Avenging Baltimore’s Patriotic Gore

When I introduce Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, who died 157 years ago today, as the “first Union casualty” of the Civil War, I get a twinge of consciousness. He was not the first casualty. Four soldiers who lost their lives changing trains in downtown Baltimore were the first. Their names are Corporal Sumner Henry Needham, Private Luther C. Ladd, Private Addison Whitney, and Private Charles Taylor. Say their names.

Baltimore had never been particularly welcoming to Unionists, including the President-elect. Maryland contained several large secessionist enclaves. It had been the site of a contentious Democratic convention that finally chose Stephen Douglas as the Democratic presidential candidate (although no vice-presidential candidate was decided upon), but these groups remained a minority.[1]Baltimore itself was home to the country’s largest population of free people of color, numbering about 25,000 and many Baltimoreans were supporters of the Union cause. There were regular clashes between pro-and anti-South as well as clashes concerning slavery and secession.[2]

Add to this an odd ordinance concerning the railroad in the city confines. Apparently, no steam rail line was allowed to be constructed through the city, so in order to switch trains at the President Street Station on the east side of town, passengers had to travel the one-mile journey to the Camden Street Station on the west side in horse-drawn rail cars. This had already proved an issue in February 1861, when Lincoln was to go through Baltimore on his way to Washington. Little had changed. On April 18, 1861, Baltimore Mayor George W. Brown, a southern sympathizer, sent a strong letter of warning to President Lincoln:

            The people are exasperated to the highest degree by the passage of troops, and the citizens are universally decided in the opinion that no more should be ordered to come. The authorities…did their best to day [sic] to protect both strangers and   citizens and to prevent a collision, but [in] vain….it is my solemn duty to inform you that it is not possible for more soldiers to pass through Baltimore unless they   fight their way at every step.[3]

To which Secretary of War Simon Cameron replied:

            The President is informed that threats are made and measures taken by unlawful combinations of misguided citizens of Maryland to prevent by force the transit of U.S. troops across Maryland on their way pursuant to orders to the defense of this capital.[4]

Volunteers initially arrived from the northeast, responding to Lincoln’s call for a 75,000-man militia to serve for three months issued on April 15, 1961. Massachusetts was one of the first states to send men to the capital, but to get there, they had to travel through Baltimore. On April 17 the 6th Massachusetts Militia left Boston. They traveled through New York and Philadelphia among cheering crowds, and by April 19 were headed toward Baltimore. The Massachusetts men were aware of the city ordinance and already anticipated some slowing in their trip to Washington. They were aware that their rail cars would have to be pulled by horses along Pratt Street to the other side of the city.[5]However, sometime between leaving Philadelphia and arriving in Baltimore, the 6th’s colonel, Edward F. Jones, received information concerning the probability of resistance during the Baltimore transfer. According to his later report Col. Jones gave the following order to each car of volunteers:

            The regiment will march through Baltimore in column of sections, arms at will. You will undoubtedly be insulted, abused, and, perhaps, assaulted, to which you must pay no attention whatever, but march with your faces to the front, and pay no attention to the mob, even if they throw stones, bricks, or other missiles; but if  you are fired upon and any one of you is hit, your officers will order you to fire. Do not fire into any promiscuous crowds, but select, any man whom you may see aiming at you, and be sure you drop him.[6]

As the militia transfers were taking place, a large mob of plug-uglies*, anti-war supporters, and Confederate sympathizers blocked Pratt Street and attacked the train cars. When it was obvious that the transfer of men could no longer continue as planned, four companies (about 240 soldiers) exited their cars and, marching in formation, attempted to continue through the city. The mob followed the soldiers, causing damage to storefronts and attempting to block the Massachusetts men from reaching their destination. The rear companies of the 6th were attacked with “bricks, paving stones, and pistols.”[7]In response, and under orders, several soldiers fired into the crowd, beginning a giant street brawl referred to by Harper’s Weekly as “The Battle of Baltimore” that involved the 6th Massachusetts, the Baltimore police, and angry Baltimoreans.[8]

Battle of Baltimore Harper’s Weekly

By the time the soldiers got to Camden Station, the police had been able to block the crowd. This was not, however, in time to prevent several fatalities. Four soldiers and twelve civilians were killed in the riot. The soldiers were Corporal Sumner Henry Needham (Company I) and privates Luther C. Ladd, Addison Whitney, and Charles Taylor, (Company D).

