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

A Local Cemetery Trip to Rockland

With the work on my regimental history of the 65th New York volunteers completed, but for fixing some typos and updating a few small things for a 2nd edition of No Flinching From Fire, it seems clear that a continuing connection to the men of the 65th NY is going to be my lot.  At least until I start the research for the General John Cochrane biography in earnest (I think not until my retirement starts), it seems that searching out the resting places of the 1st U.S. Chasseurs will be a continuing quest.  I do feel strongly that placing flags in honor of these veterans of the worst conflagration in American History, our own Civil War, is a cause worth pursuing.  But I also admit the detective work in finding their graves, both in researching online and in driving to and tramping through many beautiful and sometimes largely forgotten cemeteries, is fun for me.  And having written a book about their exploits and travails, I feel a connection to them.  Most especially, the fact that my daughter Rachel seems, at least for now, to take as much pleasure in this research and in the travels to find these men’s resting places as I do, makes me think we will keep it up.

The trip we took on a Sunday afternoon to Rockland County, just across the Hudson River from us in Westchester, was another surprisingly fruitful one.  Rachel’s own research with the 65th NY regimental roster and on Findagrave.com has located over 120 Chasseur graves around the country to this point, and two epic trips to upstate New York in recent months have allowed us to visit many of them.  Whether we get to see the several graves in Michigan is open to question.  But Rockland County is local for us, and the fact that Private Edward Weiant’s grave at Mount Repose cemetery in Haverstraw is right next to Saint Peter’s cemetery, where my grandfather Captain Michael Barry is buried along with my grandmother Loretta Barry, made a trip there even more desirable.  Rachel had never visited the graves of her great-grandparents, and I had not been there since childhood. 

Captain Michael Barry served in both World War I and II (photos by author)

We had a photo of Private Weiant’s grave in Mount Repose cemetery for a Findagrave volunteer.  But no gravesite was noted, and it was clear from my perusal of Google maps that the cemetery was vast.  I thought this grave would certainly take time to find.  However, there were hints in the graves and marks in the background of the photo.  We drove and walked for about ten to fifteen minutes around Mount Repose. Leave it to Rachel to find the large and notable obelisk with the unique shape at its top which was in the Findagrave photo background.  And what I thought was a drainage ditch in the photo may well have been the roadbed of the very cemetery path we were on.  We figured we had located the correct general area; after that it was a mere minute or two before we had Private Weiant’s grave located.  Weiant served from January to August 1863, and thus likely fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, two of the battles where the 65th were at key spots and took casualties.

Private Edward Weiant’s grave, Mount Repose Cemetery, Haverstraw, New York (photo by author)

Rachel at Private Edward Weiant’s grave (photo by author)

After our surprisingly easy locating of Private Weiant, we headed north for a few minutes to Stony Point.  Scene of a successful Revolutionary War battle against the British; it was the gravesite of 65th New York soldier Corporal Leonard Brooks we were after.  Brooks, who had enlisted in July 1861, when the Chasseurs were first organized, served until November 1862, when he died in a hospital in Washington, D.C.  Buried in the beautiful Mount Rest church cemetery, surrounded by woods and steep hills, his resting place was a scenic one.  We parked next to the First United Methodist Church, abutting the cemetery, and, using our Findagrave photograph, managed to locate Brooks’ gravesite in a minute or two.  Having forgotten my phone in the car, I walked back up the hill to grab it so I could get a photo.  As I got back to the car, Rachel called me and gestured in a by now familiar wave down to where she was.  In Arlington National Cemetery, upon discovering Division commander General Frank Wheaton’s grave, she had waved me over in the same way.  I knew it was a good thing.  Sure enough, she had discovered the grave of Private James Leet, who had served three years with the Chasseurs from August 1861 to September 1864.  This was an unforeseen bonus of the trip.  

The grave of Corporal Leonard Brooks (photo by author)
Private James Leet’s grave, Mount Rest cemetery, Stony Point, New York (photos by author)

We had found our two Chasseur graves, along with my grandfather Michael Barry’s, and here was an unforeseen bonus.  And it was a beautiful, sunny, cool early fall day.  The Mount Rest cemetery crawled up the hillside into the woods, with some few graves actually now within the woods along the cemetery’s fringe.  With several more Civil War veterans’ graves visible around the cemetery, marked by Grand Army of the Republic flagholders holding American flags, and with the afternoon still young despite us already finding all the gravesites we had come for plus one, Rachel and I decided to walk around the lovely cemetery to see what else we would find.  After finding several civil war veterans’ graves, and walking up to the edges of the cemetery where it abutted the woods, Rachel and I made our way back down on our way back to the car.  With experience we knew that any veterans’ graves marked with flags were worth checking out.  Heading down the hill and almost done, having scouted out graves of veterans of the 95th New York, the 6th Artillery, and a few other New York regiments, Rachel spied another decorated small grave near the woods.

Principal Musician Albert Rose enlisted in the 65th NY at the formation of the regiment in August 1861, re-enlisted as a veteran on December 26, 1863, the same day that Sergeant Timothy Carroll, great-great grandfather of the author, also re-enlisted as a veteran.  Rose served to the end of the war and mustered out 0n July 17, 1865 (photo by author)

Sure enough, Rachel had found another Chasseur grave!  A veteran of the entire service of the Chasseurs, and a musician to boot, Albert Rose achieved “Principal Musician” and veteran status by the time he mustered out.  Between our last trip upstate and this brief trip to Rockland County, Rachel was en fuego.  I was so glad we decided to do this trip, and that we both sought to walk the rest of the lovely Mount Rest cemetery, as finding not two but four Chasseur graves on this beautiful fall afternoon made the trip well worth it.  I am very happy Rachel came along with me again; she has a gift.  And she had given me yet another one too.

4 Days Across New York State with My Daughter, Searching for Chasseur Graves

My daughter Rachel is something.  She spent 4 days traveling with me over the Memorial Day weekend this year, while socially distancing, to find the gravesites of 65th NY soldiers who are listed on a database made by the NY State Military History Museum as being buried across the state.  Finding the graves, we would plant a flag there to honor them.  It was a long trip with a lot of driving, taking us from Bath to Redfield, NY, with a lot of places in between.  

Upon returning home, Rachel devoted herself to doing her own research to find more graves,  Knowing that Findagrave.com has a huge database of gravesites all over the world, most of them with photographs, and having already spent time combing through the regimental roster as part of her research in support of my first book, Rachel decided to cross reference 65th NY soldiers with Findagrave, developing systems to narrow down the search so that she was able to make a definite match between a Findagrave post and a 65th NY soldier’s resting place.  To date, she has found over 120 graves.  My encouragement of paying her for her work has incentivized it, but she truly enjoys the search, and is so smart that she has become highly successful at it.

As a result, we now have a list of 20 or so soldiers buried in NY state.  A few are local for us, so a visit to the beautiful Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, for example, is easily made.  But enough are upstate that we made plans at the end of this weird summer of 2020 to follow where her research led and repeat the process of a trip to visit the gravesites again, plant flags, take photographs, and honor the courage and sacrifice of these men who helped save their country.  It was up to me to look though the spreadsheet she had created and figure out an itinerary for another trip.  With time constraints, we had three nights.  So some graves would have to be saved for future trips.  However, with a big circle around the Southern Tier, Western New York, and the western Finger Lakes region, we had the means to visit over a dozen graves, or so I thought.

I enjoy the preparation process for our trips, both finding AIrBnB places to stay, and charting the routes between cemeteries. Having done it back in May, I knew that many of upstate New York’s rural roads are quite scenic, but that after days of driving and searching, one does get tired.  So, I went into the planning for this second trip with two assumptions:  1.  After a longish drive to get up there, we would try to limit how many hours we would be on the road for the middle of the trip, to make each day a little less exhausting and leave us something left for a long drive home with a few stops on the fourth day.  2.  We would only visit gravesites which had photos on Findagrave.com.  It is so much easier to look for graves, especially when we do not have a plot site, when one has a photograph as a reference while one is scouring the cemeteries for the Chasseur’s burial site.  The Memorial Day weekend we found six graves over our first two days, but on day three we only found one of two graves we searched for, and even that second grave was so worn down that we only found it because we had a plot listed for it.  And we searched the first one for over an hour before giving up and realizing that 65th NY soldier John Beine’s  stone had either been buried or destroyed.  The drive to find the second grave was a long one, and a frustrating search at the wrong cemetery before figuring that out and finding the worn out grave of William H. Corey at the second graveyard near the end of a long day was trying.  We would try to make an easier trip this time, with shorter drives to cemeteries with graves which Findagrave.com volunteers had already photographed.

For our first day’s goal, we would drive back to the Bath National Cemetery, sight of a Soldier’s Home and a current Veteran’s Administration hospital.  We had made that our first stop back in May, when we found two graves of Chasseurs there who were on the NY State Military History Museum list.  This time, we were seeking the graves of three or perhaps four Chasseurs buried there who Rachel had found in her research.  We knew the drive, knew how beautiful the cemetery was, and knew that it was a great cemetery in that not only were the sections and rows of graves well marked and organized, but that most of the stones there had the soldier’s unit on the gravestone.  It was special to find a grave which said 65th New York right on the stone, as this removed any doubt that this man was a member of the regiment which I had studied so long and wrote about in No Flinching From Fire.  

Day One

The drive up to Bath was uneventful but for a little spotty rain, and this had cleared up by the time we revisited the cemetery, driving through the now familiar campus of the Bath Soldiers’ Home.  It had become a sunny and warm day with big cumulus clouds occasionally covering the sun and giving us some relief as we searched for the graves.  We managed to find the four graves we came to see with little difficulty, and determined that one of the soldiers may or may not have served with the 65th NY; as there remained doubt, we chose to not decorate that grave.

The author’s daughter Rachel, searching for Chasseur graves with flags ready to plant there (photo by author)

Pvt. Andrew Rising enlisted in March 1865 at Lockport to serve one year, and thus likely saw action in the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns before war’s end.  He deserted in July 1865, only days before the regiment was mustered out of service. (photo by author)

Cpl. Leon Doerr joined the regiment at the end of March 1865 and mustered out in July 1865 (photo by author)

Pvt. Michael Manahan mustered in as a 1st class musician in January 1862, and mustered out with the rest of the band in March 1862 (photo by author)

Having found the graves we had come to see, Rachel, who enjoys searching in the graveyards for Chasseur graves as much as she enjoys finding them through her online research, proposed that we search the cemetery for other Chasseur graves by sweeping through the rows of civil war graves looking for any stones which denoted the 65th or 67th NY, the latter regiment having consolidated into the 65th on September 1, 1864.  We still had some time left in the afternoon before we needed to head to our first night’s AirBnB stay in Alfred, New York.  So, I agreed to walk under the strong sun and scan the rows, despite the large numbers of graves we walked through.  Within minutes, we found more 65th New York graves, until by the end of the day we had found no less than thirteen of them.  It was clear, knowing our plans for the next three days, that we would need more flags!  We left Bath with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, having found eleven Chasseur graves there in addition to the two graves which we revisited and honored with new flags, the flags we had left in May having been removed.  It was an auspicious start to the trip.

Pvt. Thomas Teer transferred into the 65th Ny on Spet. 1, 1864 and served out the war with the Chasseurs (photo by author)

Pvt. Theron Lapham enlisted in Yonkers and served the entire war (photo by author)

Private Phillips served three years in the regiment (photo by author)

The grave of Private Charles Kiessell (photo by author)

Pvt. Richard M. Franklin transferred into the 65th NY from the 67th NY on Sept. 1, 1864 and served out the war (photo by author)

Pvt. John Baker enlisted in February 1864 and was wounded at Spotsylvania on May 15, 1864 (photo by author)

Private James Kelly was a transfer from the 67th who was wounded in action at 3rd Winchester of September 19, 1864 (photo by author)

Pvt. James Callahan served the entire war (photo by author)

Sgt. Hugh McClusky transferred in with the 67th NY and served out the war with the Chasseurs (photo by author)

Day Two

Rachel and I knew that we had less driving to do today since we had made it upstate, but with six stops before we arrived at the end of the day in Newfane, New York, northeast of Buffalo.  I knew Newfane as the home of a strong high school cross country program whose boys had finished one point behind the team I coach in Irvington in the fall of 2018 at the New York state championship meet.  We planned on getting chicken wings for dinner since we were close to Buffalo, the birthplace of “Buffalo” chicken wings.  But we had work to do first.  We headed west from Alfred to our first stop in the Southern Tier of New York, the Fairlawn Cemetery in Scio.  We looked at the photograph we saw, figured out together where the blue house in the background was, and found Private Edward Canfield’s grave quickly.  Canfield was a transfer from the 67th NY who died of disease on February 3, 1865, at the Haddington U.S. General Hospital in Philadelphia.  As it says on his gravestone, he was  “a brave soldier and true patriot.” 

Edward Canfield (photo by Rachel Barry)

The drive west and north to Sugartown took us over a mountain in the Allegheny Range once we got off of Interstate 86 and ended at a cemetery that had no parking or auto access on a busy rural road, but we got over the mountain road then parked roadside with the hazard lights on as I hoped it would not take too long to find Private Clark Bowen’s grave in the small cemetery.  His grave was near the road, and we did not linger long as we placed the flag and took a picture and moved on to a safer place to leave the car.

Private Bowen enlisted in March 1865 into Company K (photo by author)

We safely got on the road, hoping to avoid precarious parking spots and steep mountain roads on our way to the East Otto Cemetery to find Private Abraham Woodruff’s grave.  Woodruff was a late-war transfer from the 121st New York Volunteers who only served a few weeks in the 65th. The East Otto cemetery was not on Google Maps, but over time I have figured out that small rural towns often have their cemeteries on a hill, so we moved uphill through town and, sure enough, found the cemetery on the right of the road.  We found Woodruff’s grave quickly, left a flag and took our picture.  Then, it was back on the road.  The three little rural cemeteries were lovely, but not too hard to search and find and honor our Chasseur veterans.  Now we were on to Buffalo’s huge Forest Lawn Cemetery to find Private Abram Verplank’s gravesite.   

Pvt. Abraham Woodruff (photo by author)

Rachel is a great partner on these road trips, not only working the navigation, but humoring me as I continually guess how many minutes we have, according to Google maps, until we arrive at our next destination.  Getting into Buffalo went smoothly, and as we drove around the perimeter of the Forest Lawn Cemetery searching for the main gate we could see its vastness.  Comprising 269 acres, it is a beautiful nineteenth century cemetery of the rural cemetery era, with huge trees and a lovely landscape.  We had the section of Abram Verplank’s gravesite on Findagrave.com, but we definitely were happy to get a map from the friendly gatekeeper when we asked him where Section K was in the cemetery.  A small section on a little hill, Section K was not too hard to search, but the worn down and nondescript status of Verplank’s gravestone made it just a little tricky.  Rachel found the grave, as she has spotted most of the graves on this trip so far, and we planted our flag and took the picture.  With some time remaining in the afternoon and only two more stops left before we finished our planned itinerary, Rachel looked over the cemetery website to see if the cemetery contained any graves of people we felt it important to visit, and we found two.  

1st Lt. Abram Verplank served two years with the regiment. (photo by author)

President Millard Fillore’s grave was in the next section, so close we need not get in the car despite how big the cemetery is.  As we had visited his home in May during our first trip upstate, I thought it was appropriate to visit him in his last resting place as well.  Fillmore’s grave was simple and well maintained, the American flag there helping us to spot it quickly.  Protected by an iron fence, the gravesite revealed the importance of its occupant, even though no one would pick Fillmore as a particularly important President, and his political career was marred by his 1856 Presidential run for the nativist American Party.

President Millard Fillmore’s grave, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York (photo by author)

Before leaving, there was a grave in the cemetery’s Birchwood mausoleum, which Rachel knew was a must-visit.  Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American Congresswoman and a 1972 candidate for President, rests there.  We stopped by and took a picture of the site before heading out.  Chisholm was an inspiration for American women, black and white, and for any Americans who look for social and political progress.  

The grave of the Honorable Shirley Chisholm (photo by author)

Since we were nearby anyway, in plotting the itinerary for this trip, Rachel and I had agreed a trip to Niagara Falls was in order.  So we were headed there next.  Driving along the Niagara River north and over the two very steep bridges which linked Grand Island to the mainland was scenic, and I was excited that Rachel would be seeing the Falls for the first time.  We were turned away at the full lot in the park but easily found parking a few blocks away.  Walking past some of the beautiful but now boarded up art deco buildings like the Niagara Hotel, one could see that the city was struggling, but on this nice summer day there was a decent crowd eating outdoors at restaurants despite the Pandemic.  The walk along the section of the river called “Hell’s Half-Acre” was awesome, and reaching the edge, and the Falls themselves, was still impactful even for one who had been there years before.  Nature’s power is of course readily evident in Niagara Falls, and I was glad we got a glimpse of Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side as well, even though a crossing into Canada was not possible under current circumstances.

Rachel at Niagara Falls (photo by author)

After a walk back to the car it was on to our last cemetery of the day, in Lockport, New York.  We were tempted by the smells from the Indian food stand as we walked to the car, but we had decided last night that since we were in the Buffalo area we would be having chicken wings for dinner, and we stuck to our guns.  The drive out of the city of Niagara Falls took us through an old industrial area, but gradually the development gave way to another nice rural road.  Lockport itself, centered on the Erie Canal, was a surprisingly vibrant and nice town with a great old housing stock which was well maintained.  The Cold Springs Cemetery in Lockport was large, but we had a section number and a photo and we managed after about five to seven minutes to find the last Chasseur grave of the day, that of Private Oliver Stafford.  Stafford was another late-war recruit, signing up in February 1865 and mustering out in July 1865.

Private Oliver Stafford’s grave on a sunny summer day (photo by author)

After a long but highly successful day, it was a short drive due north to Newfane, where our AirBnB apartment awaited.  Newfane was a smaller place than Lockport, but our place was located right in the middle of town, and we managed to find a nearby restaurant from which we could order out buffalo wings, which were delicious.  I walked a few blocks to pick them up, having had enough car time for the day and wanting to stretch my legs.  We enjoyed a simple dinner in our cosy and very clean apartment, delighted at how smoothly our day had gone.  We had found another five Chasseur graves today, making the two-day total eighteen.  And we had also seen graves of a President and a towering figure of the late 20th century in Representative Shirley Chisholm.  And Niagara Falls was an awesome place and I hoped a lifetime memory for Rachel.  I was tired, but highly satisfied.  Tomorrow would bring another drive, this time to Lake Ontario, then eastward and southward into the Finger Lakes country, where we would be staying in a room on a farm.

Day Three

A quick drive north from Newfane the next morning took us to Lake Ontario, an impressive sight.  We drove along the lake for a time, then we lost sight of the lake.  When we pulled onto the firm grass next to the tiny Sawyer Cemetery just outside Somerset, New York, surrounded by fields of corn, we were perhaps cocky to think how easy it would be to find Private Johnson Aldrich’s grave.  We had a photograph of the grave from Findagrave.com, and the cemetery was easily the smallest we had been in.  It was another lovely day.  But something was not right.  We could not find the grave, even despite the clear picture.  It simply was not there.  We scoured the little cemetery, going over it twice.  We both looked into the nearby rows of corn, wondering if the fields had been allowed to grow over a part of the cemetery.  We looked under the two or three evergreen trees in the cemetery in case one had grown over the grave since the Findagrave.com photograph had been taken.  I had to convince Rachel that there was clearly a mistake and we had to give up looking.  Perhaps after our two days of smooth sailing we were due for a challenge.  Findagrave.com was not always perfect; mistakes do occur.  We got back in the car and headed into Somerset.  A few miles up the road, the Somerset Cemetery beckoned.  I wondered if in fact Private Aldrich’s grave could be there, so we pulled in.  It was a larger cemetery than the Sawyer Cemetery, but not large. As we drove around the loop within the cemetery, Rachel spotted it.  Aldrich had enlisted in early March 1865, and served through the end of the war.  We were pleased that our streak continued, and that we had figured out the puzzle ourselves.  I made sure later that day after we arrived at our third AirBnB to update the Findagrave site for Aldrich to help others who may follow.  

Rachel at the graveside of Private Johnson Aldrich, in Somerset, New York (photo by author)

Millville, New York was our next destination.  The Millville Cemetery was one of those small church cemeteries on a rural road which is beautiful, peaceful, and quiet.  We found Private William Hunt’s grave from the car, walked to it and took our photo after planting our flag.  We had brought up twenty-one flags, and we were now down to our last one.  We were so pleased with our success in this venture to this point!

