land along the banks of Antietam Creek in Washington County, Maryland is hallowed ground to the ancestors of the men who wore both the blue and the gray.   More men were casualties here on that fateful day in September 1862 than in any other single day engagement in American military history.  Over 23,110 were listed as killed, wounded, missing or captured after more than 12 hours of fighting.

The battle started at dawn in farmer D. R. Miller's cornfield.

It ended at dark about 3 miles south of there on the hills above the west bank of Antietam Creek near the now famous Burnside Bridge.

This past weekend living historians from North Carolina and elsewhere came to Antietam National Battlefield to honor their ancestors and fellow Americans who fought here.  They conducted infantry, marching, deployment and small arms firing demonstrations representing the 28th, 18th and 11th North Carolina.

                              Marching According to Hardee's Tactics

                                         Firing by Company

               Calvert Arms Fife and Drum Corps joined them to play martial music

The living historians did a great job presenting programs for Antietam's visitors.  They marched to the Bloody Lane to fire a volley and later placed a wreath at Confederate Brigadier General Lawrence O' Bryan Branch's mortuary cannon on Branch Ave.  Calvert Arms Fife and Drum played music in Sharpsburg's town square on Saturday evening.  These programs are a great way to learn from history and also to honor the brave men who fought on these fields originally settled by pacifist German Baptist Brethren farmers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hasbrouck Davis: Grimes Davis's Partner in Escaping Harpers Ferry, September 14, 1862

Hasbrouck Davis was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, April 23, 1827 the third son of  "Honorable" John Davis, a US Senator and Governor of Massachusetts and Elizabeth Bancroft Davis.  After obtaining a primary education in his hometown schools Davis matriculated to Williams College in 1841. He graduated from Williams in 1845.

After graduation Hasbrouck taught school for a year and then went to Germany to continue his studies in preparation to joining the ministry.  On his return to the United States he because a Minister  of the Unitarian Society in Watertown, Massachusetts about 1849.  In 1850 he would marry Martha W. Stickney whom would bear him 4 children between 1851 and 1859. Davis did not stay with the ministry long, abandoning that profession to study law.  By 1854 he had been admitted to the Bar and opened an office in Boston.  In 1855 Davis made a permanent move to Chicago, Illinois where he renewed the practice of law.

                                          Hasbrouck Davis

According to an excerpt in a book "In Memoriam" published after his death Davis was "tall, over 6 feet, well proportioned, far in complexion with light brown or perhaps auburn hair and blue eyes with a tinge of grey in them - he might be said to possess a more than common share of physical beauty.  Naturally impulsive, he gave his soul to every act; and to this ardent nature he added a persistency of purpose rarely found in unison with it."

When the civil war broke out Hasbrouck Davis turned his law practice over to his partner and helped recruit the 12th Illinois Cavalry.  He was commissioned Lt. Colonel of the 12th November 18, 1861 serving under German born Colonel Arno Voss.

The 12th Illinois Cavalry Regiment was organized at Camp Butler in February 1862.  They would remain there until June 1862 training and guarding Confederate prisoners of war captured at Fort Donelson.  After receiving their mounts on June 25, 1862 the 12th Illinois left Camp Butler for Martinsburg, Virginia.

Lt. Colonel Hasbrouck Davis and the 12th Illinois Cavalry saw action in and around Martinsburg, Bunker Hill, and Darkesville, Virginia in early September 1862.  They were briefly in Williamsport, Maryland on September 11  before returning to Martinsburg.  On the 12th they vacated Martinsburg with Brigadier General Julius White's command and headed southward to Harpers Ferry to join Colonel Dixon Miles Union garrison there.  They were engaged in the defenses of Harpers Ferry on September 13 and 14th, 1862.

By September 13, 1862 the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry was surrounded by Confederate forces under the command of Stonewall Jackson.  Confederate artillery shelled the town on the 14th and things look bleak for the Union forces.  It was inevitable the garrison would have to surrender.

The leaders of the Union Cavalry at Harpers Ferry, predominately Colonel Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry and Lt. Colonel Hasbrouck Davis of the 12th Illinois consulted with Julius White about the possibility of escaping the doomed town.  They went to Colonel Dixon Miles who reluctantly gave his consent for the breakout.  Miles in Special Order #120 put Colonel Arno Voss of the 12th Illinois in overall command of the expedition because he was the ranking officer.