Corporal Sumner Henry Needham

Corporal Sumner Henry Needham is considered to be the first casualty of the war, although civilians in a Union state killed him. He was thirty-three at the time of his death, and according to a Massachusetts history blog, he died from head wounds inflicted by a blow from a paving stone.[9]He died eight days later, on April 27. He was born in Bethel, Maine but resided in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts for twelve years before he was inducted into the 6th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. At the time of his death, he was a corporal in Company I, having been a member for five years. On May 3 his body was brought back to Lawrence. He lay in state in the City Hall, where thousands of mourners passed by his coffin. The funeral ceremony was conducted by local clergy, and Needham was interred in what would become Bellevue Cemetery under a granite monument inscribed:

            By the City Government of Lawrence this monument is erected, to endear t0 posterity the memory of Sumner H. Needham, of company I, Sixth Regiment, M.V.M., who fell a victim to the passions of a Secession mob, during the passage    of the regiment through the streets of Baltimore, marching to the defense of the nation’s capital, on the memorable day of 19th of April, A.D., 1861. Aged 33. A loyal North, in common with his widow and only child, mourn his loss.[10]

Private Luther C. Ladd

Private Luther Crawford Ladd was only seventeen years old when he was killed. He is considered to be the first to fall, although there are some who disagree. His injuries included a fractured skull and a fatal bullet wound that severed an artery in his thigh. He was born in Bristol, New Hampshire and was the son of John Ladd. He lived with his family on their farm south of Fowler’s River until 1853, when young Luther and his father moved to nearby Alexandria, New Hampshire so that Luther could attend a public school. In 1860, at age sixteen, Ladd left Alexandria for Lowell, Massachusetts where he obtained employment at the Lowell Machine Shop. He worked there until April 1861, when he answered President Lincoln’s first call for 75,000 men by enlisting for three months in Co. D (The Lowell Guards) of the 6th Massachusetts Militia. His remains were returned to Alexandria, New Hampshire and interred in the Alexandria Village Cemetery. He was later disinterred and reburied beneath the Ladd and Whitney Monument in Lowell, Massachusetts.[11]

Private Addison O. Whitney

Private Addison O. Whitney, a friend of Ladd’s, was also a mill worker at the Lowell Machine Shop. He is also a candidate for being the first death among the four men. Ladd was taken to a nearby infirmary where he bled to death from his wounds, but Whitney was shot in the chest, expiring almost immediately. Lowell, Massachusetts’s historian Richard Howe, Jr. cites evidence of this when he claims that the final-breath quote, “All hail the stars and stripes,” was uttered by Ladd, indicating that Whitney was already deceased.[12]

The remains of Ladd, Whitney, and Needham reached Boston on May 1, 1861. They arrived by train and the “relics of our brave and patriotic soldiers,” were met by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew. At this time, other than Needham, they had not been definitively identified. The bodies were then taken in flag-bedecked hearses to King’s Chapel Church at the corner of Tremont and School streets, where friends and relatives were finally able to positively identify both Ladd and Whitney. A funeral was held in Lowell for the two men, and Whitney was buried in Lowell Cemetery the next day.

That leaves Private Charles A. Taylor . . . about whom little is known. He joined Company D in Lowell the morning it left for Washington. He had still not been issued a uniform by the time his unit reached Baltimore and there is some mystery as to the actual whereabouts of his remains. Some believe that he was mistaken for a civilian and buried in an unmarked grave as no friends or family ever came forth to claim his body. Even newspaper articles pleading for information turned up nothing. There the story stopped until June 17, 1865. On this date, a large obelisk, the Ladd and Whitney Monument, was dedicated. Ladd’s remains were sent from Alexandria to Lowell to join his friend Whitney’s, and both were reburied in Monument Square in downtown Lowell. In a news article written for the Civil War Sesquicentennial about the deaths of these men, writer David Pevear interviewed Lowell Historical Society Martha Mayo concerning Charles Taylor, whose name was added to the monument around 1908. There is no conclusive trail leading to Taylor’s remains, but Librarian Mayo feels, “I don’t think they would have added the name unless they found something . . . a belt buckle, some bones, something.”[13]Taylor’s plaque on the Ladd and Whitney Monument states that he was among “The First To Fall In Defence (sic) Of The Union.”

The Ladd & Whitney Monument in Lowell, MA from “Lowell Politics & History” June 17, 2015

It seems like a mere drop of blood–four men–hardly enough to fill Leroy Pope Walker’s handkerchief, but they were the beginning of what would become a deluge. Nevertheless, they were the first.

