From Eric Mink:
The Fredericksburg National Cemetery contains the burials of 15,436 servicemen, women and dependents. Of that number 12,793, or 83%, are unidentified individuals. Each burial, each person, had a story. For those buried as unknown, we will likely never know their stories. For those fortunate enough to have been identified, we have over time come to know a few – their families, their fates. From time to time, while researching one topic we occasionally stumble upon information related to another. Recently, while digging into information related to a Union battery’s winter campsite, a few sources crossed and began to illuminate the story of one of its members who lies in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Edwin Morton Platts was a favorite within the 5th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Battery (also known as Battery E, Massachusetts Light Artillery). His was the only death suffered by the battery during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg and the loss was felt deeply by the members of the battery. They wrote about Edwin, his death and his burial. He is buried in Grave #2742. The fact that his grave on the battlefield was located and that he lies beneath a stone that bears his name is due to the care of his comrades. This is his story.
Edwin Morton Platts was born May 29, 1845 to John and Nancy Platts in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Nancy died during child birth two years later and in 1860 young Edwin worked as a “Store Boy” in Boston, living under the roof of Amos D. George, a salesman from New Hampshire. Edwin enlisted in the army on September 29, 1861 in Boston, at the age of 16, and agreed to serve three years. He was assigned to the 5th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery. The cards in Edwin’s Compiled Service Record list him as 18-years old at the time of his enlistment, when in fact he was just four months past his 16th birthday. His service record also identifies him as “Edward” and not Edwin. Perhaps he boosted his age and provided a different name or perhaps it was simply a clerical error. Interestingly, his older brother John Franklin Platts served under the assumed name of Francis Poor in both the 4th Connecticut Infantry and the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery.
Edwin served through the spring 1862 campaigns below Richmond, Va., as well as at the Second Battle of Manassas. Edwin entered his final battle at Fredericksburg a corporal, having been promoted from private the previous month. On the afternoon of December 13 the battery crossed the Rappahannock River by the middle pontoon bridge. Private William Waugh, Edwin’s tent mate, remembered many years later encountering his friend while waiting to cross the pontoon bridge. The two had enlisted on the same day and had become quite close. Waugh remembered that while they waited to cross the river Edwin approached him and said “Now we are going into a hot place, look out for yourself.” Waugh responded with similar words of caution. “We talked to-gether for a short time when the bugler blew ‘Attention,’” recollected Waugh. “He left me to take his place. That was the last time I ever talked with him.” The battery pushed through the lower end of town and unlimbered its guns between the town’s poor house and John L. Knight’s brick kiln. The position was near the head of modern-day Dunmore Street, behind Walker-Grant Center. Captain Charles A. Phillips used the terrain to his advantage. He placed his guns behind the grade of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.
“we went into position on sloping ground where we were covered from the enemy’s fire from Marye’s Heights, the left of the Battery resting close to a two story brick building which had been the city’s asylum for the poor. Our right rested on a bank where the clay had been dug out for brick-making, and near the railroad, which passed near, curving past our front. The ground was cramped, the guns were in reduced intervals, close to one another. We could see the fight going on to our right over the plain, where Edward’s battery had been. The brick house stood on the side of the hill, the ground receding rapidly to its north front facing the city, thus forming a basement… We commenced firing at the rebel batteries with our rifled guns. After loading them, we would run them up the slope by hand, so the muzzles would clear the bank, take aim and fire, the guns running back to be reloaded. The enemy 1000 to 1200 yards away caught on to us, and opened their fire which was kept up till darkness closed the scene.” – Notes of 1st Lieutenant Henry D. Scott in History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery (1902), 504
The protection of the railroad embankment and the surrounding terrain worked to the advantage of Phillips’ battery. It was such a favorable position that the battery returned the following day and remained there until the night of the 15th when it joined the rest of the army and withdrew back across the Rappahannock.
