Buckeyes, Blackhats and the Boys of '61

Auction Skull is not from the Battle of Gettysburg

Phil Spaugy:

The final word on the Benner Farm skull from the NPS!

Originally posted on The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park:

Frontal view of carnium by Donald E Hurlbert

A detective story that began last June with an attempted auction of a human skull, reportedly from the battle of Gettysburg, now has a new chapter. A scientific study by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, conducted at the request of Gettysburg National Military Park, has determined the cranium to be more than 800 years old and from the American Southwest.

The planned auction of the skull, and a number of artifacts that were going to be sold with it, was cancelled due to public outcry and the collection was offered as a donation to Gettysburg National Military Park (GETT). The park asked the Gettysburg Foundation to accept the donation on its behalf.

Douglas W. Owsley and a team of forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History recently completed an examination of the skull and determined, in summary:

  • the remains are not those of…

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Thoughts on Harry Pfanz

Phil Spaugy:

I am not a big fan of re-blogging, but this article noting the passing of Harry Pfanz deserves special notice.

Originally posted on The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park:

On the early afternoon of January 31st, the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park received a jolting bit of news:  one of our own, in a large and treasured sense, had passed.  And while the announcement of the death of Dr. Harold “Harry” Pfanz, while not wholly unexpected, certainly saddened many, it also gave us cause to once again recall the man for some whose very name meant “Gettysburg.”Pfanz

Personally, from my perspective, as an interpretive ranger fairly new to the battlefield at the time, Dr. Pfanz was a quiet, unassuming gentleman; though one already looked upon with quiet reverence given the recognition earned by his first work, Gettysburg: The Second Day.  I was privileged to meet the good Doctor in the early ‘90’s, during his research on his second work, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill.   At that moment, he was on his way…

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“The Last Full Measure of Devotion”


Small monument marking the place where Captain Jed. Chapman fell, July 2nd, 1863.

In memory of Captain Jedidiah Chapman, Company H, 27th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry who fell at head of his company on July 2nd, 1863.

He was 23 years old.

Captain Chapman would have been celebrated his 24nd birthday on November 21st, 1863, two days after the events of 151 years ago today. Events of which in my opinion there is no better description of than that penned by Bruce Catton in volume two of his Army of Potomac trilogy, “Glory Road:”

“There are many thousands of people at this ceremony and among them were certain wounded veterans who had come back to see all of this and a nod of these wandered away at the crowd as the speaker stand and stroll down around cemetery ridge, pausing when they reached a little clump of trees and there they looked off toward the west and talked quietly about what they had seen and done there. In front of them was the wide gentle valley of the shadow of death, brimming now in the autumn light and the voice went on and the governors looked dignified and the veterans by the trees looked about them and saw again the fury and the smoke and the killing. This was the valley of the dry bones, the valley of the dry bones, waiting for the word which might or might not come in rhythmic prose. The bones had lain there in the sun and rain and now they were carefully state by state in the new sod. They were bones in their youths and some had been heros and others had been scamped and pillaged and run away when they could and they died here. Back of these men were innumerable dusty roads reaching to the main streets of thousands of towns and villages where there had been people crying and cheering and waving a last good-bye. Perhaps there was a meaning to all of this somewhere. Perhaps everything the nation was and meant to be had come to a focus here beyond the graves. Programs the whole of it somehow was greater than the sum of its tragic parts. And perhaps here on this wind-swept hill the thing could be said at last so that the dry bones of the country’s dreams could take on flesh. The orator finished and after the applause had died, the tall man in the black coat got to his feet with two little sheets of paper in his hand and he looked out over the valley and he began to speak.”


The Day That “Ossawatomie” Brown Discovered the Meaning of “Send In The Marines!”

Today’s post is dedicated to those men and women who have worn the “Globe and Anchor” in defense of our country over the last 239 years. The following is the first person account of Lieutenant Israel Brown, commander of the detachment of Marines who successfully put an end to John “Ossawatomie” Brown and his followers brief insurrection at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal on October 18th, 1859.

 - image from: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/jbrown/master.html

Israel Greene. In the uniform of a Captain in the C.S. Marine Corps.

The Capture of John Brown

by Israel Greene

At noon of Monday, October 18,1859, Chief Clerk Walsh, of the Navy Department, drove rapidly into the Washington Navy-yard, and, meeting me, asked me how many marines we had stationed at the barracks available for immediate duty. I happened to be the senior officer present and in command that day. I instantly replied to Mr. Walsh that we had ninety men available, and then asked him what was the trouble. He told me that Ossawatomie Brown, of Kansas, with a number of men, had taken the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, and was then besieged there by the Virginia State troops. Mr. Walsh returned speedily to the Navy Department building, and, in the course of an hour, orders came to me from Secretary Tousey to proceed at once to Harper’s Ferry and report to the senior officer; and, if there should be no such officer at the Ferry, to take charge and protect the government property. With a detachment of ninety marines, I started for Harper’s Ferry that afternoon on the 3:30 train, taking with me two howitzers. It was a beautiful, clear autumn day, and the men, exhilarated by the excitement of the occasion, which came after a long, dull season of confinement in the barracks, enjoyed the trip exceedingly.

