Wednesday, April 20, 2022

More on Book Talks

   As mentioned in my previous post, I am going to conduct a series of Book Talks around southwestern Pennsylvania in June to promote my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment in the Civil War. The men from this regiment hailed from the counties of Greene, Washington, Fayette and Somserset.

    The dates are as follows:

June 13       Amwell, Washington County           Amwell Municipal Buidling                 7 p.m.

June 14       Waynesburg, Greene County         Cornerstone Genealogical Society    7 p.m.

June 15       California, Washington County        Center in the Woods

June 16       Connellsville, Fayette County          Crawford Cabin                                6 p.m.

   In order to focus more intently on the local history aspect of the regiment, at each talk, I am going to highlight a soldier or soldiers from that particular town.

Amwell: I will feature James and Moses Smith, brothers who served in Company B. Both survived the war, although Moses was captured and had to endure the deprivations of the Andersonville prison in Georgia. Both James and Moses [shown here] were two of the longest living members of the regiment.

Waynesburg: The  focus here will be on Lieutenant Marquis Lafayette Gordon of Company G. Gordon served for a time with his father, Adam, the first school superintendent for Greene County. M.L. Gordon survived the war. He earned advanced degrees in medicine and theology and spent many years as a medical missionary in Japan.

California: The spotlight will be on William Mahaney of Company C. He ran away at age 17 to join the Union army. Mahaney has the distinction of being the longest living member of the regiment. He died in 1944 at age 99 and is buried in the Highland Cemetery.

Connellsville: This town was the home of Henry L. Regar. He served as a drummer boy in the Mexican War and was the principal musician for the 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War. When he passed away, he was the longest living Pennsylvanian who served in both wars.

I will post more details about these book talks in the near future.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Talks

 I have scheduled four speaking engagements in the middle of June to talk about my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. The books will be available for a discount. These events are listed on my speaking/page on this blog. More information will be available soon. Thanks.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Review: Such Hard and Severe Service

 Here is a facebook page that has a link to a full review of my book about the 85th Pennsylvania entitled, "Such Hard and Severe Service." It is written by Brett Schulte, who has a comprehensive website about the Petersburg, VA front during the Civil War.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Volume II is now available!

 It's ready!

Volume II of my history of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment is available for sale at the following:

This volume picks up the story of the 85th PA at the beginning of 1864. They are stationed on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for basically a few months of R & R. Then in the spring it's back to the war in Virginia in the Bermuda Hundred. This is followed by the Appomattox Campaign where the remaining men in the regiment play a crucial role in Lee's surrender.
There are a few chapters of which I am particularly proud. Volume II has a chapter on a large-scale POW exchange at the end of 1964 in which 55 men from the regiment serve as guards. There has not been a lot written about this aspect of the war by historians.
The Appomattox chapter also has some relatively new scholarship. Most historians have written about the pursuit of Lee from the rear. My chapter mainly concerns the Army of the James (including the 85th PA) which was tasked with speed marching around Lee to cut off his last avenue of escape to the south and west.
Volume II has an in depth look at the diary of Captain Richard Dawson of Uniontown, who provides an inside look at the officers and actions of the regiment, particularly in 1864.
I have included a chapter on regimental reunions that took place around western Pennsylvania between 1872 and 1928.
Finally, I have included a set of appendices at the end of the book that charts the soldiers' service, sources, and lists of those who died during and after the war.
I would like to thank the following: Travis Snyder for reviewing my books, historians Will Greene and Patrick Schroeder for valuable advice and input, and publisher BJ Omanson of Monongahela Books for valuable guidance and efforts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

George S. Fulmer and the Reunion Gavel

Pittsburgh Press
12-23-1894   P.16

          Several members of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment had highly successful careers following the war. Captain Robert P. Hughes of Little Washington, who enlisted as a private, rose the rank of major general in the army. Entrepreneur Norman Bruce Ream from Somerset County became one of the wealthiest men in the country. Edward Campbell became a judge in Uniontown, Fayette County.

         Another member of the regiment who prospered was Sergeant George Sisson Fulmer of Company D, who moved to Pittsburgh after the war and became a highly successful building contractor. 

