65th NY/1st US Chasseurs Blog

Welcome to my blog about the 65th NY Volunteers, also known as the 1st U.S. Chasseurs. I am launching this blog to go along with my recently published “No Flinching From Fire: The 65th New York Volunteers in the Civil War,” the first history of the regiment, which fought with both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah during the Civil War. The book is available at Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/No-Flinching-Fire-Volunteer-Infantry/dp/1794636617/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2ZO38WKY1263H&keywords=no+flinching+from+fire+book&qid=1572563625&sprefix=no+flinching+%2Caps%2C375&sr=8-2

Some recognition for "No Flinching From Fire"

No Flinching From Fire made it to the Best New American Civil War Books

The best new American Civil War books

I’m happy to announce that my book, “No Flinching From Fire: The 65th New York Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War”, made it to BookAuthority’s Best New American Civil War Books:
BookAuthority collects and ranks the best books in the world, and it is a great honor to get this kind of recognition. Thank you for all your support!
The book is available for purchase on Amazon.

Cemetery Walking

When folks ask me why I insist on visiting the grave sites of people associated with the 1st U.S. Chasseurs (or 65th NY Volunteers), I’m not sure that I am always able to explain it well. 

Certainly visiting a quiet graveyard often otherwise empty of visitors is not quite the same as visiting the beautiful Sailors Creek, Malvern Hill, Antietam, or Cedar Creek battlefields. But just as putting oneself on the fields where these horrific battles occurred, visiting the last resting place of a member of the Chasseur regiment, or a commander of their unit, is a way for me to acknowledge the connection to a person of note from the regiment’s history. I also feel strongly that paying respects to these brave veterans is always a good thing, particularly in a world which often forgets its history, or what it owes to those who came before us. Often their very sacrifices are why we live as well as we do today. I think there is an OCD element of it for me as well: as a completist I am anxious to visit as many Chasseur officer and soldier graves as possible. With great web resources like Findagrave.com revealing new information all the time, it is always possible to visit another Chasseur grave. 

One day late in 2019 I traveled directly from track practice to Bergenfield, NJ to visit the grave of Captain Frederick T. Volk. As his 1864 daily diary was an outstanding source for me on the time the 65th NY spent as prison guards at Johnsons Island prison camp in Ohio, as well as the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania (the latter battle where Volk was twice wounded and forced to spend much of the rest of the year recovering), my visit to his grave, once discovered on line, became imperative. I had spent two visits to Syracuse University to read and transcribe Volk’s diary, so in some way I felt I had gotten to know him.  

Captain Frederick T. Volk, 65th NY Volunteers (photo courtesy of the New Jersey Department of State)

I found Volk’s grave  easily within the churchyard cemetery, within the first three minutes of my visit. A flag which had been placed there by another visitor was on the ground, so I put it back upright, as well as cleaned up the dried grass which had been thrown over the grave by mowing, before taking my picture.

Capt. Frederick Volk’s grave

South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, New Jersey, where Volk is buried

The connection between a soldier or officer who wrote a letter, a diary, or a memoir, and the grave where he lies buried is a strong one, at least for me.  An amateur historian who spends time reading the work of such soldiers is struck by how they reveal the humanity of the writer. And I guess the fact that they ended up in a graveyard, large or small, often seemingly forgotten in the twenty-first century, makes my own short visits, with accompanying pictures, and sometimes the planting of a flag, seem significant or at the least justifiable.

Recently I found a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham to his local newspaper, the Tiffin Weekly Tribune.  The letter was dated October 3, 1864, and it was published in the Tribune on October 7, 1864.  I knew of the newspaper, as one company of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry had been recruited and formed from Seneca County, Ohio volunteers, with Higginbotham (whose name is spelled in two or three different ways in the record) as their captain.  Through the efforts of the Ohio Historical Society, as well as researchers at Bowling Green University, not only had many of the letters of the Ohio members of the 65th NY regiment been preserved, but they had been indexed as well. These letters served as a treasure trove for me as I researched my history of the 65th NY, but I had missed a few, including this particular letter.  Its contents were very important for me, but the timing of the letter was even more significant.  

Good Letter From Baltimore—A Tribute To The 1st U.S. Chasseurs.

Baltimore, Oct. 3, 1864

Dear B——:  I am delayed here on account of our communications with Sheridan being interrupted by guerillas, but intend to leave for Harpers Ferry tonight, and proceed up the valley with a train tomorrow, and hope to gain the Regiment in a few days.

I had hoped to visit Tiffin, and see you before this, thinking that some notice would be taken of the return of my old company, in which case I certainly would have gone out with them. I will not attempt to conceal the fact that I am somewhat hurt to think that the citizens of Tiffin, should so overlook the services of as brave a company as ever left the state of Ohio, or any other State in the Union.  They were no hireling soldiers, bought up so much a pound. When the rebellion first broke out, the President called for men to defend the capital, and they responded, not asking how much was the pay, or how much the bounty. What company, or Regiment can show a better record then they? They are an honor to the country and State from which they came. These men patiently endured all the hardships that fall to the lot of a soldier, always looking forward to the day when they would march home in triumph.  The bones of their comrades have been left on every field from Fair Oaks to Petersburg, and all who knew them must admit that they did their whole duty. Yet, there was no authorized person to say to them on their return, “we thank you” in the name of your town and county.

I tell you the time will come when they will be honored as they deserve to be.  When their backs are bowed by age, and their hair is grey, another generation will point to them and say, he was at Fair Oaks, or Malvern Hill.  He fought with McClellan at Antietam, or helped form that living bulwark which rallied back the enemy at Gettysburg. They have seen many other hard fought fields, and never turned their backs to the enemy except at the word of command.  The oldest guard of Napoleon might envy them their fame, for they never saw such fields as Spotsylvania and the Wilderness.

I only mention to say what I would have been proud to say in a more public manner, for I know the worth of that little band of veteran heroes.

W.H. Higinbotham

Higginbotham’s disappointment that the men of Company K, men from Tiffin and the environs of Seneca County, Ohio, had not been given the welcome they deserved back home when their three year terms ended on September 1, 1864 was palpable.  Like others from the 65th New York, however, Higginbotham himself had decided to re-up as a veteran volunteer. He was not only on his way to rejoin the regiment after a time recovering from illness after his capture at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864, but he was on his way to take command of the regiment.

Writing on October 3, 1864, and anxious to return to the regiment, Higginbotham obviously could not know the future.  He did know, however, that the 65th had played a key role in the key victory at Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864 (also known as 3rd Winchester), and had then served as skirmishers at the front during the follow-up battle of Fisher’s Hill, on September 22, 1864.  The Chasseurs had followed up those two victories over General Jubal Early’s Confederate force by helping General Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in its move south, up the Shenandoah Valley, in what became known as “The Burning,” when the Union army destroyed thousands of barns, took animals and grain, and left the Valley as a burned out wasteland no longer capable of serving as the primary source of food for General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  General Early’s Confederate force at this point offered little resistance, and, it was widely believed in the Union Army of the Shenandoah, was finished as a force that could offer much resistance to Union control of the Valley. In fact, the Union 6th Corps, of which the 65th NY was a part, had even begun its march back towards rejoining the Army of the Potomac in mid-October, with it services apparently no longer needed by Sheridan in the Shenandoah.

In fact, Early had been reinforced by General Lee, and he was planning a surprise attack on Sheridan’s Army.  With signs of his army’s presence in the environs of the Union Army’s position behind Cedar Creek, just south of Middletown, Virginia, becoming evident, the 6th Corps was recalled, and it counter-marched back to its former comrades in the Army of the Shenandoah.  So Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham would be rejoining the regiment there.

On October 19, 1864, General Early struck Sheridan’s army in his absence, while he was in Winchester returning after discussions about his future plans now that Early had seemingly been routed out of the Valley.  Though Sheridan hurried to rejoin the army and in fact helped turn what had been a Union rout into an important victory at Cedar Creek by the end of the day, in the meantime the 65th New York had faced a serious setback, losing 90 men as casualties, including twenty-one killed.  My great-great grandfather, Sergeant Timothy Carroll of Company H, was among the wounded. Most notably, the new regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham, was killed at the head of his troops in the early morning, just as he ordered his men to fall back under the pressure of the heavy Confederate attack and the regiment’s position was becoming untenable. 

