Home Run Derby Star Captain “Jack” Wildey–Part 1

When John Hay and George Nicolay drove their rented buggy over to Camp Lincoln to say hello to their friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, they found him wearing his “blouzy red shirt” and enjoying that New York favorite: Base Ball. Most New York firefighters played the game, and among those involved was Ellsworth’s aide-de-camp, Captain John “Jack” Wildey.

Baseball found on the Shiloh Battlefield

Wildey played ball before he became a Fire Zouave. He played for the New York Mutuals, named for his own Mutual Hook and Ladder Company Number 1. The Mutuals were formed in 1857 and played amateur ball at the Hoboken Grounds, their home grounds. Many firefighters and city employees played in a variety of New York teams, but the Mutuals were reckoned the best. It was perfectly normal for a handmade ball, a bit larger and softer than today’s baseball, to be found in the knapsack of an 11th New York Fire Zouave.

Captain Wildey was the person with Colonel Ellsworth the night before he was shot in Alexandria. Colonel Ellsworth asked Captain Wildey to come to his tent after 1:00 AM to help him dress for his first mission as a commanding officer.  Ellsworth had laid his uniform out on the camp bed. Ellsworth stood quietly as if thinking over his choices, and then said to Captain Wildey, “I was thinking in what clothes I shall die.” Wildey laughed and tried to cheer him up with a few joking words, but Ellsworth just shook his head, saying nothing for a moment. Then, smiling, he went to his trunk and opened it.  He withdrew an entirely new uniform, tagged and packaged from the tailor.  “If I am to be shot tomorrow, and I have a presentment that my blood is immediately required by the country–it is in this suit that I shall die.” Wildey helped him put on the new uniform, and within moments Ellsworth was his normal confident self.  Wildey wound the red silk officers’ sash around Ellsworth’s narrow waist.  And as discussed, this was the uniform in which Ellsworth died early on the morning of May 24.

Unit cohesion was difficult after losing Ellsworth, but leaders like (acting) Lt. Col. Noah Farnham, Major Charles Loeser, and Capt. Jack Wildey kept the Fire Zouaves together long enough to make it to the battleground of First Bull Run. The reputation of “Ellsworth’s Zouaves” was initially tarnished by regular Army officers testifying before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. It remained thus until recently, as historians such as Lesley J. Gordon (A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War and “I Never was a Coward” pamphlet), and Harry Smeltzer (Bull Runnings blog) have gone back to primary sources to look for another, truer, interpretation. Ellsworth said before he went to New York City that he wanted the New York firemen because they were men who could go into a fight immediately. This would prove especially true for Captain Jack Wildey.

“Ellsworth’s Zouaves”

July 21, 2861 is the date that the Battle of First Bull Run was fought. There is much to the battle, but the Fire Zouaves were only involved in the afternoon attempt to defend Union batteries on Henry House Hill. Control of the field around Henry House Hill changed hands several times, but ultimately the South held sway. There was some small fighting in which the guns changed hands a couple of times, but because the horses that had pulled them lay dead in their traces, it was impossible for anyone to remove the captured pieces from the field.  Finally, by 3:15 PM, after just over an hour of combat, the Confederate forces easily took possession of the Union guns and the 11th New York, among others was dispersed in retreat. The 11th did not “run like little girls or scared rabbits,” but they did not stay in retreat either. Many of them looked around the battlefield, identified another unit that was still fighting, and rushed to join in. Wildey joined in with the men of the 69th New York, who were having a bad time of it. Their leader, Colonel Michael Corcoran was taken prisoner and the Henry House Hill batteries had been taken. Still, they fought on. During this last encounter with the Confederates, the beautiful green flag that was held so proudly over Irish heads was taken. Who got it back?

Wildey and the B’hoys help take back the colors

At the fight at Bull Run, when the flag of the glorious Sixty-ninth Regiment  was wrested from them by a superior force of the enemy, Jack Wildey rushed forward at the head of his brave men, and after a bloody contest, in which he killed two men,–one a rebel officer, whose sword he took from him as a trophy,–recaptured the flag, and after marching four miles he restored it to the gallant corps from whom it had been taken.

New York Herald, July 27, 1861

Nevertheless, the Federal troops had been demoralizingly routed and, to make things worse, many ninety-day northern militia enlistments were about to expire. Some heroes were immediately needed. As Wildey’s fame spread northward he became a hero, especially in New York. The gallant Captain Wildey was called home to New York City, ostensibly to recruit more soldiers. However, Tammany Hall leader William Magear “Boss” Tweed had other ideas. He needed Wildey to represent Tammany in an upcoming city election.

