Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Real Character

As an author of fiction, I’m always in need of colorful, true-to-life characters. One of the characters  we meet briefly in An Eye for Glory is the new recruit Caesar Ferretti. I based Caesar on two real new recruits who joined the Fourteenth Connecticut during August, 1863, Antonio Capellini and Joshua Tripp.

According to Charles D. Page, Antonio was “a small man of dark complexion and baboon face, all overgrown with hair. No one could converse with him or find out where he was born. He could be taught but one duty of a soldier and that was that of drawing his rations. He was most careless of Uncle Sam’s property and when on the march he always straggled and would throw away his gun, bayonet, knapsack, haversack and canteen. It was a common thing to see him brought back with his few remaining effects crowded into an old grain bag slung over his shoulder.”

Page wrote of Tripp: “Unlike his scriptural namesake, who led the children of Israel into the land of promise, Joshua was not designed by nature to assist in leading the Army of the Potomac into the promised land of victory. In fact this second Joshua’s intellect was so infinitesimal that he could hardly tell the muzzle of his gun from the breech and many remember the ludicrous attempts to teach him how to shoulder his gun. Few will forget his being mounted upon a barrel at the quarters of the Brigade Guard and the frequent trips of the major to attempt to teach him this first requisite of a soldier’s service. This, however. was useless and was only terminated when the head of the barrel gave way and poor Tripp passed temporarily out of sight.”

Such was the quality of some of the new members of the valiant Fourteenth Regiment. Here’s how Michael Palmer, who had been recently promoted to sergeant, described my composite character, Caesar Ferretti, in a letter to his wife. “He’s an Italian bricklayer about thirty years of age from Bridgeport. He’s short of stature with dark brown, almost black, wiry hair, a full, equally dark moustache, deep brown eyes, and a scruffy unkempt beard,… Although he speaks little English, Caesar made it clear he thought the army would be more enjoyable than masonry, but that was before he had been many days with us… Regular and repeated discipline has failed to produce any lasting positive effect—Caesar simply accepts his fate with a sheepish grin and a shrug of the shoulders. I can only conclude the cause is futile…. I can only hope when the fighting resumes, that Private Ferretti will cause no harm to himself or any others of the regiment who happen to be close by.”


An Orphan’s War – Part 1

Substitute conscript William E. Mott arrived at Cedar Run on August 11th, 1863. He was not extraordinary in any way. Mott was of average appearance—five-five, fair complexion, brown hair—and his service with in Company F, Fourteenth Connecticut would be unexceptional. Nonetheless, his story is a most compelling one, and it will require at least three posts to tell. Mott described how he became a soldier to the U. S. Pension Office in a series of letters written nearly fifty years after his enlistment.

“Dear Sir In regard about my certificate of my Berth, it will be Doubtfull if I can find eny statment ove my Bearth when I was Bornd ore where I was Bornd at but I think I herd my Mother say that I was in N.Y. city have sent on to see if it was on the Regster The first I remembr living was Wickford R.I. soon after we moved to Fairhaven Mass Mother died there when I was 8 years old and soon after Father died, the six children scattered two Brothers and one Sister I have not seen sence then tryed find them when I come out of the army but could not so you can see how I am fix and I think you will find houndreds of Soulders will be in the same fix.

“As I wer in R.I. State Reform School at Proverdence city R.I. James M. Talcot Superendent of the School at that time 1863 had A friend N. H. Luomes (Rev. Nathaniel H. Lewis) was Drafted A Hartford conn and they hird me to go as A subtuttet for him at $5.00 A month for three years, after I come out the army I was hired to work in the shoe shop at the school.

” In regard about my age from the school at Proverdence city R.I. I know I wer older than they clame I am. As I wer Perfect stranger to the Judge and court at New Port R.I. I clamed I was pass 18 years old at that time 1861 but the Judge thort I was not so old, so he must have put my age down lest so to get me in the school as I wer not known at New Port R.I. as I had jest come from New Bedford Mass, my mother dided when I was 8 years old as I had no home or eny one to look after me they sent me to the school.

“When I Listed 1863 I was pass 19 going on 20 when I Listed at Hartford I am not sure Whether I gived my age or the Officer From the school as the Officer come up with me to take me back to the school if I did not pass I did not have eny thing to say as I wer pushed in to tak another man place N. H. Loumes (Lewis) A Preacher as he was drafted. As there was no fight in him I was taken out R I in Conn. I cant see how it was don. I never got A dollar when Listed but was to $5 a munt when I come home but if I had got killed as soon as I got to the front I suppose he would never had to pay eny thing I think I was put in the army cheep dont you think so cant you find out my age by my Army Discriptive List I suppose I will have to stand in the school age as I cant do eny thing better co F 14 conn co D 2 conn H.A. W E Mott.”

Note: The above is from background material included in The Diary of a Dead Man, 1862-1864, the unedited diary and letters of Private Ira Pettit, compiled by J. P. Ray. Mott was instrumental in preserving Pettit’s diary for Pettit’s parents.

Cedar Run

On August 1st, 1863, after marching over 400 miles and fighting the Battle of Gettysburg since leaving Falmouth on June 14th, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, found themselves at Bristow, Virginia, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. This weakened regiment was now less than a hundred strong. They were detached from the Second Corps, along with their comrades of the Twelfth New Jersey, for a period of rest and rebuilding.

