Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wound Warrior Project

My blog is about my ancestors who answered the call when asked by our Country.  They went off to war, they did their duty, not all of them came home.  Today men and women are answering that same call to defend our Country.  Unlike the Civil War, a large proportion of these men and women are coming home physically and mentally broken.  I said broken because that is what happens to soldiers in a war; there is no PC way of describing it.  Their lives have been unalterably changed but they won’t give up.  The Wounded Warrior Project’s goal is to help wounded veterans rebuild their lives.  Their mission statement says it all

“To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history.”  

The WWP have a number of different ways to donate.  I chose to give 19 dollars a month on my debit card.  That is a cup of coffee everyday on the way to work.  So now every morning, I bring coffee from home.  That is the least I can do considering what these men and women have done for us.   
President Abraham Lincoln ended his second Inaugural Address with: ““With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”



President Lincoln’s words are just as meaningful today as they were Two Hundred and Forty-Eight years ago. 
                I am not affiliated with or receive any type of financial remuneration from the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Glory Fades to Mundane Monotony

“none of us know whare (sic) we are going goodbye all” (Welch letter Sept 16 1863)

The orders were received each man could take “an overcoat or blanket, one piece of tent, haversack, canteen, gun, and forty rounds of cartridges." (1) As the sun was setting, the regiment formed up and marched out of camp. Breaking camp quickly, light marching order all signs the men would be going into battle shortly. Charlie must have been excited along with the rest of the regiment. They were finally going out to best the Rebs. This is what they had signed up for to put down the rebellion and restore the Union.  

The excitement of going into battle died a quick death.  “At about sundown the Regiment marched down to the Potomac, crossed the Long Bridge.”(2) The regiment’s destination was the train depot in the city of Washington D.C. As Charlie was marching with his company, in regimental formation, across the Long Bridge for the second time in a month, he had no idea that the next time he would march across that bridge would be three years later as part the “Grand Review of Sherman’s Army.” (3)

Charlie and his comrades had been in the army less than a month. Notwithstanding their limited time in the service, Charlie and the rest of the men of the regiment were quick studies in the ways of soldiering. The train that was supposed to be waiting to take the Regiment to its new encampment was not ready; as a result, the men took advantage of the hurry up and wait aspect of army life.   Unlike nine days earlier, when “a whole company rushed the guard and went into the city.”(4) The men of the 123rdnow knew how far they could bend the rules. In this case, with the train not yet ready, no camp to place the men in; the officers had only one option. The orders were given to fall out, stay near the area and don’t get into trouble. Young men being young men, an as soldiers have done for time immemorial when left to their own devices, they either sleep or go in search of some form of amusement.

The call of fun and adventure was too much for some men in the regiment. At 24 years old, married with one child, prudence was probably guiding Charlie. On the other hand, a more boisterous lot of men could not resist the siren’s songs of a local entertaining establishment. “Some of”the men “went into a store where the music of a violin was heard, and a lively time they had dancing for a few moments, when crash went the floor, falling a distance of three or four feet to the ground.”(5) Undeterred, unharmed, and untangling themselves from each other “the boys crawled out”dusted themselves off “and found fun elsewhere.” (6)

So what did Charlie do? Looking at the circumstances, Charlie’s age and background, he could have been one of the men who rolled themselves up in their blankets and tried to get some sleep or he could have gone off to see the sites of Washington D.C. However, there is this small streak of mischievousness that runs through our family. I don’t know if it is the Beal side or the Gilson side of our genetic pool in which this quaint eccentricity resides; although judging from past history, I have a feeling it is on the Beal side. If Charlie was one of the revelers, he probably thought, after the fact of course, ‘this was not one of my more intelligent decisions.’ At which point, he quickly made his way back to his company area. By “seven the next morning,” the train was ready. (7) The men were formed into companies and “marched to the train station.” (8)

 In his diary Rice Bull stated that, they boarded flat cars and traveled slowly while Morhous stated they boarded “large freight cars and from thirty to forty soldiers were placed in each.” (9 ) If they were flat cars- which I tend to believe due to the fact that Bull was writing at the time while Morhous was writing about it thirty years later- the scenery during the trip must have been amazing. Traveling at thirty miles an hours through the hills of Maryland following the Patapsco stream with an unobstructed view from a flat car Charlie was looking at an idyllic scene.

Patapsco stream
The only problem was that Charlie was “crowded … on the flat car with no seats” along with 40 other men. (10) Standing while riding on a train is an exercise in agility and balance. Men bouncing off of each other, grasping a nine pound rifle that was almost 5 feet tall, carrying a haversack, cartridge box, an a canteen, trying to balance their weight to go with the rocking rhythm of the train was fatiguing. Even though, the scenery was beautiful; riding like that all day long became exhausting. To add to the weariness of their journey “there were many trains on the road and”… the train “spent much time on sidings.” (11)

The men had not had any food since Arlington Heights. “There had been no way to prepare meals” the men had to eat the hardtack in their haversacks with no means of softening it. 12 (Bull 16) They were unable to get off the train during the frequent stops on the sidings to make cooking fires. Hungry and tried, the train, making its final leg of the journey, headed down the slope of Mount Airy towards the Monocacy river.

