Friday, May 31, 2019

Cards and Liquor: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 6.

In my past four posts, I have examined several images depicting the 119th Pennsylvania at rest. Here is one more for the road.

Here, we can see the Pennsylvanians playing cards and displaying some of their alcohol. 

Presumably, most of these men belonged to Company E, whose commander, Captain William Gray, can be seen standing in front of a log hut near the horizon. 

It is sobering to contemplate the fact that these soldiers would experience horrendous fighting during the last year of the war. Three of them would be killed during the Overland Campaign. Seven others would be wounded by the same fighting. One would be killed in the Shenandoah Valley. Three others would be wounded near Petersburg in 1865. One would die of disease and another would desert. Six would be taken prisoner and three of those would die at Andersonville. 

When this photograph was taken, they had a long way to go before they could celebrate victory.

It’s nice to see them here, at ease, before all of that hell commenced.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Unknown Officer: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 5.

In the last few posts, I’ve profiled some of characters in a photograph depicting the officers of the 119th Pennsylvania. Now it’s time to examine this fellow here:

Here’s the thing, I have no idea who he is. I would dismiss him as an inconsequential character except that he appears in two of the other photographs in this series. You can see him standing in front of Company E in this photograph. (You will also recognize Captain William C. Gray from a previous post standing on the left side of the same company.)

Also, you can see this same unnamed lieutenant in this photograph, standing alongside several sergeants and Captain Gray.

Here is a close-up:

At first glance, I assumed he must have been Company E’s second lieutenant, Joseph A. Seffarlan; however, Seffarlan was dismissed from the service in December 1863, before these photographs were taken. Thus, I don’t think it is him. 

Further, not every soldier in these two images belonged to Company E. There is another company (unidentified) in the first photograph and two first sergeants in the second. (One of the first sergeants—the one in the middle—is James Dutton of Company E, but I do not know the other one.)

So, I’m stumped as to the identity of this particular officer. However, I’ve been able to narrow it down.

In the winter of 1864, the 119th Pennsylvania possessed only five second lieutenants:
  • 2nd Lt. Henry C. Warner
  • 2nd Lt. George G. Lovett (who was killed-in-action at the Wilderness)
  • 2nd Lt. Samuel L. Ward, Jr. (who resigned March 12, 1864)
  • 2nd Lt. Edward Ford
  • 2nd Lt. Alfred Hannings (who was assigned on December 23, 1863, but apparently never mustered)

This young officer must be one of these five, but I worry I won’t be able to figure it out. I guess this is part and parcel of the experience of working with Civil War photographs. Sometimes, there are things that will never be known. Yet, for some reason, I feel as if there is another story that needs to be told. Frustratingly, it’s just out of my reach.

Alas, the curse of the historian. Somehow, I must know the unknowable!

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Few Remaining Threads: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 4.

In the last few posts, I’ve examined a photograph depicting the field and staff of the 119th Pennsylvania at their winter encampment at Wellford’s Ford. I’ve tried my best to identify as many of them as possible. So far, I’ve offered tales for Major Henry P. Truefitt, Jr., Lt. Col. Gideon Clark, and CaptainWilliam Gray

Happily, I was able to attach names to two other faces.

The young man standing third from the left is Quartermaster Sergeant William Ellis Tucker. 

Here is QM Sgt. William Ellis Tucker.

Here is another photograph of him so you can match him up.

QM Sgt Tucker.

I don’t know much about Q.M. Sergeant Tucker, other than that he enlisted in September 1862 (when the 119th Pennsylvania first formed) and that he mustered out with the rest of his regiment in June 1865. 

