Received the Medal of Honor for Courage at Chattanooga

John James Toffey (1844-1911) of Jersey City joined the Union army at age 18 when he enlisted for a one year term in the 21st New Jersey Infantry. He immediately reenlisted in the Thirty-third New Jersey Infantry when it was organized in the summer of 1863. Toffey and his comrades, distinctive in their Zouave-style uniforms, reported to the Army of the Cumberland for duty and participated in the Chattanooga Campaign. On November 23, 1863, Toffey rose from his sick bed to fight in the Battle of Orchard Knob. His colonel, George Mindil, ordered him in at a critical moment: The advance line of the Thirty-third had wavered and buckled in a charge under Confederate fire. “I ran across the open field and reached the advance line in time to prevent it from breaking. I reformed the line and we again charged … just as we were carrying the position I received a severe wound,” Toffey explained. He was struck by two rebel bullets. One ripped into his right thigh at the pelvis, fracturing that bone and his leg. The second bullet caused a flesh wound to his other leg. The wounds ended his combat service, and he served the rest of the war in the Veteran Reserve Corps. He received the Medal of Honor in 1897. His “superlatively brave conduct,” noted Col. Mindil, “saved the position, and enabled us on the following morning to press forward the entire line” as it surged up and over Lookout Mountain for another stunning Union victory that spelled doom for Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg.

I wrote about Toffey in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories.

His image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Received the Medal of Honor for Courage at Chattanooga

A Jewish Corporal and Bugler in the Pennsylvania Militia

Max Silberman served a 60-day term of enlistment as a corporal with Company A of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Militia Infantry. The regiment was organized at Philadelphia on July 3, 1863, for the protection of Pennsylvania during Lee’s invasion. It mustered out on September 2, 1863. The back of the mount of the image notes that he was a bugler. Born in Bavaria, Germany, Silberman died in Philadelphia in 1914 and is buried in Adath Jeshurun Cemetery, Section J 529.

Estimates of the participation of Jewish Americans in the Union and Confederate military range from 7,200-10,000.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Jewish Corporal and Bugler in the Pennsylvania Militia

A Pennsylvanian Who Answered the Emergency Call in 1863

This carte de visite of Thomas J. Martin was taken by photographer H. Bishop in Chambersburg, Pa., at some point during the summer of 1863. Martin served a 60-day term of enlistment with Company A of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Militia Infantry. The regiment was organized at Philadelphia on July 3, 1863, for the protection of Pennsylvania during Lee’s invasion. It mustered out on September 2, 1863.

The back of the mount of the image includes Martin’s address, 3000 Richmond St., Philadelphia.

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
A Corporal in the Pennsylvania Militia Infantry

Ed Bearss and “Faces of Gettysburg”

bearssI had the pleasure of speaking to a group gathered yesterday in Greencastle, Pa., for “1863—The Decisive Year of the Civil War.” The two-day event sponsored by the Allison-Antrim Museum and the Franklin County Visitors Bureau was coordinated by Ted Alexander, Chief Park Historian at the Antietam National Battlefield. My talk, “Faces of Gettysburg,” included a brief history of photography and capsule bios of 25 federals whose lives and military service intersected with the three-day Pennsylvania battle.

I arrived at the Green Grove Gardens Event Center about 3 p.m., and upon entering the building heard the distinctive booming voice of Ed Bearss, the Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service perhaps best known for his appearance on the Ken Burns Civil War series. Bearss, who reviewed all three of my books, and I are pictured here soon after he finished his talk about Ulysses S. Grant.

Thanks to Ted for the invitation, and for the opportunity to share soldier stories and images.

New to My Flickr Photostream: Captured During the Bristoe Campaign

This carte de visite of Lester Douglass Phelps was taken in 1865 after he returned from 18 months as a prisoner of war. Phelps (1838-1910) began his war service in the summer of 1861 as a lieutenant in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry. The regiment participated in a number of engagements with the Army of the Potomac, including the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, where it received high marks for its performance by Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, who commanded the cavalry corps of the army: “The distinguished gallantry of the 8th Pa. regiment, in charging the head of the enemy’s column, advancing on the 11th corps, on the evening of the 2nd inst., has excited the highest admiration. * * * The gallant [Lt. Col. Duncan] McVikar, the generous chivalric [Maj. Peter] Keenan, with 15O killed and wounded from your small numbers, attest the terrible earnestness that animated the midnight conflict of the second of May.”

Phelps survived the fight, but was captured in action on Oct. 12, 1863, during the Bristoe Campaign near Sulphur Springs, Va. He spent the rest of the war in prisoner if war camps throughout the South. He gained his released in March 1865 and returned to his regiment in May 1865 at Appomattox Court House. He sent the last weeks of his military service as Provost Marshall of Appomattox County.

He became a probate judge in Connecticut after the war.

This portrait is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Captured During the Bristoe Campaign

My Interview with the Grand Niece of a Gettysburg Veteran

Betty C. SchacherI met Betty C. Schacher, 85, this weekend in Windham, N.Y., and we found a quiet place to talk about her great uncle Simon Pincus. “Uncle Sime,” as she knew him as a little girl, was a kindly elderly gent who was confined to a wheelchair. I captured audio of Betty’s reminiscences of Uncle Sime, who died when she was six. One of her memories was a story he told about his Gettysburg experience. At the time he was a sergeant in Company C of the Sixty-sixth New York Infantry. From the transcript of the audio recording:

He was at the Wheatfield, and, um, I remember thinking, I didn’t know they grew wheat in Pennsylvania (laughter). When we saw pictures of wheat, you know, what was I five years old I was in kindergarten, it was out in Kansas, out in the Midwest somewhere, which to me was a foreign territory.