Private Hunt joined the 65th NY in February 1865 and served until the end of the war.  (photo by author)

A quick stop in Batavia netted us ten new flags at the Home Depot.  Made in America, they were right near the entrance and of course Rachel spotted them immediately.  We were now well supplied for the remainder of the trip, and it was off to the Batavia Cemetery.  Private Damon Yates had only transferred into the 65th NY from the 121st New York in late June 1865, just before war’s end, but he did have the 65th NY appellation on his gravestone, small as it was.  Rachel was in favor of finding the grave physically, having found it on line.  I was skeptical when we drove into the rather large Batavia Cemetery, especially given the small, humble, and commonly designed stone at Yates’ grave.  But leave it to Rachel, she found him within five minutes while I was taking a phone call from an old friend.

The humble grave of Private Damon Yates (photo by author)

The drive out of Batavia was easy; our next stop was the lovely little village of East Bloomfield.  We drove through Avon on the way–we had stopped to honor two graves there on our Memorial Day weekend trip a few months before.  Upon arrival, the East Bloomfield Cemetery was larger than one might expect for a small town.  We drove the now familiar inverted U-shaped roadway which went through the cemetery, searching for the simple but classic grey square stone which marked the grave of Private Asahel Totman.   I was pleased to spot it myself, right next to the roadway.  Though not a competition, Rachel had found each of the graves thus far today, and I wanted to make sure I could pull my weight.  Besides, Totman had easily my favorite name of any of the Chasseurs of the trip.

Private Totman enlisted in September, 1864 and served until the end of the war. (photo by author)

East Bloomfield’s village green was right near the cemetery, and its Civil War memorial was most impressive.  We took a photo before leaving town, with me wondering how often people of the village paused and considered how lucky they were to have such a spectacular memorial in the center of their village to their veterans of the Civil War.  Marked with the names of battles in which the local men had fought, along with their names and units, it was a fitting tribute to their sacrifice.

The impressive Civil War Memorial in East Bloomfield, New York (photo by author)

From East Bloomfield, we were off to Naples.  Now entering the Finger Lakes region, we were now starting towards home.  But more gravesites beckoned first, and we knew we could make it to two more sites before arriving at our farm in Bradford if we were willing to push it a bit.  Given that we still had plenty of light, and that the several stops today had broken up the driving, and knowing that tomorrow was a long trip home with a few key stops and taking on one more grave today would make tomorrow’s driving a little shorter, we embraced the idea of making two more stops today before calling it a day.

The drive to Naples was gorgeous.  The rolling hills of the Finger Lake country, with wineries noted on signs along the way, is yet another scenic part of New York state.  If these trips upstate have taught us anything, it is that we are lucky to live in a truly beautiful state.  Arriving in the surprisingly large Rose Ridge cemetery, armed with no grave site and a closeup picture that did not help us to identify the stone very much, Rachel and I knew that this was our most challenging grave to find of the day.  And the fact that it was late afternoon and the biting bugs were out did not make it any easier.  We did a thorough search of the cemetery, separating so we could cover more ground.  Of course, Rachel found the grave.  

Though Lt. Edwin Yaw transferred into the 65th NY from the 67th NY on Sept. 1, 1864, he was already a prisoner of war, having been captured on May 6, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness, and remained so until March of 1865, when he was paroled and then discharged.  So he was technically a member of the 65th, but he likely never served with the regiment.  This did not make the bug bites feel any better, but we knew we were being thorough at least and were not (knowingly, at least) leaving any Chassseurs behind.  We took our photographs and headed back to the car.  It was getting late, but we figured we could squeeze in one more grave before the end of the day.  We were ambitious on this trip.  If we found and honored a sixth grave today, that would make 24 graves in three days, an impressive feat.

The author at the grave of Lt. Edwin Yaw in Naples (photo by Rachel Barry)

The Dundee cemetery was on the way to our AirBnB stay on a farm overlooking Lake Ladoga in Bradford.  So I messaged our host that we would be arriving late, around 7 PM, and we headed through upstate New York wine country to Dundee.  After a drive of almost an hour, which included a stop at a Mennonite farm stand with an abundant array of delicious fruits and vegetables where I am sure we were the customers of the day after we bought enough to resupply our family upon our return home.  We searched the surprisingly large Dundee Cemetery and Rachel found our last gravesite of the day  in only ten minutes or so.  Sgt. Benjamin Slack transferred into the 65th with the rest of the 67th NY on Sept. 1, 1864, and served until war’s end.  His small gravestone was much like many in the cemetery, so I was impressed with how easily Rachel found it.  We are both getting good at this.

Sgt. Benjamin Slack’s grave needs some restoration (photo by author)

Day Four

While the room at the “quaint farm” advertised on AirBnB turned out to be a room in a mobile home, the farm itself was in a beautiful location overlooking Lamoka Lake.  Raising sheep, ducks, turkeys, cattle, and pigs while holding two full-time jobs, Anastasia and her husband impressed me with how hard it is to make ends meet in parts of our country these days.  That said, while she worked as an operator at a nearby Salt Mine on the overnight shift, Anastasia said she slept five hours a night and took a short nap most days and that was all she needed, and that she and her husband were glad not to be dairy farmers, as they had more income options selling meat than they would on a dairy farm, were less regulated than dairy farmers, and they were less tied to the farm.  When I asked her what the farm raised, and she said they had just acquired a few piglets to go with the other animals, she described them as “bacon bits.”  No romance there.  I had a scenic run in the morning before breakfast, and enjoyed the coffee she made for me and the scrambled duck eggs with salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning.  Rachel and I had never eaten duck eggs; they have more protein than chicken eggs, Anastasia told me.  They were good.

It was a three hour drive to our first gravesite on our way home on this fourth and final day of our trip.  With a total of about seven hours to drive this day, we had a shorter list of graves to visit than the other days.  However, we also had the key visit of the day, and maybe of the trip—a farm in Fort Plain, next door to the Palatine Church, a lovely limestone structure built by German Palatines in 1770.  The farm happened to be the birthplace of General John Cochrane, the first commander of the 65th New York Volunteers.  One day I hope to write his biography.  The Cochran farm was built by John Cochrane’s grandfather, who was a doctor in the Continental Army.  Somewhere along the line the “e” was added to the family name.  The website I found indicated that the Cochran farm currently produced goat cheese, but it had not been updated since 2015, and I had no responses to my two queries on the site.  So our plan was to simply drive onto the farm and ask permission to take some pictures of the farmhouse. I thought we might buy some goat cheese and put it on ice for the trip home to smooth over things.  With a Chasseur lieutenant buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, where Cochrane himself is buried, along with President Chester Arthur, I thought we might stop there since it was on our way home, if we were not totally burned out by then.

A three hour drive north and east began with a scenic route along Keuka Lake north.  After a stop for gas in Penn Yan and some more driving, we were back on the New York State Thruway, heading east.  Dolgeville was our first stop.  The town was a little worn, but the cemetery was lovely.  Rachel found the grave within a minute or so of us parking on the roadway within the cemetery.

John Carnwright enlisted for three years in New York city, was promoted to sergeant, June 1, 1863; the same day as the author’s great great grandfather Timothy Carroll was promoted to corporal; he re-enlisted as a veteran, December 26, 1863, with Cpl. Carroll.  He was wounded in action on October 19, 1864, at Cedar Creek, Va. and he mustered out with his company on July 17, 1865.  (photo by author)

St. Johnsville is very close to Dolgeville, so it was a short drive to the Prospect View Cemetery.  Located adjacent to a local school, the medium-sized cemetery was where Private Jerome Countryman is buried.  Countryman served a year until discharged for illness and died shortly thereafter.  His gravestone is the most interesting of all we saw during this trip, but it took a while to find.  As usual, Rachel reasoned it out by looking not only at the picture of his grave on Findagrave.com, but looking at his parents’ grave picture and then studying the background.  This did the trick, and Rachel located a grave I had walked by earlier as Countryman’s.

Pvt. Jerome Countryman (photo by author)

The next trip, of less than ten minutes, was the first stop not related to a gravesite that we had visited since Niagara Falls.  For me it was the key site of the trip.  It was the Cochran Farm in Fort Plain, New York, neighborning the 1770 Palatine Church.  Site of General John Cochrane’s birth, it was a treat to visit, especially thinking about the planned biography of him I hope to write some day.  Knowing from a study of google maps and an article from the 1920s by the local historical society which I found online, I knew the land was basically adjacent to the site of the Palatine Church. This historic, lovely, and unique limestone structure was worth a visit as well.

The church was, to my surprise, open to visitors, so after taking a few pictures Rachel and I went in and enjoyed the artifacts on display there, as well as a recording of the history of the church which was automatically playing.  The church had been spared being burned down during a Revolutionary War British raid due to the loyalist status of the landowner and parish member who had donated the land for it.  Donating 50 cents myself for a postcard for my classroom, we headed out to the Cochran farm just down the road.  

Palatine Church (photo by author)

Cochran Farm (photo by author)

I was excited to be going to see Cochrane’s birthplace, and I was confident that, having tried twice to reach the farm through its website, that I could explain my research trip to the owners and be able to take a few pictures.   

We pulled up the driveway, past a house on the left, then up to the main house,  Though a cat watched us from the driveway, and cars were parked there, when we rang the bell there was no answer.  So, I took a few pictures of the site, pleased that I had found it online and physically, and Rachel and I got back in the car and headed out, having not met anyone at the Cochran Farm.  The farm was founded by Gen. John Cochrane’s grandfather, who had been a respected physician in General George Washington’s Continental Army, and the house is still impressive.

Though it had been a lot of driving, and this was our fourth day of the trip, both Rachel and I were up for just one more stop, at the Albany Rural Cemetery, in Menands just north of the city, where Lieutenant Warren Hedden is buried, as well as General Cochrane.  I had visited the cemetery twice to find Cochrane’s grave, as well as visit President Chester Arthur’s.  It was not adding too much to the trip, maybe 30-40 minutes, to make the trip.  With the start of work looming tomorrow, I was stretching the summer as long as I could.

Lieutenant Hedden’s grave was in a small section near the entrance to the large cemetery, and armed with a paper map which I picked up outside the cemetery office, I was sure given our prowess and experience we would find it quickly.   It didn’t work out that way.  Since Section Four was a narrow strip near the entrance, and we had a photo of the grave, it seemed to us given our experience the last three days, we would have a simple and quick time of it.  As it turned out the hilly and grassy area was trickier than the map showed in terms of walking, with steep sides and high grass throughout.  Having walked with Rachel across the entire section, we walked back through our steps and still found no sign of the grave. Several stones were similar to Lieutenant Hedden’s stone.  We checked the entire section and looked closely at all such graves, but came up empty.  We were baffled, but as Rachel walked the top end of the section, I walked back down along its edge, on the road, trying to figure out what we missed.   There it was, just below the edge of the small plateau on top of the hill, isolated along the road on the steep hillside.  I was glad to do my part to locate a grave, with Rachel searching the other end of the short section.  We planted our flag and took pictures. Hedden entered the regiment a private in June 1861 at the very beginning; he left in September 1864 a First Lieutenant.

Lt. Warren Hedden’s gravesite in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands (photo by author)

The author at Lt. Hedden’s gravesite (photo by Rachel Barry)

Only one stop remained.  I could not miss paying a visit and honoring General Cochrane’s grave, and not only did we have the gravesite location on Findagrave.com, but I had found it twice already most recently last year on the way to a family stay at the Bunker Hill Inn in Salem, New York, a favorite B & B which we have frequented over many summers.  That was a rainy day, unlike today, and Rachel took a picture of General Chester Arthur’s gravesite.  I had the map and a strong memory of last year’s visit, so we made it to the roadway down which General Cochrane lay.  The gate was closed, however, but it was a short walk to the grave site to leave a flag and consider how much we had accomplished in four short days.  Though three graves on this trip were re-visits, like the one we were making to Cochrane’s grave, we had managed to find and honor the graves of 28 members of the regiment.  Plus, we had seen graves of two  Presidents and one Congresswoman, with a peak on the way out today at President Chester Arthur’s grave.

General John Cochrane (photo by author)

The grave of President Chester Arthur (photo by Rachel Barry)

As we left the cemetery, and drove along the Hudson River on I-787 south towards home, we passed nearby the impressive New York State Capital building.  As always, I was reflective in this spot, thinking about the trip I had taken years ago to the New York State Archives in the early stages of my 65th New York research.  I looked then at commissary records and a speech  of General Cochrane.  I also thought about my one year residency in Albany back in 1992-1993.  It was long ago, and where I proposed to my wife,  and much had happened since.  We drove south onto the Thruway, and I told Rachel we would be home by 9 PM.  I suggested we needed some celebratory music on the way home given how well the trip had gone.  She suggested Badfinger’s Greatest Hits.  End of story.  Power pop perfection.  We had another smooth trip home.  It had been a more productive and fun trip than I had even hoped.

A Rediscovery of an Old Document Bears Fruit

Recently I found among my pile of papers a short narrative from the Longwood High School website with some letter excerpts from a 65th NY soldier which evidently I printed off the internet in 2002 and then forgot about for eighteen years. The narrative came from a collection of brief vignettes on local veterans apparently written by Middle Island, New York’s Longwood High School students in the late 20th century or early 21st century. The letter excerpts in the piece related a wonderful anecdote which involved President Lincoln.  In letters to his sisters, Alexander Monsell, who mustered into the regiment on August 24, 1861, told of having “… to briton my butons and plate for to drill everything has to be clean here…”  Monsell also wrote about a review of the troops at Camp Middleton by President Lincoln.  According to his sister Jerusha, who related the story to local historian Thomas Bayles, Lincoln shook hands with all the troops.  “When Lincoln came to Alexander, who was 6 feet 3 inches tall, he asked him how tall he was.  When Alexander replied, President Lincoln said that was his own height and that he always liked a tall boy.”  In another letter to his sister, Alexander expressed how the Chasseurs felt in the fall of 1861 about the war.  “We are all waiting for to fight. I suppose that you might think that strange, but that is what we are all wishing for.”  Unfortunately Alexander never got the chance to fight, as he died at Camp Cochran hospital on December 7, 1861. Finding his grave in the lovely Yaphank Cemetery in August 2020, with the help of the information on Findagrave.com, my daughter Rachel and I placed a flag there in his honor, then took a few photos.

Source: http://longwood.k12.ny.us/community/longwood_journey/time_periods/civil_war/monsell__alexander

The author’s daughter Rachel, who found Pvt. Alexander Monsell’s grave in the Yaphank Cemetery (photo by author)
Pvt. Monsell died in December 1861 before getting a chance to fight (photo by author)
The Monsell family stone in Yaphank Cemetery, Long Island, New York (photo by author)
The Monsell House, on Bartlett Road in Middle Island, New York

A trip on a hot day to two cemeteries near me to find two Chasseur graves

My daughter Rachel has been using the regimental roster and Findagrave.com to locate almost 100 more 65th NY soldier graves around the country. While it will necessitate another trip north to the Western part of New York state to visit up to 20 graves she has located, today I traveled to nearby New Rochelle, NY to find Sgt. Warren Dodge’s grave. Then, to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to find Private Elijah Phillips. Though I didn’t have a photo of Dodge’s gravesite, I did have a location on Findagrave, and the map at the entrance to the Beechwoods cemetery told me where Section 8 was. It didn’t take long to find him, and happily the recent damage from Tropical Storm Isaias, which included a large tree branch down over nearby graves, has spared Dodge’s stone. Sgt. Dodge transferred into Co. D of the 65th with the rest of the 67th NY on Sept. 1, 1864, and he served with the Chasseurs until his discharge on June 23, 1865. I laid a flag at his grave, adding to the one already there, and then headed back to the car on a very hot afternoon.

I posted 2 photos of Dodge’s grave for his Findagrave.com page, then drove another 15 minutes or so down to the Bronx to the beautiful Woodlawn Cemetery to find Elijah Phillips’ grave. Marked by a GAR flagholder which is gorgeous in its own right, I found Phillips’ grave in the Fern section of the cemetery, near the lake. Though I walked almost the whole section before I found him, I had parked my car perhaps 100 feet from his grave site so might have done better to look along the roadway first. 🙂 Private Phillips enlisted in January 1864 and served until he was discharged in July 1865.

Though compared to my recent trips to multiple graveyards in Ohio and in upstate New York, this trip today was easy, it was no less rewarding to get a chance to honor two more members of the 65th New York Volunteer infantry. The fact that they are close to my home, if recently discovered, makes me all the more glad to visit and honor them for their contributions to saving their country during the Civil War.

Sergeant Warren Dodge, 65th NY Volunteer Infantry
Private Elijah Phillips’ grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York
The wonderful GAR plaque from the Alexander Hamilton GAR chapter, in front of Phillips grave.

A Civil War Trip to Ohio

Going to Ohio

Some of the very first letters from 65th NY soldiers which I found, back in 2009, were at the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Charley Crockett wrote to Nellie about the early months of training, while flirting with her about the kiss she had promised him upon his return.  Sadly, he was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania  on May 10, 1864.  LeRoy Crockett, a First Lieutenant in Company K, described the Chasseurs’ first battle experience, a small skirmish at Lewinsville in September 1861.  I discovered another treasure trove of letters on line which were indexed by the Ohio Historical Society.  Through interlibrary loan and searches through microfilmed newspapers, I found over thirty letters printed in local newspapers like the Tiffin Weekly Tribune and the Seneca Advertiser.  A now-defunct website dedicated to the 6th Corps breakthrough at Petersburg included a number of letters of Company K Captain Sam Kisinger transcribed and scanned.  Company K of the 65th NY was raised in Tiffin, Ohio, and the fact that these letters were so accessible to me was an early key to getting the amount of primary source information I needed to write the regimental history I envisioned, No Flinching From Fire.

The first captain of Company K, whose letters I used in my book, Thomas Higginbotham, had risen to command of the regiment and had been killed while leading it at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.  He is buried in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.  When I first discovered his gravesite I was surprised that as a lieutenant colonel his body had not been returned to Tiffin, nearby his home.  As I finished the book-writing process, and visited all the battlefields and some of the camp sites of the Chasseurs, I began to get more interested in connecting with the soldiers of the regiment through visits to graves in Green-wood, Arlington National Cemetery, Winchester National Cemetery, and elsewhere.  Over time, it occurred to me that Tiffin, Ohio was a likely place to find more Chasseur graves.  I also had developed a curiosity about the town from reading so many letters from the “Tiffin boys.”  Further, Ohio was home to other sites connected with Civil War figures worth visiting.  Generals Grant, Sherman, and Custer all hailed from Ohio.  So did General James McPherson.  And though the COVID-19 Pandemic crimped some of my original plans (a visit to Grant’s birthplace near Cincinnati, for example, was nixed after it became clear that my plan to include a New York Mets game versus the Reds was out, and that Cincinnati had become a hotspot for the Coronavirus), I knew from experience that socially distancing was eminently possible when visiting old cemeteries.

So, I charted a trip to Ohio. It was a long drive, but there was a statue of General George Armstrong Custer in his birthplace of New Rumley, Ohio.  It was barely over the eastern border of the state, so within a day’s drive.  And nearby Cadiz offered an old inn called the Lincoln Inn, so there was another Civil War connection.  President-elect Lincoln had stopped in Cadiz on his way to his inauguration.  The next day’s drive from Cadiz to Tiffin would be under three hours, leaving plenty of time for cemetery-sleuthing there.  And the AirBnB small cattle ranch north of Upper Sandusky would be a nice peaceful and safe place to stay, and close to Tiffin.  Two days there would afford me plenty of time to visit the three cemeteries I knew I would be visiting to look for Tiffin-area Chasseurs, and the other cemeteries which I might discover in the area.  Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave is in Toledo’s historic Woodlawn cemetery, and as his many letters home were a key source of my first book I wanted to see Kisinger, so a stay in Toledo looked likely.   When my college roommate Paul Fishback offered to meet me there from his place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that sealed the deal for Toledo.  An AirBnB tiny house on Lake Erie could be a perfect place for our mini-reunion.

Then the journey towards home would begin.  But with President Rutherford B. Hayes’ home in Fremont opened for limited tours during the Pandemic, and less than an hour away from Toledo, that seemed like a stop worth making.  I do like to visit U.S. President’s houses when possible, and Hayes had also been a highly regarded general in the Civil War.  Heading southeast to get closer to home I could stay in Somerset at a lovely old house right down the block from the statue of General Philip Sheridan, and near the house which Sheridan helped build for his parents in 1859.  And rather than drive home nine hours from there, I could swing a little southward and stay a night in Hancock, Maryland, a place to which the Chasseurs had been sent on a march after the Antietam battle in late October, 1862, guarding against a rebel move which never came.  There did not appear to be much there to see at this point, but it was on the C & O Canal, and it was one of the few spots where the Chasseurs had stayed which I had yet to visit.  Plus it was four and a half hours from Somerset, and about five hours from home, so a great way to break up the long drive.   After booking my stay in the cheap but clean and safe Hancock Motel, I had my trip itinerary complete.