I had managed to find Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham’s gravesite on line in looking for an image of him on Google.  To my surprise, he was not buried either at the Winchester National Cemetery, where over a dozen fellow Chasseurs, victims of the Battles of Opequon Creek, Fishers Hill, and Cedar Creek, are buried.  Nor was he buried in his Seneca County home. Rather, he was among the graves in the vast and beautiful Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, along with several other members of the regiment. After a long drive dealing with the seemingly ever-present traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I managed to find Higginbotham’s grave rather easily, unlike other Chasseur graves in Green-wood, and take a picture.  The cemetery is vast and gorgeous, a serene retreat within the busy and urban Brooklyn neighborhood where it is situated. And now that I have what could very well be Lt. Colonel Higginbotham’s last letter, in which he praises his own regiment and its role in the War, I once again have a connection between the man in life and at his rest.

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Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, 65th NY commander killed at Cedar Creek October 19, 1864, and the inscription on his gravestone (The Green-Wood Historic Fund Collections )


Grave of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York  (photo by author)

Another Chasseur officer associated with the Green-wood cemetery is Captain William Tracy.   Killed at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, in a devastating late afternoon Confederate attack on the Union right flank, just where the Chasseurs were positioned, he was buried on the battlefield, and his body never recovered.  However, his family built a memorial to him nonetheless at Green-wood.

Captain Tracy’s memorial at Green-wood Cemetery (photo by author)

Many of the Chasseurs are buried at National Cemeteries, so visiting them is rewarding to me.  After walking over the horrible Cold Harbor battlefield, called by 6th Corps Colonel Thomas Hyde “The Golgotha of American history,” I made sure to find the one Chasseur who I knew was buried in the beautiful cemetery there, and place a small flag by his gravestone.  

Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, contains the graves of about a dozen members of the regiment, so I not only visited the cemetery as part of my research tour of the Shenandoah Valley battlefields of 1864, but also  placed flags next to those Chasseur graves which I was able to identify based on the cemetery records and the records of the regiment.

65th New York graves, identified by the flags placed besides the grave markers,  at Winchester National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia (photo by author)


The grave of Private John Miller, Co. K, 65th NY, in the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, killed June 3rd, 1864 (photo by author)

Similarly, though it took literally miles of walking with my daughter Rachel throughout the Arlington National Cemetery to find the resting place of Private John Dougherty, mortally wounded on June 3rd, 1864 at Cold Harbor, it was worth it to bring a reality to the name on the record, and to connect that horrific Union defeat to the men of the 65th New York Volunteers.  Finding many other Chasseur graves at Arlington as well, after Rachel had found the record of their presence there and conceived the idea of the two of us visiting them together, brought an even more profound sense of that special place than it normally invokes in a visitor. And the chance to visit my own great uncle and aunt’s graves there (Harry Roulett being a veteran of three American wars of the 20th century) added to the reasons for visiting.  Finally, at Arlington there are several generals to see associated with the 65th New York volunteers. General Frank Wheaton, division commander at Cedar Creek, is buried there. So is General “Baldy” Smith, corps commander at Fredericksburg. And the graves of General Horatio Wright, division commander of the Chasseurs in 1864, then their 6th Corps commander upon the death of General John Sedgwick on May 9, 1864 at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Nearby Wright’s grave, both near Robert E. Lee’s Arlington mansion, lies the grave of Army of the Shenandah commander General Philip Sheridan.  Finally, General Lawrence Graham, brigade commander of the Chasseurs during their training and early in the Peninsula Campaign, is also buried at Arlington.

General Frank Wheaton, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)

General William F. “Baldy Smith, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)

General Philip Sheridan, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)

General Lawrence Graham, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)

Private John Gallon, killed at Spotsylvania (photo by author)

The Arlington National Cemetery grave of Private John Dougherty, 65th NY Volunteers, mortally wounded on June 3rd at Cold Harbor (photo by author)

Colonel Hyde also said of Cold Harbor “It is very interesting to revisit the battlefields of the war, but I never heard any one who was engaged there express a wish to see Cold Harbor again.”   I know my visit to the grave sites of the Chasseurs killed there helped me to reflect on the terrible nature of the battle there.

(photos by author)

Sometimes when I am searching for graves of 65th New York officers or soldiers, I have to look in a vast cemetery like Brooklyn’s Green-lawn, Boston’s Forest Hills, or Philadeplhia’s Woodlands, which are lovely enclaves within an urban sprawl, scenes of arboretums and nature’s splendor.  General John Joseph Abercrombie’s gravesite at The Woodlands was not too hard to find thanks to the researchers at Findagrave.com who had identified its location for me beforehand. Abercrombie commanded the Chasseur’s brigade at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill.

The Grave of General John Joseph Abercrombie, Brigade commander of the Chasseurs in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, with the author’s daughter Rachel (photo by author)

On the other hand, the grave of General Nelson Cross, the 65th NY’s brigade commander at the Battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, was so hard to find even though I had an idea of the section of the cemetery where he was buried (The Field of Manoah), that I had to return a second time, this time armed with a knowledge of his exact plot, having walked past it during the first search with my old friend Andy.  Luckily it was a pleasure to catch up with my dear friend and former history colleague, who graciously hosted me for both trips, and even found the grave of Colonel Henry Fiske in New Hampshire’s High Street Cemetery on my first trip north. Fiske, originally from the 67th New York Volunteers, the regiment which combined with the Chasseurs on September 1, 1864, was the final regimental commander of the Chasseurs.  Cross’ simple grave caused me to miss it the first time, though we found it easily enough during the second visit.

General Nelson Cross’ grave is the stone in the foreground in the photo on the left (photos by author)

(photo by author)

Like my visit to Captain Volk’s grave, I sometimes take arguably crazy drives by myself given that my end goal is simply finding a grave site or two.  Other times, a trip for other reasons can include a brief stopover at a gravesite. I have even taken trips to see a significant grave (say General Emory Upton, for example, brigade commander of the Chasseurs and leader of an epic and famous  May 10th, 1864 assault at Spotsylvania which included the Chasseurs acting as skirmishers), and stopped at a less significant gravesite “on the way.” Say, Colonel Silas Titus, very briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander in 1863.

General Emory Upton’s grave in Auburn, New York (photo by author)

Colonel Silas Titus’ grave in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse, New York (photos by author)

Then there are simply the hardcore(or ill-advised?) trips to see a particular grave whether or not it is significant to the regiment.  A trip to Litchfield, Connecticut to see the grave of General Henry Wessells, the brigade commander of the Chasseurs for a week during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, comes to mind here.  He did have a connection to the regiment, after all, if a tenuous and brief one. And it was a beautiful hike through a quiet snowy cemetery to try and find him. An earlier nice drive up to Litchfield County had enabled me to visit two other officers associated briefly with the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Skinner, very briefly regimental commander from  January 11th to January 20th, 1865 and Colonel James Hubbard, briefly brigade commander in February to March, 1865, including at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run from February 5th to 8th.  They at least were conveniently each buried in the nice, small Forest View cemetery in Winsted, Connecticut.

General Henry Wessels’ grave in Litchfield, Connecticut (photo by author)

(Photos by author)

Among my jobs for the past fourteen years has been working as a staff coach at a running camp in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.  It is always a pleasant and productive week accompanying my own cross country team at camp. And the drive home at the end of the week has afforded me a number of trips to historic sites over the years, for example to two of President Franklin Pearce’s homes, to President Calvin Coolidge’s farm, as well as to the birthplace of President Chester Arthur.   But it is the visits to the graves of three generals associated with the 65th New York regiment that I best remember. General John Sedgwick, called “Uncle John” and beloved by the men of the 6th Corps, of which he was their commander, hailed from Cornwall Hollow Connecticut. On May 9, 1864, at Spotsylvania, as he inspected an artillery position on the front lines, he was killed instantly by a Confederate sharpshooter positioned almost a half mile away.  Moments before he had joked with one of his soldiers about ducking from the sharpshooter’s fire, saying “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was the highest ranking officer of the Union army killed during the war, and General Grant, who was in disbelief at his death, said in his memoirs that it was equivalent to the loss of a full division of the Army of the Potomac.  

