This Union Veterans’ Post Was Shut for 50 Years. Turns Out, It’s an Amazing Repository of Civil War Stories.

Often missed amongst surviving Civil Battle accounts are the data of the Grand Military of the Republic (G.A.R.). The biggest of all Civil Battle veterans organizations, from 1866 to 1956 the Grand Military of the Republic counted lots of of 1000’s of Union Military veterans amongst its ranks in additional than 10,000 native posts. Whereas voluminous recordkeepers, the G.A.R. didn’t adhere to a agency coverage for data retention upon the closure of a neighborhood publish. Because of this, native publish data have grow to be scattered or misplaced fully.

Among the many most fascinating of G.A.R. data are Private Battle Sketches. Surfacing simply earlier than the flip of the century, these sketches have been compiled from pre-printed questionnaires or via oral histories carried out with the native Put up Historian, who would then transcribe the dictations right into a certain register. These questionnaires would pose veterans with greater than two dozen pointed questions regarding their service throughout the Civil Battle.

Researchers can use any variety of sources to confirm a lot of the data these veterans supplied. Dates of service, rank, organizations, hospital stays—these can all be checked in opposition to service data, a lot of which have been lately digitized.

The G.A.R. membership badge was the primary medal Civil Battle veterans may don to commemorate their service. The brass drop has the G.A.R. seal at heart with crossed rifles, swords, cannons, an anchor, and an infantry horn in every of the arms of the star. (Heritage Auctions, Dallas)

Most intriguing, although, these Private Battle Sketches contact on topics that don’t all the time convey on standardized authorities kinds. On the finish of every questionnaire or interview, the veterans have been requested to call their most intimate comrades throughout their service; what every veteran deemed his most necessary contribution to the warfare; and if there have been any particular occasions they wish to ‘concisely’ report for posterity. Their solutions supply a glimpse into the emotions and reminiscence of those veterans a number of many years faraway from their wartime service. As a result of their solutions weren’t meant for publication and even to be shared exterior the publish, the veterans are seemingly candid or frank of their responses.

The Captain Thomas Espy Put up in Carnegie, Pa., was chartered in 1879 and grew to incorporate greater than 200 members, starting from legal professionals and engineers to coal miners and laborers. Veterans of the Espy Put up served in organizations from 13 states and included infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy in each the Jap and Western theaters. As such, the Espy Put up serves as a very good litmus check for the composition of common G.A.R. posts throughout the nation.

Positioned solely a number of miles away from the Espy Put up was the Colonel Robert G. Shaw Put up, catering completely to African American veterans of the Civil Battle. Based in 1881, the Shaw Put up met for a few years within the thriving African American neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and would boast greater than 275 members, together with 13 veterans who had served underneath Shaw within the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Like their Espy Put up comrades, veterans of the Shaw Put up represented all kinds of regimental organizations.

Regardless of commonalities in geography and their service to the Union, members of the 2 posts did have divergent experiences. Most of the Shaw Put up veterans have been themselves born into slavery throughout the Southern states. Patriotic motives apart, these veterans have been preventing for much extra private causes. Not like their White counterparts who confronted loss of life on the battlefield, in jail, camp, or the hospital, African American troopers, if captured, confronted re-enslavement or execution.

As such, veterans of the Shaw Put up have been justly happy with their service. At an 1891 assembly of the publish, an ornate register for the recording of Private Battle Sketches was donated as “a priceless and esteemed testimonial of…true loyalty and patriotism and esteem for the previous service of those that dared loss of life for the preservation of this nice nation.” The publish acknowledged the significance of recording their wartime experiences, and that on the passing of the final veteran, “our kids and our kids’s youngsters learn with curiosity these traces and cherish the reminiscence of these comrades…when the nice trigger for which they suffered and died shall be identified.”

Though the Espy Put up didn’t have a devoted register for its Private Battle Sketches, dozens of the printed questionnaires survive, penned by the person veterans. In evaluating these Private Battle Sketches from two seemingly disparate G.A.R. posts, a number of widespread themes emerge.

Chartered in 1879, the Thomas Espy Put up moved right into a room within the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in 1906. When the final member died in 1938, the room was locked and left undisturbed for 50 years, preserving its historical past and artifacts comparable to this gavel and block. (Photograph by Melissa A. Winn)

Comradeship was valued by veterans of each posts. Thomas J. Laurel was a veteran of the fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, the one African American cavalry regiment raised in Massachusetts throughout the warfare. Laurel’s service with the regiment would stretch from Petersburg, Va., to far-off Clarksville, Texas. Laurel remarked that “I used to be as loth [sic] to half from my comrades at discharge as I used to be to go away house once I enlisted.” One in every of Laurel’s comrades within the fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, Matthew Lucas, equally mentioned, “I used to be glad the warfare was over and that I may go house…I used to be loath to half from my comrades,” demonstrating the bonds that fashioned with these males who had collectively skilled battlefields and struggling.

In October 1864, William Strother enlisted in its place within the thirty second USCT, and inside weeks discovered himself in line of battle at Honey Hill, S.C. Strother would survive quite a few different engagements throughout the winter and spring of 1865, drawing him “very a lot hooked up to…the comrades of my regiment & firm.”