In mid-July I was ready to roll.  I got on the road by 7 AM and, crossing the grand George Washington Bridge, was in New Jersey before 8 AM.  Crossing New Jersey and Pennsylvania was a long but happily uneventful day’s drive, and I crossed the little sliver of West Virginia and arrived in Ohio before 2:30 PM.   My check-in time wasn’t until 3:30 PM, so while I was anxious to get out of the car and do no more driving for the day, it made sense to go see the statue of George Armstrong Custer at his birthplace of New Rumley, Ohio before checking in and resting at the Lincoln Inn in Cadiz.  

I had brought my old Rand-McNally map, about which I have gotten grief from my more modern friends, but in fact it would turn out that I would lose phone service repeatedly on my trip through the rural sections of Ohio, so having the map as a backup for my GPS was a good idea.  The GPS worked here, though, and it directed me northward towards New Rumley.  When it turned me right on Country Road, I knew I was getting close.  Unpaved, but well maintained, with good weather, it did not conjure thoughts of my ill-fated drive into a flash flood north of the Rapidan River near The Wilderness.  At its end, however, the gravel road finished up a steep short hill which connected to New Rumley Road, the paved road I should have taken in the first place.  Unfortunately my front wheel drive stick shift car spun its wheels in the gravel and couldn’t move up onto the pavement on the steep hill where I had to stop at the intersection.  I did manage to calmly back it down to flatter ground, start up again, and basically drive right onto New Rumley Road blindly, without stopping.  Not to worry; it saw little traffic.  A left turn brought me to the impressive statue of Custer in the middle of the not-so-impressive hamlet of New Rumley.   The statue supposedly stands at the site of Custer’s birthplace, and knowing what I know of Custer’s ambition I could see why he had left the place.  It was a beautiful country of rolling hills, but it did not appear to be a place of much action.  I was alone.  Custer, much remembered for his last action at Little Bighorn where he was overwhelmed by his Lakota and Cheyenne opponents, actually is also remembered as an outstanding cavalry general of the Civil War.  So as I read the signage, the inscription of the statue and surveyed the landscape as well as the sculptor’s vision of Custer, I felt that it was a decent place to begin my Civil War-themed Ohio trip, especially since I was definitely ready to rest and ditch the car for awhile.  

The statue of General Geroge Armstrong Custer in New Rumley, Ohio (photo by author)

About a twenty-five minute drive, this time on paved roads the whole way, brought me to Cadiz, where I found the Lincoln Inn and saw I would have a whole floor to myself, with a king-sized bed, and adjoining living room and kitchen.  The place was very clean and was a gorgeous old brick building with floor to ceiling windows.  Though someone had needlessly added a hideous addition on the front of the house with a three car garage, fake brick exterior, and more living space, the original structure was impressive.  And for $69 a night, I could not complain given the accommodations I had.  

When I walked into town to order my Chinese food, I found a wine-tasting room in an old building with a wonderful metal ceiling which had been revealed when the new owners removed the lower false ceiling which had been installed below the original.  The wines I tasted were all flavored with sweet fruit juice.  The owners acquire the grape juice from all over to attain different flavors.  I bought a pinot noir with a hint of blackberry, as it was the driest of the ones I tasted.  The building had been a grocery before being vacant for a long time; the Ohio Valley winery owners had restored the building nicely–the revelation of the original ceiling alone is a laudable result.  And I have a soft spot for local business people trying to restore life in the small downtowns of America, which once were the center of things, but now were often marginalized by the big box stores outside town.

And China King in Cadiz, Ohio, is decent Chinese takeout:  the curry chicken dinner I had was solid, for a very reasonable price.  My dinner at my own kitchen table was fine.

Co-owner Jamie Miller at the Ohio Valley Winery tasting room, with a part of the original ceiling behind the clock (photo by author)

A short morning run revealed that eastern Ohio was much hillier than I had figured.  But I slogged through the run, along local streets, finding a small cemetery with Revolutionary War veterans on the top of a hill, and then checked out and was on my way.  Ohio flattened as I headed northwestward.  The drive northwest on Federal route 250 Uhrichsville to New Philadelphia featured a wholly unexpected and delightful development.  This area was Amish country, and I saw more Amish or Mennonite carriages out for rides, or parked in rows, along with folks on bicycles along the side of the road.  I also saw small piles of horse manure along both sides on the shoulders of the road, an indicator that the carriage traffic to which I was a witness on this Saturday morning was a common enough occurrence.   

An under-three hour drive through pretty farm country brought me to the most important part of this trip to Ohio:  the historic Greenlawn Cemetery in Tiffin, Ohio, where I knew that at least five Chasseurs were buried, the locations of which I had marked on a map made for me by a gracious and generous Theresa Sullivan, a member of the board of directors of the cemetery.  On the way I stopped at the tiny Rock Creek Cemetery south of town, finding no Chasseur graves but finding a turkey feather.  This was a  warm-up for the searches to come.

Entering the Greenlawn Cemetery represented a success in itself, as I had come a long way with no significant issues to get here.  Armed with Ms. Sullivan’s hand-made map and photos, I found the four graves she had indicated on the map,  placing the small American-made American flags at the grave sites, but I was not able to find the one she had also not found.  Often gravestones are buried or worn down to the point of being unrecognizable, so I was prepared to put a small flag down in the assumed vicinity of Private John Arnold if necessary.  The cemetery itself had been the victim of a 2017 tornado, and the signs remained of the storm, most notably some trees which had been sheared in half, and one prominent grave of a judge with a stone pillar which had been blown out of alignment.

The first grave I found might just be a memorial to Charles McAlister, on his family stone, as a September 25, 1862 letter to his parents from Lieutenant Henry Ellis, which was published in the Tiffin Weekly Tribune on October 10, 1862, reported that McAlister had last been seen on an ambulance ill with fever during the Seven Days battles, and it was feared that he was left behind during a retreat in a hospital at Savage Station, to die under the control of the rebels.  William Sneath’s grave was easy to find, as Ms. Sullivan’s photos of the area around it, along with the map she created, made looking for it and locating it relatively simple.  And William H. Kisinger’s grave was one I had looked forward to finding, as even though I did not have letters like I did from his relative Sam, I had just recently acquired his signed application to join the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, so there was that connection.  Unfortunately Private Joseph Baugher’s grave had a lot of moss growing on it, and it was worn down and thus hard to read his name, though one can discern it, as well as his unit, if one looks closely.

The memorial to Private Charles McAlister in Tiffin’s Greenlawn Cemetery (photo by author)

Private Charles Sneath was reported missing in the fighting of the first ten days of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864 (photo by author)

Sergeant William H. Kisinger served for three years, mustering out of the regiment in September, 1864 (photo by author)

Private Charles Baugher, Greenlawn Cemetery, Tiffin, Ohio (photo by author)

Ms. Sullivan and her father met me at the cemetery shortly after I arrived, and we shared stories about the place and about the research I had done on the Tiffin boys for the first book.  Ms. Sullivan had already pledged to buy two copies of No Flinching From Fire, to my appreciation, and knew I would be around during the day.    After we chatted for a while, and I signed the two books for her and her father, I told her I would go to the northern part of the cemetery, where she had indicated on the map she made for me that “In this area there are a number of C.W. graves.”  They graciously joined me in the search, and I saw several civil war graves with soldiers from Ohio regiments.  One row was distinct, and to the left of the row was a grave a bit apart.  When I checked it I was not only excited to see it was the grave of a 65th NY soldier, but that it was Private John Arnold’s grave.  Arnold had been the one of the five Chasseurs buried at Greenlawn which neither Theresa nor I could find. No longer.

Ms. Theresa Sullivan alongside the grave of Private John Arnold, 65th NY Volunteer Infantry (photo by author)

Having found each of the five Chasseurs buried at Greenlawn, it was time to head northeast of town to try to find Private Charley Crockett’s grave at the Egbert Cemetery.  Crockett’s letters at the Army Heritage Center represented my first plunge into primary research about the regiment, and thus Crockett’s grave held sentimental value to me.  And knowing that there were other 65th NY men from Tiffin who had likely come back after their enlistments were done, there may well be other graves to find.

The Sullivans gave me directions to get to the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery, also called the Egbert Cemetery.  I still had plenty of daylight left, and the more work I did today, the more options I had tomorrow to look for graves.  The cemetery was not far, and it was much smaller than Greenlawn, and thus I could wander it looking for Charley Crockett’s grave without a map.  Sure enough, within five minutes of my arrival there I had discovered the grave of Chasseur Jackson Michaels, the victim of an accident at division headquarters during the Gettysburg campaign of May 1863.

Private Jackson Michaels was killed in an accident at First Division headquarters on May 27, 1863 (photo by author)

Charley Crockett’s grave at Egberts Cemetery, Tiffin, Ohio (photo by author)

The inscription on Charley Crockett’s grave (photo by author)

I had used Private Crockett’s sometimes flirtatious letters to his friend Nellie for the other book.  On December 1, 1861, he had written to her, “Nellie your letters give your humble correspondent the greatest pleasure—they are so home-like—but never mind I’m not trying to flatter.”   Crockett was mortally wounded at The Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864.  The amputation of his leg did not save his life, and he died of his wounds after the battle.

Driving to my AirBnB stay at a small farm north of Upper Sandusky that evening, I felt a great deal of success.  In my first day at Tiffin, I had successfully found all six of the Chasseurs I had been looking for, and I had found Private Michaels’ grave as a bonus, planting flags at all seven graves.   I had already used seven of the dozen flags I had brought, and I knew that Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave awaited at Toledo’s Historic Woodlawn Cemetery.  I celebrated my day’s work with an early dinner at MST pub in Tiffin, where I enjoyed a refreshingly cold and locally brewed Tiffin ESB to go with my honey barbecue “chicken chunks,” a local Ohio thing.  White meat chicken lightly fried, with one of the twenty-something sauces the pub features, was delicious–much better, I think, than they sound.

As I neared my temporary home, I drove into a little hamlet called McCutchenville and noticed a small roadside cemetery there.  I pulled in on a whim, and low and behold, I found yet another Chasseur grave.  The name on the gravestone was hard to read, but clearly it said Co. F, 65th NY on it.  A text message to my daughter Rachel, who studied the regimental roster and the photo I sent her, and we had identified the soldier as Washington McDurborow, a Tiffinite who had transferred on September 1, 1864 to Company F from Company K after serving in the former from March 1862.  Sept. 1, 1864, is when the 67th NY merged into the 65th NY, and thus some shifting of soldiers of the 65th who still served likely occurred.  I had found my eighth Chasseur grave of the day, on a whim of pulling over to check out this little McCutchenville Cemetery.   I was very happy with my day’s luck.

Private Washington McDurborow, 65th NY (photo by author)

I still had another day’s stay in the Tiffin area before heading to meet my college roommate for a stay at a tiny house on Lake Erie in Toledo, and a visit to the Woodlawn Cemetery there to find Captain Sam Kisinger.  Ms. Sullivan had said that Saint Joseph’s Catholic cemetery had some civil war era graves, and that it was much smaller than Greenlawn so should be reasonable to search through.  After that, I knew I could go back to Greenlawn in case there were any Chasseur graves we had missed.  Also, I planned on visiting Clyde’s McPherson Cemetery to visit the grave of General James McPherson, killed at the Battle of Atalanta and the highest ranking Union officer killed in the war.  I had been to the site of his Atlanta death on a graduate class bus tour back in 2000, and I knew McPherson was widely respected as a general and beloved by both Grant and Sherman, so I felt it was worth a trip there, about 25 minutes north of Tiffin.  With the successes of the first day, I could add Clyde to my second day’s plans, rather than stop there on the way to Toledo as I had originally envisioned.   Though I certainly didn’t hope to find another eight graves, I knew there were a good number of Tiffin Chasseurs who likely came back home and lived and died there after the war, so there was still a chance to find some more members of the regiment before I headed up to Toledo.

I started the day at Saint Joseph’s, a nice, medium-sized cemetery with a decent number of Civil War-era graves.  All had been in Ohio regiments, however, and after an hour or so of walking through the older parts of the cemetery, I knew I was done with it.  I drove back to Greenlawn, checking out some parts I had not seen the day before with the Sullivans, but in the end I found no more Chasseurs buried there.  With plenty of afternoon left, I decided to head northeast to Clyde, to see James McPherson’s grave site.

The very impressive grave of General James Birdseye McPherson in Clyde, Ohio (photo by author)

The drive up to Clyde through farm country was uneventful, and my trusty GPS got me where I needed to go.  On a hill in the McPherson cemetery, the general’s grave was hard to miss.  I devoted one of my little flags to honoring him before I took a picture, knowing how he had been esteemed by his men and his fellow officers. General Grant and Sherman both thought he would be the overall commander of the United States army before his career was done, had he lived.

Noting at least a few civil war era graves nearby the general, I poked around for a few minutes just in case.  And, lo and behold, a Chasseur grave!  Veteran Private Henry Rinehart had been mortally wounded in the charge which the 65th New York had been a part of known as Upton’s assault at the Battle of Spotsylvania.  I was glad I had come to Clyde to see McPherson!  Another Chasseur was visited and honored with a flag.  

Private Henry Rinehart’s grave, McPherson Cemetery, Clyde, Ohio (photo by author)

Circling back to the area not too far from McPherson’s own grave, there lay Francis Metcalf.  His name was familiar, and indeed on his stone there was the 65th New York reference.  Frank Metcalf’s to the Fremont Journal were a good source for the Chasseurs’ first days in Washington D.C., and he described the details of life in camp including building crude shelters which had to be moved repeatedly, serving as pickets on the Union line in northern Virginia, the first encounter with the enemy at Lewinsville, and even witnessing Professor Albert Lowe’s reconnaissance balloon in use near camp.  It is hard to describe the connection a historian of the regiment feels when reading multiple letters from a soldier to try and craft the story of their experience.  One does feel attached to these correspondents, and as much of a thrill it is to find a stone with a reference to the 65th New York oniot, finding a familiar name like Frank Metcalf’s is particularly special.  Those letters were penned by a real person, and he had ended up here, buried in Clyde, Ohio, not far from the towering grave of General McPherson.

Frank Metchalf’s grave, in the foreground with the small flag, near his family’s stone (photo by author)

The trip to Clyde had proved productive beyond my hopes.  Though walking the grounds of Saint Joseph’s cemetery and re-visiting Greenlawn cemetery had yielded no new finds, I was so glad that in planning the trip I decided late in the game to include a stop in Clyde to see McPherson’s grave, as I would have missed the graves of Privates Rinehart and Metcalf.  I had now found ten Chasseur graves, and, with General McPherson included in my ritual,  was down to my last flag of the dozen I had brought for Chasseur graves.  And I knew Captain Sam Kisinger in Toledo, a key source for No Flinching From Fire, was yet to be visited tomorrow.

I headed back to Tiffin, with plans to try their highly rated pizza at Reino’s restaurant.  As I returned to the now-familiar route 101 heading southwest, I spied a little cemetery on the side of the road called the Lowell School cemetery.  Having had success in McCutchenville, I figured I would pull over for a look around.  By now I was familiar with the fact that Tiffin’s veteran’s graves were almost always decorated with a flag–the local Ohians clearly do an admirable job of honoring their veterans.  However, in this case I was sloppy.  A cursory search of the few graves with flags found no Chasseurs.  It had been a long hot afternoon of driving and searching.  What I did not know is that Colonel Leroy Crockett, a relative of Charley’s whose letter on the skirmish at Lewinsville was one of the first Chasseur letters I found and then used in the book, was buried there.  His GAR flag stand had been damaged, and hence no flag had been placed near his grave.  When I found the site of his grave on Findagrave.com after my return home, I was bitterly disappointed in myself for my sloppy work.  However, happily, Theresa Sullivan was more than willing to visit the cemetery and find Crockett’s grave (she is the one who found the damaged GAR flagholder), and she sent me a great picture.  So I did visit this small cemetery, but I cannot claim to have actually found Crockett’s grave myself.  It is always good to have kind people like Theresa who are willing to help, and who share my opinion that the process of honoring these civil war veterans is a worthy one.

Colonel LeRoy Crockett, who had been 1st Lieutenant in Company K of the 65th NY Volunteers before becoming Colonel of the 72nd Ohio (photo by Theresa Sullivan)

Reino’s pizza was deep dish style, not my favored New York thin crust pizza, but it was not bad.  I brought two extra slices home for my AirBnB host in Upper Sandusky, and took a walk outside that night to admire the incredible night sky over the farm fields.  With much less ambient light than I live with in the suburbs of New York City, the number of stars to admire overhead was worth the short walk.  A run the next morning between the soybean and cotton fields on the quiet back county road was lovely and mercifully flat, and started my day off right before I drove to Toledo to meet my college roommate Paul.  

We had rented an AirBnB tiny house in the north part of Toledo called Point Place, right on Lake Erie, with a firepit.  The plan was to order Hungarian hotdogs to take out from Tony Packo’s famous Toledo restaurant and meet for lunch, then visit Captain Sam Kisinger’s grave in the historic Woodlawn cemetery there.  Then, back to Tony Packo’s to take out their signature chicken paprikash for dinner at the tiny house and a fire by the lake.

Paul picked up the hot dogs, which Maxwell Klinger references multiple times on M*A*S*H*, and they were indeed delicious.  They were a sort of cross between a hog dog and a kielbasa, with a flavorful chili sauce and onions.  We met at Toledo’s Wildwood Park, west of downtown, and ate outside in this huge park which is a mecca for runners and cyclists, with many paths through the wooded park.  Then it was due east to Woodlawn Cemetery, a beautifully planted cemetery in the 19th century rural cemetery movement tradition.  I had been sent a map of Section 41 of the cemetery, with Sam Kisinger’s grave location, so we parked and walked over the lake into the heart of the cemetery.  I found Kisinger’s marker quickly, and I placed the last of my dozen small American flags there and we took some pictures.  “All I can say is that we have done very hard fighting,” Kisinger wrote home on June 4, 1864.  His many letters home and to the Tiffin Weekly Tribune were one of the best sources I had for No Flinching From Fire, so of course honoring his gravesite was extra special for me.

 After, we looked over the G.A. R. graves nearby, but found no Chasseurs.  Paul and I then walked around the cemetery, admiring the architecture of some of the more prominent graves, and the old trees growing there.

Captain Sam Kisinger, 65th NY Volunteers (photo by author)

Paul and I then picked up our takeout dinner, chicken paprikash, again from Tony Packo’s.  The chicken was tender and the sauce and dumplings were fine, though I preferred the Hungarian hot dog.  Paul and I spent the night in our tiny house on Lake Erie, setting up our chairs next to the firepit on the lake.  Though the biting flies around my ankles left their marks, the bald eagle that flew in front of us along shore back and forth was a treat, and being on the lake catching up about our college days was enjoyable.

The next morning, before I headed off to Fremont, 45 minutes away,  for a scheduled tour of President Rutherford B. Hayes’ house and then a three and a half hour drive to Somerset, Ohio, where I would spend my last night in the state, I took a walk north from our tiny house, through the gritty neighborhood of working class homes and marinas.  At the turnaround point I reached my goal:  the Michigan border.  I crossed the state line into Michigan, then retraced my steps home for a goodbye to Paul, a quick shower, and a return to the road.

The marker denoting the border between Ohio and Michigan in northern Toledo (photo by author)

The drive to Fremont was unremarkable and smooth.  I was looking forward to the tour of the Rutherford B. Hayes house.  Though an unremarkable President elected after a contentious and controversial 1876 election, Hayes had also been a very solid civil war general who had served in some of the same places as the Chasseurs.  Hence, visiting his house not only added to my “collection” of President’s houses visited, but it fit in with the Civil War theme of the trip, if indirectly.

With my tour not scheduled until 1 PM, and my arrival at the Spiegel Grove grounds before noon, I had time to peruse the museum there, where people were wearing masks and staying distanced, and where the number of visitors was small enough for me to feel very safe.  The museum had some excellent artifacts not only of the Hayes’ life at the White House but also of their son General Webb Hayes’ military career in the Spanish-American War, and in the Philippines and China.  I also purchased a postcard for my classroom, to hang on the wall alongside the other Presidential house photos and postcards I have up on display there.

Finally it was 1 PM, and the couple on the tour with me and I were greeted on the porch of Hayes’ beautiful house for the tour.  It was well-led by the docent, who was knowledgeable and friendly.  And in talking about my trip, the couple I was touring with revealed that their own daughter was an active Findagrave member.  They even expressed interest in my own trip, and in the 65th NY story, and bought a signed copy of my book; I have learned to travel with a box of books in my car trunk.  The house itself had been gifted to Hayes by his rich uncle, and Hayes and added on it to it multiple times, to make the huge but nice house it had become.  My favorite room was the library; I wish I had one like it at home.  A visit to Hayes’ grave seemed appropriate given this trip’s theme, and after that I was back on the road for the last part of the trip.

