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 reason. 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 no 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 connection to the city. 

       A recent internet 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 omits 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 false, 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 are is a painting by Coleman. For color examples of his work, click here.

Early Moonlight, Capri    1900       LOC

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