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.
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.
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 Churchis 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)
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.
Today I did a talk about the officers of the 65th New York, and how they served as some of my best sources for No Flinching From Fire. It was fun, and I was very happy about the audience’s reaction. And I sold some books as well! 🙂
I was very lucky to be interviewed by Mr. Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh Town Supervisor, on his show on WVOX, on January 31, 2020. We talked about writing the book, the research process, and how lucky I am to teach the students I have, and to have the colleagues with whom I work, at Irvington High School.
When folks ask me why I insist on visiting the grave sites of people associated with the 1st U.S. Chasseurs (or 65th NY Volunteers), I’m not sure that I am always able to explain it well.
Certainly visiting a quiet graveyard often otherwise empty of visitors is not quite the same as visiting the beautiful Sailors Creek, Malvern Hill, Antietam, or Cedar Creek battlefields. But just as putting oneself on the fields where these horrific battles occurred, visiting the last resting place of a member of the Chasseur regiment, or a commander of their unit, is a way for me to acknowledge the connection to a person of note from the regiment’s history. I also feel strongly that paying respects to these brave veterans is always a good thing, particularly in a world which often forgets its history, or what it owes to those who came before us. Often their very sacrifices are why we live as well as we do today. I think there is an OCD element of it for me as well: as a completist I am anxious to visit as many Chasseur officer and soldier graves as possible. With great web resources like Findagrave.com revealing new information all the time, it is always possible to visit another Chasseur grave.
One day late in 2019 I traveled directly from track practice to Bergenfield, NJ to visit the grave of Captain Frederick T. Volk. As his 1864 daily diary was an outstanding source for me on the time the 65th NY spent as prison guards at Johnsons Island prison camp in Ohio, as well as the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania (the latter battle where Volk was twice wounded and forced to spend much of the rest of the year recovering), my visit to his grave, once discovered on line, became imperative. I had spent two visits to Syracuse University to read and transcribe Volk’s diary, so in some way I felt I had gotten to know him.
Captain Frederick T. Volk, 65th NY Volunteers (photo courtesy of the New Jersey Department of State)
I found Volk’s grave easily within the churchyard cemetery, within the first three minutes of my visit. A flag which had been placed there by another visitor was on the ground, so I put it back upright, as well as cleaned up the dried grass which had been thrown over the grave by mowing, before taking my picture.
Capt. Frederick Volk’s grave
South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, New Jersey, where Volk is buried
The connection between a soldier or officer who wrote a letter, a diary, or a memoir, and the grave where he lies buried is a strong one, at least for me. An amateur historian who spends time reading the work of such soldiers is struck by how they reveal the humanity of the writer. And I guess the fact that they ended up in a graveyard, large or small, often seemingly forgotten in the twenty-first century, makes my own short visits, with accompanying pictures, and sometimes the planting of a flag, seem significant or at the least justifiable.
Recently I found a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham to his local newspaper, the Tiffin Weekly Tribune. The letter was dated October 3, 1864, and it was published in the Tribune on October 7, 1864. I knew of the newspaper, as one company of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry had been recruited and formed from Seneca County, Ohio volunteers, with Higginbotham (whose name is spelled in two or three different ways in the record) as their captain. Through the efforts of the Ohio Historical Society, as well as researchers at Bowling Green University, not only had many of the letters of the Ohio members of the 65th NY regiment been preserved, but they had been indexed as well. These letters served as a treasure trove for me as I researched my history of the 65th NY, but I had missed a few, including this particular letter. Its contents were very important for me, but the timing of the letter was even more significant.
Good Letter From Baltimore—A Tribute To The 1st U.S. Chasseurs.
Baltimore, Oct. 3, 1864
Dear B——: I am delayed here on account of our communications with Sheridan being interrupted by guerillas, but intend to leave for Harpers Ferry tonight, and proceed up the valley with a train tomorrow, and hope to gain the Regiment in a few days.
I had hoped to visit Tiffin, and see you before this, thinking that some notice would be taken of the return of my old company, in which case I certainly would have gone out with them. I will not attempt to conceal the fact that I am somewhat hurt to think that the citizens of Tiffin, should so overlook the services of as brave a company as ever left the state of Ohio, or any other State in the Union. They were no hireling soldiers, bought up so much a pound. When the rebellion first broke out, the President called for men to defend the capital, and they responded, not asking how much was the pay, or how much the bounty. What company, or Regiment can show a better record then they? They are an honor to the country and State from which they came. These men patiently endured all the hardships that fall to the lot of a soldier, always looking forward to the day when they would march home in triumph. The bones of their comrades have been left on every field from Fair Oaks to Petersburg, and all who knew them must admit that they did their whole duty. Yet, there was no authorized person to say to them on their return, “we thank you” in the name of your town and county.
I tell you the time will come when they will be honored as they deserve to be. When their backs are bowed by age, and their hair is grey, another generation will point to them and say, he was at Fair Oaks, or Malvern Hill. He fought with McClellan at Antietam, or helped form that living bulwark which rallied back the enemy at Gettysburg. They have seen many other hard fought fields, and never turned their backs to the enemy except at the word of command. The oldest guard of Napoleon might envy them their fame, for they never saw such fields as Spotsylvania and the Wilderness.
I only mention to say what I would have been proud to say in a more public manner, for I know the worth of that little band of veteran heroes.
Higginbotham’s disappointment that the men of Company K, men from Tiffin and the environs of Seneca County, Ohio, had not been given the welcome they deserved back home when their three year terms ended on September 1, 1864 was palpable. Like others from the 65th New York, however, Higginbotham himself had decided to re-up as a veteran volunteer. He was not only on his way to rejoin the regiment after a time recovering from illness after his capture at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864, but he was on his way to take command of the regiment.
