A Civil War peace overture

On 12 Jan. 1865 — while my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was in hospital at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — Jefferson Davis, head of the Confederacy, wrote a letter to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln proposing talks to secure peace for the “two countries.” In reply to the overture, Lincoln said that he would only discuss a peace settlement for “one common country.”

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Point of Rocks in Bermuda Hundred, Va. (1864). My ancestor was transferred to the General Hospital at Point of Rocks, at left, on 16 Jan. 1865, as plans for peace talks were being made. Image: villagenewsonline.com

Troops were still on the ground and battles were still being fought — but the Confederacy was unravelling.

Confederate soldiers were deserting in increasing numbers. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution — abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude — was headed for a ratification vote. And on 15 Jan. 1865, the Union Army successfully stormed Fort Fisher in North Carolina — cutting off Confederate access to the sea.

So in late January 1865 plans were made for peace talks to be held, stirring hopes among combatants, civilians and convalescents — one of them my great, great grandfather — that the Civil War might at last be nearing its end.

Pvt. Orson Reynolds, from my ancestor’s 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery regiment, captured the sentiment of Union Army soldiers in an 18th Jan. 1865 letter to his wife:

All has been quiet along our lines for a few days past. I hear today a gun occasionally. We are inclined to think the rebellion is about played out. One hundred guns were fired here yesterday on the taking of Fort Fisher. Our soldiers would like to have the rebellion cease as they are heartily tired of the war…

I have dreamed of being at home for the last two nights…The Johnnies continue to come into our lines whilst our soldiers scarcely ever desert to them. This is a good omen.

Similar dreaming and discussions were likely also going on in military hospital wards among ill and injured soldiers, including my ancestor Arthur Bull — combatants on whom the war had taken a toll.

The movement of the peace delegation through the battlefields ushered in a brief respite from the fighting and offered a fleeting glimpse of the Civil War’s end.

But before the talks began, my ancestor’s unit — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — had another important battle engagement. More in the next post.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Bermuda Hundred patient

How was my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull transported to Bermuda Hundred, Va., where he entered hospital on 3 Jan. 1865? And what was this new hospital like?

Researching to find answers, I discovered excerpts from an illuminating letter in a Bulletin of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Six months before Arthur arrived at Bermuda Hundred, Dr. Joseph Parrish, M.D. — in a 19 June 1864 letter — reported from the field on USSC facilities and staff operating near the James and Appomattox Rivers:

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Hospital ship, Nashville (1861-1865). My ancestor Arthur Bull may have traveled to Bermuda Hundred, Va. on a hospital ship such as this, operated by the USSC Hospital Transport Service. Image: Library of Congress

The Commission has three stations in this department…at City Point, Bermuda Hundred and Point of Rocks. There are thirteen relief agents, who feed the wounded as they come in; and when they are not coming, visit different regiments and garrisons to ascertain the wants of the men and supply them, read and write for them, and hold religious meetings among them.

At Point of Rocks, there is a provisional and a depot Hospital…At Yorktown and Bermuda there are hospitals also…Each regiment has a hospital for the sick only, the wounded being carried from the front where their wounds are first dressed, to Point of Rocks. There they receive a second dressing, and are sent to Fortress Monroe.

Since my great, great grandfather was ill, rather than wounded, I wondered how he was cared for. Dr. Parrish detailed the USSC protocol in the same letter.

I have referred to a provisional Hospital; the term may need some explanation. As the General Hospitals at Washington and other points become crowded for room, those who are in condition for it are sent to Convalescent Camps, where they remain in process of recovery, and as these in turn become crowded, such as are the nearest well are sent to provisional Hospitals, and kept till they are able to rejoin their regiments.

Being often feeble men, or men with wounds partially healed, scarcely sick enough for hospital or well enough for service, they frequently suffer from want of proper kind of supplies, and the Commission may be especially serviceable under such circumstances. This is one of the peculiar cases, of which but little is know by the public.

The USSC may also have been responsible for my ancestor’s transport to Bermuda Hundred in tandem with his regiment. The Commission operated a Hospital Transport Service — established at the request of the Union Army — to move ill, wounded and convalescent combatants from point to point.

I felt a sense of relief after learning more about how Union casualties were handled in the field — because the USSC had an established system for providing services to ill soldiers by the time my great, great grandfather reached Bermuda Hundred in 1865.

In particular, I was grateful to learn about their hospital network because Arthur ultimately spent time in hospital at three of the locations mentioned by Dr. Parrish — Bermuda Hundred, Point of Rocks and Fortress Monroe.

More on this future posts.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Readmitted to hospital

Soon after arriving by boat on 31 Dec. 1864 at Jones’ Landing in Bermuda Hundred — a peninsula at the junction of the James and Appomattox Rivers in Chesterfield Co., Va. — my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was back in the hospital.

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View on James River near Jones’ Landing, Va. (1861-1865). My ancestor Arthur Bull was readmitted to hospital soon after his 6th NYHA regiment arrived here by boat on 31 Dec. 1864. Image: Library of Congress

He told pension doctors he became ill around 10 Nov. 1864 after the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where his 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment was stationed.

When his unit was transferred south in late December 1864 into the Army of the James, he appears to have traveled with them to Bermuda Hundred.

When Arthur applied for his pension nearly 20 years later, the U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division provided the following information from their files — with a slight surname variant — on 27 Jan. 1884

Priv. A.T. Bell, Co. L, 6th N.Y.H. Arty. was admitted to hosptl at Bermuda Hundred, Va. Jan’y 3, ’65 with Disease of heart and transferred Jan’y 16, ’65.

