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

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

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

Another visit to a new graveyard

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

A New Discovery from Ohio’s 65th NY soldiers

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

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

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

A 40 mile walk to Gettysburg

A Walk to Gettysburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Union Mills, Maryland

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

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Soaking Our Sore Legs and Feet in Historic Pipe Creek

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

Westminster, Maryland (photo by Sherri Hosfeld Joseph)

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

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

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

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

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 Reaching the Border of Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

Veterans Day

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

The Culpeper Mine Road as a Metaphor for Me

The Culpeper Mine Road to the Wilderness, Virginia (photo by author)

The theme picture of the bog, which I picked as symbolic of my journey following the road of the 65th NY over the years, means a lot to me on a number of levels. For one, it reminds me of the tour I got there by Bob Johnson, a gracious host and arguably the foremost expert on the road itself, which goes through his community, called Lake of the Woods and abutting the Wilderness National Battlefield. The road itself connects the community to the trails of the battlefield park, and I walked it in July 2015 after lunch with Bob, retracing the route taken by the 65th NY volunteers as they headed on May 6, 1864 to the horrible Battle of the Wilderness.

This is the second and most obvious reason the road means a lot to me. Knowing my great-great grandfather, Sergeant Timothy Carroll, headed down this road en route to the extreme right of the Union lines, and hence into one of the worst spots on what would be a horrible battlefield, gives this wooded path a powerful meaning for me.

The battle, in which almost 18,000 Union troops would be killed or wounded, to go with 11,000 Confederates, featured a surprise Confederate flank attack late on May 6th which landed right in the 65th NY regiment, resulting in the capture of their brigade commander, General Alexander Shaler, along with the loss of 57 men of the regiment, killed, wounded, or captured. Some of the captured men would end up in Andersonville prison camp deep in Georgia, and would experience the horrors of starvation, scurvy, and dysentery. Their dozen graves at the Andersonville National Cemetery attest to their suffering and death there.

The grave of Pvt. George F. Kuhn, who enlisted from Tiffin, Ohio in Company K, and was captured at The Wilderness and died at Andersonville (photo by author)
The grave of Co. C. veteran Thomas Morris, a New Yorker captured at The Wilderness and buried at Andersonville, Georgia (photo by author)

The third reason the Culpeper Mine Road means a lot to me is what it taught me about the process of Civil War research. When I was lucky enough to win a grant to follow the route of the 65th NY over Grant’s Overland campaign, traveling with my father in 1996, we started from Culpeper, Virginia, where the 6th Corps was camped, among them the Chasseur regiment, and we began our drive south by crossing the bridge at Germanna Ford, exactly where the 65th NY had crossed. Or so I thought then. Later research in the War of the Rebellion, or the Official Records or OR as it is often called, along with the letters of regimental commander General Joseph Hamblin, revealed to me that in fact the regiment had been detached, along with the rest of General Shaler’s brigade, to guard the 6th Corps wagon train and cross downriver at the Culpeper Mine Ford. They would be summoned to the front to bolster the lines after the bloody first day’s fighting on May 5, 1864, and hence they would journey down the Culpeper Mine Road to get there.

My years of researching about the regiment are filled with such discoveries, which change one’s understanding that had perhaps been built on earlier and less accurate research. To come full circle, my discovery of the different route of the Chasseurs led me to an online posting about the Culpeper Mine Road by Mr. Bob Johnson, and hence my later trip to the road to meet with him as my host and guide.

Finally, the remnants of puddles seen in my photograph of the road are a reminder to me of the flash flood I drove into in July 2015, starting once again from Culpeper, but this time by myself and following a dirt road off of the main road to try to get as close as possible to the site of the Culpeper Mine Ford. Sometimes the striving for historical accuracy can be downright dangerous, as I discovered when I drove into the roadside ditch which I couldn’t see under the deep puddle I drove through, leaving me stuck and helpless to prevent water pouring into my car as I stepped out of it to stand on the roadside berm. Luckily I was towed out, and was only a bit late to see Bob for the lunch and tour we had together, needing some time to literally bail out my car once it was towed out of the ditch.

So, this picture of the Culpeper Mine road holds a lot of meanings for me, and reminds me that though it involves challenges, historical and literal wrong turns, the beauty and fun of my ongoing Civil War research is that there will always be surprises, challenges, and new learning ahead.

The memorial to Capt. William Tracy of the 65th NY, in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. He was killed at the Wilderness and buried there, but his family put this memorial up in the cemetery in his honor. (photo by author)

A Trip to the West Point Cemetery

Because I frequent cemeteries which contain the last resting place of members of the 65th NY regiment, or their commanders, one of the things that my friend and colleague Larry sometimes calls me is a “ghoul.” Admittedly, he normally calls me that after I have accused him of photo-shopping himself in front of the Taj Mahal, or at the Great Wall of China, as he shares his travel photos with his freshmen classes. My accusation that he spends his summers in his Bronx apartment carefully photo-shopping himself near historic places, rather than traveling the world as is the reality, makes him quick to call out my own walks through historic cemeteries. However, I find them first of all beautiful and peaceful, and often I am the only one walking among the graves there. Secondly, with all the reading I have done about the battles and places where the men of the 65th NY fought and lived, I enjoy feeling the connection to their presence as I visit their gravesites.

For my 2nd book, with a working title of Following the Chasseurs, I envision one chapter called “Cemetery Walking,” with an explanation of why I choose to visit these sacred places, as well as photographs of the graves of the Chasseurs themselves, or of the officers that commanded them at either the regimental, the brigade, the division, or the Corps level.

Today I visited the beautiful cemetery at West Point, at the National Military Academy overlooking the Hudson River. The pictures that follow include some officers who commanded the Chasseurs as brigade, division, or corps commanders, as well as some noteworthy officers who served in the same battles as them, or just made a name for themselves in American history without necessarily being connected to the 65th NY. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day at West Point.

And on the way home, I stopped to snap one picture in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, of the Civil War memorial and the graves around it. I didn’t find any members of the Chasseur regiment there, but it is a beautiful place nonetheless and I am glad I visited.

Four Pictures from a Visit to the NY State Military History Museum last summer–the first is the regimental flag, presented by New York City in 1864, and the second is my daughter Rachel holding a note from President Lincoln calling for the promotion of Colonel Shaler to Brigadier General after his role at 2nd Fredericksburg.