Also, I’m guessing he was a Republican. I discovered this letter written on October 12, 1864, from Sheridan Hospital, a 200-tent facility in Winchester. It appeared in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin. Evidently, it was written by him. In it, Tucker shares his opinion concering the upcoming election:

We are in fine spirits, and confident of a speedy ending of the war, together with the re-election of Mr. Lincoln, for whom there will be an almost unanimous vote polled here, as, at an election held yesterday in our regiment, for the State officers, the result was as follows—Union ticket, 115; Democratic, 18. Our term of service will expire on Sept. 1st, 1865, and we hope ere that to see our present distracted country restored to its former happy state, and that the (would-be) missing stars may be shining forth radiantly upon the National flag in every Southern State of this model of all countries.

Another identifiable character in the line-up is the officer seated second from the right, the one with the pipe. He is Adjutant John D. Mercer. 

Adjt. John D. Mercer

Like Tucker, Adjutant Mercer enlisted when the 119th Pennsylvania first formed, but he died during the war’s last week. He was mortally wounded on April 2, 1865, during the 6th Corps attack on the Petersburg entrenchments—the so-called Petersburg Breakthrough. In that battle, the 119th Pennsylvania lost one officer (Mercer) and four men killed. It is quite sad to think that Mercer survived the engagements at Second Fredericksburg, the Overland Campaign, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and the Siege of Petersburg, only to die during the last grand offensive in the East. 

According to Bates’s History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, the soldiers of the 119th buried Mercer in an open field, 200 yards southeast of Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

Is this where Adjt. John D. Mercer is buried? The field south of Poplar Grove National Cemetery?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Protesting the McClellan Testimonial: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 3.

In this latest series of posts, I’ve been busy profiling Union soldiers pictured in an incredible image. It shows the field and staff of the 119th Pennsylvania encamped at Wellford’s Ford. In the previous posts, I introduced you to the tale of the valiant Major Henry Truefitt, who fell at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle, and the tale of the disgraced Lt. Col. Gideon Clark, who reclaimed his honor thanks to a timely interview with Abraham Lincoln.

Now it’s time to profile this fellow with the beard.

Here is Captain William C. Gray, the commander of Company E, 119th Pennsylvania.

This is Captain William C. Gray of Company E. Captain Gray mustered in on August 10, 1862. On June 29, 1864, long after this photograph was struck, he acquired the rank of major, replacing Major Truefitt, who was killed in action. And during the final days of the war, Gray took command of the 119th Pennsylvania, relieving Lt. Col. Clark who fell wounded at the Battle of the Petersburg Breakthrough, April 2, 1865.

So what about Captain Gray? What story do I have to tell? I don’t have much information on him, except that he participated in a little-known protest that reverberated through the ranks of the Army of the Potomac. Gray led a campaign to object to the circulation of the “McClellan Testimonial.”

For those of you who have never heard of it, the McClellan Testimonial was an effort by Democratic officers within the Army of the Potomac to amass a massive fund to purchase a “mark of respect”—a presentation sword, most likely—to honor Major General George B. McClellan. The idea originated from an officer attached to Major General George Meade’s headquarters staff, and in September 1863, the Democratic officers began circulating a document asking the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac to donate a portion of their monthly salaries to fund the gift. (Specifically, it asked privates to donate 10 cents, non-commissioned officers to donate 25 cents, lieutenants to donate $1, captains to donate $1.50, colonels to donate $5, brigadier generals to donate $10, and major generals to donate $20.) The circular predicted the reward would reach $50,000.

A few regiments objected to his obnoxious request, claiming that it wasn’t intended to be a charitable gift to McClellan for all his years of service, but instead, it had been hatched as a political scheme to boost his chances at becoming the next Democratic front-runner in the election of 1864. Several regiments published objections to the circular, arguing that army officers had no right to ask soldiers to participate in such an overtly political act. The 60th New York stood out as the most famous of these regiments. But, the 119th Pennsylvania joined in as well. Captain Gray and another officer, Captain James Dykes, organized the anti-testimonial resolutions. When completed, the other officers endorsed them and sent them to their local newspapers as proof the army was not uniformly in favor of the Democratic Party’s aggrandizement of McClellan. Here’s what Gray’s resolutions stated:

Resolved, That we consider the movement as an ingenious political scheme, designed for some other object than as a mark of respect to General McClellan; or if not so designed, it will be used by political demagogues as a weapon for the accomplishment of their unholy purposes.
Resolved, That while making this declaration, we are unwilling to believe that General McClellan has any knowledge of its object or purposes.

