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