Writing on October 3, 1864, and anxious to return to the regiment, Higginbotham obviously could not know the future. He did know, however, that the 65th had played a key role in the key victory at Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864 (also known as 3rd Winchester), and had then served as skirmishers at the front during the follow-up battle of Fisher’s Hill, on September 22, 1864. The Chasseurs had followed up those two victories over General Jubal Early’s Confederate force by helping General Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in its move south, up the Shenandoah Valley, in what became known as “The Burning,” when the Union army destroyed thousands of barns, took animals and grain, and left the Valley as a burned out wasteland no longer capable of serving as the primary source of food for General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. General Early’s Confederate force at this point offered little resistance, and, it was widely believed in the Union Army of the Shenandoah, was finished as a force that could offer much resistance to Union control of the Valley. In fact, the Union 6th Corps, of which the 65th NY was a part, had even begun its march back towards rejoining the Army of the Potomac in mid-October, with it services apparently no longer needed by Sheridan in the Shenandoah.
In fact, Early had been reinforced by General Lee, and he was planning a surprise attack on Sheridan’s Army. With signs of his army’s presence in the environs of the Union Army’s position behind Cedar Creek, just south of Middletown, Virginia, becoming evident, the 6th Corps was recalled, and it counter-marched back to its former comrades in the Army of the Shenandoah. So Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham would be rejoining the regiment there.
On October 19, 1864, General Early struck Sheridan’s army in his absence, while he was in Winchester returning after discussions about his future plans now that Early had seemingly been routed out of the Valley. Though Sheridan hurried to rejoin the army and in fact helped turn what had been a Union rout into an important victory at Cedar Creek by the end of the day, in the meantime the 65th New York had faced a serious setback, losing 90 men as casualties, including twenty-one killed. My great-great grandfather, Sergeant Timothy Carroll of Company H, was among the wounded. Most notably, the new regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham, was killed at the head of his troops in the early morning, just as he ordered his men to fall back under the pressure of the heavy Confederate attack and the regiment’s position was becoming untenable.
I had managed to find Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham’s gravesite on line in looking for an image of him on Google. To my surprise, he was not buried either at the Winchester National Cemetery, where over a dozen fellow Chasseurs, victims of the Battles of Opequon Creek, Fishers Hill, and Cedar Creek, are buried. Nor was he buried in his Seneca County home. Rather, he was among the graves in the vast and beautiful Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, along with several other members of the regiment. After a long drive dealing with the seemingly ever-present traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I managed to find Higginbotham’s grave rather easily, unlike other Chasseur graves in Green-wood, and take a picture. The cemetery is vast and gorgeous, a serene retreat within the busy and urban Brooklyn neighborhood where it is situated. And now that I have what could very well be Lt. Colonel Higginbotham’s last letter, in which he praises his own regiment and its role in the War, I once again have a connection between the man in life and at his rest.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, 65th NY commander killed at Cedar Creek October 19, 1864, and the inscription on his gravestone (The Green-Wood Historic Fund Collections )
Grave of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York (photo by author)
Another Chasseur officer associated with the Green-wood cemetery is Captain William Tracy. Killed at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, in a devastating late afternoon Confederate attack on the Union right flank, just where the Chasseurs were positioned, he was buried on the battlefield, and his body never recovered. However, his family built a memorial to him nonetheless at Green-wood.
Captain Tracy’s memorial at Green-wood Cemetery (photo by author)
Many of the Chasseurs are buried at National Cemeteries, so visiting them is rewarding to me. After walking over the horrible Cold Harbor battlefield, called by 6th Corps Colonel Thomas Hyde “The Golgotha of American history,” I made sure to find the one Chasseur who I knew was buried in the beautiful cemetery there, and place a small flag by his gravestone.
Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, contains the graves of about a dozen members of the regiment, so I not only visited the cemetery as part of my research tour of the Shenandoah Valley battlefields of 1864, but also placed flags next to those Chasseur graves which I was able to identify based on the cemetery records and the records of the regiment.
65th New York graves, identified by the flags placed besides the grave markers, at Winchester National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia (photo by author)
The grave of Private John Miller, Co. K, 65th NY, in the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, killed June 3rd, 1864 (photo by author)
Similarly, though it took literally miles of walking with my daughter Rachel throughout the Arlington National Cemetery to find the resting place of Private John Dougherty, mortally wounded on June 3rd, 1864 at Cold Harbor, it was worth it to bring a reality to the name on the record, and to connect that horrific Union defeat to the men of the 65th New York Volunteers. Finding many other Chasseur graves at Arlington as well, after Rachel had found the record of their presence there and conceived the idea of the two of us visiting them together, brought an even more profound sense of that special place than it normally invokes in a visitor. And the chance to visit my own great uncle and aunt’s graves there (Harry Roulett being a veteran of three American wars of the 20th century) added to the reasons for visiting. Finally, at Arlington there are several generals to see associated with the 65th New York volunteers. General Frank Wheaton, division commander at Cedar Creek, is buried there. So is General “Baldy” Smith, corps commander at Fredericksburg. And the graves of General Horatio Wright, division commander of the Chasseurs in 1864, then their 6th Corps commander upon the death of General John Sedgwick on May 9, 1864 at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Nearby Wright’s grave, both near Robert E. Lee’s Arlington mansion, lies the grave of Army of the Shenandah commander General Philip Sheridan. Finally, General Lawrence Graham, brigade commander of the Chasseurs during their training and early in the Peninsula Campaign, is also buried at Arlington.
General Frank Wheaton, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General William F. “Baldy Smith, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General Philip Sheridan, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General Lawrence Graham, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
Private John Gallon, killed at Spotsylvania (photo by author)
The Arlington National Cemetery grave of Private John Dougherty, 65th NY Volunteers, mortally wounded on June 3rd at Cold Harbor (photo by author)
Colonel Hyde also said of Cold Harbor “It is very interesting to revisit the battlefields of the war, but I never heard any one who was engaged there express a wish to see Cold Harbor again.” I know my visit to the grave sites of the Chasseurs killed there helped me to reflect on the terrible nature of the battle there.
(photos by author)
Sometimes when I am searching for graves of 65th New York officers or soldiers, I have to look in a vast cemetery like Brooklyn’s Green-lawn, Boston’s Forest Hills, or Philadeplhia’s Woodlands, which are lovely enclaves within an urban sprawl, scenes of arboretums and nature’s splendor. General John Joseph Abercrombie’s gravesite at The Woodlands was not too hard to find thanks to the researchers at Findagrave.com who had identified its location for me beforehand. Abercrombie commanded the Chasseur’s brigade at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill.
