Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Lieutenant M.M. Kistler, Co. I, And His "Remarkable Tenacity of Life."

Michael M. Kistler was 32 years old when he was mustered into service as a lieutenant in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, on August 15, 1861. At 5'11", he was among the tallest soldiers in the regiment, and before the war, he labored as a farmer in the small Schuylkill County village of Ringtown. Surviving the battles that comprised Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina Expedition throughout the winter of 1861-1862 as welll as 2nd Bull Run, Chantilly, and South Mountain unscathed, Kistler fell with a grievous wound on September 17, 1862.
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While googling the 48th Pennsylvania several years ago, I came across this interesting article that appeared in the March 16, 1864, supplement of the Boston Herald.
"Remarkable Tenacity of Life: Lieut. M.M. Kistler, formerly of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who still survives, and is commanding a company in the Invalid Corps, was pronounced by the surgeons who examined him after the battle [of Antietam], as he lay among the dead--himself almost as dead apparently as they--mortally wounded, and he was passed by at the time, and the attention of the surgeons was devoted to others, for whom it was thought there might be a chance of recovery. The fortunes of the day seemed to vacillate in the balance as the massive columns surged back and forth, and for a time the field was in possession of the rebels; again our brave fellows drove back the rebel columns, and took the ground where our wounded were lying, weltering in their gore, and in the evening the brave and undaunted Lieutenant was carried from the field by our own men, and laid down in an old barn without blanket or overcoat. His clothes on his right side, from his shoulder down to his boot, being saturated with blood from his wound, were cold and stiff. It was at Antietam he was wounded, by a ball entering his right shoulder in a way to carry his epaulatte into the wound, and part of it with the ball entered the right lobe of the lungs. The wound was probed by no less than eight or nine surgeons, three or four at a time. They exceeded in extracting from the wound the wire, four or five inches in lenght, belonging to the shoulder strap, and all agreed there were fractured pieces of bone necessary to be extracted, but they neither removed them nor dressed the wound, considering the case a hopeless one. The Lieutenant alone believed his recovery a possible case. Thus he laid suffering in his gore until the sixth day when he received a change of clothing, and on the seventh day, with the assistance of his servant, he started, both feeble and faint, and reached his home. On the thirteenth day after receiving the wound, it was for the first time thoroughly dressed, by Dr. J.C. Schirner, of Tamaqua, Penn. Suppuration had by this time taken place, and he spit up a portion of the shoulder strap with the body matter. The ball still remains in the lungs too heavy to be raised by the efforts made in coughing, where an abscess is formed by the wound in the lung, and suppuration takes place, as it frequently does. He now usually enjoys a reasonable degree of health, with the exception of a few days each time that these inward gatherings take place.
This we regard as one of the most remarkable cases of recovery, from what would be regarded by all surgeons as a hopeless case, on record. When we contemplate a man with such a wound, lying for thirteen days without any efficient surgical or medical aid, and without any change of clothing for six days, and in the main cold and damp, without food or attention, we cannot but be struck with amazement at the wonderful recuperative powers of the system, in the case of the indomitable Lieut. Kistler. We would naturally suppose he must have suffered untold misery during those thirteen days, but he says he suffered but little, comparatively speaking. His sensibilities must have been instantly stunned. He is a living miracle to all who know his case. While a slight wound hurries many a strong man to an untimely grave, a strong constitution, a determined and indomitable spirit, and, may we not add, a kind Providence had lengthened out his days for further service in the cause of his country."
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Following his wound at Antietam, Kistler was naturally discharged from the 48th Pennsylvania, but following his recovery, returned to the army as an officer in the Veteran's Reserve Corps. Regrettably, I have not been able to find anything on Kistler's post-war life. . .but I'll keep looking.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Blog on Schuylkill County's Military History!

Exciting news!
My friend Stu Richards has launched a blog that details the rich and facinating military history of Schuylkill County. Stu is a Schuylkill County expert, and I greatly look forward to reading his posts.
The title of the blog is Schuylkill County Pennsylvania Military History, and is "A Military History of The Men and Women Who Came From or LIved in Schuylkill County Pa. And Served This Country From The French And Indian War to The War on Terror."
I have also added a link on the right-hand side of my page. . .
Good luck, Stu, and welcome to the blogosphere. Huzzah!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rememberance Day Discovery. . .