Say their names.

______________________

* Baltimore-ese for men who were seen as ferocious street fighters. There is more to it than just that, but it can wait for another post.

[1]Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc. 1985. pp. 45–46, 169.

[2]Harry Ezratty, Baltimore in the Civil War: The Pratt Street Riot and a City Occupied, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010, 31.

[3]OR, Series 2 – Volume 1. Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1894: 564.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ezratty, 47.

[6]OR, Series 1 – Volume 2. Washington, DC. Government Printing Office, 1880: 7.

[7]Civil War Harper’s Weekly, May 4, 1861, 279. (online version available at http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1861/may/battle-of-baltimore.htm).

[8]Ibid.

[9]Queen City Massachusetts, “Needham, Sumner Henry (1828-1861),

[10]Ibid.

[11]David M. Rosen, Child Soldiers: A Reference Handbook, ABC-CLIO, April 23, 2012, 147-148 and Social Security Death Index.

[12]David Pevear, “The first of so many to fall: Lowell soldiers’ death 150 years ago marked start of a nation’s epic struggle,” lowellsun.com, http://www.lowellsun.com/ci_17867658 (accessed May 5, 2018).

[13]Ibid.

 

Discovering New Civil War Ancestors

Otis

My great-grandfather, Otis Jack

Otis Jack, born the third year of the Civil War, was my grandmother’s father. His father, John Jack, born in 1810, sired five sons and five daughters, including Otis. As a young man, Otis accidentally shot his own left arm off while cleaning a shotgun. He was 53 when my grandmother was born, the youngest of three girls.

Recently, my father’s sister came across an online biography that profiled one of Otis’s brothers, Rev. Chambers T. Jack. “Our subject is an earnest, energetic, patriotic and Christian man,” the biography said.

As it turns out, I now have a couple new Civil War ancestors.

Chambers enlisted with the 104th PA in 1865—men from Bucks and Berks and Schuylkill counties. He served “chiefly under the Provost Marshal, at Norfolk, Va,” although the biographer noted he “was present at the siege of Petersburg, and after about six months’ service was honorably discharged at the close of the war, in August, 1865, and returned home.” The bio transposed the order of events, though: the unit took part in operations against Petersburg and Richmond until mid-April and then transferred to Norfolk, where they stayed until mustered out in August.

Chambers later went on to join the Baptist ministry, eventually settling in Linesville, PA, where he served as minister until 1884 when, debilitated by a stroke, he finally resigned. “Since his return from the army,” the biography said, “his health has shown itself to have been much impaired during the service.”

Another of Otis’s older brothers, James W. Jack, older than Chambers, also served during the war—for three years—first with the 78th PA and later with the 104th PA. If he enlisted the regiment first formed, he saw action with the Army of the Cumberland, first moving here and there before finding themselves at Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and the Atlanta Campaign. What a haul that must’ve been. When original enlistments expired in October 1864, the original members of the unit were shipped to Pittsburgh, PA, to be mustered out—which would’ve put James back in Pennsylvania in time to reenlist with his younger brother, Chambers, in the 104th. James made it thorough that tour of duty, too, and was honorably discharged. According to Chambers’ bio, James “returned home without a wound.”

So far, this is all I know—scraps of info from an online bio sent to me by my aunt and some subsequent internet research. That still makes it a lot more than I ever knew about Otis’s family. And it now gives me two more Civil War ancestors I never knew I had. I have descended from families of immigrants, so for most of my life, I didn’t realize I had any Civil War connections at all. However, in August 2016, I shared the story of my great-great-great grandfather, Sheldon Appleby, on my mother’s side. Now I have Civil War relations on my father’s side, too.

More stories to investigate!

After It Is Saved, Then What?

A fascinating article in the Spring 2018 issue of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust newsletter On The Skirmish Line. If you have not checked out their website, or thought about joining their effort, considering heading on over after reading about their work on scene restoration.

The CVBT is a lands trust. Aside from special tours for CVBT members, we do not typically open the land we have acquired to the public. That is a task for those who know how to do those things well, such as national and state resource agencies. We hold on to land only as long as necessary to pass it on to those who will care for it and make it accessible to visitors. What sometimes comes as a surprise is that while acquiring land can take years of negotiating and fund raising, getting land into the hands of a public agency and making it understandable to visitors is also a lengthy process with its own challenges.