“Just as night came,” the train “reached Fredrick, Maryland,”(Fredrick City) where it was stopped “before entering the town.” (12) The men, exhausted from the journey, climbed down from the rail cars and formed up in their respective companies. The company cooks went to work boiling coffee for the men. It had been a long journey the men were worn-out and hungry. The orders where given to fallout, the men unhooked their tin cups and wearily lined up to have coffee ladled into their cups. Finding a piece of soft ground the men spread out their blankets, drank their coffee, ate the rest of their hardtack, and then fell asleep. “It had been a hard day… crowded as we were on the flat cars with no seats” (13)

As of yet, the regiment had not been assigned to a division. The 123rd was still a detached regiment waiting to find a home. For the next two days the regiment encamped about two miles from Fredrick City. On October 4, orders were received to move out. By now Charlie and the rest of the men were becoming use to the hurry up and wait aspect of army life. Charlie packed up his meager possession, blanket, shelter half, buckled the plate of his cartridge belt, adjusted the cartridge box and the percussion cap box to make sure everything fitted properly and comfortable, and checked his canteen to make sure it was full of water. The orders were given to fall in roll was called and the regiment marched back to the train depot. The regiment was heading to Sandy Hook Maryland “about one mile from Harper’s Ferry.” (14)

The train “stopped at Point of Rocks which is an abrupt cliff extending a mile or more. Some of the rocks overhang the tracks.” (15) After a two hour wait, Charlie and his comrades “marched north about two miles and pitched camp in Pleasant Valley. Maryland Heights.” (16) This was to be the regiment’s new home for the next month.
Piont Of Rocks Maryland

The location of the regiment’s new home was nestled between“Maryland Heights is on one side of the Shenandoah River and Bolivar Heights and Loudoun Heights are on the other side of the Potomac. Bolivar Heights and Loudoun Heights are in Virginia.” (17) Even though the regiment was camped in an idyllic setting, the monotony of camp life quickly took hold. For the next month the regiment drilled nine hours a day and preformed picket duty by company. The only day Charlie and the regiment did not have to drill was on Sunday. On Sundays, the Army held inspection. Robert Cruikshank wrote to his wife, “every Sabbath morning… every man’s person clothing, tent, gun and accoutrements must be looked to and kept clean. This is necessary for the health of the men and to keep everybody in order.” (18)

Pleasant Valley, Mayland

A typical day for Charlie began with the “Assembly ” call. (19) The men were awakened from their dreams of home and decent food by the drummers throughout the camp rapping out the now familiar staccato beat. This was the signal for the men to get up and get ready for assembly call which signaled Reveille at 5:30 Am. The sergeants and corporals of the company would be moving through the company streets yelling “Turn out – all up” and I’m sure other more earthy sayings to induce the men to get up and begin the day. (20) Inevitably, one or more of the men would respond before the last drum roll was played with the command “put the” drummer “in the guard-house.” (21) However, Charlie did not have time to roll over and grab an extra few minutes of sleep. He had to wash up, answer the call of nature and be dressed in fifteen minutes when the Assembly Call was sounded.

The Dog tents being “four feet square” allowed only one man at a time to back out on his hands and knees. (22) Waking up cold, stiff, sore, and damp from the “cold nights” Charlie now had to get ready for assembly. (23) Since the men’s “knapsacks were left at Washington with nearly all” their “clothing”, Charlie had very little dressing to do. (24) Charlie’s morning washing consisted of his tent mate pouring water from his canteen into Charlie’s cupped hands so he could wash his face, hands and arms. Once Charlie was done he returned the favor for his tent mate.

When the Assembly call was sounded, the men made their way to formation while pulling on their blouses, pulling up pants and adjusting their suspenders or jamming their feet into the one size fits all brogans.

The men from each company would fall into formation each man fining his correct place in the rank and file. First Sergeant George Robinson then ordered the men to dress ranks were by each man, except the man on the far right of the line, would hold out his left arm at shoulder height and the man next to him would distance himself accordingly. Robinson would then order the men to Parade Rest. “While at Parade Rest the” drum beat “Reveille.” (25) As the last note of reveille was sounded, 1st Sergeant Robinson roared “Pay Attention to Roll-call.” (26)

