All posts by Molly C.

Winter hits Winchester

Winter began to settle over the Shenandoah Valley where my ancestor Arthur Bull’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment was stationed. In early December 1864, temperatures dropped, snow fell and Union troops hunkered down as the days shortened.

Camp of 2nd Maine Infantry, Camp Jameson (1861-1865). Photo: Library of Congress
Camp of 2nd Maine Infantry, Camp Jameson (1861-1865). In camps like this in the Shenandoah Valley, where my ancestor Arthur Bull was stationed, temperatures dropped and snow fell in Dec. 1864.  Photo: Library of Congress

On 9 Dec. 1864 between 10 and 11 p.m., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of 6th NYHA Co. M took out pencil and paper to write his wife while he stood watch.

Well to begin with the fire is burning nicely in our fireplace…and we are warm and comfortable. It has been snowing very fast since dark and the ground is covered to the depth of several inches. This is the first snow we have had here of any amount this season…

There is no talk of our regiment moving at present and I may remain here all winter at least. I hope so as I now have a first rate place although it is storming hard without still…

I am on duty sitting by the fire occasionally looking out to see that all is right…All remains quiet in the Valley.

I find myself wondering about my great, great grandfather’s accommodations. Were they as comfortable as those described by Pvt. Reynolds? Was he also able to sit by a fire while on duty?

Or was he exposed to the brutal cold that Sgt. William Thistleton of 6th NYHA Co. I described in his journal?

December 10th Intensely cold and a severe snow storm last night and some of the men on picket were severely frost bitten snow eight inches deep.

I wonder about the weather because around this time, my great, great grandfather appears to have fallen ill again. In two separate documents in his pension file, Arthur told two different doctors he developed heart and lung disease around 10 Nov. 1864 at Cedar Creek, Va.

Yet he was listed as “present” with his regiment in Nov. and Dec. 1864. Did Arthur soldier on despite his illness as he had in the spring?  If so, the winter conditions may have proved to be too much.

More on this in subsequent posts as Arthur’s saga continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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Building winter quarters

During November 1864, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s regiment — prepared to set up winter quarters near Winchester in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The big battles were over, but Confederate guerillas like Mosby’s raiders were still active and a portion of the Union Army needed to remain in the Valley.

Building Winter Quarters
Building winter quarters (1861-1865). In November 1864 the 6th NY Heavy Artillery, my ancestor Arthur Bull’s regiment, began building winter quarters in the Shenandoah Valley. Photo: Library of Congress

In his journal my ancestor’s fellow soldier Sgt. William Thistleton, of 6th NYHA Co. I, wrote about the building of winter quarters as well as the regiment’s military duties.

Oct. 27th drew new tents blankets and clothing which were greatly needed as the weather was growing quite cold.

Nov. 1st marched to Winchester encamped on the northeast side of the town and began to build winter quarters wood pretty scarce but plenty of Bricks some of the mens [sic] quarters are very cosy [sic] with brick floor and plank bunks and plenty of them had mahogany or maple doors plenty of unoccupied dwellings in town from which they procured boards &ec. [sic]

The duty here was very hard on both men and officers on picket every other day about the 20th drills were inaugurated about ten men in each company to drill the rest being on picket or forage duty regimental and dress parade every alternate day.

In a Nov. 20 letter to his wife from Winchester, Va., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of 6th NYHA Co. M — who had been in the army only a couple of months — described a more leisurely experience of camp life.

Well we had beef steak with gravy boiled potatoes and bread and a plenty of it…and have been pretty busy in fixing up our quarters. We have a shanty 7 by 10 ft. made of boards and covered overhead with our tent cloths. We have [a] fire place to warm us and cook by in our tent.

Our duty is to guard the horses and mules at night and to see that they do not get loose and go away. We divide the night into three tours of three hours each and go out of our tent and around and among them every ten minutes…This is all I have to do 3 hours in twenty four with the exception of going out into the country some three miles with a team once in three or four days after a load of rails for wood.

In the same letter, Pvt. Reynolds also wrote this about the Confederate forces and the prospects of renewed fighting.

One thing is certain the rebel army cannot winter in this part of the valley. It has been stripped almost entirely of all forage and eatables.

Mosby with about 500 men hangs about and gobbles up a few of our men now and then. I don’t expect any fighting this winter. However I may be disappointed. I hope I shall be spared to return to you.

How did my ancestor Arthur Bull, of 6th NYHA Co. L, pass his time in the Valley 150 years ago? Probably in much the same manner as his fellow Union soldiers — building winter quarters, doing guard duty, drilling and parading, and foraging for food.

And all the while recuperating from earlier battles, anticipating confrontations to come and wondering whether he would survive to return to his home and family.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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Battlefield birthday

During October 1864, while he was stationed in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull marked a special, personal event — his 30th birthday.

He was still young by today’s standards, but closer to middle age in those days when average life expectancy for white men was just over 40  years of age.

Since I did not inherit any of his correspondence, I can only imagine how my great, great grandfather felt to be spending his birthday on the battlefield so far from home and family.

Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y.
Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y. In October 1864, my ancestor marked his birthday on the battlefield far from home and family. Photo by Molly Charboneau

From my research, I know that Arthur was married and the father of three small children when he enlisted. So he may have felt much like his fellow soldier Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds did when he wrote this to his wife:

9 Oct. 1864: A soldier in the army has no intimation of what is to take place one hour hence. He is liable to be ordered away at any time….I think of you and the children often and hope that I may see you all again.

