October 7, 2014

Killed at Perryville

Detail of tombstone of Capt. Samuel J. Boone, Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church, Quarryville, PA
Thirty-seven officers and men of the 79th Pennsylvania died at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, making it by far the bloodiest day in the military history of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  With another 149 wounded and and three missing, the regiment's casualties numbered 189 according to Bates' regimental history and an 1863 casualty list published in the 3/24 Intelligencer.  Of the wounded, at least 10 soldiers would die in Kentucky before the end of October, although most of the remainder appear to have returned to service.  As far as I know, of these 47 men killed or mortally wounded at Perryville, the remains of only five made it back to Pennsylvania.  They include:
  1. Capt. Samuel J. Boone, Company C.  Killed in action.  Buried at Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Quarryville.  
  2. Lieut. Henry J. Test, Company C.  Killed in action.  Presumably buried in York.  
  3. Corp. Frederick J. Sener.  Died October 24, 1862, of wounds.  Buried at Woodward Hill Cemetery.  [Plot location unknown.]
  4. Corp. John A. Keller, Company B.  Died November 3, 1862, of wounds.  Buried at Lancaster Cemetery.  [Plot location unknown.]
  5. Pvt. William Eckert [Eakert], Company B.  Killed in action.  Buried at Calvary Monument Bible Church Cemetery, Paradise.
The rest of the men killed in action were buried on the field by their comrades -- despite the wishes of many family members in Lancaster to have remains sent home.  Those remains, which did not retain any identification, were transferred to Camp Nelson National Cemetery after the war.  Others who died in military hospitals are buried in national cemeteries around Louisville.  

Two years ago, I went out to visit and photograph the graves of Capt. Boone and Pvt. Eckert, which are only a couple miles apart in southern Lancaster County.  In posts over the upcoming days, I'll post more about their lives and deaths and share some photos of their tombstones.  

October 6, 2014

Photos from Perryville

Location: Perryville, KY, USA
Back in May, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, where on one afternoon in October 1862 the 79th Pennsylvania played a key role in saving the Union army from disaster.  The battlefield seems like it's an hour from anything else, but it's certainly a compelling and well-interpreted site.  While the armies engaged were relatively small, the casualty rates were extremely high.  The ground is a series of undulating ridges, which helps to delineate the engagements and understand their sequence.  I definitely recommend visiting the battlefield, preferably by foot or bike.

Map showing correct position of 79th PA at Perryville
By Hal Jesperson (Wikimedia Commons)
I got the chance to walk the battlefield, focusing on the site where the Lancaster County Regiment, and met with park manager Kurt Holman.  Besides dropping off some eagerly devoured primary sources (available here), we had a discussion to straighten out the 79th Pennsylvania's role in the battle.  Kurt -- probably using Ken Noe's book -- had them moving a couple different places over the course of the afternoon, where primary sources make it fairly clear that the regiment stayed in one place for the duration of the fighting.  We seemed to reach a pretty satisfying conclusion (matching what I wrote in a previous post), and Kurt updated park maps and files.

The 79th PA fought on a shoulder ridge that stretched south beyond a bend on the Benton Road from a hill on which the 1st Wisconsin and Bush's and Stone's batteries fought.  To their front was about a 100-yard down slope that ran into a wood lot on land not suitable for farming.  The 24th Illinois would have been to their right, but the ground drops off and it does not appear as if that regiment coordinated with the 79th PA.  So, it's not hard to imagine how the 79th Pennsylvania felt isolated in their position.

79th PA battle line, looking south (left to right) from left flank

79th PA battle line, looking north (right to left) from right flank

Left flank of 79th PA battle line, looking north.  Col. Hambright swung out his left two companies from this position to provide a flanking fire on Confederates to the regiment's front.  The 1st Wisconsin fought beyond the 79th PA's left flank on the hill with the artillery piece. 
View of 79th PA position from front left (roughly from the direction of the 1st Wisconsin.  
View of the 79th PA left flank position from the front

April 6, 2014

Death and the Civil War

"The Soldier's grave" (HW, 11/5/1861)
Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin comments on a recent article, "The Great Exaggeration: Death and the Civil War," by Nicholas Marshall in the Journal of Civil War History.  Marshall reappraises the significance of the Civil War death toll, arguing that it wasn't all that different from death before and after the war.  After reading the article, I have major issues with the statistical framework used in his analysis and found the assertion that one single statistic (i.e., number of deaths) does not give a full picture of societal ramifications to be somewhat obvious.  Furthermore, it was jarring to see assertions like "dying of disease in a camp must have seemed distressingly normal" [p. 16] appearing in an academic publications without any evidence or exploration.  I was going to comment on Kevin's blog, but instead will use this post to give some thoughts on the topic and connect them to Lancaster and the 79th Pennsylvania.