The Company had four sergeant, Harrison, Norton, Cramer and Safford, each sergeant was responsible for Twenty-Five25 men. ( 27) The Sergeants would call out the names of the men in their platoon. Allen, Albert; Allen, Joshua; Baker; Bartlett; Beaumus, Oscar; Beaumus John; Bentley, Booter. After each name, the response of; HERE, YO or PRESENT was announced loud and clear less the respondent be marked absent without permission. At the name ‘Gilson’, a “five foot, four inches tall, black haired, blue eyed,” and if hereditary genes are to be believed, still half asleep, Charlie Gilson quickly snapped awake with the response; ‘HERE!’(28)

Once Roll Call was taken, the men heard the drum for Sick Call. After Sick Cal, the drum beat out Breakfast call. The food or rations as it was called in the army was not of the same quality of home cooking. In fact, Robert Cruikshank wrote home to his wife stating “Our rations are bad, the crackers are wormy- the same kind of worms as we find in decayed wood…. We find worms in our bacon and our salt beef has soured in the brine.” (29)

By now Charlie was an “experienced soldier” in the ways camp life. The first thing he would have done with his wormy hardtack was to break it up and boil it in his coffee pot. This was a quart or pint bucket with a piece of bailing wire attached so the bucket could be hung over a fire. Once the coffee came to a boil, Charlie would have taken his spoon and “easily skimmed off “ drowned worms or weevils leaving“no distinctive flavor behind” in his coffee.” (30) Spooning the now soft and eatable army cracker onto his plate he could sit back an enjoy a quality breakfast complements of The United States Government.

The next drum call Charlie would respond to was Fatigue call. The Corporals would take their squad of men and police the company streets as well as the officer’s area and tents. Once the camp was in order, the next call was for Drill. The individual companies would drill in squad and platoon formation in the morning. These drills consisted of marching in column, line abreast, oblique right, oblique left and gun drill.

“At twelve o’clock the dinner call was sounded.” (31) Charlie and his mess mates would then have another delicious meal provided to them by The United States Government. No extra charge for the wormy crackers or the rancid meat. After dinner, the men were sent out to drill for the afternoon this time it was in regimental formation.

“At about 5:45 P.M., Attention was blown, soon to be followed by the Assembly, when the men had to fall in for Retreat Roll-call … This roll call was Dress Parade. “Uniformity of dress was required” the men could not be half dressed or unkempt as was sometimes the case at Reveille. (32)

This dress parade, at the end of the day, had a specific purpose beyond roll call. It was at Dress Parade that every soldier in the Union army was introduced to always quoted but never seen E.D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General. Once the roll call was completed, Charlie and his comrades had to remain at attention while general and special orders of the Union Army were read aloud. On November 10, 1864 everyman in the Army of the Potomac heard the following while standing at attention during dress parade.

“Special Orders, No.337; War Department, Adj. Gen.’s Office, Washington, November 10, 1862.

VII. By directions of the President, Maj. Gen. J. Hooker, U.S. Volunteers, is assigned to the command of the Fifth Army Corps, in place of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter, U.S. Volunteers, who will immediately report in person to the Adjutant-General of the Army, in the city.

By order of the Secretary of War:

E.D. Townsend , Assistant Adjutant-General.” (33)

On that day, the record shows that Charlie and the rest of the Army of the Potomac listened to at least two special orders from the Secretary of war and one from General Burnside, Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac.

Once the orders had been read, the men of the Army of the Potomac were informed of the findings of courts martial. This entailed the reading of charges and specification against a named individual. The charges were derived from the 101 rules that congress enacted in 1806. The rules were called The Articles of War. This was the quickest way to re-enforce The Articles of War which had been read to every officer, non-commissioned officer and soldier upon enlistment.

The Articles of Warcovered everything from silent insolence to murder. Courts Martial Boards were convened not to dispense justice but to enforce a ridged caste system of discipline. The following three articles, which deal with insubordination, cowardice in the face of the enemy, desertion and article 99 the catch all article, are an example of the Army and Navy’s draconian system of discipline

Art. 9. Any officer or soldier who shall strike his superior officer, or draw or lift up any weapon, or offer any violence against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretense whatsoever, or shall disobey any lawful command of his superior officer, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall, according to the nature of his offense, be inflicted upon him by the sentence of a court-martial.

Art. 52. Any officer or soldier who shall misbehave himself before the enemy, run away, or shamefully abandon any fort, post, or guard which he or they may be commanded to defend, or speak words inducing others to do the like, or shall cast away his arms or ammunition, or who shall quit his post or colors to plunder and pillage, every such offended, being duly convicted thereof, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court martial.

Art. 99. All crimes not capital, and all disorders and neglects which officers and soldiers may be guilty of, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, though not mentioned in the foregoing articles of war, are to be taken cognizance of by the general or regimental courts-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and be punished at their discretion. (34)

A Captain or Lieutenant from the regiment would begin by reading aloud the Charges and Specification. ‘Private John Doe, 19th New York Volunteer Infantry Army of the United States.

Charge 1st Violation of the 99thArticle of War.