Getting Land into Public Ownership
One problem to be overcome has been a condition imposed by a certain type of funding. In
Virginia, state grants require that an easement be placed on property acquired with those
funds, to be held by the funding agency. That condition is a logical one when public funds are used to preserve ground, but the National Park Service cannot purchase or receive in donation any land that is thus encumbered. The Commonwealth of Virginia has been quite generous in funding Civil War preservation, and the Civil War Trust and CVBT have been aggressive in pursuing those opportunities. The public benefit that justifies the use of public funds is the recognition that people are drawn to visit historic places, which helps to support local economies. Making the transition from saving land to effectively managing it, though, has been held up by the requirement that easements be removed before relinquish to the National Park Service. During its 2018 session, the Virginia Assembly has enacted legislation that finally addresses this stumbling block to transferring preserved ground to National Battlefield Parks. The Commonwealth of Virginia is now able to work with the federal government to transfer certain battlefield easements. There is still much work to do in this regard, such as getting Congress to expand certain National Park boundaries, but this step in Virginia is a huge step forward.

Scene Restoration
Another issue in managing battlefield land is to return the terrain to its wartime appearance. Once CVBT acquires a property, we demolish any structures that do not relate to its historic importance. We also cap any wells as a matter of safety. After that, the next step is to address the natural cover of the site. Was it wooded? Cultivated? Both? Does it need to be screened from nearby development? All of these things need to be considered for the land to have any value as a historic resource. The National Park Service has become quite adept at scene restoration, having carefully worked out a variety of techniques to reestablish the Civil War landscape. We explored how this type of work was
pioneered at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP in our latest volume of Fredericksburg History and Biography. In an article by our own Bob Krick, called “Restoring Battlefield Scenes in 1972 and Beyond: A Memoir,” we presented the challenges, both practical and political, that eventually provide the visitor with a compelling experience when visiting a park. Again, such efforts take years to complete and shows how keeping land from being developed is only a first step. SL

“Whipt ’em Everytime”: The Poorly Titled Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone

Researching the VI Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac has also made me quite familiar with Richard Hoke’s brigade of North Carolina infantry. These Tarheel regiments–the 6th, 21st, 54th, and 57th–frequently found themselves matched up against those whose blue kepis were adorned with the Greek Cross. At Second Fredericksburg, Rappahannock Station, and throughout the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the VI Corps soldiers got the best of the North Carolinians. When writing about the first two battles, I can’t help but roll my eyes when I have to cite “Whipt ’em Everytime” while providing the Confederate perspective.

Bartlett Yancey Malone was born in 1838 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Caswell Boys Company, which was soon attached to the 6th North Carolina Infantry. Malone rose to the rank of sergeant and remained on the rolls through March 1865. He kept a diary from 1862 to 1865 that wound up in the special collections at the University of North Carolina.

Bartlett Yancey Malone, 6th North Carolina Infantry (FindaGrave.com)

William Whatley Pierson, Jr. was a fixture at Chapel Hill, as an instructor, professor, and finally a dean of the graduate school. In 1919, Pierson first published Malone’s memoirs in volume 16, number 2 of the North Carolina Historical Society’s James Sprunt Historical Publications. Pierson simply titled his typescript “The Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone” for the academic journal.

Forty years later, as Civil War publications increased leading up to the centennial, Malone’s journal reached a wider audience. McCowat-Mercer Press (Jackson, TN) published Pierson’s annotated version of the diary in 1960. Needing a catchier name to draw sales, either Pierson or the publisher decided to title the book Whipt ’em Everytime: The Diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone, Co. H, 6th N.C. Regiment. Malone’s diary entry on May 9, 1862 provided the basis for the title. While retreating up the Virginia peninsula from Yorktown to Richmond, Malone wrote:

And the 9 day we rested untell about 12 oclock and then started out on our march again and befour we had gone a mile we hird that our Cavalry was attacked by the Yankees And then we had to stop and wate a while but we whipt them like we aulways do.

However that brief excerpt is not indicative of the style of Malone’s journal. The desire for catchiness unfortunately forced a braggadocious title onto the North Carolinian’s candid diary entries. As Pierson wrote in 1919:

Mr. Malone performed no extraordinary feat of heroism, at least none such was recorded; he participated with individual distinction in no political movement of importance; he played no role which would cause historians to single him out for particular notice. His diary is reproduced here as a document of human interest which reveals, with much quaintness of expression, the thoughts of a simple soldier of the ranks – the thoughts, it is to be presumed, of a mass of men, which have oftentimes been inarticulate.