About 8:00 pm on September 14, 1862 about 1500 Union cavalry, led by Grimes and Hasbrouck Davis and a local guide left Harpers Ferry via the pontoon bridge that spanned the Potomac to the base of Maryland Heights in Maryland.  The men would follow the line of the Potomac to near Williamsport, MD., where they would go cross country, finally winding up in Greencastle Pennsylvania along with part of Confederate General James Longstreet's supply train.  The escape ranks as one of the most daring events in civil war history.

Hasbrouck Davis would be promoted Colonel of the 12th Illinois Cavalry on August 11, 1863 and Brevet Brigadier General March 13, 1865.  He would lead the regiment throughout the remainder of the civil war resigning his commission in August 1865. After leaving the army Davis resumed his law practice in Chicago.

                                Find A Grave photo by Merry Hill

On October 19, 1870 Hasbrouck Davis would be lost at sea of the coast of Ireland aboard the steamer Cambria.  His body was never recovered.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis: Some Family Secrets Revealed

It has been common knowledge for years that renowned 1st US Cavalry Captain and Colonel of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis, who lost his life to a rebel bullet on June 9, 1863 at Beverly Ford, Virginia was born in Alabama and appointed to West Point from Mississippi.  Little else was known about his youth or his family until recently.  With  modern technology and internet access to historic records at the click of a mouse long lost secrets about Davis's family have come to light.

                               Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis

A review of papers supporting Davis's application to the military academy note he was the grandson of Captain Benjamin W. Holladay and a nephew of Captain John Abbott and William Taylor.  All three men lived in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1850.  William Taylor and John Abbott both wrote letters supporting young Davis's application to West Point.

Holladay, the son of John M. Holladay who died in 1780 or 1781, in South Carolina, was born in Spottsylvania, Virginia April 11, 1777.  He moved to Georgia, Alabama and later Mississippi where he died on October 15, 1850.

Many of Benjamin Holladay and his wife Elizabeth numerous daughters were born in Wilkes County, Georgia before the family moved to Perry County, Alabama where Holladay purchased Public Lands that were opened to entry after the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed August 9, 1814.  Three of these daughters, Nancy, Agnes Portatier, and Matilda are important to our story.

Agnes, who is often referred to in the census records as Portatier, was born in Georgia about 1806.  She married William Taylor September 18, 1828 in Perry County, Alabama.  By 1850 the family was living in Monroe County, Mississippi where Taylor was a planter.  According to a descendent, Elaine Coffman, he also operated a Stagecoach Inn in the Southern Crossroads Area south of Aberdeen on the Aberdeen-Columbus stage route.

Nancy M. Holladay was born in Georgia about 1808.  She married Wiley Howell, April 3, 1823 in Perry County, Alabama.  By 1850 the Howell family was also living in Monroe County, Mississippi where Wiley was a planter.

Matilda is the most illusive of the Holladay daughter but also the most important.  According to family trees and census records she was born in Georgia sometime before 1813.  On January 1, 1831 Matilda and Benjamin E. Davis were issued a marriage license in Perry County, Alabama. Benjamin E. and Matilda E. Davis would have 6 sons before their untimely death sometime during or after 1840.  Benjamin would purchased 79.81 acres of Public Land as a cash sale on November 14, 1833 according to Government Land Office records.

Benjamin Franklin Davis was born to this union in October 1831.  Next in line was William O. Davis (born about 1833), followed by Thomas J., (born about 1834) Marion (born about 1837) and finally Augustus R. Davis (born about 1840). Records indicate there should be a 6th brother but I have been unable to ascertain his name or birth date.

The 1840 Perry County, Alabama Census records show Benjamin E. Davis as head of household with 3 free white males under 5, 3 free white males age 5-9, 3 free white males age 30-39, 1 free white female age 20-29 and 5 slaves.

 By 1850, according to census records and the letters mentioned above 5 of the 6 boys recorded in the 1840 Perry County, Alabama census were living in Monroe County, Mississippi.

In December 1849 Benjamin was a ward of William Taylor.   He was described as being "about 18 years of age, 5' 9 or 10" high and will weigh about 130 lbs., a fine looking fellow" "of unblemished reputation" and  "of very superior mental endowment". He had served in the 1st Battalion Mississippi Rifle Volunteers commanded by Lt. Colonel James Patton Anderson, at Tampico in the Mexican War and was "one of its best soldiers".

