Thursday, April 7, 2016

Discovering Lt. Cullen. . .

Lieutenant William Cullen
Company E, 48th Pennsylvania
[Courtesy of  Catherine Siegel and Family] 

In all my years studying the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, there are few moments more enjoyable for me than when I see an image or a photograph of one of the regiment's soldiers for the very first time. Unfortunately, it really does not happen that often, or at least less often than one might suppose. During the four years of the American Civil War, approximately 1,800 soldiers served in the ranks of the 48th--some for a few months, others for all four years. Yet of this number, I have only ever seen images of about 200 of them, or just about 11% of the entire regiment. Of course, I do keep an eye out, regularly searching through the inventories of Civil War relics/antique dealers, historical auction sites, and other places where, over the years, some 48th CDVs have popped up. And whenever I receive an email from a descendant of a 48th soldier, I always ask in return if they have or know of a photograph of their ancestor who served in the ranks. . .

Almost all of the time the answer, unfortunately, is no. 

That was the answer I got when, in late November 2015, I received an email from a descendant of Lieutenant William Cullen, of Company E, 48th PA. Having worked at Antietam for so many years and knowing well the actions of the regiment there, I have longed wished for an image of Cullen to appear. Cullen was killed there, late on the afternoon of that bloody Wednesday in mid-September 1862 when a ramrod was propelled through his chest. The grisly and ghastly nature of his death wound was recorded specifically in the regimental history authored by Oliver Bosbyshell in 1896. Writing of the regiment's stand atop a ridge line east of Otto's farm lane and of the artillery bombardment they sustained while there, Bosbyshell wrote of one particularly deadly and destructive shot: "With a bang and a splutter along came that destructive old shell, which filled [Jacob] Douty's eyes with dirt, and bruised his shoulder, tore off Sergeant [John] Seward's leg and left Sergeant [William] Trainer minus one arm, as it drove the ramrod he was just replacing into poor Cullen's breast. Cullen jumped to his feet, tore open his shirt to show his captain the wound, and then dropped dead at [Captain William] Winlack's feet."

William Cullen was a coal miner from Silver Creek; he was married and had a number of small children. He was also rather tall; he stood nearly 6'2" in height. In April 1861, Cullen left home and family behind in answer to his country's call--he was a First Generation American. His parents, Thomas and Bridget Mary Burke Cullen, were natives of County Wexford in Ireland who had made the long journey across the Atlantic. William Cullen, their first of eventually twelve children, was born in Pennsylvania in 1829, which made him thirty-two-years of age when civil war erupted in the family's adopted land. Cullen answered his country's call, serving under Captain William Winlack as a sergeant in the Wynkoop Artillery, a militia company which became Company E, 16th Pennsylvania Infantry. The 16th was a three-month organization and upon the expiration of this term of service, Cullen assisted Winlack in recruiting a new company from around the Silver Creek area, a company that, in September 1861, became Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, a "three-years' or the course of the war" regiment. Cullen was mustered into service as the company's 1st Lieutenant.

One month later, from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Cullen wrote to his mother, explaining why he felt it right and proper to offer his services: 

Fort Monroe Headquarters
Department of V. A.
Camp Hamilton
October 23rd, 1861

Dear Mother
after a relapse of some time its with pleasing anticipation I address these lives you Brothers & Sisters hoping to find you all in good health and blessing. I enjoy myself at present dear Mother. After my return from the 3 months servise I remained at home for a few weeks but the way the Country was situated business of all descriptions Suspended & seeing that my service to my adopted country was stile kneeded
[still needed] I procured a commission of first Leutenancy under same Captain that I served under in the 3 months & again immerged into it for during the war dear mother our position is not a dangerous one as we are at present camped under the protection of the fort that is described on the map. It is the largest fort belonging (to) the government it mounts 377 guns 2, 4000 men & cost 2 million 4 hundred thousand dollars to build it dear mother, brother & sisters. I hope that my conduct through this campain may be unstained that I may gain all the hounour & esteem & hounour due to my rank & station from them that is under my command & pray that I may survive to see the Glorious Stars & Stripes Float again from the shores of the Pacific to the St. Laurance then man can Enjoy again the blessings & privileges [?] that glorious Washington established if once overturned by rebble force could never be replaced. When that happy hour shale arive that the Trumpet of peace shale echo through the land while I returned to the fond affections of a loving Wife & Children & the Tender Embrace of an aged Mother, Brother & Sisters. Dear Mother their is none of the enemy to be seen at this point they are reported to be concentrating within 25 miles of here at a place called Yorktown where Washington took Lord Cornwallice & 15 hundred men prisoners at the time of the Revolutionary war. The(y) burned down a Town called Hampton 1 mile from here about 3 months ago and have not been seen here since. I cannot say how long we will be stationed here. We are the first Pennsylvania Troops ever landed at this point. We are the 48 Regt. of P.A. voluntiers commanded by Col. James Nayle [Nagle] of Potsville. He is of appinion that we will remain here some time. I wish you to answer this letter as soon as you possible can & let me know all particulars. I wont neglect writing to you & trust I shale receive the same from you in return. Send my best respects to Frances Coyle & Wife & send my love to James, Thomas, John & Davy, Mary, Elen, Catherine & James & Jane & save