Specification 1st In this, that the said private John Doe of the 19th New York Volunteers Infantry, Army of the United States, having received a lawful order… ‘

The officer would then give the specific details of the violation. This would continue until all the charges and specifications were read out loud and then the finding of the courts martial was announced to the men. On one such occasion, the finding of the courts martial was death by firing squad and Charlie and his comrades were ordered to witness the event.

After the General Orders, Special Orders and Courts Martial findings were read the men where subject to a lecture by the “Officer of the Day” or in some case by “the Orderly Sergeant” also known as the First Sergeant. (35) The theme of these lectures concerned the men’s attitude to adapting to the rigors of army life.

In his book Hard Tack and Coffee John Billings describes the various lectures Charlie would have heard.

“…the text was the general delinquency of the men in getting into line; sometimes it was a rebuke for being lax in phases of discipline; the men were not sufficiently respectful to superior officers, did not pay the requisite attention to saluting, had too much back talk, were too boisterous in camp, to untidy in line. These and twenty other allied topic, all having a bearing on the characteristics essential in the make- up of a good soldier, were preached upon.” (36)

These lectures were considered a waste of time by the men. However, when the officer of the day gave the lecture, the men gave their full attention, but when the orderly sergeant gave the lecture, “unless protected by the presence of a pair of shoulder straps”-officer’s insignia was embroidered shoulder straps- the sergeant “was quite likely to be coughed or groaned down, or in some other way discouraged from repeating the effort.” (37)

Once the regiment had been dismissed, the men were left to their own devices until 8:30 P.M. when assembly was beaten out on the drums. It was during this time that Charlie would have been busy cleaning his equipment, writing letters to his wife Delia relating his experiences in the army or just relaxing with his buddies.

Who were Charlie’s closest friends at this time? Most assuredly one of them was his tent mate. What did they talk about? What did he do to occupy his time? Was he one of the men who played cards and engaged in revelry, or was he a more temperate soldier who read his bible and abstained from merriment? Well, if we consider the fact that Charlie left his home in Upstate New York, to seek his fortune in Natick, Massachusetts, as a shoemaker, that in an of itself strongly suggests that he was a person who was not afraid of doing some things slightly outside the norm. He most likely was engaged in the more interesting aspects of camp life such as playing cards, signing, horseplay and having an occasional drink. He might have been a temperance man who read his bible every night. However, judging from the events in the family history, he probably was not sitting in his tent pouring over scripture.

Charlie’s day came to an end when Assembly was sounded on the drums. The men would fall out from whatever they were doing and get into formation for the day’s final roll call. The men were counted and dismissed. The men had thirty minutes to prepare for bed. When taps was sounded, all lights were extinguished all noise must cease (in the enlisted men’s area only) and the men were in their tents sleeping or trying to fall asleep while thinking about home and love ones.

Charlie got down on all fours and crawled into his dog tent, the last sounds of the drums beating out, the far off fading notes of taps playing out, he laid down to sleep, the glory of war slowly fading into the reality of monotony; the sheer terror of battle yet to be experienced. He mentally crossed off one more day of his 3 year enlistment and blew out the dim flame of his government issued candle.

Bull , Rice . Soldiering The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull. San Rafael : Presidio Press , 1977. ; ( Bull)

Billings, John. Hardtack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life, (Boston : George M. Smith & Co., 1888), 111; (Billings)
Morhous, Henry. 123d Regiment, N.Y.S.V. Giving a Complete History of Its Three Years Service in The War . Greenwich, N.Y.: People's Journal Book and Job Office, 1879. November 21, 2012); (Morhous)

The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1891);idno=waro0028; (O.R.)

Cruikshank, Robert, Civil war letters to his wife;

Welch , Henry . Hamilton College Library , "Hamilton College Library Digital Collection . 11, 1862

Sons of Union Veterans Civil War; (SUVCW)

National Archives and Records Administration:
Gilson, Charles; Compiled Military service Records; (CMSR)


  1. Cruikshank Oct 3, 1863; Morhous, p.13
  2. Morhous, p. 13
  3. Bull, p. 16
  4. Cruikshank Sept. 21, 1862
  5. Morhous, p. 13
  6. Morhous, p. 13
  7. Bull, p. 16
  8. Bull, p. 16
  9. Morhous, p. 13
  10. Bull, p. 16
  11. Bull, p. 16
  12. Bull, p. 16
  13. Bull, p. 16
  14. Morhous, p. 14
  15. Curikshank letter October 9, 1862
  16. Morhous, p. 14
  17. Cruikshank October 9, 1862
  18. Cruikshank Letter no date, 1862
  19. Billings, p.165
  20. Billings, p. 165
  21. Billings, p. 165
  22. Welch Letter Oct. 11, 1862
  23. Cruikshank letter Oct. 12, 1862
  24. Cruikshank letter Oct. 11, 1862
  25. Billings, p. 169
  26. Billings, p. 169
  27. Jones, p. 325-326 company A roster
  28. Gilson, CMSR
  29. Cruikshank letter, Oct. 27, 1862
  30. Billings, p. 116
  31. Billings, p.186
  32. Billings, p.187
  33. O.R Series 1, Vol. 19, Part II, p. 569
  34. SUVCW
  35. Billings, p. 188-189
  36. Billings 189

