1865: The Dempsey twins are born

Second of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the final months of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey welcomed two additions to their large family in Baltimore, Maryland.

http://www.loc.gov/item/75694535/
Baltimore, Md. (1869). At the junction of Lanvale St. and Fremont Ave., shown above, my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley in the wooded area to the right. Lafayette Square is shown at center. Image: Library of Congress.

On 28 Feb. 1865, Katherine gave birth to twin daughters — my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey.

What was life like 150 years ago for my Irish ancestors in the city of more than 200,000?

The Dempsey family

According to Baltimore City Directories, from 1870 to 1886 William Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley — a typical location for working class housing behind the main-street buildings.

The list of Dempsey family members in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ward 8 of Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md., gives a rough idea of who might have lived in the household five years earlier — parents Katherine and William; sons Thomas, John and William; and a daughter Mary. The birth of the twins, Elizabeth and Maggie, would have brought that total to eight.

Unlike in the 1860 U.S. Census, when my great, great grandfather William declared a personal estate worth $40 (about $1,170 today), there is no dollar figure next to his name in 1870 — implying that the family was just making ends meet.

Oldest son Patrick, and younger sons James and Andrew — from the 1860 census — are not listed in the Dempsey household in 1870 . I can’t rule out a census-taking error. Yet their absence suggests an evolving family that may have weathered loss and heartbreak.

The wider community

When my Dempsey ancestors were first enumerated in the 1860 federal census, Maryland was a slave state. But there were many free African Americans residing in Baltimore — some of whom also lived and worked in the city’s alleys.

German and Irish immigrants swelled the city in the pre-war years — with the Irish-born population peaking in 1860 at more than 15,500.  The Catholic Church and the Hibernian Society — formed in 1803 to aid Irish immigrants — provided a social framework and support system that likely benefited my Dempsey ancestors.

Lafayette Square near the Dempsey home became Camp Hoffman, the 3rd Maryland Infantry’s barracks during the Civil War — a Union Army encampment where Northern troops recuperated from such hard-fought battles as Antietam and Gettysburg.

My ancestors probably grew accustomed to the sounds of Union soldiers marching and drilling, and the clomp of military horses along the pavement.

Which makes me wonder: As a blacksmith, did my great, great grandfather William do metal work for the Union Army? Or shoe their mules and horses?

More on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore in the next post.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Tip o’ the hat to my Irish ancestors

First of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

In 1865 — while my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — my Irish ancestors William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey were establishing their family 170 miles to the north in the teeming city of Baltimore, Md.

By: Robert Couse-Baker
My Dempsey ancestors were part of the great Irish migration to the teeming city of Baltimore, Maryland, where they lived during the U.S. Civil War.  Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

This St. Patrick’s Day seems a good time to tip a hat to my paternal, Irish great, great grandparents and share what I know about their civilian life during the Civil War years.

The 1860 U.S. census for the 8th Ward of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland — enumerated on 23 July 1860 — gives a picture of the Dempsey family at that time.

William Dempsey, 35, was a blacksmith born in Ireland. The “value of personal estate owned” by him was $40 — about $1,170 today — and he was “unable to read & write.” Catherine [Katherine], 34, was also born in Ireland.

The census entry lists five sons. Patrick, 9, born in Canada was “in school within the year.” Thomas, 6, also born in Canada, was not at school yet. The three youngest, born in Maryland — John, 3; James, 2; and Andrew, 6 months — were too young for school.

The two Canada births suggest that the Dempsey family did not immigrate directly to Baltimore. In addition, on a pedigree chart prepared by a late female cousin of my dad’s, she wrote a note (alas, not sourced) that said William’s first wife died early and left him with three children — Nan, John and Patrick, who died young. If so, Katherine was his second wife.

Further research is needed to determine whether Katherine and William Patrick met and married in Canada or in Baltimore — and to sort out the information about the children. But it’s clear that by the start of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish great, great grandparents had settled in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., with their growing family.

And very soon my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her twin sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey would be added to the fold.

More on the Dempsey family in the next post.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Rebs do not charge as they once did

By mid-February 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — had weathered rough wartime conditions, endured heavy marching, fought relentless battles to end slavery and preserve the Union, and at last seen major victories against the Confederates.

Now, they were engaged in a new kind of combat — for the hearts and minds of the Southern soldiers — and they were winning that fight, too. In his diary, Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA chronicled the steady increase in Confederate desertions.

May 2014: Battle of Saunders Field reenactment, Spotsylvania Court House, Va. In Feb. 1865, at the front near Petersburg, Va., where my ancestor was stationed, Union soldiers noticed the Confederates did not charge as they once did. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2014: Battle of Saunders Field reenactment, Spotsylvania Court House, Va. In Feb. 1865, at the front near Petersburg, Va., where my ancestor was stationed, Union soldiers noticed the Confederates did not charge as they once did. Photo by Molly Charboneau

He described how he and other Union soldiers — among them my great, great grandfather — refused to fire when the Southern soldiers crossed into their lines along the James River near Petersburg, Va.

February 14th. The rebels made another assault on our picket line at 8 p.m. but were repulsed in about 10 minutes the rebel officers finding that deserting were on the increase and that when they fired on deserters we will not reply have adopted this system of night surprises to induce firing on our side and thus deter their men from crossing the lines but unfortunately that “dog won’t run”…

Our men knew the difference between deserting than a surprise party, after a little brush tonight a Major, a Captain, a Lieutenant and 18 men came into our lines they had joined a surprise party for the purpose of deserting and during the fighting had taken occasion to hide in some bushes until the fracas was over when they attracted the attention the vidette [the mounted sentry on picket or guard duty] who sent him in.

