Private Luke Quinn – The Unlikely Celebrity of Harper’s Ferry

Emerging Civil War welcomes back Jon-Erik M. Gilot

When Private Luke Quinn arrived in Harpers Ferry, Virginia on October 18, 1859 he likely did not imagine that he’d never leave. He certainly could not have imagined that he’d be popularized in the small town with a namesake pub, an interesting monument and an unrestful sleep in St. Peter’s Cemetery. Here’s a quick look at the lively afterlife of the most unlikely celebrity of John Brown’s Raid…

Little is known about Private Luke Quinn prior to his untimely death. From his military records we know that he was born in Ireland in 1835 and arrived in the United States with his parents in 1844. He worked as a common laborer until November 1855 when he enlisted for a term of four years as a private in the United States Marine Corps at Brooklyn, New York. He would train at the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC until September, 1856 when he was assigned to the frigate USS St. Lawrence. He served aboard the St. Lawrence and the USS Perry on expeditions to Brazil and Paraguay and arrived back at the DC barracks in May 1859, his term of enlistment nearing its end.

On October 17, 1859 Quinn was among the approximately 100 Marines dispatched to Harpers Ferry by President James Buchanan to quell a rumored insurrection at that place. The Marines arrived at the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry the following morning to find a band of raiders under the command of Captain John Brown of Bleeding Kansas fame. Brown and his men had arrived at the Ferry to seize a cache of weapons stored at the arsenal there and to liberate slaves from local slaveholders. Local militia companies, railroad workers and armory employees had cornered the raiders and their civilian hostages inside the armory engine house. After a final, unsuccessful attempt to engage Brown and negotiate a surrender, Colonel Robert E. Lee commanded the Marines to attack the engine house and quell the insurrectionists.

Marines Attacking the Engine House
(Harper’s Weekly)

A group of Marines stormed the engine house, battering the heavy door with sledgehammers. Lieutenant Israel Green – tasked with leading the assault – espied a nearby ladder and ordered the Marines to use it as a battering ram. After a few blows the lower section of the door collapsed and Green gained entry into the dark, hazy engine house. Immediately behind Green entered Private Quinn. As Green recalled in 1885,

“The Marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes.”

Green couldn’t be certain but he believed it was John Brown who fired the fatal shot. Hostage John Allstadt likewise believed Brown to have fired the shot that killed Quinn. In testimony during the trial that followed the raid, Allstadt stated that…

“He [Brown] fired at the marines, and my opinion is that he killed that marine.”

On cross-examination Allstadt clarified that he could not definitively say it was Brown that fired the fatal shot, and that he [Quinn] “might have been killed by shots fired before the door was broken open.”

Private Quinn was one of two Marines injured during the assault on the engine house and was the only Marine fatality. He had less than five weeks left on his term of enlistment. In a letter written just three months following the raid, Father Michael A. Costello, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry, recalled the events…

“In the final attack on the insurgents two of the soldiers were wounded, one of them mortally. As both were Catholics I was summoned to attend them. As Private Luke Quin[n] fell, pierced through with a ball, his first exclamation was to Major Russel[l], of the United States Marines, who seeing him fall, went up to him. In pitiful accents he cried out “Oh! Major, I am gone, for the love of God will you send for the priest.” I administered to him the holy rites of the Church; he died that day, and was buried with military honours in the Catholic graveyard at this place.”

David Hunter Strother likewise recounted seeing the mortally wounded Quinn…

“As I passed the window at the Old Superintendent’s House, now used as an office, an acquaintance beckoned me to enter. I did so, and found there lying on the floor a marine who was mortally wounded. He was an Irishman named Quinn, a mere boy & his sufferings must have been great as his cries and screams made one’s flesh creep. A priest knelt beside him and like the friar in Marmion – “With unavailing cares, exhausted all the churches prayers” to soothe the dying soldier’s agony.”

