A.P. Hill’s Death Wish?: The Problem with Using Quotes

Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill rode to his death during the immediate aftermath of the April 2, 1865 breakthrough at Petersburg. Hill sought to meet Major General Henry Heth at the division commander’s Pickrell house headquarters. Instead he encountered Pennsylvania soldiers John Mauk and Daniel Wolford just 800 yards from his objective. Some have speculated that the reckless nature of his final journey meant that Hill may have been going out in blaze of glory–a suicide by Yankee. As proof, they quote Hill saying less than a week before his death that he did not want to survive a Confederate defeat. Historians, however, should be wary of interpreting anything more from that supposed statement.

A skilled brigade and division commander, Hill failed to duplicate that success at the corps level. He had feuded with Stonewall Jackson and could not live up to the high expectations as his somewhat successor (Jackson’s command was divided between Hill and Richard S. Ewell). Hill suffered from illness frequently during the last year of the war. His Third Corps played an important role in the Petersburg campaign, but the general was a relative non-factor.

On March 20, 1865 Hill took a brief leave of absence to restore his health. He stayed at his extended family home in nearby Chesterfield County. Both the Thomas and Henry Hill families are shown to be living or seeking refuge on the property. Uncle Henry worked as a Confederate paymaster in Richmond and the general accompanied him into the city on March 29th. George Powell Hill, one of Thomas’s sons, also worked in the paymaster department. He afterward wrote that A.P. Hill did not wish to live if the city fell. Here is the relevant excerpt from G. Powell Hill’s statement:

During this visit to my father’s home he accompanied Colonel Hill to Richmond, and while seated in our office talking with several prominent citizens who had called to pay their respects, the subject of the evacuation of the city was touched upon, which seemed to annoy the General, and he remarked that he did not wish to survive the fall of Richmond.

Thus it should be noted that the quote is just a secondhand source and not an actual written or documented statement. However, if an author writes that Hill said he did not “wish to survive the fall of Richmond” it implies that it is a direct quote, which can therefore be construed as proof that Hill was indeed trying to get himself killed on April 2nd. The author might not even have such an agenda. It is awkward to work the G. Powell Hill postwar account detail into a narrative flow. Footnotes allow for clarification but there is no guarantee the reader will consult them. It is too easy to simply see “did not wish to survive the fall of Richmond” and accept it as fact.

The entire account from George Powell Hill should also be treated as what it is. Though an incredibly useful resource for learning about the first of three burials for A.P. Hill, Powell’s statement is not a window into the general’s mind. The article was written in 1891 when Hill’s body was being dug up for the second time to be reinterred as the centerpiece for new development north of Richmond. Recalling events after a quarter century is challenging enough, determining someone else’s personal opinion is nearly impossible.

Regardless of his mindset at the end of the campaign, General Hill returned to command on April 1st. He spent the last day of his life inspecting his lines from Hatcher’s Run to Battery 45, and settled in for a restless night at the Venable house on Petersburg’s outskirts, where his pregnant wife and two young daughters slept. Kept awake by Union artillery fire, Hill saddled up at about 3 a.m. to ride to Lee’s headquarters a mile and a half to the west at Edge Hill. Along the way he learned that his own lines were under attack. He discussed strategy with Lee and James Longstreet until sometime after 5 a.m. when Lieutenant Colonel Charles Scott Venable brought news that Federal infantry had broken through along the Third Corps position.

Hill immediately wanted to meet with Heth, the division commander responsible for the Confederate fortifications from the Hart house south to Hatcher’s Run. He was accompanied by Venable and couriers George Washington Tucker, William Henry Jenkins, and George Percy Hawes during various stages of his ride from army toward division headquarters. A small component of infantry briefly attached themselves as escorts but Hill shed his companions along the way until only Tucker remained for the final showdown with the Pennsylvania pair.

Corporal Mauk’s bullet struck Hill but Private Wolford missed Tucker and the courier hastily escaped to inform Lee of Hill’s death. In 1883 Tucker wrote his recollections for the Philadelphia Weekly Times “Annals of the War” series. The account is highly reliable as a guide to the progress of Hill’s last ride and in describing the encounter with the Pennsylvanians. Mauk also wrote several accounts of his shot that killed Hill. The Union and Confederate versions proved remarkably consistent.