The Grave of General John Joseph Abercrombie, Brigade commander of the Chasseurs in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, with the author’s daughter Rachel (photo by author)
On the other hand, the grave of General Nelson Cross, the 65th NY’s brigade commander at the Battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, was so hard to find even though I had an idea of the section of the cemetery where he was buried (The Field of Manoah), that I had to return a second time, this time armed with a knowledge of his exact plot, having walked past it during the first search with my old friend Andy. Luckily it was a pleasure to catch up with my dear friend and former history colleague, who graciously hosted me for both trips, and even found the grave of Colonel Henry Fiske in New Hampshire’s High Street Cemetery on my first trip north. Fiske, originally from the 67th New York Volunteers, the regiment which combined with the Chasseurs on September 1, 1864, was the final regimental commander of the Chasseurs. Cross’ simple grave caused me to miss it the first time, though we found it easily enough during the second visit.
General Nelson Cross’ grave is the stone in the foreground in the photo on the left (photos by author)
(photo by author)
Like my visit to Captain Volk’s grave, I sometimes take arguably crazy drives by myself given that my end goal is simply finding a grave site or two. Other times, a trip for other reasons can include a brief stopover at a gravesite. I have even taken trips to see a significant grave (say General Emory Upton, for example, brigade commander of the Chasseurs and leader of an epic and famous May 10th, 1864 assault at Spotsylvania which included the Chasseurs acting as skirmishers), and stopped at a less significant gravesite “on the way.” Say, Colonel Silas Titus, very briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander in 1863.
General Emory Upton’s grave in Auburn, New York (photo by author)
Colonel Silas Titus’ grave in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse, New York (photos by author)
Then there are simply the hardcore(or ill-advised?) trips to see a particular grave whether or not it is significant to the regiment. A trip to Litchfield, Connecticut to see the grave of General Henry Wessells, the brigade commander of the Chasseurs for a week during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, comes to mind here. He did have a connection to the regiment, after all, if a tenuous and brief one. And it was a beautiful hike through a quiet snowy cemetery to try and find him. An earlier nice drive up to Litchfield County had enabled me to visit two other officers associated briefly with the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Skinner, very briefly regimental commander from January 11th to January 20th, 1865 and Colonel James Hubbard, briefly brigade commander in February to March, 1865, including at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run from February 5th to 8th. They at least were conveniently each buried in the nice, small Forest View cemetery in Winsted, Connecticut.
General Henry Wessels’ grave in Litchfield, Connecticut (photo by author)
(Photos by author)
Among my jobs for the past fourteen years has been working as a staff coach at a running camp in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It is always a pleasant and productive week accompanying my own cross country team at camp. And the drive home at the end of the week has afforded me a number of trips to historic sites over the years, for example to two of President Franklin Pearce’s homes, to President Calvin Coolidge’s farm, as well as to the birthplace of President Chester Arthur. But it is the visits to the graves of three generals associated with the 65th New York regiment that I best remember. General John Sedgwick, called “Uncle John” and beloved by the men of the 6th Corps, of which he was their commander, hailed from Cornwall Hollow Connecticut. On May 9, 1864, at Spotsylvania, as he inspected an artillery position on the front lines, he was killed instantly by a Confederate sharpshooter positioned almost a half mile away. Moments before he had joked with one of his soldiers about ducking from the sharpshooter’s fire, saying “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was the highest ranking officer of the Union army killed during the war, and General Grant, who was in disbelief at his death, said in his memoirs that it was equivalent to the loss of a full division of the Army of the Potomac.
General John Sedgwick’s grave, in a beautiful little cemetery near his home in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut (photo by author)
Another year on the way back home from running camp I went further afield, seeking to finally visit the grave of General Joseph Hamblin, the long-time commander of the 65th New York, and eventually their brigade commander. Hamblin’s grave in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, was a bit out of the way for me, and I would have to brave the summer traffic on a Saturday going on to the Cape in a driving rainstorm, but as I had used Hamblin’s letters home as a major source for my book about the regiment, I felt particularly strongly about seeing his grave at the Woodside cemetery. As I finally arrived at the cemetery, after the brutal traffic onto the Cape of that week’s summer renters, the rain developed into a torrential downpour. Having gotten used to searching cemeteries by now, and having seen a photo of Hamblin’s grave on Findagrave.com, I managed to drive to a part of the not-so-large cemetery which looked promising, and sure enough I saw a grave that had to be his! The rain beat down, and I sat in the car and waited it out. After a half an hour it lightened just a bit, and I walked to the grave, which was indeed Hamblin’s. It was a bit overgrown with shrubs, and a swarm of mosquitoes arose to attack me in the waning rain as I took my pictures, but making it to Hamblin’s grave was one of the most satisfying of all of my Civil War cemetery quests. And, as a bonus, in Taunton, Massachusetts, at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, on the way to the Cape, lay General Darius Couch, the Chasseurs’ division commander on the Peninsula Campaign, including at their first two big battles at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill. He was also their division commander on the slow march to Antietam in September 1862.
General Darius Couch’s grave in Taunton, Massachusetts (photo by author)
General Joseph Hamblin’s grave at Woodside cemetery in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts (photo by author)
Along with Joseph Hamblin, Generals John Cochrane and Alexander Shaler, the first two commanders of the regiment, and with it from its inception, were the two regimental commanders whose graves I felt it most important to visit. Cochrane, a Hamilton College graduate like me and my eldest daughter, New York City Democratic Congressmen, New York State Attorney General, and Radical Republican candidate for Vice-President on the Fremont ticket in 1864, was an interesting character. He called in a speech for arming the South’s slaves in November 1861, which was very early in the war for such a position, and he had been at the center of controversy after the Battle of Fredericksburg when he, along with General John Newton, visited Washington, D.C. secretly to meet with President Linclon and express their concern with General Ambrose Burnside’s army leadership. Shaler, second-in-command to Cochrane at the war’s start but the brains behind the training of the regiment, had served as major in the famous 7th New York Infantry, which had helped protect Washington in the tense early months of the war. He would go on to become New York City Fire Commissioner, Mayor of Ridgefield, New Jersey, and a founder of the National Rifle Association. His grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey was relatively easy to visit on the way South in 2012 on the first trip associated with my research on the 65th New York Volunteers. Cochrane, buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, just north of Albany, New York, was also easily visited on the way to family vacations in Saratoga, New York. His simple grave belies his status as an important politician in New York state.