Quinn’s remains were interred in an unmarked grave in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Harpers Ferry where they would remain for 68 years. In 1927 local physician Walter Dittmeyer, resident Loughlin Mater and Reverend John Curran undertook an effort to locate Quinn’s grave and provide a proper marker. The trio also enlisted longtime resident Thomas Boerley, whose father had been killed by one of Brown’s men during the raid. They identified the spot that oral tradition held as Quinn’s burial location and soon disinterred a partial skeleton, including a skull and fragments of the long bones. Brass buttons, bits of a greenish-blue uniform and a Catholic emblem gave the group reasonable certainty that they’d located Quinn’s grave. Pieces of the uniform were acquired by West Virginia historian and John Brown buff Boyd Stutler, who displayed the morbid artifacts at West Virginia University in 1955.

Quinn’s 1940 Headstone in St. Peter’s Cemetery

In 1931, the Holy Name Society of the Diocese of Richmond passed a resolution to erect a monument on Quinn’s grave. It took nearly a decade before the monument was dedicated on May 5, 1940, where it stands to this day. In 2012 a local Marine Corps League detachment rededicated the gravesite and installed a new marker and flagpole.

Most Recent Quinn Gravestone

But Private Quinn’s story doesn’t end there…

In 2009 a pub and eatery opened in a ca. 1830’s building along Potomac Street in Harpers Ferry with Private Quinn – who had died less than 500 feet away – as its namesake. Private Quinn’s Pub was a popular stop for hikers, tourists and residents until the devastating 2015 fire that swept the Harpers Ferry historic commercial district. The pub was heavily damaged during the fire and opted not to reopen – the restored building today houses Almost Heaven Pub and Grill.

For nearly a century Harper’s Ferry has worked – sometimes unconventionally – to keep alive the memory of Private Luke Quinn, an otherwise faceless soldier who was among the first of hundreds of thousands to follow in the years ahead.

Quinn Monument on Potomac Street

Jon-Erik M. Gilot holds degrees from Bethany College and Kent State University. He has been involved in the fields of archives and preservation for more than a decade and today works as an archivist in Wheeling, West Virginia. 

The Sentra Has Landed: A Fresh Start in Vicksburg

ECW is pleased to welcome back Andrew Miller. A historian with the National Park Service, Andrew just accepted a new position at Vicksburg National Military Park. He formerly worked at Liberty Island in New York City.

We arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi, like a cannon shot—a whirlwind three-day drive that took us from our former front porch in New Rochelle, New York, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then snaking southwest to the Hill City.

On the way, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing several Civil War sites including meeting the magnanimous Park Ranger and ECW author Lee White of Chickamauga/Chattanooga. (We hope to be back, Lee). 

Our weeks of vacation before entering upon my duties at Vicksburg National Military Park have been a combination of stress and relief. Living out of a suitcase at both a hotel and temporary lodging, as well as eating out almost every night, takes a toll and gets old fast.

But walking the up and down Vicksburg’s streets, observing magnificent antebellum homes, structures, and vistas, immediately helps one understand where they are: the Delta. The Warren County Courthouse alone is worth a visit to Vicksburg. Close by, the Pemberton Headquarters and Balfour houses both transport you back into the campaign to capture the city.

Peering through the windows of the Balfour house (which is a private residence, so the peering was from the street and as nonchalant as a gawking history nerd can be) stirred the events of the Christmas Eve party held by Dr. William and Emma Balfour: Confederate officers resplendent in their finest dress uniforms, beautiful southern belles stunning in every way imaginable, all dancing the night away as Union transport boats descended the Mississippi river to capture the city. This was the beginning of William T. Sherman’s failed Chickasaw Bayou expedition.

Apart from all of the history spanning pre-Columbian to modern industrial, Vicksburg has a wonderfully developing downtown, sprawling from Washington Street. Cute restaurants, a new brewery, and welcoming voices greet you, asking where “y’all from” and also curious why we’d leave New York for Vicksburg.

For those who have never had the opportunity to see the military park here at Vicksburg, they will both impressed with its grandeur and in awe of its monuments, both within the park boundaries and around the city. The fifth national military park, created in 1899 through an Act of Congress, the park roads originally contoured to the siege lines. However, in the 1960s, the city petitioned the National Park Service to transfer some land back in order to allow for development.