Remarks on his company muster rolls also indicate he was “Absent  – sick in Hospital” beginning in January 1865.

Was this a new affliction? Or was Arthur experiencing a recurrence of his irritable heart?

From June to August 1864, Arthur had been removed from his regiment and hospitalized for rheumatism and heart disease at De Camp General Hospital on Davids Island, Westchester Co., N.Y.

Union Army policy at the time was to return convalescents to their regiments as soon a possible — so Arthur was released back to the 6th NYHA in the fall.

Muster rolls in his pension file show him “present” with Co. L from September through December 1864 during the Shenandoah Valley campaign.

But the marching, fighting, and field conditions — along with the onset of cold weather — may have been too much for Arthur. He told pension doctors he began suffering from heart and lung complaints in mid-November 1864 — the same health issues that afflicted him the previous spring.

Was he under medical care during his transit to Bermuda Hundred? And what was this new hospital like?

More in the next post as the research continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Mourning a fallen commander

On 10 Jan. 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s unit — lost their long-time commander Brevet Brigadier-general J. Howard Kitching, 26, who died from the wounds he received at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

J. Howard Kitching in uniform
BBG J. Howard Kitching was a commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA. He  died after being wounded in the Battle of Cedar Creek and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y.

BBG Kitching was commander of a Provisional Division during the Shenandoah Valley campaign — a force of three brigades of 2,000 soldiers each, according to a letter reprinted in his biography. My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull was one of those Union soldiers.

On the morning of 19 Oct. 1864, BBG Kitching was among the Union forces roused from their tents by a surprise Confederate assault — and the Battle of Cedar Creek was on.

Amid the chaos of battle, BBG Kitching rallied the Union troops, waylaid retreating stragglers and directed federal combatants back to the front — even after he was wounded.

In the book More than Conqueror, his biographer and family friend Theodore Irving interprets the scene that was described to him by BBG Kitching:

 Again his voice was heard above the din and confusion, the roar of musketry, and the mingled shouts of battle. In the midst of this wild tumult, facing the enemy, a minie ball crashed through his foot.  Wearied and wounded, he still sat his horse and gave his orders, though now in subdued tones.

A field surgeon successfully removed the ball and recommended that BBG Kitching be transported home. Sadly, writes Irving, despite returning to his family at Dobbs Ferry, Westchester Co., N.Y. — and some improvement in his condition during December 1864 — BBG Kitching succumbed during follow-up surgery in January 1865.

On 16 Jan 1865, the officers of the 6th NYHA regiment held a meeting at Camp Defences at Bermuda Hundred, Va., and passed a resolution — reprinted in an appendix to his biography — declaring a month of mourning in the regiment for BBG J. Howard Kitching.

Resolved, That as a further mark of our respect, the officers of the regiment wear the customary badge of mourning for thirty days.

I wonder whether my great, great grandfather — and his fellow 6th NYHA soldiers — wore a black arm band for BBG Kitching as their officers did. There is no way to know for sure.

But the loss of so young a commander, who had been with them through the Overland and Shenandoah Vally campaigns, must have affected them all — a reminder of the mortal sacrifice they each risked in the fight to end slavery and preserve the union.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Into the Army of the James

Thwarted by ice on an earlier try, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — set sail once again in thick fog on 26 Dec. 1864 from Alexandria, Va., en route to the front further south.

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Federal artillery and schooners at City Point, Va. (1864-1865). My ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment arrived here on 30 Dec. 1865 en route to Bermuda Hundred, Va., where they would join the Army of the James. Image: Library of Congress.

This must have been a difficult journey for Arthur, who told pension doctors years later that he had fallen ill again in mid-November.

Sgt. William Thistleton, my great, great grandfather’s fellow artillerist, described their five-day voyage in his journal.

Dec. 26th Left the barracks at 7 a.m. and marched to the foot of 6th Street [in Washington, D.C.] embarked on board the steamboat Utica sailed to Alexandria and were transfered (sic) to the northern light, but we oblige (sic) to remain at the dock all night on account of the fog.

Dec. 27th Hauled out in the stream this morning, but oblige (sic) to drop anchor fog increasing laid all night.

Dec. 28th at 9 a.m. weighed anchor and started down the river sailed all day and anchored at 6 p.m.

Dec. 29th sailed at 6 a.m. passed Point lookout at 8 a.m. arrived at Fortress Monroe at 3 p.m. and anchored for the night.

Dec. 30th steamed up and started at 7 a.m. sailed up the James river and arrived at City Point at 3 p.m. ordered to report at Bermuda Hundred. transfered (sic) to a small steamer arrived a Bermuda ordered to report to Jones landing sailed again — arriving at 8 p.m. rained very heavily and we were permitted to remain on the boat all night.

On New Year’s Eve 1864, according to Sgt. Thistleton, the 6th NYHA regiment finally reached their destination, disembarked at dawn and marched five miles in mud knee deep to the front.

There, he wrote, they relieved a division of U.S. Colored Troops from the 25th Corps, who had been holding the front line of the extensive Union Army fortifications.

Dec. 31st …We were now in the Army of the James, Major Gen. B. F. Buttler (sic) commanding.

While my ancestor likely traveled south with his regiment — or in tandem with them on medical transport — I doubt he joined them on the front lines.

Arthur’s pension record shows that he was admitted to the hospital at Bermuda Hundred, Va., on 3 Jan 1865 — one year after he mustered into the Union Army.

Was Arthur suffering from a new illness or a re-emergence of his irritable heart from the previous summer? What were conditions like in the hospital there? And would my ancestor recover and go back on active duty?

More on this in future posts as Arthur’s story, and my research, continue.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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