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The Civil War letters below were written by my great great grandfather’s uncle, John H. Lawrence, a private in Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, serving from June 1861 until his death at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

I guess this story started with my trip to the URI Library to look at Grace Church Cemetery records.  I didn’t have any special reason to track down these records, I was just trying to be thorough.  My gggg-grandparents, James and Annie Lawrence, had a family plot in Grace Church Cemetery, Providence, that included several of their children.  Viewing a card index file led to an indication that their son John H. Lawrence had died at the Battle of Antietam.  And some footnotes that I found in some military histories while researching John Lawrence’s service and death indicated that the Antietam National Battlefield may have some letters of John Lawrence.

I couldn’t imagine why that would be true, but I emailed the Battlefield to inquire about the letters.  After a few weeks I received a package in the mail.  The package contained photocopies of letters and some sort of pension claim. There were no explanations, just the copies, which I was fine with because I’m sure the Battlefield is just trying to get information out quickly.  It took me several hours to figure out what I was seeing.

What I ended up finding was a way to find my gggg-grandparents’ life story.

When a large envelope from a national battlefield arrives, it's genealogy happy dance time.

When a large envelope arrives from a national battlefield, it’s genealogy happy dance time.

Mother’s Brief

The only document in my packet from the Antietam National Battlefield with an official heading was called “Mother’s Brief.”  Only after carefully assembling the pages letter by letter did I realize that the Mother’s Brief was part of a dependent pension application, and the letters had originally been attached to the pension application, as proof that the soldier had been sending money home.  Snippets of his letters where the soldier wrote about sending $10 or $20 were underlined.  All pages had a printed “Reproduced at the National Archives” on the bottom.

I finally realized that a researcher had found this pension application at the National Archives, and the copy had been conveyed to the battlefield at some point because it concerned a soldier who had died there.  Previously, all my efforts to find a record of any pension or payment had turned up nothing.

I was lucky that a claim number – 197,794 – was on the papers.  I consulted Fold3.com and managed, finally, to find an original index card and also, a certificate number.  With that, I was able to order the pension file from the National Archives. The pension file should give me a lot of details about the lives John’s parents, James and Annie Lawrence, including the reasons they were in need.  Until it arrives, I am looking more closely at these letters to see what can be learned about the soldier, John H. Lawrence.

Knowing the law

I found a useful introduction to the subject of dependents’ pensions in a Vita Brevis post from the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  “Something to Love in Civil War Pensions” by Christopher Child explains how he found a mother’s pension related to his own family’s history.  Mr. Child also gave a helpful link to a site that contains a large number of the pension laws.

Mr. Child detailed the pension law of July 27, 1868.  That law (27 July 1868 – An Act relating to Pensions) specifies:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the laws granting pensions to the hereinafter-mentioned dependent relatives of deceased persons leaving neither widow or child entitled to pensions under existing laws, shall be so construed as to give precedence to such relatives in the following order, namely: First, mothers; secondly, fathers; thirdly, orphan brothers and sisters under sixteen years of age, who shall be pensioned jointly if there be more than one: Provided, That if, in any case, the said persons shall have left both father and mother who were dependent upon them, then on the death of the mother the father shall become entitled to a pension commencing from and after the death of the mother; and upon the death of the mother and father the dependent brothers and sisters under sixteen years of age shall jointly become entitled to such pension until they attain the age of sixteen years, respectively, commencing from and after the death of the party who, preceding them, would have been entitled to the same: And provided further, That no pension heretofore awarded shall be affected by anything herein contained.

The bill goes on to specify some pension rules for other cases, such as soldiers that left widows or children behind.  The Act can also be found on page 235 of this government Record of the Fortieth Congress, Session II in Google Books.

So basically, under the law of 1868, we can expect that since John Lawrence died in service leaving behind no widow or child, his mother and father may have been eligible for support if they could prove their son had provided needed support to them.  Hence the letters where John mentioned that he was sending them money.

The letters

Letter from John H Lawrence, 12 Oct 1861.

Letter from John H Lawrence, 12 Oct 1861.

 

Darnestown Maryland

Saturday October 12 1861

Dear parents and family I last night I sent you 10 dollars and wished for a reply in consequence of its delay. I have received yours but I was very glad to hear from you and that you had received the money. I would of send more but I paid 3 for a pair of boots $7 for a watch which comes very handy out here. I swapped it for a better one but its chain was broke so I have sent it in Washington to get it fixed, it will be back I will have a nearly brand new watch [tatdent?] lever for the sum of $7 and five I have in my pocket which had better keep.

You wished to know what I had to eat well as you are so inquisitive as to ask we live very well. By the [missing: way?] I did not tell you that we moved from our masked battery at Seneca Mills to our sorrow for theres where we had our good living. Did our own cooking had plenty to cook corn vegatables Mollasses Milk honney but sweet potatoes we had to by non raised but had a plenty of meat fresh and salt but we have been up here with the battery so we live plainer and have guard duty and plenty of drill to the bargain. We have just killed a beef creature not 5 minutes ago. So a plenty of fried steaks goes very well mornings along with good white bread and we have a company cook something new we are in Banks Coulum part of [which?] has gone across the Potomac [how?] soon our first and second pieces went last tuesday under sealed orders and we have not heard from them since but we have not gone to Washington yet and I guess we will not for we can’t get away from Banks colum give my best respects to all my friends and tell mother I am doing well. It is useless to send any papers for I do not get none

your affectionate Son

John Lawrence

Letter from John H Lawrence, 24 Nov 1861.

Letter from John H Lawrence, 24 Nov 1861.

Senaca Mills  [Seneca, Maryland?]

tuesday 24th Nov

Dear parents. I thought I would write a few words having nothing else to do

Last week the 17th [Rome?] of the 34 N.Y. boys went over the river. Just opposite where our pice was masked as had been there habit scouting and foragen but the rebels had lain for them. So it was about 12 at night just as they had passed a small brook the enemy laying in ambush 15 feet from our pickets gave the order fire when crash went a volley of about 25 guns which was not returned by our side. I could plainly see the guns flash and hear the boys holler help but took to their heels and ran no doubt it was the best plan. Out of 11 men there was 7 slightly wounded 4 missing of which one is dead. The alarm set us on our pins last Sunday 29th when we shelled out a small camp in about 15 minutes and there was some awfull scampering over the hills. I will not trouble you with a very long letter this time but will state I have received two months pay $24.83 I enclose $10

Give my love to gramma and all inquiring firends etc etc

P.S. send your number I have lost your last letter

Your affectionate son

John H Lawrence

Letter from John H. Lawrence, March 9 1862.

Letter from John H. Lawrence, March 9 1862.

 

March 9th 1862

Camp near Charlestown Va

Dear parents

I now take the opportunity to write [illegible] tired of waiting for a letter. I have not received a letter from you in two months and I have written 3 times. I sent 20 dollars in one letter. I guess you [illegible] it [illegible]. If you have I wish you would let me know as I could found it very useful here rather than lost it.