Thus, as you drive around Vicksburg, the south side of the original park has considerable commercial and residential development. Yet, this alone cannot diminish the magnificence of this battlefield gem. Traveling the siege lines and walking the grounds allows one to find oneself, to quote the Civil War historian Steve Phan, “soulfully lost on the battlefield.”

Civil War Medical History at Ellwood

Check out this exciting opportunity at Ellwood on the Wilderness battlefield by our friends at the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield this weekend.

Civil War Medical History at Ellwood
(Note: This event is in conjunction with our dinner at the Generals Quarters on June 15. There are a few tickets left so hurry and make your reservation if you have not already done so! You may RSVP on our website below.)
Saturday, June 16, 2018 
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday, June 17, 2018
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Special presentation at 1:00 P.M.Saturday, June 16.
(Please bring a lawn chair!)
Guided Walking Tours on Saturday, June 16, at 11:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.
Civil War Medical History Event at Ellwood Manor!
Please join us on Saturday and Sunday, June 16 – 17, 2018, for demonstrations by Living Historians regarding medical practices during the American Civil War.  Medicine and surgery methods are a captivating – and often misunderstood – aspect of the Civil War. Living Historians representing the 2nd Corps Hospital Unit (CSA) will be on site all day Saturday, and until 3:00 PM on Sunday, to talk with visitors about various facets of the Civil War medical and hospital procedures and address some of the common misconceptions of the care and treatment of Civil War soldiers.
Special programs will also be offered on Saturday, June 16.  Join us at 1:00 P.M. for a presentation discussing the wounding of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Civil War Medicine in general, and Ellwood as a Confederate Convalescent Hospital following the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863.  Jackson was the most famous of the thousands of wounded Confederate soldiers treated at the Wilderness Tavern and Ellwood hospital complex during and immediately after the fighting at Chancellorsville. After the vast majority of the casualties were evacuated to points further south days after the battle ended, those so badly injured that they might not survive the trip remained at Ellwood for up to several months. Please bring a comfortable lawn chair and a bottle of water to ensure your comfort at the presentation.
Guided walking tours to the Wilderness Tavern hospital site and the Wilderness Crossroads will also be offered on Saturday at 11:30 A.M. and approximately 2:30 P.M., following the 1:00 P.M. program. General Jackson’s left arm was amputated near the tavern after his wounding at Chancellorsville. The tour takes approximately an hour and fifteen minutes and begins at the small fence just behind the house.  It is approximately 1.5 miles in length over unpaved terrain. Visitors will see parts of historic road traces of the Orange Turnpike, Germanna Plank Road, and the Ellwood Carriage Road, as well as crossing over the Wilderness Run on a solid wooden footbridge.  Sturdy walking shoes and appropriate hiking clothes are recommended, as well as using sunscreen, insect repellent, and bringing along a bottle of water.
Friends of Wilderness Battlefield will be available to assist visitors with possible ancestral connections with the Battle of the Wilderness or to Ellwood, in the Heritage Program Tent on the grounds.
The historic structure Ellwood will be open from 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. and FoWB interpreters will be available to talk with visitors and answer questions.
All programs are free and open to the public.
Ellwood Manor is a circa 1790 house within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  The cemetery contains the grave of Confederate General  “Stonewall” Jackson’s amputated arm from the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the house was a Federal headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness.  Ellwood Manor is owned by the National Park Service. Friends of Wilderness Battlefield is pleased to steward the property in partnership with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. For more information or directions, please visit us at the following link:

I Am Proud To Be Associated With Such Brave Men: Wesley Merritt, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and the Brandy Station

Wesley Merritt as a general officer

Introduction to a series

One of the things I enjoy the most as a historian is the process. Searching for the pieces and putting the puzzle together through constant analysis, discussion and refinement. Interpretation can turn on a dime. It can seem like a chase that will never end.

Recently, through the efforts of an ECW colleague on the West Coast, I was able to procure a copy of Capt. Wesley Merritt’s report of the Battle of Brandy Station. At the time, Merritt commanded the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Maj. Charles Whiting’s Reserve Brigade. It was an incredible surprise to see the file when I opened it in Dropbox.

