Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scratchin' my head. . .


The Alexander Gardner photograph above is among the most famous/most recognizable in the vast annals of Civil War photography. It was taken on September 19, or maybe the following day. The dead soldiers were most likely Confederate troops from Parker's Virginia Battery or Joseph Kershaw's brigade of South Carolinians. But which unit they belonged to is irrelevant. What is important is that the photograph shows the horrific consequences of combat.
A larger-than-life copy of this photograph is what visitors see immediately upon entering the Antietam National Battlefield's Visitor Center. It is a sobering reminder of what happened on the once peaceful farming fields along the Antietam Creek just 145 years ago. Most visitors are familiar with this photograph. For those who are seeing it for the first time when they walk through the visitor center doors, well, most are struck by its gruesomeness, leaving many to just shake their heads in disbelief. A few, however, have quite a different and quite vulgar reaction.
Now, I have seldom used this blog to rant, but over the past two years, I have seen a number of visitors actually lay down on the floor of the visitor center, below this photograph and pretend as if they are one of the dead soldiers. A smiling friend, or worse, a parent takes their picture. It is just unbelievable. Now, this has happened maybe a dozen times since I have been at Antietam, and most of the time it was a kid who posed. But once I saw a grown man do it! I shake my head and wonder to myself what makes people think this is appropriate? And I have to wonder, too, if in 145 years from now, in 2152, if people will pose under a photograph of American soldiers killed in action during our present war in Iraq?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Up Close With Some of Gettysburg's Granite and Bronze Soldiers

It was a beautiful Fall day here in Gettysburg, so I headed out to the battlefield armed with my Traveller Digital Camera and snapped a few up close shots of some of the battlefield's granite and bronze soldiers. . .
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Two views of the 40th New York ("Mozart Regiment") Monument in the Plum Run Valley. I always liked this monument as it is somewhat "hidden" from plain view. . .
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Hampton's Battery. . .in the Peach Orchard
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The 118th Pennsylvania ("Corn Exchange") Monument near Stony Hill. . .
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This monument to the 140th Pennsylvania is among the most unique at Gettysburg, or at any National Battlefield for that matter. . .it depicts a young soldier killed in action.
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Massachusetts Sharpshooters' Monument
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This soldier of the 23rd Pennsylvania ("Birney's Zoauves") is ready for action. . .
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The recently dedicated monument of General John White Geary on Culp's Hill
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Two shots of the 78th/102nd New York Monument on Culp's Hill. . .

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The 13th New Jersey Infantry Monument
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And, of course, I couldn't leave the battlefield today without first visiting the monument dedicated to the 96th PA Infantry, from my native Schuylkill County. . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

PROFILES: Private Daniel Barnett, Co. E

The older I get, the more I realize that most Civil War soldiers were mere boys, ranging in age from 18 to 25. Not that I'm an old-timer myself; indeed, I turned 29 just last month. But still, there is no denying that so many of these soldiers' lives were cut way too short during America's fratricidal war. The story of Private Daniel Barnett, of Company E, illustrates this point far too well.

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Like so many young boys, Daniel Barnett was eager to volunteer when the American Civil War broke out in April 1861. But at the outbreak of hostilities, Barnett was just fourteen years old. For someone like Barnett who was only too eager to enlist, the widespread belief that the war would be a short affair, decided after one strong show of force, may have been just a little frustrating and disconcerting. If this was true, then he would miss out on the great adventure of soldiering and on the honor of having served his country in its time of need.

But the war would certainly not be a short-lived conflict. It would drag on, through many long months and through many savage battles. By 1864, the notions that this war would a glorious affair were wiped clean from most minds. . .but not to Daniel Barnett. In February 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was actively seeking new recruits, and on the eighteenth, young Barnett, now seventeen years of age, finally volunteered. Outfitted with the Union blue and given the accoutrements and weapons of war, Barnett proudly posed for a photographer. He was a soldier now, and he was serving his country.

Barnett, a laborer who stood just 5'4" in height, survived the horrific combat at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and at Cold Harbor. He also made it unscathed through the opening attacks at Petersburg, and survived Pegram's Farm. By the beginning of 1865, Barnett, now eighteen years old, was nonetheless a veteran of at least a half dozen major battles. And for the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, there would be but one more major battle before the war finally came to a close, although no one could have known this when the spring of 1865 dawned.