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General John Sedgwick’s grave, in a beautiful little cemetery near his home in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut (photo by author)

Another year on the way back home from running camp I went further afield, seeking to finally visit the grave of General Joseph Hamblin, the long-time commander of the 65th New York, and eventually their brigade commander.  Hamblin’s grave in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, was a bit out of the way for me, and I would have to brave the summer traffic on a Saturday going on to the Cape in a driving rainstorm, but as I had used Hamblin’s letters home as a major source for my book about the regiment, I felt particularly strongly about seeing his grave at the Woodside cemetery.  As I finally arrived at the cemetery, after the brutal traffic onto the Cape of that week’s summer renters, the rain developed into a torrential downpour. Having gotten used to searching cemeteries by now, and having seen a photo of Hamblin’s grave on Findagrave.com, I managed to drive to a part of the not-so-large cemetery which looked promising, and sure enough I saw a grave that had to be his!  The rain beat down, and I sat in the car and waited it out. After a half an hour it lightened just a bit, and I walked to the grave, which was indeed Hamblin’s. It was a bit overgrown with shrubs, and a swarm of mosquitoes arose to attack me in the waning rain as I took my pictures, but making it to Hamblin’s grave was one of the most satisfying of all of my Civil War cemetery quests. And, as a bonus, in Taunton, Massachusetts, at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, on the way to the Cape, lay General Darius Couch, the Chasseurs’ division commander on the Peninsula Campaign, including at their first two big battles at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill.  He was also their division commander on the slow march to Antietam in September 1862.

General Darius Couch’s grave in Taunton, Massachusetts (photo by author)

General Joseph Hamblin’s grave at Woodside cemetery in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts (photo by author)

Along with Joseph Hamblin, Generals John Cochrane and Alexander Shaler, the first two commanders of the regiment, and with it from its inception, were the two regimental commanders whose graves  I felt it most important to visit. Cochrane, a Hamilton College graduate like me and my eldest daughter, New York City Democratic Congressmen, New York State Attorney General, and Radical Republican candidate for Vice-President on the Fremont ticket in 1864, was an interesting character.  He called in a speech for arming the South’s slaves in November 1861, which was very early in the war for such a position, and he had been at the center of controversy after the Battle of Fredericksburg when he, along with General John Newton, visited Washington, D.C. secretly to meet with President Linclon and express their concern with General Ambrose Burnside’s army leadership.   Shaler, second-in-command to Cochrane at the war’s start but the brains behind the training of the regiment, had served as major in the famous 7th New York Infantry, which had helped protect Washington in the tense early months of the war. He would go on to become New York City Fire Commissioner, Mayor of Ridgefield, New Jersey, and a founder of the National Rifle Association. His grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey was relatively easy to visit on the way South in 2012 on the first trip associated with my research on the 65th New York Volunteers.  Cochrane, buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, just north of Albany, New York, was also easily visited on the way to family vacations in Saratoga, New York. His simple grave belies his status as an important politician in New York state.

General John Cochrane’s grave, Albany Rural Cemetery (photo by author)

Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, in the small cemetery behind the English Neighborhood Reformed Church, is much more ostentatious and noticeable, befitting a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, won for his actions leading the charge on Marye’s Heights during the 2nd Battle of Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863.  Though the surroundings of the little cemetery are less impressive and now quite developed, Shaler does retain a nice resting place all things considered.

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General Alexander Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey (photo by author)

A grave site which I have often visited, as it happens to be in Salem, New York, the site of a wonderful Bed & Breakfast called the Bunker Hill Inn which my family has stayed at regularly for years, is General David Russell’s.  Russell, the division commander of the Chasseurs at the Battle of Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864, was killed in battle there while bravely organizing the crucial counterattack which helped save the day for the Union Army of the Shenandoah and led to an enormous Union victory for Sheridan’s army.  Last summer I revisited for the third time, taking a picnic lunch and communing with this brave General, who, after being shot in the side with a likely mortal wound, bravely responded to one of his subordinates who asked if he was badly hurt, “It makes no difference at such a time as this. Order your brigade to charge!”stuffing his shirt into the wound and drawing his sword.  Shortly after, he was killed instantly by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He was a widely admired and liked commander, and his loss was felt acutely by his comrades.

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General David Russell’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Salem, New York (photo by author)

One of the best cemeteries for a Civil War buff to visit is at West Point.  Not so far from my own home, I have been able to visit more than once. It is a beautiful site, overlooking the majestic Hudson River, and packed with some of the biggest names in American military history.  A few are directly connected to the Chasseurs, including 4th Corps commander Erasmus Keyes, corps commander of the 65th NY volunteers during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Also Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie, brigade commander briefly in the winter of 1864-1865, and General John Newton, division commander of the Chasseurs at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.

General Erasmus Keyes’ grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)

Brigadier General  Ranald Nackenzie’s grave, West Point, New York (photos by author)

General John Newton’s grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)

General Winfield Scott’s grave at West Point.  He was a towering figure in American history, and overall Army commander early in the war. (photo by author)

With a few more 65th New York officers’ graves still to see, as well as higher-ups like General Henry D. Terry, the Chasseurs’ division commander during the Battle of Rappahannock Station, the Mine Run Campaign and when the Chasseurs served as prison guards at Johnson’s Island in Sandusky, Ohio in the winter and early spring of 1864, my “Cemetery Walking” is likely to continue.  Since Terry’s grave is outside Detroit, Michigan, that one may be awhile.  

But with five Chasseur graves in Tiffin, Ohio’s Greenlawn cemetery, and Captain Sam Kisinger, friend of Capt. Volk, buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn cemetery, a trip to Ohio seems to be in the offing. Such a long and ambitious trip needs to be combined with other things besides grave visits of course, and with the New York Mets visiting Cincinnati next July, and the homes of Presidents Taft and Hayes within reach, along with General Grant’s birthplace and the homes of Generals Sherman and Sheridan, I think I can find enough to do to justify the long drive to get there.

Meanwhile, the grave of Lieutenant William Byron, mortally wounded in the April 2, 1865 Petersburg Breakthrough attack, in the small rural Hauber cemetery near Andover, New York is intriguing.  Not exactly in a place nearby or on the way to anything, so that one may be awhile as well. But Lieutenant Colonel Egbert Olcutt, briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander when he assumed command after the wounding of General Hamblin on October 19, 1864 at the Battle of Cedar Creek, located in the Cherry Valley Cemetery in upstate New York, looks doable.  And since Cherry Valley is quite close to Cooperstown, I think a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame with my daughter Rachel looms.

A Walk to Antietam Following the Route of the 65th NY Volunteers in 1862

In the summer of 2014, I  walked forty miles with two friends in re-tracing the steps of my great-great grandfather and his Civil War regiment, the 65th NY volunteer infantry, on the road to Gettysburg.   After such a venture, it might be safely assumed that I had learned my lesson. Blistered feet, sore muscles, and sun-and traffic oppressed roads made some aspects of the historical walk open to question, to say the least.  

And yet here I was again, four years later, again with my friends Jim and Scott, ready to venture out on foot, this time following the route which the 65th NY soldiers took to get to Sharpsburg, Maryland, during the Antietam campaign of September 1862.  The officers and men of the regiment called themselves “Chasseurs,” since their unit was early on designated as the First United States Chasseurs. My wife Alice had hoped that I might finally be done with my incessant trips visiting places associated with the Chasseurs for a regimental history I have published, but Jim’s query on a shared run this year about any other possible routes I’d considered walking had brought out this idea to follow the route of Darius Couch’s division (of which the 65th NY, from Colonel John Cochrane’s brigade, was a small part) on its way to Antietam.

Couch’s march, unlike the epic overnight seventeen hour march of the 6th Corps to Gettysburg to arrive in time to reinforce the Union army and help ensure the key victory at Gettysburg, was notorious for its slow pace.  In fact, whereas for our Gettysburg walk we decided to divide this long seventeen hour march into two parts over two days, in this case we would be combining most of Couch’s poky five day march into two days.  

On September 5th, 1862, Couch’s Division’s march began its part in the Maryland campaign by moving under orders to Offutt’s Crossroads, Maryland.   Today it is known as Potomac, a tony suburb of Washington, D.C.  Having worked as a history teacher at Landon School in nearby Bethesda, Maryland in the 1990s, I knew a walk from Potomac along what is still called River Road would be laden with fast-moving traffic, so I looked to start our own march route from a spot further along on Couch’s march to Sharpsburg.  The good news was that our route would be southwest of the busy I-270 corridor, as Couch’s job was to watch the Potomac River’s fords and cover Washington, D.C. in case General Robert E. Lee’s army crossed the river. Couch’s Division made up the left flank of the Army of the Potomac as it moved cautiously northwest towards South Mountain and its gaps, beyond which lay Lee’s invading army.  Couch’s division would make a “leisurely march” along the river towards Crampton’s Gap. Our walk might not exactly be leisurely, given the heat and the car and truck traffic along roads which did not always feature wide shoulders on which to walk. But at least if we began further away from the sprawling D.C. suburbs, we might hope for a walk along somewhat less traveled and more picturesque roads.  

The Chasseurs’ slow march would take them on to Seneca, Maryland, by September 9th, 1862, a distance of about nine miles along the River Road, and then on to Poolesville, Maryland, another eight miles or so, by the next day.  An easy two days of marching would land Couch’s division at Barnesville, Maryland by September 12th, only six miles further on.   