Have new photographs of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg been found?
On this Rememberance Day weekend here in Gettysburg, I came across this article in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-11-15-lincoln_N.htm?csp=34
See what you think. . .

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Year Bloggin'

The battle-scarred flags of the 48th P.V.V.I.
[Photographed upon the regiment's muster out of service in July 1865]
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Saturday, November 17, 2007, will mark one year since I began The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry: An On-Line Journal Dedicated to the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. To say that I have thoroughly enjoyed keeping this blog maintained over the course of the past twelve months would be an understatement. The truth is, I have enjoyed it immensely. As initially conceived, this blog was "intended to present the history of [the 48th PA] one blog at a time." Faithful readers know that I have posted on a whole host of Civil War-related topics, not necessarily connected with the regiment, but I have tried to never veer too far of course. That is why I have never changed the name of this blog, although it has been suggested. I have been welcomed into the Civil War blogosphere with open arms, and through my blog, I have gotten to know some really incredible people including, but not limited to, Brian Downey (http://www.aotw.org/), Harry Smeltzer (http://www.bullrunnings.wordpress.com/), and Kevin Levin (http://www.civilwarmemory.typepad.com/). Of course, my colleague at Antietam, Ranger Mannie Gentile (http://www.volunteersinparks.blogspot.com/) was my original inspiration, and he helped guide me through the ins and outs of blogging of blogspot.com. Thanks Mannie, and thanks to everyone else who helped make this past year truly memorable. It is also a great honor to have Laurie Chambliss and the folks at Civil War Interactive: The Daily Newspaper of the Civil War (http://www.civilwarinteractive/) feature my blog every week on their TWIB (This Week in Blogs) report.
Through The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, I have also had the great pleasure of being contacted by a good number of descendants of soldiers who served in the regiment. They have been most kind and generous in providing me with photographs, letters, diaries, and a host of other material otherwise unavailable. Through this blog, I have learned much more about the regiment I have spent my life studying.
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With the one-year anniversary of my blog, I thought it would be fun to take a look back on some of my favorite postings. I will start, however, with my very first one:
This post excluded, I have updated this blog with 120 posts, or roughly two every week. Those I have found most enjoyable are the ones I categorize as "Profiles," which focus on the life and service of an individual soldier. The following are two of my favorites:
In February 2007, I posted twice on the forgotten Nicholas Biddle, a hero of the Civil War:
In looking back over the past twelve months of posts, my favorite, or at least the one I am most proud of, tells the story of my many years' long quest to discover more about an elusive Civil War soldier, one Emerguildo Marquis:
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With my rookie season of blogging coming to an end, I look forward to many, many more years to come. I have been flattered with compliments by those who have found this blog to be interesting, compelling, educational, and inspirational. I only hope that it will continue to be so. I'll try my best.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanks. . .

On this Veteran's Day, I would like to take the opportunity to thank two American soldiers for their service: my grandfather, Nicholas Mitsock, and my dad, David W. Hoptak.
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Private First Class Nicholas Mitsock
US Army
My grandfather, Nicholas Mitsock, was a first-generation American. He was born on April 7, 1927, in the small coal mining community of Llewellyn in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He entered the army on December 10, 1945, at the age of 18, and was mustered in as a private in the Headquarters Company, 30th US Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division. He was sent to Europe, and was detailed as a truck driver and truck mechanic. He remained stationed at Stuttgart, Germany, until his discharge in April 1947. He returned to Schuylkill County, found work as a coal miner, married my grandmother, and fathered five children; my mother, Colleen, being born in 1951.
In 1957, my grandfather was killed in a mine collapse.
My grandfather's discharge paper. . .
Nick Mitsock, playin' ball for the Branch Township team. . .
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Sergeant David W. Hoptak
US Army
My dad, David Hoptak, was born on July 30, 1946. He graduated high school in 1965, turned 19, and was promptly drafted into the US Army. He did his basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and trained with the M42 tank at Fort Bliss, Texas. In late 1966, he was sent to Vietnam as a soldier in the 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery. He spent the next year stationed at Con Thien, immediately south of the DMZ. He rose to the rank of sergeant, and commanded an M-42 Twin Duster tank. While stationed at Con Thien, his tank battalion was supported by the 3rd US Marine Division, and saw significant combat. The 1st/44th was one of the most highly decorated units in the Vietnam War. In December 1967, my dad was discharged from the army. He boarded the plane at Dong Ha, and began the long journey home.
My dad at Con Thien. . .
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Happy Veteran's Day. And to all our current and former members of the armed services, thank you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