Tucker’s article portrayed the general as distant and impatient. He claims to have ridden along Cattail Run at Hill’s side but the general hardly spoke to him.

Proceeding still further and General Hill making no further remark, I became so impressed with the great risk he was running that I made bold to say: “Please excuse me, General, but where are you going?” He answered: “Sergeant, I must go to the right as quickly as possible.” Then, pointing south-west, he said: “We will go up this side of the branch to the woods, which will cover us until reaching the field in rear of General Heth’s quarters, I hope to find the road clear at General Heth’s.”

… When going through the woods, the only words between General Hill and myself, except relating to the route, were by himself. He called my attention and said: “Sergeant should anything happen to me you must go back to General Lee and report it.”

Tucker claimed that he spurred his horse ahead of Hill as they crossed an open field in order to reach a swampy forest opposite Heth’s headquarters on the Boydton Plank Road. When two-thirds of the way across the field they spotted Mauk and Wolford in the treeline running perpendicular to the plank road and additional Union soldiers further into the woods.

I looked around to General Hill. He said: “We must taken them,” at the same time, drawing, for the first time that day, his Colt’s navy pistol. I said: “Stay there, I’ll take them.” By this time we were within twenty yards of the two behind the tree and getting closer every moment. I shouted: “If you fire, you’ll be swept to hell! Our men are here – surrender!” When General Hill was at my side calling “surrender,” now within ten yards of the men covering us with their muskets (the upper one the General, the lower one myself,) the lower soldier let the stock of his gun down from his shoulder, but recovered quickly as his comrade spoke to him (I only saw his lips move) and both fired. Throwing out my right hand (he was on that side) toward the General, I caught the bridle of his horse, and, wheeling to the left, turned in the saddle and saw my General on the ground, with his limbs extended, motionless.

Tucker’s narrative is wonderfully quotable and all modern versions rightfully utilize his dialogue, even though the exact exchange had likely been altered after eighteen years. Removing those quotes and all others in similar situations would certainly make history rather boring, but, if they are to remain, readers should be wise to not accept them as gospel.

Furthermore, Tucker’s account showed that it was Hill who acted recklessly during the ride. Colonel William Henry Palmer, Hill’s chief of staff, believed that Tucker misrepresented which of the pair was aggressive that morning. Palmer remained at Third Corps headquarters until he received news from Edge Hill that the Confederate lines were under attack. He traveled to Major General Cadmus Wilcox’s division headquarters inside Petersburg’s Dimmock Line (the main set of entrenchments surrounding the city) and then rode toward army headquarters by way of the Boydton Plank Road and Long Ordinary Road.

Palmer claimed that he encountered Tucker at that road junction as the courier frantically returned from Hill’s death site. Supposedly Tucker informed the chief of staff about what happened as the two rode together to Lee’s headquarters. In a November 8, 1902 letter to Captain Murray Forbes Taylor, a Third Corps aide-de-camp, Palmer stated that Tucker had changed his story in between that fateful April morning and the 1883 publication. Palmer believed Tucker did so to shift blame from himself, writing:

Gen’l Hill lost his life doing a chivalrous thing. When Tucker rushed forward, & ordered the two skirmishers behind the tree, to surrender, Gen’l Hill for the moment remained behind on a slight elevation. He saw that they were going to fire on Tucker, & were not going to surrender. It was no longer a Lieut General and his courier. He spurred his horse to Tucker’s assistance. It was man to man. Tucker told me that he had no idea that Gen’l Hill was near until he heard the snort of the Gen’ls horse, just as the two skirmishers fired.

Palmer believed that he would have been a better escort to Hill that morning and regretted that the general had ordered him to remain at corps headquarters for further instructions.

If the General had have allowed me to accompany him [I] have always felt assured that I could have impressed him with the importance of avoiding scattering parties of the enemy & the keeping well to the right near the Cox Road… I say this because I had influence with him about such matters, & feel assured that on two occasions during my service I saved him from wounds by cautioning him & taking precautions for him.

The chief of staff believed that Hill acted as he normally would in battle and that Tucker’s careless desire to capture Mauk and Wolford led to the general’s death. Of course that cannot be proved either, but Palmer’s objection to Tucker’s account demonstrates that there are plenty of rational reasons to explain the bizarre encounter between Hill and the Pennsylvanians.

