“Here he lays far from home and kindred” – Assistant Surgeon Neil K. Gunn of Nova Scotia


From Eric Mink:

By the end of the Civil War, the United States Army employed nearly 11,000 doctors. That was a massive increase from a mere 98 surgeons and assistant surgeons on the army’s rolls when the war began. The high rates of casualties and sickness necessitated the assignment of a surgeon and an assistant surgeon to each regiment, as well as medical staff at higher levels and also those who worked in established hospitals. The commissioning of medical personnel to volunteer regiments often became the responsibility of the governor of the state from which the regiment was raised. Such was the case with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry when on March 18, 1863 Governor John A. Andrews appointed and commissioned 24-year old Neil K. Gunn to the position of Assistant Surgeon of that regiment. Gunn, who was not a citizen of the United States, had just seven days earlier finished his course work and graduated from Harvard Medical School.

Neill K Gunn Post

Neil K. Gunn

Neil K. Gunn was born in Scotland in 1839 to Catherine Gunn and her husband Reverend John Gunn. The following year the family sailed for Nova Scotia when John was recruited with four others to minister to the needs of the Scottish immigrants of Inverness County. The family settled in Broad Cove. At some point after 1860, Neil sailed for Massachusetts and enrolled in Harvard Medical School. Upon the completion of his studies and the receipt of commission and appointment Gunn joined the 1st Massachusetts Infantry in Stafford County, Virginia. He entered into his duties as the regimental assistant surgeon the final week of March 1863. Dr. Gunn arrived months after the disastrous December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, but just weeks before the Union Army of the Potomac took to the field again during the Chancellorsville Campaign. His introduction to war and military medicine must have been jarring.

Field Hospital Chancellorsville Post

A 3rd Corps field hospital at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. Drawn by Edwin Forbes, this sketch represents a scene similar to  one in which Dr. Gunn may have worked during the battle.

At Chancellorsville, Dr. Gunn’s position was on the field with the regiment.  More than likely, he was positioned near the front line and worked at the regimental field hospital. Warren H. Cudworth, chaplain with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, remembered that Gunn “was the field surgeon for the regiment and almost constantly under fire with the rest of the men and officers.” Colonel Napoleon B. McLaughlen of the 1st Massachusetts reported a total of nine men killed and 44 wounded in the battle. Undoubtedly, Dr. Gunn treated many of those men. For the surgeons, the end of the battle did not mean the end of the treatment for many of the men required attention to wounds and injuries long after the fighting ceased. Chaplain Cudworth opined that because of Gunn’s exposure “to the fatigue, privation and inclement weather following that engagement, his constitution seems to have received a shock from which it never recovered.”

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Corporal Edwin Morton Platts – A Boy Soldier Killed at Fredericksburg


From Eric Mink:

Platts headstone

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.

Deeds_of_Valor detail

An early 20th century depiction of supporting operations for the final Union assault at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. The scene here may very well depict Captain Charles A. Phillips’ 5th Battery Massachusetts Light Artillery in action. From: Walter F. Beyer and Oscar F. Keydel, eds., Deeds of Valor 1: 108.

 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

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A cemeterial conundrum: the case of Charles Fuchs (and others like him)


From John Hennessy:  We repost this (originally from 2010) in advance of our walk through the National Cemetery tonight, for History at Sunset.  It is a vivid example of the conundrums we often face.

The annual illumination of the National Cemetery–one candle for each of the 15,000 men buried there.

On September 30, 1865, a private of the 11th Connecticut Infantry died in Fredericksburg. The man and his regiment were in town as part of the post-war occupation force. He died not from violence, but apparently from illness. His body was, it seems, buried in the yard of the Mary Washington House on Charles Street. Some sort of marker must have been put over the grave, for when Union soldiers arrived a year or more later to collect the remains of Union dead from the town and battlefield, they recorded finding the body of Charles Fox, Company H, 11th Connecticut.

The Mary Washington House on Charles Street, where Charles Fuchs was apparently initially buried.

The body, like more than 15,000 others, was removed to the new National Cemetery on Willis Hill.  At first a temporary wooden maker was put over the grave. We do not know how that marker was inscribed, but at least by the time a permanent marker was put in place (if not when the wooden marker was put in), someone realized that the man buried there was not named Fox. Perhaps it was an error in transcription somewhere along the line; perhaps it was an error by a careless engraver. In any event, the permanent stone over the grave records not the name Charles Fox, but rather this: Continue reading

A Quarter-Century of Research on Fredericksburg’s ‘Burial of the Dead’ Photographs, Part 2


Note: for magnifications, click photos or maps, then scroll down to right corner of dark-screen version, then click on “View full size” link.

from: Harrison

Part 1 of this post introduced the story of my long, trial-and-error research on one of the Civil War’s most poignant series of photographs—images of the creation of a temporary cemetery in Union-occupied Fredericksburg in May 1864.