I have received your Box and it was very acceptable. It is very fine Sunday compared with what we have had. we advanced from Poollesville about 2 weeks ago crossed the Potomac on pontoon bridge into Harpers Ferry wich is a splendid little village most all deserted. Owned mostly [U.C.?] Government. We stopped there 3 days quartered in a fine house, and we marched 6 miles and camped near Charlestown [about 20 miles from Winchester] wich is a very strong seces’t town place where John Brown was hung. I have just come from there. rite smart place – saw the tree that scaffold was built on (or at least the stump) got piece of the tree. Will send it home when I get a chance. I think there will be some fighting at Winchester in a day or two. We have just got about 40,000 troops including 3 Bull Run regiments, the Massachusetts 15 is to cover us. Albert Waite and Chappel is here. We are under Banks in his column the cry here is March on but he won’t go untill he gets ready. I think most likely we will be in reserve as we are at present. However it doesn’t make much odds the sooner we do the fighting up the sooner we will get home. The pickets is bringing in rebels every day. Some of them a littel inclined to the Union. Say it is all up with them and a few more victories on our side will end the war. Albert sends his best respects to Richard Some more give my love to all the children including Maggy [Eliza?] Mary Jane her folks and the Bamfords and Gramma. Ask Martin how the baby is. your son

John H. Lawrence

Letter from John H Lawrence, 13 July 1862.

Letter from John H Lawrence, 13 July 1862.  The percentage of his pay that he sent to his parents was calculated along the side – it seems likely the note was made by the person who added the letters to the pension application.

 

Harryson’s landing

James River Va

Sunday July 13th 1862

Dear parents

I received a letter from some one with one dollar in it although it was too late as I got paid off at Fort Sully. I send you by the Commissioner twenty dollars.

You must know that the Army is laid up for repairs for this last retreat has bunged up this Corps it having had the brunt of the retreat such as being rear guard and having all the fighting to do. As you are aware that we commenced shelling the same day that Gen. Porter was attacked but it was all shelling about and that we did not mind as we had breastworks but the doctor that got hit on the head there. The next day being Sunday we commenced to fall back and as we fell back they followed up close in our rear making it necessary to fight and our troops displayed the most unequal courage that I ever imagined standing face to face to the rebels hordes and not flinch one inch but it was all that saved the Batterys in our Division and in fact the complete capture and anialation of this army depended on our movements [I mean the Corps] though the retreat cost the life of many a foe whose bones will bleach this summer on the sandy soil of Virginia.  We nevertheless had our losses and our hardships averaging about 3 hours sleep per day with our limbs aching with fatigue and hard work at the gun (firing no less than 18 hundred rounds on the [streak?]) however we are here and will be all rested in a short time and ready for another fight as we have made up our minds for to fight now and we shall go at it with a will. Tell William the first chance I have I will send him a revolver it is out of repair a little I suppose he can fix it we are hard up for delicacies paid $0.50 cookies 5 cts apiece lemons 10 = 15 cents and everything in proportion and I want you to send me a box not of broken dishes though. I will send you a list of things I shall I expect to receive. So no more present give my respects to all [so no more at]

John Lawrence

Detail from John Lawrence's letter if
Detail from John Lawrence’s letter of  March 9, 1862.  It looks like printed stationery.

A few thoughts

  • Evidently John’s mother was unable to read.  The letter is addressed “Dear Parents” but he says “tell mother I am doing well.” so clearly she was not reading the letters.
  • I’m not sure how the pension claim went, but I don’t think it’s proven, from these, that John was truly sending money home for the support of his family.  He seemed to expect them to send him packages, and had enclosed a list of what to send.  There is also the possibility they were supposed to be saving the money for him. But all in all given their circumstances, he probably was.
  • When he says in the third letter “give my love to Mary Jane and her folks” that makes me think he may have had a girlfreind, or at least someone he was fond of.
  • I know, from the Civil War letters of my other uncle who served, William. W. Douglas, that communications could get backed up and evidently this was not always obvious to the soldiers, who blamed their families for not writing.  It really is sad to see that.  A small indication of how stressful the situation was for everyone.
  • He gives his love to “gramma”, but it took me a minute to think which gramma was nearby.  His parents were born elsewhere, so I hadn’t slowed down enough to realize that of course he grew up around his mother’s mother.  I knew that, but hadn’t thought of it as having a “gramma.”  Funny how much more personal things get when you read letters.
  • He mentions his aunt and uncle, William and Mary (Shortridge) Bamford, a couple of times.  That is the family of my DNA cousin.  He will get a kick out of that.

The post you are reading is located at: http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/07/09/give-my-love-to-gramma/

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This is the story of how the Battle of Antietam played a significant and unexpected role in my family’s history.

The soldier

Early in the morning of June 19, 1861, Battery A of the 1st Regiment, Rhode Island Light Artillery marched down Westminster Street, Providence, then down South Main Street to India Point.  They had officially been soldiers for 14 days, and they left behind a scene that had been attracting spectators for weeks – a camp with tents at the Dexter Training Ground (the current site of the Dexter Armory).  The docks were crowded that day, particularly with the “fair sex” as the soldiers said their good-byes and the steamer Kill Von Kull prepared to depart at 4:00 p.m., headed for the Elizabethport, New Jersey railroad station (1).  As far as I know, this was the last time my gggg-grandparents James and Annie (Shortriggs) Lawrence saw their son, John.

John H. Lawrence was the second child and oldest son of James and Annie Lawrence. John was born in 1840 as the couple, both English immigrants, moved from place to place in the eastern United States and James pursued his occupation of machinist.   Born in Wake County, North Carolina, John was enumerated with his parents in the 1850 (Danville, Virginia) and 1860 (Providence, Rhode Island) census. I am related to John Lawrence in the following way:  his parents, James and Annie (Shortriggs) Lawrence were the parents of my ggg-grandmother Margaret (Lawrence) Murdock Knight, she was the mother of Louis Rufus Murdock. Louis was the father of my great-grandmother Eva (Murdock) Darling, who was the mother of my grandmother, Edna (Darling) Baldwin.

The 1860 census record indicated that John and his sister, Margaret (my ggg-grandmother) were working as “jewelers”(2).  The fine jewelry and silver industries were growing in Providence in the nineteenth century and it’s likely that John and Margaret were employed as assemblers, packers or clerks in a jewelry manufacturing company. John was still single at the time of his enlistment in 1861.

Providence Marine Corps Arsenal, 176 Benefit Street, Providence.  From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS RI,4-PROV,55)

Providence Marine Corps Arsenal, 176 Benefit Street, Providence, scene of recruitment activities as the Civil War began. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS RI,4-PROV,55)

John was among the earliest Rhode Islanders to enlist.  Although the family didn’t have much in the way of financial resources, someone managed to have a photo of John taken before his departure.  I have found the photo in two recent books (3) (4) and I am pursuing its location and provenance and hope to post it here someday.  John looked like a strong, handsome young man with straight dark hair and a mustache (for sure, the fair sex may have been waving on that dock specifically for him).

Battery A

I have done very little Civil War research.  I have no direct ancestors who fought.  But even I can tell that there was something special about Battery A and several of the associated batteries.  The 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery scattered its units wherever they were needed, throughout the war.  Each Battery served independently.  The history of Battery A reads, surprisingly, like a history of the war itself – they were everywhere.  In John’s first year of service the Battery was at Manassas, the Battle of Bull Run, Bolivar Heights, the Virginia Peninsula Campaign, the Siege of Yorktown, the Battle of Fair Oaks, and many other actions in Maryland and Virginia (5) (10).