Spiegel Grove, the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes (photo by author)

The library at Spiegel Grove (photo by author)

The drive to Somerset was the beginning of the road home.  However, I had chosen Somerset as my last stop in southeastern Ohio as it had its own Civil War connection.  Notably, it was where General Philip Sheridan had lived, and where the 1859 home he had helped build for his parents still stood.  Finding the nicest of my AirBnB stays of the week here, in a lovely nineteenth century brick home just up the block from the main square of the town, and from Sheridan’s house as well, Somerset turned out to be a great last taste of Ohio.  My host Catherine not only made me a great breakfast of french toast casserole and bacon, my best breakfast of the trip, but our conversation about the state of politics in Ohio and in America in general was interesting and provocative.  She gave me a view of the racism and provincialism which remained a factor in Somerset life, all the while giving me faith in people everywhere through her own progressivism, insight,  and thoughtfulness.  And she directed me to the best place to run in Somerset, a soft gravel path around the town park, which offered nice views of the countryside as well as a chance to stay away from the surprisingly busy traffic which converged on the town square.

The statue of General Philip Sheridan in Somerset’s center (photo by author)

Phil Sheridan’s house (photo by author)

My last day of the trip started with a four and a half hour drive to Hancock, Maryland, where I had discovered in a letter from a soldier correspondent that the 65th NY had been sent in late October 1862 on a march to thwart a rebel offensive that never came.  The Chasseurs, after a difficult march through mountainous country, briefly guarded the town, then marched back to Williamsport.  It was not much in terms of the overall history of the regiment, but it was a place I had never visited, it was on the famous C & O canal, and it would break up my trip home nicely.  The Hancock Motel, where I stayed, was simple and cheap, but clean and safe.  And the town of Hancock was small but historic.

Crossing the Ohio River into the sliver of West Virginia which precedes Pennsylvania when one drives east  out of Ohio, I drove slowly through Wheeling, whose road construction, traffic, and tunnel made the drive a bit harrowing.  Exiting Interstate 70 at Washington, Pennsylvania, and then taking  the old National Road, current Federal Route 40, would be even more so.  Washington, Pennsylvania is a significant town which I had never visited, or even known about.  It is hilly with a lot of traffic lights–not so fun in traffic when driving a stick shift, as I was.  

The National Road is no joke, and driving up and down the hills on the curvy path was a reminder of the major significance of this road when it was built in the early 1800s.  Crossing the Appalachian Mountains was one of the biggest challenges to American development at the time, But driving along the old National Road, even with the improvements which were made to it in the building of Federal Highway 40 in the 1920s and 1930s, is still an impressive undertaking.  Curves and hills abound heading east even before Uniontown and the beginning of the most significant mountain ridges to cross.  A tollhouse or two is still visible along the road.  Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison, pushed for the development of this road, continuing the route that General Braddock built and took during the French and Indian War leading to his ambushing by French and Indian soldiers and his death.  The overlook on the road at the summit of Chestnut Ridge offers a fine prospect and a sense of the challenge of crossing the Appalachians, and, according to the register at the nearby Summit Inn Resort, which dates to the 1930s, it has been visited by Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Henry Ford, among others.

Though it was nearing the end of a long trip, and frankly I was anxious to get over the mountains, into Maryland, and to Hancock and my last night of the trip, the signs for Fort Necessity National Battlefield drew me in, and I did make a quick stop to see the site.  I reference this ill-fated battle of the French & Indian War as an example of a big mistake made by George Washington early in his career, in an attempt to bring some reality to the portrayal of our national heroes.  Seeing the reconstructed fort (the French burned the original after taking it) where Washington lost about thirty percent of his men in casualties, with the woods’ edge only sixty yards from the fort and offering great cover for the French and their native allies to fire on Washington’s men, it was clear to even an ill-trained eye that its positioning was a big mistake.  Having read and talked about the palace for years, it was fun to briefly walk the museum about it, take the short trail to see it, and to snap a quick picture.  Then, back on the road over the mountains.

The view from the Overlook at the Summit of Chestnut Ridge on the Old National Road (photo by Joel Brewton, Herald-Standard)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (photo by author)

Route 40 continued to be hilly right into Maryland, where I confess I was relieved to see it intersect with Interstate 68, where the driving would be easier.  It was still about an hour to the Hancock Motel, but it would be smooth sailing from here.  

The motel was a sort of throwback to the 1960s, family-owned, simple but clean, and within walking distance to the center of Hancock.   It was inhabited mostly by a few cyclists who rode the nearby bike path along the canal which had been a former railroad.  Quiet, if snug and unfancy, the place was affordable and met my purpose of breaking up my trip home perfectly.  The barbecue pulled pork sandwich I got from a quirky place on Main Street called Buddylou’s Eats, Drinks, and Antiques, to eat in my room to be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, came with homemade macaroni and cheese and baked beans, and it was excellent.  And though the mattress on the bed was a bit soft, for the bargain price I was very pleased with finding this nice old place to stay.

Though the village itself  is small,  Hancock’s main street made up a part of the old National Road and hence was the likely route into the town of the men of the 65th New York in 1862.  Between the National Road and the C & O canal, it would be possible for me to have a strong sense of retracing the steps of the Chasseurs, including those of my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll.  Carroll would go on to become a 2nd Lieutenant, and the challenging and pointless march to Hancock in October 1862 was one of many formative experiences for him.

In late October 1862, Newton’s division of the 6th Corps, including the Chasseurs, left their camp on a march to the northwest.  According to a letter home from Tiffin, Ohio  Private Lafayette Burns, “After two days of hard marching through a rough and mountainous district,” the regiment arrived in Hancock, following reports of an enemy force there threatening a second invasion of Maryland.  “On arriving however, we found everything quiet, and no signs of any force of the enemy in that quarter… The Chasseurs  were detailed to act as provost guard for the town…But our duties in this capacity were of but short duration, we were just getting ourselves into comfortable quarters when we again received marching orders, and were soon once more on the road, and moving off down the river in the direction of Williamsport again.”   This seemingly pointless march was why I found myself in Hancock for the night; that and it was a good half-way point for the drive home from Ohio.

Before leaving Hancock, however, I figured a morning walk along the C & O canal was in orderThe Cumberland & Ohio Canal, begun in 1828 and completed in 1850,  was another way to meet that challenge of crossing the Appalachians.  By the time of the completion of the last section to Cumberland, Maryland, railroads were already overtaking the canal’s technology and efficiency.   But the canal, with its 74 locks and eleven aqueducts, was an impressive feat, and walking along the towpath today in Hancock, looking at the ruins of one of those aqueducts, over Tonoloway Creek, one can still see the impressive feat that was the C & O canal.

The Western Maryland rail trail, with a trailhead at its middle point in Hancock, is a popular 22 mile paved bike trail which clearly is bringing business into Hancock, judging by the cyclists staying at my hotel, parking in the lot at the trailhead in Hancock, and the folks eating at the place I got my takeout barbecue sandwich.  But I crossed the canal on a bridge to the towpath, between the canal and the Potomac River.  I knew the towpath well, at least the section which passed through Bethesda, Maryland, as I coached the Landon School cross country team in the mid-1990s, and we used the towpath for training quite a bit.  Here in Hancock, though, the towpath was very quiet compared to the rail trail.  Not so heavily used, I passed only one runner as I walked alone along the path to the east and back.  A little over a mile in I reached the Tonoloway aqueduct, thought about this engineering challenge, and took a picture.  I had told myself upon seeing a mile marker shortly into the walk that I would go to the next one and turn around, knowing I had a five hour drive home.  But seeing the signage near the aqueduct just beyond the next mile marker, I crossed the wooden bridge over the aqueduct and admired it.  Turning around, I headed back.

The remains of the Tonoloway Creek aqueduct of the C & O canal, in Hancock, Maryland (photo by author)

The drive home to New York featured the classic traffic delays on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Cross Bronx Expressway; nothing worth reporting here.  It was a long haul to Ohio and back, but I had found a lot to be excited about, in particular connecting to the men of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry.  And I had met some nice folks along the way who shared my interest in and passion for history.  The trip was a little crazy, and I knew I now faced a fourteen day quarantine back in New York before I could fully emerge from the experience, but it did give me time to write about it.

An epic 4 day drive with my daughter Rachel around NY State, decorating 65th NY grave sites with American flags

My daughter Rachel and I embarked last Memorial Day weekend on a 3 day upstate tour in search of 8 graves of members of the 65th NY Volunteers, who we were honoring with flags this Memorial Day weekend. On the way home we also visited the grave site of the 121st NY commander, who briefly served as the 65th NY’s brigade commander during the tumult of the Battle of Cedar Creek, on Oct. 19, 1864.

The trip started with a picnic lunch at Binghamton University, so Rachel could hang out where she is going to school next year. My nephew had clued us in on a sandwich shop in downtown Binghamton, Alexander’s Cafe, which serves wonderful paninis. They lived up to the hype. After filling up on a delicious chicken panini with spinach and feta cheese, washed down with a chocolate milkshake, we hit the road towards our first two grave sites, in the Bath National Cemetery.

2 members of the 65th NY Volunteers were buried at the Bath National Cemetery after their time living at the Soldiers’ Home located there. Privates Erastus Owen and Theron Lapham’s graves were easily found at the beautifully located cemetery, with its clearly ordered rows of graves. Private Owen mustered in at Auburn, NY as a 25 year old in March 1865, near war’s end. Private Lapham, on the other hand, enlisted at Yonkers, NY in July 1861, re-enlisted as a veteran, and served with the regiment all the way to the end of the war. Possessing the known sites of the graves before we went in, using information gathered by researchers at the NY State Military History museum, and knowing the cemetery layout from study beforehand made quick work of finding the two graves. We took some pictures of the graves, along with the impressive 1893 obelisk erected to honor the Civil War veterans buried there, and then we were on to Arkport.

It took a bit longer to find Private Charles Bartlett’s grave, as we had no location other then the cemetery itself. Rachel and I have gotten skilled from experience at figuring out which part of a cemetery is most likely to find the graves of Civil War veterans, but Bartlett’s grave eluded us despite the relatively small size of the Heritage Hill cemetery in Arkport, outside of Hornell. In time, though, I stumbled upon Bartlett’s uniquely lettered grave stone, and its reference to his service with the 65th NY Volunteers. Private Bartlett transferred into the 65th when the 67th NY merged into the regiment on Sept. 1, 1864. He would thus shortly see battle in the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan, at 3rd Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek.

As we were traveling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rachel and I knew that we needed to stay socially distanced. Visiting rural cemeteries of course helped make that possible. We stayed at AirBnB sites where we knew we would have our own space without other guests nearby. In Hornell, it was a small house which backed up on a lovely woods, with large picture windows revealing the lush nature, and birds twittering away all around us. The family which owned the house did some farming and maple sugaring, and we bought a quart of maple syrup. The owner also generously gifted us with a bag of organically grown shitake mushrooms. I brought them home and sauteed them with garlic and olive oil, like my father used to do when I was a kid.

The next day we drove to Cattaraugus, in the western part of New York’s Southern Tier area. Route 86 goes through some beautiful countryside there, and we were thrilled to see two bald eagles in a tree adjoining the highway. Some country roads north and west of the Seneca reservation at Salamanca brought us to the Liberty Park cemetery in Cattaraugus. This pretty little cemetery featured more nature spotting for us, with a deer in the woods just beyond the cemetery’s edge, and a bluebird flying onto a large grave stone right near us. Rachel had never seen this state bird of New York, and we were each excited to spot it. Shortly after, we found Private Albert Sherman’s grave, and decorated it with our little flag, adding it to the flag already placed there for the holiday. Sherman enlisted at Hornellsville, near where we stayed the previous night, in Oct. 1864 and was wounded at the Petersburg breakthrough on April 2, 1865.

We were happy to be four out of four so far in terms of our grave searches, and seeing that East Aurora was close to our path to the next two graves in Avon, New York, we decided we would stop there for lunch and a quick visit to President Millard Fillmore’s home. I like to collect Presidents’ houses, and it was not that far out of our way, so even considering Fillmore’s relative insignificance, it was worth a stop. And the pulled pork tacos with mango slaw dressing which we got from Mikey Dee’s cafe were excellent.

Then to Avon Cemetery and St. Agnes Cemetery in Avon, NY, for our last two graves of the day. Driving along scenic old Federal Highway 20A, and on country roads to Avon, we admired New York state’s rural beauty. At the Avon Rural Cemetery Rachel spotted Surgeon John W. Gray’s grave early on, which was a godsend as we lacked a grave location and it was a bigger cemetery than I had figured. Having a photo of the grave from Findagrave.com was a big help. Gray was appointed to the regiment in Dec. 1864 after serving as an assistant surgeon in another regiment. We took more photos, and planted our flag, then it was on to the other side of town and St. Agnes Cemetery. A photo from Findagrave.com helped again, and we found Private Thomas Kelly’s grave quickly. Kelly joined the regiment in Auburn, NY on March 31, 1865, only days before the April 2, 1865 Breakthrough attack at Petersburg, and Lee’s subsequent surrender to Grant on April 9, 1865.

It was a relatively short drive on small rural roads to our AirBnB stay on the first floor of a lovely circa 1860 farmhouse in Mendon, New York. We liked the chickens and the two goats, and I even took a walk among the graves in the old graveyard across the street, as if I had not been in cemeteries enough for the past two days.

Day three of our trip was harder. Partly, the reality was setting in that we had spent a ton of time driving, and even as beautiful as upstate New York is in late May, I think we were both wearing down a bit. Having found all six of the graves we were looking for in the first two days, perhaps we were due for a challenge. I had purposely planned the trip with a shorter drive for this third day, anticipating just such fatigue. We had only two more graves to find, and we had no picture of either. Private John Bain’s grave, in the Fairville rural cemetery north of Newark, New York, was only about forty-five minutes away from where we stayed in Mendon. We saw a turtle crossing the road on the way there, and upon arrival at the cemetery we divided up and started scanning the graves, focusing on the older section of the cemetery where the grave was most likely to be located. Bluebirds flew among the graves. After a while, however, it became clear that there were many unmarked graves, or graves laid flat in the ground which the grass had grown almost completely over. In short, we never found Bain’s grave site, but we did leave a flag at another civil war veteran’s grave, likely close to the site of Bain’s own grave.

We were now not that far from Lake Ontario, which Rachel had never seen and I was not sure of ever having seen. So, as the road to our next grave took us nearby, we decided to lunch in Oswego, New York, the scene of a key battle of the French and Indian War, and view the lake. The drive took us past countless apple orchards with the white flowers in full bloom. Upon arrival in Oswego, we found a nice spot with some historical signs overlooking the lake, and we picnicked on local submarine sandwiches near the mouth of the Oswego River.

Our last grave was located in Adams Center, northeast of Fairville, and east of Lake Ontario. Unfortunately the information I had was vague enough that we searched fruitlessly in the wrong cemetery in Adams, New York even though we had the grave site information. Rachel figured out before me that we must have been at the wrong place, and luckily it was a short seven minute drive to the correct cemetery. Rachel, skillful grave searcher that she is, found the exact site of the grave according to the New York Military History museum information we had. But another larger grave was clearly not William H. Corey. However, a nearby small pair of worn grave stones was in the right place. No writing was legible on the stones, which was disheartening given our earlier struggles to find John Bain, but we planted a flag there and hoped that we had the right place. A relatively short drive to a lodge near the Salmon River reservoir outside Redfield was our place to stay for the third night. The night sky there was amazing given the lack of ambient light in this part of New York state. And I saw many goldfinches flying about as I sat outside the room the next morning as Rachel slept, and I heard the distinctive call of a loon as well.

The probable grave stone of Private William H. Corey. Corey transferred into the regiment on September 1, 1864, when the 67th NY merged into the 65th NY

It would be a long drive home to Mamaroneck, where I live, from Redfield. But knowing that the grave of Colonel Egbert Olcott was on the way home, if off the New York State Thruway for a while, made me ask Rachel if she was willing to make one more stop before ending this crazy trip. She was up for it. I love my girl. Olcott was actually the commander of the 121st New York Volunteers, which was brigaded with the Chasseurs (as the 65th NY soldiers called themselves, as members of the First United States Chasseurs) in late 1864, but he had stepped up to command the brigade when General Joseph Hamblin, the regular brigade commander who had moved up to that post from command of the Chasseurs, was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek. With ninety Chasseurs killed, wounded, or captured at Cedar Creek, including their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higgenbotham killed, and my great-great grandfather 1st Sergeant Timothy Carroll wounded, it was a day fraught with havoc and death, and honoring Colonel Olcott on Memorial Day itself seemed appropriate even given how ready we both were to be back home. And the fact that I had a photo of his grave in the Cherry Valley Cemetery meant that we could, I hoped, avoid the frustrations of the previous day’s cemetery searches and end this trip on a high note. Sure enough, we found Olcott’s grave within five minutes of arrival in the lovely Cherry Valley Cemetery, whose local citizens had decorated veterans’ graves carefully with flags. Rachel and I closed out our trip with a few more pictures, and the knowledge that we had honored at least seven veterans associated with the Chasseurs with flags at their grave sites, and we hoped eight. And we had honored Private John Bain’s resting place in Fairville as well, after much searching, even if less exactly as the others.

It took 4 days of driving, with 3 nights spent at beautiful places scattered all across New York state. We had honored the Chasseurs over this Memorial Day weekend, and had paid our respects to the already so-honored Colonel Egbert Olcott. We drove over 950 miles. Rachel and I both wanted a road trip to break up the monotony of the COVID-19 quarantine, and we got one. And we stayed safe as well. We saw Lake Ontario from Oswego, and President Fillmore’s house, and so much of New York State that there was not much left in the state unseen to us. It had been an epic trip, one I hoped Rachel would never forget.

Going to Andersonville

Andersonville on August 17, 1864 (Library of Congress)

A trip to the site of the Andersonville prison camp, along with the sites of other, lesser known camps at Millen, Georgia and Florence, South Carolina, is a unique civil war trip for me for a number of reasons.  Firstly, a drive from my home in  Westchester county of New York state to Southwestern Georgia is a very long haul.  Secondly, though I have walked literally dozens of Civil War battlefields, seeking to make meaning of the places and what happened there, a visit to Andersonville is to a place whose events were harrowing in distinctive ways.

I had in fact visited the site of a Civil War prison in the past, but in a very different light.  Johnson’s Island, Ohio, near Sandusky, was the site of a prison for Confederate officers.  I visited many years ago, before I started writing about the Chasseurs but after my desire to visit spots associated with the regiment had developed.  After a brief summer stint taking a class at the Ashbrook Institute in Ashland, I swung northwest to Johnson’s Island in order to visit the place where the 65th New York Volunteers, along with the rest of General Henry D. Terry’s 6th Corps division, served as prison guards in the winter and early spring of 1864.  The prison was long gone, but a small cemetery with the graves of Confederate officers who had died while in captivity at the prison was a testament to the prison’s onetime existence.  I had since read a few books and articles on Johnson’s Island, and I had written a chapter in No Flinching From Fire on the Chasseurs’ time there.  

The Confederate Cemetery at Johnson’s Island, Ohio (Library of Congress)

But despite the poignance of the small cemetery with two hundred sixty-seven Confederate graves, visiting the infamous site of the worst of all Civil War prisons, where over 13,000 graves of Union dead are a record of the horrors there, was different.  A dozen identified Chasseurs lay among the dead at Andersonville, with perhaps more lying unidentified, and likely more among the three thousand unidentified dead at Florence National Cemetery.  In reading several memoirs and accounts of life at Andersonville, Camp Lawton (in Millen, Georgia), and Florence prison camps, the slow death there due to dysentery, scurvy, or diarrhea was incredibly grim and moving.  Knowing how deep the suffering at these places was, and how uniquely horrifying they were, made a trip there take on added meaning for me.

As an American history teacher for thirty-one years, I have a tendency when I travel to visit Presidents’ houses; I have built up a “collection” of them over the years.  In fact, in the two times I studied in Ashland, Ohio, I managed to get to see Warren G. Harding’s house as well as James Garfield’s.  So, knowing I could stop by and see Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Warm Springs, Georgia retreat on the way to Andersoville, the long drive became more appealing.  There was also the chance to retrace the April 1865 march which the Chasseurs had to make to Danville, Virginia after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.    Danville was a great halfway point, and a lovely room in an old home there was available on AirBnB.  And they had a low A-level minor league baseball team, the Danville Braves.  Federal route 360 largely paralleled the old railroad which the Chasseurs had marched along as they moved to Danville, and on which the end of war “Danville Train” carrying the Confederate government as it retreated from Richmond had traveled.  