General John Cochrane’s grave, Albany Rural Cemetery (photo by author)
Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, in the small cemetery behind the English Neighborhood Reformed Church, is much more ostentatious and noticeable, befitting a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, won for his actions leading the charge on Marye’s Heights during the 2nd Battle of Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863. Though the surroundings of the little cemetery are less impressive and now quite developed, Shaler does retain a nice resting place all things considered.
General Alexander Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey (photo by author)
A grave site which I have often visited, as it happens to be in Salem, New York, the site of a wonderful Bed & Breakfast called the Bunker Hill Inn which my family has stayed at regularly for years, is General David Russell’s. Russell, the division commander of the Chasseurs at the Battle of Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864, was killed in battle there while bravely organizing the crucial counterattack which helped save the day for the Union Army of the Shenandoah and led to an enormous Union victory for Sheridan’s army. Last summer I revisited for the third time, taking a picnic lunch and communing with this brave General, who, after being shot in the side with a likely mortal wound, bravely responded to one of his subordinates who asked if he was badly hurt, “It makes no difference at such a time as this. Order your brigade to charge!”stuffing his shirt into the wound and drawing his sword. Shortly after, he was killed instantly by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He was a widely admired and liked commander, and his loss was felt acutely by his comrades.
General David Russell’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Salem, New York (photo by author)
One of the best cemeteries for a Civil War buff to visit is at West Point. Not so far from my own home, I have been able to visit more than once. It is a beautiful site, overlooking the majestic Hudson River, and packed with some of the biggest names in American military history. A few are directly connected to the Chasseurs, including 4th Corps commander Erasmus Keyes, corps commander of the 65th NY volunteers during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Also Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie, brigade commander briefly in the winter of 1864-1865, and General John Newton, division commander of the Chasseurs at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.
General Erasmus Keyes’ grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)
Brigadier General Ranald Nackenzie’s grave, West Point, New York (photos by author)
General John Newton’s grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)
General Winfield Scott’s grave at West Point. He was a towering figure in American history, and overall Army commander early in the war. (photo by author)
With a few more 65th New York officers’ graves still to see, as well as higher-ups like General Henry D. Terry, the Chasseurs’ division commander during the Battle of Rappahannock Station, the Mine Run Campaign and when the Chasseurs served as prison guards at Johnson’s Island in Sandusky, Ohio in the winter and early spring of 1864, my “Cemetery Walking” is likely to continue. Since Terry’s grave is outside Detroit, Michigan, that one may be awhile.
But with five Chasseur graves in Tiffin, Ohio’s Greenlawn cemetery, and Captain Sam Kisinger, friend of Capt. Volk, buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn cemetery, a trip to Ohio seems to be in the offing. Such a long and ambitious trip needs to be combined with other things besides grave visits of course, and with the New York Mets visiting Cincinnati next July, and the homes of Presidents Taft and Hayes within reach, along with General Grant’s birthplace and the homes of Generals Sherman and Sheridan, I think I can find enough to do to justify the long drive to get there.
Meanwhile, the grave of Lieutenant William Byron, mortally wounded in the April 2, 1865 Petersburg Breakthrough attack, in the small rural Hauber cemetery near Andover, New York is intriguing. Not exactly in a place nearby or on the way to anything, so that one may be awhile as well. But Lieutenant Colonel Egbert Olcutt, briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander when he assumed command after the wounding of General Hamblin on October 19, 1864 at the Battle of Cedar Creek, located in the Cherry Valley Cemetery in upstate New York, looks doable. And since Cherry Valley is quite close to Cooperstown, I think a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame with my daughter Rachel looms.
In the summer of 2014, I walked forty miles with two friends in re-tracing the steps of my great-great grandfather and his Civil War regiment, the 65th NY volunteer infantry, on the road to Gettysburg. After such a venture, it might be safely assumed that I had learned my lesson. Blistered feet, sore muscles, and sun-and traffic oppressed roads made some aspects of the historical walk open to question, to say the least.
And yet here I was again, four years later, again with my friends Jim and Scott, ready to venture out on foot, this time following the route which the 65th NY soldiers took to get to Sharpsburg, Maryland, during the Antietam campaign of September 1862. The officers and men of the regiment called themselves “Chasseurs,” since their unit was early on designated as the First United States Chasseurs. My wife Alice had hoped that I might finally be done with my incessant trips visiting places associated with the Chasseurs for a regimental history I have published, but Jim’s query on a shared run this year about any other possible routes I’d considered walking had brought out this idea to follow the route of Darius Couch’s division (of which the 65th NY, from Colonel John Cochrane’s brigade, was a small part) on its way to Antietam.
Couch’s march, unlike the epic overnight seventeen hour march of the 6th Corps to Gettysburg to arrive in time to reinforce the Union army and help ensure the key victory at Gettysburg, was notorious for its slow pace. In fact, whereas for our Gettysburg walk we decided to divide this long seventeen hour march into two parts over two days, in this case we would be combining most of Couch’s poky five day march into two days.
On September 5th, 1862, Couch’s Division’s march began its part in the Maryland campaign by moving under orders to Offutt’s Crossroads, Maryland. Today it is known as Potomac, a tony suburb of Washington, D.C. Having worked as a history teacher at Landon School in nearby Bethesda, Maryland in the 1990s, I knew a walk from Potomac along what is still called River Road would be laden with fast-moving traffic, so I looked to start our own march route from a spot further along on Couch’s march to Sharpsburg. The good news was that our route would be southwest of the busy I-270 corridor, as Couch’s job was to watch the Potomac River’s fords and cover Washington, D.C. in case General Robert E. Lee’s army crossed the river. Couch’s Division made up the left flank of the Army of the Potomac as it moved cautiously northwest towards South Mountain and its gaps, beyond which lay Lee’s invading army. Couch’s division would make a “leisurely march” along the river towards Crampton’s Gap. Our walk might not exactly be leisurely, given the heat and the car and truck traffic along roads which did not always feature wide shoulders on which to walk. But at least if we began further away from the sprawling D.C. suburbs, we might hope for a walk along somewhat less traveled and more picturesque roads.
