Gettysburg Photos

Gettysburg National Cemetery

It’s also not Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who have served their country.  It’s Memorial Day.  The day we remember those who have died in the service of their country.

John A Logan

General John Logan, the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. army, proclaimed the first national Memorial Day.

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

Originally intended to remember the Civil War dead, it is now a day to remember those who died in all wars.  The southern states joined in observing this holiday after WWI.

I am not a fan of war, who is?  In my life I have certainly disagreed with my government’s policies in this area, but no matter where I stand politically, my heart aches for all the young people who gave their lives for my country.  They deserve to be remembered and honored.

My husband and I have many relatives, both dead and living who have served and continue to serve in the U.S. military.  I can remember only one who died on the battlefield.  His name was Hiram Blood and he died at Gettysburg.  This is far enough in the past that all those who felt the pain and loss on his death are gone. I am grateful that I can find only one distant relative to remember on this day.

I have written a bit about the five Blood brothers and how their service was a microcosm of the different approaches men and families had to the Civil War, but this is about Hiram.

Godfrey Library

I discovered Hiram’s fate entirely through serendipity.  I was wandering around the Godfrey Library in Wallingford, Connecticut. The Godfrey is a repository for New England genealogy.  Yet, as I wandered around aimlessly my eye was caught by a row of books on the bottom shelf, Michigan in the Civil War.

Michigan?  We had Civil War people in Michigan.  I picked up the book, the names were in alphabetical order and there was Hiram, with enough information to be sure that that it was our Hiram.  Next to his name it said, “Died at Gettysburg.”  I was stunned.  To this day I cannot articulate why this had such a strong emotional impact.  I do know that my less emotional spouse had the same reaction.  There is something surprisingly moving about having a person, no matter how distantly connected to you, who is also connected to this turning point in American history.

Monument to the Third Michigan infamtry

What of Hiram? Hiram was born in 1844 in Kent County, Michigan. His father was a farmer, his grandfather was something of a bad boy, but eventually settled down to farm, his great-grandfather was a Revolutionary War General.

Hiram’s older brothers were already serving on August 17, 1862, when Hiram marched off to join the army.  He was only 18 when he joined the 3rd Michigan infantry.  What was he thinking?  Was he drawn by duty?  Did he think it would be glorious?  Was he afraid or buoyed by the belief common to young people, that they are immortal?

Hiram was killed less than a year later, on July 2, 1863. He died on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg during a bloody battle in the peach orchard– the peach orchard, such a bucolic name for such a bloody place.

Union dead near the Peach Orchard

I wonder if Hiram died quickly or if he knew he was dying and thought of home and family.  There is a definable moment when we leave this world, when we draw our final breath.  No one should face that moment alone.  We all should have the comfort of a human voice, a human touch, even if it seems we are past any consciousness.  I hate to think of that 19-year-old boy, dying too young, in the midst of horrible carnage, without the comfort he deserved.

I always have a hard time with Memorial Day.  It seems like a day to be observed, not celebrated.  That said, we work hard, a three day weekend and time to enjoy friends and family is a good thing.  My compromise is to have that hotdog, enjoy the official start of the summer, but stop for a while to think about the reason for the holiday.  If I get this blog done early and I stay sober I might even email my Congresswoman and Senators and let them know what steps I think should be taken to limit the sacrifice of our young soldiers.  I urge you to consider joining me in this effort.

Wounded on Morris Island, South Carolina, 1863

For this story, I decided to first present the story that Grandpa Lyle remembered being told as a young boy and then to copy what Grandpa Minor had said in his diary.  The copy of his diary that I have was typed/transcribed/abstracted by, I think, his granddaughter Alberta Minor Flint.  I only have the typed version and have never seen the original, so I don’t know whether this is a true transcription or how much it might have been condensed or abstracted.  I wish I knew where the original is.

Background: my great great grandfather, Charles E. Minor served from 1861-1865 mostly in Company G of the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  In June 1863 he returned to the Regiment, having been detached since August 1862 on a recruiting tour.

Story as told by Grandpa Lyle:

At one time he was stationed on Folly Island, which was a sand dune.  It was nothing more or less than a sand spit within firing distance of Fort Wagner.  And they had to go in at night. In the day time, they were within firing range of Fort Wagner. And they had to go in by raft and by boat at night to land and take all their provisions and everything they needed in, to this island. And they built a sand bag fortification, filled sand bags up and built it and then they got some field, what they called field pieces — artillery — that would fire on Fort Wagner and for a period he was in command of a group.  And at night they would watch for the flash of a gun over there and he would — firing with his pistol — he had a hand gun — and they would fire at the flash, hoping that it would hit somebody. Well somebody at the fort saw his flash and, first thing he knew, a rifle ball came to him. It went through the calf of one leg and the knee cap of the other. He made his way back to the field dispensary, the tent where they took care of them and he said, “My knee cap’s in terrible pain here.” And the man said, “Well, you’re loosing a lot of blood in the other leg.” The calf of the one leg had been completely pierced, but the pain in the knee cap was so intense that he was not aware that he had been pierced by the bullet in his other leg. Following that he was removed from the island and sent to the hospital there.  I don’t know where that was.