During the fight on the 13th, the battery held its own and saw hot action. Captain Phillips reported 107 rounds fired by battery – 47 Hotchkiss Shells and 60 Schenkl shells with percussion fuses and packed with shrapnel. In the battery one man was wounded and only one man was killed, even though it had been the focus of heavy counter battery fire from Confederate guns on Marye’s Heights. The lone death was 17-year old Edwin Platts, mortally wounded while manning his gun. William Waugh later remembered:
“After we had come off the battle-field, one of the boys came to me and wanted to know if I knew that my tent mate was hit. I told him ‘No’ I wanted to know where he was. He told me that the last he saw of him he was lying up side of the fence where we had been engaged. It was quite dark; I went back to see if I could find him. I saw many men lying alongside of the fence but I could not find him. The next morning I started off again to find him. I had not gone far when I saw four of our boys with his lifeless body on a house shutter, bringing it across the street.” – William Waugh, “Reminiscences of the Rebellion or What I Saw as a Private Soldier of the 5th Mass. Light Battery from 1861-1865”
Platts had been wounded at the height of the late afternoon battle. Case shot from a Confederate battery exploded near Platts’s gun, sending a lead ball through his breast. He was carried to the rear and into the town where he died early the following morning. Platts had been a favorite within the battery. 2nd Lieutenant Edward J. Spear later remembered that the men called Edwin “Corporal Eddie,” and that he had been “beloved and respected by all, and one that always did his duty, both in camp and on the field of action.” Spear ordered a fatigue party to fashion a coffin out of shutters from a neighboring building and a grave dug in the backyard of an adjacent home. It was at this time that Waugh discovered his tent mate:
“Before he was put in the grave I looked at him. I found that a round bullet had struck him on the left breast over the heart and was taken out at his back. He bled inwardly and had his senses to the last. I brought his cap and the bullet that killed him home. The men of the battery got a piece of board and put it up for a marker on his grave with these words on it ‘Corporal E.M. Platts. 5th. Mass. Battery. Killed Dec. 13, 1862.’” – William Waugh, “Reminiscences of the Rebellion or What I Saw as a Private Soldier of the 5th Mass. Light Battery from 1861-1865”
Lieutenant Spear remembered that Chaplain D. Henry Miller of the 15th Connecticut Infantry provided some fitting words and officiated over the burial.
On December 15, the battery withdrew across the river and returned to is camps in Stafford County, leaving Platts where his comrades buried him. Two years later, during the May 1864 battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, Sergeant William H. Peacock of the 5th Massachusetts found himself once again in Fredericksburg. In a letter dated May 21, Peacock wrote “I have found the grave of Eddie Platts, our little gunner was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg.” While Peacock made no mention of the grave’s condition, Private Waugh later remembered being informed that the grave had been found to be defaced. The Confederates, he stated, “took great pains to write on the grave mark ‘Here lies the BODY of a D. yankee soldier.’”
The notifying of family to a soldier’s death in battle is today the army’s responsibility, but during the Civil War it was not a given that a family would be informed should a loved one fall on the battlefield. In the case of Eddie Platts, however, Captain Phillips took time immediately following the Battle of Fredericksburg to inform John Platts of the death of his son.
“His death has caused grief to us all as he was respected and loved by us all. No man in the Battery performed his duty more cheerfully and more faithfully than he. I never heard him grumble and I never had occasion to punish him for neglect of duty. On the battlefield, as in camp he showed himself a brave man and a true soldier and his death has left a vacancy we cannot fill. It is hard for us to think that we have thus lost one of the best of our number, but our grief must be trifling compared with the sorrow of his friends at home.” – Captain Charles A. Phillips to John Platts, December 17, 1862, found posted on Ancestry.com
Even with the notification to his family, the careful burial of his remains and the marking of his grave, Eddie Platts never returned to Massachusetts. In the years following the end of the war, United States Army burial crews scoured the region looking for the graves of its fallen soldiers. The bodies of Edwin Platts and three other soldiers were found on property owned by George H. Revere, it being a plot of ground in the southwest corner of Princess Anne and Fredericks Streets. From the ground where his comrades had been so careful to bury him, Edwin Platts was moved to his final resting place in Grave #2742 in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Years later, William Waugh remembered:
“He was one that was beloved by all the men and I missed him…For many nights we buttoned our shelter-tents to-gether and slept on the same blanket. But I know he died as he would wish for he was a true blue and passed away like a hero.”
Eric J. Mink
Peter Glyer, a dedicated park volunteer and dogged researcher, deserves much credit for his efforts to identify the location of Knight’s brick kiln and the poor house, as well as the position of the 5th Massachusetts Battery. Peter’s blog, The Swale at Mercer Square, is a wonderful source of information and interpretation of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Thanks to Noel Harrison for pointing out the graphic of the battery in action.
Sources consulted: Compiled Service Record of Edward M. Platts, 5th Independent Battery Massachusetts Light Artillery, Fold3; History of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery (Boston: Luther E. Cowels, Publisher, 1902); William Waugh, “Reminiscences of the Rebellion or What I Saw as a Private Soldier of the 5th Mass. Light Battery from 1861-1865”; Ancestry.com; The Swale at Mercer Square; Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel, eds., Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor, Volume 1 (Detroit: Perrien-Keydel Co., 1901).