At Frederick Junction I received a dispatch from Colonel Robert E. Lee, who turned out to be the army officer to whom I was to report. He directed me to proceed to Sandy Hook, a small place about a mile this side of the Ferry, and there await his arrival. At ten o’clock in the evening he came up on a special train from Washington. His first order was to form the marines out of the car, and march from the bridge to Harper’s Ferry. This we did, entering the enclosure of the arsenal grounds through a back gate. At eleven o’clock Colonel Lee ordered the volunteers to march out of the grounds, and gave the control inside to the marines, with instructions to see that none of the insurgents escaped during the night. There had been hard fighting all the preceding day, and Brown and his men kept quiet during the night. At half-past six in the morning Colonel Lee gave me orders to select a detail of twelve men for a storming party, and place them near the engine-house in which Brown and his men had intrenched themselves. I selected twelve of my best men, and a second twelve to be employed as a reserve. The engine-house was a strong stone [actually brick] building, which is still in a good state of preservation at the Ferry, in spite of the three days’ fighting in the building by Brown and his men, and the ravages of the recent war between the States. The building was . . . perhaps thirty feet by thirty-five. In the front were two large double doors, between which was a stone abutment. Within were two old-fashioned, heavy fire-engines, with a hose-cart and reel standing between them, and just back of the abutment between the doors. They were double-battened doors, very strongly made, with heavy wrought-iron nails.

Lieutenant J.E.B. Stewart [Stuart], afterwards famous as a cavalry commander on the side of the South, accompanied Colonel Lee as a volunteer aid. He was ordered to go with a part of the troops to the front of the engine-house and demand the surrender of the insurgent party. Colonel Lee directed him to offer protection to Brown and his men, but to receive no counter-proposition from Brown in regard to the surrender. On the way to the engine-house, Stewart and myself agreed upon a signal for attack in the event that Brown should refuse to surrender. It was simply that Lieutenant Stewart would wave his hat, which was then, I believe, one very similar to the famous chapeau which he wore throughout the war. I had my storming party ranged alongside of the engine-house, and a number of men were provided with sledge-hammers with which to batter in the doors. I stood in front of the abutment between the doors. Stewart hailed Brown and called for his surrender, but Brown at once began to make a proposition that he and his men should be allowed to come out of the engine-house and be given the length of the bridge start, so that they might escape. Suddenly Lieutenant Stewart waved his hat, and I gave the order to my men to batter in the door. Those inside fired rapidly at the point where the blows were given upon the door Very little impression was made with the hammers, as the doors were tied on the inside with ropes and braced by the hand-brakes of the fire- engines, and in a few minutes I gave the order to desist. Just then my eye caught sight of a ladder, Iying a few feet from the engine-house, in the yard, and I ordered my men to catch it up and use it as a battering-ram. The reserve of twelve men I employed as a supporting column for the assaulting party. The men took hold bravely and made a tremendous assault upon the door. The second blow broke it in. This entrance was a ragged hole low down in the right-hand door, the door being splintered and cracked some distance upward. I instantly stepped from my position in front of the stone abutment, and entered the opening made by the ladder. At the time I did not stop to think of it, but upon reflection I should say that Brown had just emptied his carbine at the point broken by the ladder, and so I passed in safely. Getting to my feet, I ran to the right of the engine which stood behind the door, passed quickly to the rear of the house, and came up between the two engines. The first person I saw was Colonel Lewis Washington, who was standing near the hose-cart, at the front of the engine-house. On one knee, a few feet to the left, knelt a man with a carbine in his hand, just pulling the lever to reload.

“Hello, Green,” said Colonel Washington, and he reached out his hand to me. I grasped it with my lef t hand, having my saber uplif ted in my right, and he said, pointing to the kneeling figure, “This is Ossawatomie.”

As he said this, Brown turned his head to see who it was to whom Colonel Washington was speaking. Quicker than thought I brought my sbaer down with all my strength upon his head. He was moving as the blow fell, and I suppose I did not strike him where I intended, for he received a deep saber cut in the back of the neck. He fell senseless on his side, then rolled over on his back. He had in his hand a short Sharpe’s- cavalry carbine. I think he had just fired as I reached Colonel Washington, for the marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes. The shot might have been fired by some one else in the insurgent party, but I think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in Brown’s accouterments, did not penetrate. The blade bent double.

By that time three or four of my men were inside. They came rushing in like tigers, as a storming assault is not a play-day sport. They bayoneted one man skulking under the engine, and pinned another fellow up against the rear wall, both being instantly killed. I ordered the men to spill no more blood. The other insurgents were at once taken under arrest, and the contest ended. The whole fight had not lasted over three minutes. My only thought was to capture, or, if necessary, kill, the insurgents, and take possession of the engine-house. I saw very little of the situation within until the fight was over. Then I observed that the engine-house was thick with smoke, and it was with difficulty that a person could be seen across the room. In the rear, behind the left-hand engine, were huddled the prisoners whom Brown had captured and held as hostages for the safety of himself and his men. Colonel Washington was one of these. All during the fight, as I understood afterward, he kept to the front of the engine-house. When I met him he was as cool as he would have been on his own veranda entertaining guests. He was naturally a very brave man. I remember that he would not come out of the engine-house, begrimed and soiled as he was from his long imprisonment, until he had put a pair of kid gloves upon his hands. The other prisoners were the sorriest lot of people I ever saw. They had been without food for over sixty hours, in constant dread of being shot, and were huddled up in the corner where lay the body of Brown’s son and one or two others of the insurgents who had been killed. Some of them have endeavored to give an account of the storming of the engine-house and the capture of Brown, but none of the reports have been free from a great many misstatements, and I suppose that Colonel Washington and myself were the only persons really able to say what was done. Other stories have been printed by people on the outside, describing the fight within. What they say must be taken with a great deal of allowance, for they could not have been witnesses of what occurred within the engine-house. One recent account describes me as jumping over the right-hand engine more like a wild beast than a soldier. Of course nothing of the kind happened. The report made by Colonel Lee at the time, which is now on file in the War department, gives a more succinct and detailed account than any I have seen.