As Barnesville looked from my perusal of Google Maps to be well outside of the nightmarish suburban sprawl of the D.C. metro area, as well as a manageable distance for a two day walk to Sharpsburg, site of the horrific September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam, I decided that this would be our starting point.   We arranged a charming if rustic accomodation at an AirBnB cottage in Boyds, backed up on a beautiful lake, only about a ten minute drive from our starting point in Barnesville. And we supplemented the food in the fridge with a delicious microbrew from nearby Frederick, Maryland called Doggie Style pale ale, brewed by the excellent Flying Dog brewing company .  

The ale before bed at my middle age did result in a needed trip to the bathroom during the night.  I entered the bathroom only to see one of the largest spiders I’d ever seen indoors sitting in the sink staring up at me.  I managed to back out slowly, with my toiletry bag, leaving Shelob in charge of the bathroom. My friend Scott showed more bravery than me, if not as much as the Chasseurs on the march towards possible death, in grabbing the spider with a tissue and dropping it into the toilet.  I later learned it was a largely harmless wolf spider, but I wasn’t going to fool around when I saw it staring up at me, its egg sac clutched beneath its belly.

I had found a perfect stopping point for the halfway mark of our walk:  Jefferson, Maryland. Not only had the Chasseurs marched through there, but it was the site of the Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe, a spot where the owner agreed to let us park our car so we could drive back to our starting point after the first day’s walk, and, more importantly, where we could celebrate the end of our first day’s walk with ice cream and chocolate milkshakes.

The walk route:  Barnesville to Sharpsburg, Maryland

Day One

Just before 9AM, we arrived at Barnesville’s St. Mary’s Catholic church, received permission to park our car at the start of the walk, and prepared to roll.  First, we asked a nice elderly parishioner to take our picture. When we told her we would be walking to Jefferson, her response, with an incredulous look at us, was, “Do you know how far it is to Jefferson?!”

We did:  it was nineteen and a half miles, following the road to Buckeystown on the way, as the Chasseurs did in 1862.  Though research hadn’t revealed the exact roads the men marched on in 1862, I did know the towns they went through or camped, so we would be able to walk at least most of the time on the roads they marched, improved though they were in 2018.  And, as the bells of St. Mary’s Church rang for 9AM, we were off, west on Barnesville road towards Dickerson, Maryland.

Jim, Scott, and the author (on the right) at the start of the walk at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville, Maryland (photo by kindly St. Mary’s church parishioner)

Looming over us on our right throughout most of the first day’s walk was beautiful Sugarloaf Mountain.   Despite its beauty, we were happy enough to walk around and not over it. It served as an observation post for both armies during the Antietam campaign, a fact supported all day by the fact that we kept seeing it on our walk almost all the way to Mount Catoctin.  The farms along the road, though they varied in size, were well-maintained and looked prosperous. This accords with numerous descriptions of the area that I have read in Civil War-era letters and memoirs.

We walked about 2 ¼ miles along Barnesville Road until its end; then we turned left on Mt. Ephraim Road for a brief stint.  An old cemetery on our left afforded a shady place to take some water while we perused the graves, which were post-Civil War but from the late 1800s.    A right on Mouth of Monocacy Road led to a short jog down to Dickerson Road, where we turned right and saw that we would have more space to walk along the road but would be up against much more traffic than we had seen thus far that day.

Sugarloaf Mountain (photo by author)

Dickerson Road, or route 28, featured fast-moving cars and trucks which reminded me of our stretch along the Baltimore Pike going to Gettysburg.  Though it was getting rather sunny and warm by now, we slogged on. When we arrived at the Monocacy River, we crossed on a steel bridge. I thought of the significance of the river to Jubal Early’s July 1864 invasion of Maryland. In fact we were only one day beyond the 154th anniversary of the battle, when a small Union force took a defensive stand on the Monocacy River against Early’s invasion of Maryland. The battle occurred further north of where we crossed today, near Frederick.   Though a Union defeat, the battle bought time and helped prevent a successful assault by Early on Washington, D.C. itself. Reinforcements from the 6th Corps, including the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry, arrived in Fort Stevens from outside Petersburg, Virginia just in time to thwart Early’s plans. But that was in July 1864, a different campaign from the one which we were focused on with this walk.

The Monocacy River (photo by author)

                As we headed west after the river, I knew from previous map study that we were nearing Tuscarora, where we would bear right and head north on the Buckeystown Road, or route 85.  The Chasseurs had camped on September 13th near Tuscarora, a small village which at the time was named Licksville. I liked the old name, though apparently the locals preferred a change.   

Sure enough, in a little over a mile we bore right up the Buckeystown road.  Though it was a tad less busy than route 28, this would be the biggest challenge of our day.  There was almost no shade along this route, and we were there during the early afternoon, the hottest part of the day, with about 5 ½ miles left to walk.  The temperatures at this point of the walk were in the low 90s, and it was somewhat humid as well, though with a slight breeze at times, which helped. We managed to find an old shade tree next to a busy farm for a short rest of water and granola bars. Mt. Catoctin loomed to our left, affording a pleasant enough view, but this was a tough portion of the route.  I wondered at this point what had possessed me to need to recreate such a walk–clearly this modern road looked little like the dirt road my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll marched on, and it was freaking hot! At least my feet were feeling pretty good (I credit the padded thorlo socks, and the vaseline which Scott shared with me on one of our water stops, which I constantly rubbed on my toes and the soles of  my feet). And the T-shirt and shorts with running shoes certainly worked better for us than the wool uniforms and heavy packs with which the men of the 65th NY marched. My small bag had some granola bars and plenty of water, but I had no need for percussion caps, lead cartridges, or hardtack. Definitely a lighter load for me.

The welcoming sign for Buckeystown, Maryland, finally came into view.  Given that today was Jim’s 71st birthday, and his last name is Buckley, we decided to celebrate our relief at getting done with this hot, shadeless stretch by taking a picture of Jim at the sign, and by calling it “Buckleystown,” at least for a time.

Jim, on his birthday, entering Buckeystown (photo by author)

Buckeystown was a small crossroads spot with some beautiful postwar late 19th century houses, and, in the center of town, buildings which the Chasseurs marched by on their way to Sharpsburg.   A left turn at the center of town onto Manor Woods Road signalled that we were finally heading directly towards our biggest challenge of the day: Mount Catoctin.

In the Center of Buckeystown, Maryland (photo by Scott Mosenthal)

Manor Woods Road was lightly traveled, and seemed to go around a large enterprise which looked like a big farm enclosed by a painted white fence, but a quick glance of Google maps reveals to be some sort of large gravel or other mining operation.  This was separated by hedges and trees, which presented a pastoral scene, despite what lurked behind. An earlier driveway entrance on the right, featuring two sculpted lions done in an Asian style as well as the yellow and red stripes of a Vietnamese flag, led to a place called Xá Loi.  It turned out to be a Buddhist Temple, which I only learned later. It was an interesting place for such a temple, but as we had seen a Zoroastrian Temple in Boyds near where we stayed the night, it was clear that religious diversity is a feature of this part of Maryland’s landscape. Our Civil War walk went on.

After a decent distance on Manor Woods Road, we turned left onto Ballenger Creek Road, for a short jog, then right onto Cap Stine Road, where we passed a farmer who seemed to be driving a tractor over his soybean field.  He waved to us as he crushed soy plants beneath him. We later learned that farmers plant soy not only to harvest, but sometimes to put nutrients back into the soil after another crop. Moreover, with the current Chinese tariff on soy, he may have decided to not harvest part of his planted soy since the market had changed.  I wondered what crops were growing as Timothy Caroll and his fellow Chasseurs marched by in September 1862.

Another left turn onto Howard Stup Road, which we agreed was our favorite road of the day, brought a quiet, flat, peaceful farm road with a nice shade tree along the way for a chance to sit on the grass, eat a granola bar and have some water.  The heat had not abated, but at least the slight breeze and low humidity kept it bearable. After a short walk we turned right onto Mountville Road, the road over Mt. Catoctin.

A right turn onto Mountville Road, over Mt. Catoctin (photo by author)

Mountville Road featured almost no shoulders, but the traffic was moderate, if often fast-moving.  After crossing busy Federal route 15, we began our climb in earnest, with an 11% grade that was definitely a challenge to walk.  Luckily, we are each decently fit for old geezers of 71, 65, and 55 years of age, and it wasn’t too long before we had made it across the top and were walking downhill again.  Though it continued to be hot, some shade offered relief, and the thoughts of the ice cream we were going to enjoy upon arrival in Jefferson kept us going. In fact, our dialogue at this point revolved mainly around said ice cream.  Though I am quite sure from the letters and memoirs I have read of the men of the 65th New York that food (and coffee) was often a subject of their talk while on the march, I am also sure that their meals of hardtack and salted pork or beef were not nearly as delicious as the ice cream to which we were headed.