The Chasseurs’ slow march would take them on to Seneca, Maryland, by September 9th, 1862, a distance of about nine miles along the River Road, and then on to Poolesville, Maryland, another eight miles or so, by the next day. An easy two days of marching would land Couch’s division at Barnesville, Maryland by September 12th, only six miles further on.
As Barnesville looked from my perusal of Google Maps to be well outside of the nightmarish suburban sprawl of the D.C. metro area, as well as a manageable distance for a two day walk to Sharpsburg, site of the horrific September 17, 1862 Battle of Antietam, I decided that this would be our starting point. We arranged a charming if rustic accomodation at an AirBnB cottage in Boyds, backed up on a beautiful lake, only about a ten minute drive from our starting point in Barnesville. And we supplemented the food in the fridge with a delicious microbrew from nearby Frederick, Maryland called Doggie Style pale ale, brewed by the excellent Flying Dog brewing company .
The ale before bed at my middle age did result in a needed trip to the bathroom during the night. I entered the bathroom only to see one of the largest spiders I’d ever seen indoors sitting in the sink staring up at me. I managed to back out slowly, with my toiletry bag, leaving Shelob in charge of the bathroom. My friend Scott showed more bravery than me, if not as much as the Chasseurs on the march towards possible death, in grabbing the spider with a tissue and dropping it into the toilet. I later learned it was a largely harmless wolf spider, but I wasn’t going to fool around when I saw it staring up at me, its egg sac clutched beneath its belly.
I had found a perfect stopping point for the halfway mark of our walk: Jefferson, Maryland. Not only had the Chasseurs marched through there, but it was the site of the Little Red Barn Ice Cream Cafe, a spot where the owner agreed to let us park our car so we could drive back to our starting point after the first day’s walk, and, more importantly, where we could celebrate the end of our first day’s walk with ice cream and chocolate milkshakes.
The walk route: Barnesville to Sharpsburg, Maryland
Just before 9AM, we arrived at Barnesville’s St. Mary’s Catholic church, received permission to park our car at the start of the walk, and prepared to roll. First, we asked a nice elderly parishioner to take our picture. When we told her we would be walking to Jefferson, her response, with an incredulous look at us, was, “Do you know how far it is to Jefferson?!”
We did: it was nineteen and a half miles, following the road to Buckeystown on the way, as the Chasseurs did in 1862. Though research hadn’t revealed the exact roads the men marched on in 1862, I did know the towns they went through or camped, so we would be able to walk at least most of the time on the roads they marched, improved though they were in 2018. And, as the bells of St. Mary’s Church rang for 9AM, we were off, west on Barnesville road towards Dickerson, Maryland.
Jim, Scott, and the author (on the right) at the start of the walk at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville, Maryland (photo by kindly St. Mary’s church parishioner)
Looming over us on our right throughout most of the first day’s walk was beautiful Sugarloaf Mountain. Despite its beauty, we were happy enough to walk around and not over it. It served as an observation post for both armies during the Antietam campaign, a fact supported all day by the fact that we kept seeing it on our walk almost all the way to Mount Catoctin. The farms along the road, though they varied in size, were well-maintained and looked prosperous. This accords with numerous descriptions of the area that I have read in Civil War-era letters and memoirs.
We walked about 2 ¼ miles along Barnesville Road until its end; then we turned left on Mt. Ephraim Road for a brief stint. An old cemetery on our left afforded a shady place to take some water while we perused the graves, which were post-Civil War but from the late 1800s. A right on Mouth of Monocacy Road led to a short jog down to Dickerson Road, where we turned right and saw that we would have more space to walk along the road but would be up against much more traffic than we had seen thus far that day.
Sugarloaf Mountain (photo by author)
Dickerson Road, or route 28, featured fast-moving cars and trucks which reminded me of our stretch along the Baltimore Pike going to Gettysburg. Though it was getting rather sunny and warm by now, we slogged on. When we arrived at the Monocacy River, we crossed on a steel bridge. I thought of the significance of the river to Jubal Early’s July 1864 invasion of Maryland. In fact we were only one day beyond the 154th anniversary of the battle, when a small Union force took a defensive stand on the Monocacy River against Early’s invasion of Maryland. The battle occurred further north of where we crossed today, near Frederick. Though a Union defeat, the battle bought time and helped prevent a successful assault by Early on Washington, D.C. itself. Reinforcements from the 6th Corps, including the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry, arrived in Fort Stevens from outside Petersburg, Virginia just in time to thwart Early’s plans. But that was in July 1864, a different campaign from the one which we were focused on with this walk.
The Monocacy River (photo by author)
As we headed west after the river, I knew from previous map study that we were nearing Tuscarora, where we would bear right and head north on the Buckeystown Road, or route 85. The Chasseurs had camped on September 13th near Tuscarora, a small village which at the time was named Licksville. I liked the old name, though apparently the locals preferred a change.
Sure enough, in a little over a mile we bore right up the Buckeystown road. Though it was a tad less busy than route 28, this would be the biggest challenge of our day. There was almost no shade along this route, and we were there during the early afternoon, the hottest part of the day, with about 5 ½ miles left to walk. The temperatures at this point of the walk were in the low 90s, and it was somewhat humid as well, though with a slight breeze at times, which helped. We managed to find an old shade tree next to a busy farm for a short rest of water and granola bars. Mt. Catoctin loomed to our left, affording a pleasant enough view, but this was a tough portion of the route. I wondered at this point what had possessed me to need to recreate such a walk–clearly this modern road looked little like the dirt road my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll marched on, and it was freaking hot! At least my feet were feeling pretty good (I credit the padded thorlo socks, and the vaseline which Scott shared with me on one of our water stops, which I constantly rubbed on my toes and the soles of my feet). And the T-shirt and shorts with running shoes certainly worked better for us than the wool uniforms and heavy packs with which the men of the 65th NY marched. My small bag had some granola bars and plenty of water, but I had no need for percussion caps, lead cartridges, or hardtack. Definitely a lighter load for me.