To be continued . . .

“Moulded in the form of a spread eagle”: Mosby’s Rangers, the Fourth of July, and a Dispute Over Cake

John S. Mosby

Independence Day in 1864 seemed like it could have been the last such celebration for the United States. The Presidential Election of 1864 loomed four months in the future, and a Lincoln reelection seemed very much in doubt. Jubal Early’s Confederate force neared the Potomac River, poised for a third Confederate incursion into Maryland.

John Singleton Mosby’s Rangers worked in conjunction with Early’s command to wreak as much havoc as possible along the Potomac frontier. Mosby eyed Point of Rocks, Maryland, an important Federal supply hub on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Armed with a cannon, Mosby’s 250 men charged across the river into Maryland on July 4, 1864.

Mosby’s gun scared away an entourage of United States Treasury employees trying to enjoy the holiday aboard a canal boat. The Rangers swooped down on the abandoned prize, ransacking it for the vacated liquor, cigars, and foodstuffs. Following a brief fight, Mosby’s command drove the Federal garrison from Point of Rocks. Immediately, they commenced raiding the numerous supply stores there. Mosby’s men managed to capture so much cloth that the veterans forever called it the Great Calico Raid.

One unexpected prize of the sortie was the spoiling of a large Fourth of July party to be held in town. The Federal officers in command there hoped to celebrate their nation’s independence and had the Unionist ladies of the town prepare a large cake for the American holiday. This cake fell into the hands of Mosby’s Rangers and became a matter of dispute for the Confederates, Federals, and local civilians over the next couple of July weeks.

Mosby man John Marshall Crawford wrote the below description of the cake and its subsequent history. His telling of the tale is tremendously fascinating and well-written. Thus, I will leave it to Crawford to take the story from here.

Sadly, no image of the cake, or any cake ever made like it, exists, so a generic photo of a bald eagle must suffice.

     Passing through the burning camps, the boys, after collecting what relics they wanted, pushed on back to town. Such an exciting and laughable scene few have ever witnessed or enjoyed. They had secured a huge pound-cake, which had been prepared by some ladies, who were to give the officers of the garrison an entertainment that evening.

     The history of the cake is as follows: The officers of the garrison had signified to some of their lady friends their desire and intention of celebrating the Fourth of July in a becoming manner, so their lady friends went to work and prepared a monster cake for the occasion. This cake was moulded in the form of a spread eagle, the mould being made in Boston, and measured twenty-five feet from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail. It was a complete eagle in all its parts. It had glass eyes, talons, &c., &c., and in the baking of it, which occupied three days and nights, it was burnt (intentionally I presume), so that it looked like a real eagle. But the most remarkable thing about it was, that inside of it there was some machinery that every time one of the boys thrust his sabre into the eagle to cut off a piece, the bird would scream. What their idea was in inserting this instrument into this spreadeagle cake, I have never been able to learn or conceive. I inquired diligently of the residents of the place, but they would give us no satisfaction. Colonel Mosby would have brought it across the river, and sent it to Richmond; but the enemy had destroyed all the boats, so the boys concluded to take it to pieces; which, being done, it was with great difficulty got across the river in the evening by means of a raft. A six-horse team belonging to Mr. S. was pressed into service, the cake put into it, and started for Fauquier County. A guard of five men accompanied the wagon.

     While in camp on Goose Creek, the second night they were out, the guard got drunk on “blockade,” and all of them lay down and went to sleep. The driver being a strong Union man, and having conceived the idea he would be made a hero, if he could save what was left of the great American bird, availed himself of the opportunity, and drove his load in the night to a Mr. _____’s farm, in Loudon County, situated on Goose Creek. Securing four of Mr. _____’s most reliable colored servants, he secreted his precious load in one of those safe places which abound on that stream, and which are known only by those patriotic and loyal colored men, and started back with his team. Sunrise next morning, found him in the bosom of his family, on the banks of the classic Potomac. This Union driver kept the part he had played a profound secret, until General _____, occupied the valley, when he divulged his secret to him. On General _____’s retreat from Washington, a portion of his wagon-train and eight hundred prisoners crossed the Blue Ridge mountains at Ashby’s Gap. This portion of his army was pursued by General Durfea [Duffié], with two thousand five hundred cavalry. After occupying the Gap three days, Durfea fell back to Snickersville, where General Wright was encamped with a division of the Union army. On their march to Wright, they passed by Mr. _____’s house, and found these colored Union citizens, who conducted them to the spot where the treasure was hid, and carried it off with them. But the fates seemed opposed to having the remnants of the bird ever reaching the shores of Maryland again. Notwithstanding its long captivity, it retained signs of life still; and as it approached the soil on which the stars and stripes had never ceased to wave, these symptoms of vitality increased. An escort was sent with it; while crossing the Shenandoah River at Rock Ford, the wagon upset, and the load was precipitated into the river. By an eye-witness of the scene, I was told that it was beyond description. Suffice it to say, the greatest confusion prevailed. Every one wanted his own plan adopted to save the bird, and before any one that the men suggested could be adopted, to their utmost dismay and horror the bird gave on shriek, and then sunk; to rise no more. I never learned whether or not it was recovered; the presumption is that it was not.