Merritt’s report was not included in the volumes of the Official Records compiled in the post-bellum years. The document was written one day after the battle, on June 10, 1863, which means that Merritt’s memory was exceptionally fresh. Upon examination, the details in the report are fairly consistent with the Recollections Merritt provided to Theophilus Rodenbaugh for inclusion in From Everglade to Canyon, the Second’s regimental history. Most importantly it provides insight on a pivotal engagement that took place 155 years ago. Using the report, this series will trace Merritt and the 2nd U.S. through the course of the battle. Unless indicated, all quotations from Merritt are from his official report.

The fourth child in the marriage of John Willis Merritt and Julia Anne de Forest, Wesley Merritt was born in New York City on June 16, 1836. A lawyer affected by financial issues, John moved his family to Lebanon, Illinois in 1840 to take up farming. He eventually became a newspaper editor in the village of Salem. Young Wesley initially prepared to follow in his father’s first profession, however in 1855 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He finished twenty second in a class of forty-one cadets in 1860. Upon graduation, Merritt was assigned to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons in Utah. From July 1, 1861 to January 1, 1862, Merritt served as the regiment’s Adjutant. In February, 1862, he became an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Philip St. George Cooke. Promoted to Captain on April 5, 1862, Merritt fought in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days’ battles. That fall Merritt was assigned to the defenses of Washington. On April 1, 1863, Merritt accepted the position of Ordnance Officer on the staff of Brig. Gen. George Stoneman, the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry corps. When Stoneman took a leave of absence shortly after the end of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Merritt briefly joined the staff of his successor, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. Growing tired of administrative work, Merritt longed to be back in the saddle with his troopers. He returned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on June 1.

Formed in the spring of 1836, the 2nd U.S. Dragoons served in Florida, Mexico and on the Great Plains in the ante-bellum years. During the Mexican War at Resaca de la Palma on May 9, 1846, Capt. Charles May’s squadron assaulted an enemy artillery position. Before the assault, May famously implored his men to “remember your regiment and follow your officers.” The subsequent attack captured several batteries and a Mexican general. On August 3, 1861, Congress reorganized the mounted regiments of the United States Army. The 2nd Dragoons became the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. As the senior officer present, Merritt assumed command. He would not have to wait long until he led his men into action.

Shortly after his victory at Chancellorsville, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to consolidate his cavalry in Culpeper County, west of Fredericksburg. This concentration was soon discovered by the Union horsemen. Concerned that Stuart was about to turn his right flank and launch a raid toward Washington, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered Pleasonton to launch an expedition to destroy Stuart’s force.

On the evening of June 8, Merritt’s regiment, along with the 1st U.S. Cavalry, 5th U.S. Cavalry, 6th U.S. Cavalry and 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which made up the Reserve Brigade in Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Right Wing, bedded down opposite Beverly Ford on the north bank of the Rappahannock. Pleasonton planned to send Buford over the river early the following morning and head for a nearby stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Brandy Station. There Buford was to rendezvous with Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s division, which was to cross the Rappahannock several miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. With Col. Alfred Duffié’s division covering their left, Buford and Gregg were to move on to Culpeper and engage Stuart. The next day, Merritt would lead his Regulars into battle.



ECW Weekender: Cold Harbor Battlefield Park

(Hanover County Parks & Recreation)

Many visitors to the Cold Harbor battlefield expect to see the infamous ground of the failed Union assault on June 3, 1864. Unfortunately much of that land is publicly inaccessibly, though the National Park Service interprets a portion where the Eighteenth Corps attacked and the American Battlefield Trust is actively working to preserve additional battlefield parcels further to the south. The story of Cold Harbor is more than just that one bloody morning. Richmond National Battlefield Park does preserve much of the land where portions of the Union and Confederate armies battled on June 1st, setting the stage for the failed assaults less than thirty-six hours later. The soldier experience in the trenches for nearly two weeks is also featured, particularly at Cold Harbor Battlefield Park–a county park on Cold Harbor Road just half a mile further east from the NPS Visitor Center.

