Silent Sentinels

I am, temporarily, breaking the thread of the series on the Union cavalry in the Second Manassas Campaign, in order to offer a Memorial Day post, similar to last year. I will return to the cavalry in June.

Just after Gen. John Buford’s August 1 fight at Brandy Station, a Northern correspondent spent a night near one of the many silent sentinels on the battlefield.

Last night I slept upon historic ground. The white bones of those who had been slain before gave forth a ghastly gleam when the soft moonlight glimmered down upon them through the heavy foliage. But a short distance from here can be seen the perfect skeleton of a large-sized man. The bare skull, with its great, hollow, eyeless sockets, was there; the long finger bones and each particular rib was in its place. All was bare and white and ghastly. No, I forgot to mention that a well preserved pair of boots still encased what were the soldier’s feet, but in whose friendly cover now rattled the shin bones of the deceased.

The wayward winds played through the cavity of the chest, and sighed through the empty skull, which gave forth a long, melancholy wail – the only dirge that has there been played, save the requiem which the song-birds twitter from the neighboring trees. The bones of the horse bleached close by the side of his master.

When the last great trumpet of the mighty Archangel summons forth the quick and the dead, whole armies will start from the banks of the Rappahannock. Every ford is memorable for some deadly fight, from Kelly’s to Beverly’s and in the trail of Pope’s army the bones of the foe bleach and molder, and mingle their ashes together.

Aware of the previous engagements around Culpeper, including several in August 1862, the Saint Patrick’s Day fight at Kelly’s Ford, the all-day battle of June 9 and the recent fight in the searing heat on August 1, the correspondent could not know of the coming fight in September and those of October and November or of the many men who would die of sickness during the Army of the Potomac’s long winter encampment in the county.

After the war, the Union Quartermaster Department made a valiant effort to recover the bodies of men buried on battlefields across the country, but they could not account for every lost soldier. Storms washed away the evidence of countless graves and animals scattered many others, and so those men remain.

Last year I mentioned several soldiers who may yet lie in unmarked graves on or near the battlefields of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. As I continued to work on the revised edition of my book this past year, I found a few more such letters and thought I would include them. But first, a brief mention of a soldier who died in January 1863. The following news item first brought Michael Fagan to my attention.

Eighteen men, belonging respectively to the 4th and 9th New York and 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry regiments …started on a reconnoitering expedition from …[near] Hartwood Church…. It was their intention to scout around Rappahannock Station, but when they had gone within about two and a half miles of Ellis Ford they were led into an ambuscade by their guide, a farmer residing near their camp. About forty dismounted Secesh suddenly arose from their places of concealment in the woods which skirted the road over which they were passing, and several volleys were fired upon them. One of the men belonging to Company C, 4th NY named Michael A. Fagan was instantly killed. Two others were slightly wounded, one other was captured. One horse was killed, two others taken, but recaptured…The treacherous farmer…was captured and undoubtedly meet with the punishment which he so well merits.

After reading the brief news item above, I checked Michael Fagan’s military files, hoping to learn the name of the ‘treacherous farmer.’ His name eluded me, but I found the following letter to Fagan’s mother from his commanding officer, Lieut. Col. Ferrier Nazer.

In communicating to you the death of your son Pvt. Michael Fagan…I willingly bear testimony to his general excellent conduct and soldierlike bearing which I am sure will in some measure alleviate the pain you must naturally suffer on the loss of a son, he died as a soldier should in the performance of his duty, liked by all his comrades and esteemed by his officers as a fearless and brave soldier, ever ready at a moment’s notice, in most dangerous places he was to be found foremost, and in his loss the country loses a brave soldier, and the cause for which we all fight an able defender.

Already a widow, Bridget Fagan had relied upon her son for financial support. She began receiving a pension of $8 per month as of January 1863. The army identified the site of Michael’s death as near Grove Church, but where his comrades buried him is unknown. I have not located a headstone for him, and he may yet lie in an unmarked plot nearby.

Just three months later, Lieut. Colonel Nazer, a former officer in the British army, died of typhoid fever. He rests today in Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Now on to the Loudoun Valley.