There is a frankness about this diary that conveys inevitably, I believe, the conviction of sincerity. And there is a lack of emotion – as when in remarking on an event which, we are told, caused the soldiers great grief, the death of Stonewall Jackson, he merely said, “And General Jackson died to-day, which is the 10th day of May” – an absence of bitterness and of complaints which, considering the provocation of circumstances, make the diary of almost as much interest because of these omissions as because of what is included.

My interest in the VI Corps was first piqued while studying what was happening around Fredericksburg at the time of Jackson’s wounding. As an intern in 2010 with Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park I wanted to better understand the successful charge against Marye’s Heights on May 3, 1863, and the fighting that afternoon and the following morning around Salem Church. I soon noticed a trend among the VI Corps battles that defied our conventional understanding of the Civil War. The corps had mastered the frontal assault–the tactic that seemed suicidal to consider.

After successfully breaching the stone wall, whose defense depended more on the memory of the December bloodbath than the two living Mississippi companies who manned the sunken road, the corps slowly pushed west along the Orange Turnpike to Joseph Hooker’s aid at Chancellorsville. Their progress was halted at Salem Church that afternoon, by which time Hooker had entirely given up on the prospects of a successful campaign.

John Sedgwick, commanding the VI Corps, received conflicting orders to both come to Hooker’s assistance by way of the turnpike and by crossing the river and to remain in place. Sedgwick ultimately settled into position with both flanks anchored on the river. In doing so he lost his connection with the two brigades of John Gibbon’s II Corps division who remained in Fredericksburg. Robert E. Lee sought to exploit Sedgwick’s isolation and further divided his own army, sending brigades east from Chancellorsville to try and destroy the VI Corps.

While the VI Corps was storming Marye’s Heights on May 3rd, Hoke’s brigade (with the majority of Jubal Early’s division) remained on the hills stretching southeast toward Hamilton’s Crossing. They retreated south to rally those who escaped Marye’s Heights and found that Sedgwick declined to pursue in that direction. Malone wrote, “for some cause we we all ordered to fall back about a half of a mile to our last breast works.” With the VI Corps’ attention drawn to the presumed attack from the direction of Chancellorsville, Early thus had an ideal position from which to attack the next morning.

The attack along the turnpike never materialized on May 4, causing Early to attack alone. Though he succeeded in regaining Marye’s Heights without contest, the VI Corps stood firm in their U-shaped position, shuffling reinforcements to the threatened sector. The Confederate attack overlapped itself before reaching the target, producing confusion and further dooming any chance of success. Cut off from a direct connection with the rest of the Union army and confused by Hooker’s conflicting orders, Sedgwick pulled the corps back across the Rappahannock at Banks Ford.

The VI Corps brought up the rear of the Union march into Pennsylvania and saw little combat at Gettysburg. Their next notable engagement occurred on November 7, 1863 at Rappahannock Station. After failing to outflank the Army of the Potomac during the offensive that resulted in the October 14th battle of Bristoe Station, Robert E. Lee settled into winter camp below the Rappahannock River. He left a pontoon crossing and bridgehead just upstream from the destroyed Orange & Alexandria Railroad bridge over the Rappahannock.

Lee believed that active campaigning had ended for the year but planned to utilize the Rappahannock Station crossing in case George Meade wanted to continue operations. Lee expected that if Meade did advance, the Union general would maneuver to Kelly’s Ford, downstream from Rappahannock Station. Lee would then cross a portion of his army at Rappahannock Station to attack Meade’s column as it marched. Meade instead divided his army into two and sent it forward on November 7th. The I, II, and III Corps marched for Kelly’s Ford while the V and VI advanced straight toward Rappahannock Station.

Harry Hays’s Louisiana brigade manned the fortified bridgehead. The sudden appearance of the Union forces came as a surprise but the Confederates chose to reinforce rather than withdraw. Three regiments from Hoke’s brigade crossed the pontoon to reinforce Hays. Hoke was absent and the 21st N.C. was back in its native state at the time. Colonel Archibald Godwin assumed command of the 6th, 54th, and 57th, and placed them among Hays’s regiments. Malone wrote:

The 7th about 2 o’clock in the eavning orders came to fall in with armes in a moment that the enemy was atvancen, Then we was doubbelquicked down to the river (which was about 5 miles) and crost and formed a line of battel in our works and the yanks was playing on ous with thir Artillery & thir skirmishers a fyring into ous as we formed fyring was kept up then with the Skirmishers untell dark.