Half of a glass steroegraph of the principal street of Sharpsburg, Maryladn where the Battle of Antietam was fought. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, Sept., 1862. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs ONline Catalog, LC-B815-595 .

Half of a glass stereograph of the principal street of Sharpsburg, Maryland where the Battle of Antietam was fought. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, Sept., 1862. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, LC-B815-595 .

The Light Artillery operated small cannons (“6-to-10 pound Parrott rifles” (4)).  There must have been a lot involved in transporting, maintaining, and firing such equipment.  Battery A must have learned this, more or less, on the job.  By the time September, 1862 came around they had had 15 months’ experience with the equipment, with their officers, and with each other.  From everything I’ve read, they performed their job very well.

On September 17, 1862, Battery A was in Antietam, Maryland, assigned to Major General John Sedgwick’s Division, in Sumner’s Second Corps.  The Battery was led by Captain John A Tompkins. They took position in front of Mumma’s burning farm-house.  Battery A was attacked by three South Carolina regiments, and fired on them in return at point-blank range, causing them to withdraw in confusion. All morning, further attacks were fought off, firing rapidly, until the equipment and ammunition began to give out.  In a tragic and ultimately inconclusive battle, Battery A held ground and prevented the other side from capturing their equipment. Over 3,600 soldiers were killed outright that day, with a total of more than 22,000 killed, wounded or missing/captured.  It was “the bloodiest one day battle in American history.”(8)

A sad colored photograph, half of a stereograph, from after the battle. Dunker Church in the background is near where Battery A fought. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online catalog, LC-DIG-stereo-1s029014.

A sad colored photograph, half of a stereograph, from after the battle. Dunker Church in the background is near where Battery A fought. Photo by Alexander Gardner. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online catalog, LC-DIG-stereo-1s029014.

The death of John Lawrence

John H. Lawrence was killed sometime during the firing that morning.  After driving off the South Carolina regiments, there were further Confederate attacks and his death probably occurred during one of those in mid to late morning.  Other Battery A soldiers killed were Sergeant Charles M Read and Privates Joseph T. Bosworth and Edwin Stone.  About a dozen were wounded. Battery A called for relief around noon and was replaced by Battery G, who unfortunately only maintained the position briefly (1).

It was not possible to recover the bodies of the dead that day.  So on the morning of September 18, Lieutenant Jeffrey Hassard (Hazard) selected a crew of eight men to accompany him to recover the fallen soldiers from Battery A.  Sharpshooters prevented them from accomplishing that.  In the afternoon, a truce was called, allowing each side to bury their dead.  The bodies of the four Battery A soldiers were found, not in great shape after a 24 hour wait, and buried on the battlefield with the whole unit gathered round (1).

Battery A went on to participate in more of the war’s fiercest battles including Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.  Many of John Lawrence’s companions who had signed up for a three year stint in 1861 returned to Providence in 1864.  One of them, Theodore Reichardt, wrote a book containing his memories of Battery A (1).  A more sanitized version – with less grumbling about the officers – was published by Thomas W. Aldrich in 1904, based on his service with the unit as a boy (5).

“Burning of Mr. Muma’s houses and barns at the fight of 17th of Sept” – this is also near where Battery A fought.  Pencil and Chinese white drawing on brown paper by Alfred R. Waud. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Catalog, LC-DIG-ppmsca-21452.

Back in Providence

I have no way of knowing when the news of John’s death reached his parents.  Indeed, John’s sister Margaret signed her name with an “x” as late as 1900, leaving me to wonder if the parents were able to read and write (although no census records any of them as illiterate).  Direct notifications of deaths may not have been common from the government during the Civil War.

By September 19 John Lawrence’s death was listed in the Providence Evening Press (6), so surely by then the family either sought out some news or were informed by friends or local officials.

FURTHER FROM MARYLAND.

Loss in Rhode Island Battery A.

New York, Sept. 19.

The following names are given in the Herald’s list of casualties:

In the 1st Rhode Island Artillery:

  • Sergeant Chas. M. Read, killed.
  • Private Bosworth,   “
  • ”   John Lawrence,  “
  • ”   John Stone,          “
  • ”   Francis Phillips.
  • ”   F. Budlong.
  • ”   Hamilton Clark.

The above are of Battery A.  Their entire loss is about 20 killed and wounded.

[Note – the list don’t state whether the three last are killed or wounded.]

The reason I am so certain that this is the same John H. Lawrence who was the son of James and Annie is that I found John Lawrence’s death at Antietam noted in the Lawrence family plot records at the Grace Church Cemetery records.

Attending the Confederate wounded after the Battle of Antietam.  Dr. A. Hurd, 14th Indiana Volunteers. Confederate soldiers under tents at Smith's barn near Keeedysville, Md. Photo by Alexander Gardner.  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog LC-DIG-ds-05198.

Attending the Confederate wounded after the Battle of Antietam. Dr. A. Hurd, 14th Indiana Volunteers. Confederate soldiers under tents at Smith’s barn near Keedysville, Md. Photo by Alexander Gardner. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog LC-DIG-ds-05198.

Other impacts on the family

Of course John’s death must have been hard on his family.  But as I studied what little I could find on this story, I put together a few more sad facts.

Possibly, John had several brothers who died as children.  The only brother that lived to adulthood was William J. Lawrence, born 27 May 1845 in North Carolina.  He was about five years younger than John.  In 1861 and 1862, recruitment efforts were underway in Providence and many young men enthusiastically stepped up.  Perhaps out of admiration for his brother, a desire to be grown up, or to join his friends, William Lawrence enrolled in the 4th Rhode Island Infantry, Battery D on 16 June 1862, which would have been shortly after his 17th birthday (14).  He deserted on 10 August 1862(9).

By the 1865 Rhode Island state census, William was living back with his family at 28 America Street, Providence.  He was working as an engraver, which most likely means working in Providence’s growing silver industry.  That was a position of trust, to some extent, and tells me that he must eventually have bypassed serious consequences of the desertion.  Perhaps authorities were sympathetic to the sacrifice the family had already made, and let the boy off.

Tragically, William did not get the chance to grow into the adult life he had tried out too soon.  On 17 December 1865 he died of Typhoid Fever.  The funeral took place at 28 America Street and William was buried at the Lawrence family plot in Grace Church Cemetery, Providence, in a grave with his and his brother John’s names and the word “Private.”  John was, of course, buried in 1862 at Antietam, so the Providence marker is a cenotaph.  Eventually John’s real grave was moved a short distance to the Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835(11).  I would like to sincerely thank FindAGrave volunteer Jen Snoots for helping me discover John’s two graves and for very kindly passing the FindAGrave.com memorials back to the family to maintain (12) (13).

Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835, J.H. Lawrence.  Photo by Jen Snoots.

Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835, J.H. Lawrence. Photo by Jen Snoots.

September 16, 1871

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence was dedicated on September 16, 1871.  It contains, etched in brass, all the known Rhode Island military personnel who died during the Civil War.  J.H. Lawrence is on the list for R.I. Light Infantry, Battery A (15).