While touring Civil War battlefields in 1905, nine years before the Guns of August 1914, a visitor stopped near Aldie. Gazing across the rolling hills, he wrote the following:

The foliage in the Piedmont district of Virginia was just changing to its autumnal hues, and so peaceful was all nature that it was difficult to realize that this country for miles in every direction was once the Flanders of the great Civil War, and that the very fields over which we were riding had been traversed not only once but time and again by the hostile Armies of the North and South in that sanguinary struggle…

Ten years would pass before Flanders Fields took hold in the American lexicon but this visitor to Aldie knew his European history, and knew of the many battles in Flanders prior to the great bloodletting of World War I.

Pvt. James Hurd, 1st Maine Cavalry, was killed in action at Aldie, June 17, 1863. The army recovered his remains and he rests today in Arlington Cemetery. I include James because in filing for his pension, his parents may have sent his last letter home to the Pension Bureau, as proof of the financial support he provided for his family.

James A. Hurd to Dear Father, Camp near Bealton Station May 17, 1863

Since I wrote to you we have moved camp twice we are camped on Va central railroad Friday we was paid fore months pay I shall send you 40$ twenty in this letter and the rest the next time that I write

I am well and injoy myself as well as usual, have good rations and pleasant weather, so you see that a soldier cant help injoying himself. The spring is fast passing away and our army hasant accomplished any thing yet, and we shall have to say by this spring campaign as we have by the others before it, that it has proved a failure and I supose that it will be the same this summer, I expect that by this fall that we shall get redy to do something again, I dont see any sign of this war closing this year, it looks dark What awful thought brother fighting against brother sometimes when I get a thinking about this war I cant hardly believe that our country is divided and that we are fighting each other, but when I look around me and see the foot prints that war has left I have to believe it, as much as I don’t want to give my love to Mother and sis write as soon as you get this Irving is well so is the rest of the H boys.

With help from Bradley Forbush, friend and historian of the 3rd U.S. Artillery, I identified the casualties suffered by the battery in the morning action on June 21, west of Middleburg. Several men received minor flash burns when a limber exploded, but Charles Kratka died after being struck by a solid shot. Lieut. James Kelly commanded the section in which Kratka served and he wrote the following letter to Kratka’s sister on June 24.

It is with sincere regret that I have to inform you of the death of your brother Charles Kratka who was killed in battle on Sunday the 21st day of this month near Middleburg, Virginia. He was struck by a solid shot in the right leg severing it completely from his body and he died in less than fifteen minutes after he was hit.

His last words was his request that I should write to you and say that he died like a soldier, he was buried where he fell close to the gun at which he so manfully fought, since he joined this battery he proved himself to be one of the most quiet orderly soldiers in it allways attentive to duty, obedient, respectful.

The United States owes him pay for May and up to the day of his death in June and $4.65 cts on account of clothing which he did not draw.

He received $25.00 bounty money according to his description list and I do not know what bounty was given in Minnesota.

I will be glad to give you any information I can at any further time if you should happen to write.

Trying to determine the casualties sustained by the battery led me to check Bernard Loughran’s pension, as his name appeared on a list for Upperville. He was mortally wounded on September 23, 1863 and died October 11, 1863. Five days later, Lieutenant Kelly found himself writing another letter to a grieving family.

Your letter directed to Captain Gibson enquiring about Bernard Loughran of his Battery was received this morning & opened by me, the Captain being absent on other duties since last winter, it therefore falls to my lot to communicate to you and his widowed Mother the painful tidings of his death at the Stanton Hospital in Washington on the 11th day of this month. He was one of my cannoneers, and was shot while gallantly serving his gun on the bank of Robertson’s River near Culpepper, Va., on the 23rd of September 1863, returning from a cavalry reconnaissance, his left leg was amputated above the knee. He was sent to Washington where he died on the date above-mentioned. He was a brave and dutiful soldier and liked by his officers and men.

His papers will be immediately made out and sent to the Adjutant General’s office in Washington for settlement. I think he has over $100 due him, which you can get by writing to the Adjutant General…at some future time, as the press of business is so great in Washington, that it requires time to come to each man’s accounts in their regular turn…

I am sorry indeed to have to convey to his aged Mother such sad news, but such is the fate of war. He died in a good cause and is I hope happy in Heaven. He was as cool and as brave a man under fire as I ever saw. May the Lord have mercy on him.