Beyond this, I have little else to say about Captain Gray. But his resolutions tell us quite a bit about his character. Few regiments in the Army of the Potomac had the courage to stand up to the McClellan Testimonial, but thanks to Gray’s leadership, the 119th Pennsylvania did. Right or wrong, Gray let future generations know where he stood.

Here's the image of the 119th Pennsylvania's field and staff. Captain Gray, the author of the anti-McClellan Testimonial resolutions, can be seen standing at left.

This photograph, likely taken the same day as the one above, Captain Gray and his unit, Company E, 119th Pennsylvania, stand at attention. Captain Gray can be seen standing third from the left with his sword drawn. Company E is the unit standing at left-center. The other unit--the one standing at right-center--is a different company. Sadly, I do not know which one it is.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Dishonor and Redemption: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 2.

In the last post, I told the story of Major Henry P. Truefitt, Jr., an officer who appeared in a little-known photograph of the 119th Pennsylvania.

In today’s post, I’d like to profile another personality from that image. This fellow:
Here is Lt. Col. Gideon Clark, the dishonored commander of the 119th Pennsylvania. Somehow, he convinced Abraham Lincoln to reinstate him.

The man seated at the right is the 119th Pennsylvania’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gideon Clark. He was born on June 19, 1822. Before the war, he worked as an engraver. Like Truefitt, Clark also served in the Gray Reserves, one of Philadelphia’s premier militia regiments. Clark was among the first men from Philadelphia to volunteer for service in the Civil War, becoming the 17th Pennsylvania’s adjutant. After serving in that regiment—which operated for only three months—Clark helped raise a three-year unit, the 119th Pennsylvania, and mustered in as its lieutenant colonel on September 1, 1862. 

Clark fought with his regiment in most of its engagements. However, he suffered a black mark when he showed up drunk at the Battle of Rappahannock Station, November 7, 1863. According to Captain Edwin Landell, who witnessed the unfortunate incident, just as the 119th’s skirmishers made contact with the enemy, “Colonel Clark came riding up after he had been out toward the front having the appearance of an officer very much under the influence of liquor. . . . He swayed to and fro on his horse . . . and with apparent difficulty dismounted and lay down and went to sleep.”

Eyewitnesses disputed what happened next. Some claimed that Clark missed the whole battle, while others contended he slept off his stupor and joined in the attack, albeit in a laconic way. Whichever version of events happened, the other officers of the 119th Pennsylvania couldn’t ignore Clark’s misbehavior, and through their collective efforts, they had him ousted from the regiment. 

In January 1864, twelve concerned officers signed a petition demanding an investigation of Clark’s conduct during the Battle of Rappahannock Station. One of them wrote that, they, jointly, “decided  . . . to use every means in our power to prevent his promotion to the colonelcy.”

In early April 1864, Lt. Col. Clark faced a court martial. Surprisingly, Clark defended himself, and although the court produced a split decision, it acquitted him of the charge of being drunk on duty. However, Clark could not manage an acquittal for a second charge that came alongside it—a charge of filing a false report about regimental strengths. Apparently, Clark’s detractors worried that the dereliction of duty charge might not stick, so they appended this additional charge, just in case. 

It worked. On April 25, Clark was relieved of command and he left the 119th Pennsylvania’s winter quarters at Wellford’s Ford. (Clearly, this photograph was taken before that day.)

For the next two weeks, Clark began writing to friends in high places, trying to get himself reinstated. On May 10, the same day his regiment participated in “Upton’s Charge” against the Mule Shoe Salient, Clark found himself inside the White House, ready to speak to the President. A mutual acquaintance—a federal judge—was supposed to introduce him, but he never showed. Undaunted, Clark walked to the door of the Oval Office and knocked.