But anyway, he had been in the hospital.  His leg had, was infected, and they had given him what treatment they could.  Doctor looked at him and says, “No way. Can’t save that leg.” Said, “We’ll have to take it off tomorrow.” So the next day, in comes the doctor with two assistants and a board. They were going to strap him down to the board and saw the leg off. And there was a bucket of water on a three legged stool right by the side of the head of the bed. My grandfather raised up and he grabbed that stool, tipped the water over toward the doctor, and he raised the stool up over his head, and he said, “You touch me and somebody’s going to get hurt.” And the doctor told his men to walk away and leave him alone. The result was that eventually the leg healed and never had to have his leg amputated. But in those days they did what was the quickest thing. So many men ended up with a peg leg following the Civil War. Amputation was a thing that could save the life.

Charles E. Minor

From Grandpa Minor’s Diary:

Thursday 11th [June 11, 1863] – Took a boat about 4 p.m. yesterday but didn’t get under way till 1 o’clock this morning, and reached Folly Island about 6 a.m.  Found the regt. encamped about 5 miles from the landing.

Folly Island is about 7 miles long and its greatest width 1 mile.  The only vegetation is Pine and Palmetto with a little coarse grass – almost a barren waste.  The 67th has a fine camp on the south side of the Island facing the ocean.  Warm weather but a fine sea breeze.  Sharks, alligators, and serpents we found in considerable numbers.
Met with a warm reception by both officers and men.  Am glad to once more be with the regt.  Am agreeably surprised to find things so pleasant.  The regt. is small but has gained in skill and appearance since I last saw them.

<snip>between then and July 4th the federal soldiers were building batteries on the end of Folly Island in preparation for attacking Morris Island.

July 4 – batteries almost ready on the point.  The intention was to attack today but we are not quite ready.
July 10, 1863 – This morning at 5 o’clock the ball was opened by our batteries and in less than one hour we had all of the east part of Morris Island, guns, tents, and some prisoners.
July 11 – Saturday – More troops crossed over today and preparations are on foot to dislodge the rebs from Fort Wagner, the only point they now hold on the island.  The loss so far has been slight.
July 18 – Saturday – During the past week strong batteries have been erected facing Wagner and at 10 a.m. today they opened fire on the Fort.  At 2 p.m. the fleet moved up and joined their fire with the Batteries on shore.  They kept up a terrific fire until dark, when the infantry were ordered to charge on teh works.  During the day our Co. and Co. C were on picket within 600 yards of the Fort.
July 18 – Saturday – Under this terrible fire from both sides.  As we advanced to the charge we were raked by grape and cannister, cutting us up dreadfully, but the greatest slaughter was at the ditch and ascending the Parapet.  We reached the Fort and help most of it for an hour and a half, but not being reinforced. were obliged to fall back.
Our regiment lost over half their men.  Co.G. lost 13 wounded and 3 killed.
I received four scratches all slight, left hand, left shoulder, right arm, and a ball through my right ear.  All doing well.
July 24, 1863 – At daylight our fleet and shore batteries opened a heavy fire on the forts.  There was a detachment of two Capt. and four Sergts. sent home for drafts to fill up the regiment.  Hope they may succeed.
Aug. 26 – Brigade on picket at the front.  About 7 a.m. I was wounded by a sharp-shooter through both legs, no bones broken.
Sept. 7, 1863 – Our troops took possession of Fort Wagner and Gregg this morning after nearly two months siege.
Sept. 20 – Dressed for the first time since wounded.  Can walk a little.
Oct. 1 – Left hospital.

Disclaimer: I know very little about the Civil War beyond what I remember from my early schooling, but I’m starting to do some reading to find out about it.  I believe that this description by Grandpa Minor is of the assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston harbor that was the basis of the story in the film Glory. If I am right, Grandpa Minor’s regiment, the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was in the charge that was led by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men (aside from the officers).

This is another vignette from my grandfather’s memory.  Lyle M. Denman (my grandfather) was 89 or 90 at the time my mother interviewed him for these stories.  It turns out that his memory was pretty good but not perfect (surprised?) which I know because a typed copy of a Civil War journal written by Grandpa Minor (Charles E. Minor) turned up in the family, to which Lyle added a couple of pages to back in 1969 when he was only about 73.  He gave details to some of these stories and remembered a little more than he did in 1985-86.

Lyle Denman about age 3-4

The stories I am posting now are from the interviews and I haven’t edited them for additional information from the earlier material.  I may expand them in the future.  Anyway, this is one of Grandpa Minor’s stories about being in the Civil War as told to the young boy, Lyle (picture to the right).
“At the time of the Civil War, President Lincoln called for 90-day volunteers. Many of the young men around Wakeman volunteered for the 90 days. And when the 90 days were up, a lot of them returned home. And my grandfather, in great disgust, always talked of them as the 90-day gang. He had very little sympathy or cared very little to mingle with those. He reenlisted for the duration and he stayed on until the, until the war was concluded. And then, following the surrender at Appomattox, instead of asking for a discharge to go home, he volunteered to stay on one year more as an officer to receive, to swear in the Confederates, the people who had seceded had to swear in and be registered as residents of the United States again — because they had seceded from the Union. And he spent one year at, I think it was Falls Church, Virginia, was his headquarters there. And all together, he put in a little over five years for the government at that time.