28 Oct. 1864: I can assure you that I miss the society of my wife and children very much and that there is none in this world that I prize so much. I hope all is for the best and that I shall yet return.

Through postal service to the front, Union soldiers received gifts from home — hand-made clothing, baked goods and the like. So his wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, and other family members may have sent him something.

He would also have enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers to cheer him on his special day — which came during a month of victory and high spirits for the Union Army.

I think of Arthur there in the Shenandoah Valley with a sense admiration and affection — a young man fighting for higher ideals and celebrating his birthday on the battlefield 150 years ago.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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Union troops vote for Lincoln

On 23 Aug. 1864 — before the Union victories at Atlanta and Cedar Creek, where my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed — Pres. Abraham Lincoln asked members of his cabinet to sign a folded note. Then he tucked it away in his a desk drawer. It said this:

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probabl[e] that this Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.

Oct. 1864: Pennsylvania soldiers in the Union Army of the James cast their ballots.
Oct. 1864: Pennsylvania soldiers in the Union’s Army of the James vote in the presidential election.  My ancestor’s state, New York, allowed Union troops to vote in the field and mail their ballots to their home county for tabulation. Photo: Library of Congress.

There was war weariness in the North. Tremendous loss of life in the Union Army’s spring campaigns — which sent my ancestor to the hospital — had not yielded victories. And in July, the Confederates marched down the Shenandoah Valley and attacked Washington.

This was also the first wartime ballot since 1812. No president had won a second term since 1832. Yet the outcome of the U.S. Civil War — and the country’s future — hung in the balance.

Then the tide turned on the battlefield. Union forces took Atlanta in September and defeated the Confederates at Cedar Creek in October — and a new offensive began at the ballot box. Here, too, Union combatants — among them my great, great grandfather — played a vital role.

Arthur’s home state of New York adopted a law allowing soldiers to vote in the field — the result of a political struggle described on the Lincoln Institute’s website Mr. Lincoln and New York.

Once the law passed, New York faced the daunting tactical challenge of delivering ballots to nearly 400,000 New York State combatants stationed throughout the South.

But delivered they were — giving my ancestor the amazing opportunity to vote for President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and mail his ballot to his home county.

How did my great, great grandfather vote? I have no way of knowing for sure. Yet circumstantial evidence suggests that Arthur probably cast his ballot for “Old Abe,” as Union combatants affectionately called the president.

On 27 Oct, 1864, his compatriot, Sgt. William Thistleton of 6th NY Heavy Artillery Co. I, wrote this in his diary:

Soldiers were busy sending off their votes. McClellan and Seymore are evidently not favorites with the soldiers.

Lincoln won the vote by 60 percent in Broome County, N.Y. — where Arthur was from — and he received 78 percent of Union soldiers’ and sailors’ votes. In two close states — New York and Connecticut — it may have been the troops’ votes that pushed Lincoln to victory.

In the end, Lincoln garnered 55 percent of the popular vote throughout the North and was reelected with 212 electoral votes against McClellan’s 21 electoral votes — a decisive mandate to press on with the fight to end slavery and preserve the union.

I couldn’t be prouder that my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was a participant — at the front and at the ballot box — in that historic moment.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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Cedar Creek: Union victory

The Union Army’s victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley — where my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was on duty with 6th New York Heavy Artillery Co. L — ushered in a wave of optimism and celebration among Union troops.

It was the next great Union victory after Atlanta and assured the reelection of Pres. Abraham Lincoln just two weeks later — on 8 Nov. 1864.

May 2014: Artillery reenactors at Spotsylvania Courth House, Va.
May 2014: Union artillery reenactors at Spotsylvania Court House, Va. Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant ordered  the firing of “a salute of 100 guns from each of the armies”  after the 19 Oct. 1864 Union victory at Cedar Creek. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The day after the battle, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent a telegram from City Point, Va., to Sec. of War Stanton in Washington commending Gen. Philip Sheridan for “[t]urning what bid fair be a disaster into glorious victory” at Cedar Creek.

“I had a salute of 100 guns from each of the armies here fired in honor of Sheridan’s last victory, “

The roar of those 100-gun salutes also paid homage to rank-and-file Union soldiers — like my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — who were on the front lines and rear guard of a battle that changed U.S. history.

For without them, there could have been no victory and no glory — and Sheridan acknowledged as much in his 20 Oct. 2014 telegram to Grant:

We have been favored by a great victory — a victory won from disaster by the gallantry of our officers and men.

Their bravery was brought home in a 28 Oct. 1864 letter from Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, of 6th NYHA Co. M, to his wife after his sobering visit to the Cedar Creek battlefield:

The next day I spent in walking over the battle ground and viewing the effects. Most of the dead had been buried. I saw only one dead rebel and two of our soldiers that still remained unburied. War is a dreadful thing and one only has to see its effects to realize it.

There had been valor and mortal sacrifice at Cedar Creek amid the thick fog and clouds of gunsmoke — and when the air cleared and the battle had ended, the sun shown down on a country that had made up its mind to decisively march in a new direction.

The 1864 presidential election hinged on this: Would the North press forward in the fight to end slavery under Pres. Abraham Lincoln or would it slide back to accommodating the southern slaveholders by electing George B. McClellan?

I am proud that my ancestor was there when the Union victory at Cedar Creek answered that question: There would be no turning back.

More in the next post on the role of Union troops, including my great, great grandfather, in Lincoln’s reelection.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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