I reached Danville after the drive from Burkeville through tobacco fields was complete, and the room in the house I stayed at was lovely.  I even got a foul ball at the Danville Braves game.  The eight and a half hour drive was long, but at least tomorrow’s drive to Americus, Georgia was likely to be an hour shorter if all went well.  And I could visit Warm Springs and add a Presidential house to the collection.  And the relatively obscure march of the 6th Corps to Danville after Lee’s surrender was something I had now retraced, at least in a general way.

The car traffic getting around Atlanta was more than I had anticipated, however, and as I sat in bumper to bumper traffic it became clear that making it to Warm Springs in time before they closed was going to be tricky, and the extra time for my excursion there might not be worth it.  So, I gave up that part of my itinerary, and headed straight for Americus, near Andersonville, when I finally broke free of the Atlanta-area traffic jams.   The Windsor Hotel, in the middle of Americus, an old 19th century inn, was my destination, and I was looking forward to getting off the road after so much driving.  Sure enough, though the smell of farm fields was palpable even in the center of town, the grandeur of the old hotel was apparent upon arrival in the lobby.  Though the room was a bit musty, the restored hotel was beautiful, and the cold Sweetwater 420 pale ale, locally brewed in Georgia and served in the lounge of the hotel, was refreshing and delicious.

The Lobby of the Windsor Hotel, Americus, Georgia (photo by author)

The next day I drove the short twelve miles northwest to Andersonville National Historic Site, through cotton fields and some peanut farms.  Knowing that my book chapter on Andersonville was the last planned for No Flinching From Fire had me excited.  But visiting the site of all the horrors I had been reading about in primary accounts over the preceding months was also exciting.  Pulling into the site and touring the museum there on POWs in American history was interesting.  But it was the prison site itself, along with the huge cemetery with its thousands of graves and beautiful monuments built by the states for their dead, which was what I truly needed to see.

Andersonville (photo by author)

The large grassy hillsides sloping down to the Prison branch of Sweetwater Creek, the misnamed stream which served as both drinking water supply and sewer for the prison camp, was empty and peaceful now.  I had it practically to myself as I parked my car and got out to walk the grounds.  Thinking about the famous photographs which showed the overcrowded prison in August 1864, and walking in the heat of July 2017, it was not so hard to evoke the horrors which the men experienced here.  For one thing, the stockade is marked by white posts around the perimeter, with one of the gates and one corner of the stockade reconstructed.  Also, the “deadline” is marked by the same type of posts, so one can get a picture of the confines of the prison, as well as a reminder of the deadliness of life there.  I walked along between the deadline and the stockade line, able to do in 2017 what no Union soldier in 1864 would dare to try unless contemplating suicide.  Any soldier venturing across the line was liable to be shot by the guards overlooking the stockade.  A number of states have built monuments to their soldiers here by the prison site; others have built monuments within the national cemetery just down the road. One particular monument near the stockade worthy of note was the monument to Clara Barton, who along with the prisoner Dorance Atwater, who kept a list of prisoners who died while he was working in the hospital as a prisoner, managed to preserve the record of who had died at Andersonville, so that the vast majority of the thirteen thousand dead buried at the Andersonville National Cemetery have stones denoting their grave sites.  This epic job of preserving the record of who died there and where they rest is not only of great interest to researchers like me, but it also provides a fitting memorial to each individual victim of this horrid place.  Barton’s monument is certainly well deserved.

The deadline on the left, the stockade line on the right, with the Michigan memorial in the background (photo by author)

The Clara Barton Monument (photo by author)

Reconstructed North Gate, Andersonville (photo by author)

Andersonville (photo by author)

I  drove around the prison grounds on the road with circles the stockade site, getting out in spots to walk around and read the signage, visiting the lovely structure built over “Providence Spring,” a source of fresh clean water which emerged during a violent thunderstorm on August 16, 1864 near the stockade. It was a tremendous relief and godsend to the men. Then it was time to do the next thing I had planned.  Down the road a half mile or so from the prison site itself, 13,000 men lay buried, victims of the conditions there.  Twelve of them were members of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry, and I had come to visit them and reflect on their suffering, as well as to take photographs of the graves themselves for my first book.  The last chapter of No Flinching from Fire is an appraisal of the experience of the Union prisoners at Andersonville and Millen, Georgia, and at Florence, South Carolina.  I took the pictures of the men’s graves, hoping to bring some humanity to those dozen men among the 13,000 graves.  I also noted and photographed the lovely New York memorial within the cemetery.  It is a wonderful and well executed tribute to New York’s victims of the horrible prison at Andersonville, Georgia.

Andersonville National Cemetery (photo by author)

New York Monument, Andersonville National Cemetery (photo by author)

One can have an interesting debate, as I generally do in the class on the Civil War which I teach, on whether the Confederates can be blamed for the poor conditions, inadequate diet and water supply, and lack of shelter for the Union prisoners of war at Andersonville, given their own lack of the basics by 1864 as they strained to sustain a war effort against a more industrialized and much better organized foe.  The suspension of the Dix-Hill cartel for exchanging prisoners between the two sides, a suspension which doomed Union prisoners to stay at Andersonville and other rebel prisons, and which hurt the Confederate war effort more than the Union side as Union soldiers could be replaced much more readily than Confederate, is often pointed to as a cynical Union effort, led by General Grant and President Lincoln, to allow its own men to die in rebel prison camps so that the Confederates could not get their own prisoners back.  But it is crucial to remember that the Dix-Hill cartel was suspended only after the Confederates refused to treat African American Union soldiers as prisoners of war.  Treated as captured slaves to be forced back into slavery, rather than the fighting men that they were, these men deserved to be treated as any other Union soldier did, and for this reason Grant, with Lincoln’s approval, suspended prisoner exchange.  The graves at Andersonville National Cemetery, alsong with thousands of others at places like Florence National Cemetery, are a testament to the human cost of this policy.  The Union men who died in prison camps, among them at least a dozen Chasseurs, were ultimately victims of the white supremacy, racism, and inhumanity of Southern policy, more than of cynical Union war calculations.

Jimmy Carter Childhood Home, Plains, Georgia (photo by author)

I did take a swing over to Plains, to add to my collection of Presidential homes, since it was only fifteen minutes from Americus.  The center of town is a sort of throwback to simpler times, and I bought a few political campaign buttons in the general store there, which has an impressive collection of such political relics.  I also spied Jimmy Carter’s former peanut processing plant, which he sold before becoming President in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest.  In these days of the corrupt Trump administration, Carter’s actions seem particularly quaint.  His boyhood home was similarly simple and void of any ostentation whatsoever.  The farm around the house, still working on a small scale, featured chickens and rows of pecan trees planted by the President’s father.

After two days lingering at Andersonville, and staying in the lovely old Windsor Hotel in Americus, it was time for me to move on to the lesser known site of Camp Lawton, where many Union prisoners were held for several weeks, before the advance of General Sherman’s army made it untenable and forced Confederates to transport the Union prisoners there to prisons at  Charleston and Florence in South Carolina.  A little over three hours from Americus, and just north of Millen itself, Magnolia Springs State Park contains the site of Camp Lawton, where in early September 1864, the healthiest of the prisoners from Andersonville were moved in an effort to put some distance between the thousands of prisoners held there and Sherman’s army.

Though Camp Lawton only briefly served as a prison camp, and Sherman’s men burned it to the ground upon arriving there too late to rescue the Union prisoners held there, I planned to visit in the interest of historical accuracy, continuing to follow the Chasseur prisoners even though I could not positively identify any particular members of the regiment held there.  Knowing that at least a dozen Chasseurs  had died and been buried at Andersonville, logic told me that at least some 65th New York soldiers saw the inside of Camp Lawton.  With one report of a Chasseur buried in Florence National Cemetery, the remains of what was once Florence Prison, the place where many Andersonville prisoners were taken from Camp Lawton, it is almost certain that at least some Chasseurs lived at Camp Lawton in its brief existence.  Magnolia Springs was worth visiting for the trails there, and the small history center which contained some interesting artifacts from the prison which had been discovered from archaeological research which was ongoing and conducted by students from Georgia Southern University.  The trails were good to walk and explore after the many hours of driving that this particular trip entailed.  The trail that roughly followed the perimeter of the stockade location was basically walking on an open field on a hot day, but I walked most of it.  The remains of a rebel fort which guarded the prison can be seen here.  The wooded trails away from the stockade location offered shade and more nature.  They also allow visitors to see the site of the artesian spring which was a prime reason for the siting of Camp Lawton here, and which offered a far superior and safer water supply for Union prisoners than that afforded by prison Branch of Sweetwater Creek, the fetid and sluggish stream at Andersonville.  Today the spring offers a home for numerous turtles, and I spotted one alligator as well, the first I had seen in Georgia.

The remains of Fort Lawton, which guarded the prison camp (photo by author)

Artesian Spring at Camp Lawton (photo by author)

Find the alligator? (photo by author)

The B & B at nearby Waynesboro which I had booked turned out to be magnificent.  The antiques decorating Wisteria Hall were gorgeous, the breakfast I had was delicious, and Nancy, the owner, was friendly and warm, and also interested in history.  We talked about civil war history as she served me breakfast, and also a bit about how she had come to own Wisteria Hall.  The sounds of a freight train rolling through town that night was not intrusive as much as it was a reminder of how much railroads still matter, a good reminder for a Civil War historian/traveler like me.

It was a little less than a three hour drive to Florence, South Carolina, the sight of the third and last Confederate prison of my visit.  Though a walking trail led to the site of the stockade, which had been reconstructed in some small sections, the bulk of my visit was to the national cemetery there, confined within the by now familiar brick walls which are standard at the national cemeteries I have visited, an attractive and respectful feature which denote, I think, the seriousness and permanence of these sights.  Almost 3000 Union prisoners, many of them former prisoners at Andersonville who were transferred to Florence in a severely weakened condition, are buried there.  Sadly, the vast majority are in trenches of unknown graves.  At least one Chasseur is buried there, according to The New York Times, and it stands to reason that there are more.  So, a visit to this place was important to me as I finished up my research for the last chapter of my book, on the conditions of Union prisoners of the Confederacy, among them 65th New York soldiers.  Though Andersonville is much more widely known, and no doubt gets many more visitors than Florence, the fact that these nearly 3000 victims were almost all unknown made the walk through the cemetery feel more tragic and sadder.

Florence National Cemetery (photo by author)

This unique Civil War trip was nearing its close as I pulled away from Florence, and headed into North Carolina.  Though the next stop, about two more hours up the road, did not concern any actions or places in which the Chasseurs are associated, I did think that a visit to the Battle of Bentonville, the last battle between General W.T. Sherman’s army and General Joseph Johnston’s forces, was worth a stop since I was going through the area anyway.  The rural roads passed through tobacco fields, a change from the cotton fields I had gotten used to in Georgia.   I had done some reading on the Bentonville battle before the trip in preparation, so that I was somewhat oriented.  Though touring a battlefield where the 65th New York Volunteers played no role lacked the import or intensity of most of my battle visits, it was a pleasant distraction from my normal course, and of course was a noteworthy battle on its own.  The rebels did relatively well here, near the end, and General Sherman chose not to push the pursuit too strongly in the aftermath, feeling that the end was near and wishing to avoid needless bloodshed.

General Joseph Johnston Statue, Bentonville Battlefield (photo by author)

A drive to nearby Goldsboro completed my day.  Sherman had stayed in Goldsboro for a time after the Bentonville battle, before continuing the pursuit of Johnston which would end on April 26, 1865, at Bennett Place, North Carolina.  I had a simple but clean room, with a nice breakfast of fruit provided in the fridge, within walking distance of the Goldsboro center.  Like many small cities, Goldsboro featured a downtown which had seen better days.  However, a revival already seemed underway, and as I sat at Goldsboro Brew Works, founded the year before, and saw the number of visitors come in to fill a growler or purchase other craft beer, I saw an economic future for our country featuring high quality, locally made items sold in venues in traditional downtowns with great service.  The place appealed to me, and I was glad to see the entrepreneurs in Goldsboro experiencing success.

The next day would feature a very long eight and a half hour drive home to New York.  All good trips must end, and I knew the decision to drive all the way to Andersonville from home was an ambitious one.  My wife was understanding and, perhaps a little worried about the planned drive,  told me to stop for the night if I got tired along the way.  The drive up route I-95 is in my view one of the worst, least satisfying or appealing routes to drive in our country, so it was a slog home.  Traffic in Maryland was also very heavy, and I crawled along in bumper to bumper traffic from the Baltimore area north.  Finally, wearied of the stop and go traffic, I decided to pull off the road at Aberdeen, knowing there was a Class A minor league baseball team there, the Aberdeen Ironbirds, an affiliate within the Baltimore Orioles minor league system.  I pulled off the road, found a nearby hotel, and planned to hit the game.  However, a bad thunderstorm came on, along with my own lethargy, and it appeared the game was off.  The storm passed through quickly, however, and feeling a bit stir crazy in my room I made the snap decision to make it to the game, which was right up the road.  As always, I enjoyed the vibe at the minor league park, which had a brick hotel beyond the outfield wall designed to mimic The Warehouse beyond the wall at Camden Yards. I even enjoyed a National Bohemian beer in a can. “Natty Bo,” I knew, was an old local favorite, and though much superior local craft brews were available at Cal Ripken stadium, I decided to taste some traditional cheap local beer, and save a few bucks to boot.

The return to New York on I-95 was not bad, and certainly the cars moved better than they had been moving the previous night in Maryland.  My wife had been right to have me rest to be safe.  She is always right.  And driving the nondescript route on the New Jersey Turnpike for hours, as always I thought about whether such crazy long civil war research trips alone are worth it.  For me they are.

Getting Better at Being a Civil War Tourist/Researcher

Among the pleasures of committing to retracing the steps of one’s Civil War ancestor, and his regiment, is the chance to share that passion with my family members.  My 1996 trip following the Overland Campaign with my father has already been mentioned.  My Dad was a World War II buff, his eldest brother having been killed when his plane crashed off an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.  Though my father was not so much into the Civil War, he read Gordon Rhea’s authoritative book on The Wilderness in preparation for the trip, even copying some maps for us.  Finding the burial place of Stonewall Jackson’s arm with him, behind Ellwood, the plantation home which served as 5th Corps commander General Gouverner Warren’s headquarters, is a warm memory.  We walked down the closed dirt road to Ellwood.  The small brown national park sign on the closed gate said “authorized personnel only,” but I figured since I had won a grant to follow my great great grandfather’s regiment, I was authorized.  And we even attended two minor league baseball games of the Norfolk Tides, the New York Mets AAA affiliate at the time, in Richmond.  Of course, for Mets fans in the know, the Tides lost both games to the Richmond Braves.

Ellwood (photo by author)

Spending that time with my father, in the beginning of my quest to learn more about the Chasseurs, is a lifetime memory for me.  Later on that same summer, I continued the quest with my wife, spending a weekend in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, trying to trace the route of the 65th New York as best as I could at the unpreserved battlefield of 3rd Winchester (which has since seen parts of it preserved and made much more accessible), and walking the Fisher’s Hill battlefield.  I am not sure she loved doing the driving tour of The Battle of Cedar Creek, but that gorgeous field, where 90 members of the regiment were killed, wounded, or missing, including the regimental commander Colonel Thomas Hiiginbotham killed at the head of his troops, and First Sergeant Timothy Carroll wounded, has become one of my favorites to study and visit.  It too has seen preservation efforts greatly enhance the battlefield’s status as a place to visit.

A February 2016 visit to see some former colleagues at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland brought the chance to follow with my daughter Rachel a short part of the Chasseurs’ July 1864 route into the Valley in pursuit of General Jubal Early’s army after its invasion of Maryland and arrival outside Washington D.C., at Fort Stevens, in a famous raid.  River Road from Bethesda to Potomac, Maryland is a busy and developed thoroughfare today, but once we got out to Poolesville, Maryland, and took the chain ferry at White’s Ford, where the Chasseurs crossed into Virginia, we were on ground which was at least close to its appearance in 1864.  

The “General Jubal Early” chain ferry across the Potomac at White’s Ford (photo by Rachel Barry)

Continuing northwest towards Snicker’s Gap and thus into the Shenandoah Valley, we crossed the Shenandoah river and headed to Berryville, where the 6th Corps camped for a time after its unsuccessful pursuit of Early’s army.  Rachel, who has an interest in American history and in my own pursuit of her great-great-great grandfather Timothy Carroll, also was committed to the trip by my promise to buy her a Snicker’s candy bar after we crossed through Snicker’s Gap.  At Berryville, a nice town just southeast of Winchester, she enjoyed the fruits of my promise.  We also walked the town a bit, and we saw a church where Robert E. Lee supposedly worshiped, and a marker memorializing the hitching post where he tied up his famed horse Traveler.  We also saw the requisite courthouse with a Confederate monument outside.  Back in 2016 this still was not so much a point of controversy, but as time goes by, we do make some progress, if in fits and starts.

The author’s daughter Rachel, at Fort Stevens, Washington, D.C.  The stone monument in the background denotes where President Abraham Lincoln came under fire from the Confederates when he looked over the parapet at their force during the Battle of Fort Stevens (photo by author)

At Snicker’s Gap, on the way to Berryville, Virginia (photo by Rachel Barry)

The Berryville Courthouse and Confederate Monument (photo by Rachel Barry)

One thing I have learned over the years on these historic trips is when staying overnight, local inns and B & Bs are often no more expensive, and always much nicer, than any hotel chain in my price range.  My trips in recent years have been much improved through seeking out such places, and using AirBnB.  I meet more people, enjoy a stay at a place that might very well have existed in Civil War times, and support a local business or entrepreneur rather than a mega-corporation.

My next trip was a sort of transition to this reality in terms of where I stayed.  Two months after my trip into the Valley with Rachel, I returned to the Valley for three nights, once again reprising a 1996 trip, and visited the three battlefields of General Philip Sheridan’s 1864 Valley Campaign versus General Jubal Early’s army.  Having read a great deal about this campaign, including in the official records and in primary sources from the 65th NY regiment itself, I knew I understood much more about 3rd Winchester, Fishers Hill, and Cedar Creek than I had twenty years before.  Though my first night’s stay would be in a nondescript hotel sitting practically where the 65th New York had fought at 3rd Winchester on September 19, 1864, my second and third nights were in beautiful Strasburg, Virginia, in the former hospital known as the Hotel Strasburg.  The place had a small restaurant and bar downstairs so I could relax after all the driving I was doing, and it dated back to 1915.

The Hotel Strasburg, in December 2017 (photo by author)

Before getting to the Valley, however, I had a bit more historical accuracy to accomplish, in crossing over the Catoctin Mountains in the proper place where the Chasseurs had made the crossing over what the men dubbed “Mt. Misery” in the post-Gettysburg chase of the Army of Northern Virginia back towards the Valley.  I had failed to find the proper road when I pursued the route after Gettysburg on a 2014 trip (to be told in a later chapter), trying and failing to get over the mountain and driving in a loop on what was still a somewhat precarious road over the mountain.  A simple google map search of Hamburg, a very small settlement the men had marched by which no longer exists, had revealed Hamburg Road, which went over the mountain from Frederick and indeed was the route I should have taken on the earlier trip.  A little divergence from the direct route into the Valley from my home in New York allowed me to cross over on the winding and narrow Hamburg Road, and gave me a taste of how precarious it must have been in the pouring rain, unpaved.  Safely arrived in beautiful Middletown, Maryland, I could now leave the summer of 1863 and get back to the fall of 1864, when the men of the 65th New York and their 6th Corps comrades joined the newly formed Army of the Shenandoah. Under new commander General Phil Sheridan, their assigned job was to finish off Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley, and then destroy the rich Valley itself as a food source for General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Whatever thrill I might have felt in staying at a hotel in Winchester on the actual battlefield nearby where the Chasseurs had moved forward against the rebels was dulled by the bland development there.  However, I had been told in an email from 3rd Winchester expert Scott Patchan that the spot where General David Russell, the 65th New York’s division commander, had been killed was in the parking lot of the roller rink which was next to my hotel.  So there was that.  Much better, though, as I discovered the next day, is how much of the 3rd Winchester battlefield was now preserved, thanks to the efforts of local history buffs and preservationists including Mr. Patchan, as compared to the state of the battlefield back in 1996, the last time I had visited it.