Happy Fourth of July!


Happy 4th of July from ECW!

Wishing you a joyously patriotic day, celebrating American freedoms and values!

“It was the Fourth of July, and never has the cheering on that anniversary been more hearty and welcome than it was in 1863. On the summits, in the valleys, everywhere we heard the soldiers hurrahing for the victory that had been won.”

– Tillie Pierce, Gettysburg Civilian

Dads & The Civil War

Happy Father’s Day!

As we think about fathers and Civil War history, many images come to mind. Dads saying goodbye to their children and marching off to war. Civil War veteran fathers telling their children about fighting for freedom. Modern-day dads taking their children to the “fields of history” or telling them true stories about the past.

Here at Emerging Civil War, many of our authors are fathers, and we definitely believe that dads made history and dads can find time to write history!

Our Editor in Chief, Chris Mackowski, shared his thoughts about fathers and history in this excerpt from the April 2018 Newsletter: 

…[At Spotsylvania’s Mule Shoe]…we passed along the rubberized walking trail, and I told Maxwell a little bit about what took place there.

How do you tell that story to a 13-month-old?

Well, for me, at that moment, walking through the Bloody Angle with my youngest son, the story became one about all the fathers who lost sons in the fight, and all the sons who lost fathers…about all the men who didn’t go home to their families…and about those lucky men who did.

“Last Leave” by Mort Kunstler (https://www.mortkunstler.com/html/art-american-spirit.asp?action=view&ID=768&cat=144)

For all the different ways and reasons we all study the war, for me, it always comes down to one thing in the end: these were guys just like me. They were stuck in places they didn’t really want to be, trying to do their duty as they best saw it. At the Mule Shoe, how many of those men, on either side, really wanted to be there? How many were thinking of home and family just before the storm broke on May 12, 1864? How many of the wounded and dying afterwards?

That’s why I keep studying the war and telling these stories: For all those fathers and sons.

Looking for some historical accounts about fathers and their children from the Civil War Era? We combed through the archives and found a couple articles for the day…

Fathers and Daughters: Writing About Stonewall Jackson as a Dad

An Adventure With Dad (U.S. Grant and his son Fred)

A Father’s Influence (Robert E. Lee and his son “Rooney”)

Flag Day: Poetry From The Archives

Replica Union Flag – photograph by S.K. Bierle

It’s June 14!

Flag Day.

A day to remember when the Continental Congress adopted the design of the American Flag on June 14, 1777. Although Flag Day wasn’t widely recognized as a commemorative day until after the Civil War, the United States (Union) Flag was a celebrated symbol in the North and Union armies during the war and seen as a symbol of reunification after the conflict.

In March 2016, Julie Mujic shared information and and a historic poem about the day the United States flag was raised over Fort Sumter in 1865. Check it out and enjoy some patriotic musings on this special day…

Remembering the Flag Raising over Fort Sumter

Memorial Day in Rural Maine

Passadumkeag 01The trip up to Greenbush, Maine, along U.S. Route 2 parallels the east bank of the Penobscot River. The river in places gets to be half a mile or more from the road, and in other places, it’s right along the road, sometimes behind a thin screen of trees and sometimes wide open, quieter now than in the old logging days. This part of the Penobscot Valley is far enough north from Bangor that it might still be an earlier era if not for the pavement and the trucks.