We had done well avoiding any problems with the car and truck traffic all day, and though the traffic once we’d turned onto Mountville road had picked up again, I’d made a habit of giving a big friendly wave as cars approached ahead of us so they would spot us before it was too late.  As we rounded a curve and began a descent of Mt. Catoctin, however, we had our diciest moment of the day. With almost no shoulder, and poison ivy growing profusely along the road, we approached the curve just as a tractor towing a very wide piece of farm equipment rounded the turn towards us.  Needless to say it was just as a car approached from the other side, and thus he had no room to drive wide of us. We stepped into the weeds just as he narrowly drove between the opposite car and ourselves, looking at us with a facial expression which I won’t soon forget. “Worry” doesn’t begin to describe it.  “Alarm” is closer. “Full-blown panic” might be best. Happily, with skillful driving he made it through with no harm done to any of us. I worried about the poison ivy for the rest of the walk, which thankfully was almost over for the day. And Jim took to calling the particular farm equipment he was pulling as “the decapitator.”

Jefferson, Maryland, in the right center–our destination for the end of the first day’s walk.  With South Mountain in the distance and Crampton’s Gap, on our Day #2 walk, on the left background.  This would be a happier memory for the author were this picture not taken shortly after our near-miss encounter with “The Decapitator.” (photo by author)

Down the hill we three survivors went, knowing that we likely had around a mile to go until we hit the Little Red Barn ice cream cafe, which we could see from just after that blind curve off in the distance, down the hill.  Our steps grew a bit sprightlier, and we happily turned right off of Mountville Road to Lander Road, a mere few hundred yards from the end of our journey for Day One. Across the bridge over busy route 340, and we were there!  The ice cream was delicious, and, we felt, well deserved. The medium chocolate milkshake just wasn’t enough; I ordered a small one as well. Heck, I did walk 19.5 miles today, I figured. I was full but certainly satisfied. And the staff as well as some friendly customers were gracious and seemed duly impressed with our day’s efforts.

The author, holding the chocolate milkshake, with Scott and Jim at the end of a 19.5 mile walk from Barnesville to Jefferson, Maryland

That night we enjoyed a minor league baseball game with the Frederick Keys versus the Wilmington Blue Rocks, of the Carolina League, an advanced Single A league.  I had been a fan of this franchise back when I lived in Maryland in the 1990s, and returning to the park was fun. Though the Keys lost the game, we enjoyed the rest and relaxation, and even bumped into a nice gentleman who had spoken to us earlier that day at the Little Red Barn, curious about our walk and its purpose.  Certainly our rest was more enjoyable than that obtained by the 65th New York in 1862, even if we had covered more ground in one day than they had. We need not set up tents, prepare meals, and sleep in wool clothes without a proper chance to bathe. Baseball, beer, and hot dogs, after a nice shower, seemed pretty civilized to me.

Day Two

   Having looked closely at the map in preparation for our walk, both Jim and I felt that the second day’s roads would be less heavily trafficked and more beautiful to walk.  We would be proven right.

We once again left the car at the Little Red Barn (with our 2nd car now parked ahead of us in Sharpsburg at the nice B & B where Scott and I would be staying that night), hoisted our modest backpacks loaded with water and set off, again right around 9AM, and this time from Jefferson, Maryland.  Our route today would be to Burkittsville and Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain, where a sharp battle was fought on September 14th, 1862. The Chasseurs would be late for the battle, along with the rest of Couch’s Division, but they would cross Crampton’s Gap with the detritus of the battle all around them  that evening.

Walking the few steps up Lander Road from the Red Barn to the Jefferson Pike (rte. 180), a left turn had us walking westward on the Jefferson Pike to the edge of town.  Shortly after leaving Jefferson, which featured brand new housing developments around its fringe, we turned right on rte. 383, Broad Run Road, a nice road which would eventually intersect with Gapland Road.  This would be our route to the pretty little town of Burkittsville, Maryland about six and a half miles away, at the foot of Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain.

Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain (photo by author)

As we expected, once we rounded a leftward curve outside Jefferson, the  traffic quieted and we were on a beautiful road which went up and down over rolling hills in the aptly named Pleasant Valley.  All around us were views of prosperous farms. South Mountain loomed ahead of us as we crested the rolling hills, and the weather was fair–warm but not too humid.  It certainly had to be one of the most scenic marches the 65th New York men had made as they moved through this countryside September 14, 1862. For us, our soreness from the first day’s walk was bearable, and though we were stiff and felt tender feet, our spirits remained high.  Unlike the Chasseurs, we knew a battle with the Rebels did not loom ahead for us.

We crossed Catoctin Creek and moved uphill towards Burkittsville.  At an intersection near the house of a nice woman (who asked us our route and was supportive of our venture), we saw that a right turn would keep us on Broad Run Road but that Gapland Road, straight across, was the most direct route to the Gap.  After some water, we headed forward. A few more ups and downs, and a friendly hello from a young farmer on a lawn tractor at one of the few farms featuring a prominently displayed Confederate flag brought us to an old rundown house on a corner which looked to be historic, and which indeed had played a role in the Battle of Crampton’s Gap.  For us, the Hamilton Willard Shafer House was most significant because of its big shade trees, and a chance to stop, to rest and eat and drink, and to treat our feet with a little vaseline. The place was rundown and a sign said that local historical groups were restoring it with help from grants from the state of Maryland. The working water pump was likely a first benefit of the restoration work.

Three Images of the Hamilton Willard Shafer Farm, where Jim found a working water pump with freezing cold water emerging from the well, and where 6th Corps commander General William Franklin made his headquarters during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, September 14th, 1862 (photos by author)

Burkittsville and South Mountain were close, and after our refreshing rest we put our knapsacks on and got walking.

Nearing Burkittsville Maryland and South Mountain (photo by author)

Walking down to another small creek, we passed a small farm along the creek which had working beehives, then crossed the creek and headed up the road towards  Burkittsville. The large apple orchards and cider works on our right were unfortunately closed, though Jim and his wife Kathy visited on their way home after our trip.  Past the ciderworks and into the fringes of Burkittsville, we pondered the challenge of crossing over South Mountain on slightly sore feet, as no doubt the Chasseurs had in 1862.

Burkittsville is a beautiful and historic town, with well-maintained houses built, like in many old Maryland towns, up close to the roadway.  Like the Chasseurs, we entered the town from the east.

Burkittsville, Maryland (photo by author)

Near the center of town, on the right, the white German Reformed Church stood.   This structure had served as a hospital after the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, which the Chasseurs likely witnessed as a hive of activity. 

 At the main intersection in the center of town, we stayed straight and went through onto what had become Main Street.  A short walk through the small town, and we began to finally ascend South Mountain. To the right, before we headed up in earnest,  was Mountain Church Road, where Confederate regiments had desperately tried to hold off General Franklin’s two Union 6th Corps divisions.  Franklin made the attack without Couch’s attached 4th Corps division, including the 65th NY, having arrived.  

German Reformed Church, Burkittsville, Maryland.  Union and Confederate troops were treated here after the Battle of Crampton’s Gap (photo by author)

Still, though they had missed the fight, the Chasseurs definitely ascended the mountain here, and knowing my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll did the climb to the Gap, I was glad we would as well.  A steep start got easier as we curved right and made a more gradual ascent up the side of South Mountain. It was hot, and we chose to go up on the right side, with traffic, after Jim noted more shade and the slower speed of cars going up than those going down the narrow road.  Some signage along the way helped explain the battle which had transpired here, where heavily outnumbered Confederates on September 14, 1862 held off the Union legions for a time, then had retreated up the steep hill and then down towards the Confederate position at Sharpsburg prepared by R.E. Lee.  The Confederates lost 958 men killed, wounded, or captured. The Union force lost 534 men.  Couch’s division of course missed out on the fighting.  

After what didn’t seem like too much walking uphill, I was surprised to see some stone work in a clearing ahead.   I had an idea what it was, and that we had made it to Crampton’s Gap! Built and dedicated in 1896 by civil war correspondent Charles Alfred Townshend, who made his fortune after the war and built his estate at the Gap, the monument features the names of war correspondents from various wars, although, according to Wikipedia, some of the names listed are disputed.  It is certainly an unusual monument to find on the top of South Mountain.