Hanover County owns fifty acres of mostly forested land south of Cold Harbor Road, Highway 156. The county parcel surrounds the NPS-preserved Garthright House on three sides. (Cold Harbor National Cemetery, operated by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, is just to the north across Route 156). In partnership with Richmond National Battlefield Park and the Cold Harbor Ruritans, the county designed and maintains a paved mile-long interpretive walking trail.

Fifteen wayside exhibits dot the trail in addition to several on the grounds of the Garthright House. The structure’s interior is not open to the public. The exhibits focus primarily on the staging of the June 3rd attack, the close proximity of the front lines, and the development of a complicated trench network. A very well preserved artillery redoubt is the highlight along the trail. The site also offers the only picnic tables in the area for battlefield tourists.

Visitors to Cold Harbor, whether on the 154th anniversary this weekend or another time, would be wise to visit the NPS Visitor Center first and then extend their tour of the battlefield at Hanover County’s Cold Harbor Battlefield Park, 6005 Cold Harbor Road, Mechanicsville, VA 23111.

Cold Harbor Battlefield Park Hiking Trail Guide (map by author)

Scenes from Vicksburg (postscript)

part of a series

After my two and a half days in Vicksburg, I’m safely ensconced back home in the heart of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. But wow, what a time I had. I had a few extra shots I wanted to share that didn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the collection, so I thought I’d add a quick postscript.

I also wanted to offer a huge thank-you to the American Battlefield Trust for inviting Emerging Civil War to partner with them on this fantastic Facebook LIVE excursion—with a particular shout out to the Trust’s education manager, Kris White. The Trust has been a fantastic partner to work with, and we’re so glad we’re able to help support their important preservation work. (Thanks, too, to the Trust’s Connor Townsend for all her great camera work, directing, and social media management!)

I also want to offer a big thank-you to Vicksburg National Military Park. I was honestly stunned by how many people who followed along on the Facebook broadcasts said things like, “I didn’t know that much about Vicksburg.” It’s every bit as important as Gettysburg and worth just as much close study. I also saw a lot of people say, “I’ve never been there, but I want to go now that I’ve seen this.” I assure you, it’s an impressive park that will not disappoint. If you make the trip to Vicksburg, you will not be disappointed!

Vicksburg front sign

Vicksburg Superintendent

Historian extraordinaire Parker Hills, Vicksburg NMP Superintendent Bill Justice, Vicksburg NMP Superintendent Scott Babinowich, and the Trust’s Kris White plan out the action for our Thursday shoot. Scott spent all day with us, and he really impressed me with his enthusiasm, knowledge, and smooth, polished delivery.

Cairo Bell

The ship’s bell from the USS Cairo, recovered with the ship and cleaned up, now sits on display in the Cairo museum. The artifacts on display there tell a fascinating story about the ship’s life, loss, and recovery. Our thanks to NPS Historian Ray Hamel for sharing that story with us!

Vicksburg Illinois Monument

If there’s a temple anywhere on any battlefield, it’s the Illinois Memorial near the Shirley House. It’s a highly symbolic structure: the 47 steps to get inside, for instance, represent the number of days of the siege. Lincoln, Grant, McClernand, and Logan (whose division attacked along this avenue) all had Illinois connections, and the state had more men participate in the siege than any other state. The gold eagle is NOT “Old Abe” of the 8th Wisconsin, BTW–wrong state.

Breckinridge Bust

My wife is a collateral ancestor of Confederate general John Breckinridge, so I had to stop at his monument to pay my respects.

Kentucky Monument panorama

I really love the concept of the Kentucky monument, which has a plaza-like feel between the lines, where Kentuckians of both sides squared off against each other during the battle. However, the central figures–Lincoln and Davis, both Kentucky born–have freakish proportions and look especially awkward and un-life-like. The sculptor originally wanted them shaking hands to replicate the figures in the state seal who are shaking hands (and the seal is inscribed at their feet), but Lincoln and Davis never actually met, so a handshake, no matter how much artistic license one might excuse, would’ve been too historically inaccurate.