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Gathering of Brothers

Piecing together the Civil War experiences of my six ancestors with only the official record and the memoirs of other participants care must be taken not to embellish the events being written about.  So phrases, such as ‘he might have done …,’ ‘it is possible that…,’ ‘it would be normal if…’ ‘imagine if you will…,’ are used to maintain the historical accuracy while still telling their stories.  Never the less, when an entry in a diary or a line in the official company record converges with a specific point on the historical timeline becomes so overwhelmingly powerful, I want to believe the event actually took place.        

December 1863, the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Rappahannock River.  The Mine Run campaign was over; the last attack had been cancelled due to the nature of the terrain and the concomitant bloodshed such an attack would cause.  General Meade ordered the Army of the Potomac into winter quarters at Brandy Station and the surrounding areas of Culpepper County, Va.  The Daily Report for Company M  2nd Massachusetts Cavalry on December 6, 1863 states “Corporal Beal on pass to Brandy Station for 4 days.”   The Second Mass Cav. had gone into winter quarters at Vienna, Va. which is 85 plus miles from Brandy Station.  

Question, why did Merrill travel 85 plus miles on a four day pass when he could have gone 15 miles to Washington D.C.?  What reason did he have to spend precious leave time with the Army of the Potomac?  The answer is simple this was a chance for all four brothers and their cousin to get together for Christmas.

Merrill Beal, 30 year old butcher, volunteered February 1863;  Eleazar Beal, married, shoemaker, 36 years old when he volunteered in August of 1861,  was in the 22nd Mass Volunteer Infantry;  William H. Beal single, farmer,  22 years old when he volunteered in August of 1862, was in the 39th  Mass. Volunteer  Infantry;  Jesse Beal, married, 32 years old, shoemaker,  was drafted in July 1863 into the 12th Mass Volunteer Infantry; Selah Alden,  their cousin, 32 years old, shoemaker when he volunteered in July of 1861, was with the 13th Mass. Volunteer Infantry,  all these units were in the Army of the Potomac.  The 39th, and 13th were encamped at Mitchell station.  The 12th was encamped in the area of Kelly’s Ford and the 22nd was encamped at Beverly Ford. 

When the Army went into winter quarters, it was a time of rest and refit.  The routine of picket duty, patrols, inspections, and parades were kept up, but there would have been plenty of free time.  The military railroad connected Vienna, Va. with Brandy Station so Merrill could have made the journey in a half day on the military railroad.  The historical records strongly suggest that the brothers were together for a few days in early December of 1863. What was this gathering of brothers like?

     The romantic in me imagines a poignant gathering of brothers who had seen the realities of modern war and realized the odds were against all of them coming home alive.   Who did Merrill look for first?  Were the brothers all able to get together?  What did they talk about?  Did they have a group picture taken by one of the many sutlers  contracted by the Union Army to serve the Army of the Potomac while in winter quarters?  Again only theory and logic can answer these questions.  There is no factual evidence, at this time, to definitively say they were together that Christmas season of 1863.   Consequently, theory, logic, and imagination, along with some common sense must tell the rest of the story. 

Imagine if you will, Merrill riding the U.S. Military Railroad train down the Orange and Alexander railroad. Sitting in his seat, or in one of the freight cars, gazing upon the devastation, mile after mile, the war had brought to Virginia.  The weather is cold the leaves are off the trees and signs of war are everywhere he looked. Union soldiers on picket duty guarding the railroad against attack, by Mosby’s Rangers, can be seen from the train warming themselves by a fire.

As the train headed for Brandy Station, Merrill would inevitably have thought about the last Christmas with his family back in 1859.  He had not seen any of his brothers, except Jesse, or his cousin Selah Alden for three years.  Surely Merrill was remembering past Christmas celebrations when his parents, Calvin and Sally Beal, were alive.  Did the family adopt the custom of having a Christmas tree?  Was he remembering how they made the decorations for the tree and the Christmas dinners his mother Sally made for the family?  Merrill would have to have been inhuman not to have those memories playing like a movie in his mind, as he traveled to Brandy Station to find his brothers.  

Merrill’s older brother Eleazar, one of the original volunteers in August of 61, was on detached duty with his division’s ambulance corps at that time.  Did the Gods of Christmas conspirer to make this reunion happen by having Eleazar at one of the depots in his ambulance transferring wounded soldiers onto a train bound for one of the General hospitals in Washington D.C.? It is not out of the realm of possibilities. The Mine Run campaign had just ended a few days before so Eleazar’s duties would have had him constantly going back and forth to the train depot transporting wounded men.  Merrill could have spotted his brother at a train depot.