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, Providence.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

I wondered if my family attended the unveiling of the monument. I found a little volume, “Proceedings at the Dedication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence.” How often do I pass over something like this?  I am gradually progressing from a person that is interested in finding my ancestor’s name to a person that understands where the real stories might be hidden. And one was found here, although John Lawrence is only mentioned in the list of engraved names.  This little volume, when I read it, gave me huge insights into my family’s story on September 16, 1871.

A platform was raised on three sides of the Monument with seats sufficient to accommodate about twenty-three hundred persons, including the invited guests. Great pains were taken to furnish tickets through agents appointed for the purpose, to families of deceased soldiers and sailors in all parts of the State, and all who applied received them.

… all the uniformed companies in the State were required to appear in Providence on the 16th of September, to take part in the proceedings attending the Dedication.

The 1st Light Artillery is honored on this side of the monument.

The 1st Light Artillery is honored on this side of the monument. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

In addition to the families of the deceased Soldiers and Sailors, the following gentlemen were seated on the platform : His Excellency Governor Padelford, the Rhode Island Delegation in Congress, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Officers of the Army and Navy, the Governors of the New England States, Judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Common Pleas, the Mayors of the Cities of Newport and Providence, Mr. Randolph Rogers, the Sculptor, and Mr. J. G. Batterson, the Architect of the Monument, the State Officers, the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Newport, the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Providence, the President and Professors of Brown University, the Lieutenant-Governor, and Members of the General Assembly, the State Committee on the Monument, the Presidents of the several Town Councils, and Town Clerks, with other invited guests.

A choir of upwards of three hundred singers under the direction of Edwin Barker, Esq., had places on rising seats above the platform.

J.H. Lawrence, in the ist R.I. Light Artillery section.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

J.H. Lawrence, in the ist R.I. Light Artillery section. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Chief Marshall was General Ambrose Burnside.  Every Veteran’s group in the state marched, beginning on Broadway, with their bands, drums, color guards and musket companies.  Current military ranks marched with their cadets, artillery, and horse guards.

The line of march was through Broadway, Knight, High, Broad, Dorrance, Westminster, South Main, Transit, Benefit, Meeting, North Main, and Steeple Streets, to Exchange Place and the Monument. A perfect ovation greeted the column along the whole distance. Flags and decorations were in abundance, sidewalks, housetops, windows, and every conceivable place that would afford a view of the procession was occupied. Waving handkerchiefs were met at every step, and everything indicated that the dedicating services were a willing tribute from a grateful people. There were nearly two thousand Veterans in the ranks.

The companies of Veterans then formed in a solid body at the lower part of the open space with the Uniformed Militia in a compact form in the rear, the lines extending entirely across Exchange Place. When the word was given, this great body of men, more than four thousand in number, marched in division front up the wide thoroughfare towards the monument. The solid host, the many tattered battle flags, the blue uniforms of the Veteran Corps, the brilliant clothes of the citizen soldiers, the gleaming of the muskets and bayonets, and the firm and regular marching to the music of sixteen bands, was a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. As the column advanced, the spectators on the stand and the immense crowd which filled the side walks and grounds adjacent to the Monument and Railroad Depot, applauded, cheered and waved their handkerchiefs over and over again.

While the curtain which enveloped the Monument was being slowly withdrawn, a dirge was played by the Band.  The solemnity of the spectacle touched the hearts of the spectators and drew tears from hundreds. But when the whole structure appeared with its beautiful bronze statues, cheer upon cheer, loud and long, arose from the vast multitude which filled the square.

Rev. Augustus Woodbury, minister of the Westminster Unitarian Church (in Providence at that time), military chaplain, champion of abolition and other causes, and well-known literary figure, gave the oration, a humble and grateful tribute to the fallen, of all ranks and origins.

Augustus Woodbury, from a memorial volume published after his death.

Rev. Augustus Woodbury, from a memorial volume published after his death.

When I read about that day in 1871, it brought tears to my eyes and I hope that the Lawrences found comfort in the tribute. I picture my great-great grandfather Louis R. Murdock, 8 at the time, probably left at home by the somber adults who went to the ceremony, joining the neighborhood boys in chasing the parade down Westminster Street, marveling at the bands, the uniforms, and the pageantry.

What I realized

As I studied the date of John’s death at Antietam, September 17, 1862, I realized some things that will never be found in books.

Approximately 6 weeks later, my gg-grandfather Louis Murdock was conceived. Margaret “Maggie” Lawrence may well have been single at the time – she claimed, when she married William Murdock in 1867 that it was her second marriage, but much later in life, in 1900, after William Murdock had passed away and when her next husband, Jeremiah Knight, was on his deathbed, she reported that she had been married a total of two times. No records of an earlier marriage or divorce have been found. Louis thought he was adopted, but he was in the household with Maggie and the Lawrences before her marriage to William Murdock; Maggie brought Louis to her marriage. And, more recently, my mom has been linked in DNA testing with a descendant of Annie (Shortriggs) Lawrence’s sister.

Did the chaos of those days impact Maggie’s decisions?  Was her family understandably upset?  Was there a reason why the father did not marry Maggie at that point? Was the child wanted?

When I think about these years, I can’t help but see that out of the tragic loss of son after son, the Lawrence family was left with a son after all – that was Louis.  Since Louis pursued the same occupation as his grandfather – machinist – I have often pictured that grandfather spending his later years teaching and guiding Louis, and helping him find his first job.  If that is true, James Lawrence was able to pass down a wonderful gift.  Louis supported his family securely while working for 50 years at the Brown & Sharpe machinery company.  And more to the point, Louis had the happy life denied to the Lawrence boys, a wonderful wife, and three daughters who cherished him.

Louis Murdock, nephew of John Lawrence, at around age 16.

Louis Murdock, nephew of John Lawrence, at around age 16.

10 things about this research

  • This is the first research plan I’ve accomplished with my new Research Notebook plan.  My plan came out to about 40 pages.  It took me about 4 weeks from start to finish.  It now goes into my paper notebook to be on hand when I can get to some repositories where I need to look for a few more things.
  • I found, surprisingly, that making the research report helped me to write a proper narrative of the story itself in this blog post.  It separated research from writing.
  • The research report helped me to think more globally about the whole situation as it impacted the family.  Since I couldn’t write, I thought more.
  • Well Rhode Island is a pretty small place.  So I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find that I knew one of the authors of a helpful history of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, Rhody Redlegs(3).  Cynthia Ferguson is a fellow Rhode Island genealogist and a great Facebook friend.  It’s so much fun to know more people.
  • I have the 3rd edition of Evidence Explained and I am getting better at writing footnotes.
  • There are a lot of resources for the Civil War.  Wow.  A lot.  The best source I found for knowing which Rhode Islanders were involved are the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for the year 1865 mentioned in note 9, below.  Both volumes 1 & 2 should be consulted.
  • All this research into the Lawrences still gets me no closer to the source of Louis Rufus Murdock’s first and middle name.  It must come from his real father.  I have combed the neighborhood for Louises.
  • UPDATE – the Antietam Battlefield staff answered my email inquiry about some records I found (a picture and a possible letter), in footnotes, attributed to their collection.  They sent me a set of photocopies of some letters and a Mother’s pension file.  An update on that will be coming in a future post.
  • The civil war was so long ago, I forget that there were pictures in that era.  Artists and photographers recorded a great deal.  Many of the pictures are gruesome and sad.
  • I am happy to leave it to others to tell the story of the regiment and Antietam – I will never attain the level of Civil War knowledge that others have.
Civil War artillery.  From History of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments Rhode Island Volunteers, p. 117.