Every Memorial Day, my father hops into his pickup and drives this stretch northward from his home just north of Old Town. In my youth, we used to make this trip often in the early summer to get hay from the old Tinkham Farm. In Greenbush, he turns off and, past the Helen Dunn elementary/middle school, he follows the East Ridge Road to the intersection with the Gould’s Ridge Road, and from there travels north for a couple more miles, crossing into the town of Passadumkeag. On the right hand side of the road, carved out of the Maine woods, the Gould’s Ridge Cemetery—and its two Civil War veterans—waits for visitors. 

Its formal name is the Sunny Slope Cemetery, which describes the property in pragmatic Yankee succinctness: a patch of sunny open space that slopes up modestly from the road. A pair of elongated horseshoe driveways provide access to the 200 or so graves, many of them old, old, old. Trees border the cemetery on three sides, but these are not the thick, dark Maine woods that grow not too far away. These have been moderately tamed by the homesteaders and farmers who’ve lived in this area since the early 1800s. The Penobscot tribe has lived in the area even longer.

A thousand such cemeteries dot the Maine back roads, or so it seems. The woods just open up for a small roadside collection of graves—sometimes there’s a church but more often not—and in a second we’ve whizzed by and the forest is once again there, and the cemetery, like its inhabitants, is just a memory—maybe even a “Did I just see that?” dream.

This is my father’s Memorial Day ritual: he comes each year to pay his respects. “It’s not much,” he tells me. “I do it as a way to connect to my dad [a WWII veteran] and to all my buddies who went off to Vietnam.”

But isn’t that the point: the take time on Memorial Day to pay your respects to those who’ve fallen in the service of the country?

Passadumkeag 02.jpgMy father is one of a handful of people to turn out at this little Maine cemetery each Memorial Day. “Just some of the locals,” he tells me. A color guard lines up, joined by a few dignitaries and five reenactors from a unit with the 20th Maine who resemble aging Civil War veterans who’ve put on their uniforms for their own past Memorial Day commemorations.

Veterans from several wars rest in Sunny Slope, including two Civil War vets. My dad asks Wayne Nickerson, the caretaker who looks after the veterans in the cemetery, who tells him the men’s names were Cary and Morrill. “Old names around here,” my dad tells me. A quick internet search even shows a Cary/Morrill reunion held in the area of Gould’s Ridge in the early 2000s.

I call Wayne. His hearing aid troubles him over the phone, so our conversation is slow and deliberate. He speaks in a Maine accent that reminds me of my childhood summers—or, “summahs,” as we would’ve said. Wayne has little to go on beyond the names of the two soldiers: Pvt. Calvin Nelson Cary, Co. E, 6th Maine, and Pvt. George W. Morrill, Co. F, 14th Maine. The town history suggests they might have been brothers-in-law, although Wayne says he has reason to believe the writer of the town history might have mixed up one Cary for another who also served.

Private Cary would have found himself in my neck of the woods during the war. Most notably, the 6th Maine stormed the stone wall and sunken road and took Marye’s Heights during the battle of second Fredericksburg. The 6th would later participate in similar spearhead attacks at Rappahannock Station and during Upton’s charge at Spotsy.

The 14th Maine, meanwhile, found itself in Louisiana for much of the war. Originally part of Ben Butler’s New Orleans Expeditionary Force, they later participated in the battle of Baton Rouge and the siege of Port Hudson. As a member of Co. F, Pvt. George Morrill would have also participated in a July 23-25, 1862, expedition to the Amite River. Herman Melville wrote a poem about the regiment, “On the Men of Maine killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Was Morrill one of those men Melville wrote about? If not, when and how did he die? An online list of the company’s final record that shows personnel changes from Nov. ’63 onward doesn’t list him, suggesting he died prior to that date. In July of 1864, the 14th Maine transferred to Bermuda Hundred in July of 1864, and then later took part in the Sheridan’s Valley campaign that fall, but I think Morrill had already returned to Passadumkeag by then. The corpse of a Union private killed in the summer Louisiana heat would pose a logistical challenge getting it back to the Penobscot Valley, so perhaps Morrill had only been wounded?

And what about Cary? What happened to him? How did he make it to the sunny slope in Passadumkeag?

As often happens, I now have more questions than answers. Now I have a new pair of Civil War stories to dig into. If Memorial Day is about paying our respects, then this will be my way to do so.

Just as my father has his own ritual for the holiday, so do I. I once again assisted with the annual luminary at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. It was, as always, a wonderful event, even with the threat of thunderstorms. But it looks like this year’s Memorial Day will also bring me like my father, to Gould’s Ridge in Passadumkeag, Maine—if not literally, then at least through the stories of the two veterans who rest there.

Luminary 2018-cloudy moon