The welcoming sign for Buckeystown, Maryland, finally came into view. Given that today was Jim’s 71st birthday, and his last name is Buckley, we decided to celebrate our relief at getting done with this hot, shadeless stretch by taking a picture of Jim at the sign, and by calling it “Buckleystown,” at least for a time.
Jim, on his birthday, entering Buckeystown (photo by author)
Buckeystown was a small crossroads spot with some beautiful postwar late 19th century houses, and, in the center of town, buildings which the Chasseurs marched by on their way to Sharpsburg. A left turn at the center of town onto Manor Woods Road signalled that we were finally heading directly towards our biggest challenge of the day: Mount Catoctin.
In the Center of Buckeystown, Maryland (photo by Scott Mosenthal)
Manor Woods Road was lightly traveled, and seemed to go around a large enterprise which looked like a big farm enclosed by a painted white fence, but a quick glance of Google maps reveals to be some sort of large gravel or other mining operation. This was separated by hedges and trees, which presented a pastoral scene, despite what lurked behind. An earlier driveway entrance on the right, featuring two sculpted lions done in an Asian style as well as the yellow and red stripes of a Vietnamese flag, led to a place called Xá Loi. It turned out to be a Buddhist Temple, which I only learned later. It was an interesting place for such a temple, but as we had seen a Zoroastrian Temple in Boyds near where we stayed the night, it was clear that religious diversity is a feature of this part of Maryland’s landscape. Our Civil War walk went on.
After a decent distance on Manor Woods Road, we turned left onto Ballenger Creek Road, for a short jog, then right onto Cap Stine Road, where we passed a farmer who seemed to be driving a tractor over his soybean field. He waved to us as he crushed soy plants beneath him. We later learned that farmers plant soy not only to harvest, but sometimes to put nutrients back into the soil after another crop. Moreover, with the current Chinese tariff on soy, he may have decided to not harvest part of his planted soy since the market had changed. I wondered what crops were growing as Timothy Caroll and his fellow Chasseurs marched by in September 1862.
Another left turn onto Howard Stup Road, which we agreed was our favorite road of the day, brought a quiet, flat, peaceful farm road with a nice shade tree along the way for a chance to sit on the grass, eat a granola bar and have some water. The heat had not abated, but at least the slight breeze and low humidity kept it bearable. After a short walk we turned right onto Mountville Road, the road over Mt. Catoctin.
A right turn onto Mountville Road, over Mt. Catoctin (photo by author)
Mountville Road featured almost no shoulders, but the traffic was moderate, if often fast-moving. After crossing busy Federal route 15, we began our climb in earnest, with an 11% grade that was definitely a challenge to walk. Luckily, we are each decently fit for old geezers of 71, 65, and 55 years of age, and it wasn’t too long before we had made it across the top and were walking downhill again. Though it continued to be hot, some shade offered relief, and the thoughts of the ice cream we were going to enjoy upon arrival in Jefferson kept us going. In fact, our dialogue at this point revolved mainly around said ice cream. Though I am quite sure from the letters and memoirs I have read of the men of the 65th New York that food (and coffee) was often a subject of their talk while on the march, I am also sure that their meals of hardtack and salted pork or beef were not nearly as delicious as the ice cream to which we were headed.
We had done well avoiding any problems with the car and truck traffic all day, and though the traffic once we’d turned onto Mountville road had picked up again, I’d made a habit of giving a big friendly wave as cars approached ahead of us so they would spot us before it was too late. As we rounded a curve and began a descent of Mt. Catoctin, however, we had our diciest moment of the day. With almost no shoulder, and poison ivy growing profusely along the road, we approached the curve just as a tractor towing a very wide piece of farm equipment rounded the turn towards us. Needless to say it was just as a car approached from the other side, and thus he had no room to drive wide of us. We stepped into the weeds just as he narrowly drove between the opposite car and ourselves, looking at us with a facial expression which I won’t soon forget. “Worry” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Alarm” is closer. “Full-blown panic” might be best. Happily, with skillful driving he made it through with no harm done to any of us. I worried about the poison ivy for the rest of the walk, which thankfully was almost over for the day. And Jim took to calling the particular farm equipment he was pulling as “the decapitator.”
Jefferson, Maryland, in the right center–our destination for the end of the first day’s walk. With South Mountain in the distance and Crampton’s Gap, on our Day #2 walk, on the left background. This would be a happier memory for the author were this picture not taken shortly after our near-miss encounter with “The Decapitator.” (photo by author)
Down the hill we three survivors went, knowing that we likely had around a mile to go until we hit the Little Red Barn ice cream cafe, which we could see from just after that blind curve off in the distance, down the hill. Our steps grew a bit sprightlier, and we happily turned right off of Mountville Road to Lander Road, a mere few hundred yards from the end of our journey for Day One. Across the bridge over busy route 340, and we were there! The ice cream was delicious, and, we felt, well deserved. The medium chocolate milkshake just wasn’t enough; I ordered a small one as well. Heck, I did walk 19.5 miles today, I figured. I was full but certainly satisfied. And the staff as well as some friendly customers were gracious and seemed duly impressed with our day’s efforts.
The author, holding the chocolate milkshake, with Scott and Jim at the end of a 19.5 mile walk from Barnesville to Jefferson, Maryland
That night we enjoyed a minor league baseball game with the Frederick Keys versus the Wilmington Blue Rocks, of the Carolina League, an advanced Single A league. I had been a fan of this franchise back when I lived in Maryland in the 1990s, and returning to the park was fun. Though the Keys lost the game, we enjoyed the rest and relaxation, and even bumped into a nice gentleman who had spoken to us earlier that day at the Little Red Barn, curious about our walk and its purpose. Certainly our rest was more enjoyable than that obtained by the 65th New York in 1862, even if we had covered more ground in one day than they had. We need not set up tents, prepare meals, and sleep in wool clothes without a proper chance to bathe. Baseball, beer, and hot dogs, after a nice shower, seemed pretty civilized to me.