McClellan Musings. . .

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"Was McClellan an idiot?"

"That McClellan sure was stupid."

"How can McClellan be so dumb?"

"George McClellan deserved to be shot!"

If I had a dollar every time I heard such comments, then I wouldn't need to worry about going on a reduced schedule at work, as my seasonal appointment is drawing to a close. It seems that McClellan-bashing is a favorite past time among many visitors to Antietam. "He could have ended the war," I often hear, or, "Think of all the lives he could have saved if only he used his whole army at Antietam." These assertions completely ignore the fact that there were many, many armies fighting this war, not just the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. But that's besides the point. With all the McClellan haters out there, I have to wonder if any other Civil War general is as vilified today more than Little Mac?

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Now, I'm not a McClellan "fan," so to speak.
He's dead. Been that way for a long time.
But let's be fair.
So, was McClellan an idiot? No way.

McClellan enjoyed success at so many levels. Yet he is remembered today far more for his failures than for any of his accomplishments, and is certainly best remembered today as the pompous, arrogant, egotistical commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. He lived 58 years, but it was just those 14 months at the helm of the AoP that get all the attention.

He was fifteen when he entered West Point. He excelled academically, graduating 2nd in the illustrious Class of 1846, and, upon graduation, entered the elite Corps of Engineers. Sent immediately to Mexico, he excelled once again as a staff officer/engineer, being brevetted twice for gallantry in combat and was bruised by grapeshot at the battle of Contreras. He turned down a third brevet promotion, claiming it was not justly earned. When the Mexican-American War came to an end in 1848, McClellan was not yet twenty-two years old! The young phenom was certainly a rising star in the army, and in the early 1850s, he was selected to be an official observer of the Crimean War in Europe. After returning, he developed the wildly popular McClellan Saddle, which the army adopted and used well into the Twentieth Century. Resigning as a captain in 1857, McClellan entered the railroading business and, yes, excelled in this endeavor as well. Everything he touched seemingly turned to gold.
Then the war came. And all of the success he worked so hard for vanished almost overnight. . .

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George McClellan was 35 years old in the summer of 1861 when he was called upon to lead the Union forces in and around Washington, forces he quickly molded into the Army of the Potomac.

Yep, just 35 years old. Now, let's stop to think about this. . . .At 35 years old, George McClellan was a major general and an army commander.

Where were some of the less-vilified Civil War generals at the age of 35?

*Robert E. Lee turned 35 in 1842. He was then a captain.

*In April 1857, one Ulysses S. Grant turned 35. He had resigned from the army three years earlier, as a captain, and at the age of 35 was working on his family's farm near St. Louis, trying to make a life for himself.

*William Sherman was doing alright when he turned 35 in 1855. He was the president of a bank in San Francisco.

*James Longstreet was working his way up to the rank of major and serving on the frontier of Texas as an army paymaster when he turned 35 in 1856.