Lo and behold, Abraham Lincoln answered.

Characteristically friendly, Lincoln opened the door and invited Clark into his office, allowing the disgraced officer a chance to tell his story.

Clark told it, and he told it well. Apparently, he convinced Lincoln of his innocence, who immediately signed an order reinstating him. Two days later—the same day that Major Truefitt fell in battle—the adjutant general of Pennsylvania restored Clark’s rank and ordered him to report to the front. On May 18, Clark rejoined his regiment and resumed command. He held that command until April 1865. During the April 2, 1865, assault on Petersburg, Clark received a gunshot wound to the leg that cost him a large portion of his tibia. As a result, he received the rank of brevet brigadier general, an award for his meritorious service.

Amazingly, Clark had reclaimed his honor. 

You might all be wondering: was Clark truly guilty of dereliction of duty or was he merely railroaded by twelve jealous junior officers? Well, that question is beyond the scope of this post, and quite frankly, I don’t believe I have enough evidence to judge properly. But it is enough, I think, to see Lt. Col. Clark here, confident and self-assured, pictured just weeks (or perhaps days) before his bitter court-martial.

Here's another look at the photograph of the field and staff of the 119th Pennsylvania. Seated at right, you can see Lt. Col. Clark.

Clark remained in Philadelphia politics for the rest of his life, serving as Master Warden of the Port and Director of Wills. He died on May 24, 1897, at age 74. He is interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Killed at the Bloody Angle: Photographing the 119th Pennsylvania, Part 1.

Awhile back, I drafted a series of posts that profiled a famous set of photographs depicting the 93rd New York while it was encamped at Bealton, Virginia, in August 1863. Recently, I came across another set of images depicting an Army of the Potomac regiment at ease. Specifically, there are four photographs showing the 119th Pennsylvania bivouacked in its winter quarters at Wellford’s Ford, Virginia.

I’m not certain when the photographs were taken, but judging by the people depicted in them, they were probably taken in January, February, or March 1864. Sometimes, it’s difficult to unearth truly meaningful stories from Civil War photographs, and quite honestly, I’m not sure there’s much I can say about them overall, except that they are awesome depictions of Army of the Potomac soldiers during the quiet period in between the end of the Bristoe Station Campaign and the beginning of the Overland Campaign.

However, one of the four photographs has more than one interesting story associated with it. It’s this one here:

This photograph depicts the officers and non-commissioned staff of the 119th Pennsylvania. The subject of this post is seated at left, Major Henry Paul Truefitt, Jr.

It depicts the officers and non-commissioned staff of the 119th Pennsylvania standing in front of a winter hut. For the next few posts, I’d like to profile some of the people in this photograph and tell you their stories. Individually, these tales aren’t that compelling, but taken together, they really make the viewer appreciate this image as a piece of Army of the Potomac history.

The first personality I’d like to profile is this fellow here, the officer seated on the left. In the original image—which is owned by the Massachusetts branch of MOLLUS—he’s the only one labeled. 

Here's a close-up of Major Henry P. Truefitt, Jr., an officer who was killed-in-action at Spotsylvania Court House, May 12, 1864.

He is Major Henry Paul Truefitt, Jr. Here’s another image of him, taken prior to the Civil War.

This image depicts Henry Truefitt prior to the war. Likely, this image was struck in his hometown of Philadelphia.

I don’t know much about Truefitt; however, I can say that when this image was taken, he didn’t have long to live. Major Truefitt was killed-in-action on May 12, 1864, at the Battle of the Mule Shoe Salient. Quite possibly, this was the last photograph ever taken of him.

Truefitt had been a member of the Gray Reserves, a prewar militia regiment that filled the officer corps of the 119th Pennsylvania. Here, you can see another image of him, wearing the characteristic gray uniform of that regiment.