Augustus Baum associated that his most intimate comrade was “my very own brother, Charles, who died from the consequences of the hardships encountered within the service.” Augustus and Charles Baum had enlisted collectively within the 83rd Pennsylvania in February 1865. Charles died of illness solely 4 months later at Arlington Heights, Va.

Baum’s sketch is notable, as nicely, for his recollection of a distressing incident throughout his first enlistment with the thirty seventh Ohio throughout the winter of 1862.

“What do you deem an important occasions in your service?” the sketch asks, to which he responds: 

May hardly inform. One was when wading throughout the icy Loup Creek, W.Va. waste deep about 20 occasions in a horrible darkish wintry night time underneath command of Gen’l Rosecrans after which stand picket with the moist icy material on until daylight, with out being allowed to make the least mild or fireplace, apart from being handled at identical time with 3 days hunger. The skirmishes and battles after have been insignificant in contrast with the publicity talked about. To state slim escapes or different necessary occasions skilled sounds to egotistical and doesn’t agree with my sense of fine style, irrespective of how intense my want could also be to adjust to what’s desired by the Put up.

James McGrogan of the 62nd Pennsylvania additionally described a harrowing expertise, his on the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. Severely wounded within the left leg, he was left on the sector and captured by Accomplice troops, who eliminated him to a close-by area hospital, the place his leg was amputated.

The Private Battle Sketches saved by the Captain Thomas Espy Put up requested veterans to answer a collection of questions, together with routine details about rank and repair dates, in addition to offering extra intimate particulars about shut comrades and necessary occasions that occurred. (Courtesy of the Captain Thomas Espy Put up)

The primary Battle I feel was at Orange Court docket home Va however quickly got here the memorial [memorable?] 7 Days wherein we have been all engaged till I used to be left on the feild at Malvernd hill[.] We sayed there for 15 days by no means acquired a cup of tea or espresso or any factor to eat besides dough and the maggots working throughout us. I couldn’t describe the horrors we sufferd for the 15 Days. hoping I shall by no means expertise the identical once more.

William Snyder of the 193rd Pennsylvania recalled his most memorable occasion:

Going from Camp Copeland to Baltimore I used to be standing on prime of [train] vehicles and was struck on the top whereas passing underneath a Bridge at York Pa and undergo to at the present time from the Blow I obtained on the time.

Different veterans additionally recall damaged well being from their service that continued to plague them of their later years. David Hartzell of the twenty second Pennsylvania Cavalry associated that “my bodily well being has been vastly damaged down from a complication of ailments contracted whereas within the providers of america,” together with kidney issues, persistent diarrhea, rheumatism, catarrh of the abdomen, and basic debility. John Trimble, a veteran of the laborious preventing 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, boasted of getting had “nearly as good well being…as any man within the service,” however contracted “ague, chills and fever close to Petersburg VA in summer time of 1864 and have by no means been in a position to get clear from the consequences. And I’ve it yearly but.”

Most evocative among the many Private Battle Sketches for the Espy and Shaw posts are the accounts of these troopers who frolicked as prisoners of warfare. John Chaplin of the third Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery served as a guard over Normal W.H.F. ‘Rooney’ Lee at Fort Monroe following Lee’s seize at Brandy Station, Va. Lee was later exchanged, and Chaplin was himself wounded and captured on the Battle of Chilly Harbor. 

Was a guard over Genl Lee (Jr) in Fortress Monroe Va. and prevented him from escaping there. Once I was captured I used to be taken to his tent and he acknowledged me, however gave me good remedy and my wound was handled higher after seeing Gen Lee.

Mathew Nesbit, a former slave, served briefly as a servant within the eighth Iowa Cavalry earlier than enlisting in Firm E, forty fourth U.S. Coloured Troops. At Dalton, Ga., on October 13, 1864, Nesbit and greater than 700 of his comrades have been captured in what can be the only largest give up of African American troops throughout the Civil Battle. Although wounded from a clubbed musket, Nesbit was decided to keep away from a destiny outlined almost two years earlier than by Accomplice President Jefferson Davis—that he and his comrades be returned to a state of slavery, and even face execution. In his sketch he reveals his story:

Mathew Nesbit first inlisted the 14th day of June 1864 at Chattanooga Tenn as Personal in Firm E 44 regiment of collar volleters for a interval of three 12 months and as following in Tennsee, Georgia, Misspia, Alabama. On ore about September 1864 was taken prisner of warfare at Dalton Georga and was wonde within the sholders with the stroke of a mustket and brok jail close to Carent Miss and was recaptured close to sumervill Alabama. Brok jail close to Gunters Vill Allabama on the march from Chattanooga Tenn July 1864. Was sick from the mesals however marched the hol approach with out medson or atenton to Rome Georga. The mesals went in on me deurn time of my imprison. I undergo with the afect. About Ap 1864 I went within the eighth Iowa Calvry Firm H. That was captin Mat Woldon’s Co and on the Batel Actworthe the, the Batel of Huge Shan all occasions at first of Batt of Kennesaw Mouten. This was befor I inlisted within the 44 Reg of infray.

