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.

© 2015 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.
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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Civil War Christmas

Among the sacrifices made by Union troops during the Civil War, battle casualties rank highest. But being away from home and family in wartime conditions, especially during holidays, was also difficult for soldiers in the relatively young army — among them my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull of 6th New York Heavy Artillery Co. L.

Soldier's Rest, Alexandria, Va. (1864). My ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment spent a cold Christmas here in 1865 after their transport ship was frozen in at Alexandria harbor. Image: Library of Congress.
Soldier’s Rest, Alexandria, Va. (1864). My ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment spent Christmas here in 1865 after their transport ship was frozen in at Alexandria harbor. Image: Library of Congress.

In late December 1864 — after traveling overnight in cold and snow on open rail cars from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C. — my great, great grandfather’s regiment boarded a steamer en route south to the front.

On 23 Dec. 1864 in Washington, D.C., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, of 6th NYHA Co. M, wrote to his wife about what happened next.

Well, yesterday morning we were crowded onto an open boat where not more than half could get under shelter…

[We] started for Petersburg or some southern port, but, on getting started, our boat ran into the ice and we could go no further. Consequently, we had to remain on the boat last night and were frozen in solid this morning so that we marched to the shore on the ice and back to this place….

We are now quartered in a building without any fire and the weather is cold, so cold that I can hardly write.

Sgt. William Thistleton, of 6th NYHA Co. I, wrote a more detailed account of the same events in his journal.

Dec. 22nd arrived in Washington 8 a.m. and marched to the foot of 6th Street and went on board the steamship George Weems. were detained at the wharf some three hours by the ice. At 1 p.m. swung around and got slowly away from our moorings and started for Alexandria…

[W]hen we had work (sic) our way through the accumulating ice about four miles we were forced to recognize the unpleasant reality that we were frozen up could go neither forward or return and around us were some twenty vessels in the same predicament

[I]t was a very cold night and the men on the upper deck suffered horrible more men were frostbitten how we were worried through that awful night is difficulty (sic) to imagine. 1100 men on a small steamer boat frozen up on the Potomac on a mid winter night with no fire and no room to walk about to keep up the circulation….Our suffering were (sic) intolerable.

Reading these accounts, I thought about my ancestor’s health. Arthur told pension  doctors he fell ill again around 10 Nov. 1864, but he was still “present” on company rolls when these events transpired. Again, from Sgt. Thiltleton’s journal:

Dec. 23rd Left the boat this morning about 7 o’clock crossed the ice to the shore formed a line and marched back to Washington. halted at the Soldier’s Rest and found the rest of the division there. men put into the barracks and remained there until the 26th inst. it was very cold

[S]pent our Christmas day very miserable, pork soft bread and coffee for dinner.

Whether Arthur traveled with his regiment, or was transported separately with other ill soldiers, he shared the sacrifices they all made 150 years ago — soldiering on through snow, ice and holidays far from home in the fight to end slavery and preserve the union.

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An icy departure

In the winter of 1863, Civil War combatants in the East — among them my ancestor Arthur Bull and his 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — remained in winter camp and resumed battle in the spring. Not so in 1864.

Wounded at Savage Station, Va. (1862).
Wounded at Savage Station, Va. (1862). In late Dec. 1864, my ancestor’s 6th NYHA travelled  overnight to Washington, D.C., in freezing weather on open rail cars like these. Image: Library of Congress.

The Union Army was waging a siege at Petersburg, Va., that would not stop for the weather. So in late December 1864, Union troops not needed in the Shenandoah Valley, including the 6th NYHA, were transferred south. My great, great grandfather’s fellow artillerists described the icy departure.

In his journal Sgt. William Thistleton, of 6th NYHA Co. I, wrote about leaving Winchester..

Dec. 20th Received orders to pack up and be ready to move. Dec. 21st left Winchester 9 a.m. en-route for Washington. rained, hailed and snowed very bad marching. arrived at Stephenson station were packed on open air platform cars and at 1 p.m. started off. many of the men were badly frozen during the night.

On 23 Dec. 1864, after they arrived in Washington, D.C., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, of 6th NYHA Co. M, wrote a brief letter to his wife.

Last Wednesday we were ordered to strike tents and report at Washington. We took the cars, after marching five miles from Winchester, and arrived here yesterday morning…

The winter trip from the Valley to the capital was difficult for the Union troops, Pvt. Reynolds wrote.

One thing I can say that I never knew what it was to suffer until the last five days. It has been cold winter weather for a few days past. When we left Winchester we were put into a few platform cars and crowded so that we could hardly sit down and had to stay on them from noon until the next morning exposed to storm and cold.

Reading their accounts, I wondered about my ancestor.  Arthur told doctors years later that he became ill again around 10 Nov. 1864. Did he have to make this trip while in ill health? Were there perhaps covered cars for the infirm?

Or could my great, great, grandfather — recalling events from decades before — have been mistaken about the exact date? These questions will remain unless I find answers in further research.

However, existing evidence reveals that conditions grew worse for Arthur’s regiment after they boarded a steamer in the frigid waters near the harbor at Alexandria, Va.

More on their journey south in the next post.

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Uncle Fred’s letters

I have no memory of meeting my Uncle Fred — Frederic Mason Charboneau — who was born on 3 March 1918.  Yet I found myself thinking about him this holiday season.

He was the youngest of my dad’s four older brothers and died after an illness on 12 Dec. 1952 when I was just a toddler.

Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau
Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Growing up, I remember hearing that Uncle Fred was a U.S. Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for an injury during WW II. He married Jean Bastow, but they had no children.

That was about it — until 1992 when Dad and I began exploring our roots together and went on a two-day genealogy trip to Otter Lake, Dad’s hometown, in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.

We stayed overnight with my Aunt Aline who still lived in the area. She was French-Canadian and the widow of my dad’s oldest brother Owen Albert Charboneau. We all called her “Gig.”

After wise-cracking around her kitchen table over a Pitch card game — which Aunt Gig won as usual — we got talking about family history. Aline and Dad shared stories about their youth in Otter Lake and fondly reminisced about our mutual ancestors.

Something about that visit must have touched them both — because the next time Dad went to see Aunt Gig, she gave him a cardboard box containing a treasure trove of family photos and documents.

Among the items in the box was a stack of Uncle Fred’s letters — written to his mother (my grandmother) during the war — along with some photos of him and his obituary.

When I read his letters for the first time I was struck by two things. Uncle Fred’s handwriting was amazingly like my dad’s. And much of his writing was not about the war but about family events back home.

Somewhere in England, October 21, 1942: Dear Mom, …You should be getting my allotment some time the first of next month, which will be $40.00 per month so I should have a nice bank account by the time I get out of the Army. By the way I want you to take some of this money and buy everyone a Christmas present. Even if I can’t be there, I want to keep up the family tradition of everyone exchanging presents. I will collect mine at some future date….Your loving son, Fred

In the spirit of the holiday season, I take a moment today to remember Uncle Fred and to express my gratitude for his letters from the front — which are helping me better understand the life of my dad’s family of origin.

I will share more about Uncle Fred, along with excerpts from his letters, in future posts.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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