To hospital at Fort Monroe

During early March 1865, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — formed part of the defenses of Bermuda Hundred, Va.
Reception of the wounded soldiers by the national authorities at Fortress Monroe, Va., showing the cars conveying them to the hospital and surgeons dressing their wounds (1862). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to the hospital at Fort Monroe on 15 March 1865. Image: Library of Congress

Battles raged further south as Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — having completed their march to the sea — advanced north through the Carolinas toward Richmond, Va., to meet up with the Union Army of the Potomac.

In Washington, D.C., on 4 March, President Abraham Lincoln was sworn in for his second term  — delivering a second inaugural address calling for post-war reconciliation, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Yet the lines where my great, great grandfather Arthur was stationed, about halfway between Richmond and Petersburg, Va., remained relatively quiet — and Union soldiers on duty with him were hopeful.

“Should Sherman be successful, I am confident the war will soon be at an end,” wrote my ancestor’s fellow artillerist Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds in a 1 March letter to his wife.

Then, on 26 March he wrote that “a movement is anticipated soon should the weather continue favorable.”

However, my great, great grandfather would not be part of that 6th NYHA movement — for in mid-March, his health flagging, he was transferred back to hospital.

According to a 27 Jan. 1884 report in Arthur’s pension file from the U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division:

Priv. Arthur T. Bull, Col. L, 6′ N.Y.H.A was admitted to G.H. Fort Monroe, Va. March 15, ’65 with functional disease of the heart…

My ancestor had been troubled by heart and lung complaints since he “gave out” on the march during the spring 1864 Overland Campaign.

Then, he was sent away from the front to De Camp Hospital in New Rochelle, Westchester Co, N.Y., for treatment during the summer — rejoining his 6th NYHA regiment in the fall for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

This time — after being in and out of hospital in January 1865 — Arthur was sufficiently ill to again be removed from duty and transferred on 15 March to a hospital away from the front lines.

My great, great grandfather would remain in the 1,800-bed Union Army General Hospital at Fort Monroe — for treatment of what now sounds like a chronic heart condition — until being returned to duty on 2 May 1865.

More on this in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore

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

During the U.S. Civil War, Baltimore, Maryland — home of my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and their family — experienced great political and social ferment.
Massachusetts Militia passing through Baltimore. The city where my Dempsey ancestors lived was placed under federal martial law in 1861 after a pro-slavery mob attacked Massachusetts Militia members en route to federal service in Washington, D.C. Image: Wikipedia

At the start of the war, in 1861, Baltimore City was placed under federal martial law after a pro-slavery mob attacked the Massachusetts Militia as it passed through the city en route to federal service in Washington, D.C.

Known as the Pratt Street Riot, the confrontation resulted in the first bloodshed of the U.S. Civil War and led to the placement of Union soldiers all around Baltimore City — in hospitals, camps, and barracks — where they helped keep belligerent Southern sympathizers at bay.

Meanwhile — like my Dempsey ancestors before them — new waves of immigrants were arriving in the city to seek a better life. Free and formerly-enslaved African Americans were joining the newly-formed U.S. Colored Troops and heading to the front.

And in late 1864, Unionists in the Maryland legislature succeeded in passing a state constitution that abolished slavery — which was followed on 3 Feb. 1865 by Maryland’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It was into this cauldron of rapid social change 150 years ago that my great grandmother Elizabeth and her twin sister Maggie were born to the Dempsey family on 28 Feb. 1865 — early arrivals in the first generation that would grow up after the U.S. Civil War.

Two generations would pass before a descendant of my Irish ancestors Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey (my paternal grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” Owen) would marry a descendant of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his wife  Mary (my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau).

How fascinating to discover that, before they were joined, these two branches of my family had a separate yet parallel experience of living through a defining period in U.S. history.

More on both families in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va.

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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.
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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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.

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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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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