The Monument to War Correspondents at Crampton’s Gap (photo by author)

The author, on the left, with friends Jim and Scott at Crampton’s Gap, Maryland (photo by passing hiker)

A teen-aged hiker who was with a group hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, which runs along the crest of South Mountain, kindly snapped a picture of the three of us.  We also met a through hiker who was on his way to Maine. He had started in Georgia in March with his family, who had made it various distances before having to drop out, supporting him along the way by meeting him every four days or so with supplies and company.  We stopped for a snack and some hydration, and I felt triumphant in successfully ascending our second mountain in two days, even though we had about eleven more miles to go to get to Sharpsburg.

A gentle right onto Townshend Road across the Gap made for a more gradual descent, but we had to make our way to Rohrersville, Maryland, off to the Northwest, on our way to Sharpsburg, since Couch’s division had been sent there to guard the Union flank from any Southern move up from Harpers Ferry.   The gentle downhill was easier on our tired legs. Townshend Road was also a beautiful road featuring views of Elk Ridge to our front and left, across green fields. Near the end of the road a kind woman who was watering her beautiful garden asked us our destination, then joked that we could get to Sharpsburg more quickly if we just left the road and headed due west.  

A right turn onto the Rohrersville Road showed that we were on a busy roadway, route 67, for a time.  It did at least have wide shoulders, but the traffic moving over 60 mph made it the least attractive road we had walked all day.  And it had little shade on a hot afternoon. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too long before we turned left into Rohrersville on the historic road, knowing that the Chasseurs by no means marched on such a road as route 67, even if perhaps they did follow this route in the form it took in 1862.  Less than a mile along the modern highway, Main Street, to Rohrersville, appeared. A left turn took us back onto the historic road, and definitely back on the trail of the Chasseurs.

Rohrersville, Maryland (photo by author)

Rohrersville was another historic Maryland town with its houses built right up against the road.  The Chasseurs spent a day here while the rest of the Army of the Potomac was busy with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam.  We didn’t bother to follow the aimless march of Couch’s division when it was sent south too late to the relief of the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, beginning to scale Maryland Heights near the Potomac River before being called back to Sharpsburg where the action was.  But we did visit Rohrersville for the sake of historical accuracy, and the walk through the small historic town was pleasant enough. Leaving town, we crossed a nice stream near a beautiful old farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Then it was back to the busy highway, this time for a short stint, about a half mile.

The next turn would be significant in that it was the beginning of our final phase, as we headed to Sharpsburg itself.  Knowing the Chasseurs camped with Couch’s division about a half mile south of Keedysville before heading on to Sharpsburg, we would follow the same route.  And Marble Quarry Road, onto which we turned left, was lovely. Very lightly trafficked, it also featured an early shade tree on the farm of a friendly farmer who was driving his tractor and putting his hay into neat piles as he waved.  It was a perfect place to take a drink of water and sit, across from another prosperous looking cattle farm. It also shortly crossed over a lovely stream, Little Antietam Creek.

What else about Marble Quarry Road made it such a highlight of the walk?   Well, for one thing, I could see in a few spots chunks of marble in the weeds alongside the road.  Apparently the quarry produced “… small deposits of cream colored marble…”  The quarry apparently opened in 1896, but in the 1860s, the presence of high-quality marble in the area of Little Antietam Creek was noted.   A plaque in Shafer Park in nearby Boonsboro, Maryland, as well as front steps and buildings in the area, are evidence for the quarry’s influence.  The remains of the quarry itself was filled in as a safety hazard in the 1970s.  

The Little Antietam Creek, which wound along and across the road, was another reason to enjoy this part of our walk.  Two bridges on the road cross the stream, which was flowing strongly and clearly when we walked. And, finally, there were the raspberries, which grew in abundance along the entire road.  Though in spots poison ivy also grew in abundance, and in proximity to the raspberry bushes, I was able to dodge the noxious plant and pick for the three of us some large handfuls of the sweet and delicious fruit.  After a long hot day of walking, and with over three miles to go to Sharpsburg, the raspberries were a delicious morale booster for me, and, I think, as my two companions picked their own handfuls, for my friends as well.   The Chasseurs didn’t get to enjoy this treat, as they marched through in mid-September while we were there in mid-July.

Marble Quarry Road ended at Mount Briar Road.   A right turn onto the latter brought another quiet road with more raspberries, and historic houses which the 65th New York men might well have marched past.   The road clearly dated to well before the Civil War and led to the south of Keedysville, where I knew Couch’s division had camped on its way to Antietam. Indeed, the looming large blue water tower with “Keedsysville” painted on it just to our northwest was an indicator that we were getting close to the end of our journey.  

At Mount Briar Road’s end, we turned left onto Dogstreet Road, and with the new houses along the road, and especially the new development on Sumter Drive, which we walked along for a short stretch on our way to the Shepherdstown Pike, we were clearly in the 21st century, not the 19th.  However, the left turn onto the busy pike with the wide shoulder would at least replicate the Chasseurs’ last mile or so to the Antietam Battlefield on the historic, though much-improved, road. The traffic wasn’t too bad, and, though we bemoaned the last few big hills and dips of this lovely Maryland countryside, when we went uphill having crossed Antietam Creek, we knew we were in business.  The car was parked behind the Inn at Antietam, where we had left it after the Keys game last night, and we hopped in and drove the two long (at least to walk) blocks into the center of Sharpsburg, where Nutter’s Ice Cream awaited us. 18 miles was enough for today.

Couch’s Division, as it had been sent on a peripheral mission to Rohrersville and the base of Maryland Heights, got to Sharpsburg after the bloodiest day in American history was ending.  Almost 6,000 men were killed or mortally wounded; another 17,000 were wounded. Though General Lee stood on September 18th ready to fight again, and General McClellan received two fresh divisions onto the field, among them Couch’s men, McClellan chose not to attack, fearing he may be outnumbered still, and Lee chose to retire to Virginia that night.  The standoff could be claimed as a Union victory, incomplete though it was, with Lee’s retreat back into Virginia, and this led to President Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, a clear turning point for the war.  So to walk to this place, thirty-seven and a half miles in all, was well worth it even if Couch and the Chasseurs got there late.  

Besides, I might not even be here if McClellan threw them into the fight on the 18th.

The marker on the Antietam Battlefield for Couch’s Division–Cochrane’s Brigade was the one to which the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry was attached. (photo by author)

Outside Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, Maryland after 37.5 miles of walking (photo by anonymous fellow ice cream store customer)

The approximate position of the 65th New York Volunteers at Antietam, September 17th-18th, 1862 (photo by author)

Antietam National Cemetery (photo by author)

The Famous “Burnside’s Bridge” at Antietam (photo by author).  The sycamore tree at the left of the bridge across the creek is a “witness tree,” being there at the time of the battle.

A Visit to General John Joseph Abercrombie’s grave in Philadelphia

My daughter Rachel at General Abercrombie’s grave
General John Joseph Abercrombie

Today we visited the beautiful Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia. Though our search for 65th Major Edmund Kirby Russell came up short after a valorous family search (it is hard to not have the actual grave site location in such a big cemetery), we did find the grave of General John Joseph Abercrombie. Abercrombie commanded the 65th NY’s brigade when they saw their first significant battles at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill during Gen. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.

Another visit to a new graveyard

When folks ask me why I insist on visiting the grave sites of people associated with the 1st U.S. Chasseurs (or 65th NY Volunteers), I’m not sure that I am always able to explain it well. Certainly visiting a quiet graveyard often otherwise empty of visitors is not quite the same as visiting the beautiful Sailors Creek, Malvern Hill, Antietam, or Cedar Creek battlefields. But just as putting oneself on the fields where these horrific battles occurred, visiting the last resting place of a member of the Chasseur regiment, or a commander of their unit, is a way to acknowledge the connection to a person of note from the regiment’s history. I also feel strongly that paying respects to these brave veterans is always a good thing, particularly in a world which often forgets its history, or what it owes to those who came before us. Often their very sacrifices are why we live as well as we do today. I think there is an OCD element of it for me as well: as a completist I am anxious to visit as many Chasseur officer and soldier graves as possible. With great web resources like Findagrave.com revealing new information all the time, it is always possible to visit another Chasseur grave. Today I traveled directly from track practice to Bergenfield, NJ to visit the grave of Captain Frederick T. Volk. As his 1864 daily diary was an outstanding source for me on the time the 65th NY spent as prison guards at Johnsons Island prison camp in Ohio, as well as the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania (the latter battle where Volk was twice wounded and forced to spend much of the rest of the year recovering), my visit to his grave, once discovered on line, became imperative. I found it easily within the churchyard cemetery, within the first three minutes of my visit. A flag which had been placed there by another visitor was on the ground, so I put it back upright, as well as cleaned up the dried grass which had been thrown over the grave by mowing, before taking my picture.