         In addition to his business, Fulmer became a driving force in the 85th Pennsylvania Regimental Association and as its president, organizing reunions from 1882 to 1905.
         At the 1887 reunion in Uniontown, Fulmer displayed a gavel which was used during the formal meeting at the start of the session prior to the dinner, campfire and parade which ensued.
        A local newspaper reported that, "President Fulmer read an interesting history and statistical report of the old regiment, comprising the number of men at date of muster in and discharge; number of killed, wounded and discharged in each company, and other statistical information which he himself had complied. At the conclusion of the reading he gave an interesting description of a trip which he took during the past summer to Fair Oaks and adjacent places over which the regiment had tramped in the war of the ‘60’s. On the battlefield of Fair Oaks, he cut a limb from a hickory tree and on his return home made a gavel from it on one end of which is the inscription “85th Regiment Penna. Volunteers” and on the other “Fair Oaks.” He presented it to the Association to be used at their meetings. On motion of Secretary [James T.] Wells, the relic was received with a vote of thanks. [Washington (PA) Weekly Reporter, 9-1-1887]
Weekly Courier, Connellsville, PA, 11-     17-1905      p.9

           The Battle of Fair Oaks, also known as Seven Pines, in May/June of 1862, was the first battle in which the regiment participated. It was also the costliest in terms of killed and wounded. About 25 men were killed and another 50 or so were wounded. Fulmer's Company D was on picket duty when the Confederates under General Joseph Johnston launched an attack. Against at least 2-to-1 odds, the 85th Pennsylvania and their division held their ground long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The three day battle ended in a draw with over 10,000 combined casualties.

        Following Fulmer's death, the regimental gavel presumably continued to be used until 1928 at the 56th and final reunion. In 1905, failing in health, Fulmer was for the first time unable to attend a regimental get-together, which in that year was held at Connellsville, Fayette County. A resolution was read in his honor. 

       Shortly after the 1905 reunion, Fulmer died on February 21, 1906 and was buried in the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. At the 1905 reunion,  Fulmer was paid the following tribute by his fellow veterans, who stated, "He has been untiring in promoting the welfare of the regiment and in arranging for the annual reunions…He has always been generous of his means in helping to defray the expenses of the reunions and in meeting all obligations incurred by the association." [Daily Notes, Canonsburg, PA, 11-22-1905]

          The current home of the gavel, if it still exists, is unknown. Fulmer became president of the association in 1882, held at the Pittsburgh Grain Exchange Building, and held the position for nearly a quarter of a century until his death at the age of 66. 

          He also served as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic McPherson Post Number 117 in Pittsburgh and attended several national encampments of the G.A.R. during his lifetime. As such, he travelled around the northeast to various G.A.R. encampments. In 1886, he was among a train car load of Pennsylvanians who attended a gathering of 11,000 Union veterans in Topeka, Kansas in 1886. (The Daily Commonwealth, Topeka, 7-25-1886, p.4)

    Fulmer was born in Mifflin Township in Allegheny County. His family moved to Beallsville, Washington County, and from this township, Fulmer enlisted into Company D of the 85th Pennsylvania along with his brother, Harry. [Pittsburgh Daily Post, 2-22-1906, p.1]

Schmidt Building

          After the war, during a career as a building contractor, Fulmer was credited with constructing the first skyscraper in Pittsburgh. (This interpretation may depend on one's definition of a high-rise structure by 19th century standards). The building was the eight-story Schmidt Building on Fifth Avenue. Fulmer also won a reputation as the premier church builder in Pittsburgh, one whose work included the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church (above, which Fulmer attended), the Point Breeze Presbyterian Church and the Sixth Avenue United Presbyterian Church [The Daily Notes, Canonsburg, PA, 2-16-1906, p.7]


        Fulmer worked diligently for the regimental association for over 30 years. When the association was created in Uniontown in 1873, Fulmer was voted to the position of secretary. 

     Due to his failing health, Fulmer was replaced as president of the regimental association by Sergeant James Swearer in 1906. In the early 1920's, the aged Swearer handed the presidency over to Captain Charles E. Eckels, the last president of the association. Efforts by the writer to find a descendant of Eckels on the remote chance that the gavel is in his family's possession , have so far proven to be unsuccessful. 