I walked the trails of the newly preserved battlefield, and went for a morning run through the housing which now encompassed the area that the 65th NY moved through during the battle.  The Chasseurs played a key role as part of Emory Upton’s brigade, which General David Russell ordered to plug a gap in the Union line just before he was killed.  The pieces of the battlefield which have been preserved are priceless.  And yet for me, the loss of the part of the field which featured the 65th New York playing one of their biggest roles of the war is irksome.  And yet I could drive through the Berryville Canyon, on a much improved road, but a road on which I could still see how Sheridan’s men could get tangled up in a traffic jam along the narrow defile.  And I could look down on Opequon Creek from the bridge and see where the 65th New York crossed the creek, for which the Battle of Opequon (the Union name of the battle) was named.  But perhaps the most memorable part of the field for me was the Winchester National Cemetery, a place I had all to myself, and where I knew fourteen members of the regiment lay buried.  I had brought flags on this trip to decorate their graves, and walking the cemetery to find their gravesites and pay tribute to them was very moving.  By now, six years into writing No Flinching From Fire, I knew that, haughty as it may sound, I was the one more than anyone else who should pay tribute to these men’s ultimate sacrifice, as I knew as much as anyone what they had done.  Nine more men of the regiment had been killed at the Battle of Opequon; twenty-three had been wounded,

Winchester National Cemetery, with the Chasseur graves decorated with flags (photo by author)

The September 22, 1864 Battle of Fisher’s Hill is properly seen as directly related to the Battle of 3rd Winchester.  After Early’s army was routed near the end of the day at Opequon, flanked by a cavalry and infantry attack from north of Winchester, he retreated up the Valley, to the southwest, about twenty-two miles.  There he took a position with his army atop the only significant rise which went across the valley, Fishers Hill.  It was a formidable position, though Early’s now smaller army did not have the men to properly hold the whole position.  As such, General Sheridan’s friend and subordinate General George Crook proposed a move with his corps through the wooded, rocky ground to the left of the rebel position, and then an attack on the rebel left flank while the 6th Corps threatened a frontal assault up the hill.  Sheridan approved, the movement was well executed, and the rebel lines were broken once again.  Retreating further up the Valley in a rout, the remnants of Early’s army were seemingly now beaten for good.  The 65th New York served as skirmishers in front of the 6th Corps line, and they moved forward when the rest of the 6th corps moved up the hill after Crook’s flank attack had struck.  Mercifully, only Private Konrad Frank of the regiment was killed at Fishers Hill; he is buried at Winchester National Cemetery.

Fishers Hill, where the 6th Corps attacked (photo by author)

With the dual defeats of Early’s army at 3rd Winchester and Fishers Hill, Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah now concentrated on its next mission:  destroying the Shenandoah Valley as a source of food and provisions for the Confederacy.  After a march further up the Valley to Staunton (where a young Woodrow Wilson lived in his father’s parsonage for a time), Sheridan’s army reversed its course, spread out East to West, and proceeded to destroy over 2000 barns, seize pigs, cattle, sheep, and horses for the men, and leave the Valley as General Grant had ordered him to do, “so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season would have to “carry their own provender with them.”  The federal cavalry did most of the destruction, with the infantry accompanying them on the destructive march down the Valley, to the northeast.

Alfed Waud’s drawing of General Custer’s cavalry division on October 7, 1864, somewhere near Mount Jackson, wreaking destruction (Library of Congress)

The Valley today has of course recovered, though the stone foundations of some of the barns which Sheridan’s Army destroyed can still be seen in some places there.  Though development is marring some parts of the Valley landscape, particularly along the old Valley Turnpike, and Interstate 81 goes through it, severing battlefields such as 3rd Winchester and Fishers Hill, a drive along the Valley Pike still evokes connections to the armies who moved up and down the Valley in a succession of campaigns throughout the Civil War.  Historical roadside signs proliferate, though sometimes right next to a new strip mall or gas station complex.  

By mid-October General Sheridan was ready to send the 6th Corps back to rejoin the Army of the Potomac outside Petersburg, from where it had been sent to Washington back in June to help stave off General Early’s raid there.  Sheridan was summoned to meet in Washington with officials, leaving his army camped north of Cedar Creek, under the command of 6th Corps commander Horatio Wright in his absence.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the Union command, General Early had been reinforced and was planning a surprise attack on the resting and unsuspecting federal troops.  On October 19, 1864, in the predawn hours, while General Sheridan was staying in Winchester, on his way back to the army, Early’s Army of the Valley struck the Army of the Shenandoah on its left flank in a bold and daring attack which emerged from the foggy morning, inflicting heavy damage on two corps of the Union army camped there, and eventually driving off the 6th corps in confusion as well.  General Wright managed to cobble together a line near Middletown which was roughly West to East across the Valley and facing south, and the rebel attack petered out, controversially, either due to too many of its men falling out to plunder federal camps, or due to General Early’s “fatal pause.”  Historians continue to debate.  General Sheridan, hearing the sound of firing to the south, rode his horse Rienzi in a ride made famous by a poet, rejoined his army and greeted a bloodied General Wright, who had a slight wound of his face, and proposed a counterattack for later that day.  For his efforts, Rienzi was preserved; I have visited him twice at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Though I have twice driven the auto tour which seeks to explicate the complicated back and forth of the Battle of Cedar Creek, it was not until August of 2019, just before my book on the 65th New York was finally published after eight years of writing and twenty-five years of research, that I finally felt that I had a solid understanding of the wide-ranging ground of this beautiful battlefield.  I had followed Joseph Whitehorne’s little history booklet/auto tour with my wife in 1996, and I used it again when I returned in 2016, and with my readings on the battle I was gaining a better understanding of its landscape, but it was National Park Ranger Jeff Driscoll’s auto tour which finally opened my eyes to the whole of the battle, and in particular nailed down my understanding of the early morning position of the 65th New York Volunteers there, when they came under attack at about 6:00 AM.  Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, commanding the regiment, was killed at the head of his troops just as he gave the order for them to pull back from a heavy attack.  General Joseph Hamblin, the brigade commander who had long been commander of the regiment preceding his appointment to brigade command, was wounded.  He wrote home, “They hit me this time, but not badly, through the fleshy part of the right thigh.  Killed another horse for me that I paid $200 for not four days ago.”  First Sergeant Timothy Carroll was also wounded.  Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park is a beautiful and special place, not least because of its horrific significance to the history of the 65th New York Volunteers.  By the end of the day, the Chasseurs had lost ninety men, including twenty-two killed, led by their commander Colonel Higginbotham.  

By my count I have visited Cedar Creek four times, and the addition of a Visitors’ Center with an electric map in Middletown has enhanced the experience.  Jeff Driscoll’s informative tour, and Joseph Whitehorne’s driving tour pamphlet have led me to see the complexities of the field, along with the beauty of the countryside there.  Though October 19, 1864 was a rough day for the Chasseurs, it turned out to be a great day for the country.

The Cedar Creek Battlefield, with the Heater House in the background (photo by author)

Continuing a 2016 filled with Civil War trips, and moving ahead with my history of the Chasseurs into the final phase of the war, it was time to return to Cold Harbor and pick up the route of the 65th NY from there, across the James, and to Petersburg.  The Chasseurs’ completion of their duty in the Shenandoah Valley, along with their 6th Corps comrades, meant a return to the increasingly intricate trench lines outside Petersburg, Virginia, in early December 1864. For me, I would follow their route from the end of the Overland Campaign and across the James River to their Petersburg lines, as well as their last moves after the April 2, 1865 “Breakthrough” through the Confederate lines, to Appomattox Courthouse.

Now fully committed to staying in inns of B & Bs rather than motels, I booked a two night stay at the beautiful Ragland Mansion in Petersburg, then two days near Jetersville, Virginia, at the Hidden Depot B & B, not far from the Sailor’s Creek battlefield, the last fight of the war for the 65th NY Volunteers.  The Ragland is a beautiful wartime structure on Sycamore Street that was a treat to stay in, particularly as I had the entire place to myself and had the run of the whole first floor.  The Hidden Depot was a farm along General Lee’s escape route, after he had abandoned Richmond, on the way to Appomattox.  And it had a bass pond.

The first impression when one drives from Cold Harbor to the James at Wilcox Landing is how amazing it is that General Grant was able to disengage the entire Army of the Potomac, sneak away from Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, and steal a march on Lee.  Crossing his entire army before Lee had any clue as to what Grant was doing, Grant should have been in a position to take the lightly defended and key railroad city of Petersburg within a day or two, thus forcing the evacuation of Richmond, as it would be cut off from its critical supply line to the south. The war may have ended months sooner than it did.  However, the initial Union attack stalled due to poor leadership from General William F. “Baldy” Smith, hesitation to attack strongly appearing entrenchments after the carnage of the Overland Campaign, and poor communication from Grant to General Hancock and his 2nd Corps to support Smith quickly.  The result was that Lee was finally persuaded by General P.G.T. Beauregard, holding the thinly defended lines at Petersburg, that Grant was south of the James River in force, and that the Army of Northern Virginia needed to be quickly sent south to the rescue.  The result was that, after some initial successes in taking a part of the Petersburg lines, with some especially heroic fighting by black troops of the Army of the James, General Meade called off any more attacks and Grant and the Army of the Potomac settled in for a long siege.  

Wilcox Landing, where the 65th NY boarded steamers to cross the James on June 16, 1864 (photo by author)

The 65th New York at first took up a position in the Petersburg trenches on the right of the line just south of the James River.  In June, along with the rest of the 6th Corps, the Chasseurs were sent to Washington to deal with Jubal Early’s raid there.  They wouldn’t return to Petersburg until December 1864, after their bloody yet triumphant service with General Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in the Valley.  After a December and January of relative inactivity, but for some shifting of positions and some heavy shelling along the lines, especially in the vicinity of Fort Sedgwick, nicknamed “Fort Hell” by the officers and men, the Chasseurs played a role in the Hatcher’s Run offensive of February 5-7, 1865, losing two men wounded.

It would not be until late March 1865 that the 65th New York was yet again in on a key battle of the war.

Staying in a mansion within Petersburg on historic Sycamore Street as I was researching the campaign itself was a great idea, and the gorgeous living rooms (there were two) of the mansion were all mine for the two nights I stayed there.  Eating within downtown Petersburg at a local restaurant near the river and within walking distance from my inn was most appealing and relaxing. It was certainly better than eating at some chain on the fringes where the hotels were, in a place which could be called Anywhere, USA.  After five years of these trips in support of my research, I was finally figuring out this part of my travels.  Though the downtown of Petersburg featured vacant spaces among its beautiful old housing stock, and there were gaps where buildings which once existed had been torn down, there was a small but vibrant area of a few restaurants and bars within the old brick buildings which was well worth my checking out.  

Seeing entrepreneurs trying to re-establish vibrant community businesses within the historic downtowns of America’s towns and cities gives me hope. Pondering a future of the United States with active, busy, thriving downtowns, whether at a Fredericksburg bar or a Petersburg restaurant, at the Box Office microbrewery in Strasburg, Virginia or eating with friends at a microbrewery in Westminster MD instead of going to one of the assortment of chain restaurants recommended by our hotel clerk there makes me think that what Greg Brown called the “blandification of America” can be avoided.  It beats the future of Walmart, Applebie’s, and Chili’s, by a long shot in my mind.  As I go out for dinner in the downtowns of the Civil War places I visit I see the distinctiveness of localities, and local businesses reviving their towns and cities, and I am happy.

The Ragland Mansion, Petersburg, Virginia (photo by author)

Petersburg National Battlefield is unique in that it is so spread out, representing the ten month siege of the place, as well as several distinct battles there.  While the Battle of the Crater is the most famous, and infamous, of these battles, it took place while the 65th New York Volunteers were away doing service with the Army of the Shenandoah.  So, while I revisited the site of the Crater, which I first visited near the end of my trip with my father in 1996, and basically followed the route of the National Park service map of the park, I was especially focused on sites associated with the offensives and maneuvers conducted which involved the Union 6th Corps, and thus the Chasseurs.  But the park, which is basically three distinct parts, was well worth exploring in its entirety.  The separate sections representing City Point, site of  General Grant’s headquarters during the long siege, and Five Forks, representing Sheridan’s big April 1, 1865 victory which made the next day’s breakthrough possible, are well worth seeing–I had visited Five Forks in 1996 on the last part of my grant trip, Petersburg to Sailor’s Creek, which I did on my own having traveled the other two stints with my father and my wife.  City Point was new for me in 2016.  For anyone who has maybe twenty biographies of Grant on his bookshelf, as I confess I do, City Point was a must see.  A site easy to see in less than an hour, it was sparsely visited when I was there but seeing how simply Grant lived throughout the siege, and the cool artifacts there like the original door of his headquarters, along with the site of what became an enormous supply base during the long siege, was worth it.

Grant’s reconstructed headquarters at City Point (photo by author)

Petersburg National Park Map, courtesy of the National Park Service

One of my favorite things about the great National Park Service pamphlet for Petersburg (and I have found in my travels that al the National Park Service pamphlets are essential), is that it denotes the location of the historic forts which have been lost to development, but which played key roles in the siege.  As Fort Sedgwick (or Fort Hell) is a place where 65th NY Major Frederick T. Volk visited, on December 8th, 1864 according to his diary, it was one of the places whose site I needed to see.  “Kisinger and [I] went over to Fort Hell this afternoon while the Rebs were shelling it, things looked quite interesting for a while–”  The visit was disappointing, even knowing beforehand that the fort had been leveled and built over in 1966, when the Lyon family who had owned the land for thirty years and ran a museum there, sold it to a developer since visits to the site had leveled off by one-third in recent years.  The Sedgwick Apartments sign was about all that remained of the site, so I took a picture of that.

The site of Fort Sedgwick (photo by author)

Happily, other sites associated with the Chasseurs are better preserved, so I sought them out.  It took two trips, as the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, which contained the graves of several members of the regiment and was thus a site on my must-see list, was closed for refurbishment in the summer of 2016 when I first visited it.  So a return trip in December 2017 during a nasty cold snap allowed me to visit those, and a stay at the Serviam Guest House in Petersburg allowed me to experience another lovely inn in the middle of Petersburg itself.  The breakfast there was wonderful, and the living room with the complimentary brandy was welcome given how cold it was while I visited the cemetery.

Fort Fisher, an enormous fort which the Chasseurs had helped build, was a new site for me, or at least was a site whose significance to the regiment I understood much better now than I did if I drove by it in the 1996 visit.  The Apri 2, 1865 Union assault which resulted in “The Breakthrough” of the rebel lines and the end of the siege to which all the Union troops had been looking forward, saw the Chasseurs attack from nearby.  The Confederate lines which were broken, amazingly well preserved at the private Pamplin Historical Park, were also a must-see for me.  The trails, historical displays and reproduced Civil War defenses are a special feature of the park, but I was there to try to get to the spot where the Chasseurs broke through.

Fort Fisher, which the men of the 65th New York helped build (photo by author)

The remarkably well preserved Rebel trenches at Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg, where the Chasseurs broke the lines on April 2, 1865 (photo by author)

Sites associated with the March 25, 1865 fighting which preceded the April 2nd Breakthrough attack, when Union forces including the 65th New York counter-attacked after General Lee’s last offensive fizzled out at Fort Stedman, were also a must-see for me.  The Chasseurs lost six men killed, and 26 wounded that day.  I hiked the relatively new Jones Farm trail, on land acquired adjoining Pamplin Park by the American Battlefield Trust, and had the trail to myself on this cold winter day.  The trail led across a farm field, passing picket trenches seized by the Union troops and establishing a position much closer to the rebel lines in preparation for the jump-off which would follow a week later.  Such preservation efforts are laudable, not only preserving the land but giving access to visitors to sites which had never been accessible before to curious visitors and researchers.

A visit to the new Visitor’s Center and trail at Five Forks, much improved since my 1996 visit, revealed the removal of a decrepit non-historic house which had been at the site of Five Forks.  I took some pictures for No Flinching From Fire after walking the trail, most notably of the forks themselves.  Then it was time to move west, following the route of the Chasseurs as they pushed westward on April 3, 1865 in pursuit of Lee’s fleeing Army of Northern Virginia.  The roads were increasingly rural and undeveloped, appearing much as they had in 1865 despite mostly being paved, which I appreciated.  Sailor’s Creek battlefield, where First Sergeant Timothy Carroll was seriously wounded on April 6, 1865 in the last serious fighting the Chasseurs would see during the war, was up ahead, along with Appomattox Courthouse.  Chris Calkins’ excellent guidebooks and accounts of the Appomattox campaign were in the car with me and informing my trip, and thus I was able to follow the exact march route for almost the entire trip.  And the Hidden Depot Farm B & B, owned by Ron and Jane Timma and where I would be staying for two  nights, was located in easy reach of the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Park, one of my favorites, as well as High Bridge and other sites associated with Lee’s retreat towards Appomattox.

The Hidden Depot went beyond my expectations.  A working farm, with miles of trails which I used for a morning run, and which my host Ron Timma drove me around on his ATV as an introduction to the place after my arrival there, and a spring-fed pond full of bass and featuring kayaks and canoes for my use all made it a great find.  But Ron and Jane Timma’s very strong interest in Civil War history, and willingness to talk about my research, and to help orient me to the local sites, went above and beyond.  Ron, for example, on my 2nd morning there, led me in his truck after breakfast to the site of High Bridge, now a state park but in 1865 a key facet of the Sailor’s Creek battle. Though the 65th New York did not fight there, having read enough about it to pique my curiosity, and trying to enhance my overall understanding of the Sailor’s Creek battle, I wanted to go.  

High Bridge was a bit tricky to get to, and thus Ron’s guidance was invaluable.  The wartime description of it as “not the highest bridge, and not the longest bridge, but the highest and longest bridge” turned out to be about right.  Now used as part of a bike trail, and a great place to see wildlife, like the great blue heron I spied on a log in the middle of the Appomattox River far below, High Bridge was certainly a unique place–historic, beautiful, and a great place to exercise.

Two photos of High Bridge, with the original railroad trestles next to the current bridge, and the view of the Appomattox River far below (photos by author)

But it was Sailor’s Creek State Battlefield Park which was truly the ultimate quest of this particular trip.  I well remembered encountering this gorgeous place in the summer of 2000, while on a bus tour/graduate course with the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge. Our teacher, Paul Sanborn, brought us to Sailor’s Creek, a battlefield I had known little about when I first started my Civil War study, near the end of a sunny day.  Witness to the sunset over the field, still deep in the Virginia countryside and thus still very much in appearance as it would be in the mid-19th century, the place was evocative and beautiful.  I had a bias towards it already, however, knowing that my great great grandfather First Sergeant Timothy Carroll had been seriously wounded there only three days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  I had first visited back in 1996, on the last leg of my tour, this time camping nearby and following the not always well-marked county roads on my own, without the help of my father or wife.  Meeting with a ranger and being allowed into the now closed Hillsman House, where Union wounded had been brought after the battle, and where blood stains can be seen on the original floorboards there, was a particular treat for me.  Much had changed by 2016, including the building of a beautiful new visitor’s center at the battlefield park which features a great museum and primary sources.   But another personal tour of the now much improved displays at the Hillsman House, where the bloodstains are confirmed and protected, and its role as a field hospital is depicted, was well worth my return there.

Sailor’s Creek was the last major battle between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia, fought on April 6, 1865.  Actually three distinct battles, the part which most concerned me was fought near the Hillsman House, when elements of Union cavalry and the 6th Corps of infantry overtook a part of the Confederate Army, including General Richard Ewell’s Corps.  After pausing to make a stand, while lacking any artillery for defense, large elements of the Confederate force were cut off, and several high ranking Confederate commanders, including General Ewell, General Joseph Kershaw, and General Custis Lee, had to surrender.   Lee lost perhaps 20% of his army that day, only three days before the rest of his army was surrendered.

Sailor’s Creek.  First Sergeant Timothy Carroll, 65th New York Volunteers, was seriously wounded here. (photo by author)

Walking at Sailor’s Creek for my third visit, I not only gained a letter from a 2nd Connecticut Artillery soldier brigaded with the 65th New York Volunteers, which was on display at the museum and a copy of which was shared with me by their excellent staff.  I also was able to walk in the actual footsteps of Timothy Carroll, on a trail that did not exist at the time of my 2000 visit, and towards the main Confederate position which was not cleared as it is now.  This time, I could get as close as I ever had to experiencing Carroll’s perspective, virtually on the ground where he received his third and final wound of the war.

Carroll’s pension records include several doctors’ reports.  At Sailor’s Creek, on the attack, Carroll was shot through the left shoulder, fracturing his clavicle and rendering him fifty percent diabled for his peacetime work as a plasterer.  Carroll was sent to the hospital at Warrenton, Virginia, then on to the Naval School hospital in Annapolis, Maryland later in the month.  He was sent to the St. John’s Hospital in Maryland in May, on to Baltimore in June and July, then on July 21st he was assigned to lead a squad of convalescent soldiers north.  He then finished his treatment at David’s Island, near New Rochelle, New York, and he was finally discharged on August 7th, 1865.  Appointed a 2nd Lieutenant on May 17th, 1865, with his rank dating to March 21, 1865, Carroll had been a member of the regiment since July 20, 1861.  Beginning as a private, appointed a corporal then re-enlisting as a veteran on December 26, 1863, when he was appointed a sergeant, Carroll finally received his officer’s commission after his 3rd wound of the war.  At Spotsylvania, Cedar Creek, and Sailor’s Creek, Carroll had literally bled for his country.  A survivor despite his wounds, his experiences in the war are what kindled my own research passion about the regiment.  So, standing at Sailor’s Creek for the third time in 2016, nearing the end of my own writing of the regiment’s history as I neared Appomattox, looking a blood stains on the old floor of the Hillsman House, the place held a lot of significance for me, and it felt good to be there.