The article's main argument is that the variability of the death rate was not all that different from pre-war levels.  Unfortunately, the author has no sense of the very important relationship between population size and the variability of the death rate.  Of course the variability of the death rate will be higher for smaller cities and very low nationally -- the variability of the death rate should decrease with population size.  Raw annual changes in the percentage of people who die mean nothing if you're not comparing populations of similar size, and Marshall is comparing that of single cities or states with changes in the national rate.  He should have known that something funny was going on when the death rate in Chicago jumped by 300% one year.

He also claims that drops in the male survival rate for the 1860s decade was not significant because, well, it's still within the range of 1/4 and 1/5 -- whatever that means [p. 12].  [Interesting side note: did the female death rate during childbirth increase during the 1860s due to war's claim on medical resources?]  We have measures of statistical significance for a reason -- just because you're writing history doesn't mean that you shouldn't use them!  

Even within this "change in death rate" framework, there are two other problems: (1) the high casualty rate lasted for three or four consecutive years and was not just a one-year fluke; and (2) although the war spanned four years, combat casualties were concentrated over three years.  For Lancaster, it was really 2 years and 9 months (Seven Days Battles in June 1862 though Battle of Bentonville in March 1865).  This would make the spike in the death rate look more dramatic, and possibly better point out the scope and scale of the war's trauma.

By the way, I never placed too much stock in the whole "if the death rate was extrapolated to today's population..." meme as a teaching tool; I think the stats speak for themselves.  For example, Lancaster County had a population of 116,000 according to the 1860 census.  From my knowledge of Pennsylvania volunteer companies recruited in Lancaster, I'd guess around 10,000 men served as soldiers and approximately 1,500 died.  The 79th Pennsylvania (9 out of 10 companies from Lancaster) accounts for 268 of those deaths -- which I believe to be reasonably accurate based on reviewing rosters -- according to Dyer (1908).  Having these numbers on a county level seems to give better intuition about how death affected a community than national statistics.  

Regardless of this considerably flawed statistical analysis, the article does touch on an interesting issue -- the response to death fit into prewar and postwar traditions and did not reflect a fundamental shift.  This is an interesting hypothesis to investigate.  In my research, I was struck by one particular example that demonstrates how Civil War death fits into an existing framework.  When Emanuel Rudy of Company A, 79th Pennsylvania, died a couple days after the Battle of Perryville of a wounded from that battle, hospital steward and newspaper correspondent John B. Chamberlain wrote a letter that appeared in the October 24, 1862, Daily Inquirer:
Poor Emanuel Rudy, whom I reported as wounded in the groin, in the list of Company A, has since died.  Poor fellow, I was with him to the last moment.  His death strangly reminded me of the last verse in Mr. Norton's "Bingen on the Rhine" that I loved to declaim semi-monthly in my school boy days at the Lancaster High school:  
His trembling voice grew feint and hoarse...[continues to quote the poem's last verse]
The point is that Chamberlain relied on an English poet's words about the death of a soldier with the French Foreign Legion in Algiers to make some sense of Rudy's death.  A comprehensive look at how the literary and artistic tools for confronting death before the war transferred to the war could be very interesting, if not already done.  In particular, I always pay special attention to wartime tombstones in cemeteries as they often offer an artistic richness that shows how people dealt with death during the war, and am curious to know more about that subject.  A comparison of different religious newspapers and the ideas (or lack thereof) from religious thought leaders could be particularly illuminating.

Gravestone of Capt. John H. Dysart, Co. C, 79th PA
Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA
However, the poem and the topic of cemeteries point to a way in which death was experienced very differently during the Civil War.  Namely, there was no body to bring home to bury.  Considering Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, how many bodies of the 26 soldiers who died during the war were brought back to Lancaster?  As far as I know, zero.  Almost all are in military cemeteries from Louisville to Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta to Andersonville to Bentonville, and some even suffered unknown fates on the battlefield and presumed dead.  As evidenced by its prominence as a topic in almost every letter after the Battle of Perryville, the inability to bring bodies home for burial significantly frustrated pre-war death rituals.  In response, more public forms of commemoration in Lancaster (e.g., Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Lancaster, erected 1874) and more national ideas about death and sacrifice took hold.  This is basically the premise of the PBS documentary from last year, I believe.