A Large portion for your selfe from
Your Affectionate Son
Wm. Cullin

Direct to Leiut. Wm. Cullin Co. E. 48th Regt. P.A. Fort Monroe, V.A.
To Mrs. Bridget Cullin Dushore, P.A.
Sullivan Co. P.A. United States

[Letter Credit to: Monique S. Derby and]

Less than a year after writing this, Cullen gave his life upon the fields of Antietam to help ensure that the Stars & Stripes floated once again over a united land. He was a popular officer and his death was lamented within the ranks of his company and of his regiment. Indeed, a day after the fight at Antietam, on September 18, a member of Company E--most likely the company's poet Private David Hamilton--authored a poem, entitled:

"Ode to William Cullen"
Attention ye brave to this mournful story, 
That I am going to pen of a soldier so brave:
Who started to reap a rich harvest of glory,
But is now lying dead in his cold narrow grave.

His name was Bill Cullen as fearless of danger
As the shining steel sword he held in his hand:
He left his fond wife to the cold hearted strangers,
While he went to fight for his dear native land.

A lieutenant he was under brave Captain Winlock
In the 48th Regiment of Schuykill's brave sons;
He never was daunted by cannon or firelocks,
But like a true soldier stood firm by his guns.

He fought at Bull Run on the first of September,
Where Burnside so valiantly beat back the foe;
The day that the rebels will ever remember,
And the Northern men look to with wonder and woe.

It was there that he seemed like an angel
Of mercy sent down from a high;
As the wounded he carried away from the danger
And cared for the poor sufferers left there to die.

But alas I must tell you in heart rendering numbers,
His sad fate at the Battle of Antietam Creek;
'Twas there he fell in deaths slumbers.
Cut down in his prime not a word could he speak.

With his sword waving high in the battle, 
While cheering his men to the action once more;
A cursed rebel shell in death dealing rattle,
Striking brave Cullen laid him in his gore.

As next morning his comrades gathered around him,
Laid him down gently in his hallow bed;
Every one dropped a true soldiers tear o'er him,
Saying, Peace to the ashes of the gallant dead. 

William Cullen's remains were later taken back to Schuylkill County where they continue to rest in St. Stephen's Cemetery in Port Carbon. . . 

The Grave of William Cullen 

Now, let's return to November 2015, when I was contacted by Ruth, the great-great-grand niece of William Cullen. Knowing of my interest in the 48th, she wrote to ask if I would be willing to lead her and a number of her relatives on a tour of the battlefield of Antietam, with a particular focus on the actions of the 48th there. She and her family wanted to walk in Lt. Cullen's footsteps. Of course, I said yes.
We met up at the Visitor Center at Antietam on December 27. I remember that at the outset of the tour, one of the kind gentlemen in the group named Frank told me that they had something special for me once we got to the fields where the 48th fought. And while we covered the whole battleground--from the North Woods and Cornfield to the West Woods and the Sunken Road--I was especially looking forward to leading the descendants of Lt. Cullen on a tour of where the regiment fought and where he lost his life. We parked at the Burnside Bridge and I described the actions of the 48th, who were positioned on the opposite bluff, firing at those pesky and determined Georgians holding the bridge. We then walked from the parking lot, along a portion of the Final Attack Trail, to a rise of ground immediately east of the Otto Farm Lane. From there, we could see Burnside's objective--the high ground, 3/4 of a mile ahead. I described the attack of Willcox's and Rodman's divisions and how, when A.P. Hill's Confederates arrived and smashed into Burnside's left flank, causing it to cave, the 48th was called forward to this point of ground to help stem the gray-and-butternut tide. It was at this spot, I explained, where the regiment suffered its highest loss. And it was there, somewhere very nearby, where that particularly "destructive old shell" came along with a bang and a splutter, tearing off legs and arms and driving Sgt. Trainer's ramrod straight through Cullen's chest. It was somewhere near here, I said, where the lieutenant--their ancestor--sprang to his feet, tore open his shirt, and fell dead at Captain Winlack's feet. After I finished, the group gathered closer to me and Frank placed an arm around me, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out. . .

. . .an image of Lieutenant William Cullen. 

I could hardly believe what I was seeing and still, today, I have a hard time attributing how this all came about to pure coincidence. As it turned out, just one week before Ruth and her family journeyed to Antietam for the tour, they found an image of Cullen on an online genealogy site, an image posted there by a relative they did not know they had. It was truly quite remarkable that just a week before they walked the ground where Cullen fell they, for the first time, saw his face. And, for me, it was an incredible moment--one I will not soon forget, when I was presented with a copy of Cullen's image by his descendants very near the spot where he gave his life while serving in the ranks of the 48th. 

Since that time, I have learned much more about Cullen from his descendants and have been in contact with that branch of the family who has the photograph, hanging on the wall of their home. For their kindness and generosity, I would like to thank Ruth, Jean, and Frank Sando, Ms. Catherine Siegel, and their families for allowing me to share this story and that amazing moment when I first discovered Lieutenant William Cullen. . .