Having looked closely at the map in preparation for our walk, both Jim and I felt that the second day’s roads would be less heavily trafficked and more beautiful to walk. We would be proven right.
We once again left the car at the Little Red Barn (with our 2nd car now parked ahead of us in Sharpsburg at the nice B & B where Scott and I would be staying that night), hoisted our modest backpacks loaded with water and set off, again right around 9AM, and this time from Jefferson, Maryland. Our route today would be to Burkittsville and Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain, where a sharp battle was fought on September 14th, 1862. The Chasseurs would be late for the battle, along with the rest of Couch’s Division, but they would cross Crampton’s Gap with the detritus of the battle all around them that evening.
Walking the few steps up Lander Road from the Red Barn to the Jefferson Pike (rte. 180), a left turn had us walking westward on the Jefferson Pike to the edge of town. Shortly after leaving Jefferson, which featured brand new housing developments around its fringe, we turned right on rte. 383,Broad Run Road, a nice road which would eventually intersect with Gapland Road. This would be our route to the pretty little town of Burkittsville, Maryland about six and a half miles away, at the foot of Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain.
Crampton’s Gap of South Mountain (photo by author)
As we expected, once we rounded a leftward curve outside Jefferson, the traffic quieted and we were on a beautiful road which went up and down over rolling hills in the aptly named Pleasant Valley. All around us were views of prosperous farms. South Mountain loomed ahead of us as we crested the rolling hills, and the weather was fair–warm but not too humid. It certainly had to be one of the most scenic marches the 65th New York men had made as they moved through this countryside September 14, 1862. For us, our soreness from the first day’s walk was bearable, and though we were stiff and felt tender feet, our spirits remained high. Unlike the Chasseurs, we knew a battle with the Rebels did not loom ahead for us.
We crossed Catoctin Creek and moved uphill towards Burkittsville. At an intersection near the house of a nice woman (who asked us our route and was supportive of our venture), we saw that a right turn would keep us on Broad Run Road but that Gapland Road, straight across, was the most direct route to the Gap. After some water, we headed forward. A few more ups and downs, and a friendly hello from a young farmer on a lawn tractor at one of the few farms featuring a prominently displayed Confederate flag brought us to an old rundown house on a corner which looked to be historic, and which indeed had played a role in the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. For us, the Hamilton Willard Shafer House was most significant because of its big shade trees, and a chance to stop, to rest and eat and drink, and to treat our feet with a little vaseline. The place was rundown and a sign said that local historical groups were restoring it with help from grants from the state of Maryland. The working water pump was likely a first benefit of the restoration work.
Three Images of the Hamilton Willard Shafer Farm, where Jim found a working water pump with freezing cold water emerging from the well, and where 6th Corps commander General William Franklin made his headquarters during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, September 14th, 1862 (photos by author)
Burkittsville and South Mountain were close, and after our refreshing rest we put our knapsacks on and got walking.
Nearing Burkittsville Maryland and South Mountain (photo by author)
Walking down to another small creek, we passed a small farm along the creek which had working beehives, then crossed the creek and headed up the road towards Burkittsville. The large apple orchards and cider works on our right were unfortunately closed, though Jim and his wife Kathy visited on their way home after our trip. Past the ciderworks and into the fringes of Burkittsville, we pondered the challenge of crossing over South Mountain on slightly sore feet, as no doubt the Chasseurs had in 1862.
Burkittsville is a beautiful and historic town, with well-maintained houses built, like in many old Maryland towns, up close to the roadway. Like the Chasseurs, we entered the town from the east.
Burkittsville, Maryland (photo by author)
Near the center of town, on the right, the white German Reformed Church stood. This structure had served as a hospital after the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, which the Chasseurs likely witnessed as a hive of activity.
At the main intersection in the center of town, we stayed straight and went through onto what had become Main Street. A short walk through the small town, and we began to finally ascend South Mountain. To the right, before we headed up in earnest, was Mountain Church Road, where Confederate regiments had desperately tried to hold off General Franklin’s two Union 6th Corps divisions. Franklin made the attack without Couch’s attached 4th Corps division, including the 65th NY, having arrived.
German Reformed Church, Burkittsville, Maryland. Union and Confederate troops were treated here after the Battle of Crampton’s Gap (photo by author)
Still, though they had missed the fight, the Chasseurs definitely ascended the mountain here, and knowing my great-great grandfather Private Timothy Carroll did the climb to the Gap, I was glad we would as well. A steep start got easier as we curved right and made a more gradual ascent up the side of South Mountain. It was hot, and we chose to go up on the right side, with traffic, after Jim noted more shade and the slower speed of cars going up than those going down the narrow road. Some signage along the way helped explain the battle which had transpired here, where heavily outnumbered Confederates on September 14, 1862 held off the Union legions for a time, then had retreated up the steep hill and then down towards the Confederate position at Sharpsburg prepared by R.E. Lee. The Confederates lost 958 men killed, wounded, or captured. The Union force lost 534 men. Couch’s division of course missed out on the fighting.
After what didn’t seem like too much walking uphill, I was surprised to see some stone work in a clearing ahead. I had an idea what it was, and that we had made it to Crampton’s Gap! Built and dedicated in 1896 by civil war correspondent Charles Alfred Townshend, who made his fortune after the war and built his estate at the Gap, the monument features the names of war correspondents from various wars, although, according to Wikipedia, some of the names listed are disputed. It is certainly an unusual monument to find on the top of South Mountain.
The Monument to War Correspondents at Crampton’s Gap (photo by author)
The author, on the left, with friends Jim and Scott at Crampton’s Gap, Maryland (photo by passing hiker)
A teen-aged hiker who was with a group hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, which runs along the crest of South Mountain, kindly snapped a picture of the three of us. We also met a through hiker who was on his way to Maine. He had started in Georgia in March with his family, who had made it various distances before having to drop out, supporting him along the way by meeting him every four days or so with supplies and company. We stopped for a snack and some hydration, and I felt triumphant in successfully ascending our second mountain in two days, even though we had about eleven more miles to go to get to Sharpsburg.
