Thursday, June 19, 2014

"How Sleep the Brave?"

It’s June 19, 2014. That means it is the 150th Anniversary of the death of First Sergeant Ambrose Henry Hayward, an Army of the Potomac veteran (one of many) who served with the Army of the Cumberland’s 20th Corps. Hayward’s story is important to me; he was the subject of my first book, Last to Leave the Field. I encountered his story some fourteen years ago. I was an undergraduate then, attending Gettysburg College. Musselman Library’s Special Collections Archive contained Hayward’s letters. Finding the collection worthy of publication, I set to the task of editing and transcribing the letters. A long, long time later, this project became a book. Naturally, my attachment to Hayward prevents me from letting the anniversary of his death pass by unnoticed.

Hayward received his death wound on June 15, 1864. At the Battle of Pine Knob, a Confederate musket ball struck him in the left thigh. The ball penetrated his flesh, glanced off his tailbone, and bounced upward into his stomach. His comrades removed him from the field and carried him to an ambulance that took him to Acworth. At that place, the Union army operated a railroad. The cars carried him and all the other wounded men to the general hospital at Chattanooga.

This image depicts Chattanooga in 1864. If you look to the far left, at middle distance, you will see the hospital structures. The Union army called it “General Hospital Number 1.”

Here is a close-up of the hospital. As you can see, it consisted of twelve poorly ventilated wooden buildings. I do not know which building was Hayward’s.

Here is another close-up of the Union hospital, this one taken from a slightly different angle. If you look closely, you can see Lookout Mountain looming in the background.

A union nurse, Harriet A. Dada, left a fascinating account of life at this hospital. She wrote, “Car-loads of the wounded were daily being brought in from the front[.] . . . [O]nly the most severely wounded were left there—such as were brought on stretchers. . . . Never was I in a hospital where there was so much suffering as at Chattanooga. . . . It would be impossible for me to write of all the heartrending scenes that were witnessed during this month of June[.] . . . It seemed as if the ‘Angel of Death’ was constantly hovering over the hospital.” During the month of June 1864, 261 patients died. This is Dada’s image below:

News of Hayward’s death sent his friends and family into throes of mourning. On June 25, Private William Roberts, a soldier in Hayward’s company (Co. D, 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry), wrote a letter, lamenting the loss of his friend:

I regret to state that in the fight for the possession of Pine Bluff on the 15th of the month Harry Hayward was badly wounded in the leg. The ball could not be found, though it was ascertained that it had passed upward. I learned today to my unspeakable sorrow that the poor boy is dead. He died in Genl. Hospital at Chattanooga. The ball it was discovered had penetrated his stomach & mortification ensued. He was a noble, brave, & excellent young man & enlisted with as pure & patriotic a heart as any volunteer who ever swore to defend his Country’s flag. He has been in every battle with the Regiment & never shirked duty once. At the time of his death, he was Orderly Sergt of the Company, & would soon have been promoted to a Lieutenancy. He was, I have every reason to believe, a good & sincere Christian, & I know from conversations with him that he was a firm believer in the New Church Doctrine. His parents are members of the West Bridgewater Society. I hope some fitting obituary may be published in the Messenger regarding him.

‘How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes blest.’


This last line comes from a short poem—“How Sleep the Brave” (1748)—by William Collins. When first written, this poem reminded readers (of the British Empire) that they owed a great debt to their soldiers’ courage.  Roberts believed that such sentiment easily fit the circumstances of the Union’s war against the rebellion.

So, let me pose this poem as a question: “How sleep the brave”? According to a Union soldier, they slept well. The Union troops in Chattanooga worked mightily to make the National Cemetery into a beautiful place, one worthy of honoring the sacrifice. In this case, a detachment from the 13th Ohio laid Hayward’s remains to rest. One member of that detachment described the earnest work that went on:

The National Soldiers’ Cemetery here is eighty to one hundred acres of beautiful rolling land situated high and commanding a beautiful view of Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge, Chattanooga Valley, and all the magnificent scenery therewith. Chaplain Van Horne, of the 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, has the whole charge of laying out and beautifying this great and necessary work. He is indefatigable in pushing forward the work necessary for its completion, and when it is finished, the friends of the poor fallen soldiers may rest assured that their bodies lie in one of the most beautiful and magnificent spots to be seen in our country. Around the cemetery is being built a substantial stone wall, five feet high; also a hedge on the outside and inside. Shade trees will also ornament the outside, while the same attention will manifest on the inside that prevails in our best cemeteries in the North. The cemetery is beautifully laid out in sections, with fine, broad walks. In the centre a magnificent monument is to be erected, and in the centre of each section, one of smaller dimensions. At the entrance there will be a heavy, massive, Gothic structure, which will compare favorably with anything of the kind in the whole country.

There is a large force of detached men at work at the present time in pushing forward its early completion, and it is earnestly hoped that during the present season we can be able to show the people of the North a beautiful cemetery. Every pain and especial care is taken in the burial of the poor fallen soldier at this place. His grave is marked with his name, regiment, company, where killed, or when and where wounded or sickened, and died. And it should be a consolation to the relatives of the dead here to know that no trouble will be occasioned in finding the grave of the father, brother, son, or husband of those who have fallen and are buried on this spot. Chaplain Van Horne is preparing a book, giving a full account of this great work, and in this book the name of every soldier who is buried here. He will be ready to issue this book to the people at an early day. Among the four thousand now buried here are soldiers from every Northern state. It is truly a national cemetery.

Hayward’s remains went beneath the sod and underneath a marker, number 231. By mid-July, the cemetery contained 4,000 bodies. By the end of the war, that number tripled to 12,800. Here is a present-day image of the cemetery:

Hayward did not expect to die, but he was not naïve about his chances. He knew that the upcoming campaign would be deadly. In January, a few weeks after he re-enlisted, he wrote his father: “They tell me I am a Vetran for I have sworn to stand by the Old Flag for 3 years more which means untill the end of the War. I think I can hear you say ‘well done.’ if so, then I am satisfied.  I have not been hasty in takeing upon myself renewed trials and privations, but have thought long and delibritely upon it untill I am convinced that, come what will, I never will be sorry for it.” This image depicts him about one month after he wrote the above lines:

It comforts me that Hayward and the other brave bluecoats at Chattanooga continue to sleep well.

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