Civil War artillery. From History of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments Rhode Island Volunteers, p. 117.

Notes

(1) Theodore Reichardt. Diary of Battery A First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery. Written in the Field (Providence: N. Bangs Williams, Publisher, 1865), iii-iv and 6, also 64-67, accessed as Internet Archive edition http://archive.org/stream/diaryofbatteryaf00reic

(2) 1860 U.S. census, Providence County, Rhode Island, population schedule, Providence Ward 5, p. 264, dwelling 1367, family 2082, John Lawrence; image, Ancestry.com (hhtp://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1210.

(3) Robert Grandchamp, Jane Lancaster, and Cynthia Ferguson, “Rhody Redlegs”: A History of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery and the 103d Field Artillery, Rhode Island Army National Guard, 1801-2010, Kindle book (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2012), chapter 7, “Civil War”.

(4) Ted Alexander, The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, Google Play edition (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), 57-64.

(5) Thomas W. Aldrich, The History of Battery A First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery In the War to Preserve the Union 1861-1865 (Providence: Snow & Farnham Printers, 1904), 142-143, accessed as Internet Archive  https://archive.org/stream/histbattery00aldrrich

(6) “Further From Maryland. Loss in Rhode Island Battery A,” Providence Evening Press, 19 September 1862, HTML edition, archived, (http://www.GenealogyBank.com : accessed 26 June 2015), Vol. VII, Issue 5, p. 3.

(7) Rhode Island Committee on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Proceedings at the Dedication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence, to which is appended a list of the deceased soldiers and sailors whose names are sculptured upon the monument.  (Providence: A Crawford Greene, Printer to the State, 1871), 62.

(8) Ted Alexander, The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, Google Play edition (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), 90.

(9) Elisha Dyer, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for the year 1865, Corrected, Revised, and Republished in accordance with Provisions of Chapters 705 and 767 of the Public Laws, Volume 1 (Providence: E.L. Freeman & Son: 1893), 288, digital images, Google Books (URL : books.google.com : 22 June 2015).

(10) National Park Service, “Battle Units,” database, Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System. (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm : accessed 20 June 2015), entry for Rhode Island Volunteers. Battery “A”, 1st Regiment Light Artillery, Union.

(11) Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. “Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92″.  The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland. Digital. Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 July 2015), entry for John H. Lawrence.  

(12) “Find A Grave,” indexed database, Findagrave.com  (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 June 2015), memorial page #23954951 for Pvt. John H. Lawrence (1840-1862) with gravestone images, created by Jen Snoots, citing Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Washington County, Maryland.

(13) “Find A Grave,” indexed database, Findagrave.com  (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 June 2015), memorial page # 23955792 for John H. Lawrence (1840-1862), created by Jen Snoots, citing Grace Church Cemetery, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island.

(14) National Park Service, “Soldiers,” database, Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System. (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm : accessed 28 June 2015), entry for William E. Lawrence, Private, Company D, 4th Regiment Rhode Island Infantry, Union.

(15) Exchange Terrace/Providence City Hall Plaza (Providence, Rhode Island), Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, J.H. Lawrence, (memorial) plaque; photographed by Diane Boumenot, 16 June 2015.

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The story of a Rhode Island soldier in North Carolina

Some background

Recently I found a collection of letters written by my grandfather’s Uncle Will while he was serving in the Fifth Regiment of the Rhode Island Heavy Artillery from 30 Nov 1861 to 20 Dec 1864.  He rose in the ranks from Second Lieutenant, Company B to First Lieutenant, Company D and eventually Captain, Company C.  I am related to him in the following way: my grandfather Miles E Baldwin Jr. — his father Miles E Baldwin Sr — his half sister Anna Jean (Bennett) Douglas — her husband, William Wilberforce Douglas.

William W. Douglas was the son of William Douglas (1812-1887, born in Scotland), and Sarah (Sawyer) Douglas (1816-1901; born in Newburyport, Massachusetts to Jeremiah Sawyer and Betsey (Fitts) Sawyer).  William Sr. was a Baptist minister who served as the chaplain of the Rhode Island State Prison for 40 years.  The family resided in Providence.

William Jr. graduated from Brown University in 1861.  On June 24, 1861 the family lost a daughter, Sarah Ellen (“Ellen”) to consumption.  She was 17.  At the time William left for military service in late 1861 he had four remaining younger siblings: Francis Wayland, age 15, Anne, age 13, Charles Henry, age 10, and Samuel Tobey, age 9.

After his return from the service William studied law at the Albany School of Law. After graduation, he began a career as an attorney in Providence that included elected office, appointment as a judge, and an eventual rise to Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He married Anna Jean Bennett Douglas on 30 Jun 1884.  They traveled extensively and during his lifetime William served in many leadership roles among church, civic and veterans’ organizations in Providence. Aunt Jennie and Uncle Will had no children.

W.W. Douglas from the family collection. May be the carte de visite he mentioned in the letters.

W.W. Douglas from the family collection. May be a photocopy of the carte de visite he mentioned in the letters.

Discovering the letters

The above is the impersonal view I had of him before last week.  As William wrote letters home during the Civil War, his mother transcribed them into a notebook which had formerly (turned the other way) been used by the late sister Ellen to take chemistry notes (she must have been a very intelligent girl, from a special family, to pursue chemistry in 1861).  The mother, Sarah, carefully notes when letters have been omitted although we would have no way of knowing why she chose to omit certain letters. Through some pasted-in articles towards the end of the book – one of which has a penciled “Providence Journal” – one can see that some of William’s letters were partially printed in the local newspaper.  The notebook runs out of pages around 1863 and I know of no source for the originals, so the story stops there.

Below are some excerpt of my choosing from those recorded letters.  The page numbers refer to penciled numbers at the bottom of many pages. The notebook is safely housed in the Manuscript Collection of East Carolina University, and viewable online [see reference at bottom of this page].  I first learned of the letters through a search in Archivegrid.

The letters

Annapolis, December 30, 1861  [from p. 3-4]

Dear Parents

Now that I have arrived at our rendez-vous I can sit down to write you a more circumstantial account of my journey.  I started as you know from Providence Friday p.m. […] [note: all omissions […] are by the author of this post and can be recovered by perusing the original documents online; see bottom of post]

We arrived at Philadelphia and were marched immediately to a Refreshment Saloon. Kept by the Volunteer Relief Association exclusively for the entertainment of Soldiers passing through the city.  Here we had a supper gratis of hot coffee, tongue, ham, bread & butter, and after a tedious halt at the Baltimore Depot, we once more embarked and composed ourselves to sleep as well as we could upon the seats of the cars.  […] At noon we left the depot at B- [Baltimore] and we were unexpectedly invited to a repast similar to the one which we had partaken at Philadelphia.  After enjoying the hospitality of the former Secessionists or silent Unionists, we recommenced our tedious ride. […]

Please send some 3 ct. postage stamps.  I cannot procure them here.  – WWD  …

We are expecting to go on ship board in a day or two and to start very soon.  I was introduced to Mrs. Burnside this morning, she is quite plain looking but very pleasant.