Let’s say that is what happened. Eleazar would have told Merrill where to find the encampments of their other brothers’ regiments.  Once all the brothers, and their cousin Selah Alden, gathered together, what happen? 

Well since Merrill was in the cavalry, his brothers probably ribbed him about never having to walk anywhere and having an easy time of it.  To which Merrill’s response might have been, ‘Yup, real easy, except at the end of the day. While the infantry is sitting around the fire drinking coffee the cavalry is tending to their horses.  Before we can get warm and have anything to eat or drink, the horses have to be taken care of first.’  

Merrill might have continued with, “But, promotions are fast in the cavalry. You guys are still privates.  I’m already an acting sergeant.’ 

And then the laughter would have started and the individual stories would begin to unfold.  Questions such as what is San Francisco like? Where you were at Gettysburg?  How bad was Antietam? What kind of fighters are Mosby and his men?  Each brother would tell his story while the others listened.  No embellishments with individual heroic deeds just brothers comparing their common experiences of their temporary profession.  There was no sibling rivalry just a common atmosphere of respect.  Each brother had proved himself in the crucible of war there was no need for embellishments.           

 I’m sure they talked about their brother George, who was 35 and married with a ten year old son, and how smart he was to stay out of the war.  (George would enlist in the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry a month later)  Eleazar and Selah would have talked about their enlist time coming to an end in the fall of 64. They might have good naturedly taunted the others with the fact they still had two more years to serve.  They might have shared letters from home and talked about old friends who enlisted but where gone. 

 The stories from Christmas past and old songs might have been sung while they sat on hardtack boxes around a camp fire drinking coffee trying to stay warm during the cold Virginia night. The glow of the fire hiding the emotions each brother felt for the other.  The log huts of the winter quarters were most likely still being built.

The following day they would have visited the sutler’s store and purchase some delicacies for a soldiers feast. If the sutler had a traveling photography studio, they might have had a group picture taken that they could have sent home to their wives?  But all too soon, the gathering would have come to an end.  Each brother would go back to his regiment and fight his war.  Each brother separately wondering if this was to be the last Christmas they would have together.  

As I stated previously the documentation I found, though slim, strongly suggest that Merrill, his three brothers; Eleazar, Jesse, William and his cousin Selah spent a few days in early December of 1863 together at Brandy Station Va. This story is how I imagined it would have been.   They were celebrating a Christmas far from loved ones and home, at a miserable army camp, in the middle of war torn Virginia. It was a gathering of brothers for Christmas.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chapter III; Merrill Beal

“…we are fighting for our country, its honor and its preservation,” (Rodgers p. 133)

At some point during Merrill’s transit from California to New York, he was informed that he had been promoted to corporal. His CMSR indicated that he was promoted to Corporal, per General Order No 18. on April 1, 1863. 1. (Beal CMSR) Merrill most likely was informed of his promotion during their layover in New York. Merrill’s responsibilities would now include supervising a squad of twelve men as well as the other duties of a corporal. In modern terms, Merrill’s learning curve, which was steep to begin with, became a rapid vertical ascent.

Kautz' Customs of Service for Non Commissioned Officers and Soldiers explains in detail the duties of the soldier and the non-commissioned officer. Besides learning all the duties of a private soldier Merrill also had to learn the duties of the corporal. Kautz opens the section on the Duties of a Corporal with the following statement “The corporal is usually selected from the most intelligent privates, who have been longest in the service, and who are noted for their military appearance and attention to duty.” 2. (Kautz 1864) In a war time, armies are made up of volunteers, the longest servicing aspect, obviously, would not be a factor in his promotion.

Merrill not only had to learn the duties of a corporal; he also had to learn the duties of a corporal in a cavalry regiment. As a corporal, he was expected to help train the privates in learning their duties and responsibilities by doing everything a private was required to do - but doing it perfectly.

The steamer Plymouth Rock carried the California Battalion to Stonington Connecticut. The trip took 9 hours. At Stonington, the battalion was off loaded and transferred to a train which would take them to Camp Meigs located in Readville, Massachusetts. George Buhrer recalled the atmosphere of the trip as being “sultry” and “the weather rainy and disagreeable. 3 (Buhrer Ap 16, 1863)

The battalion arrived at Camp Meigs at eleven o’clock in the morning April 16th. Merrill had been away from New England for almost three years so his memory of a New England spring was still fresh in his mind. And the New England weather did not disappoint him. Private Buhrer noted in his diary that the weather was “disagreeable; a fine penetrating rain.” In April, this is the type of New England weather which causes the sky to have a gray murky overcast. This in turn makes the air raw and damp. The penetrating rain gets into everything clothes, skin, equipment, inadequately heated quarters become damp and chilled. It is a completely miserable feeling.