            Below is a letter that Fulmer wrote to a friend, Mollie [last name unknown], probably from Beallsville or the immediate area. The regiment had just moved from Folly Island to Hilton Head, South Carolina in early 1864.

                                                                                                                Camp 85th Pa Vols

                                                                                                                Hilton Head S.C.

                                                                                                                Jan. 11, 1864

Friend Mollie,

I received your kind letter a few days since and was pleased to think that you must not have forgotten her dear friend and school mate in the 85th though far from home and among strangers. My mind still wanders back to the pleasant days. That old school house on yonder side hill is still within my view where we spent much happiness friends in the days. Little did I think which was to happen.

              Some of my school mates are ? more others are scattered throughout the country never to meet
again in the pleasant schoolroom.

                But enough of this and now I will give you a short history of what has happened? Since I last wrote to you. We have been on Folly Island within the reach of the sound of [Fort] Moultrie’s cannon, not knowing what minute we might be placed within the reach of their destructive contents. We received orders to leave there on the 5th of Dec. and started on the 6th for this place where we landed on the 7th but we did not expect to stay here any time as there was some talk of an expedition. Out here for to go to Savannah but I believe it has fell through for the present. I do not think there will be anything more done

Here until spring as we have not enough force to do much at present. There are a great many soldiers reenlisting in this department but there is not many from the 85th. I have not much notion of it for my part. I think I will try it at home a short time before I go soldiering again especially under some of the officers that we have in this Regt. I am not tired of soldiering but I am tired of some of our officers. Eight months and eight days will get me out.

              I heard a few days since that ? Bane was married. Good God I think some of the ladies are getting hard up for a man when such men as [Bane] can find a wife.

             Well Mollie, I suppose you will wait for some brave soldier boy who has fought, bled and died for his county, will you not?

              [Thomas] Harford sends his compliments to you in return. Harry [Fulmer, George’s brother was had earlier received a medical discharge] was well when I heard from him which was only a few days since. It is now time to call the roll and I must close. Hoping to hear from you soon.

            I remain your friend as ever.

                                                                              Geo. S. Fulmer

                                                                               Give my love to all inquiring friends.

                                                                               Direct to Co D 85th PA Vols

                                                                               Hilton Head S.C.

Fulmer Death Cerrtificate

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Stories from Company B


        The title of this article is from a pamphlet written in 1903 to celebrate Memorial Day in Amity, a small community in Washington County, Pennsylvania. While doing research for my book, "Such Severe and Hard Service: The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War," I came across an online reference to this booklet. Margaret Farrabee of Amity generously emailed me a copy, and I was able to use several citations for my book.

      The booklet was written early in the 20th century by 66-year old Manaen Sharp, who had served im Company B of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. Sharp spent a year with the 85th before receiving a medical discharge. After the war, Sharp became a successful business man who owned furniture stores in Amity, Beallsville, and Little Washington, all in Washington County. He also served for a time as county treasurer. He died in 1920 at the age of 82 and is buried in Little Washington. His 1903 booklet chronicled the Civil War service of residents from the Amity area.

       Sharp wrote a paragraph or two about 40 or so soldiers from Amity and the surrounding area, including several from his own Company B of the 85th. [Sharp also included soldiers from other regiments, including the 140th Pennsylvania, the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the 1st West Virginia Cavalry]. In doing so, Sharp recounts a series of interesting stories about many of the soldiers. Undoubtedly, Sharp was present for at least some of the events he described. In other cases, he surely heard the stories as they were passed around the campfire. Some others he learned about after the war, perhaps at regimental reunions. Below, I have quoted Sharp [in italics] concerning several members of his company.

     I have included some of my own comments in red.


CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON: At the battle of Fair Oaks, while aiming his gun, it was hit between his hands and disabled. He reached for the gun of a dead comrade and used it to good purpose.

Anderson returned home from the war. He died in 1877,

Burying the Dead at Seven Pines
Harper's Weekly 7-19-1862
WILLIAM BRADEN: When driven back at Fair Oaks [Seven Pines], Comrade Braden was helping to carry his wounded captain [George H. Hooker] to save him from capture. The comrade, J.F. Speer of Canonsburg who was assisting, heard the sickening thud of a minie ball strike Comrade Braden, who said, 'I am hit.' He staggered to the road side and that is all that is known. He is buried among the unknown, but where? 