Everything has gone very well. […]

You must not WORRY ——

My love to Susan and all the children, Miss Henry and Eliza & all our friends.  […] [note – in the 1860 Federal Census, “Susan C. Sawyer” is living in the house, age 23, music teacher, and “Eliza Fowler”, age 28, is a domestic, born in New York.]

Walter does first rate. One of the officers got a negro at one of the stations where we stopped and took him along to act as his servant & will thus free him unless his master finds him out which is not very likely.

There is nothing I can think of that I want except a letter from you & so I remain

Your affectionate son

Camp Harris, Annapolis Jan. 5, 1862  [from p. 6-7]

Dear Father,

I have written two letters to you before and not having received any answers, I begin to distrust the mail and send this by express.

I write today because it is likely we will go on board ship tomorrow.  The fourth R.I. Regt are here and are going with us.

We were paid off yesterday and I received $59.75 of which I send you $50.00 leaving me about $39 to last til next pay day […]

P.S. I have taken out $15 which I have lent to William Avery.  I send you an order on his father.  Think of me and pray that I may do my duty to God and to my country.  We sail tomorrow or day after […]

General Burnside

General Burnside, from frontispiece, The History of the Fifth Regiment of R.I., Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Aboard the ship Kitty Simpson near Fortress Monroe, Va.  January 12, 1862   [from p. 8 – 10]

Dear Father,

[…] we set out again for Fortress Monroe.  Before dark we came to anchor in the midst of the large fleet under the guns of the Fort.

There are in sight three Frigates & about a hundred smaller craft – steamboats, propellers, gunboats, ships, schooners, & tugs.  We know no more of our destination than at first but we are told that the mail will go ashore at Cape Henry, so that I suppose we shall go south and not any where in the Chesapeake as I at first thought.  I think the original object of the expedition was to sail up the James or Rappahanock River, but since one on McClellan’s Staff divulged it to the Secessionists the destination of the expedition has been altered.  […]

Give my love to mother and all.  Remember me as I know you do, in your prayers.

We are all well, I never enjoyed better health.

There is nothing that I want so far as I know except to be relieved of that promise which I made you not to smoke.  I believe Mr. Hall and I are the only men on board who do not.  […]

Your affectionate Son,

W.W. Douglas

Ship Kitty Simpson, Pamlico Sd. January 19 [1862]  [from p. 11 – 20]

Dear Father & Mother,

[…] the motion began to be felt all over the vessel, and about a quarter of the men furnished amusement for the rest whose stomachs were stronger.  To my own great astonishment and not less satisfaction, I enjoyed the sail unmolested by sea-sickness.  […]  Capt. Wright has spent his time in short hurried journeys from his berth to the rails & back again from the rail to his berth.  […]

It was soon whispered among the officers that our destination, at least as a rendezvous, was to be Hatteras Inlet where the first naval expedition stopped.  […]  In the morning we could see, across the low island, the fleet which had preceded us, anchored in the Sound.  […] For five days we lay off the shore […]  fog […]  rain for four days […]  hailed by a steamer […]  heave up the anchor […] succeeded in attaching our 10 in. hawser to a smaller one of his […]   under weigh for the inlet.

[…] we were suddenly thrown off our feet by the striking of the ship upon the bar.  The steamer hawser parted at the same time and her Capt. after shouting to us as if in mockery to let go our anchor, steamed away and left us to our fate.  The fog lifted a moment and showed us breakers on each side, and the wreck of a steamer not 300 feet from our boat, which had gone ashore like us in attempting to cross the bar, a few days before.  […]  Every wave which rolled in before the freshening breeze raised the ship a little, and beat her against the hard sandy bottom, making her tremble and quiver in every timber and spar.  […] wondering why no one came near us […]

The Gale off Hatteras, from The History of the Fifth Regiment of R.I. Heavy Artillery, Burlingame, comp.  Providence: 1892.

The Gale off Hatteras, from The History of the Fifth Regiment of R.I., Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

The Capt & Major were calm and collected during the whole time, and the men obeyed the orders cheerfully and well.  I thought at one time that the continual thumping would break the ship’s back, and that we should stand the chance of swimming or drowning … the ferry boat Eagle again appeared […]  this final effort was successful, and just as the shore and the and sea became blended in the dusk of the evening we dropped our anchor again among the other vessels, safe in the harbor.  Give thanks to God with me for our providential escape.

We are still as ignorant as ever of the object of the Expedition.  […]

Thursday morning 2 1/2 o’clock

I am again on guard and again resume my pen.  Sunday afternoon […]  the mail arrived […]  a welcome letter for me. It was dated Jan. 8th, showing how circuitously it had come.

[…] we all have to use salt water for washing.  The lower hold of the ship is full of provisions, so that we don’t suffer at all but salt junk and hard bread  are rather poor fare when I remember Eliza’s hot muffins and light sweet biscuit.  I tell you I would give a good deal to sit down to breakfast with you some of these mornings, but I am very well satisfied to wait til I have done my little for my country, and until the Rebellion is subdued.

Monday January 27

[…] As near as we can guess Roanoke Island is the place to which we are going, and the engagement is expected to be almost wholly naval.  […] The General was deceived in regard to the depth of the water in the sound by some traitorous pilots, & has almost insuperable obstacles to overcome.  At last however I think that everything is favorable […]

My love to all of you […]

Thank you for the disposition you made of my photographs and for your love & kindness ever since I could feel it. […]

Your affectionate son

Willie

Hatteras Inlet N.C. On Board the Transport Kitty Simpson, Jany 31 1862  [from p. 21 – 23]

Dear Parents,

[…] We are to be transferred from this ship, which draws too much water to proceed further, to the Steamer L.R. Spalding […] she is the best vessel in the fleet& is occupied by Gen. Burnside himself, so we shall be on the same vessel with him.  […] Please give my regards to H- & to Dr. and Mrs. Wayland.  […]

You may not receive letters regularly from me but scribe it always to the carelessness of Mail Agents, or to accidents, not to my not writing.  Do not believe the reports in the newspapers, especially if they say we are defeated.   Gen. B. is cautious as well as brave and will not risk success by any rashness.  […]

Attack on the Confederate Forts by the Union Fleet at Roanoke Island, from page 17, The History of the Fidth Regiment of R.I. Heavy Artillery, Burlingame, comp.  Providence: 1892.