Feb. 17th another dash on our lines tonight lasted about five minutes no-body hurt.

Another of my ancestor’s fellow soldiers, Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of the 6th NYHA, corroborated this experience. In a letter to his wife, he summed up the demoralization that had set in among Confederate troops.

Feb. 17th – The Johnnies continue to come in as usual. Seven of them came into our regiment on picket last night, and 10 privates and a sergeant in a squad came into the 10th N.Y. posted on our right….

The fact is, the Rebs are getting discouraged and, since the failure of the peace commissioners, they are deserting in greater numbers than previous to the meeting…The Rebs do not charge as they once did.

The 6th NYHA was now made up of seasoned combatants. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull had been with the regiment for more than a year, Sgt. Thistleton for longer than that — and Pvt. Reynolds was in the Union Army nearly six months.

Schooled by combat, they became keen observers of the nuances of the battlefield. And there was no clearer sign that the Union cause was prevailing than Confederate troops willing to risk their lives — for they would be executed if caught — to cross into federal lines.

I am amazed and proud to descend from a great, great grandfather who was there to witness this incredible turn of history.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The rebellion is nearly played out

On 16 Feb. 1865, Union Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — a soldier in my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — wrote an optimistic letter to his wife from Bermuda Hundred, Va., saying, “The war news with us are favorable.”

He, Arthur and other Union soldiers at the front could plainly see that the Confederate Army was disintegrating — and they followed orders not to shoot at Southern deserters coming into federal lines.

“We here think that the rebellion is nearly played out & that another vigorous campaign will finish it up if the Rebs do not sooner give up,” he wrote, describing for his wife the steady increase in Confederate desertions.

August 2014: Union reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. During February 1865, Union soldiers were ordered not to shoot at Confederates defectors crossing over into federal lines. Photo by Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. During February 1865, Union soldiers were ordered not to shoot at Confederates defectors crossing over into federal lines. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The Johnnies continue to come into our lines. Last night fifteen came into the lines where our battalion was posted. How many come in on other parts of the line I have not yet [discovered]. Three companies constitute a battalion and about one third are on picket at a time.

The Rebel soldiers are deserting and coming into our lines now, more or less every night. I think this state of things can’t be very encouraging to the rebel leaders.

Pvt. Reynolds — and likely my great, great grandfather as well — continued to stand picket duty. But the nature of that duty changed as the war moved steadily toward a Union victory. Again from Pvt. Reynolds’ February 16 letter.

Night before last the bullets whistled about our ears pretty lively for a few minutes. However, no one was injured. The firing was occasioned by the Rebs deserting and coming into our lines.

It seems that the two who came in had an understanding with their comrades on the post that they would let them get near our lines and out of immediate danger before they called halt and fired.

In cases of this kind our men do not return fire. Our orders are not to fire unless the enemy are advancing. I am well satisfied that many of the rebel soldiers do not want to fight us any longer, and would not if they could help it.

As you will read in the next post, Pvt. Reynolds’ experience was echoed in the diary of Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA regiment — an experience likely shared by my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, who was stationed with them.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Fraternization at the front

After the February 1865 peace talks failed to end the U.S. Civil War, Union soldiers at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — where my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed — did what they could to move things along.

May 2014: Confederate reenactors' encampment, Spotslyvania Court House, Va. Toward the end of the Civil War, battlefield banter with Union troops encouraged Confederate soldiers to desert. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2014: Confederate reenactors’ encampment, Spotslyvania Court House, Va. Toward the end of the Civil War, enchanging battlefield banter with Union troops encouraged Confederate soldiers to desert. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The Union Army was marching irrevocably toward securing the Union and — together with the African American population and the valiant U.S. Colored Troops — destroying the brutal slave system.

With the war’s end in sight and longing for peace, soldiers from North and South began to fraternize across the battle lines.

My great, great grandfather’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment arrived at Bermuda Hundred in January 1865. They were promptly heckled by Confederate soldiers who had opposed them at Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA recorded one such incident in his diary and described the effect of this battlefield banter on Confederate troops:

January 1st, 1865: …as our lines were only about 150 yards conversation was easy as soon as they discovered that the 6th N.Y.H. Artillery was in front of them one of the rebs jumped up and sang out, ‘I say boys here is the Big Six come all the way from Cedar Creek for their knapsacks you had better get ready to hand them over,’ then turning towards us he inquired, ‘Say Yanks aint you been cold this winter without your over-coats and blankets?’

As may be imagined they had the laugh on us until one of our men replied, ‘ “No Johnny” we haven’t been cold we kept warm by drilling on those eighty pieces of artillery you left in the valley.’

Chaffing was the order of the day on both sides yet quite friendly relations were kept up. Our men would go out  half way between the lines and invite the rebs to dine with them the result of this intercourse tended to swell the number of deserters but at last the rebel officers smelt a mice and would not let their men to talk with us.”

My ancestor Arthur Bull fell ill at Cedar Creek in November 1864 and was admitted to hospital at Bermuda Hundred on 3 Jan. 1865. In poor health, he may not have been on the barricades with the 6th NYHA when this exchange took place. But records in his pension file indicate he returned to his regiment from hospital on 30 Jan. 1865.

Which leaves me wondering: As more and more Confederate soldiers crossed over to federal lines during February 1865 — steadily weakening the South’s army — was Arthur among the Union soldiers who encouraged them?

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time