This story is confirmed by Captain Hooker, who wrote a letter in the pension file for Braden's widow, Nancy. “I hereby certify that Wm. Braden, a private of Company B 85th Pa. Vols, was shot while assisting me from the field at the Battle of Fair Oaks [Seven Pines] Virginia on the 31st day of May, 1862. He fell severely wounded and is supposed to have died from the effects of his wound.” 

Camp on Morris Island
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

CYRUS [JOSIAH] BRATTON: His grave is on Morris Island, S.C....The autumn of 1863, he was excused from duty on account of sickness, but stayed in his quarters; his discharge papers were signed and with high hopes he expected to start for home in the morning. His messmate got breakfast and went to awaken him and found him in the sleep that knows no waking.

Bratton died of chronic diarrhea at age 25. 

JOHN CLAYTON: He was mortally wounded at Deep Bottom and taken to the hospital at Fortress Monroe where he died and is buried in the cemetery at the fort. At the Battle of Kingston [Kinston, NC] in loading his piece, he spilled the powder but rammed the bullet. He sat down where he stood in the battle line, unbreeched his gun, took out the ball, put his piece together, reloaded, putting in both balls with the remark, 'I will try and ring two of them this time.'

Clayton died from a gunshot wound to the thigh. He is buried in Hampton National Cemetery.

Attack Route Upon Battery Gregg
Robert Knox Sneden  LOC
LEONARD HAMMERS: In his performance of duty he had many narrow escape[s]. Only once did he lose hope -- that was when with others he was ordered to Morris Island to spike the guns of Battery Gregg. this battery could be swept by every fort in the harbor defences of Charleston. When they tied a strip of white on the left arm of this detail, so as to distinguish them from the Confederates in the darkness, hope left him but courage never. When the rebel guard discovered them and gave the alarm, the marries manning the boats refused to land, so the attack was not make.

Hammers enlisted at age 17. His first child was born while he was away in the army. He and his wife, Charlotte, had five more children after the war. He died in 1904 and is buried in AmityI wrote about the attempts to take Battery Gregg here.

Wounded Soldiers at Savage Station
1862    LOC

ABRAHAM IAMS: This young man took my place in the center of Co. B when I was taken to the hospital. He was mortally wounded at Fair Oaks, shot through the right breast and lay on the battlefield from Saturday afternoon until Monday afternoon when he was taken back to Savage Station. At 2 a.m. the next morning, in a down pour of rain, Robert Bair [James Robison Bair] put him on a train for White House [Landing, VA] where he died and is buried.

Corporal Iams was killed at the age of 25. He was survived by his parents, William and Delila, and his sister, Rachel.

Unidentified Soldier    LOC
DANIEL MILLER: Was badly wounded at Deep Bottom and was sent to the rear for repairs, [then] turned up in the hospital in New York. An order came to the effect that all soldiers who could walk to the railroad train would get furloughed. A comrade, James F. Speer, made him a pair of crutches. On these he started for the train, but had to rest many times before reaching it; but when seated in a comfortable car, contentment was seen all over his jolly face.

  Miller died in 1914 at age 78 and is buried at Amwell, PA. 

Kinston Swamp
45th Massachusetts Reunion 1887

DAVID MILLER: Was slightly wounded on the first and also on the second day at Fair Oaks. At Kinston, while charging through a swamp [left] , he was badly hurt and was helped to solid ground by a comrade who, examining his wound found the ball had passed through a deck of playing cards and buried itself in his side. He died about 1898.

I wrote an article about Miller on this blog which can be found here. Sharp's observation about Miller being wounded on the second day at Seven Pines [Fair Oaks] is interesting because his regiment had been sent to the rear and had not been actively engaged in the fight that day.

Henry T. Reynolds
HENRY TAYLOR REYNOLDS: Was killed June 14, 1864 near Richmond, Va. His body fell into the hands of the Confederates and was not recovered. He had a presentiment that he would not live out his time. A short time before he was killed, he applied for and obtained leave of absence to visit his old parents, as he believed, for the last time/

This story is confirmed by Oscar Lyons of Company B. I have included Reynolds' story in soon-to-be-published Volume II of my regimental history. Lyons wrote, "The boys tried to cheer him (Taylor) up, but the thought in his mind that he was soon to be killed could not be removed. On the 17th of June, we were in the rifle pits near Petersburg, on the North side of the Appomattox River... Many times through the day, Comrade Reynolds said he felt that his time had come; that he would never again see home or friends, for something told him that he was going to be killed."