There were five cavalry barracks at Camp Meigs. They “were one story buildings. They would shed rain, but the wind made itself at home inside the structure… The bunks were double-decker arranged for two soldiers in each berth.” 4. (Allen 1893) The barracks were cold and uncomfortable for the men from California who were used to a more temperate climate. Three of these barracks were assigned to Colonel Lowell and the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. This was Merrill’s home for the next month.

One of the first things Merrill probably did was go to the sutler’s store and purchase copies of Kautz,’ Customs of the Service and George B. McClellan’s;Regulation and Instruction for the Field Service of the U.S. Cavalry in Time of War. Both books no doubt became his constant companion over the next few months.

The training began immediately. Over the next three days, Merrill and the battalion would do foot drills while each company received its equipment. This would consist of the accoutrements of a cavalry trooper. The Cavalry trooper during the Civil War was outfitted with the following equipment:

Carbine, carbine sling and swivel, cartridge box,… cap pouch,...wiper … to keep your carbine clean,… screw-driver,… revolver,… holster and pistol cartridge box,… smaller straps and waist belt,.. Saber and scabbard,. P. 40 saber knots. Horse furniture, 1 bridle, 1water bridle, 1 halter, 1 saddle, 1 saddle bag, 1 saddle blanket, 1 surcingle, 1 pair of spurs, 1 curry-comb, 1 horse brush, 1 picket pin, and 1 lariat, 1 link and 1 nose bag.” 5 (Allen 1893) Unlike the common infantry man who only had to look after himself after a days march, the cavalry trooper had to make sure his mount was cared for before he could even think about himself thus the reason for the extra equipment . (6 Allen 1893 )

The record is not clear whether Merrill received his equipment before or after he received his 7 day furlough. What is clear is the morning report for April 19th states “Corp. Beal absent with leave.” Then on April 25, 1863 the Morning reports states: “Corp Beal returned from furlough.” So where did Merrill go for seven days? The most likely place would be home to Natick, Massachusetts. 7 (Beal, Company M daily Reports)
Follow Central from the left of the Town square. Mrs J. Beal then E. Beal are on the right and side.
In the 1860’s Natick, Massachusetts was transitioning from an agricultural community to a manufacturing community. In the 1850s, the Beal family moved from Lyme, New Hampshire to Natick Massachusetts. Natick was becoming a major supplier of brogans; a cheap working man’s pair of shoes. All of the brothers, except the youngest, William, listed their occupation as shoemaker on the 1850 census. By 1860, the Beals had settled into Natick and would remain there for over 100 years.

Camp Meigs was approximately 16 miles from Natick by train so the probability of Merrill going home to see his family is almost 99.999 percent; without a letter or newspaper article definitively stating he was home for a visit that is as close to placing him there on furlough as can be assumed.

Merrill’s homecoming would have been bitter sweet. By April of 1863 his older brother Eleazer C. Beal was serving in the 22nd Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment . His little brother William Beal was serving with the 39th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, his cousin Selah B. Alden was serving in the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment and his niece Delia Beal Gilson’s husband Charles E. Gilson, had gone home to New York to enlist in the 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry regiment. Eleazer answered Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers in the summer of ‘61. William, Selah, and Charles answered Lincoln’s call for 300,000 volunteers in the summer of 1862. 8 (Beal, E; Beal, W; Alden, A; Gilson, C CMSRs)

They left behind their wives and children. There were only four brothers left at home: Cyrus H., James M., George W. and Jessie N. Beal all of them married. Jesse was still a newlywed having been married in February of 1861. The reunion was bitter sweet because after the war only four of these nine men would be alive.

Did Merrill’s brothers even know he was in the Army? Was this going to be a surprise for them? What was Merrill feeling as he walked down Central Ave in Natick to one of his brothers houses? A report from the Evening Boston Transcript wrote, “Quite a number of our boys have received furloughs… I have already witnessed scenes that would bring tears from stones.” Was this to be that type of reunion? 9 (Rogers et al 2001)

The closest house would have been either George or Eleazer’s as they lived right next to each other. However, Merrill most likely went to George’s house first since Eleazer was in the service. James’ and Jesse’s houses were one block away on Forest Street. Calvin’s was even further away. It just makes sense that he would go to George’s home first.

Merrill would have walked up the long drive way at the end of which was a large barn/ carriage house. To his left was the large 3 story mansard roof home. Walking up the three steps of the back porch, his cavalry boots echoing with each step, he would have gone to the back screen door and knocked. Only strangers and peddlers went to the front door, relatives, friends and neighbors always went to the kitchen door. *

Since it was a Sunday, who answered the door was it Julia? Was she in the kitchen preparing Sunday dinner? Was Merrill smiling? Did Julia drop the pot of whatever she might have been holding when she saw her brother – in- law standing on her back porch in his gold braided cavalry uniform? Or did George answer the door? If he did, I wonder what his reaction was? Did they hug? Did they shake hands? Or was everybody at Church. If so, did Merrill let himself in and help himself to some decent food.