I can see Colonel Lee now, as he stood on a slight elevation about forty feet from the engine-house, during the assault. He was in civilian dress, and looked then very little as he did during the war. He wore no beard, except a dark mustache, and his hair was slightly gray. He had no arms upon his person, and treated the affair as one of no very great consequence, which would be speedily settled by the marines. A part of the scene, giving color and life to the picture, was the bright blue uniform of the marines. They wore blue trousers then, as they do now, and a dark- blue frock-coat. Their belts were white, and they wore French fatigue caps. I do not remember the names of the twelve men in the storming party, nor can I tell what became of them in later life. We had no use for the howitzers, and, in fact, they were not taken from the car.

Immediately after the fight, Brown was carried out of the engine-house, and recovered consciousness while lying on the ground in front. A detail of men carried him up to the paymaster’s office, where he was attended to and his wants supplied. On the following day, Wednesday, with an escort, I removed him to Charleston [Charles Town], and turned him over to the civil authorities. No handcuffs were placed upon him, and he supported himself with a self-reliance and independence which were characteristic of the man He had recovered a great deal from the effects of the blow from my saber, the injury of which was principally the shock, as he only received a flesh wound. I had little conversation with him, and spent very little time with him.

I have often been asked to describe Brown’s appearance at the instant he lifted his head to see who was talking with Colonel Washington. It would be impossible for me to do so. The whole scene passed so rapidly that it hardly made a distinct impression upon my mind. I can only recall the fleeting picture of an old man kneeling with a carbine in his hand, with a long gray beard falling away from his face, looking quickly and keenly toward the danger that he was aware had come upon him. He was not a large man, being perhaps five feet ten inches when he straightened up in full. His dress, even, I do not remember distinctly. I should say that he had his trousers tucked in his boots, and that he wore clothes of gray-probably no more than trousers and shirt. I think he had no hat upon his head.

None of the prisoners were hurt. They were badly frightened and somewhat starved. I received no wounds except a slight scratch on one hand as I was getting through the hole in the door. Colonel Lee and the people on the outside thought I was wounded. Brown had, at the time, only five or six fighting men, and I think he himself was the only one who showed fight af ter I entered the engine-house. There were no provisions in the building, and it would have been only a question of time when Brown would have had to surrender. Colonel Washington was the only person inside the house that I knew.

I have been asked what became of Brown’s carbine. That I do not know. My sword was left in Washington, among people with whom I lived, and I lost trace of it. A few years ago, after having come out of the war and gone west to Dakota, where I now live, I received a letter from a gentleman in Washington, saying that he knew where the sword was, and that it was still bent double, as it was left by the thrust upon Brown’s breast. He said that it was now a relic of great historic value, and asked me to assent to the selling of it upon the condition that I should receive a portion of the price of the weapon. To me the matter had very little interest, and I replied indifferently. Since then I have heard nothing of the matter. I presume the saber could be found somewhere in Washington.

It’s interesting to note that while will Colonel Robert E. Lee was the overall commander of the forces at Harpers Ferry, and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart was present as Lee’s aide, it was Lt. Greene, in the best tradition of the Marine Corps  who, as indicated in his report would lead his “Leathernecks” into the firehouse to personally engage and subdue Brown and his followers. The Marines had two men killed in action during the brief engagement. It should also be noted in a mere 18 months, all three of the officers involved had resigned their commissions, going south to become officers in the armed forces of the new Confederate States. While the story of Lee and Stuarts career in the American Civil War is well known, Lieutenant Greene’s is more obscure. Greene, (whose wife was a native of Virginia) was born in New York, and had lived in Wisconsin before joining the U.S Marine Corps, turned down offers to command infantry units from both Virginia and Wisconsin, instead accepting a captains commission in the C.S. Marine Corps. He served ably in staff positions throughout the conflict, surrendering at Farmville Virginia in April of 1865. After the war he moved to Mitchell, South Dakota where he died in 1909 and is buried.







A Story of a “Black Hat” of the 19th Indiana and a “Redleg” of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery

William L. Balch, Company G, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry

William L. Balch, Company G, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Courtesy of Jim Oswalt

I recently received a scanned copy of the image above from my old friend and “pard,” Jim Oswalt. As noted, it is the image of Private William L. Balch of Company G, 19th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry, which was one of the member regiments of the famed “Iron Brigade of the West.” A quick review of Balch’s service records from the American Civil War Database showed the following:

Residence Waterloo City IN;
Enlisted on 7/29/1861 as a Private.

On 7/29/1861 he mustered into “G” Co. IN 19th Infantry
He was transferred out on 10/18/1864 at Petersburg, VA

On 10/18/1864 he transferred into “C” Co. IN 20th Infantry
He was discharged for wounds on 12/2/1864

He was listed as:
* Wounded 6/25/1864 Petersburg, VA (Severe wound in left arm, amputated)

But, as is often the case, there is much more to the story of Private Balch’s service that the eight lines of info listed above. Born in Ohio, William, moved to Fremont, Indiana before the beginning of the war. Joining the Elkhart County Guards,which would become Company “G” of the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. A good soldier, William was present from the battle of Groveton in August of 1862, on through the Wilderness campaign of 1864, apparently without suffering any wounds.

However, his luck was about to run out.