I have been unable to confirm Bernard Loughran’s final resting place.

I looked at Charles Marr’s pension file on my last visit to the Archives before the current health situation took hold. A local Pennsylvania newspaper listed Charles as having been drafted in October 1862, even though the North had not yet instituted a draft. Instead, he had volunteered under a call for additional troops but was a reluctant soldier, as he deserted two months later. He had enlisted in the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry and he returned to the regiment in April 1863. Unable to get back and check his other records, I do not know if he faced a court-martial or if he returned under an amnesty agreement instituted by General Hooker to induce the hundreds or thousands of men who had deserted following the debacle at Fredericksburg to return. His untrained and ill-equipped regiment had been rushed to the army in the wake of the battle, but Charles may have left prior to reaching the army. Two letters in his pension file suggest he deserted not to avoid military service but rather to resolve a domestic matter back home.

Charles wrote the first of the letters while en route back to the army and the second two days later, having returned to the army near Dumfries. The second letter could be the last one he wrote.

Wheeling Verginnia April the 5/63

Dear and Beloved Bride

I take this opertunity to in form you ware I am this Sabath I am as well as usual but a very soriful heart to think that I had to leave you a Friday so sick and all on my a count but Dear wife I hope before these few lines reaches you that you my be wel a gane it was the hardest thing I ever under took was to leav you this time all a mong strangers if I cood of left you som money I woden’t thought it quite so hard but I was all most broke

Dear Bride chear up it shant be long til I can send you some money and if you don’t want to come east a lone with dear little [name unreadable] I will come and fetch you close Dear Bride don’t think eney thing more a bout the past sorrow wich you hav had on my a count let the sorrow that is past go and put [confidence] in me once more all the people in this world cant turn me a gane…I no that it is almost impossible to for give and for get the way I hav treated you but I hope in the name of god that you will for giv and for get all the mis usage that I have caust you I shant cause you eny trubles hear after Dear Bride I think that thare is no forgiveness for me for sutch treatment as I hav gave you… Dear Bride sel that watch for wat ever you can get for it and use the money for eney thing that you want and if you want another watch I will get you one after we go back to Pennslvania Now Dear Bride… chear up if god spares my life you shal soon hav a home of your [own] and a beter one than you hav had for a long time if you go home it will be a grate ease of comfort to [our] Dear Little Daughter for it is very lonesum for [her] with out father or mother you may think that it don’t know mutch a bout its father I amit it don’t but I hope you and it will sune both be with me… if god [spares] my life

Dear Bride don’t let them no eny thing a bout this last trubel in Pennslvania for I am ashame for eney bodey to no it… Hoping that this leter may find you well and beter contented than wen I left you O Dear Bride for get and for giv me this time No more at present yours most respectfuley …C H Marr to his Dear and Beloved wife Catherine Marr…

 Dumfries Virginia April the 7th 1863

Dear Wife I take this opertunity to inform you that I am well at present and hope these few lines may find you and my Dear Little Daughter injoying the same blesing… Dear Wife do rite so that I get once more to here from you I hav riten you a grate many leters sens I left you but all in vane… I think that I will get some money as sune as the [mail] gets through wich I hope will be in a few days and then I will send it to you Dear Bride you may think hard of me for not sending you some — but it [wasn’t in my power] hoping to here from you and my Dear Little Daughter sune and from Father and Mother I remane yours most respectfuley as a husband…

I look at a lot of pension files and, with few exceptions, I am only looking for information related to the wounds sustained by the soldier or the facts surrounding his death in battle. I copy all war-date letters I find but do not read them until I get back home. In this case, I wish I had paid more attention to other documents in the file.

Charles married Catherine on January 13, 1863 and their daughter was born prior to his leaving in April but I failed to note her date of birth. The question of paternity dominated the paperwork, though I neither read those papers closely nor copied any of them. Troubled by leaving her to face the stigma attached to women in such situations at the time, Charles deserted, not to avoid his duty to the country but to marry her and move her somewhere to be more comfortable. When he returned to the army, he did so with a heavy heart, as she was sick and a new mother on her own.

