Tag Archives: Bermuda Hundred

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 slavery 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?

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Fort Brady: Artillery sounds the alarm

On 23 Jan. 1865, my great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was stationed at Fort Brady in Virginia. But was my ancestor on duty with them or in hospital?

Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. My ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment was stationed here during the last naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image:  Library of Congress
Parrot guns at Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. (1864)  My ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment was stationed  here in Jan. 1865 and engaged with Confederate forces before the last major naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image: Library of Congress

The U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division provided a report on 27 Jan. 1884 for his pension application, which says:

He entered hospit. Point of Rocks, Va. Jan’y 16, ’65 with Heart Disease, and was returned to duty Jan’y 30, ’65. He also appears as admitted to that hospit. Jan’y 24, ’65 with Boil…

If Arthur was already in hospital at Point of Rocks on 16 January, why would he need to be “admitted” to the same hospital on 24 January?

If he was discharged for a time — then readmitted — could he have been stationed with the 6th NYHA at Fort Brady during the last major naval battle of the Civil War?

Fort Brady was part of a string of Union Army fortifications near Richmond, Va., that extended north from the James River to Fort Harrison. It was built after the battles of September 1864 to blockade the Confederate fleet upriver.

On 22 Jan. 1865 — while the bulk of the Union Navy was engaged at Fort Fisher in North Carolina — the Confederate navy began testing the federal blockade. Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA described the events of that day and the next in his diary:

Jan. 22nd: about 9 P.M. the rebels made another attack in force on the right of our line near the James river and at the same time three of their iron-clads attempted to pass the obstructions just above “crow-nest” battery the infantry attack was easily repulsed not lasting more than half an hour but the batteries and the rebel fleet kept it up all night.

Jan. 23rd: at 9 a.m. a shell from our batteries entered the rebel ram Jamestown and exploding in her magazine blew her up and of the crew of 64 men but 11 escaped…the [6th NYHA] regiment which had been under arms all night were returned to their quarters at 10 a.m.

Sgt. Thistleton provides no further details of 6th NYHA involvement in subsequent events at Fort Brady. But on the night of 23 Jan. 1865, a large Confederate flotilla tried to ram its way down the James River in the darkness. Their aim: to destroy the Union supply base at City Point, Va.

Union lookouts spotted the flotilla, and the batteries at Fort Brady fired sonorous rounds at the passing fleet. The big guns, aimed at the opposite shore, could not stop the Confederate ships.

But their booming salvos alerted Union forces downriver. Thus began the Civil War’s last significant naval confrontation — the Battle of Trent’s Reach — in which Union forces prevailed on 24 Jan. 1865.

Records indicate that my great, great grandfather was admitted that day to hospital at Point of Rocks, Bermuda Hundred, Va., for treatment of a boil — no small medical matter under wartime conditions in the days before antibiotics. He likely remained there until he was returned to duty on 30 Jan. 1865.

I can’t be sure, 150 years later, what role my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull played at Fort Brady. But I like to think that he may have been stationed with his regiment — however briefly — when Union forces repulsed a land attack and confronted the Confederate fleet’s advance guard ahead of the last great naval battle of the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Bermuda Hundred patient

How was my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull transported to Bermuda Hundred, Va., where he entered hospital on 3 Jan. 1865? And what was this new hospital like?

Researching to find answers, I discovered excerpts from an illuminating letter in a Bulletin of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Six months before Arthur arrived at Bermuda Hundred, Dr. Joseph Parrish, M.D. — in a 19 June 1864 letter — reported from the field on USSC facilities and staff operating near the James and Appomattox Rivers:

Hospital ship, Nashville (1861-1865). My ancestor Arthur Bull may have traveled to Bermuda Hundred, Va. on a hospital ship such as this, operated by the USSC Hospital Transport Service. Image: Library of Congress

The Commission has three stations in this department…at City Point, Bermuda Hundred and Point of Rocks. There are thirteen relief agents, who feed the wounded as they come in; and when they are not coming, visit different regiments and garrisons to ascertain the wants of the men and supply them, read and write for them, and hold religious meetings among them.

At Point of Rocks, there is a provisional and a depot Hospital…At Yorktown and Bermuda there are hospitals also…Each regiment has a hospital for the sick only, the wounded being carried from the front where their wounds are first dressed, to Point of Rocks. There they receive a second dressing, and are sent to Fortress Monroe.

Point of Rocks Hospital, Bermuda Hundred, Va. in (1861-1864). The US Sanitary Commission hospital network attended to ill/wounded soldiers, including my ancestor Arthur Bull. Due to lingering illness from the 1864 Overland Campaign, he was treated at three USSC  locations — Bermuda Hundred, Point of Rocks and Fortress Monroe. Image: Library of Congress

Since my great, great grandfather was ill, rather than wounded, I wondered how he was cared for. Dr. Parrish detailed the USSC protocol in the same letter.

I have referred to a provisional Hospital; the term may need some explanation. As the General Hospitals at Washington and other points become crowded for room, those who are in condition for it are sent to Convalescent Camps, where they remain in process of recovery, and as these in turn become crowded, such as are the nearest well are sent to provisional Hospitals, and kept till they are able to rejoin their regiments.

Being often feeble men, or men with wounds partially healed, scarcely sick enough for hospital or well enough for service, they frequently suffer from want of proper kind of supplies, and the Commission may be especially serviceable under such circumstances. This is one of the peculiar cases, of which but little is know by the public.

The USSC may also have been responsible for my ancestor’s transport to Bermuda Hundred in tandem with his regiment. The Commission operated a Hospital Transport Service — established at the request of the Union Army — to move ill, wounded and convalescent combatants from point to point.

I felt a sense of relief after learning more about how Union casualties were handled in the field — because the USSC had an established system for providing services to ill soldiers by the time my great, great grandfather reached Bermuda Hundred in 1865.

In particular, I was grateful to learn about their hospital network because Arthur ultimately spent time in hospital at three of the locations mentioned by Dr. Parrish — Bermuda Hundred, Point of Rocks and Fortress Monroe.

More on this future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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