*At the age of 35 in 1859, Thomas Jonathan Jackson was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute, and, by most accounts, was a pretty lousy one.
Clearly not one of these men had attained as much success, professionally, as did McClellan by the age of 35. At Antietam, McClellan was superior in rank to officers, such as Edwin Vose Sumner and Joseph Mansfield, who had been in the army far longer than he was even alive.
What is more, when McClellan led the AoP, there were more than a fair share of incompetent officers he had to deal with. By the time George Meade and Grant took over, well, the cream of the army had already risen to the top.
It is interesting to note also that many of the visitors, and even some historians, who view McClellan as an evil, incompetent jerk, in turn, view Robert E. Lee in the most favorable light possible. "He was a genius," they claim. But if Mac was such a bumbling fool on the battlefield, as they maintain, well, then, couldn't anyone beat him?
Let's not forget how McClellan got the job in the first place. He won a series of small, but important, victories in the mountains of western Virginia during the early months of the war. His opponent here: Robert E. Lee. And how do we explain Lee's postwar comment that of all the Union commanders he faced, the one he feared the most was none other than George B. McClellan.
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Recently, Civil War historians, (and Park Rangers), have been giving McClellan more credit. His image is slowly being improved in both the academic and public realms, and this is a good thing. But let's not let that pendulum swing too far. Indeed, before we go ahead and issue a formal apology to the memory of George McClellan and to his descendants, it must be remembered that Mac certainly had his share of failings and faults. We all do. But his vanity was ugly, and his penchant for allowing his personal, conservative views to interfere with the war effort was not beneficial. Neither was his habit of criticizing and ridiculing his boss, Abe Lincoln. And when he suggested in the summer of 1863 that the reason the Union army had not achieved a total and complete victory at Antietam was due to the failings of Ambrose Burnside, well, he stabbed his old friend in the back. That was so not cool.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Wanted: 48th Pennsylvania CDVs. . .

Most people collect something. . .Some collect stamps, others coins. Books, too, are often collected by many. Me, well, I collect Civil War Carte De Visites (CDVs). More specifically, I collect, what else, but 48th Pennsylvania CDVs. These little photographs were made popular in Europe during the 1850s, and in America the following decade, especially during the Civil War. I've been hunting 48th PA CDVs for about 8-9 years, and during this time, have been able to collect 16. This averages about two every year, so you can see, they are really quite rare, so when they do pop up, I get that "kid in a candy store" feeling. They are a bit pricey, so maybe it's a good thing they aren't more available.
Sixteen may seem like a low number, especially when considering that over 1,860 men served in the 48th during the regiment's four years of existence. But still, I do think I have one of, maybe the, largest collections of 48th PA CDVs. I'd like to think so anyway. . .I am really quite proud of my collection, and I am always looking to add to it. I often imagine being contacted by someone who found an album of 48th PA CDVs, or perhaps a shoe box full of them. I salivate at such thoughts. Maybe they were stored away in an attic, or perhaps in a closet, or under a bed. Whatever, I know they are out there. And I know I'll stay on the prowl. . .So, if you have, or know anyone who has 48th PA CDVs, and are looking to perhaps sell, well, you know I'll be more than interested. If you feel a bit hesitant to depart with them, rest assured that they will go to a good home.
My Collection of 48th Pennsylvania CDVs

Monument no match for lightning. . .

A month ago, on October 9, the monument to the 6th New York Cavalry here in Gettysburg was (severely) damaged by what must have been a tremendous bolt of lightning. You can read the full story here: http://www.nps.gov/gett/parknews/6th-new-york-cavalry-monument-damaged.htm

I was out on the battlefield yesterday, and snapped a few photos of the damage. I'm just glad this lightning bolt didn't strike me!

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Front view of monument (fronting Buford Avenue)
. . .the damage here is significant, but wait until you see. . .
the back!
Apparently one of the turrets was blown to smithereens. . .

From the front, again. . .

Monday, November 5, 2007

Poor Bill Christian. . .