I used to be a slave and was ond by William Nesbit of Gorden County Georga. On the clos of the warfare I used to be muster out of sirvis at Nashville Tenn in Apr 30 1866.

Sketches for the Colonel Robert G. Shaw Put up have been recorded by the Put up historian and dictated by its Black members, a few of whom had been enslaved and couldn’t learn. Just like the Shaw Put up members, this unidentified Black veteran hailed from Pittsburgh, Pa. (Troopers & Sailors Museum & Memorial Belief, Inc. Pittsburgh Pennsylvania; Library of Congress)

One other Shaw Put up veteran, Edward Logan of the fifty fifth Massachusetts, relates being captured with two of his comrades at North Edisto, S.C. in November 1863. Logan “thought that we was completed for positive, as Jefferson, the Accomplice President, had issued orders to hold the entire n___r troopers that was captured preventing with the Yankees.” As an alternative, Logan and his comrades have been despatched to a collection of jail camps, and after 15 months Logan was the one one of many three to outlive the ordeal. “I don’t know the way I did dwell to come back out,” he marveled, confessing, “I used to be no good as a soldier afterwards.” In closing, he shared a sentiment seemingly felt by many prisoners of warfare, “I didn’t see a lot of the warfare, however I used to be in a a lot worse place than the battlefield.”

Charles McDonald, a veteran of Battery I, 2nd Illinois Gentle Artillery, was captured by troopers of the forty fifth Alabama at Huge Shanty, Ga., on June 7, 1864, and would finally be despatched to 5 totally different jail camps. An incident at Camp Sorghum in Columbia, S.C., caught with him specifically. On October 13, 1864, Lieutenant Edward B. Parker of Battery B, 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery, died of accidents obtained from bloodhounds whereas attempting to flee from the jail. In his Private Battle Sketch, McDonald wrote about an equally grisly incident in December 1864 associated to Parker’s loss of life:

From February 14th 1865 I used to be held prisoner at Charlotte N.C. just a few days from thence to Raliegh N.C. from there to Goldsboro N.C. the place on March eleventh taken for change or fairly parole. In reference to my jail life there may be one incident which occured Dec eighth 1864 at Camp Sorghum Columbia that was harmful and thrilling. I with my very own hand killed two blood hounds that was saved there for the especial goal of working down and tearing to loss of life prisoners who escaped. The loss of life of 1 Lieut Parker being most beastly and inhumane I used to be anxious to avange which I did.

4 days later, McDonald was transferred from Camp Sorghum and was launched from confinement in March 1865.

Many veterans expressed a way of patriotism and satisfaction in having served their nation. William Chambers, who spent two years with the 88th Ohio guarding Accomplice prisoners at Camp Chase, mentioned he enlisted “to save lots of our nation.” Reese Evans of the one hundred and tenth Pennsylvania was proud that “I supplied my providers to my nation.” Isham Lafayette of the 2nd USCT

Cavalry deemed “an important occasions of my service was to be all the time in a position and prepared to do my obligation. 

At the least one veteran, Daniel H. Rice of the 102nd Pennsylvania, remained defiant after the passage of a number of many years. Whereas Rice’s service data point out he was drafted and mustered into service in July 1863, Rice claims in his Private Battle Sketch that he had truly entered the service with the regiment in March 1862. He claims that whereas on the best way to fulfill the regiment, he and 25 males have been attacked by a celebration of guerrillas, throughout which the officer in cost misplaced his satchel, containing the proper enlistment papers. As such Rice asserts that his descriptive data have been incorrect as a result of “they filed up papers in Washington to swimsuit themselves to carry us within the military.”

Lastly, even a number of many years faraway from the battle, lots of the veterans have been merely grateful to have survived. Espy veteran John Trimble remarked with pleasure, “I used to be in it and lived to see the top of it, and the glory now of being one which helped to finish a revolt.” George D. Grouse, a veteran of the eighth USCT who suffered a painful leg wound on the Battle of Olustee, Fla., in February 1864, famous that “essentially the most attention-grabbing occasion of my soldier life was that I used to be not killed in a few of the battles that I used to be engaged in.” Enoch Holland of the ninth Pennsylvania Reserves recalled his most necessary occasion throughout his service was “being shot at and attempting to maintain from being hit,” whereas Captain William J. Glenn of the 61st Pennsylvania, wounded at Charlestown, W.Va., in August 1864, famous that “I merely, reverently, thank God that I’m a survivor.”

A easy Google search finds that a number of libraries and archives have digitized varied Private Battle Sketches from their collections, together with the sketches of the Espy Put up veterans, accessible at The Private Battle Sketches of the Shaw Put up are a part of a set of greater than 2,000 sketches held at Troopers & Sailors Memorial Corridor in Pittsburgh. These accounts supply a terrific useful resource for evaluating the experiences and reminiscence of the widespread soldier in his personal phrases.

Jon-Erik Gilot is a contributing historian at Rising Civil Battle. He works as an archivist and public historian in Wheeling, W.Va., and since early 2021 has served as Curator on the Captain Thomas Espy Grand Military of the Republic Put up in Carnegie, Pa.


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