A quick review: workmen interred at this burial ground some of the 26,000 Overland Campaign casualties who had been dispatched that month to Fredericksburg for medical treatment. (Have a listen here to John Hennessy’s presentation on the City of Hospitals that resulted.) William A. Frassanito’s Grant and Lee: the Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865 (1983) would publish seven different images made by at least two different photographers at the temporary cemetery on May 19 or May 20, 1864. Here are four of the seven, from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives:

 

Frassanito’s inspirational book offered a challenge: find the temporary cemetery’s still-unlocated site on the modern landscape in or around Fredericksburg. My effort to do that came to rely upon one of the seven photographs, now in the collection of the National Archives, and offering an especially clear view of a large home in the background (detail below). If I could locate the house, I could locate the site of the cemetery, as he had suggested. Note the pair of slender chimneys with steep shoulders tapering just above the second-story windows, and the one-story dependency, or wing, connected to the main building:

 

My inquiry eventually focused on a home (inset above) situated between Princess Anne and Charles Streets, in the northern part of old town, and property of Douglas K. Gordon during the Civil War. The Gordon House sports slender, twin chimneys at each end and tapering just above the second-story windows. And judging from antebellum insurance policies, a wing or dependency—vanished by the time of my initial research in the late 1980’s—had once adjoined the south end.

If the Gordon House and a southerly extending dependency indeed appeared in the background of the photographs of 1864, then the site of the temporary cemetery, I reasoned, had to be somewhere near or along the edge of Charles Street, parallel to it, not far to the southwest of the house. Such an alignment would place the tripods of the photographers of 1864 at places near—or directly in front of—one of the town’s earliest tourist attractions: the last home of Mary Washington, mother of George.

Here’s a map of the houses and other landmarks mentioned in this blog post and its predecessor (a second map appears further below, narrowing the focus as the geographic discussion narrows):

 

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War in human form


From John Hennessy:

[What follows is due entirely to the generosity of John Hoptak, historian at Antietam National Battlefield, who has devoted much of his life to documenting and chronicling the wartime experiences of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Recruited from the coal regions of central Pennsylvania, the 48th was one of the Union army’s most interesting units–gaining fame as the excavators of the famous mine at Petersburg in July 1864. The regiment, part of the Union Ninth Corps, also saw heavy service elsewhere, including at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. John maintains a blog where he shares both his work and his insights. The value of his work goes beyond documenting the service of a single regiment; by doing that, he offers up one of the more compelling testaments to the human experience of war, as experienced by these men of Pennsylvania.  Check out his site here–it’s worth a regular visit.   John has shared with us–explicitly for Mysteries and Conundrums–some powerful material he has gathered about a member of that regiment who was killed on May 12, 1864. We are grateful.]

War takes its most powerful human form when it narrows from the panoramic to the personal, from broad vistas to individual faces.

Private Henry J. Ege.

Henry Ege of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania was too young to fight when the war began.  But, the war waited for him, grinding along for three years until he turned 18. In February 1864, he enlisted in Company I of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry.  Too young to have built anything like a profession, his occupation was simply listed as a “laborer.”  Blue-eyed, 5’5″ tall, the youthful boy soon found himself in the 48th’s camp near Annapolis, Maryland.

April 13, 1864
Dear Parents
I take my pen in hand to let you know that we are all well at present time and hoping that these few lines may find you enjoying the same state of happiness. I have not much news to tell you this time. I am out of money and would like if you would send me about five dollars as soon as you receive this letter. I would not have written for some money but we don’t know when we will get paid, a person feels lost if he has no money out here. General Burnside and Gen. U.S. Grant were here today, they are very fine looking Generals. The rest of the Orwigsburg boys are all well. I have no more news for this time. I had a letter from my school master C.H. Meredith. No more at present. Excuse bad writing for I had a bad pen.
Answer Soon
From Your Son
Henry J. Ege

[I am always struck by sons who in letters home to their parents signed their full name, plus initial, as if their parents wouldn’t know them otherwise.] Continue reading

Indians at Brompton


From Eric Mink:

No single site in the Fredericksburg area received more attention from Civil War photographers than “Brompton,” the John L. Marye plantation. Between May 19 and 20, 1864, no fewer than three photographers took nearly a dozen photographs at Brompton. What attracted the photographers were the scenes in the yard, where Union casualties lay waiting for medical attention. Brompton served at that time as a military hospital caring for the wounded and sick of the Union’s 9th Army Corps.

Personally, of all the photographs from this Brompton series, the image that has always intrigued me is one that depicts a small group of wounded soldiers lying beneath a small tree. A member of photographer Matthew Brady’s firm took the photo and it bears the original caption of “Wounded Indians.”

Union wounded at Brompton

“Wounded Indians”

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Spring Winds


From Hennessy:

Last week brought spring winds to the park. Among the casualties was a tree in the National Cemetery. I am always struck by how much effort we–an organization fundamentally committed to preserving nature’s work–spend battling Mother Nature’s efforts to either overgrow or destroy. Most of our budget is spent on keeping nature in its place. Sometimes nature wins.