Hillsman House, Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park (photo by author)

Bloodstains on the floor of the Hillsman House (photo by author)

Timothy Carroll’s war was over at Sailor’s Creek.  But the Chasseur regiment still had more work to do.  While the 6th Corps never quite made it all the way to Appomattox Courthouse, they were just outside the town when Lee surrendered his army to Grant in Wilmer McLean’s house there.  For me, making it to Appomattox after six years of traveling, studying, and writing meant my own research journey and attempt to write a book were nearing their end.  I admit to feeling a bit choked up as I walked the beautifully preserved dirt paths of Appomattox Courthouse on a warm summer day.  I was proud to have made it this far.

Wilmer McLean’s house, where Lee surrendered to Grant, April 9, 1865.  The house is reconstructed on the site. (photo by author)

But research often reveals unexpected discoveries.  I had learned somewhere along the line that the 6th Corps did not participate in the Grand Review of the armies in Washington, D.C. in late May.  But finding an article by Chris Calkins on line one day, I learned that the 6th Corps, including the 65th New York Volunteers, was sent to Danville, Virginia directly from the outskirts of Appomattox just in case it was needed to block Joseph Johnston’s army from a northward escape in North Carolina from General Sherman’s pursuing army.   As it turned out it was not needed, as Johnston surrendered to Sherman later in April.  But now I knew that the Chasseurs had endured one more march, not to mention a separate Grand Review for the 6th Corps alone in Washington on a brutally hot June 8th, 1865.  It looked like a trip to Danville loomed.  And, since I had decided that the experience of the prisoners of war from the 65th New York at the notorious Andersonville prison camp should also be told, and their graves photographed, it was only a matter of driving the Chasseurs’ march route to Danville on the way down to southwestern Georgia to experience this extra march.  My summer 2017 Civil War trip, coinciding with my completion of the draft of chapter 24 of No Flinching From Fire, the final chapter, was coming into focus.

Being a Civil War Tourist

In traveling to Civil War battlefields and sites, the first thing that one learns is that some of these places are preserved to a remarkable extent, considering the amount of change and development that has arisen in the United States in the one hundred and fifty-plus years since the end of the American Civil War.  And some are basically gone.  Trying to drive and walk through the Seven Pines/Fair Oaks battlefield, for example, just eight miles from the center of Richmond, and to find some connection to the events of the first truly big battle of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, and the first real experience the men of the 65th NY (also known as the 1st U.S. Chasseurs) faced under severe fire, is truly a challenge.  Richmond has expanded, with housing development sweeping over the battlefield site, and the Richmond International Airport astride the battlefield.  And yet Malvern Hill, the last significant battle of the Peninsula Campaign, and the second major test faced by the Chasseurs, and only a bit farther outside Richmond’s environs, is a gorgeously well-preserved and illustrative reminder of what men did there on July 1st, 1862.  

My first trip specifically undertaken with writing a book in mind, was a day trip during a family vacation in Washington, D.C. to what was once called Lewinsville, Virginia, but was now largely gobbled up by the sprawl of Northern Virginia development, and within McLean.  I had made contact with a local Civil War blogger who had made the study of the skirmish at Lewinsville a personal project.  I had learned from his blog about the first action in which parts of the Chasseur regiment engaged.  However, his job intervened and he was unable to meet me for the tour, so I took solace in my self-guided tour of the couple of signs which interpreted the action, and of the small park which contained the single building existent during the battle.  The Lewinsville skirmish wasn’t much of an affair anyway, I suppose, but the extent to which the needs of development in Northern Virginia outside D.C. have overcome any desire to try to preserve the historic events of the September 1861 skirmish remains irksome, at least to me.

Once I had committed to a ten year plan to write the history of the Chasseurs, figuring most of my work would be done during the summers in between my teaching and coaching duties at Irvington High School in Irvington, New York, I decided that I would try to travel to the battle and campaign sites I happened to be writing about at the time.  I have always found that walking the fields and trails on battlefields, or driving the roads, trying to see for myself some of the topography and distance, has been helpful as I write.  Sources like soldier letters, diaries, and battle reports are irreplaceable, but to an extent seeing the places for myself, even given the great change that has often come upon the sites, and my own limited abilities as an analyst of military sites, is just as important.  It is also something I very much enjoy.

The first such summer trip was destined to be following the route of General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of the Spring of 1862, or at least as much of the route as I could recapture in 2012, 150 years later.  I already well knew the long drive from New York southward along the New Jersey Turnpike/route I-95 from my six years living in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C.  And I knew it was more than a bit drab.  It would be livened up just a bit by a stop in Ridgefield at the grave of General Alexander Shaler, who was 2nd in command of the 65th NY at the time of the Peninsula Campaign and would go on to become regimental and then brigade commander of the Chasseurs, and he would win the Medal of Honor for his role at 2nd Fredericksburg in May 1863. 

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

This time, after crossing the bridge into Delaware, I would be exiting I-95, heading southeast so that I could drive along the Delmarva Peninsula, with which I was less familiar.  My plan was to stay at the end of the long day’s drive at a classic old motel near Cape Charles, the Rittenhouse Motor Lodge, which was affordable and reasonably clean.  It also featured, behind the registration desk, the “World’s Largest Amber Collection,” which was nice but perhaps not as impressive as the name would lead one to believe.  What I really liked was the early 1960s-1970s vibe–maybe as I get older I find myself enjoying such throwback reminders of childhood trips more and more.  The fact that I was upgraded to a bigger room upon arrival for no extra cost was a plus, and the seafood restaurant not far down the road and close to the Chesapeake had a similar 1970s feel to it.  My first trip the next day over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel since childhood was enjoyable–it is a singularly impressive edifice.

Arriving in Hampton, Virginia, where General McCLellan’s 110,000+ man army, including the 65th NY, landed in March 1862, I headed straight to Fortress Monroe National Historic Site, recently designated in its historic status by President Obama.  A short walk over the bridge overlooking the moat around the fort brought one inside.  The American flag flew at half-mast as I entered the fort’s grounds, after a mass shooting in Colorado at a movie theater.  The fort was worth the visit for the Casemate Museum within the grounds, and especially to see the cell where Jefferson Davis was held for two years upon his capture at the end of the Civil War. The view from the fort’s parapet of Hampton Roads, where the Monitor and the Merrimac, the world’s first ironclad ships, had fought their epic if inconclusive battle, was lovely.   65th NY Major Joseph Hamblin had written home about the “veritable cheese-box” (the Monitor) which he had seen upon his arrival at Hampton.  And Fortress Monroe also saw a young Robert E. Lee based there.  Finally, a house on the grounds there served as President Abraham Lincon’s headquarters, as he planned and directed the recapture of the naval base across the water at Norfolk, which General McClellan had neglected, and whose capture resulted in the scuttling of the aforementioned Merrimac (now rechristened The Virginia).

After a nice visit at Fortress Monroe, I eschewed the effort to follow the exact route of the Chasseurs up the Peninsula on the local roads, knowing that Hampton was now a much bigger city, and that the roads weren’t likely to be much like the 1862 roads.  Also, Fort Eustis, a current military base, stood athwart the route.  Therefore I took the modern highway up past Williamsburg, then got off onto the local roads as I got closer to Richmond.    A stop for lunch at a place called the Rose and Crown, in a building that dated back to the war at New Kent Courthouse, where I Know the 65th NY Volunteers camped, was great not only for the history of the place but especially for the cheeseburger I had there.  

New Kent Courthouse.  Timothy Carroll, 65th NY Volunteers, likely marched right past this very house on the 1862 Peninsula Campaign (photo by author)

After lunch I headed up to Seven Pines National Cemetery, which along with a couple of signs along the road was all that remained to memorialize the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks.  This was the first significant battle in which the 65th New York fought, and they lost nine enlisted killed, and twenty-two wounded.  And yet my drive around to locate the 65th NY’s exact position was largely fruitless due to the housing that had been built on the battlefield.   A sign along the Nine Mile road about the Battle of Fair Oaks was at least a reminder that something of consequence had once happened here.  According to Lieutenant Andrew Byrne, of the 65th NY, “The Chasseurs deployed to the right facing the woods on the line of an old rail fence just as we halted and faced to the front the Enemy opened fire on us Knocking a fue men out of the Ranks.”  Major Hamblin wrote home, “Our regiment was fortunate, although engaged in actual combat for nearly two and a half  hours.”  I had no hope of getting close to that spot, but  walking amongst the graves of the Seven Pines National Cemetery, on the busy intersection where the East Williamsburg Road meets the Nine Mile Road, was at least one solemn place where one could reflect on what had happened here.

Seven Pines National Cemetery (photo by author)

The next day, after a stay in a nondescript motel near the airport and a shopping mall, I would follow the retreat of McClellan’s army after it was attacked by new commanding General Robert E. Lee during the Seven Days Battles, and make my way to the Malvern Hill battlefield, a beautifully preserved field which has always been one of my favorite battlefields.

The trip to Malvern Hill was not my first, as I had taken a trip following the route of Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1996, traveling with my father.  When Grant approached the cataclysmic battlefield of Cold Harbor, the Army of the Potomac had to march through fields from their 1862 Seven Days battles, and my father and I had visited Malvern Hill then, so I remembered it.  This time I approached it while following the June 1862 retreat route of General Darius Couch’s division, of which the 65th New York was a part.  But driving up to familiar sites like Willis’ Church, which had received a new coat of paint since I saw it last, was a unique and welcome sort of Civil War deja vu.  I tried to recapture my 1996 photo angle, remembering the slide show I had created as part of the presentation to my former school colleagues, which was a requirement of the grant I received to take the trip way back when.

Willis’ Church, site of a cavalry battle as part of the Cold Harbor campaign, and by which the 65th New York Volunteers marched on their retreat towards Malvern Hill (photo by author)

A new trail on land acquired by the American Battlefield Trust meant I could retrace the attack route of Stonewall Jackson’s troops as they approached the strong position which Couch’s division occupied on Malvern Hill.  The hill itself is gently sloped and not hard to climb; it is its remarkably clear fields of fire which made it such a deadly place for the Confederates to try to attack.  Unlike the lost fields of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, the battlefield of Malvern Hill is a remarkably well preserved site.  It is a place where it isn’t hard to picture how the fighting went, knowing that the Union troops were backed by a massive artillery presence on a field uniquely suited to the cannons’ use.   Major Joseph Hamblin, writing home after the battle, said the Chasseurs went in with about 340 men, losing 66 of them killed, wounded, or missing, after being under fire for thirteen hours.  “Our men behaved nobly, standing up to the fire like a wall.” 

For Chasseur Lieutenant Andrew Byrne, the battle was intense.  “One shell killed and wounded about twelve of our men… one of our Sergeants had a leg cut off him.  He lay on the ground in great agony; it was distressing to hear him he begged for someone to shoot him and put him out of pain…”  Byrne himself was shot in the arm at about 7:30 that evening.  “I received a very serious gunshot wound in the left arm close to the shoulder joint completly severing the bone and breaking it into bits…I felt as if I was struck by a heavy instrument such as an ax or a sledge with a lightning like stroke with great force…I told the Colonel who was near me I was wounded.  I walked to the rear a short distance and growing very weak from the loss of blood I sat down behind a tree for a short time.  The bullets from the enemy’s front were passing me very lively and over a large open field which I had to cross in order to get out of range.  Tap Tap went the bullets into the tree where I sat….”  Byrne would manage to make his way to a nearby house, with some help from his comrades, and spend days without little food as he was left to be captured along with hundreds of other wounded men by the enemy when the army withdrew to Harrison’s Landing after the battle, despite the great victory the Army of the Potomac had won.  Byrne would spend some time in Richmond before being exchanged, and he would then spend months recovering, including some time in the winter of 1863 at Davids Island near New Rochelle, New York, near my own home, before rejoining the regiment in August 1863.

I had the beautiful battlefield to myself on a gorgeous sunny day.  Unlike Gettysburg or even Antietam, Malvern Hill is a place where it is easy to get away from the crowd.  Knowing what the 340 men of the 65th New York had been through here, it was a place to consider their suffering and sacrifice, and try to picture how men like my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll held up here.  It will always be one of my favorite battlefields, partly because it 

Near the position of the 65th New York Volunteers at Malvern Hill (photo by author)

was the first of many truly horrific battles that the 65th New York would fight through, but also because it is such a beautiful and well-preserved place.

Despite the big victory which the Army of the Potomac had won over General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Malvern Hill, General George McClellan, the Union commander, was more intent on saving his army and getting to the safety of the James river and the Union gunboats protecting him there than taking advantage of Lee’s blunder and striking back.  So to Harrison’s Landing I would go next.  A thunderstorm had knocked out the power at the Berkeley Plantation, site of Harrison’s Landing and President William Henry Harrison’s house, and it was closed for tours.  As a collector of Presidential houses this was a disappointment, though I was able to tour the grounds and thus make it to the landing itself.

Berkeley Plantation, where General McClellan made his Headquarters after the Seven Days Battles (photo by author)

This would wrap up my tour of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign sites, so it was time to return home and try to use what time remained before cross country season started and another school year began.  This three day trip would set a pattern for me in the summers to come, and I would come to know the places where the Chasseurs had marched and fought well, particularly the beautiful state of Virginia.

Harrison’s Landing, where the Army of the Potomac camped for weeks after its retreat to the James River (photo by author)

The following summer I returned, this time focusing on the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the next events in the 65th New York’s history I was writing about.  As the 6th Corps, which the 65th New York was now a part of, was assigned to take Fredericksburg in the 2nd battle, most of my time was focused there, though I did revisit the Chancellorsville battlefield as well.  The first noteworthy place to see was Chatham Mansion, Union Army of the Potomac commander General Burnside’s headquarters for the Fredericksburg campaign.  A beautiful house with a fine prospect in its back yard of Fredericksburg itself across the Rappahannock River, it was also worth visiting knowing that Robert E. Lee courted his wife here.  Moreover, the house was visited by Geroge Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, and Clara Barton.  Hard to find another home visited by such an illustrious group of people.

Chatham Mansion (photo by author)

For one on a quest to find Fredericksburg sites significant to the regiment itself, however, a more nondescript place was a must-visit.  Hazel Run, a sluggish stream on the southern side of town, where the 65th had seen fighting as skirmishers leading the 6th Corps into the town on the night of May 3, 1863, as part of the Chancellorsville campaign, is still accessible from a park which abuts the stream.  While the bridge spanning the stream lent a busier and more developed air to the site than existed in 1863, knowing that the Chasseurs splashed through under fire of rebel skirmishers brought the place a great deal more import to me than to probably any other person who might find themselves in the out of the way spot.  Colonel Joseph Hamblin reported in a letter home, “While crossing the creek, seven men fell.  The firing was heavy and from three sides, but badly directed.  At the time my horse was wounded, the men… for a moment hesitated.  Dismounting, I rallied them, fixed bayonets, and with a cheer occupied the town…”

Hazel Run, where the Chasseurs attacked Confederate skirmishers while they led the 6th Corps into Fredericksburg at the start of the May 1863 Chancellorsville campaign (photo by author)

I did visit the southern part of the 1st Fredericksburg battlefield, from December 1862, where the Chasseurs crossed the Rappahannock and took a position under artillery fire.  As they did not advance against the enemy in that ill-fated disaster, however, the spot held less significance for me.  Walking along the little Hazel Run near the very spot where Colonel Hamblin’s men saw their action in the later campaign, however,  brought more of a thrill to me.  

Once the Chasseurs had entered Fredericksburg in the very early morning May 3, 1863, they were left to recover from their wet skirmish in town while other elements of their brigade, led by their former commander General Alexander Shaler, charged Marye’s Heights, the very position where Longstreet’s men had pummeled Burnside’s army horribly back in December.  This time, with the hill much less strongly held by the Confederates, who had mostly gone off to deal with General Joseph Hooker’s offensive west of town at Chancellorsville, the Union troops succeeded in taking the position at the famous Stone Wall.

The Stone Wall at Marye’s Heights (photo by author)

With Hooker in trouble at Chancellorsville after a brilliant attack devised by General Lee and General Stonewall Jackson, the 6th Corps, the 65th NY among them, was tasked with pushing west to come to the rescue, or at least take some pressure off of Hooker.  But a rebel brigade at Salem’s Church had held them off, and after some sharp fighting and then Lee’s reinforcement the next day, the 6th Corps was stifled with its back against the river, until it once more crossed the river to safety in the early morning hours.  Later that day Hooker would follow with the main contingent of the army, despite his top officers voting to stay south of the river and slug it out with Lee the next day.  “My God! My God! What will the country say? What will the country say? ” President Lincoln exclaimed as he heard news of the terrible Union defeat at Chancellorsville, with its over seventeen thousand casualties suffered.  The Chasseurs had lost seventeen casualties, with one sergeant killed.  Though Salem Church itself remains well preserved, the busy corridor of Pizza Huts, strip malls, and parking lots around Route Three west of Fredericksburg, the Orange Plank Road, makes it literally dangerous to park one’s car and try to read the monuments left near the church to some of the Union regiments which fought there on May 3, 1863.  The church itself remains a small oasis in the midst of this ugly sprawl, but I imagine most drivers racing by it held little idea about its significance to the 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign.

Salem Church (photo by author)

It would be two summers before I would return to the Fredericksburg area, this time driving to retrace the steps of my 1996 drive following the Chasseurs on the Overland Campaign of May and June 1864, when General Ulysses S. Grant for the first time took charge of all the Union armies, and directed the operations of the Army of the Potomac with the capable help from General George Gordon Meade against General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  This time, in 2015, my first night I was based in Culpeper, from which the Union troops marched out from their camps to cross the Rapidan River and tried to draw Lee out to fight.

I had learned a lot since 1996 about the nature of the Overland Campaign, and the role of the 65th New York Volunteers within it.  Among other things, I had learned that General Shaler’s brigade, including the Chasseurs, had not actually crossed the river with the rest of the 6th Corps at Germanna Ford, but had been detached to escort the army’s wagon train, to cross on a pontoon bridge at the Culpeper Mine Ford.  Through the wonders of the internet, I had discovered earlier in the year the work of Mr. Bob Johnson, historian of the Lake of the Woods community adjacent to the Wilderness National Battlefield, through which ran the Culpeper Mine Road.  This nondescript wagon road along which the Chasseurs would march went from the Culpeper Mine Ford to the southwest to the position which the 65th New York would take along the lines at The Wilderness on May 6, 1864.  Having studied and mapped out with GPS coordinates the exact route of the Culper Mine Road (CMR), Mr. Johnson had contributed to a book about the road which I happened upon as I was researching for my chapter about the Battle of the Wilderness in my previous book.  I took the liberty of emailing Mr. Johnson, and he could not have been kinder or more responsive to my queries about the CMR.  In fact, he agreed to meet me in the summer when I made my trip, and to take me along the CMR within his Lake of the Woods community, a lovely gated community to which I would not have had access were it not for Bob.  

Once the trip logistics were arranged, Bob and I agreed to meet for lunch and do the tour.  As is often the case, some unexpected developments would arise.  First, the weather took a turn, as sometimes happens in rural Virginia.  Second, my own penchant for trying to achieve maximum historical accuracy would this time get me into some not insignificant trouble.

I woke up in my hotel room to an early morning downpour.  Having a scheduled lunch date with Bob, I knew if I was going to follow the 65th NY’s march route as best as I can, in other words leaving well maintained Route 3 before it crossed the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford, I would have to get started.  My plan was to follow some back roads off of Route 3 before it crossed the river, so as to get as close as possible to the old Culpeper MIne Ford.  Though this would not be an exact science, as the ford was on private land, at least I could come close to the spot in the river which held the ford, and thus capture some historical accuracy in my continuing quest, before getting to meet Bob with plenty of time to tour the CMR with him within Lake of Woods after lunch, then walk the Union line at the Wilderness Battlefield before calling it a day and heading to my new motel in Fredericksburg.  

