Marching on

Aug. 2014: Union reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. On 23 Sept. 1864 my ancestor Arthur Bull and his unit left Washington’s forts for the front. They were marching on to the Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

In late September 1864, my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull departed from the forts of Washington, D.C. with his unit and headed back to the battlefront.

My ancestor’s fellow combatants from the 6th New York Heavy Artillery logged their progress — Sgt. William Thistleton in his diary and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, a new recruit, in letters to his wife.

On 24 Sept. the regiment debarked from Boston and Ohio Rail cars at Sandy Hook, Md. They crossed the Potomac, marched through Harper’s Ferry — scene of the 1859 anti-slavery raid organized by abolitionist John Brown — and camped until 27 Sept. at Bolivar Heights, Va.

There they were combined with the 10th NYHA into the 2nd Brigade Provisional Division under Col. J. Howard Kitching. In a diary entry, Sgt. Thistleton captured the mood:

Sept. 27th Ordered to leave at 8 a.m. but did not get off until 4 p.m. we were engaged in guarding the supply train going out to Gen. Sheridan’s Army at Harrisburg halted at 9 p.m. near Charlestown for the night, Charlestown is a small place but has gained some celebrity as being the scene of the execution of John Brown whose soul is a marching on.

Yes, marching on with these Union soldiers — my great, great grandfather among them — as they headed for the Shenandoah Valley where an offensive was underway by the Union Armies of the Shenandoah and West Virginia against the Confederate Army of the Valley.

In late September, Union forces routed the Confederates at the Third Battle of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Woodstock — then for 10 days burned out the Valley to deprive the Confederate Army of food, supplies and shelter.

My ancestor’s 6th NYHA reached the Valley toward the end of “the Burning” after long, hard marching through enemy territory, as described by Sgt. Thistleton:

Oct. 1st Started at day-light through Edenburg and New Market and halted near Harrisonburg at 8 P.M. very hard marching it rained all day rendering the pike very slippery made 29 miles we have traveled 123 miles in four and a half days averaging nearly 30 miles a day the regiment lost nearly 100 men on this march who fell out and were captured by guerrillas…

My ancestor Arthur Bull must have weathered the march — papers in his pension file list him as “present” in October.  Union forces, including his unit, were being positioned for the final Shenandoah Valley showdowns.

What battles would Arthur fight in? How would he fare in combat? Would his health hold up? I’m headed back to my research files to find answers. Stay tuned.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 


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