Fighting Across the Rappahannock

charles-clarkThe story of Charlie Clark and his experience in the brilliant, brutal affair at Rappahannock Station, Va., is the subject of my latest New York Times Disunion post. This profile would not have happened without Andrea Solarz, who is Charlie’s great-great granddaughter. She generously shared from his unpublished diaries and letters.

An excerpt:

“Charlie Clark basked in the warmth of a budding romance on a cold autumn day in 1863. His friend and fellow lieutenant in the Union Army, Solomon Russell, had fallen for a Southern belle in war-torn Virginia. On the morning of Nov. 7, 1863, the officers left their camp in Warrenton to call upon her. They made their way to the home of the widow Rosina Dixon and found the focus of Russell’s desire: the 15-year-old Anna. Whatever words passed between the Yankee officer and rebel maiden went unrecorded, though Clark referenced the encounter years later in his reminiscences, noting that Russell “was deeply in love” with Anna.”

Read the rest of the story.

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

The Fifty-Fourth Tells It With Pride

mendez-coddington-cruzLast Tuesday night’s reception at the National Gallery of Art for the opening of the new exhibit about the Shaw Memorial and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry was extraordinary.

At one point in the evening, as Anne and I were looking into the case in which my photograph of Maj. John W.M. Appleton was displayed next to his diary (on loan from the West Virginia University), a man came up and introduced himself. He was Carl Cruz, the great-great-grandnephew of Sgt. William H. Carney. Those of you who know the Fifty-fourth remember that Sgt. Carney carried the Stars and Stripes at Fort Wagner. He suffered several wounds that terrible night, and upon returning told a group of survivors, “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

Carl is a great guy, and we had a wonderful chat next to the framed Medal of Honor that Carney received for his actions at Fort Wagner. Carl told me he used to play with the medal, take it to school, show it to his friends!

In this photo, Carl stands on the right. On the left is his cousin, Joseph Mendez.

There were a number of other attendees that we met. Chris Foard is a collector of Civil War nurse photos, letters and other personal items. Several images from his holdings were on display. Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, chatted with Anne and I in front of the Shaw Memorial. Among the topics we chatted about was Benjamin Butler. We had many stories to share, and both agreed that although the political general is known for his sordid dealings in politics, he also had a heart of gold who worked tirelessly for his constituents.

We also met old friends and acquaintances, including curators Sarah Greenough and Lindsay Harris. Sarah provided introductory remarks at the press opening earlier that day (I attended), and her words reflected her deep understanding of the importance of the memorial both as a work of art and as a reminder to us of the courage and sacrifice of the men who served in the regiment.

The exhibit opens tomorrow. It will travel to Boston in early 2014. Don’t miss it!