In 1850 William O., Marion and Augustus  were living with Taylor and his wife Portatier, an older sister of Matilda Holladay Davis.  Thomas J. Davis lived with another sister Nancy Holladay and her husband Wiley Howell.  In a letter written by E. Abbott supporting Benjamin's West Point application Abbott notes:  "Mr Davis has lost both his father and mother and has 5 brothers, all fine, strong, well behaved boys".

We know Benjamin Franklin Davis was admitted to West Point and graduated in 1854 ranking 32nd out of 47 cadets.  Upon graduation he was assigned to the 5th US Infantry. He transferred to the 1st US Dragoons March 3, 1855.  Davis spent time in Texas and New Mexico, where he distinguished himself and was wounded fighting Coyotero and Mogollon Apache on the Gila River, June 27, 1857.  By 1858 he was in California  where he would be commissioned a Captain in the 1st US Cavalry and a Lt. Colonel of the 1st California Cavalry Volunteers.  He came east in 1861 to join the Union War  effort.  Davis is best known for advocating and leading a daring escape of Union cavalry from Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862 in conjunction with  Lt. Colonel Hasbrouck Davis of the 12th Illinois Cavalry.  He would be breveted Major, September 15, 1862 for "Meritorious Service in the Withdrawal of the Cavalry Forces from Harpers Ferry, VA., at the Surrender of the Place", on the recommendation of Major General George B. McClellan.  On November 14, 1862  Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton recommended John Farnsworth, David Gregg and  Davis for promotion to Brigadier General noting "their judgement, experience and energy fully entitled them to the position of Brigadier General."  This request was not acted upon prior to Davis's untimely death.

As noted in Half Century Record of the Class at West Point 1850-1854, written by Henry L. Abbott, Davis "served in the battles and skirmishes of the Army of the Potomac, after that of South Mountain always with so much credit to himself as to be regarded as having very few equals and no superiors in the cavalry branch of the service".

At least 2 of Benjamin's brothers, Marion and Augustus fought for the Confederacy. Both were with  Company D,  11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment.   Marion would be missing during the Peninsula Campaign and Augustus would be killed  at Weldon Railroad August 18, 1864.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Steel-Cold General John Gibbon: An Artillerist at Heart

John Gibbon was born in  Holmesburg, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the center of Philadelphia, on April 20, 1827.   John was the third son and fourth child of  Dr. John H. Gibbon and Catherine (Lardner) Gibbon.  When John was eleven the family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where his father had obtained a job as assayer for the U. S. Mint.  In 1842 John was appointed to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point from which he graduated 20 in a class of 38 in 1847.

After graduating from West Point, as a brevet 2nd lieutenant, Gibbon was sent to Mexico during the Mexican War but did not see combat.   He served in Florida in the Seminole Wars and later was an instructor at West Point where he wrote The Artillerist's Manual.  When the civil war broke out Captain Gibbon was commanding Battery B 4th U. S. Artillery at Camp Floyd, Utah Territory.

                                       Brigadier General John Gibbon

John Gibbon, his wife, young children and Battery B left Camp Floyd with elements of the 2nd U. S. Cavalry and the 10th U. S. Infantry on July 27, 1861.  The column spent 74 days in route to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas where they arrived on October 8, 1861.  From there Gibbon and Battery B went to Washington.  Gibbon was soon appointed chief of artillery for General Irvin McDowell.   He spent the winter instructing Battery B and three other volunteer artillery batteries.  On May 8, 1862 newly minted Brigadier General John Gibbon assumed command of a brigade of western regiments (2nd, 6th, 7th Wisconsin & 19th Indiana) to which Battery B was attached.  He would command this brigade at the September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam.

When John Gibbon's brigade stepped out around 6:00 a.m. on September 17, 1862,  advancing south from the Joseph Poffenberger Farm toward the Confederate forces in line of battle about a half mile to their front Battery B followed.  They advanced to a field directly south of the North Woods and then to high ground east of the D. R. Miller Farm all the while firing their 12 pounder bronze guns in support of Gibbon's brigade and the other troops in General Doubleday's Division.  Soon the 6 gun battery would move to the west of the Hagerstown Pike south of the D. R. Miller barn.  Here, while suffering heavy losses in men and horses, they would help repulse General Stonewall Jackson's troops and assist Gibbon's brigade and others in advancing within a couple hundred yards of the Dunker Church.