On May 25, 1864, while on duty on the skirmish line near the North Anna River, William was hit by a spent ball that penetrated his blanket roll, but left his chest severely bruised. Not hurt badly enough to need medical attention, William remained on duty. On June 25th while digging trenches near Petersburg, Virginia, William was shot by a confederate sharpshooter in the upper left arm. He was taken to the 19th Indiana’s field hospital where the regimental surgeon, Doctor Jacob Eversole, amputated his badly shattered arm close to the left shoulder. For William, the long war was over.

Returning to his Indiana home, the now one-armed carpenter filed and received a pension for the loss of his limb, and married Susan Davis in December of 1864. With his prewar occupation as a carpenter over due to the loss of his left arm, William became a painter and served as Fremont’s Justice of the Peace. He would enjoy a long life with Susan and became the father of four children. This proud old vet of  the 19th Indiana, Iron Brigade, and Battery B passed away at the age of 71 years and rests today in the Old Fremont Cemetery in Steuben County, Indiana.

William Balch and his family. Image taken in the late 1890's. Courtesy of Ancestory.com

William Balch and his family. Image taken in the late 1890’s. Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Analyzing the William Balch wartime image – with none of the uniforms items that would normally show Balch as soldier of an Iron Brigade regiment (M1858 Hardee hat and the M1851 Frock coat for instance) present in the image, might make one question if the subject is really a member of the famed Iron Brigade. Over the years, I have viewed identified images of Iron Brigade soldiers in what seems to be commercially made shell jackets. These seem to be worn when the subject of the image was either on convalescent leave or when the soldier was on leave after his initial three-year term of service had expired and he had mustered in as a”Veteran Volunteer.” (See the blog of the Gettysburg NMP “From the Fields of Gettysburg” for the image and story of another member of the 19th Indiana, Burlington Cunningham.) Neither of these explanations seem to work for Balch, as he was wounded before he had the opportunity to “veteranize” and it is clear that the image was taken before he lost his left arm in June of 1864.

So, why was William wearing the shell jacket in his image? My pard Jim thought perhaps the image was taken in 1861 while the 19th was still uniformed in the grey doeskin cassimere uniforms issued by the State of Indiana, a view I don’t share as the jacket appears to be quite a bit darker than grey of the state issue uniforms. I believe I found the answer on page 19 of Augustus Buell’s remembrance of service* in Battery B, “The Cannoneer”, which lists William Balch of the 19th Indiana as serving on detached service with Battery B sometime between October 1861 and June of 1862. Keep in mind that this was long before the spring of 1862 when the 19th was issued issued their distinctive U.S regular Army uniforms consisting of the M1858 Dress or Hardee Hat, the M1851 Frock Coat, and the white canvas gaiters. During this same time period the 19th Indiana was observed wearing a hodgepodge of both Indiana-issue grey and Federal-issue blue uniforms while being reviewed by General Irwin McDowell! Given the above, if you enlarge the image, it almost appears that you can make out the presence of the tape trim along the jacket opening and on the left collar, the same sort of red trim that was part of the M1854 Light Artillery shell jacket, the type of jacket that would have been worn by the regulars of “Old” Battery B. Given that he is wearing a shell jacket of some sort, it is my opinion that William sat for his image while on detached duty with Battery B, sometime in the late fall of 1861 or early spring of 1862.

* It is well-known among those who study the American Civil War that while “The Cannoneer” is rich in factual detail of the service of Battery B, Augustus Buell never served with the battery at any time during the war.


Gaff, Alan D. On Many a Bloody Field. Four Years in the Iron Brigade. Bloomington, Indiana State Press. 1996

Herdegen, Lance J. The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory. El Dorado Hills, Savas Beatie. 2012.

Herdegen, Lance J. and William J.K. Beaudot. In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg. Dayton, Morningside. 1990

On Line Sources:




Augustus Buell. The Cannoneer, Recollections of Service in the Army of the Potomachttps://archive.org/stream/cannoneerthe00buelrich#page/n0/mode/2up




A Firefight in a Salt Marsh

"Blue Jackets" of the U.S. Navy. Courtesy of the LOC

“Blue Jackets” of the U.S. Navy. Courtesy of the LOC

This past Sunday, I read with interest my good friend Craig Swain’s post on his “To the Sound of the Guns” blog about a raid by a landing party of  approximately 75  U.S. Navy sailors upon a salt works complex northwest of Brunswick, Georgia.

You can see his post here: http://markerhunter.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/summer-raids-ga-coast-pt-1/

One of the things that intrigued me about the post was Acting Lt. Swann’s glowing recommendation on the value and effectiveness of the Spencer rifle in getting his command out of a rather “tight spot” and safely back to their ship, the U.S.S.Potomska. Craig and I traded some text messages about the use of the Spencer rifles, and as Craig is wont to do, he “encouraged” me to write a post about the Spencer and its use in this particular engagement.

The story of the raid and the use of the Spencer rifles becomes more interesting when considering that it was due to the influence of Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Welles, a good friend of the Cheney brothers (the primary financial backers of  the arms inventor Christopher Spencer), arranged the first field test of the Spencer rifle that was held on June 8, 1861. This test was conducted for the U.S Navy by the famed naval ordnance inventor and head of the Naval Ordnance Department, Commander John Dahlgren.  Interestingly, three years later as a Rear Admiral, Dahlgren would head the South Atlantic Naval Squadron, and both the Potomska and Acting Lt. Swann would fall under his command.

After conducting a two-day field test, Commander Dahlgren wrote:

“The mechanism is compact and strong. The piece was fired five hundred times in succession; partly divided between two mornings. There was but one failure to fire, supposed to be due to the absence of fulminate. In every other instance the operation was complete. The mechanism was not cleaned, and yet worked well throughout as at first. Not the least fouling on the outside and very little within. The least time of firing seven rounds was ten seconds.”