A New Discovery from Ohio's 65th NY soldiers

Just found at least nine letters or articles from Seneca County, Ohio newspapers about the 65th NY, 2 companies of which came from Northwestern Ohio. I had a bunch of letters from these newspapers and correspondents, but these are new for me. The best find is an Oct. 3, 1864 letter from Capt. Thomas Higginbotham, soon to be Lt. Col. Higginbotham, who will be leading the regiment when he dies 16 days later at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Will need to get my hands on it.

A trip to Litchfield, Connecticut to visit Gen. Henry Wessells’ gravesite

An outcome of my interest in the 65th NY Volunteers is a penchant in recent years of visiting the graves of the regimental, brigade, and even divisional and corps commanders of the Chasseurs, as the men of the 65th, or 1st U.S. Chasseurs, called themselves. As a completist, that means even generals like Henry Wessells, who only commanded the Chasseurs’ brigade for six days in May 1862, merit a visit. The search for Gen. Wessells included a cold, snowy walk in the beautiful East Cemetery in Litchfield. Bigger than I had imagined, it took a good half hour to find General Wessells, though the picture on the Findagrave website made it easy to recognize once I finally spied it. A nice 90 minute drive each way, accompanied by the music of Tom Waits on his 70th birthday, along with a delicious burger and a Guinness served at the West Street Grill in the middle of Litchfield rounded out what was all in all a nice day.

A 40 mile walk to Gettysburg

A Walk to Gettysburg

Walking 40 miles along busy roads over two days might at first seem more than a little crazy.  And, in fact, after the two days the blisters on my feet and the pain in my legs argued that indeed this idea was one of my strangest.  But the chance to follow in the route of my great-great grandfather, Corporal Timothy Carroll, as he marched 36 miles in about 17 hours over July 1-2, 1863 to get to Gettysburg was a challenge I wanted to accept.  The fact that my longtime friends, running partners, and colleagues from Irvington High School, Jim Buckley and Dr. Scott Mosenthal were willing to walk with me made it that much more doable.

On July 1st, 1863, the men of the 65th New York Volunteers, including Corporal Carroll, had been marching for days.  Beginning on June 13th, near Fredericksburg, Virginia, they had covered many miles.  On July 1st the men, having marched the previous day from New Windsor, 20 miles away, had been allowed to rest all day near Manchester, Maryland, and they hoped to get a good night’s sleep there.  Instead, a courier arrived at about 5 PM with news that a great battle had begun across the Pennsylvania border, and that Union General John Reynolds, commander of the Union 1st Corps, and one of the Army of the Potomac’s best generals, had been killed in action.  The Union 6th Corps, of which the 65th NY was a part, was ordered by new Union commander George Meade to get to Gettysburg as quickly as possible.  It was then that one of the most epic marches in the history of America’s Civil War began. Marching first Southwest to Westminster, Maryland, then northwest towards Gettysburg, the men would march for the whole night of July 1st to 2nd, and manage to arrive on the battlefield at about 4 PM on July 2nd, in time to bolster the Union ranks, then under a powerful attack from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

My first decision in planning this trip was to break up the 6th Corps march into two days.  Though it would be less historically accurate, we already were violating historical accuracy by marching in shorts and tee shirts instead of wool uniforms and not carrying 60 pounds of ammunition, food and supplies. We would partially make up for our laxness by marching in daytime instead of nighttime and dealing with much Baltimore traffic, including many trucks. Also, unlike the men of the 65th NY, we were not young.  Scott, Jim, and I began the first morning of our adventure by driving two cars up to Union Mills, Maryland, then leaving one of them at a small park there right across Pipe Creek from the historic Union Mills.   A beautiful and historic property with the original mill buildings, it had been the site where Rebel General J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry, along with Union troops coming later on, had camped on their way to Gettysburg. I picked this spot as our destination for day one of our trip for three reasons.  First, it was a historic site along Pipe Creek, where General Meade had originally planned to build his line and meet the threat of Lee’s invasion of the North. Second, it was twenty-two miles into our thirty-eight mile march and hence a good goal for Day One. And third, we could soak blistered and aching feet and legs in the creek at the end of the day.  We then drove back to Manchester, found a friendly restaurant on Main Street called the Dutch Corner and sat at the counter and enjoyed a delicious and inexpensive breakfast. For historical accuracy, I made sure to order bacon. Given the iffy weather forecast, which called for scattered thunderstorms, our server seemed worried about us and was kind enough to offer her number and say she would pick us up if we got caught in any bad weather.  

We stepped out onto Manchester’s Main Street at about 8:30 AM, and then headed left on the road to Westminster, known as the Manchester Road.   After walking for a time on the busy modern route, we were able to step off briefly twice onto short patches of the old Manchester Road, which parallel the modern road and upon which my great-great grandfather Timothy Carroll trod.   The first two times, these segments of the old road were brief and within only a few minutes, we were back on the modern, busy road which luckily featured a wide shoulder.  Finally, we left the new road as the Old Manchester Road veered off to the left up a hill and took us all the way into Westminster.  Green rolling hills planted with corn alternated with suburban houses, and we speculated as we walked as to which houses dated back to the war and hence were passed by the men of the 6th Corps as they made their epic march towards Gettysburg.  A light sprinkle fell briefly. Happily, it was not a harbinger of more rain to come, but in fact would be the only rain we got that first day.  

After about 10 miles, or 3 hours of walking, we arrived at the intersection of the Old Manchester Road and the Baltimore Pike, which here converged with the Taneytown Road.  A right turn brought us to the part of the walk I had been dreading, a mile and a half of strip malls, Pizza Huts, Olive Gardens, McDonald’s, auto transmission shops, few sidewalks and narrow shoulders.  As cars and trucks whizzed past, their drivers likely wondering what the heck three men were doing walking along this stretch of busy road, we made our way through this modern sprawl and looked forward to getting back onto less traveled byways.   Corporal Timothy Carroll may well have tramped on the grain growing along the road during the march, to keep the road clear for artillery and wagons. We instead sought refuge from the narrow shoulders by walking in the parking lots which now replaced the fields of corn or wheat.  Turning west onto the Taneytown Road for a bit, following the initial route of the 6th Corps before they cut back to the Baltimore Turnpike and took advantage of its better surface, we continued to face large amounts of Baltimore-bound traffic zooming in our faces. The sun’s appearance made this stretch the hottest of the day, adding to our trials.  Finally, we made it to Old Meadow Branch Road, where the 6th Corps cut over to the Baltimore Pike. A right turn here led to a beautiful and less traveled road fringed by corn fields and rolling hills once more. A shady spot was a perfect place for our first rest of the day, and ten minutes of sitting and drinking water brought a welcome relief from the last section of walking through modern suburban traffic and developmental sprawl.  Though our muscles were beginning to feel the effects of walking for four hours, and getting up from sitting was harder than it had been this morning, we pressed on. In time, we arrived at the spot where a small local airport had been built, cutting off the old road and forcing us to continue on the modern road to get around the airport and reach the Baltimore Pike.

Turning left, we once again faced lots of traffic, but the decent shoulder afforded us some space.  The businesses and parking lots near the airport were not exactly scenic, but when Jim saw a Dairy Queen sign we put historical accuracy aside and stopped off for a welcome break in air-conditioned comfort.  Under the circumstances, my chocolate malted was one of the best I’d ever had.  With revived morale and ice-cream-filled stomachs, we continued northeastward toward Union Mills.  Escaping from most of the development with another couple of hours of walking up and down hills, we saw a green valley ahead which we felt might very well be the Pipe Creek valley, our destination for day one.  The sign for Union Mills was a welcome sight, even though the last blind turn before we reached the site of the historic old mill was perilous, featuring trucks barreling through and a narrow shoulder. Arriving at the mill, we took some pictures and then headed directly for the creek.  General Meade had planned to array the Army of the Potomac behind this waterway in order to take up a strong defensive position and protect Washington and Baltimore from Lee’s marauding army. However, events would bring his army to Gettysburg to fight the battle, and the 6th Corps would cross Pipe Creek and continue its march directly to Gettysburg without pausing.  

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Union Mills, Maryland

We, however, under no such obligation, took off our shoes and waded into the cool stream to sooth blistered feet and, in my case, a sore knee.  I was quite pleased with myself for picking this spot as our endpoint for day one–the small park with parking lot was a perfect and safe place to leave the car, and the creek was both historic and soothing.  