Bridge over Chickahominy River
JAMES SMITH: At the change of base by McClellan's army on the Peninsula it was necessary to destroy a bridge over the Chickahominy river. The engineers had failed to destroy it because of a hot fire from the rebel side. An appeal was made to men in the line. Comrade Smith was one to respond for this important but dangerous work. They destroyed the bridge, checking Stonewall Jackson's flank movement.

Smith attended the last reunion of the regiment in Brownsville, Fayette County in 1928. He died in 1930 at the age of 88. 

Moses Smith

MOSES SMITH: Served his full term but had the misfortune to serve the latter part of it in Andersonville prison. Comparatively few survived this prison life. He was wounded at Kinston Bridge, the ball first striking his gun glancing into his leg. At Bermuda Hundred, an old tobacco barns stood close to the rebel line and was used by the rebel sharpshooters. Comrade Smith and Dave Miller crawled to this barn and set it on fire, completely destroying it. 

Moses Smith was the brother of James Smith. He was captured at Ware Bottom Church, Virginia on June 16, 1864 with two other members of the regiment while on picket duty. He survived Andersonville and lived until 1924.

Hewitt's Cemetery
Rices' Landing, PA

SAMUEL WALTON: At Wier's [Ware] Bottom Church, while on picket duty, he was approached by a large grizzly unkempt rebel. Sam supposed he was coming in to surrender, as many of them at that time were doing, and was learning against a tree waiting to receive him. Imagine his surprise when the Johnnie fired, the ball striking the bark of the tree near his head, pieces of the bark stinging his face and neck. Comrade Walton did his duty at once. The rebel tried to reload his gun at once. The rebel tried to reload his gun after he was down and fatally wounded. 

 Walton enlisted as a private before being promoted to commissary sergeant.  He spent most of his postwar life in Greene County. He was involved in the lumber business and was the proprietor of S.M. Walton and Sons. He died in 1914 and is buried in Rices Landing, Greene County.     



Thursday, June 17, 2021

Captain Michener in Prison at Camp Oglethorpe, Georgia


Union Prison Camp     LOC

        This will be the last in a series of articles about the captivity of Captain John E. Michener of the 85th Pennsylvania regiment. It covers his life from his capture on White Marsh Island near Savannah, Georgia in 1864 to his release later that year in Charleston Harbor. This segment focuses on his time in prison at Camp Oglethorpe near Macon, Georgia. Later in his confinement, he was part of an escape attempt which was chronicled here

      In this part of "Prison Life," the postwar story of Michener's incarceration as related by author T.J. Simpson in 1867, Michener focuses on the privations of prison life: lack of food being his main topic of interest. 

      In 1864, Fort Oglethorpe was being used by the Confederacy as a prison pen for Union officers. More information about Camp Oglethorpe can be found here.


        From "Prison Life--"

        Captain Michener and other Union officers were marched to Camp Oglethorpe where they were confined within a high stockade fence and guarded by two regiments of Georgia troops. Here they met some eight hundred Union officers who had just arrived from Libby and Saulsbury prisons where they had been reduced to the last extremity of suffering and, almost naked, and fearfully emaciated, were brought here to die. Before entering the gates of the stockade, Captain Michener and his companions were carefully searched by Captain W.E. Tabb, commander of the prison.

          Having no blankets and there being but two old frame buildings within the stockade, and they used only for the accommodation of the sick and convalescent, Captain Michener and his friends experienced more exposure and suffering during the first month of their confinement here than while in Charleston jail, having to lie on the bare ground with no shelter whatever, exposed to the heavy dews, frequent rains, and violent storms. 