He told us about this, it was after the battle had quieted down. It was very quiet. I asked him, did the noise frighten him. And he said the silence was worse.

He told us, all of a sudden he saw something move, and it was a Confederate soldier trying to get back to his outfit and he had lost his rifle. And Uncle Sime told him, he better move quick to beat his trigger finger. And Uncle Sime did not shoot him. He let him go back to the unit. And, at first I asked him why, because I was told the Southerners were the enemy. And he said to me, well he was an American, too, and he was unarmed. That’s what he said.

Here’s Betty in the Windham Library. A retired librarian, the setting was most appropriate for our conversation. Uncle Sime survived the war, and mustered out as a second lieutenant. He became a cigar maker in Brooklyn. Lt. Pincus died in 1934.

New on Disunion: The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground

William Harvey CarneyMy latest contribution to the New York Times series Disunion is the story of Sgt. William Harvey Carney of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and how he came to say these immortal words at Fort Wagner.

An excerpt:

Carney climbed the rampart with the Stars and Stripes. “All around me were the dead and wounded, lying one upon top the other,” he observed, describing the scene. “It seemed a miracle that I should have been spared in that awful slaughter. When I recovered from my semi stupor, on account of the scenes of blood about me, I found myself standing on the top of the embankment, all alone. It were folly for me to try to advance, so I dropped on my knees among my dead comrades, and I laid as low and quiet as possible.”

Carney planted the bottom of the flagstaff into the ground as musket bullets and canister shots plowed into the earth near his feet and sprayed sand into the air. “I was almost blinded by the dirt flying around me and nearly distracted by the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying men about me. As soon as I could distinguish anything in the darkness, I could see dimly on one side a line of men mounting the ramparts and going down into the fort. I thought they must be our own men, but in the light of a cannon flash I saw they were the enemy.”

Read the rest of Sgt. Carney’s story.

New on Disunion: An Orange Blossom in the Devil’s Den

DisunionMy latest contribution is now available. The source of the story and the photo is Sean R. Otis, who made contact with me on my Facebook page. I am much obliged to Sean for his efforts.

An excerpt from the story of Capt. Isaac Nicoll:

Nancy and George Hoover looked on as rebels traipsed through the couple’s modest Pennsylvania farm during the days immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg. The disappointed, yet still defiant, Confederates camped in the fields around the Hoover homestead near Waynesboro, about 20 miles west of the battlefield.

On Monday, July 6, 1863, a band of officers entered the Hoover house and made themselves comfortable. Mrs. Hoover later told a local historian that they “were seated at Mr. Hoover’s table partaking of his hospitality, and discussing the great battle and pointing out the causes of their defeat and mistakes they made.”

At one point during the impromptu debate, Lt. Ransom W. Wood of the 20th Georgia Infantry reached into his coat and pulled out a Bible. He had picked the Testament from the pocket of a dead Yankee captain on the battlefield.

Read the full story.

Defending Bliss Barn

Henry Franklin ChewOn July 2, 1863, Capt. Harry Chew and the rest of his company, part of the Twelfth New Jersey Infantry, fought for possession of Bliss Barn at Gettysburg. The outcome of the engagement, and the rest of Chew’s story, is part of the larger narrative of the three-day battle. I originally wrote about Chew at Gettysburg in 2009 for Faces of War, my regular column in the Civil War News. The profile is now available for the first time online.

An excerpt:

Beneath a scorching sun in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Capt. Harry Chew and his company of about sixty muskets from the Twelfth New Jersey scaled the wall of stone that protected their regiment. They thrashed through tall grass for a stretch, angled right, and crossed the Emmitsburg Road. Then they made a dash for the barn belonging to William and Adelina Bliss, a fortress-like structure with a stone first floor and a second story walled in solid oak, its narrow windows perfect for sharpshooters.

The Jerseymen, in support of the First Delaware, moved in and occupied the property. Chew’s company and the Delaware troops fanned out in a skirmish line and brushed back a band of Confederates. Chew and his orderly sergeant took up a new position along a fence at the Bliss house, adjacent to the barn. They watched as distant Confederate cannon fired in their direction, the shot and shell falling short of where they stood. The orderly sergeant suggested that they move out of harm’s way. Chew replied, “We are as safe here as any where, you can’t run away from them things.” At that moment a solid shot crashed into and knocked a picket out of the fence against which the orderly sergeant had been leaning. Chew shouted, “Get out of here,” and the pair ran to the barn.

Read the rest of the story.

A Union Captain Trades His Sword for a Musket at Stones River

WatermanMy latest Civil War News profile is now available. Capt. Richard Mason Waterman of the Thirty-first Indiana Infantry fought courageously at Stones River, where he was captured by Confederates.

An excerpt:

Waterman, “with some of his men were surrounded in the cedar thickets,” according to a newspaper account. “When he was satisfied that his capture was a certainty he pulled his shoulder straps off and hid his sword and side arms, and claimed to be a hospital steward” when questioned by his captors. The article noted, “His action was considered no reflection upon his bravery, but was always considered sharp by his fellow officers, as the rebel authorities were at that time giving union officers very harsh treatment.”

Read his full profile and learn what happened to Waterman and what became of his sword.