Spencer Naval Rifle

Spencer Naval Rifle. Note the sword bayonet attachment lug under the barrel.

Obviously Commander Dahlgren was impressed, and an order was immediately placed for 700 Spencer rifles, to be fitted with sword bayonets. However, due to production delays and the filling of orders for the U.S Army [which took precedence], delivery of the Navy’s order did not take place until  February of 1863.

Rear Admiral John Dahlgren. Courtesy of the LOC

Now, let’s fast forward three years from the date of the initial test and approval of the Spencers, to the firefight in the marsh. The firefight is best described by now Rear Admiral Dahlgren’s report of the action to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, which included Lt. Swann’s report of the action as an enclosure:

Report of Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, U. S. Navy, transmitting report of Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Swann, U.S. Navy, commanding U.S.S. Potomska.

Flag-steamer Philadelphia,

Port Royal Harbor, S. C, August 8, 1864

Sir: I enclose herewith a report from Captain Swann, commanding the U. S. S. Potomska, giving an account of a raid in which he succeeded in destroying an extensive rebel salt work, in the course of which his small force had a sharp skirmish with the rebels,in which he lost 1 man killed and 4 wounded

The object of the expedition was, however, entirely accomplished, and there is every reason to believe that the rebels were punished severely by the fire from our boats.

Captain Swann speaks very highly of the Spencer rifles with which his men were armed.

I sent a steamer to bring up the wounded, and commended Captain Swann for the handsome manner in which the affair was executed.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. A. Dahlgren, Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockdg. Squadron.

Hon. Gideon Welles,

Secretary of the Navy.


 U. S. S. Potomska, July 30, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to report the destruction of two salt works on a creek leading out of Back River, (6 miles from its mouth. One of the works contained twelve pans and the other six. The pans were the largest I have ever seen and the masonry very substantial. I started from the ship at 2 this a. m. and landed at the first work just before daylight. I destroyed the pans so effectually that not one of them will hold water. I burned all the buildings, destroyed 150 bushels of salt, and broke up all the wagons. I took six contrabands employed in the works. The pans were three-fourths of an inch thick, and it took me so long to destroy them that I was not ready to return to the ship until 9: 30 a. m. The water in the creek was then very low, and the swamp was from 5 to 6 feet above the gunwales of the boats, the creek at the time not being more than 10 feet wide and the water so shoal that in places we were forced to drag the boats through. At 10 a. m., when we had proceeded 1 1/2 miles, we were fired on by the enemy from the marsh bordering the creek and at the distance of about 10 yards. I had my first and third cutters, commanding the expedition myself in the third cutter, with a crew of six men. I was followed by the first cutter, commanded by my executive officer,  Acting Ensign Andrew Curtis, with 11 men. Their first volley was most effective, wounding 3 men in my boat, 1 mortally (since died) and 2 severely. There were 2 wounded by the same volley in the first cutter. Our arms, the Spencer rifles, saved us all from destruction, as the rapidity with which we fired caused the enemy to lie low, and their firing was after the first volley very wild. The sails of the first cutter were pierced by fourteen balls, and there are five in her hull. The third cutter was struck in hull and sails several times.

We fought them three-fourths of an hour, some of the time up to our knees in mud, trying to land and capture them, and some of the time in the water with the boats for a breastwork. The mud was so soft that we found it impossible to land and fight them, but the raking fire we kept up on them, firing at the smoke of their guns, drove them off. We could hear the cries of their wounded, and several were shot while retreating. None of our wounded made any noise. I can not sufficiently commend the conduct of my executive officer, Andrew Curtis, and his coolness and bravery under the galling fire to which we were subjected deserve the notice of the Department. The men behaved beautifully, and one of them in my boat, Charles Sylvester, when wounded severely, the ball entering his shoulder and coming out of his back, said it was nothing but a flesh wound, and fought until we had driven the enemy back, he bleeding profusely all the while. Mr. Curtis speaks very highly of the conduct of Luther M. Millington, paymaster’s steward. All the wounded are doing well, and the damage done to the enemy will more than compensate for our loss. I enclose a list of casualties. We expended 200 rounds of ammunition. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

 R. P. Swann,

 Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, Comdg. U. S. S. Potomoska

 Rear-Admiral John A. Dahlgren,

 Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Note that Acting Lt. Swann states the ambush took place in a narrow tidal creek channel, and the “Johnnies” who were hidden in the tall marsh grasses opened fire at the range of 10 yards! Now, imagine if you will, that if  Swann’s “Bluejacket” raiding party been armed with muzzle-loading rifles or rifle muskets, the difficulty they would have had standing in “knee-deep in water and swamp mud while trying to load and return fire. Instead, they were able to keep up a concentrated volume of “raking’ fire at a very short-range which enabled then to make their escape back to the Potomska with few casualties. [I will have more on the casualties in a future post.]

As for the gallant Acting Lt. Swann, the following General Order was prepared by Rear Admiral Dahlgren, to be read to the fleet:

General order of Rear-Admiral Dahlgren, U.S.Navy.

Flag-steamer Philadelphia,

Port Royal Harbor, S. C, August 17, 1864.

On the 30th of July Acting Volunteer Lieutenant R. P. Swann, commanding U. S. S. Potomska, penetrated with his boats in the vicinity of Darien, Ga., and destroyed several extensive saltworks.

In the course of the operation a sharp skirmish ensued with the rebels, who, as usual, secreted themselves in the bushes and fired upon our men, of whom 1 was killed and 4 wounded.

The enemy was promptly repulsed by the fire from the Potomska boats; and there is reason to believe he was severely punished.