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Soaking Our Sore Legs and Feet in Historic Pipe Creek

Having recovered enough to move our aching bodies to the car, we drove back to Manchester to recover the first car. Then, with both cars, we drove up to Gettysburg to scout the route for day two’s 16 mile walk, as well as leave the car in Gettysburg. We left it in the parking lot of General Pickett’s buffet, a restaurant right off the battlefield which would be less than a 2 mile walk from our ultimate destination, the statue of General John Sedgwick near Little Round Top, which denoted the position of the 6th Corps headquarters after their arrival at the battlefield on July 2nd.  We got permission to leave one of the cars, and hopped in the other one to drive back to our hotel in Westminster, a trip which seemed quite brief compared to our walk. A trip to the pool was essential, then recuperative showers and a trip to old Westminster for dinner. Site of a cavalry skirmish preceding the battle, and featuring a beautiful main street lined with brick buildings, many dating to the Civil War, Westminster’s old center had much more appeal than the modern sprawl on its outskirts which we had walked through earlier in the day. We had no interest in the desk clerk’s suggestions of The Olive Garden or Applebee’s.   

Westminster, Maryland (photo by Sherri Hosfeld Joseph)

We began our 2nd day’s walk from Union Mills, heading north knowing that despite our sore legs we need walk “only” sixteen miles today to Gettysburg. We started an hour earlier than we had the day before, heading out for breakfast at a coffee shop/art gallery in old Westminster featuring a beautiful display of nature photography and some amazing coffee. I again made sure to have bacon on my egg sandwich to stay true to historical accuracy. We had about four more miles to walk within Maryland, passing through Union Mills and Silver Run, two small hamlets hugging the Baltimore road which had many houses built in the old style right up against the roadway.  The many “for sale” signs on display in front of houses were, we felt, perhaps in response to the seemingly constant and loud traffic south, featuring a plethora of trucks speeding towards Baltimore. Clearly, sitting out on the otherwise welcoming and comfortable-looking porches was not the same as it once had been.

Though the shoulder on the side of the road had looked wider when we drove this way the day before, we made our way northwest at about three miles per hour in the face of the modern day traffic.  I continued to muse about which houses would have been present when the 65th New York men marched by, and to imagine Timothy Carroll’s thoughts as he marched towards the biggest battle in North American history.  My thoughts were also occupied by the painful blisters I had gotten on the first day’s walk. The sore right knee I had worried about before the trip, product of many years of running, was also becoming a factor. Clearly, day two was going to be harder than day one. However, my companions helped to keep it positive and lively with wide-ranging conversation, even if we had more quiet interludes than on the previous day, as we each reflected on the challenge ahead. We had lucked out in terms of weather, as it was a mostly sunny day but not as humid as usual in summer in this part of Maryland and Pennsylvania, and a gentle breeze was blowing, which was wonderful.

 After clearing Silver Run I knew we were getting closer to the Pennsylvania border. We reached it in late morning, pausing amidst the cars and trucks whizzing by to pose for pictures with the signs just outside a farmhouse for the Mason-Dixon Line, as well as the one indicating that Gettysburg was a dozen miles away.   6th Corps bands had played “the Star Spangled Banner” and other patriotic songs as the men crossed into Pennsylvania, and their spirits picked up as they knew they were not only getting closer to their ultimate destination, but also closer to fighting back Lee’s invasion of the North and showing how they could fight on their own soil.  We had walked about 26 miles since the start of the day before.  

Two miles into Pennsylvania is the town of Littlestown.  I welcomed the chance to walk on a sidewalk for a while, though the town looked like it had seen better times, at least in terms of the many closed or vacant shops along the road.  A fountain and assemblage of interpretive plaques in the middle of town showed, however, that it was proud of its history. The 6th Corps had marched through the town and first encountered wounded and straggling soldiers coming back from Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863.  The sound of artillery could be heard off in the distance.  The men were greeted by the townspeople, who brought out food and drink for the troops.  Unfortunately the food ran out after two of the eight brigades had passed through, though cold water was offered to the men from every brigade.

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 Reaching the Border of Pennsylvania

As we left Littlestown a sign indicated Gettysburg was nine miles away, and we knew we were now at the hardest part of the walk. Our sore legs, lower back, and feet indicated that we had been at it for almost ten hours, but we still had about three hours of walking to do. The big rolling hills which we had faced for the whole walk did start to level off, however.  A ten minute stop for water and granola bars helped. When we saw the sign for Gettysburg in 5 miles, both Scott and I were a bit surprised and chagrined to not be closer. Each step with my left foot now featured some pain. Arriving at the village of Two Taverns, just south of Gettysburg, we knew we were getting close. Two beautiful stone buildings stood on opposite sides of the road there, among them one of the taverns for which the village is named.  Interpretive signs denoting battlefield hospitals, including the one where Union Third Corps General Dan Sickles’ leg was amputated, were indicative of the approaching battlefield.

After a bit more time I saw in the distance an enormous American flag flying from an area which appeared to be open, and I wondered if it flew over the enormous gravel mine next to Rock Creek, just south of Gettysburg, which I had seen when I charted our course on Google Maps.  If so, the overpass over route 15 should be coming soon. Happily, in little time I saw ahead the signs for an interchange, along with indications of development. Though the modern suburban development which rings most American towns today (such as we had walked through in Westminster, Maryland) normally strikes me as ugly and uniform, in this case I was happy to see it, knowing it meant we were on the fringes of Gettysburg.  After crossing the busy interchange over sidewalks I was glad to see were built to access a shopping mall, we were getting close. A quarter mile or so took us to the road which would take us to the 6th Corps position on the field.  A left turn onto Blacksmith Shop Road, and we were relieved of the constant traffic which was a big part of our past two days on the road.  Now close to the battlefield, we walked along a quiet wooded road, stopping only to munch on some wild raspberries which grew near the road. Following the road to the Taneytown Road, and then crossing onto the Wheatfield Road, we entered the battlefield.  A quick right and there it was: the statue of General John Sedgwick, 6th Corps commander, denoting the position taken by the 6th Corps just to the right of Little Round Top upon arrival at the battlefield in the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863.  We had done it. 

High-fives and pictures followed, along with enjoying the view of the battlefield afforded by the Union position here.  Though I have taken my AP U.S. History classes from Irvington High School to Gettysburg for nineteen years, and have visited the battlefield on my own several times, I had never viewed the field from this particular spot.  The men of the 65th New York had a good view of the end of the ferocious fighting in the Wheatfield and its environs on day two of the battle, and then their brigade was detached and sent off early the next morning to Culp’s Hill on the far right of the Union line, to bolster the Twelfth Corps forces there. Early the next morning they had helped to stave off Rebel attacks and, after eight hours of fighting, to recapture Union trenches which had been lost on July 2nd.  Four men of the regiment were killed: Corporal George Clark of Company B, Privates William Rowan and Lafayette Burns of Company I, and Private John O’Brien, of Company H.  Both Burns (some of whose letters survive) and Clark were buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, dedicated in November 1863. I have made a practice of visiting their graves with my classes in recent years.

For Jim, Scott, and me, all that remained was making our way back to the car, parked behind General Pickett’s buffet just off the battlefield, which entailed two final miles of walking.  Though each of us was thoroughly tired of this mode of travel at this point, we made our way along Sedgwick Avenue, following just behind the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, until we reached the Copse of Trees and The Angle, where Pickett’s Charge had targeted its ill-fated attack on July 3rd.  A short walk from here brought us to our car and welcome relief.  A stop for ice cream and then a drive to Culp’s Hill allowed me to re-visit the place where Timothy Carroll’s 65th NY regiment did its fighting at Gettysburg.  Exploring a trail to a newer monument to an Ohio officer killed near the summit of Culp’s Hill reminded me that one can always see things in a new way at Gettysburg, even after many visits there.   Certainly walking 38 miles to get there was one such new way.

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The 65th NY (First U.S. Chausseurs) Monument on Culp’s Hill, Gettysburg, PA

Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day I thank my Great Uncle Ensign Lenny Barry, killed in WW II when his plane crashed, my grandfather Capt. Michael Barry, who served as an infantryman in WW I in the AEF, and then as a merchant marine captain in WW II, where he had one of his ships sunk, and my great-great grandfather Lt. Timothy Carroll, wounded three times while serving with the 65th NY Volunteers in the Civil War. And, finally, though he is not a family member, Lt. Col. Thomas Higginbotham, whose letters I know and who was killed leading the 65th NY at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864. He is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery.

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