        After the first month passed in this dreadful condition, rough pine boards were furnished with which the prisoners erected shed capable of accommodating one hundred men each. The prisoners were then divided into squads of a hundred each, the ranking officers taking command and appointing a commissar whose duty it was to receive the rations from the rebel quartermaster and divide them equally among his fellow prisoners. The rations allowed was one pint of cornmeal per day to each prisoner and twice a week a few ounces of beans. Sometimes a few worm-eaten peas and  a very small quantity of rice was given. But the quantity of rice and rotten peas was so very small indeed, that each prisoner would be compelled to save up until he would have from six to eight days allowance in order to have enough for a full meal. 

      It was truly an affecting sight to see these ragged and half-starved prisoners gathering around and with the most haggard and imploring looks, piteously but anxiously watching the commissary as he measure out their ration of meal in a tin cup, and to see how eagerly they seized it. Sometimes, from long fasting, and the irresistible carvings of hunger, their appetites were so ravenous that they would seize the rations and devour them on the spot, without cooking. Officers of all ranks were here placed upon an equality without respect of persons, having to draw and cook their own rations, wash their own clothes, and perform all other menial services and, in addition to attend two roll calls each day. Some had been fortunate enough to conceal and thereby retain  their money about their persons, at the time of their capture, and this money could be accordingly exchanged for confederate money, with which they could purchase a few vegetables and other articles of food and hence they could command a reasonable support while their money lasted. But a much largest number of prisoners had no money, it all having been taken from them at the time they were taken prisoners and hence they would exchange with the rebel guards fingerings, breast-pins, watches, knives, combs and whatever little precious  keepsake they still possessed and even their few rags of clothing in some instances for something to eat. 

          Among this large number of prisoners were men of all classes and occupations -- lawyers, doctors, preachers merchants and mechanics -- many of whom were very wealthy , noble and generous at home, but here in prison, reduced to beggary and starvation.


   Strange as it may seem, under these trying circumstances, a cold indifferent spirit of selfishness predominated and it was only in a very few instances that a prisoner could be induced to divide his little stock of money with a suffering fellow-prisoner. In some instances when offices of the same regiment would happen to meet, a more liberal spirit prevailed and under the excitement of the moment they seemed to return to their former selves and forgetting the extremity of their circumstances were readt to divide their last cent. Sometimes from four to five and even eight or ten of these starving men would form a mess to cook and sleep together and in every such instances, if anyone or more of the number were fortunate enough to have any money, it was freely and cheerfully divided among them until the last cent was gone. There were many instances also in which officers of superior rank who had no money, would cook and wash and do all kinds of menial service for those of inferior rank in order to get  a share of the provisions purchased with their money. A major of a New York regiment, a brave and talented man, destitute of money and reduced to the last extremity of suffering and starvation, gladly embraced the opportunity to act the part of a servant for two lieutenants, relieving them from any menial service whatever, simply because they were fortunate enough to have money, while had had none; showing that in this instances at least, money was the standard of merit and that 'all that a man has will he give for his life.' The prisoners were also but poorly furnished with cooking utensils with which to prepare to meagre rations they received. All that were allowed for the men was a camp-kettle and skillet and hundreds were not even supplied with them; hence borrowing become the order of the day and when this could not be done, the use of cooking utensils had to be dispensed with and the rations devoured as nature prepared them without any artificial help.

Union Officers in Prison     LOC
      Roll call was announced by a rebel soldier marching through the stockade beating with a stick in a furious manner upon an old kettle drum. The first arrangement with the prisoners for this roll call was the forming into two ranks, each squad of one hundred men, who had an adjutant selected from their own number who kept the roll of the men and the rebel commander would call their names. Afterwards, however, a new plan was adopted. The prisoners were all crowded into one end of the enclosure or stockade, a company of rebel soldiers were marched in and deployed across the center of the pen at intervals of about three paces and then two rebels officers would form a gate, themselves acting as posts through which the prisoners would all have to pass single file, and be counted after the manner of counting hogs or sheep. This roll call was generally greatly dreaded by the prisoners for it most frequently happened while they were preparing their little rations for a meager meal. Some of them would have a corn pone baking, others would have mush boiling and would have to leave all in a moment for roll call. Frequently, they were detained from one to two hours by these proceedings; for if the commandant, through his stupidity, would happen to make a mistake of one or two in the count, they were all driven back again and counted over the second or third time. Hence, when the men would return to their fires, they would often find their scanty ration burned up, and would have to wait and starve until drawing day came again.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Gambling and Alcohol Don't Mix on Folly Island

Charles Caryl Coleman in 1876
[Notice the profile obscures the left side of his face where he was shot.]
By Oliver Ingraham Lay from the Frick Digital Collections.