Confederate General John Bell Hood's counter attack around 7:00 a.m., forced the Union infantry back to and through the cornfield at Antietam and in some cases to the west side of the Hagerstown Pike where they rallied to support Battery B which was receiving heavy fire from Confederates in the cornfield.  While this was going on General Gibbon saw that his prized bronze guns, especially the one on the pike, were in danger of being captured by the Confederates even as they fired rounds of double canister at the foe. 

In Recollections of the Civil War John noted: "I happened to look at the gun (in the road) and noticed that the cannoneers had carelessly allowed the elevation screw to run down and every time the piece fired its elevation was increased until the missiles were harmlessly thrown high over the heads of the enemy in its front.  I yelled to the gunner to run up the elevation screw, but in the din he could not hear me.  I jumped from my horse, rapidly ran up the elevation screw until the muzzle pointed almost into the ground in front and then nodded to the gunner to pull the lanyard.  The discharge carried away most of the fence in front of it and produced great destruction in the enemy's ranks."


After assisting with the cannon Gibbon encountered Rufus R. Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin who was rallying his men in a field east of the D. R. Miller house.  Dawes commented on this encounter in a letter to Ezra Carmen dated March 4, 1898.  In the letter Dawes noted: "General John Gibbon came to me as I was rallying my regiment... and I remember one exact expression he used. His face was black with powder smoke.  He had been sighting one of his guns.  He said by --- --- --- they shan't have these guns and he marched over by my side when I moved my regiment over to the battery".

To an artilleryman, the cannons in a battery, are like their children.  It was a point of honor to never loose a gun to the enemy.  So at Antietam, even as he commanded a brigade of infantry, John Gibbon still had an attachment to the guns of Battery B which he commanded at the outset of the civil war and for a number years prior to that.  In the full uniform of a brigadier general Steel-Cold John Gibbon stood up to the Confederates in the cornfield and probably in so doing helped save his prized guns from being captured.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Harvard to Cedar Creek: The Storied Life of Charles Russell Lowell

Charles Russell Lowell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 2, 1835 the son of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., and his wife Anna Cabot Jackson Lowell.  He attended Harvard, graduating as valedictorian in the class of 1854.  Lowell was employed in various practical, menial jobs, learning to be a businessman,  between his graduation from Harvard and his being diagnosed with consumption in October 1856.  He spent 2 years in Europe (1856-1858) in an attempt to regain his health.  By the spring of 1861 when the civil war broke out Lowell was employed at the Mount Savage Iron Works in Cumberland, Maryland.  

Lowell traveled to Washington City in April 1861 seeking a commission in the Regular U. S. Army even though he had no background or experience in the military.  Seeking assistance from Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator he had never met, Lowell noted he: "could speak and write English, French, and Italian and read German and Spanish," and that he had once known "enough of mathematics to put him at the head of my class in Harvard".  He also claimed to be "a  tolerable  proficient with the small sword and the singlestick" and to be able to "ride a horse as far and bring him in as fresh as any other man."  In closing his note to Sumner Lowell wrote: " I am twenty-six years of age, and believe I possess more or less of that moral courage about taking responsibility which seems at present to be found only in Southern officers."    

                              CDV of Charles Russell Lowell circa 1863

Lowell was commissioned a Captain in the 3rd U. S. Cavalry (later the 6th U. S. Cavalry) in June 1861.  He was an aide-de-camp to General George B. McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam.  In 1863 Lowell helped recruit the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry  and was appointed Colonel of the regiment on May 10. He spent part of 1863 and 1864 engaged against Colonel John Singleton Mosby's Partisan Rangers in northern Virginia.   By the fall of 1864 Colonel Lowell commanded the Reserve Cavalry Corps in Brigadier General Wesley Merritt's First Division, Cavalry Corps of Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah.

Lowell Monument, Middletown, Virginia

On the morning of October 19, 1864 while leading his brigade at the Battle of Cedar Creek Lowell was struck by a bullet in the right breast.  Even though he was in great pain and probably had a collapsed right lung he would not allow himself to be removed from the field.  In the afternoon he insisted he be allowed to lead his brigade in a charge against the Confederates.  While leading his brigade in a charge that would help win the day for Union forces Lowell was struck by a second bullet that severed his spinal cord.  He was taken to a house adjacent to the Valley Pike in Middletown, Virginia where he died on October 20, 1864. 