The problem was the rain.  A heavy thunderstorm was passing through the area, as they often do in July in this part of Virginia.  The forecast said it would be passing through during the morning, but it seemed to have stalled over our area.  A flash flood watch was in effect.  I decided to wait until closer to checkout time before I headed out.  When I left, after 10 AM, the rain was still coming down in torrents, and veritable streams were crossing Route 3 as I headed southeast, towards the Rapidan River and The Wilderness.  Still, I was intent on getting to Culpeper Mine Ford, or at least as close as I could.  I had blithely crossed the Rapidan with my father in 1996 at Germanna Ford, convinced that I was following Great-Great Grandpa’s route.  Now, after nineteen years of study and learning, I was going to drive along roads which Shaler’s brigade, separated from its 6th Corps mates, had actually followed, or at least a close proximity.  What could go wrong?

The rain continued to pour down.  But I was on a schedule, considering my lunch date with Bob.  I had driven in rain storms before.  How bad could it be?  Ryan Bingham played in my CD player.

After about fifteen minutes, I saw my turn off–Route 669, Carrico Mills Road.  I made the turn, then headed due north briefly, before a quick right turn onto Route 610, Maddens Tavern Road.  This unpaved road would take me to a hamlet called Richardsville, where I would turn right onto Route 732, Halls Road, and make my way straight to the Rapidan River, not far from the location of the Culpeper Mine Ford.  Thus I would nearly retrace the steps of First Sergeant Timothy Caroll and his 65th NY comrades, and thus correct the historical error I had made in 1996, even though I would be doubling back to Route 3 and crossing at the bridge over Germanna Ford, as that was the only way to get to Lake of the Woods and The Wilderness by car.

Maddens Tavern Road was underwater.  I drove slowly through a deep puddle which encompassed the road, then through an even bigger one.  This was not something I had anticipated, despite all the warnings on the TV this morning about flash flooding.  I then made a sensible decision, if a disappointing one.  My Honda Civic, a low-riding car, was not designed for this, and I would have to give up my quest to get to Culpeper Mine Ford.  There would always be another chance in the future.  I turned left onto a road leading to a local camp, then back through the huge puddle.  Oh oh.  It seemed very deep in the middle of the road.  So I edged the car slightly to the right to try and avoid the deepest part and ended up…with my right tires stuck in the drainage ditch.  I was unable to extricate the car.  The rain continued to beat down, and I could see the water was high enough to reach the top of my tires.  “This isn’t good!” I said out loud to myself, thinking of TV videos I had seen of cars engulfed in flooded waters, when I often thought, “what was that idiot thinking when he or she drove into that morass.”   Ryan Bingham continued to belt it out.  I realized I would have to get out of the car, on the passenger side as the water was too deep in the middle of the road and I could get onto the berm next to the road on the right.  As I opened the door, a muddy river of water poured into my car, higher than the passenger seat.  I got out.

In the pouring rain, watching my car engulfed by the rising waters, in the middle of nowhere in rural Virginia, I called my wife.  Maybe she could get  in touch with my insurance agent, and get a tow truck.  I also called Bob Johnson, letting him know that not only would I be late for our planned lunch date, but that I was in trouble and could use some help.  The lovely and kind man that he is, he drove up from home.  Seeing Maddens Tavern Road’s condition, however, he knew better than to try it.  He called a friend with a truck.  I felt blessed to have such a local contact.  Meanwhile, the towing company said they could be there in an hour.  “I can’t wait an hour!” I told them on the phone.  “My car will be under water in an hour!”  I then called the state police. I told the dispatcher my situation, assured her I was personally safe on the berm, though increasingly soaked, but that my car was in a bad way.  

Mercifully, a van from the nearby camp pulled up, and the driver let me know he would be going to get a chain.  He returned not ten or fifteen minutes later, hooked up my car to the van, and successfully extricated my car.  Despite the several inches of water now sloshing around inside my car, it miraculously started–I love my car.  Shortly after, a state trooper arrived with his lights flashing.  I thanked him for coming, explaining that my car and I were now out of danger, and he proceeded to block the road with his car so that any other idiots like me would not end up attempting to drive through the flooded roadway.

I pulled up back to dry ground, found a place to pull over to the side of the road that was tilted slightly downward, grabbed a small plastic box of emergency supplies from the trunk, emptied it, and began using it to bail out my car.

At least I turned around on Maddens Road; it could have been worse.  It would have been better to have not made the attempt to drive down the road at all given its flooded condition.  Live and learn.  

I managed to get most of the water out; the heat and humidity, however, made the windows fog up if I didn’t open them a crack.  And the car had a dank, swampy smell to it.  I made it to the lunch with Bob, and he was kind enough to take me on the tour of the Lake of the Woods community and show me spots associated with the Battle of the Wilderness after lunch.  Bob graciously had prepared a binder filled with maps, pamphlets, some genealogical research into Timothy Carroll’s military record he had done, and information about The Wilderness.    He also showed me where the Culpeper Mine Road left his community and entered The Wilderness National Battlefield.  I walked this myself, recreating the 65th NY’s march and their route to the horrible battle, then walked the trail along the Union lines until I made it to the far right flank, where the Chasseurs were positioned on May 6th, having left their more cushy wagon guard duty behind.  LIke them, I was somewhat shaken at my fortunes during the day, but glad to have finally made it.  

The author at the entrance to the Culpeper Mine Road from the Lake of the Woods community (photo by Bob Johnson)

Late in the day of May 6, 1864, the Chasseurs would be hit hard when General John Gordon’s Confederate brigade attacked the exposed Union right flank.  First Lieutenant Frederick Volk, of Company C, described the action in his diary: 

Shot and shell are flying fast and thick over us, May God in his infinite mercy spare us!  about 7 Ock. while we were changing the pickets the rebs came on us in force.  We had nothing but a thin line of skirmishers and they broke and the whole line gave way we were completely surrounded and such confusion I never saw before but I did run then, because one could not rally the men they were thoroughly demoralised… The heaviest fire I was ever in a high fire from both sides.

The regiment lost fifty-seven officers and men killed, wounded, or missing, many of the latter captured, later to be sent to die in the nightmarish prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.  Volk’s friend Captain William Tracy had been killed, his body buried on the field.  It was the worst battle the regiment had experienced since Malvern Hill back in June 1862.  They definitely had an even worse day than I had experienced, even including the way the lunch with Bob Johnson was now disagreeing with me, and with the damp car interior now smelling badly having been heated up in the parking lot for a couple of hours.

I was luckily now staying two days in a motel outside Fredericksburg, just east from the Wilderness battlefield, and not far from the Spotsylvania battlefield I was to visit tomorrow.  The plan for the trip had entailed leaving in the morning and getting back on the Chasseurs’ march route to Spotsylvania, then exploring their place in that horrible and costly battle.  However, at my wife’s urging I spent the morning waiting in the hotel for my car to receive the “Diamond” treatment at the car wash.   “Did you leave the windows open in the rain?”  “No; I drove into a flash flood yesterday,” I replied.  “You need THIS,” the car wash manager told me as he pointed at the most expensive option his establishment offered. Luckily the carwash was close enough to the motel that I could run back there.  I spent the morning in my room waiting on the car rather than out and about as I had planned on doing, but I could at least start in the afternoon for Spotsylvania knowing my car was as clean as a whistle.

Happily, the trip to Spotsylvania went uneventfully.  Having visited the battlefield a couple of times before, and having read a good deal about the 65th NY’s role there, especially in the famous May 10, 1864 attack known as Upton’s Assault, I had as my chief goal finding the trace of the farm road that Upton’s twelve picked regiments formed on before their column advanced from the woods to attack the strongly entrenched Confederates at a salient in the lines called the Mule Shoe.  Perhaps one sign that my luck was changing today as compared to yesterday’s challenges was that, upon arriving at an informational kiosk at the battlefield, I was greeted by a friendly volunteer.  We had a nice chat, and when he introduced himself as Chris Mackowski, I hurried to my now sparklingly clean car, to grab from the front seat a book called A Season of Slaughter, a combination history and car tour for Spotsylvania which Dr. Mackowski himself had co-written.  He graciously signed my copy for me, then helped direct me to where to find the trace of “Upton’s road.”  Mackowski, who I also recognized as the genial host of a number of “Emerging Civil War’ video battlefield tours, gave me his card and told me that he has a practice of walking along Upton’s road every May 10th.  That is the sort of dedication to studying history in the places where it is made that I can get behind!

Before my focus on the May 10th, 1864  assault would begin, and then the events of the horrible day of May 12, 1864, I stopped to pay tribute at a spot denoting the saddest event for the 6th Corps, and indeed the Army of the Potomac, of May 9, 1864.  This was the death of 6th Corps commander General John Sedgwick, killed by a sharpshooter near the front lines.  Sedgwick’s death was mourned not only by the men of the 65th NY and their fellow 6th corps soldiers, who had come to love “Uncle John,” but also by General Grant, who was in disbelief at the news of his death, and who said to one of his aides that it was the equivalent of the army  losing a division of men.  Sedgwick was the highest ranking officer of either side to be killed in the Civil War.  I had once made a long detour on the way back home from Vermont to visit Sedgwick’s grave and former home in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut, and though I had visited the site of his death in the past, I consider it an essential Spotsylvania battlefield site to see and reflect upon.

The marker denoting the spot where 6th Corps commanding General John Sedgwick was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter, with my very shiny and clean car in the background, after having received the deluxe treatment at a Fredericksburg car wash (photo by author)

Having gotten oriented by Chris Mackowski, I looked for the spot from the roadway where Upton’s farm road could be recognized.  Sure enough, it was there, unmarked, though I worried that my limited photographic skills might not capture it well enough for it to be seen well in a book photograph.  One of those little cool discoveries that a researcher makes is associated with this famous May 10th assault, in that the Official Records show that not only did the Chasseurs act as skirmishers to clear out the Confederate pickets before Upton’s attack got underway, but that they had also pitched in to support the attack as well.  I was excited and pleased to know that the regiment about which I cared so much had played a role in such a key moment in the war.

Unfortunately, of course, playing a key role meant suffering for it heavily.  The Chasseurs lost 97 officers and men at Spotsylvania, including two officers killed and two wounded on May 10th.  For the men and officers of the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry, it was the worst battle of the war.  According to Lieutenant Volk, “about five Ock….we moved to the left and went into the fight we charged up to a line of breastworks just before I got up to the breastwork I got hit through the left arm and then in the left shoulder.  I got off the field as soon as possible.”


The Farm Road where Upton’s Assault of May 10, 1864 Began (photo by author)

Colonel Upton’s assault, innovatively designed with a column puncturing a hole in the strong rebel line rather than trying another fruitless frontal assault, managed to capture 1000 Confederates, with from 200 to 300 rebels killed.  However, it went unsupported and after holding a portion of the Confederate line for a time, the men were withdrawn.  Volk’s diary the next day goes on to describe the cost of the fight in human terms.  “Woke up this morning feeling very well.  Lay around until 12 Ock when Dr. Stoddard said he was ready for me and I laid down on the table.  The Doctor told me when I laid down that if my arm had to come off he would wake me up and tell me so but I told him not to do anything of the kind but to go ahead…  … find chloroform very agreeable.  Poor [Captain John] Berry died today.”

On a hot and humid day one hundred and fifty-one years later, having been guided by Dr. Mackowski to the spot, I walked a few steps down Upton’s roadbed. However, perhaps cowed by my experience yesterday of nearly drowning my car north of The Wilderness, I stopped when I walked into a spiderweb and contented myself with looking down the roadbed, then taking the parallel prepared trail to the field opening in front of the Confederate lines.  I walked to the remnants of the Confederate breastworks, undoubtedly nearby where Lt. Volk had been shot in the arm, and perhaps nearby where my great-great grandfather had received a minor wound in the neck.  The latter wound, however, may have happened during the even bigger attack of May 12, 1864, when General Grant threw two whole corps at the Confederate “Mule Shoe.”   In twenty hours of close order combat, with Union and Confederate soldiers positioned on opposite sides of the same breastworks, in the pouring rain, at what became known as the “Bloody Angle,” some of the worst and most brutal fighting of the Civil War occurred.  Once again, the 65th NY was part of the fray, and once again they lost heavily.  Walking over the area the next day, after the Confederates has pulled back to a new line, Lieutenant Andrew Byrne observed, “the look of everything round about bore traces of a deadly struggle; the grass the trees and the thinnest shrub in front of the works were cut down.  I noticed one dead body in particular near the breatworks.  It was one of our men.  During my whole experience in this War, I never saw a body so completely riddled with bullets.”

The horrific casualties of the May 10th and May 12th assaults, coupled with the losses at the Wilderness on May 6, left the 65th NY a shell of its former self.  After deciding that the Confederate line would not be broken here, and picking up his march trying to get around the right of the Confederate line, the Army of the Potomac moved to the Southeast, until they found themselves almost due east of Richmond at a place called Cold Harbor.  I drove the approximate route of the march to get to Cold Harbor, first following Dr. Mackowski’s tour book to drive by Myer’s Hill, where the 65th NY had taken up a position during the latter stages of the Spotsylvania campaign.  From there, it was a drive south and east towards Cold Harbor.  Before heading back to the motel for the night, I stopped at Massaponax Church, the site of a series of photos showing Generals Grant and Meade meeting outside with their staffs, sitting on the church pews brought outside for their meeting.

Massaponax Church. A set of famous photos of Grant and Meade meeting with their staff were taken here (photo by author)

The next day I picked up my route south, following the march route from Spotsylvania as best as possible.  This would be the last day of this particular trip to Virginia.  A bridge was out so there was one stretch of the route that would be skipped, with one church on that section of the route where I had taken a picture in 1996 of my Dad walking to look at a plaque on the wall there.  In fact both in 1996 and again in 2015 I was seeing that it was churches more than anything else which marked the landmarks of the army’s route towards Cold Harbor.  Rather than backtrack, I decided I had driven the route in more accuracy in 1996 so I could take some liberties this time.  The memory of my ill-fated attempt to find the Culpeper Mine ford was still vibrant.

Along with churches, the men marched past one particular landmark of interest at Guiney Station.  Their letters and memoirs refer to going past the place where Stonewall Jackson died, so I stopped for a visit, as I had in 1996.  I was the lone visitor that day, and I enjoyed going in and seeing the artifacts there, such as the clock in the room when Jackson died.  For one like me who had watched the Ken Burns series many times in the class I teach on the Civil War, it was easy to remember Shelby Foote describing Jackson’s death scene there.

Stonewall Jackson Shrine, Guiney Station, Virginia (photo by author)

The men of the 6th Corps continued their march almost due south until they arrived at Carmel Church, on the north bank of the North Anna River, which had been their designated concentration point. After some time spent breaking up parts of the Virginia Central Railroad, and the realization by General Grant that the Confederate position south of the river was a trap which should be avoided, the march continued further south and east.  My time spent at Carmel Church was even briefer than the 65th New York’s time there, and I snapped a few pictures of the pretty old church before heading back into my car to pick up the trip again.

Carmel Church (photo by author)

The road continued past historic churches which the Chasseurs marched by, so I made a point of recording them in photographs, despite my limited photographic equipment and skills.  The unique and often beautiful architecture of these small churches was notable, and I was glad as I paused to see them that they had stood the test of time, and not been bulldozed for some strip mall or new housing development.

The Mangochick Church (photo by author)

One of my favorites of these churches had not in fact survived the Civil War.  Destroyed by artillery during the fighting associated with the Overland campaign, Polegreen Church is remembered in a most unique and beautiful way.  A sculpture outlining the footprint of the church remains, a memorial to not only the structure but also the congregation which once met there.  

Polegreen Church (photo by author)

By June 1st, 1864, after crossing Totopotomoy Creek the previous day, the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry regiment, or at least what was left of it, arrived at Cold Harbor and took up a position not far from the Garthright House.  Today the house remains, part of the county park which preserves much of the Cold Harbor battlefield, across the road from the Cold Harbor National Battlefield and National Cemetery.  “…Somewhat worn from fatigue…” Colonel Joseph Hamblin wrote home “by twilight” on June 7th, 1864 while “…perfect quiet prevails.  An armistice has been agreed upon, to bury the dead between the two armies.  Not a gun is fired…”  Unfortunately there were very many dead there, for the heavy fighting of June 1st and June 3rd had led to disastrous bloodshed, most of it suffered by the Union Army of the Potomac and its recent reinforcements from the Army of the James.

According to Lieutenant Byrne, the Chasseurs had arrived at Cold Harbor with only about ninety men.  “So depleted had we become not enough for a full Company.”  Byrne described the June 1st attack and the artillery casualties suffered by the regiment.  Six men from the regiment were killed, thirteen wounded at Cold Harbor.  With the 57 lost at the Wilderness, and 97 lost at Spotsylvania, the 65th New York Volunteers had lost 173 men killed, wounded, or captured, in less than four weeks.  The trails along the Union trench lines, remarkably well preserved at Cold Harbor, and the Garthright House, behind which the Chasseurs had formed for their June 1st assault on the strong rebel lines, meant that I could end this summer’s research trip knowing I was very close to the action described by Byrne and Hamblin.  

Union trench lines near the 65th New York position at Cold Harbor (photo by author)

The Garthright House, nearby where the Chasseurs formed for their June 1, 1864 assault at Cold Harbor (photo by author)

Before leaving Cold Harbor and beginning the long drive home to New York, one more duty drew me to the Cold Harbor National Cemetery.  At the national battlefield visitor center, I perused the list of men buried in the cemetery, a beautiful place enclosed by the standard brick wall I have grown used to seeing around national cemeteries.  Private John MIller, a victim of the Battle of Cold Harbor and a veteran of the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry, was there, and after finding his grave I purchased a small flag at the visitor center just before it closed to plant by his grave.  It was a small gesture, but it was a chance for me to recognize one individual Chasseur, buried among the many victims of not only the Battle of Cold Harbor, but also the Seven Days battles of 1862, fought nearby here.  Then, to home.

65th NY Private John Miller’s grave, in the foreground, at Cold Harbor National Cemetery (photo by author)

A Walk Through the Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Searching for Chasseur Graves, and Finding Some Bonus Discoveries

With my school definitely closed for the next two weeks, and perhaps for longer, and on line learning activities not set to start until later this week, I took a trip today to New York City’s only National Cemetery, Cypress Hills. With the original National Cemetery within the private Cypress Hills Cemetery, and an additional land grant being added to the original cemetery later, it was actually a trip to two separate cemeteries. My hope was in finding members of the 1st United States Chasseurs, or 65th NY Volunteers, interred there.

Knowing that the over 3000 graves there overwhelmingly do not note the unit of the buried soldier, I went in with realistic goals. With thousands of Union victims of disease from NY City hospitals buried there, I figured I was likely going to be walking by a Chasseur grave, even if I didn’t know it. And there was always the chance that one or more of the graves would in fact make note of the soldier’s status as a member of the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry. Besides, I was free for the day, yet mindful of the need for social distancing as a way of countering the spread of the Coronavirus. Past experience told me that, with the exception of Arlington, a visit to a national cemetery would not find me encountering a large crowd of people. Sure enough, though there were a few other visitors to the private section of Cypress Hills Cemetery, and I saw one other visitor to the Cypress Hills National Cemetery section, all in all I was on my own.

Five miles of walking along the rows of thousands of graves brought some fatigue, but also some moments of contemplation and reflection. As bad as things seem now for Americans struggling with the bizarre reality of confronting the spread of Coronavirus, a walk amongst thousands of graves of veterans of America’s wars does tend to bring some perspective about whatever challenges we face today.

Moreover, I not only got to visit the grave of Jackie Robinson, whose epitaph is an inspiration for all, especially all who teach, but I also stumbled upon the grave of John Martin (Giovanni Martini), the very lucky bugler who took General George Armstrong Custer’s last message from Custer’s immediate command (destined to be wiped out to a man by the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who they were attacking) to the rest of the Federal command. And, after a lot of searching, I did find two bona fide members of the Chasseur regiment! One, Private Charles W. Norton, a member of the 67th NY Volunteers (or 1st Long Island), which merged with the 65th NY Volunteers on August 31, 1864, only served 10 days before being discharged. But another, Sergeant Henry W. Brown, whose grave denoted his service, was a member of the regiment for the duration of the war. Brown, having enlisted in Providence, Rhode Island, had been captured on May 10, 1864 at Spotsylvania, near the Bloody Angle. Later paroled, he rejoined the regiment and served to the end of the war.

One of the notable things about the Cypress Hills National Cemetery is the fact that it contains over 300 graves of Confederates. They were mostly prisoners in New York City who died in Union hands. Until today I did not know that Confederate graves in national cemeteries are denoted by a uniquely designed headstone, which is not rounded at the top but has a gentle peak. Seeing the Confederate graves mixed in and honored in a national cemetery is different than the many other national cemeteries which I have visited. And I have to say I very much liked the fact that some of these Confederates ended up buried next to African American soldiers who served in the Union army, in the United States Colored regiments. Buried side by side, they reached equality in death.

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