During the lectures and tours I have led about Hill’s death I have found the “suicide by Yankee” scenario is nevertheless popular. Those who promote that idea use the same reasoning, based in part on Hill’s illness and a speculated but ungrounded desire by the general to restore his legacy, but primarily reliant on the quotes from George Powell Hill and George Tucker. Eliminating those quotes dries up the story so I’m not advocating their exclusion entirely. I freely used them in my chapter on Hill’s death in Dawn of Victory. With disclaimer, I will continue to do so. But what worked for narrative is unreliable for analysis.

Many people are drawn to the Civil War because of its rich personalities, but we should be cautious in trying too hard to think that we can therefore fully understand them. The quotes that make Hill’s last ride compelling portray him as acting too reckless but they were written several decades after the war. Despite their appearance in quotation marks, they were not the general’s actual dialogue. Remove that hearsay evidence from the notion that Hill willingly rode to his death and that theory falls apart.



George W. Tucker, “Death of General A.P. Hill,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 11 (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1883).

G. Powell Hill, “First Burial of General Hill’s Remains,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 19 (Richmond, VA: Published by the Society, 1891).

William H. Palmer to Murray F. Taylor, November 8, 1902, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Remembering Gen. Lovell Rousseau at Cave Hill Cemetery

On a recent trip that took me through Kentucky, I stopped to visit Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. A student of Victorian death ways, I had long wanted to visit this unique garden cemetery. What had been a 300 acre rural cemetery is now an oasis within the city with several lakes and a fascinating cave with a spring that emerges from it to feed a nearby lake.


But Cave Hill is also a National Cemetery with hundreds of Civil War vets buried there. A special section of Confederate burials can be found in section “O” where a Confederate flag waves above.

While there is a number of Civil War generals buried at Cave Hill – and famously Revolutionary War Brigadier General George Rogers Clark too – it was the monument to Gen. Lovell Rousseau that caught my eye. While not particularly notable for its artistic value, it is a large monument that dominates the area.

Born in Stanford, Kentucky, August 4th, 1818, Rousseau would migrate to the Lexington area as a young adult to study law. Later he would make his way to Indiana to further his law career. There he was elected to the Indiana legislature in 1844.


Rousseau Monument at Cave Hill Cemetery

As captain of the 2nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Rousseau served with distinction during the Mexican War. Following the War he moved back to Kentucky.  But, like many Mexican War veterans, Rousseau returned to military service with the outbreak of the Civil War.

A dedicated Unionist, Rousseau was frustrated by Kentucky’s avowed early neutrality in the war.  He sought to recruit a regiment of Union-loyal Kentucky boys – the 3rd Kentucky Infantry.  By October 1862, Rousseau has risen to the rank of Major General.

Lovell Rousseau

Rousseau would serve with the Army of the Ohio and later with the Army of the Cumberland. He saw combat leading a brigade at Shiloh and a division at Murfreesboro. From the fall of 1863, he was made commander of the District of Nashville, where he served until resigning in 1865 to accept a seat in Congress.

After a two- year tumultuous political career, Rousseau would return to the military in 1867 after President Johnson made him a brigadier general in the regular army. He was serving in that capacity when he died in New Orleans in January 1869.

Rousseau is not buried at Cave Hill. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC.

Grave of Lovell Rousseau at Arlington

Grave of Gen. Lovell Rousseau at Arlington National Cemetery

The Wrongheaded Righteousness of Spray Paint

Vandalized Texan MonumentWe’ve had such a good month here at ECW that I hate to end on a sour note. However, I received an alarming note from Rob Orrison this morning about some unfortunate shenanigans in the Wilderness where, it seems, the Texans were again under attack.

Lo and behold, some aspiring Picasso chose to express his righteous indignation in spray paint on the face of the Texas monument.

In case you can’t read that, it says, “Fuck UR Rebel flag.”

The picture, Rob tells me, comes from the Bull Runnings Facebook page; he passed it on to me from there. 