On April 2, General Ulysses Grant ordered an all-out, frontal assault on the thin Confederate lines surrounding Petersburg. It was, by all accounts, a glorious battle, with the veterans of so many hard-fought battles rushing forward, bayonets glistening, and their proud banners, torn by shot and shell, flying high above their heads. But for all this romanticism, this was still war, with all its terrible and horrific realities. Hundreds died, thousands more received ghastly, disfiguring wounds.

The loss of life in the 48th Pennsylvania was high. The regiment's commander, Colonel George Washington Gowen, was killed instantly when an artillery shell tore away half his head. The regimental flag was splattered by his blood and brains. Included among the killed, too, was Private Daniel Barnett. Sometime during the charge, the eager young soldier was shot through the temple and, in an instant, his life came to an end.

Exactly one week later, hostilities in Virginia ceased when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. There would be celebrations throughout the army, but not as jubilant as those that occurred throughout the cities, town, and townships of the north. However, there would certainly be no great celebration among the members of Daniel Barnett's family. Instead, there would be just mourning. They would have their memories and they would cherish his photograph, where he is standing proud in his uniform of the United States, so full of life and youthful vigor.

While the survivors of the war began to make their way back to their homes and loved ones looking forward to continuing to live their lives in peace, the body of young Daniel Barnett would remain buried deep in the ground, where, after 142 years, it still remains.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

And I thought James Horner did the soundtrack. . .

I was 11 years old when the movie Glory was released way back in 1989. . .My parents took me to the theaters several times to see it, and after all these years, it still remains atop my all-time favorite movies list.
With some time to kill this evening, I searched on youtube.com for some old Guns-N-Roses music videos, and was surprised to find that someone had used the classic GnR song "Civil War" as a soundtrack for Glory. And, strangely enough, it ends with Simon and Garfunkle's "Scarborough Fair."
Interesting.
See what you think:



Oh, and after further searching, I found that someone used it against clips from Saving Private Ryan and The Lost Battalion. . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9VhD4SccSE&mode=related&search=

They both help to show war for what it is: terrible and senseless.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Private William A. Miller, Co. A: The 48th's First Death

Joseph Gould, in his regimental history published in 1908, recorded that during the four years of the Civil War, 236 men of the 48th Pennsylvania died while in service. He took this number (and the lists of the dead by company) directly from an 1865 publication titled The Patriotism of Schuylkill County, edited by Francis Wallace. Published shortly after the guns fell silent, Wallace's work was rushed to print before the true casualties figures from the war surfaced. Indeed, the number of men who died in the 48th was significantly higher. Scores of men remained unaccounted for, either missing in action, or simply listed as "Not On Muster Out Roll." It is not a stretch to say that the number of fatalities in the regiment far exceeded 300 men. The causes of deaths in the regiment were nearly evenly divided between battlefield casualties and those who succumbed to disease.
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It was disease that claimed the life of the 48th's first wartime death: Private William Miller, of Company A. When the call went out for volunteers in the summer of 1861, Miller, a nineteen-year-old yeoman from Port Clinton, was quick to enlist his services. Mustered into service on September 17, 1861, Miller was dead just two months later, passing away on November 21, while the regiment was stationed on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.
The body of the young private was sent home to Schuylkill County for burial, being interred in my own hometown of Orwigsburg. I was in Orwigsburg last week and snapped this photograph of Private Miller's grave:
Miller was, sadly, the first of hundreds of soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania who sacrificed their lives fighting for the Union.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Fog of War?

Mornings lately have found the Antietam Battlefield enshrouded in a heavy, heavy fog. Today's fog was particularly thick, and it did not lift until well after 10:00 A.M. Visibility was, of course, limited. I took a few photographs of the area just immediately outside the Visitor Center.
From the cannon representing S.D. Lee's Battalion, opposite the Dunker Church, the fog made it impossible to see even the Maryland Monument, which is just a hundred or so yards away. . . The New York State Monument slowly came into view. . .

The 1st Rhode Island Artillery Battery, Captain Tompkins's guns, was all one could see this morning from the southern side of the Visitor Center. . .

