Captain Barnes and the Wilderness

barnesThe story of Capt. Dennis Edwin Barnes of the 93rd New York Infantry is now available on the New York Times blog Disunion is now available. An excerpt:

Suddenly the haunting voice of a man in prayer rose above the cries of the wounded. One Union soldier who had nodded off to sleep after that first day of hellish fighting awoke to the sound with a start.

“I never before nor since heard such a prayer,” he noted years later. “It seemed, lying there in the darkness of the night in the woods, that his deep, sympathetic voice, mingled with the voices and groans of the dying ones, sounded as from some other world.”

The soldier recognized the voice. It belonged to Dennis Barnes, his captain, a square-shouldered, six-foot lumberman from New York who was on a self-appointed mission to rescue the wounded from his company after the day’s desperate fighting. Barnes was picking his way across the densely wooded landscape, exhausted and pained from an injury he had suffered to his hand. It was near midnight when he found a corporal who had succumbed to the gaping wound in his belly.

I appreciated this comment on Capt. Barnes’s story by Hal Cheney of Martinsville, Ill.: “One reads so many rather sterile accounts of the Wilderness, that seem to take for granted the horrors of that epic struggle. This recounting by Mr. Coddington, puts a personal face on this human tragedy, while preserving its standing as the unmistakeable beginning of the end for the Confederate States.”

Thank you, Mr, Cheney.

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Union Cavalryman in Vignette

This unnamed officer suffered a foot injury during his Civil War service, as evidenced by a related image.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Union Cavalryman in Vignette

Injured Union Cavalryman Flanked by His Comrades

A carte de visite by W.R. Phipps of Lexington, Ky., pictures a federal officer with a bandaged foot and a pair of crutches. He’s flanked on either side by his comrades.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Injured Union Cavalryman Flanked by His Comrades

On to Washington!

This circa 1861 carte de visite by Kornell W. Beniczky of New York City pictures an unidentified private in the 71st New York State Militia with knapsack and buff accoutrement belts.

This image is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
On to Washington!

“Brave Randall Leaped Upon the Gun”

Randall-WilliamIn 15 years of telling stories of Civil War soldiers and sailors, I’ve never come across a published poem that contained a reference to one of the men that I was researching.

That is, until now.

George Henry Boker’s 1864 Poems of the War includes “On the Cumberland,” an account of the dramatic events during the March 8, 1862, naval Battle of Hampton Roads, Va. The era of wooden warships ended that day when the Confederate ironclad Virginia destroyed the Union gunboat Cumberland.

The crew of the Cumberland fought like hell, and prompted Boker to write his poem. In it, he mentions the current subject of my research, William Pritchard Randall of New Bedford, Mass. By all accounts, Randall inspired all with his actions as the wounded wooden ship breathed her last. This excerpt describes Randall at his gun station. He’s credited with firing the last shot at the “Virginia”:

We reached the deck. There Randall stood:
“Another turn men,—so!”
Calmly he aimed his pivot gun:
“Now, Tenny, let her go!”

It did our sore hearts good to hear
The song our pivot sang,
As, rushing on from wave to wave,
The whirring bomb-shell sprang.

Brave Randall leaped upon the gun,
And waved his cap in sport;
“Well done! well aimed! I saw that shell
Go through an open port.”

It was our last, our deadliest shot;
The deck was overflown;
The poor ship staggered, lurched to port,
And gave a living groan.

Randall survived the battle, and along with George U. Morris, the acting commander of the Cumberland, became heroes. Randall is pictured here in a photograph taken in New Orleans about 1864. Randall remained in the navy after the war, and retired in 1882. He rejoined the navy during the Spanish-American War (1898) and died in 1904.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.

Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

Columbia, or Lady Liberty, sits atop a podium trimmed with material on which is painted or sewn stars and an eagle with wings outstretched. She holds above her head a liberty cap hung from a pole, the traditional symbol of freedom that dates before Roman times. She also holds the shield of the United States, which represents defense, military strength and nationalism. Lady Liberty is flanked by representatives of the Union army and navy. Each holds a staff trimmed with ribbon, to which is attached the Star-Spangled Banner. The flags are crossed to provide a backdrop for Columbia, who they have pledged to defend.

This trio may have participated in one of the popular Sanitary Fairs to support the war effort, or perhaps a July Fourth celebration or other patriotic event. The photograph was taken by C.M. Pierce of Leominster, Mass.

This image is new to my collection, and is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Preserving the Honor of Lady Liberty

“African American Faces” in the Baltimore Sun

sunFred Rasmussen, who writes the popular column Back Story for the Baltimore Sun, featured African American Faces of War yesterday. Fred attended my recent book talk at the Johns Hopkins Club, and I thoroughly enjoyed having he opportunity to meet him. Fred was born in raised in Dunellen, N.J., only a mile or two from my boyhood home in Middlesex.

An excerpt from Back Story:

Some 200,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Union army or navy — some of them were free while others were runaway slaves. They served as soldiers, servants or laborers.

Not only did Coddington, who lives in Arlington, Va., draw on his own collection, he turned to other collectors, historical societies and libraries such as the Beinecke Library at Yale University, which had images of the 108th Infantry of the U.S. Colored Troops in its collection, for instance.

He selected only images of men who were identified by name, which allowed him to go to the National Archives and the Library of Congress, where he was able to go through pension records, revealing a great deal of biographical information on the individuals.

Read the full column.

The Legacy of the Shaw Memorial Is a Steady Drumbeat of Hope

shaw-memorialThe memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry is a masterpiece of American art. It is also a moving monument to the sacrifice of soldiers in war. It is however also a seminal moment in the history of race relations in the United States that illustrates a core narrative at the heart and soul of our larger Civil War story.

This is the summary of a guest post contributed to the Hopkins Press blog. It appeared in advance of tomorrow’s National Gallery of Art exhibit about the celebrated memorial, “Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial.”

Read the full post.

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!

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