Located along Plank Road, the Texas monument marks the location where the Texans arrived on the morning on May 6 at a crucial moment of the battle of the Wilderness. Lee’s Confederate army faced total collapse on the right, but the timely arrival of Longstreet’s First Corps, with the Texas Brigade in the lead, shifted the tide. “Texans always move them,” Lee said as the Lone Star soldier swept forward. He wanted to lead them into battle himself, but as the story famously goes, the soldiers began crying out “Lee to the rear!” Another monument next to the Texas monument commemorates that part of the episode.

The Texas monument, made of pink Texas granite, is one of ten identical memorials the state put up on Civil War battlefields to commemorate the Centennial: Antietam, Bentonville, Chickamauga, Fort Donelson, Gettysburg, Kennesaw Mountain, Mansfield, Pea Ridge, Shiloh, and the Wilderness.

Regardless of where you stand on the topic of Confederate monuments, there are two essential points here. First, vandalism of any sort is bad, and we should certainly hate to see it at a National Park; and second, nowhere in the swirl of controversy over Confederate monuments have I heard anyone credible seriously suggest that such monuments are in any way out of place on national battlefields.

(Of course, I also cringe at the idiotic “UR.” Apparently, “your” was too much to spell. Or else they weren’t sure whether to use “your” or “you’re,” so they just decided to avoid the problem by spelling it as though they were texting.)

It’s impossible to talk rationally to people who think vandalism is an appropriate form of First Amendment expression. In this case, someone decided to be offended by the entire notion of the Confederacy 155 years after the fact, and in their righteous indignation, chose to express their frustration by spray painting their protest over a monument in such a way that, obviously, settles the whole point.

They don’t see their own act as being offensive, nor do they see their offensiveness as being the hypocrisy it is. According to this way of thinking, if you’re offended, it’s not hypocritical to be offensive in return. After all, you’re right, right?

Of course, that sort of escalation has a long-proven track record of not solving anything, ever, but hey, it’s not about solving anything or discussing anything or understanding anything—it’s about shouting your rage and shouting down your opponent. It’s not about justice, it’s about pissing people off because you’re pissed off.

And in this case, I daresay someone is pissed off about something they probably don’t even understand. Confederate heritage and Civil War history in general are subjects that demand nuanced discussion in order to really understand them, not broad brush strokes or can sprays. Confederate heritage is especially touchy, and this kind of asshattery prevents dialogue. Spray painting monuments erases middle ground.

It also paints opponents of Confederate heritage as a bunch of hypocritical, frothing-at-the-mouth libs, which dehumanizes them and undercuts legitimate concerns about Confederate history and race relations. That doesn’t help dialogue, either.

Finally, let’s add one last component to the equation: Law enforcement has to investigate the vandalism. Restoration experts have to clean the monument. Someone’s tax dollars have to pay for all that (and by “someone’s,” I mean yours and mine).

As I’d mentioned, we’ve had a great month here at ECW: the second-best month of readership in our history. The only month to surpass this month was last August, when events in Charlottesville turned into tragedy and catapulted Confederate monuments into the national headlines. As the monument controversy reached a fever pitch, I heard people suggest that some monuments should be taken down not because they were offensive but in order to protect them from being vandalized or damaged. I admit, that perspective surprised me at first, but then didn’t as I thought about it—and now here we have a case in point.

Ironically, spray painting “Fuck UR rebel flag” as a protest against the Confederacy is a uniquely un-American act. Our whole system of government was built around the principle of respecting differences of opinion, enshrined in our two-party system. Furthermore, our whole society depends on the rule of law. A single vandal with a can of spray paint and an ax to grind flaunts both of those things.

Vandalized Texas Monument cleanedThis afternoon, I walked out to Widow Tapp field to see the monument for myself. I’m happy to say that it’s been cleaned up since the first photo was taken. My thanks to the Park Service personnel who fixed it up.

There is a meaningful discussion to be had about Confederate heritage. Spray painting obscenities on a Confederate monument is not the way to have it. That’s about as un-American as it gets.

The First Decoration Day

150 years ago today was the first Decoration Day, as proclaimed by John A. Logan and the Grand Army of the Republic. Other communities had started ceremonies of remembrance, but this became the major link in the chain that created what today in the U.S. is Memorial Day.

The text of Logan’s order is here.


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

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.


[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).


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


[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).