The affair was creditably managed; for which my thanks are due to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Swann, the officers, and men engaged in the expedition.

Commanders of vessels will have this order read on the quarterdeck to the ship’s company the day after its reception.

John A. Dahlgren, Rear-Admiral, Comdg. South Atlantic Blockdg. Squadron.

One has to wonder what thoughts went through the minds of both Rear Admiral Dahlgren and Secretary of the Navy Welles as they read the reports of this obscure action. Perhaps they enjoyed a brief moment of satisfaction knowing that they had played a rather large role in putting the modern firearms technology in the form of the rapid-firing Spencer rifles into the hands of Swann’s raiding party. Arms that in the end proved the difference between life, death or imprisonment for the “Bluecoats”, either in the salt marshes of southeastern Georgia, or perhaps in that particular hell known as Andersonville.


Citation from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 584-5

McAulay, John D., Civil War Breechloading Rifles, Andrew Mowbray, Lincoln Rhode Island

To the Sound of the Guns-blog by Craig Swain.


A Story About July 22, 1864, and a Buckeye Who Never Returned Home

Originally posted on Buckeyes, Blackhats and the Boys of '61:

Grave #4990 final resting place of Theo Ailes. Company I, 20th OVI Grave #4990 final resting place of Theo Ailes Company I, 20th OVI

(Authors note: Even though I first published this article one year ago, I think it is worth sharing again. Tomorrow will be the 150th anniversary of the fierce combat at Bald or Leggetts Hill near Atlanta, Georgia. This fight took the lives of more that 30 men, members of the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who hailed from Shelby County, Ohio. For many years after the war, the date of July 22nd, 1864 brought forth sad memories and many tears of lives and loved ones lost).

In 1861, Theophilus [or Theo as he was known to his friends and family] Ailes was an 18-year old blacksmith living in Port Jefferson, Ohio when he answered his country’s call and enlisted for 3 years in Company I of the 20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Present through all the campaigns and battle…

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Gettysburg-July 2014

M1857 "Napoleon" of Battery L, 1st OLA overlooking Plum Run Valley.

M1857 “Napoleon” of Battery L, 1st OLA overlooking Plum Run Valley.

While this trip to Gettysburg was highlighted by the donation and dedication of the Civil War ambulance to the Seminary Ridge Museum (more on that event in a later post), I did find some time to meet some new friends, enjoy the company of old friends, and add more to my knowledge of the battle. 

Monday, June 30th started with a drive around the first day’s field and stopping to leave buckeyes on some of the monuments to the Ohio units that fought on July 1st. This was followed by a great breakfast at the Lincoln Dinner with my pard and author of the superb blog, “To the Sound of the Guns,”  Craig Swain. Craig asked me if I wanted to go with  him while he updated his artillery database, and of course I said yes. Heading south on West Confederate Avenue, we stopped often as he checked for newly placed or moved artillery pieces. As usual when I’m with Craig, I learned much, especially about Confederate Napoleons and the nuances between their various makers. Stopping on the north slope of Little Round Top, we took the short walk to the position of Gibbs Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, to update the database  to reflect the newly-returned M1857 Napoleon tubes there. We paused for a while to discuss the effect that the canister fired from that elevation had on helping to stop the confederate advance late in the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863. We agreed that this was perhaps the finest Napoleon position on the entire battlefield.  Intending to head to the right end of the Federal position, we ended our morning tour with a climb up Powers Hill (my first) which gave me a new perspective on the strength of the Federal position, especially the use of the terrain to protect the extreme right flank of famous “Fishhook” line. We soon returned to the car, did the obligatory check for ticks, and headed to the Appalachian Brewing Company for a well-earned lunch. After lunch we walked over to the Seminary Ridge Museum to listen to a wonderful presentation by noted Civil War cavalry writer and historian Eric Wittenberg on General John Buford and the actions of his cavalry division on the morning of July 1st. What a great way to wind up a very good day!

July 1st found me up early and headed back to the Lincoln Diner for breakfast before starting out on what promised to be a very memorable day. A small group of friends (Frank Mittler, his friend Annie, Chuck Fulton, and Lon Hathaway) and I were going to join Iron Brigade historian and author Lance Herdegen and his friend Mike Benton on a morning tour of Iron Brigade sites. This would be a special tour opportunity with Lance guiding us and with July 1st being the 151st anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg.

We began driving south from Gettysburg on the Emmitsburg Road to Moritz Tavern, where Major General John Reynolds spent his last night and where he received word to start the left wing of the Army of the Potomac forward to Gettysburg. From there we drove north on the Emmitsburg Road back towards Gettysburg, pausing for moment at Marsh Creek which was the bivouac of the Iron Brigade (less the 19th Indiana) the night of June 30th, 1863. Continuing north, we turned right on South Confederate Avenue and stopped to look at the position of the 19th Indiana as they were assigned to picket duty the afternoon and evening of June 30th. They established their line of pickets on “a ridge, in the shadow of the big mountain.” As we stood on this slight elevation (named Warfield Ridge, which on July 2nd would be made famous as the jumping-off point for the attack of Hood’s division of Longstreet’s Corps on the left flank of the Federal Third Army Corps), we were struck by the peaceful fields and woodlots of the Bushman and Slyder farms before us. It was not hard to picture the “Swamp Hogs #19″ coming off picket duty on that damp and humid morning, starting their coffee boiling over the small cook fires, and, given their well-deserved reputation for foraging, perhaps some “recently procured” Pennsylvania chickens were roasted. Sadly, we all came to the realization that this would be the last morning that many of these young men and boys from far-off Indiana would ever know.