Attack on the Confederate Forts by the Union Fleet at Roanoke Island, from page 17, The History of the Fifth Regiment of R.I., Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Roanoke Island, N.C. Feb 11th 1862  [from p. 24 – 26]

Dear Parents,

I write this on a camel chest in the open air. We have taken the island notwithstanding it was very strongly fortified.  All our men of the 5th are safe.  We were engaged in marching and counter marching to outflank the enemy and so did not get into the fight at all.  Friday last, the gunboats began by canonnading the Rebel Fort on the Island.  At night we landed 6 or 8000 men.  Sat. morning the fight commenced.  The Rebels were all deployed throughout the woods and perfectly hidden by the thick underbrush.  The ground except along a narrow road was covered with mud & water knee deep.  Through this swamp and along the road our men forced the enemy for 2 or 3 miles.  The firing which we (the 5th) could hear but not see was tremendous and incessant.  As the Rebels steadily retreated & our men advanced, a turn in the road brought them to a Rebel [masked?] battery of 4 32 pound guns which played upon them to terrible effect.  A little more and they would have turned in a panick but the 9th N.Y. Zouaves advanced at double quick through water up to their waists, & with fierce yells climbed the redoubt and turned the enemies’ guns on them, without losing a man.

This decided the day.  The Rebels were in full retreat, and in attempting to embark for the mainland 3500 of them were taken prisoners.  Perhaps 500 of them escaped. We took three large camps with wooden barracks,  hospitals, etc and 3 forts which in our hands would be almost impregnable.  We are now waiting for our things to come  ashore from the fleet.

The gunboats chased the rebel fleet of 7 vessels & sunk the commanders ship retook one which they had taken from Gen. Butler, & sunk, burned or captured all the rest.  They then took and occupied Elizabeth City.  So that this expedition has been more successful than any before it in this war.  The U.S. loss is about 50 killed and 130 wounded.  The rebel loss is probably much greater & we have now taken in all nearly 4000 prisoners.

A force of rebels in two schooners were retreating from some place to this Island, not knowing that it had fallen into our hands, & one of our vessels went out under a secession flag and and towed them in and took them prisoners.  […]

Write soon to

Your affectionate Son

W.W. Douglas

Roanoke Is., N.C. Feb 23rd 1862  [from p. 28]

Dear Sister,

[…] We have heard […] of a great victory over the enemy in Kentucky or Tennessee & of the capture of 15,000 troops.  This has been corroborated and is probably true.  If so the war will not be very protracted.  I should be very glad to see you all by next Christmas and especially to know that the government was once more respected all over our happy country.  […]

Your Affectionate brother,

Willie

Fort Foster, Roanoke Is., N.C. March 2nd 1862  [from p. 29 – 34]

Dear Mother,

[…] Gen. Burnside came into our tent the day before yesterday and sat and talked a long time.  He complimented our Battalion on their proficiency in the [manual?] of the rifle, and spoke of the neatness of the camp, etc.  Today he has gone off with the other Generals, and has taken a bodyguard from our Regt.  […]

I have had some washing done by a colored woman living near the camp, and it was done very well and very reasonably.  Walter has done some also very well.

We are living now on the fat of the land.  We have fresh shad at 25 cts apiece sweet potatoes and good bread which Walter bakes in a cook stove left by the rebels.  He makes fritters and dropcakes & quite a variety of dishes from flour & hominy.   We have a board floor for our tent which keeps us from the damp sandy ground.  […]

I don’t know that I can describe my feelings on the day of the battle.  As we stood in the woods listening to the heavy firing, not a thousand yards from us, and heard the shouts of the combatants, as they rushed upon each other, & listened to the bullets as they cut off the twigs over our heads, & felt, I think all our men did, that it was serious business in which we were engaged.  And I felt that I could give up my life if necessary in the cause which I believe to be right – I felt that God was with me […]

Pray that I may be preserved from temptation and sin, and prepared to meet any fate which may await me.  […]

I suppose we shall start this week for Newbern or some other place on the mainland.  If as is reported here the enemy have fallen back from Manasses, we may have some hard fighting,; but it is useless to conjecture our future course.  I hope I shall do my duty.  […]

I have a secession bayonet & scabbard which I will send to Wayland when I get an opportunity.

We expect to have an express soon between you & us, & if you have a chance by this or any other conveyance please send me two or three towels.  I find I have only two, one white and one brown.  […]

I wish I could put my arms around your neck and kiss you as I used to do when I was your baby.  I cannot express the love I feel for you & Father & all — Wayland and Anne & Charlie & Sammy & Aunty Henry & Susan and Ellen dear Ellen — for I think I love her now more than ever — now that she has gone before and pointed out the bright heavenly road for us to follow.  […]

This is Sunday evening, and I think of the many precious Sunday evenings which we have spent together when it was too stormy for us to go to meeting, in singing & conversation.  I hear too from one of the tents a hymn which she & we have often sung together, and I feel sad to think that we shall sing together on earth no more.  […]

Your loving son

Willie

Camp Pierce near Newberne N. C.  March 19th 1862  [from p. 37-40]

Dear Cousin [S. Sawyer, according to note at top]

[…] it was indeed an exceedingly painful march […] Every step of those twenty miles was ankle deep in heavy clayey mud.  […] Our bivouac the night before the battle was as uncomfortable as you can imagine. Yet I slept quite well in my blanket & rubber coat, undisturbed by the heavy rain drops falling from the thick evergreens above me, and not much caring for the wet bed of pine needles upon which I lay.

You want to know of course how I felt during the fight.  I experienced first a strong contempt for those whom I saw straggling behind their regiments and crouching behind the trees where our line stood before we went into the thickest fire in the open ground.  […] Then when we followed the 4th & passed through the thickest of the fire, when men dropped groaning all around, and winged bullets kept up a continual hum like heavy rain upon a metallic roof, or upon the water.  I was not conscious of any feeling except for pity for those who fell from our ranks, and desire that the men under my charge should keep their line and do their duty.  […] The being under fire was really nothing when we were once there.  Once a bullet came singing 2 or 3 feet over my head and instinctively I dodged to avoid it, of course after it had gone by.  I caught the eye of one of my men and we both burst out laughing.  The next minute another came 6 or 8 inches from me & I kept my neck perfectly stiff.  Another time as we were going at double quick, I stepped into a hole 2 or 3 foot deep and stumbled forward.  A man asked me if I was hit and, as I answered “Not this time” said, “just as you stumbled a bullet came where your head was a moment before”!

During the thickest of the fight, as I turned for a moment, I saw an officer carried to the rear from the sight of our line.  Fearing to discourage the men by directing their attention to it, I did not inquire his name, but after the battle was over I learned that it was Lieut. Pierce of Co. D.  He was struck in the left breast, the bullet severed some large blood vessel.  He died without pain for he said first “I am not struck”, then immediately, “I am dying. Carry me and lay me down”.  Almost the minute before he was killed he spoke to his men encouraging them to be ready to die for their country.   […]

Newberne, now occupied by our First Brigade, is a very pretty town.  The streets are lined on both sides with beautiful elms and are adorned with many fine houses, and gardens.  Gen. Burnside’s Head Quarters are in a fine old mansion […]

General Burnside's Headquarters, New Berne, NC, from p. 73, History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

General Burnside’s Headquarters, New Berne, NC, from p. 73, History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

The union sentiment here, or more truly, the aversion to fighting is very strong.  One man, who acknowledged that he had fought against us, said that he did so on compulsion, and as soon as he got a chance he ran away.[…]

Give my love to mother & father & all the children […]

Your affectionate cousin

Willie

Carolina City, N.C. Saturday, April 5th 1862  [from p. 41-45]

Dear Anne,

I seize the occasion to write  a few hasty words to you […] We have been moved a little farther down the R.R. […] in about a month we expect to get inside Fort Macon, but it may not be until after a desperate conflict.