I guess not everyone is cut out to be a soldier. Take Colonel William Christian for example. Now, I feel somewhat bad for poor Bill. A leading member of his community, he sought more prominence by serving in the military. He had militia experience, and was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, although he saw no combat. Back in the army as an officer in the Civil War, Christian proved that, yes, even officers were human. He simply ran away from battle at Antietam, and suffered for it throughout the rest of his life. Now, during my tours, when I want to add just a little flavor to the interpretation with some "human interest"/anecdotal stories, I will sometimes tell the story of Bill Christian's flight. But every time I do so, well, I can't help but feel a little dirty, so to speak. He was a human being, and he got scared. . .thousands of soldiers did, and thousands showed the white feather in battle. But it just wasn't expected of officers.
Below is a short biography of Colonel William Christian I wrote initially for my colleagues at Antietam. . . .His is truly a sad story.
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Colonel William Christian
A strict disciplinarian who served during the Mexican-American War and as drillmaster for the Utica, New York, city militia, William Henry Christian certainly had the credentials of an officer. A surveyor and engineer by trade, Christian sought to make his mark in the military and got off to a promising start. As events proved, however, Christian was never cut out for battlefield command. As colonel of the 26th New York Infantry, he stayed out of the action at Second Bull Run, claiming illness. Then as a brigade commander at the battle of Antietam, he became unnerved and fled in the face of the enemy. He grew increasingly despondent afterwards and ultimately slipped into a state of insanity, dying an inmate of a New York asylum. His story is truly a sad one.
William Henry Christian was born on April 9, 1825, in Utica, New York. Little about his childhood remains known, but with the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846, twenty-one-year-old Christian enlisted as a private in Company K, 1st New York Volunteers. He spent the first two months of his enlistment on Governor’s Island being trained in the ways of the soldier and then sailed for San Francisco where his regiment remained for the duration of the Mexican-American War. Although Christian saw no battles, he must have impressed his superiors with his mastery of drill, for, in a very short time, he was promoted through the ranks until he was mustered out of service as his company’s first sergeant.
Following the war with Mexico, Christian, instead of returning to his native New York, stayed in California, being swept up, perhaps, with “gold fever.” For the next seven years, Christian made his home in San Francisco where he found work as a school teacher. He also took up the study of engineering, and when he finally made his way back to Utica in 1854 was appointed as the city’s surveyor. While pursuing this career, Christian played an active role in Utica’s militia, serving as drillmaster during the years immediately preceding the outbreak of civil war.
Soon after the surrender of Fort Sumter, thirty-six-year-old William Christian traveled to Albany where he personally asked Governor Edwin Morgan for permission to raise a regiment of volunteers. With his Mexican-American War experience, limited though it was, coupled with his standing in the Utica militia, Christian was granted his request and he returned to his hometown to establish a recruiting station. With his regiment—the 26th New York Volunteer Infantry—organized within weeks, Colonel Christian immediately went to work drilling his new command. On the training field and on the parade ground, Christian excelled as an officer. A strict disciplinarian, Christian was also a very virtuous man. He forbade, for example, the consumption of alcohol in his regiment, and even requested that his line officers sign a pledge of temperance. Sadly, although Christian looked and certainly acted the part of a capable military man, his battlefield performance proved otherwise.
Marched off to war, the 26th New York helped cover the retreat of the Union forces at Bull Run in late July 1861, and Colonel Christian even received the praise of Abraham Lincoln for the handling of his men here. With the organization of the Army of the Potomac later that summer, the 26th New York was assigned to General Henry Slocum’s Brigade. On October 3, 1861, Slocum selected Colonel Christian to lead an expedition of some 350 men to march on and capture a detachment of Confederate cavalry encamped near Pohick Church, some twelve miles from where Slocum’s Brigade was stationed at Alexandria. The entire operation was a disaster; not only did the Confederate cavalrymen escape intact, but Christian’s men proceeded to pillage the Virginia countryside on their way back to Alexandria. What is more, one of Christian’s men accidentally killed another. Furious with Christian, Slocum demanded a court of inquiry, which was granted, but the matter was apparently dropped before the court convened. Slocum was able, however, to get Christian and the 26th New York transferred out of his command. Less than one month after the Pohick Church fiasco, the 26th was sent to Fort Lyon—one of Washington’s many defensive works—where William Christian, being the senior commander stationed there, assumed command of the post.