        For the first time on this blog, I am going to explore an event in which the 85th Pennsylvania regiment had only indirect involvement. It concerns a shooting that took place during a card game between two Union lieutenants -- one from New York and one from Massachusetts -- in the summer of 1863 on Folly Island near Charleston, South Carolina.

          At the time, May of 1863, the 85th Pennsylvania was stationed on the Folly Island near the entrance to Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. They were there in preparation for attacks against Fort Sumter and Charleston, the seat of the Confederate rebellion. Folly Island had been in in Union hands for about a month at this time.

       Until the early days of July, there were eight infantry regiments stationed on Folly Island, among them the 100th New York from the Buffalo area There were also several artillery units and one detachment of cavalry, Company I of the 1st Massachusetts.

       The war record of the 100th New York closely paralleled that of the 85th Pennsylvania. Both regiments were at Seven Pines, the Charleston Campaign (including Folly Island), Bermuda Hundred and Appomattox.

      On Folly Island, although drinking was supposed to be limited and card-playing not allowed, both officers and enlisted men frequently participated in both.

       In one of the tents occupied by the cavalry officers, a card game began one evening and the liquor began to flow. Eventually, an argument broke out between two officers during a game of cards. One or both men were described as being intoxicated. A gun was drawn, a shot was fired, and one of the participating officers was shot and nearly died. Struck in the face, he remained disfigured for life.

       The unfortunate victim was Lieutenant Charles Caryl Coleman of the 100th New York infantry. The shooter was Lieutenant Charles Varnum Holt, the commander of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry detachment on Folly Island. Both men were in their early 20's. Although Coleman was the one shot, Holt suffered the more unfortunate after effects.

       The most detailed account of the event came from Dr. Charles Clark of the 39th Illinois. Not only did Clark pen the history of his regiment and recount the incident, he also cared for Coleman in the immediate aftermath of him suffering s potentially fatal wound.

        Here is Clark's version of what happened in his regimental history, Yates Phalanx.

Dr. Charles Clark
39th Illinois
      "Gambling was prohibited in the command. Yet it was not and could not be wholly suppressed, although a careful watch was always kept and punishment often inflicted. The regimental sutlers also came under surveillance from the fact that they were constantly selling intoxicating liquors under false names...When our soldiers were not busy with the spade or on picket duty, they spent a large portion of their leisure, even intruding on bed hours, in playing poker or some other game of chance, and many were the dollars lost and won. Beans were the prevailing currency until the Paymaster arrived, when each individual bean, representing so much value, was cashed. These set-downs or squat-downs to a game of poker, euchre or 'seven-up' were frequent among both officers and men, and the invariable accompaniment was a canteen of commissary whiskey or some vile concoction from the sutler. Gatherings of this character were sometimes attended with unpleasant results. Some Veterans will remember the shooting of a Lieutenant of the 100th New York Volunteers at the quarters of Lieutenant Holt of the First Maryland [sic, Massachusetts] Cavalry in a wrangle over a game of cards. A witness to the affair thus described it to Doctor Clark, who was called to attend the wounded man: 'You see, they were drunk! and got into a skirmish over the game, and all at once Lieutenant Holt, of the cavalry, snatched a pistol from the table and said, 'Damn you!' 'I will shoot you!' And sure enough, the pistol exploded and we thought we had a dead man, but he [Coleman] rallied. The Lieutenant was badly shot through the face. He was taken into the hospital, and after recovery received a leave of absence for sixty days. He never returned to his regiment, resigning his commission. He was badly disfigured for life."

       It can be inferred from this second-hand account that Clark's unnamed source felt that both men were intoxicated.  Below are several accounts from Buffalo newspapers, which covered the story because the 100th New York soldiers came from several counties in western New York. All of these news accounts mention Coleman by name but not Holt. The first version below does state that Coleman was shot by a "cavalry officer." . The article stated that the weapon was "accidentally discharged;"  there is no mention of the drinking and gambling that played a role the shooting, whether or not it was accidental, or how much these were factors played in the event.