The VI Corps drove Hays’s skirmishers back into the entrenched bridgehead. The Confederates thought that the late hour meant the engagement had ended but Union division commander David Russell sent brigades under Peter Ellmaker and Emory Upton to storm Hays and Godwin’s position.

Ellmaker attacked first, the 6th Maine and 5th Wisconsin overrunning the Louisiana Guard Artillery. Godwin shifted his regiments out of the fortifications to counterattack the two Union regiments but Ellmaker brought the 49th and 119th Pennsylvania forward at the same time. While combat continued at close range, Upton’s brigade formed to the northwest. As darkness closed around the still-contested position, Upton sent the 5th Maine and 121st New York forward. They stormed over the works whose numbers had been reduced by Godwin’s counterattack toward Ellmaker. Upton’s two regiments swept the line in both directions while several companies pushed onward to cut the Confederates off from retreating across the pontoon.

Hays managed to escape across the bridge, and some Confederates swam the river to avoid capture, but the battle’s result was among the most lopsided of the war. In a direct attack against two fortified Confederate brigades, six VI Corps regiments successfully stormed the position and captured nearly the entire garrison.

Barlett Malone was among those captured. “About dark the yanks charged on the Louisianna Bregaid which was clost to the Bridg and broke thir lines and got to the Bridge we was then cutoff and had to Surender,” he wrote. Malone was sent to Point Lookout where he remained until paroled in late February 1865.

It thus seems a bit disingenuous to imply that Malone and the 6th North Carolina Infantry indeed “whipt ’em everytime” but I’m not surprised to see it at the centennial of the war. Unfortunately that sentiment continues through this day. Despite evidence to the contrary, many visitors with whom I interact are still convinced that no one in the Union army knew how to fight or were willing to do so. Perhaps if I ever compile the various VI Corps frontal attacks into one book I can borrow a name for the title…

Bittersweet Appomattox

Robert Pratt (Vermont Historical Society)

First Lieutenant Robert Pratt belonged to the 5th Vermont Infantry, a regiment that rightfully claimed credit as the first unit to irreparably break the Confederate lines southwest of Petersburg on April 2, 1865. Pratt played a pivotal role in the Union assault that morning and survived to tell the story of the battle that forced the Confederate evacuation of Richmond and their surrender a week later. The day after Appomattox, Pratt reflected on the Petersburg breakthrough. He looked forward to the bright future ahead of him but had lost several close friends during the decisive combat. The nineteen year old officer attempted to sort these feelings out in his diary entry of April 10, 1865.

“We know now that the war is ended and how it thrills me with joy to know that we have accomplished what we have fought [four] years for. I can hardly get through my head that we can go on picket and not keep a vigilant look out for rebels. All I want now is an education and I am bound to have one. We think the fighting is done and that the day is not far distant when we will start for home. We often think of Ed Brownlee and Charlie Ford. How hard it seems that they should get killed in the last fight.”

Both fallen soldiers belonged to Captain Charles Gould’s Company H of the 5th Vermont Infantry. Sergeant Edward Brownlee, a native of Montreal, was killed on the parapet during the charge on April 2nd. Lieutenant Colonel Ronald A. Kennedy, commanding the 5th Vermont, wrote Brownlee fell “in the thickest of the strife while cheering on the men of [Company H].” Though Pratt was just yards away at the time, the lieutenant did not learn that his friend was killed until that night.

Two of Corporal Charlie Ford’s brothers had already been killed during the war–one at Mine Run, the other at Spotsylvania. The twenty-two year old was among the first to reach the Confederate lines and was cut down by a bullet while cheering, “Come on boys, the works are ours!” Both Brownlee and Ford were buried on the battlefield and later reinterred at Poplar Grove National Cemetery, today a unit of Petersburg National Battlefield.

Lieutenant Pratt also acted gallantly that morning. Kennedy wrote that Pratt “added materially to his reputation of being a soldier in every sense of the word, as well as one of the most unequaled daring.” The lieutenant charged forward armed with his officers’ sword. When just a few hundred yards away from their target, Captain Gould shouted orders to “Bear to the left.” Pratt guided about fifty men into a defilade where they took cover from Confederate fire and reported the unit’s strength to the captain. Gould deemed it a sufficient number. The captain wanted to press forward immediately, fearing fire from both directions if they lingered in between the Confederate works and the next wave of Union attackers.