A gentle right onto Townshend Road across the Gap made for a more gradual descent, but we had to make our way to Rohrersville, Maryland, off to the Northwest, on our way to Sharpsburg, since Couch’s division had been sent there to guard the Union flank from any Southern move up from Harpers Ferry. The gentle downhill was easier on our tired legs. Townshend Road was also a beautiful road featuring views of Elk Ridge to our front and left, across green fields. Near the end of the road a kind woman who was watering her beautiful garden asked us our destination, then joked that we could get to Sharpsburg more quickly if we just left the road and headed due west.
A right turn onto the Rohrersville Road showed that we were on a busy roadway, route 67, for a time. It did at least have wide shoulders, but the traffic moving over 60 mph made it the least attractive road we had walked all day. And it had little shade on a hot afternoon. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too long before we turned left into Rohrersville on the historic road, knowing that the Chasseurs by no means marched on such a road as route 67, even if perhaps they did follow this route in the form it took in 1862. Less than a mile along the modern highway, Main Street, to Rohrersville, appeared. A left turn took us back onto the historic road, and definitely back on the trail of the Chasseurs.
Rohrersville, Maryland (photo by author)
Rohrersville was another historic Maryland town with its houses built right up against the road. The Chasseurs spent a day here while the rest of the Army of the Potomac was busy with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam. We didn’t bother to follow the aimless march of Couch’s division when it was sent south too late to the relief of the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, beginning to scale Maryland Heights near the Potomac River before being called back to Sharpsburg where the action was. But we did visit Rohrersville for the sake of historical accuracy, and the walk through the small historic town was pleasant enough. Leaving town, we crossed a nice stream near a beautiful old farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Then it was back to the busy highway, this time for a short stint, about a half mile.
The next turn would be significant in that it was the beginning of our final phase, as we headed to Sharpsburg itself. Knowing the Chasseurs camped with Couch’s division about a half mile south of Keedysville before heading on to Sharpsburg, we would follow the same route. And Marble Quarry Road, onto which we turned left, was lovely. Very lightly trafficked, it also featured an early shade tree on the farm of a friendly farmer who was driving his tractor and putting his hay into neat piles as he waved. It was a perfect place to take a drink of water and sit, across from another prosperous looking cattle farm. It also shortly crossed over a lovely stream, Little Antietam Creek.
What else about Marble Quarry Road made it such a highlight of the walk? Well, for one thing, I could see in a few spots chunks of marble in the weeds alongside the road. Apparently the quarry produced “… small deposits of cream colored marble…” The quarry apparently opened in 1896, but in the 1860s, the presence of high-quality marble in the area of Little Antietam Creek was noted. A plaque in Shafer Park in nearby Boonsboro, Maryland, as well as front steps and buildings in the area, are evidence for the quarry’s influence. The remains of the quarry itself was filled in as a safety hazard in the 1970s.
The Little Antietam Creek, which wound along and across the road, was another reason to enjoy this part of our walk. Two bridges on the road cross the stream, which was flowing strongly and clearly when we walked. And, finally, there were the raspberries, which grew in abundance along the entire road. Though in spots poison ivy also grew in abundance, and in proximity to the raspberry bushes, I was able to dodge the noxious plant and pick for the three of us some large handfuls of the sweet and delicious fruit. After a long hot day of walking, and with over three miles to go to Sharpsburg, the raspberries were a delicious morale booster for me, and, I think, as my two companions picked their own handfuls, for my friends as well. The Chasseurs didn’t get to enjoy this treat, as they marched through in mid-September while we were there in mid-July.
Marble Quarry Road ended at Mount Briar Road. A right turn onto the latter brought another quiet road with more raspberries, and historic houses which the 65th New York men might well have marched past. The road clearly dated to well before the Civil War and led to the south of Keedysville, where I knew Couch’s division had camped on its way to Antietam. Indeed, the looming large blue water tower with “Keedsysville” painted on it just to our northwest was an indicator that we were getting close to the end of our journey.
At Mount Briar Road’s end, we turned left onto Dogstreet Road, and with the new houses along the road, and especially the new development on Sumter Drive, which we walked along for a short stretch on our way to the Shepherdstown Pike, we were clearly in the 21st century, not the 19th. However, the left turn onto the busy pike with the wide shoulder would at least replicate the Chasseurs’ last mile or so to the Antietam Battlefield on the historic, though much-improved, road. The traffic wasn’t too bad, and, though we bemoaned the last few big hills and dips of this lovely Maryland countryside, when we went uphill having crossed Antietam Creek, we knew we were in business. The car was parked behind the Inn at Antietam, where we had left it after the Keys game last night, and we hopped in and drove the two long (at least to walk) blocks into the center of Sharpsburg, where Nutter’s Ice Cream awaited us. 18 miles was enough for today.
Couch’s Division, as it had been sent on a peripheral mission to Rohrersville and the base of Maryland Heights, got to Sharpsburg after the bloodiest day in American history was ending. Almost 6,000 men were killed or mortally wounded; another 17,000 were wounded. Though General Lee stood on September 18th ready to fight again, and General McClellan received two fresh divisions onto the field, among them Couch’s men, McClellan chose not to attack, fearing he may be outnumbered still, and Lee chose to retire to Virginia that night. The standoff could be claimed as a Union victory, incomplete though it was, with Lee’s retreat back into Virginia, and this led to President Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, a clear turning point for the war. So to walk to this place, thirty-seven and a half miles in all, was well worth it even if Couch and the Chasseurs got there late.
Besides, I might not even be here if McClellan threw them into the fight on the 18th.
The marker on the Antietam Battlefield for Couch’s Division–Cochrane’s Brigade was the one to which the 65th NY Volunteer Infantry was attached. (photo by author)
Outside Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, Maryland after 37.5 miles of walking (photo by anonymous fellow ice cream store customer)
The approximate position of the 65th New York Volunteers at Antietam, September 17th-18th, 1862 (photo by author)
Antietam National Cemetery (photo by author)
The Famous “Burnside’s Bridge” at Antietam (photo by author). The sycamore tree at the left of the bridge across the creek is a “witness tree,” being there at the time of the battle.