Charles died moments after being shot in the head on June 19, 1863, just west of Middleburg. The following day, Sgt. Norman Ball and four comrades “had a box made in which we put our comrade C H Marr and buried him as decently as we could in the Sharon cemetery at Middleburg and marked his grave with name & regiment.” He rests today in Arlington.

Readers will note that I have not included any Southern soldiers this year. Southern pensions are, unfortunately, much more difficult to access. I am working, however, on next year’s post, which may feature only Southern soldiers.

I wanted to close with a final story which caught my eye this year, and though unrelated to the Civil War, the nature of the tale seems to beg inclusion here.

George Paige, West Point, Class of 1843, had been in the service for 11 years in 1854. Promotion came slow in the antebellum army and Paige still held the rank of a lowly 1st lieutenant when he found himself forced to deal with the crusty quartermaster general of the army, Thomas Jesup. Jesup, who had entered the service in 1808, had received two brevet promotions for gallantry during the War of 1812 and had served as quartermaster general since 1818. Paige had been serving as a regimental quartermaster for 15 months in August 1854, when he found himself writing to Jesup on what he must have thought a rather routine matter. He soon learned otherwise.

Though I have not located Paige’s letters to Jesup, a general idea of his predicament appears rather obvious from the letters Jesup sent in response. Assigned to duty at Carlisle Barracks, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Paige apparently oversaw, among his other duties, base housing for officers. I am guessing here, but I suspect Paige found himself faced with a housing shortage.

In the first letter, Maj. General Jesup tells 1st Lieutenant Paige:

Your letter of the 5th inquiring whether or not Forage Master Sanno and teamster [Horner] care to be continued in their employment [with] this Department has been received.

Mr. Sanno was a most gallant soldier in all the battles on the Niagara Frontier in 1814, and was severely wounded in the sortie from Fort Erie. In consideration of his gallantry and meritorious services in the same fields on which I suffered myself, I will retain him as wagon and forage master [unless] I should be overruled by an official superior. I think he was an Ensign or Lieutenant and I know no one of his rank who was there or has been at anytime more distinguished than he was. He is of course to be retained.

John [Horner] was a meritorious soldier, also, in the last war with England, and was in almost every battle on the northern frontier. By the special authority of the Secretary of War in August 1851, he is to be kept in service. [I am unable to confirm this veteran’s name]

Both of these persons are entitled in their respective stations, to all the consideration and respect due to veterans, who have faithfully and meritoriously served the country.

Lieutenant Paige must have now realized he teetered on the horns of a dilemma, but he soldiered on. The issue appears to have come up again in the spring of 1855, when Jesup again responded to him.

I have received your letter dated the 12th instant. Forage master Michael Sanno was a most meritorious and gallant soldier in the campaign of 1814 on the Niagara frontier – for his gallant conduct there, as well as for his severe suffering (he was severely wounded) he was placed in charge of the public property at Carlisle, and he has been continued there for several years past and has always been found faithful. As a gallant old soldier, as well as for the faithful discharge of the duties confided to him, it is desirable that he be made as comfortable as possible. Still he cannot expect to occupy the quarters to which officers present are entitled. If, however, there are quarters vacant to which officers present are not entitled, he should be allowed to occupy them. He has thus far gotten along harmoniously with the officers who have been stationed at Carlisle with, I believe, a single exception. Having witnessed the gallantry of Mr. Sanno in the field, I feel desirous that he should not be disturbed unless his quarters be claimed by officers having a right to them and I will be greatly obligated to you, if you will, while you remain at Carlisle, take him under your protection. The place of Forage Master is one of trust and as officers of the army, after having left the service, sometimes accept the appointment in order to connect themselves again with the army, the incumbents, so long as they respect themselves, should be treated with the consideration due to men of probity and respectability.

I suspect Paige found himself still facing a housing shortage and an old soldier who may have been a bit obstreperous from time to time. Oh, and a major general who would be obligated if Paige would leave the old soldier alone.

Later in the year, and while Jesup was apparently on leave or otherwise away from Washington, Paige again sought guidance, as several widows also occupied homes or rooms on the post. Col. Charles Thomas, Jesup’s senior subordinate, responded to Paige in Jesup’s absence.