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Of course, the fog played a role during the battle of Antietam itself, and every foggy morning we have, well, I naturally think about this role. . .and how it may have saved Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. Indeed, during his invasion north, in which everything seemingly went wrong for Lee, the fog...well, the fog was just about the only thing that played in his favor.
When Lee crossed the Potomac in early September, launching his first invasion north, he was fully expecting that all of the success he had enjoyed during his first three months in army command would certainly continue on U.S. soil. But whereas everything went right for Lee before the campaign began, as soon as his men set foot on Maryland soil, everything now started to go wrong. Straggling was at one of its all-time highs in the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, as Lee's men were simply exhausted from what was ten continuous weeks of fatiguing marches and terrible combat. The reception Lee's men were given in Maryland was also a big disappointment for the Confederate Army commander. He was expecting an ovation, that he and his men would be welcomed as heroes and as liberators to an oppressed people. Instead, he was given a cool and sometimes hostile reception from the people of Maryland. Add to these setbacks the fact that the Union garrison at Harper's Ferry did not evacuate their post, as Lee fully expected. This forced him to split his army into many parts to, at the same time, continue his movement north and to deal with those stubborn Yankees at Harper's Ferry. If things couldn't get worse, his plans--Special Orders No. 191--fall directly into the hands of his opponent, General George B. McClellan, who will push his Army of the Potomac west from Frederick in order to cross South Mountain, and, hopefully, cut Lee's army in two and "beat him in detail." Lee, who was on the offensive for ten days, was now forced to assume a defensive stance. His men under D.H. Hill and Longstreet put up a heroic stand at South Mountain on September 14, but by nightfall, McClellan's men had gained a strong foothold on the mountain, and with more and more Union soldiers arriving, Lee decided in was time to head home. . .his campaign of invasion over. But retreating from South Mountain, Lee would learn of the imminent surrender of Harper's Ferry, and he saw that the ground surrounding the town of Sharpsburg, along the Antietam Creek, was ideally suited for defense. Plus, he came north looking to fight a battle--and gain a victory--on U.S. soil. He would have preferred to have fought that battle much further north, but, still, the banks of the Antietam was as good a place as any to make a stand. D.H. Hill's and Longstreet's men are put into position, and Lee anxiously awaits the surrender of Harper's Ferry and the arrival of Stonewall Jackson's men. But would they arrive before the Union army attacked again? George McClellan was certainly planning to attack, but on September 15, his men would not arrive on the eastern side of the creek until late in the day, too late, in fact, to launch an assault of Lee's new line. So McClellan planned to attack early on September 16.
But when Tuesday, September 16, dawned, a heavy fog enshrouded the area making it impossible for McClellan to see Lee's lines and to determine the size of the Confederate force along the Antietam. As the hours passed with the fog remaining heavy, Jackson's men tramped their way northward. All but one of his divisions would be on the field by early the next morning.
For Lee, with everything going wrong thus far in the campaign, something had finally gone right: the fog of war, literally, worked to his advantage, giving Jackson time to get his men to Antietam, and preventing McClellan from launching his attack on the morning of September 16.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Letters Home: Private Jesse Springer, Co. A, 10/5/1862

The following, heartbreaking letter was written by Private Jesse Springer, of Company A, 48th Pennsylvania, on October 5, 1862. A year and a half earlier, on September 17, 1861, Jesse and his older brother, John, were both mustered into service as privates in Company A. John was 24 years old at the time of his enlistment, and his brother Jesse was 20. Both were farm laborers from Hecla, a small community in southern Schuylkill County. At the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, John was struck down, mortally wounded. He died on October 3. Jesse wrote the following letter to his father two days later.
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Mouth of the Antietam
October 5th 1862

Dear Father
This I am happy to state leaves me well, but I am grieved beyond descritpion to announce the death of my dear brother John. He departed this life on the 3rd in Georgetown of disease. His disease I could not tell you as the the Official Notice gave it in Latin. Lieut Henry Boyer received Official notice from the Doctor today. I am very sorry I could not attend to him in his last hours but this was impossible He died a patriotic Soldier.
Dear parents he was a brave soldier and done his whole duty That consulation you have and I hope you will make up your mind that the loss of your son and my brother the country has lost one that endured the battlefield boldly and fearlessly; not in anngry passion, but cooly and reservedly, to put rebellion down. Dear Parents, think of me and pray for me so if I fall, my soul may enter the kingdom of heaven Although brother is no more with us in person he is in spirit. If I am killed my spirit will guide them on to victory and glory. . . .
I don't think we will enter Virginia this fall, as it is getting cold and we will have to prepare for winter. . . .Lieut [Abiel H.] Jackson commanding our company resigned and went home last Wednesday. We have been lying here very near three weeks and there is no intimation of a forward [inellegible]. . . . As I have nothing more to day I will close hoping to hear from you soon my love to all

Your aff Son
Jesse Springer
Company A 48th Regiment P.V. 1st Brigade 2nd Division Burnside's Army
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Jesse Springer remained in the army, and reenlisted in the early spring of 1864. He survived the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, and on July 17, 1865, he was mustered out of service, still a private, but proudly as a "veteran." He returned to Hecla. . .