So, with some knowledge of statistics and the social mechanics of death in one particular Northern community, I find Marshall's characterization of recent scholarship on death and the Civil War as built on a "great exaggeration" to be unconvincing.  Although there are many interesting questions on this subject left to explore regarding the broader context of death in that era, I estimate current scholarship to be more or less on the right track.

March 23, 2014

The Grand Welcome Home

Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
On the evening of March 5, 1864, any soldiers of the 79th Pennsylvania who reenlisted as veterans were relieved of picket duty near Tyner's Station, about ten miles east of Chattanooga.  Early the next morning, they left camp and marched to Chattanooga, where they waited for a day before boarding a train for Loiusville.  The journey to Louisville took three days, and the 79th Pennsylvania passed many regiments that had just completed their furlough and were heading in the opposite direction.

The regiment arrived in Pittsburgh on the night of March 13, and were treated to splendid supper before boarding another train for an overnight journey east.  March 14 was spent completing to journey to Harrisburg, where the regiment spent a day preparing for their return to Lancaster by tending to some long overdue personal grooming.  Although the food in Harrisburg was worse than what they got on the front lines, the state legislature acknowledged the regiment's presence by unanimously passing resolutions offered by State Senator Benjamin Champneys of Lancaster.

At 7am on Wednesday, March 16, the 200 or so returning veterans of the 79th Pennsylvania boarded a train bound for Lancaster.  They arrived at the Dillerville Yard, where a procession formed led by the 79th Pa's former Lieut. Colonel, John H. Duchman, and marched through town to take part in a grand collation at Fulton Hall.  The citizens of Lancaster were certainly prepared for the 79th Pa's return.  The Daily Evening Express reported:
Upon their arrival [at Dillerville], the veterans were met and welcomed by an immense crowd of their fellow citizens, and the streets through which they passed were thronged with men, women, and children.  The display of bunting was magnificent, and reminded us of the patriotic uprising in 1861, when the demand for flags could not be supplied.  The Reception was altogether a magnificent affair, and the veterans after what they witnessed that day can have no doubt of how deeply the People sympathizes with the gallant defenders of the flag of the free.
The officers and men of the 79th looked like veterans as they are.  Their soldierly deportment in marching was noticed by every spectator.  There was not as much noisy enthusiasm as many expected to witness.  the regiment is under strict military discipline, and of course the men received all greetings with the dignity of military silence.  The general joy at welcoming home the gallant survivors was mingled with sadness at the memory of the lamented dead.  Many once familiar faces were missed from the veteran ranks; and as the torn colors of the regiment passed along, riddled by the deadly missiles of many a battle, we saw the tear start to eyes unused to weep.
At Fulton Hall, five long tables that stretched the hall greeted the veterans.  Dr. Henry Carpenter gave a greeting and Rev. F. W. Conrad of Trinity Lutheran Church gave a prayer before Mayor George Sanderson gave a lengthy welcome speech.  Private Edwin K. Martin of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania gave a response on behalf of the regiment, and collation concluded with music by the Fencibles Band and the Glee Club.

The joyous occasion was not without controversy, as could be expected given the deep divisions that existed between Lancaster's borderline peace Democrats and its pro-Lincoln Republicans.  Rather than describe it in detail, I'll defer to William T. Clark's diary entry for the day:
Took train at apptd. time, met committee on reception at Dillersville (one mile north of Lancaster). We disembarked, marched, halted, Artillery firing as salute to us. Procession formed at 10½ A.M. lead by (our former Lieut. Col.) John H. Duchman. Copperheads following their Copperhead leader. Marched through the different streets of town. Saw many friends. Stacked arms in front of Fulton Hall. Were marched in where a fine collation was spread. This has been done by deception on the part of Copperheads, only a few Patriot Daughters being among them. The Hon. Copperhead Mayor of Lancaster made a speech of welcome which greatly belies his former actions toward all soldiers. Col. H. A. Hambright made a few remarks excusing himself by saying he never made a speech. Ed Martin responded in behalf of the 79th P.V.V. in a splendid speech cutting Copperheads & all others leagued with Treason right & left. It gave many of them the short coughs & made them generally uneasy. We then ate heartily of the dinner prepared. An hour afterwards we fell in & drilled in Centre Square more than an hour, when we returned to the Hall, marched to the upper story, stacked arms & are given leaves of absence untill the 20th when we must answer to our names & receive our furloughs. 
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