Here's one last image of Truefitt (shown as second lieutenant). Here, he is wearing the uniform of the Gray Reserves, an antebellum militia regiment assigned to the city of Philadelphia. Clearly, Truefitt never gave up on his mustache, did he?

When he mustered into the 119th Pennsylvania, Truefitt started out as the captain of Company G, but on April 4, 1863, he received a promotion to major. He assumed command of the 119th on April 25, 1864, when the regiment’s lieutenant colonel was cashiered by the War Department (the subject of a future post). Truefitt led his regiment at the Battle of the Wilderness and the battles around Spotsylvania Court House, but he fell dead while leading his it against Confederate-held earthworks near the McCoull farm.

Strangely, little is known about Truefitt’s death. Even though he commanded a regiment, I’ve never seen a single eyewitness account describing his final moments. This, I think, is testament to the confused nature of the fighting at the Mule Shoe’s “Bloody Angle.” That is to say, so much happened there so quickly that no living person ever recorded the particulars of Major Truefitt’s death.

However, I know a little bit about Truefitt’s burial. Specifically, I know that Truefitt was buried on the battlefield and I know where he was buried.

Pay attention to this other fellow in the photograph. This is Captain Charles Noble, Jr., who served on the staff of Maj. Gen. David Birney.

This close-up depicts Captain Charles Noble, Jr., who helped bury Major Truefitt near the Landrum House.

Here is another photograph of him.

During the Overland Campaign, Captain Noble served on the staff of Maj. Gen. David Birney, as A.D.C.

And another.

Here is Captain Noble posing for a photograph with the staff of the 10th Corps.

Back in 1862, Noble mustered-in as first lieutenant, Company G, 119th Pennsylvania—Truefitt’s company. Some of you might remember that I mentioned him in a previous post. Captain Noble testified against Brig. Gen. J. H. Hobart Ward following Ward’s unceremonious retreat atop a caisson during the Battle of the Wilderness—part of my series of Hobart Ward posts.

After Truefitt fell, the soldiers of Company G sought out Captain Noble and told him about his friend’s death. Even as the Battle of the Mule Shoe still raged around them, Noble and the enlisted men dragged Truefitt’s body to the rear of the Union line and buried it. In a letter that someone eventually forwarded to Truefitt’s younger sister, Emmy, Noble included specifics about the burial. Noble said he buried Truefitt under an apple tree adjacent to the Willis Landrum House. Here’s his letter, dated May 13, 1864:

Yesterday morning, 10 A.M., I had the melancholy duty of burying Major Henry P. Truefitt of my Regt. He was killed an hour after the Regt. went into action yesterday morning and some of the men of the Regt. carried his body to where I was when I took charge of it and gave it a decent burial.
I would send it to his family but I cannot find any opportunity of doing so. I have his watch. A rebel took all the little things he had on him which I will send to his family as early as possible. I had him buried under an apple tree near Laundrum House.

Here is a painting by Keith Rocco—made in conjunction with the National Park Service—showing the Landrum House before the battle. Somewhere on the property stood an apple tree which gave shelter to Truefitt’s bones.

This is Keith Rocco's rendition of Willis Landrum's house. Somewhere on the property, Capt. Charles Noble laid Maj. Truefitt to rest.

I wonder if Truefitt’s remains are still there. Presently, a memorial exists at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, honoring Truefitt; however, Samuel P. Bates’s History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers indicates that, as of the publication of his roster, Truefitt was “buried in Wilderness Burial Grounds.” I don’t have a solid answer, but I lean toward the assumption that Truefitt’s earthly remains are still planted in Virginia soil.

Years ago, I read several of Truefitt’s letters to his sister, which are preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I remember him being an attentive brother who shared his feelings about life, duty, and the hopefulness of victory. So, I can be certain about one thing: no matter where Henry Truefitt is buried—either in Virginia or in Pennsylvania—his sister cried many tears when she learned of his death.