5th Vermont Infantry at the Breakthrough, map by author

Gould swiftly led the way to the imposing earthen wall, outpacing the rest Company H as he rushed through a gap in the tangled abatis and into the fortifications. The young captain received credit as the first soldier to scale the Confederate earthworks but suffered severely for that distinction. North Carolina infantrymen bayoneted him in the back and jaw, struck him on the head with the flat of a saber, and battered his body with their clubbed muskets. Gould battled back as best he could until Corporal Henry Recor pulled him back into the safety of the ditch.

Pratt meanwhile formed the rest of the company to attempt the desperate struggle up to the parapet. He did not see Gould enter the earthworks but soon received word that the captain was dead. Though Gould survived his wounds, he was in bad shape and stumbled back to the Union lines to seek reinforcements and medical care. For the rest of the day, Pratt would lead Company H. The lieutenant stated they entered the Confederate earthworks at 5:04 a.m., twenty-four minutes after the boom of a cannon from Fort Fisher signaled the beginning of the Union assault.

A Confederate artillery piece was poised just to the left of Pratt’s entry point and threatened to fire a devastating volley into the waves behind the 5th Vermont. Pratt rushed to the cannon and swung his sword toward the gunner before the Confederate could fire. The cannoneer dropped his lanyard and dove for safety underneath the gun carriage. Pratt sent him to the rear as a prisoner before leading his company further down the line.

Afterward, Captain Gould was properly recognized as the first to breach the earthworks and later received the Medal of Honor for that action. While responding to one inquiry about that decisive morning, Gould wrote: “It was reported to Lieutenant Pratt that I had been killed inside the works. Forming the men in the ditch, he led them into the work, and, after a short but desperate fight, captured the guns and a number of prisoners, and held the works until other troops arrived; but in the excitement of the battle and his anxiety to rejoin his command, Lieutenant Pratt left his guns and prisoners to the first comers, and, omitting to place guards upon or take receipts for his captures, did not receive the credit to which he was entitled.”

Glory could wait that morning. Bigger prizes lay ahead. By the end of the day the Vermonters had swept four miles of the Confederate line south to Hatcher’s Run and turned north to attack the artillery defending Robert E. Lee’s headquarters on Petersburg’s western outskirts. They settled in for the night around the smoldering ruins of the former Confederate headquarters at Edge Hill. “We were completely tired out,” Pratt wrote that night in his diary. There he learned of Sergeant Brownlee’s death and “went to sleep a crying.”

Detailed to the skirmish line the next morning, Pratt briefly entered Petersburg before joining in the race westward that led to Appomattox. The VI Corps fought again at Sailor’s Creek on April 6th but the Vermonters were not engaged. Assigned a rear place in Ulysses S. Grant’s mobile pursuit column, they had only reached Farmville by the time of Lee’s surrender.

On April 9th, Pratt was detailed to guard the town. He posted pickets along Main Street and in a church near the Ladies College. “All very quiet,” he wrote. Rumors trickled in of Lee’s surrender but Pratt’s attention was briefly drawn elsewhere. “We have to start and look at the Misses sitting in the window of the seminary. There is so many of them and they have the name of being so much secesh and we are so timid we do nothing but gaze. If I were not afraid of a flogging would go and tell them that Lee had surrendered.”

Official word of the surrender arrived the next day. Pratt collected his thoughts on his friends’ sacrifice and wrote his poignant diary entry. He remained in the army until mustering out as a captain on June 29, 1865. Immediately he sought to make up for the teenage years he had lost while in the army.

Four summers earlier he had joined the 5th Vermont as a fifteen year old on break from his studies at Brandon Seminary. The son of a modest laborer on a small farm, Pratt had attended public school and worked on his own to earn money to attend the seminary. He valued education, evidenced in his diary entry on April 10, 1865, and resumed studying upon his return to Vermont. Robert graduated the following year. His brother Sidney also served with the 5th Vermont until receiving a serious wound at the Wilderness. A doctor advised that Sidney move west after the war for health reasons and Robert joined him in relocating to Minnesota in November 1866.

Settling around Minneapolis, Robert worked at a lumber yard and eventually managed his own lumber hauling team. A bright entrepreneur, he eventually bought his own land to timber and managed a lucrative business. He married Irene Lamoreau on August 30, 1871, and the couple had seven children.