Confederate Napolean of Bachmans Battery on Warfield Ridge overlooking the Bushman Farm. This was the position of the 19th Indiana while on picket duty during the evening of June 30th and into the morning of July 1st, 1863.

Confederate Napoleon of Bachman’s Battery on Warfield Ridge overlooking the Bushman Farm. This was the position of the 19th Indiana while on picket duty during the evening of June 30th and into the morning of July 1st, 1863.

We continued on, making a brief stop on Little Round Top. Due to the early hour, we were able to enjoy LRT without the annoyances of traffic and crowds. It was 20 minutes or so well spent.

Our tour group on Little Round Top.

Our tour group on Little Round Top.

Getting back to our Iron Brigade theme, we drove north past the Codori Farm, taking notice of where the Iron Brigade turned off the Emmitsburg Road and by the “double quick” moved northwest to the swale between Seminary Ridge and East McPherson’s Ridge. It was here, with the 6th Wisconsin held in reserve, that the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, 19th Indiana, and the 24th Michigan would form from column into line of battle and advance to the hurried commands of Major General Reynolds as he implored them “Forward Men, for God’s sake forward and drive those fellows from the woods!” Reynolds soon fell mortally wounded, and the “Black Hats” pitched into Archers Brigade and drove those “fellows” from the woods, sending them tumbling back across Willoughby Run

Moving on to Stone and Meridith Avenues, we stopped at the Iron Brigade monuments (2nd and 7th Wisconsin, 24th Michigan, and 19th Indiana) where we enjoyed Lance’s stories of the men of the brigade and their actions here on the morning of July 1st. Our next stop was near the southeast corner of the Herbst woodlot. We gathered near the 151st PVI monument to discuss the horrific fighting that took place in that area during the afternoon of July 1st, not only by the “Black Hats,” but also by the 151st PVI in what would prove to be their first and last battle. Lance and I had had the privilege of working with Don Troiani to bring the story of Sgt. Major Asa Blanchard of the 19th Indiana to life in his print, “The Black Hats”, the setting of which is in the area near 151st monument. We took this opportunity to share with our friends the research and process of working with Don to bring this scene to life.

Lance and I discussing the actions of the 151st PVI and the Iron Brigade on the afternoon of July 1st, 1863

Lance and I discussing the actions of the 151st PVI and the Iron Brigade on the afternoon of July 1st, 1863.

Our last stop was near the monument to First Division, First Corps commander,  Major General James Wadsworth. This provided us with a great vantage point to hear Lance talk about his beloved 6th Wisconsin, their commander Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes, and their gallant charge against the infamous “railroad cut” full of “Johnnies” of the 2nd Mississippi and the 55th North Carolina.

Lance discussing the action of the 6th Wisconsin during the charge on the Confederate position in the railroad cut.

Lance discussing the action of the 6th Wisconsin during the charge on the Confederate position in the railroad cut.

Our morning tour ended far too soon, and we all headed back to our motel of choice, the Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters. Earlier that morning we had noticed a large, white tent being erected in the field just across from the hotel. For a day or so rumors had been flying that the Civil War Trust (of which I am a member) was going to buy the property, and return the four-plus acre tract to its 1863 appearance. Seeing quite a crowd forming, curiosity got the best of me and I headed across the road to hear the CWT presentation that confirmed the rumors!  Now for a bit of a confession. I have been a supporter of battlefield and historical preservation for all of my adult life, and this was the very first time I have ever felt a twinge of selfish regret over one of their preservation projects. Amy and I had many great stays at this establishment. We especially had grown fond of the Fireside Suite and its proximity to many of the scenes of the first day’s battle that I am so drawn to. Being close the Seminary Ridge Museum was also a plus, as Amy and I are Founding Members there, and we look to be more involved in supporting the museum and its activities in the future. All that said, I do think it is the proper move for the CWT to make, and I look forward to seeing the area where “Old Battery B,” 4th U.S. Artillery fought so well on the afternoon of July 1st returned to its native state.

Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery marker with the Fireside Suite room in the background.

Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery marker with the Fireside Suite in the background.


Remembering A Good Friend

Stan Verrill with his son Harley at the 2003 Dayton Airshow

Stan Verrill with his son Harley at the 2003 Dayton Airshow

Today’s blog post is a departure from my normal subjects, but it’s a story of a person who was close to my heart, as well as the tale of a life well-lived.

This past Thursday I received one of those messages that as I grow older seem to arrive much too often. I opened an email from my old friend Debbie Brooker informing me that her father, Stanley Verrill, had passed away on July 2nd in his native state of Maine. Stan was 97.

I first met Stan in the fall of 1971, it was my junior year in high school and Debbie and I had just started dating. What I remember most was how he and his wife Genevieve [who passed away in 2001] warmly welcomed me into their home. Tall and strongly built, Stan exhibited the stoic, no-nonsense demeanor that one would expect from a son of the “Pine Tree State.” And while he could be quite intimating, especially to a young man of 17 who was dating his only daughter, I soon discovered that he had a sharp sense of humor and loved telling a good joke. He was blessed with one of the nicest grins that often would blossom into the most brilliant, heartwarming smile that I have ever known.

As a member of our “Greatest Generation,” Stan served in the Army Air Corps as a flight engineer on Boeing B-17’s during World War II, flying and fighting with the “Mighty 8th” Air Force in the European Theater of Operations. He also saw service with one of the few U.S.A.A.F. units  that operated the fast and stealthy DeHaviland Mosquito. Returning from his war service, Stan soon married Genny, settled in Vandalia, Ohio, and started raising a family of two boys [Harley and Andy] and daughter Debbie. He took a job working at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base from which he retired in the early 1970’s. For a young man with an interest in both aviation and history, the time I spent looking through his photo albums and talking about his war experiences were simply priceless.