I must stop a moment to listen to the band with Jo Green as they play so exquisitely that charming “Departed Days”.  It seems as if I were listening to our piano at home […] Hold fast in all times of temptation and trial […] Pray that I, too, may not be led away into Sin […] Pray, too, for the millions who are held in bondage by wicked men, who have been the innocent cause of this deplorable strife & who must have justice before this country can have peace permanent & honorable.

God bless you,

Willie

Fort Macon, NC, from History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Fort Macon, NC, from History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Bogue Banks, Apr 18, 1862 [p. 49- 50 ]

[recipient is one of his parents]

[…] You would laugh to see how we live, sometimes we have butter, never milk for tea or coffee no means of baking bread, which consequently we have to fry; No floor to our tent; water a foot below the surface of the sand; had potatoes 5 days since the battle, but plenty of fish; in fact corned beef and fish are our only meat yet I have been quite well except for one day. There has been much sickness in the Battalion from overwork & exposure […]

Bogue Banks, Apr 27, 1862 [p. 51-52]

Dear Father,

I received your welcome letter a few days ago & have delayed in order to answer you “Fort Macon is ours”.  After three weeks of picket duty – the most tedious and the hardest duty we have done since leaving home, we the 5th had the honor of planting the flag the first upon the walls of the fort, and of taking possession of it in the name of the U.S.  […] and following the General marched into the Fort & planting our banners took possession […] It was indeed a glorious day for our Battalion.

May 18, 1862 [p. 55 ]

[to S.L.S.]

… Then Anne has entered the High School just as another dear one did four years ago, with just such bright hopes and strong determination to succeed.  God grant she may be spared to us for many years.  […] I saw a list of the graduating class of the High School.  How many familiar names: but one never forgotten, one most familiar, was wanting. […] I cannot but imagine her as she would have stood, near the head of her class I know, flushed with pleasure and bright hope, receiving the congratulations of her friends, and the praises of her brother, proud of her as ever.  Well perhaps we may be permitted to see dear Anne in a similar position.  Don’t let her expose herself nor study too hard.

Camp Anthony, New Bern, Sept. 5th 1862 [p. 71]

Dear Cousin [Susan],

I was interrupted in my preparations for retiring last night by a hand thrust into the door of my tent with a letter from you.  In placing the candle on the nice board floor which I have made for myself, and rearing myself upon my elbow, I renewed my old bad practice of reading in bed.  I think though as the bed was on the floor, and there were no sheets to catch fire, & the letter was too good to keep, I may be excused for not putting on my dress coat & sash before commencing, at least I know you will pardon me if I did not show sufficient respect to your production.

I was very glad to hear that you were all well & that the children have had a pleasant visit to Massachusetts.  How I would like to go to the old place where Grandfather & Grandmother used to make us children so happy in Summer days.  How dear Ellen and I used to race around the field away down to the boggy meadows.  How carefully Mother used to follow our heedless steps lest we should disappear into the bottomless spring.  Then what quantities of huckleberries we used to pick, and how kindly Grandmother used to excuse us for eating them all on the way home. […]

I still think that the fighting will be over by Christmas.  We shall conquer if the people at home give us enough proper support and the politicians can be restrained from putting their isms before their country’s good.

Camp Anthony, NewBern, NC from p.78. History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Camp Anthony, NewBern, NC from p.78. History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island, Burlingame, comp. Providence: 1892.

Camp Anthony Sept 16th 1862  [p. 74-77]

Dear Mother,

I received your good motherly letter this morning, and now, having just come in from a drill, I sit down to have a few minutes talk with you.  How much I would give to hear one word from your dear lips, and to kiss your dear cheek, but I must wait for so dear a reward til my work here is done.  I do not feel homesick; I would not go if I could while my duty is here; but I can think of home and those who make it so dear.  […]  The great uprising and spontaneous rush to arms in Ohio, Pennsylvania and throughout the North, assure me that the country is at last alive to the fact that they are carrying on a war, and and that if they do not conquer they will be subjugated […]

I have gradually, not without much thought and examination come to the conclusion that this war will not end until slavery is either abolished utterly or in a fair way to cease.  I have always of course seen the wickedness of this institution, but this struggle has opened my eyes as well as thousands of others to the miserable political effects of its existence in this country, which have culminated in this outbreaking of evil passions, into desperate deeds.  […] The pressure which is exerted upon the President in favor of Emancipation (of ourselves no less than the slaves) is a sure inclination which way the great tide of public opinion is turning & […] will sweep to destruction the stain upon our civilization, the barrier to our progress, the great sin of our nation against humanity and against God.

Newbern, N.C., April 1863.  [p. 78 – 81]

We have been on the jump for the last week.  Every day new rumors of attacks upon Washington, N.C. have terrified the people at headquarters, and orders have almost dayly sent us with 40 rounds of ball cartriges in all directions in this vicinity.  I have not had 4 hours sleep any night since Saturday.  […] This morning all the troops in Newbern expect the 5th R.I. and the 45 Mass. start for Washington overland.  We have orders to fight as long as we can – to hold on til reinforcements arrive if possible.  The belief here is that the troops sent to relieve Gen. Foster in Washington (who is closely shut up there) will be cut off to a man.  We consider it a high compliment to be left in the most responsible position, and shall endeavor to do honor to our state […]

I have a strong presentiment that everything will turn out right. […] As I think of the possibility of laying down my life for my country, I can contemplate such a fate with kindness and composure and my only regret would be at being separated from those whom I love […]  Perhaps I am frightening you with too gloomy a description of our position and on the whole I think I will not send this until the affair is settled one way or the other.

-Tuesday April 14 1863

The expedition returned last Friday […] I went ashore with 42 men covered by a gunboat, and got some information […] Monday evening we put the men below the water line and started for Washington at 8 1/2 p.m.  We had 10 tons of powder and ammunition aboard and a large quantity of provisions and 900 men […] though they fired about 100 round of shot and shell at us, none hit us, and we arrived here safe.  […]

I hope it will turn out right and and with gratitude to God for our miraculous preservation last night and praying and believing that He will still preserve and bless us

I remain

Your loving son

Willie

P.S. Don’t give up hoping but pray.

The manuscript

William Wilberforce Douglas Papers (#1192), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.  For the repository record of the original manuscript, see here.

Further works on this subject

[p. 476 – 522] Relief of Washington, North Carolina by the Fifth Rhode Island Volunteers by William W. Douglas, Late Captain Fifth Rhode Island Artillery. Providence: Published by the Society, 1886. (Series: Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being papers read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society. Third Series – No. 17.)

Reminiscences of the Burnside Expedition by William H. Chenery, Late Sargent Company D, Fifth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery; First Lieutenant Company F, Fourteenth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. (Series: Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being papers read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society. Seventh Series – No. 1.)

History of the Fifth Regiment of Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, during three years and a half of service in North Carolina. January 1862-June 1865 by John K. Burlingame.  Providence: Snow & Farnham, 1892.

[page 242-246]  History of Providence County, Rhode Island. Edited by Richard M. Bayles.  In two volumes, illustrated. Vol. I.  New York:  W. W. Preston & Co., 1891.

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