From Bristow they marched a few miles southeast to Cedar Run. Although I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact location of this encampment, I believe it was near the village of Brentsville between Bristow Road (Route 619) and Aden Road (Route 646). Even today there are many open fields for drilling troops, plenty of water for drinking, washing, and cooking, and woodlands for firewood and shade from the summer sun.

The two regiments would remain encamped at Cedar Run until August 18th. It was during these peaceful days that the first replacement recruits began arrive. As Charles Page related in his History of the Fourteenth Regiment, on August 6th, “Captain Davis, who had been detailed to go to Connecticut for recruits, returned to camp with forty-two out of one hundred and seventeen with which he started, the rest having deserted along the way, most of them when the boat arrived in New York.”

While some of the new men went on to become first-rate soldiers, most were what Page called “not only conscripts, but nondescripts.” They represented fifteen to twenty different nationalities, many different walks of life, and of course possessed varying degrees of basic virtues. The “old soldiers” viewed each new recruit with suspicion, and sometimes with open contempt, until the new man proved himself trustworthy.

As I remarked in my post “Filling the Ranks,” desertion on the way to the front could be a profitable enterprise for the repeat bounty-jumper. The army would react to counter these mass desertions with armed escorts from the home state to the front. There would also be an increase in executions for desertion, and as we will see, there would be tragic consequences for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut.

Blackberry Fields Forever

My last post regarding the Fourteenth Connecticut in particular and the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac in general was “Agony of Victory” on July 19. The Second Corps was in the vicinity of Williamsport, Maryland. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had just crossed the Potomac and was withdrawing southward toward the Shenandoah Valley.

Instead of pursuing the retreating Rebels, the Second Corps marched down the north bank of the Potomac River. The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut passed through the site of their first trial by fire, the Antietam battlefield, and then went on to Harper’s Ferry. Unlike their first visit to Harpers Ferry following that battle, they did not tarry long, but proceeded on toward the Loudon Valley, where it was blackberry season. Captain Samuel Fiske provided this narration in a letter dated July 20, 1863:

Dear Republican: You ought to have seen our corps move into the huge blackberry field, or rather succession of them, last eve­ning after their hot midday march. The habit of military disci­pline prevailing kept the men in the ranks till they were regularly dismissed, though every tread crushed out the blood of scores, and Uncle Sam’s stiff brogans were soaked in (dewberry) gore.

But when the orders “Stack arms!” “Rest!” had been given, in an instant, in a nothing of time, in the hundredth part of the “twinkling of a bedpost,” the whole battle array was melted away; the glittering lines of stacked arms were all that was left upright in the field, the backs only were visible of a half dozen thousand tired soldiers, who are not wont to turn their backs on the enemy; and as the manna which came from heaven to the Israelites in the wilderness, when the dew rose in the morning, so disappeared this gracious provision of heaven’s bounty for our weary boys, and they rose (not very soon) refreshed from their luscious banquet.

There were enough and to spare. Fields and hills all around us are black with them—more millions…than our army of abolitionists can put out of the way in a week. But we are doing our best; heaped bowls and plates of blackberries for tea and for breakfast; a few black­berries as we went to bed, a few on waking this morning to take the cobwebs out of our mouth and throat (how much better than fiery whisky for that purpose), and now a few more to start on just as we are leaving. It has been a blackberrying on the grand­est scale I have attended for a long time.

Filling the Ranks

As was noted in my post Gettysburg – After the Smoke Cleared, the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry marched away from Gettysburg with about 100 men fit for duty. The regiment was no longer an effective fighting force. Some regiments similarly depleted were disbanded and their surviving members were transferred to other regiments from the same state. The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry would need fill its ranks with new men or cease to exist.

From the start of the Civil War in April, 1861, the armed forces of the United States were comprised entirely of volunteers. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, this began to change when the draft went into effect. A man could now enter military service in one of three ways: as a volunteer, as a conscript, or as a paid substitute.

The Volunteer– Federal, state, and local bounties were increased to attract new volunteers, in some communities totaling $500 or more. While the high bounties did attract many new recruits, it also led to the bounty-jumping. A man might enlist in one state and receive full or partial payment of the bounty. On his way to the front, he would desert, enlist in another state, and do it all over again. If caught, the bounty-jumper could face execution.

The Conscript – President Lincoln signed The Enrollment Act of Conscription on March 3, 1863. Every male citizen between ages twenty and forty-five was required to enroll for the draft. On July 11, in New York City, the names of the city’s first conscripts were drawn and published the following day. Three days of rioting followed, which left as many as 100 people dead. The riots were finally quelled by detachments from the Army of the Potomac. In all, about 150,000 men were added to the ranks of the Union army through the draft.

The Substitute – The most controversial provision of the Enrollment Act was the allowance for paid substitutes. Any drafted man with $300 could pay another to take his place in the army. This system spawned corruption from the start. The rich man could easily pay a poor man to take his place. Unscrupulous agents prowled city streets, tempting destitute men with the promise of quick riches. Some men became “professional” substitutes. They would pocket the $300, and either not report for duty or desert at the first opportunity. They would then do the swindle all over again.

The system was deeply flawed. Paid substitutes would be outlawed in July, 1864. But many good men were brought into the ranks of the Union army, both through the draft and through the enticement of higher bounties. The roster of the Fourteenth Connecticut began to fill, and the regiment would once again take its place in the front for the Second Corps’ next fight.