Lowell's Headstone, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lowell's body was returned to Massachusetts where he was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery on October 28, 1864.  This unsung hero, who is all but forgotten today, was praised by Custer, Merritt and Sheridan for his action at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  He died in the service of his country, two weeks short of his 1st wedding anniversary (he was married to Robert Gould Shaw's younger sister Josephine) one month short of the birth of his daughter and three month short of his 30 birthday.

For further reading see:  The Nature of Sacrifice A Biography of Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., 1835-1864, the Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell and California Sabres The 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry in the Civil War.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Colonel Roger Preston Chew: Commander of Stuart's Horse Artillery

Roger Preston Chew was born in Loudoun County,Virginia to Roger Chew and Sarah West Aldridge Chew April 9, 1843.  The family moved to Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1848.  Chew attended the Charleston Academy before becoming a cadet at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1859.  He graduated from VMI in 1861.  After graduation Chew was ordered to Harpers Ferry,Virginia with a group of VMI cadets, where he acted as a drill master. 

                                            Lt. Colonel Roger Preston Chew

In September 1861, a youthful 18 year old Chew and a VMI classmate raised an artillery battery of which Chew was elected captain.  In November 1861 Captain Chew proposed his battery be attached to Lt. Colonel Turner Ashby's 7th Virginia Cavalry as a horse artillery unit.  The plan was approved by Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin.  Chew's Battery was the first horse artillery battery in either the Union or Confederate Army.  Horse artillery road with the cavalry and participated in cavalry charges.

Chews horse artillery was attached to "Ashby's" Cavalry.  By December 1861 the battery had 2 guns an iron 3.5 inch caliber 12 Pound Blakely rifle and a 3 inch ordinance rifle made by Tredegar Iron Works.  Chews Battery rode with the 7th Virginia cavalry, where they participated in Jackson's Valley Campaign, until Ashby's untimely death on June 6, 1862.  The battery then became part of J. E. B. Stuart's Horse Artillery.  

Chews Battery remained with Stuart's Cavalry throughout the remainder of the war participating in such battles as 2nd Manassas, the Maryland Campaign, the Gettysburg Campaign, Bristoe Station, the Overland Campaign, the Petersburg Campaign, Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign and the retreat to Appomattox.  The battery suffered 100 casualties (7 killed, 43 wounded,3 missing and 47 captured) out of 271 men engaged between 1861-1865.  

In 1864 Chew was promoted to Major and later Lt. Colonel and assumed command of all of Stuart's Horse artillery.  General Wade Hampton once described Chew as "the ablest commander of the horse artillery, though that gallant body of men at different times had very gallant and efficient officers." 

After the civil war Chew became a farmer and a businessman in Charlestown, West Virginia.  He was president of the Eagle Manufacturing Company and the Charlestown Mining, Manufacturing and Improvement Company.  He married Louise Fontaine Washington, a daughter of  Colonel John Augustine Washington in 1871.  He was elected to the state legislature in 1882, 1884, 1886 and 1888.  Roger Preston Chew died March 16, 1921.  He is buried in the Zion Episcopal Cemetery in Charlestown, West Virginia.

                                Chew's Monument, Zion Episcopal Cemetery

                                   Chew's Headstone Zion Episcopal Cemetery

For further reading see "Chew's Battery of Stuart's Horse Artillery" by Edward K. Cassedy


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Old Simon" The Private Soldiers Monument, Antietam National Cemetery

A colossal granite figure rising 44' 7" high, and weighing 250 tons stands guard over the graves in Antietam National Cemetery.  The statue nicknamed "Old Simon" but officially known as the Private Soldiers Monument looks northward and honors the 4,776 Union soldiers interred in the National Cemetery who gave their lives for their country.

The design of the monument which stands in the center of the cemetery was approved by the Antietam Cemetery Board at a meeting held in Baltimore, MD., on September 16, 1867.  The corner stone was placed on September 17, 1867.  The monument was erected in 1880 at a cost of $32,000 and was dedicated September 17, 1880 the 18th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. When erected it  was the largest monument of its kind in the country.

            The Private Soldiers Monument (Library of Congress Photo)

The soldier itself which is 21.5" tall and weights 30 tons is made of 2 pieces of granite joined at the waist.   The figure stands at the military position of "in place rest".  The monument was designed by James Batterson and sculpted by James Pollette.

Close-up "Old Simon"

The base of the monument is inscribed with the words "Not for themselves but for their country ".

The beautiful monument is a fitting tribute to the valor and courage of the private soldiers of the Union Army who laid their lives on the alter of their country.