For more than five months, the 26th New York remained stationed at Fort Lyon. During this time, Colonel Christian continued to drill his command and did so with his newlywed wife by his side. On November 6, 1861, William Christian and Mary Timmerman were married and the two took up residence at Fort Lyon until marching orders arrived in late May 1862. Assigned to General Irvin McDowell’s corps, Christian and his men spent the following months stationed near Falmouth and Manassas and would not see any action until late August at the Second Battle of Bull Run. On August 30, 1862, the 26th New York lost nearly two hundred men in its baptism by fire; they had performed well, but did so without their leader. As the regiment was marching into battle, Christian was seen laying in the shade of a tree, wrapped in a blanket. A physician by his side, Christian watched as his men paraded past. He claimed that he was suffering from heatstroke as well as from a severe case of poison ivy on his hands. However, late that same night, with the battle over, Christian rode his horse into the ranks of his regiment, which was then falling back toward Centreville, waving the brigade flag and offering words of encouragement to the troops. The men were unimpressed and just a little suspicious about Christian’s rapid recovery from whatever ailed him that morning. Then, after discovering that Christian, being the senior colonel, assumed brigade command following the wounding of General Zealous Tower earlier in the day, the officers of the 26th were concerned. They held a secret meeting that night and debated whether they should petition their division commander, General James Ricketts, to remove Christian from brigade command. They ultimately decided against such a drastic measure.
Christian turned in competent performances at Chantilly on September 1, 1862, and at South Mountain two weeks later, but his brigade was only lightly engaged at each of these battles. They would be heavily engaged, however, at Antietam, and it was here that Christian completely fell apart. Crossing the Antietam Creek on the afternoon of September 16, Christian’s Brigade went into position near the Samuel Poffenberger Farm, on the left of the First Corps line. Early the next morning, Christian’s men formed into line of battle and readied themselves for the battle ahead. Joseph Hooker, commanding the First Corps, planned for the divisions Doubleday and Ricketts to move forward simultaneously at dawn, but when the orders arrived things went bad. Ricketts fell with a severe wound, as did General George Hartsuff, commanding one of Ricketts’s Brigades. Christian’s men moved forward but when they cleared the North Woods they came under a murderous fire from Confederate artillery posted to their front and right. Christian halted his men and then did what he knew best—ordered his men to make a series of parade-ground maneuvers in the face of the Confederate shot and shell. Moving forward and then by flank across some four hundred yards of open ground, Christian’s men finally arrived in the East Woods, where their commander finally became unhinged. Upon arriving in the woodlot, Christian dismounted and then ran back towards the North Woods, supposedly ducking and dodging his head with each cannon shot, exclaiming that all was lost and that the army was in full retreat. Meanwhile, his men were simply astonished and, worse, did not what to do next. Ricketts demanded to know why Christian’s men came to a stop and upon discovering the situation ordered General Truman Seymour, of George Meade’s Third Division, First Corps, to take command of the leaderless brigade. Seymour quickly sorted out the problem and got Christian’s men moving forward once again.
Late on the evening of September 17, General James Ricketts summoned Christian to his tent and delivered an ultimatum to the humiliated New Yorker: either resign his commission or be brought up on charges of cowardice in the face of the enemy. Christian chose the former course, and two days later tendered his resignation from the army claiming that “Business of importance” required his presence with his family. With his resignation approved, Christian returned to Utica, New York, claiming that his departure from the army was caused by intrigue among some of his fellow officers.
Christian fell into a state of despondency following his return to Utica. He actively sought other commands, and even offered to serve with no pay, but every one of his requests was turned down. He became more and more unraveled as the years passed by. With the war winding to a close in March 1865, Christian, although he fled from the field of battle at Antietam, managed to receive a brevet promotion to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. But this gesture did not assuage his guilt and his depression. He became more despondent and was even unable to perform his work as a surveyor and civil engineer. Madness finally set in. He was once seen placing a saddle over the banister of his front porch, and then, after mounting it, delivered orders to an imaginary group of soldiers. Still, throughout the post-war years, the veterans of the 26th New York continued to invite their first commander to all of their reunions. At some of these gatherings, Christian erupted into fits of laughter. Finally, in early 1886, Mary Christian committed her husband to the state insane asylum in Utica. He died there on May 8, 1887, at the age of sixty-two. The cause of death was officially pronounced as dementia, but the local papers claimed that the old soldier succumbed to the effects of the heatstroke he suffered at Bull Run in August 1862.
After the death of her husband, Mary Christian applied for a pension, claiming that her husband’s demise was caused by his supposed wartime heatstroke. Veterans of the 26th New York rallied by her side and supported her efforts. Her claim, however, was denied.