Buffalo Courier and Republic     June 10, 1863
           Dr. Clark stated that Coleman was never able to rejoin the 100th New York, but the follow-up article below stated that Coleman actually did go back to South Carolina after several months of recovery. The article stated that his facial wound was "unhealed."

Buffalo Courier and Republic   October 15, 1863
[NOTE: The 100th NY was on Morris Island at this time, not New Orleans\

         However, Coleman was not able to stay with his regiment for very long received a medical discharge. The article below does mention Coleman's intention to return to the world of art. 

Buffalo Courier and Republic     December 12, 1863

             As for Holt, no record could be found regarding military or legal consequences for the shooting. At some point, his cavalry company rejoined their regiment. Holt and the rest of the 1st Cavalry soon transferred into the newly formed 4th Massachusetts Cavalry. On July 26, 1864, Holt left the 4th Cavalry with a disability and returned home to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

           Holt married the next year to Sarah Fiske. But in 1866, just about two months after the wedding, this unfortunate article was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 15. "CAMBRIDGE –Suicide. Mr. Charles V. Holt, son of V.S. Holt, shot himself through the head in his apartment at his father’s residence last evening, between five and six o’clock while the family were at tea. He was found dead upon the floor in front of the mirror immediately afterward. The deceased was thirty years old and married. No cause is assigned to the fatal act."

             Speculating on why Holt took this drastic action, there could be several reasons. Perhaps he carried guilt over the shooting of Coleman. Maybe he had a drinking problem or had PTSD issues. Although the article stated his age was 30, he was actually only 25 years of age. He was buried in Cambridge.

        Further information about Holt's life is sparse. The 1860 federal census shows that he was born in New Hampshire in 1841. His father was a grocer and Charles was a clerk, very probably in his father's store.   

Buffalo Morning Express  
February 24, 1907

         Coleman, on the other hand, was able to put  his life back together and thrived  in his professional life. Coleman lived until 1928, passing away at the age of 88. Dr. Clark wrote that Coleman would be "badly disfigured for life;" but by growing facial hair, he was able to hide his wound. Existing photographs do not show his scar. And although he moved away from Buffalo, he kept close ties to his hometown. 

         In pursuit of his career as an artiest, Coleman became one of the preeminent American painters of his time. He studied in Paris prior to the Civil War. Soon after the war ended, he first moved to New York City and opened a studio. He soon thereafter moved to the island of Capri near Italy in 1867 where he spent the last five decades of his life.

          The Buffalo Courier and several other city newspapers followed his career through the decades, always prideful of his connection to the city. 

       A recent interHis net article on Coleman by Dr. Adrienne Baxter Bell stated, "Early in 1867, he moved to Italy and rarely looked back. There, he joined a vibrant, international community of artists that included  [Elihu] Vedder, Maitland Armstrong, William Graham, Thomas Hotchkiss, Frederic Leighton, Giovanni (Nino) Costa, and other artists in the circle of the Macchiaioli."

(link is external)     "Within a decade, Coleman became a leading artist of the International Aesthetic Movement. Ultimately, he produced at least 410 paintings, drawings, pastels, and watercolors; they reflect his intense and lasting devotion to the Medieval and Neoclassical Revivals, and to Middle Eastern and Far Eastern aesthetics."   

         For the most part, biographies of Coleman mention his service in the Civil War but omit both his wound and how he received it. Lieutenant George Stowits of the 100th New York, who wrote the official history of the 100th New York regiment in 1870, completely ignores the shooting incident. Stowits did mention that Coleman created a sketch of his regiment's camp in Bogue Sound near Beaufort, North Carolina in late 1862 that was hung in the Buffalo Art Gallery at the time Stowits' book was published.

         In 1902, when Coleman was in his 60's, a more heroic, though highly exaggerared, version of how he was shot was furnished to a Buffalo newspaper by Coleman himself.

Buffalo Times    May 20, 1902

           In this story, Coleman was shot by a Confederate. What is interesting is that he is recounting the story with a fellow officer in the 100th New York, Charles Walbridge, who must have known the truth. This indicates that the fabricated story was very likely for the benefit of the reporter.

          Below is a painting by Coleman. For color examples of his work, click here.

Early Moonlight, Capri    1900       LOC