Robert Pratt (Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 25, 1908)

Pratt became involved in politics and served on the Minneapolis city council from 1884 to 1887 and was elected to the school board in 1888. Seven years later he was elected Minneapolis mayor and was reelected after two years to a second term. An admirer wrote, “It is doubtful if Minneapolis ever had a more popular and efficient chief executive.” Pratt died on August 8, 1908 and was buried in Lakewood Cemetery. In a resolution passed to honor their former colleague, the city council noted:

“As a citizen and official Mr. Pratt always evidenced great interest in educational matters, and it may truly be said that his greatest public service has been on the Board of Education… Mr. Pratt was a man of pure mind and he lived a clean and useful life. His long and useful service in this community has indelibly impressed itself upon the history of this city.”

Pratt fulfilled the life he dreamed of the day after Appomattox. Tragically, two of his close friends would not enjoy the same. Lee’s lines had been stretched to their limit by April 2, 1865, but breaking both them and the Confederate commander’s will to fight required sacrifice until the very end.

A Leg of Stuart’s Ride: The Clash at Linney’s Corner and Death of William Latané

A Freeman Marker related to Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan south of Haw’s Shop along Totopotomoy Creek

After speaking at the old Museum of the Confederacy on Friday afternoon, I spent this past weekend with family in Richmond. Clear skies and temperatures in the 70s gave way to cold rain Saturday and snow that evening (there was a coating  on my truck Sunday morning). Despite the weather, I did take an opportunity to get out and do a little battlefield tramping, or driving. While I did not have time to follow Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan in its entirety, I focused on the area south of Haw’s Shop which witnessed the only major fighting during the expedition and the birth of a Southern myth.

On June 13, 1862, a day after Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart left the outer defenses of Richmond on his famous ride, a squadron from Col. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee’s 9th Virginia Cavalry clashed with elements from the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Edward Leib. The commander of the 5th U.S., Capt. William Royall had dispatched Leib from the regiment’s camp at Old Church to picket the roads and watch for enemy activity in the direction of Hanover Court House.

Leib reached the outskirts of Hanover Court House that morning and observed Stuart’s column. He immediately sent a courier back to Royall for orders and withdrew to Haw’s Shop. Royall subsequently directed Leib to return to camp. The Federals had not gone far when some of Leib’s pickets warned of Confederates passing through Haw’s Shop. Leib immediately formed his men south of the road and dispatched a contingent under Lt. William McLean to the south bank of Totopotomoy Creek.

Lt. William Robins’s squadron from the 9th Virginia led Stuart’s advance. Initially stopped by Leib’s troopers, Capt. Samuel Swann’s squadron came to Robins’ aid and managed to push the 5th U.S. back across the stream.

Leib and McLean reformed their men on high ground near Linney’s Corner. Joined by Royall, they awaited the inevitable Confederate advance. Reaching the front, Stuart ordered Capt. William Latané’s squadron of 9th Virginia forward. The ensuing charge broke Royall’s line, leaving the Union captain wounded and Latané dead, struck in the chest by four bullets.

This historical marker stands along the ridge near the area where 5th U.S. Cavalry reformed after being driven across Totopotomoy Creek

Latané, a native Virginian, was born on January 16, 1833. In the fall of 1851, he entered the University of Virginia to study medicine, however, he eventually transferred to Richmond Medical College and graduated in 1853. At the outbreak of the war, Latané was elected third lieutenant in the Essex Light Dragoons, which eventually became Company F of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Earlier that spring, Latané was elected the company’s captain.

When the smoke and dust had settled around Linney’s Corner, Latané’s body was taken by his brother John to Westwood, the home of Dr. William Brockenbrough. With her husband serving in the Confederate army, Dr. Brockenbrough’s wife, Catherine directed John to the home of her niece, Summer Hill. There, Latané was interred and remains in the family cemetery. A Freeman Marker, along with a headstone stand at Latané’s final resting place. The cemetery, however, is inaccessible to the public and Summer Hill is a private residence. Please respect owners’ rights.

Summer Hill

Latané’s death and burial soon became part of Confederate and Lost Cause lore. John R. Thompson penned a poem about the event which appeared in the July-August issue of Southern Literary Messenger. Late in 1864, Richmond artist William Washington had locals and members of Mrs. James West Pegram’s School for girls model for The Burial of Latané. After the war, The Southern Magazine distributed a copy of work to each yearly subscriber. “By pen and brush”, reflected William Campbell, a member of  Latané’s old Company F, his former commander was “enshrined…in the hearts of the people of our Southland that it will endure as long as men are admired for devotion to duty and and for risking their lives upon the perilous edge of battle in defense of homes and country.”