Now among the one or two little experiences he had. He had been wounded one time and he had been in the hospital. He was wounded five times. But one of the times, he had been in the hospital and he was pretty weak but it was a nice day, in April I believe he said. The weather was pretty nice but he had no overcoat and he went to the quartermaster and got a new overcoat. And it was a little bit chilly and he wanted — the field hospital was located some distance back of the firing line. He was an artilleryman and he made his way up to the field artillery was being fired.

Soldier in Greatcoat by Artillery

Union soldier in overcoat

The infantry was all ahead of them, down in the flats, and they were firing over the head of the infantry on the members of the South — as he termed them, as they called them, the rebels. And he noticed that they were having a problem and he walked over and talked with the commanding officer there and told them that he was an officer in the field artillery and could he be of any help. And he took his overcoat off and folded it carefully and set it on the ground at the base of a tree, because it had warmed up — and was over talking with this field artilleryman when, all of a sudden, come bouncing across the field, a cannonball came across the field, hit the overcoat that was folded up and ripped it to pieces, or tore it to pieces. Had he been sitting there, he would have been killed. He said he had quite a time explaining to the quartermaster what happened to his overcoat!

Another time, the cannonballs that were fired by the rebels, as we’ll call them, as they were called in those days. A cannonball came bouncing across a field there and this one man thought it was just about expended and he tried to stop it with his foot. The result was that he lost his leg. And shortly after that, a notice appeared on the headquarters: ‘Anyone attempting to stop a moving cannonball will be disciplined.’ ”

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Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number (LC-B811-2582B)]

part of Selected Civil War photographs, 1861-1865 (Library of Congress)

Virtually every family in America has a veteran in the family tree, usually lots of veterans. My family is no exception, Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, First World War, Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan; we’ve had relatives in all of them.

There’s a lot of history to be learned when we find out about our families. For me there were the Blood brothers. My husband is a descendant of a Revolutionary War general, Francis Blood. Francis had a grandson also named Francis who was born in New York, but eventually settled in Kent County, Michigan. Francis had five sons who survived to adulthood all coming of age during the Civil War. He also fathered three daughters, but that’s another story for another time. In order of birth we have Orrin, 1834, Charles, 1839, Hiram, 1844, Ephraim, 1846, and Francis, born in 1848. How they dealt with the War seems to me to be a microcosm of Civil War history.

Who went? Orrin, Ephraim, and Hiram all served. Orrin and Ephraim joined the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Orrin at age 27 and Ephraim at 18. The 1st Engineers and Mechanics were similar to the Army Corps of Engineers of today. In a history of the regiment Rick Reuss and his co-authors say, “Their skillful services were required in the mechanical construction of bridges, pontoons, boats, forts, blockhouses, saw mills and in the destruction of the enemy’s railroads. Their efforts throughout the war to self sufficiently build bridges across wide rivers and over deep chasms from materials growing nearby in the forests shows their craftsmen were truly geniuses.” . While the regiment clearly served with honor and endured many hardships they rarely faced battle. The Regiment lost 13 men to enemy fire and 351 men to disease. While the Engineers and Mechanics are a bit atypical, in general, more men died of disease than died of gunshot wounds during the Civil War.                                                                                                                      1st Mechanics Building a Bridge

Did the brothers join because of the relative safety of the regiment or because they knew their skill would be put to best use there? I have no idea. They both survived and returned to Michigan.. Beyond the fact that he survived the war I don’t know much about what became of Ephraim. Orrin married Susan Goodrich in 1868, had 9 children and died in the Old Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids in 1914.

Hiram joined the Michigan 3rd Infantry in July of 1862 at the age of 18 and died one year later at Gettysburg. Was he eager to join, did he have the blessings of his family? Again I have no idea.

Who didn’t go? Charles married Hannah Post in November of 1862. Their fist child was born in April of 1863, and yes I can count and it’s none of my business. In 1863 as the casualties mounted and enthusiasm for the war was declining the North instituted a draft. The South had already begun drafting young men the year before. Charles was subject to this draft and his solution was one that would be unavailable today. He hired a substitute, a young man named Jerome Stickney who served in his place. The 17 year old Jerome signed up on Jan. 2, 1865. He was mustered out on June 13, 1865 and died less than 3 weeks later on June 31. Was his death due to war injuries or disease? Again, I have no idea. Charles Blood fathered 7 more children with Hannah and died in 1899. His death was ruled a suicide. And again I have no idea.

Which brings us to the youngest son, Francis. Born in 1848 he was probably too young to be drafted before to end of the war. He died in 1867 at the age of 18 after being kicked in the head by a horse. Then, as now, farming is a hazardous occupation.

To the best of my knowledge the facts of the Blood story are true. We can only guess at their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. But , then as now, it is a good and useful thing to consider who serves in our military and who doesn’t and why.

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