Your letter of the 8th has been received. No person will be allowed to occupy quarters at Carlisle Barracks except by special authority from this office. You will please instruct the Wagon and Forage Master to this effect.

Mrs. Smead, the widow of Capt. Smead, late of the army, has been this day granted permission to occupy one set of officers’ quarters on condition that they be kept in order and given up when required for public use. You will put her in possession of the quarters.

Paige may have now found himself in a greater dilemma, as Colonel Thomas may not have been aware of General Jesup’s respect for Sanno and his prior communications with Paige.

Thomas sent Paige further guidance a couple weeks later.

It is not intended to disturb Mrs. Wood, Mrs. King and Mrs. Michael in the occupancy of quarters at Carlisle Barracks, and you will therefore suffer them to remain until the return of General Jesup and his views can be obtained as to them continuing in such occupancy.

Having made room for Mrs. Smead, Paige must have informed Thomas that he had other wives or widows to consider. The final letters, which I believe are still from Colonel Thomas, identify Mrs. Wood and appear to clarify and resolve Paige’s dilemma.

I have received your letter of the 24th, giving your reasons for having ordered Mrs. Wood to leave Carlisle Barracks, and covering letter [from]her father, Michael Sanno, desiring her removal.

As Mr. Sanno will have charge of the Barracks…and will be held responsible therefore…it is deemed proper to revoke the permission granted to her to occupy quarters in the barracks, and I therefore enclose herewith a letter to her to that effect.

[To Mrs. Wood]

In consequence of certain representations…to this office, together with the written request of your father, Michael Sanno, it is deemed proper to revoke permission to you to occupy…You will therefore vacate them as soon as possible after the receipt of this letter.

The most recent concern appears to have been resolved once Sanno’s daughter vacated her quarters. But what had he done during the war which still resonated so strongly with General Jesup 40 years after the fact?

I have but a thimble’s worth of knowledge regarding the War of 1812, but Sanno’s pension, which can be found online, is helpful. In 1814, he entered the service as an ensign in a Pennsylvania militia outfit. After marching to Buffalo, New York, Sanno participated in the Battle of Chippewa near the Niagara River on July 5, and later engagements at Fort George and Bridgewater. During the defense of Fort Erie, on August 15, 1814, an explosion blew Sanno onto a bayonet, inflicting a wound to his right leg from which he never fully recovered. Seven months after enlisting, and with his term of service expired, Sanno returned to Pennsylvania.

The injury prevented him from resuming his trade as a weaver, however, and he appears to have sold his tools and machinery a year after returning home. Unable to support himself, he applied for a pension 20 years later. In 1838, Edwin Sumner, then a captain in the 1st Dragoons at Carlisle, and apparently at the behest of a senior officer, hired Sanno as Acting Forage Master. The new job, for which Sanno received $20 per month, combined with his pension and an existing position as Barrack Master provided the veteran an income of about $500 per year. By 1841 his compensation had been increased to $41 per month. Three years later, his son died when a shotgun “was accidently discharged,” and struck the youth in his head.

Sanno died on March 20, 1865. His family and friends remembered him as having “won for himself the approbation and esteem of his officers and fellow soldiers, among whom he was always regarded as a gallant soldier, an honest man and a faithful friend.” The notice also tells us that “General Jesup, under whose immediate command he was, and who knew him well and esteemed him much, promoted him to the responsible position of Barrack Master of Carlisle Barracks, a position he retained for more than thirty-seven years.” Regarded “as a good citizen, an upright man and a sincere friend,” his friends closed by adding “‘Farewell, honest soldier!’” Michael Sanno was laid to rest with his son.

Let us remember all veterans this Memorial Day.



Documents in the National Archives and Fold3

Alexandria Gazette

Kline’s Weekly Carlisle Gazette

New York Herald

The (Harrisburg) Old Warrior

Sunbury American

Washington Evening Star

Norman Ball Diary, Connecticut Historical Society

Isaac Ressler Diary, USAHEC

3 thoughts on “Silent Sentinels

  1. Thanks for sharing these fascinating personal stories; they really add dimension to our understanding of what these people endured.


  2. Pingback: A Little More Self-Promotion | Small But Important Riots

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