Stan Verrill with a B-17 F of the 8th USAAF. Stan is standing second from the right.

Stan Verrill with a B-17 F of the 8th USAAF. Stan is standing second from the right. Photo courtesy of Deborah Brooker, Stan’s daughter.

Retirement did not suit Stan well and he soon took a job at Aviation Sales, Inc. [ASI], a fixed based operator on Dayton International Airport. His position was that of a janitor, but he quickly became the company handyman. [I very much doubt that any company ever had a more intelligent or competent “janitor” than Stan!] As for me, I was still dating Debbie, and in the spring of my senior year [1973] I found myself out of work and soon to graduate high school with a stunning GPA of 2.4. That anemic level of academic achievement, coupled with a complete lack of interest in attending college, had me pretty much adrift. Fortunately for me, Stan told me that ASI had an opening for an aircraft lineman, a job I applied for, and in large part thanks to Stan’s good word I was soon hired. On April 27, 1973 I started my career in aviation at a company that since 1988 I have been a very proud co-owner of.

By 1974, Debbie had gone off to college, and I was still pumping gas into airplanes at ASI and struggling to figure out just what I was going to do with my life. During this period I spent a lot of time working with Stan. I learned much from him and benefited greatly, not only from his wise advice but his friendship. He gave me the incentive to take some college classes in Aviation Management at a local community college and also to get my pilot’s license. Simply put, without his friendship and guidance my life would be much different from what it is today. In 1978, Stan retired from ASI. He and his beloved Genny soon moved back to Maine where they built a beautiful house on the banks of the Penobscot River near Winterport.

After his move to Maine, we stayed in touch on an infrequent basis. In 1995 I made a trip to Maine with my boys and their mother [my ex-wife] to see Stan and Genevieve, who even with his bum knees made sure we saw all the sights. On several occasions Stan would visit Dayton, often flying in with his son, Harley, who owned and flew a Cessna Cardinal. It was always a great pleasure to see him and to catch up on old times. He took a great interest in how ASI was getting along, and seem to take a bit of well-deserved pride in my ownership and success with the business. Stanley was one of those people who seemed never to age. As the years rolled by Debbie did a great job of emailing and keeping me informed on how he was getting along. Several years ago he had finally been moved to a nursing home, and while he suffered some “miseries” with his knees and hearing, he was still pretty sharp for his age. Sadly, as is often the case, Amy and I were planning to go to Massachusetts in August, and while there I was going to take a trip up to Bangor and visit with him. Oh, how I regret not making that trip much sooner!

So the last several days have been filled full of fond memories, some sadness, a few regrets, and a great thankfulness that in my youth I had the privilege and good fortune of knowing Stan Verrill. I have found that as I grow older, and as the heroes and icons of  my youth pass, I tend to feel that much older. Years ago Stan Verrill, by the simplest gestures of friendship, counsel, and time, made a big difference in a young man’s life. I only hope that I can keep his legacy alive by doing the same. I figure that my old friend Stan would like that.




A Buckeye “Black Hats” Birthday – July 4th, 1863

The following letter from Lt. Colonel Rufus Dawes of the Iron Brigade’s Sixth  Wisconsin Infantry was written to his  fiance, Mary Beman Gates, on his 25th birthday, July 4th, 1863. Dawes the great grandson of William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere on the night of April 18th, 1776 and was born on July 4th, 1838 in Marietta, Ohio.

JULY 4th, 6 P. M.

What a solemn birthday. My little band, now only two hundred men, have all been out burying the bloody corpses of friend and foe. No fighting to-day. Both armies need rest from the exhaustion of the desperate struggle. My boys until just now have had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. No regiment in this army or in any other army in the world ever did better service than ours. We were detached from the brigade early on the first day and we operated as an independent command. I saved my men all I could and we suffered terribly to be sure, but less than any other regiment in the brigade. We captured a regiment. I don’t know as we will get our just credit before the country, but we have it with our Generals.”
I went in person taking the captured battle flag to General Meade, at headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. The object of this visit was to obtain, if possible, permission to send the battle flag to the Governor of Wisconsin to be retained at the capitol of Wisconsin as a trophy. In this effort I was unsuccessful, and I brought the flag back. As I passed along from General Meade’s headquarters to Culps’ Hill, carrying the rebel battle flag loosely folded over my arm, I took my course over the ground where General Pickett made his charge. Many wounded Confederate soldiers were still lying on this ground. A badly wounded Confederate sergeant who had lain upon the ground during the night, called to me in a faint voice: “You have got our flag!” It was a sergeant of the second Mississippi regiment. The men of this regiment who had escaped from the railroad cut and other casualties on July first, had taken part in this attack. This man informed me that the commander of his regiment at the time of its surrender was Major John A. Blair, and he gave me many particulars in regard to the history of the regiment. No introductions took place at ‘the railroad cut. I do not know whether this sergeant survived his wound. I did all in my power to secure for him aid and attention.

The Iron Brigades position on the northern face of Culps Hill. It was near here that Lt. Colonel Dawes wrote his letter.

The Iron Brigades position from the evening on July 1st until July 5th, 1863 was on the northern face of Culps Hill. The 6th Wisconsin was in line near the top of this image. It was near here that Lt. Colonel Dawes wrote his letter.

Source – Service with the Sixth Wisconsin by Rufus Dawes.



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