( these were the days when you didn’t have to lock doors in a small town.) Was he sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee waiting for everyone to return from church? The numerous ways his homecoming could have played out are endless. However, since it was a Sunday, a day of rest, the Beal families and the Alden families were at home after church services. So it is likely to have been an impromptu celebration.

The conversation would have revolved around where Eleazar, William, Charlie and Selah were stationed. Questions about what it was like in San Francisco. What was it like crossing the continent in a wagon train? What did those exotic places in Mexico and Central America look like? The stories would have gone on long into the night.

The next 7 days would have gone by in the blink of an eye. Did he have time to play with his nieces and nephews. Was he able to hold, my great grandfather, 3 month old Charlie Gilson (later changed to Beal see Charles Gilson’s story ) in his arms? Questions that we will never have answers to because the stories were never re-told to succeeding generations. Stories which are not in the official records. Stories we can only imagine.

April 25 “Corp Beal ret. From Furlough” 10 (Company M Daily Reports)


  1. Beal, Merrill C. Compiled Military Service Record National Archives and Record Administration
  2. Kautz , August . Customs of Service for Non- Commissioned Officers and Soldiers. Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott & Co. , 1864.
  3. Buhrer, George. " The Daily Journal of George N Buhrer." The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians. Michael Sorenson Collection . Web. 10 Nov 2012. <>.
  4. Allen , Stanton . Down in Dixie Life in a Cavalry Regiment in The War: From The Wilderness to Appomattox . Boston : D. Lothrop Comapny , 1893. (accessed December 3, 2012).
  5. Allen; p. 39-40
  6. Allen; p. 39-40
  7. Beal, M. CMSR
  8. National Archives and Records Administration Compiled Military Service Records
  9. Unknown. Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, Tuesday, June 2, 1863 as told in Rogers , Larry and Rogers, Keith. Their Horses Climbed Trees: A Chronicle of the California 100 and Battalion in the Civil War, From San Francisco to Appomattox . Atglen : Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001. 125. Print
  10. National Archives and Records Administration; Company M 2nd Mass Cavalry Daily Report book; April 1863
*The Home of George and Julia Beal is still standing today. By an amazing twist of fate the home became the property of my sisters’Godparents, Aunt Ann and Uncle Joe and currently remains within their family. Neither side of the families, parents or godparents, knew of the history of the home. I have been in the house many times.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tabulations and Numbers: Regimental Histories

The cold facts of numbers, the anonymity of the number, the nice neat final total at the bottom of the ledger sheet, an integer in a rectangle which sanitizes the record.   The record that was paid for in blood and lost dreams.   Though I am loathed to quote him, Stalin said you kill 100 people it is murder; you kill a million people it is a statistic. Regimental histories are statistical summaries of a unit’s service record.  Valuable, to be sure, to the historian and the genealogist; however what about those men the numbers represent?
                          View in Arlington National Cemetery, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865 (source NARA)

                My sister Cheri and I were talking on Skype the other day; I told her about a possible lead to tracking down photographs of our Civil War ancestors.  She checked one of the databases from her My Favorites list and came up with a PDF file from the Internet Library Archives.  The file, “Civil War Camps At Readville… Camp Meigs Playground & Fowl Meadow Reservation Preliminary Historic Data Compilation,” was a report commissioned by the MDC to preserve the historic recorded of one of Massachusetts largest Civil War training camps.   Included in the report were abstracts of “Massachusetts in the Army and Navy During the War of 1861-65.”  On pages 161 and 162 are the statistical summaries for KIA by engagement, read on line version.

                We perused the report for 2nd Mass Cav. Vol. Regiment and the 3rd Mass Cav. Vol. regiment.  At the end of the statistical summaries for each regiment, a summary of Casualties by Engagement (KIA) was listed.  Across the top of the page from left to right listed the companies.  Running down the left hand side of page were the engagements in chronological order.  For some companies there is just a dash other companies a number 1 or 2 is listed. 

                I pointed out to my sister the date of October 19, 1864 and the column for company M.  In that small little rectangle was the number 1, I told her that number 1 is Merrill Beal our ancestor.  There was dead silence.  Cheri did not say anything for a moment or two.  On the following page was the statistical summary for the 3rd Mass Cav. Vol. Regiment.  I told Cheri to scroll down to May 15-18 Yellow Bayou engagement.  The column for company H had a 1 in the small little rectangle.  “That is George Beal,” I said.  Again silence for a moment.     Cheri final said, “That’s not right.  The names Merrill Beal and George Beal should be there not a number.”  I know what she meant. 

The number does not tell the story of the person.   That is why I want to recreate the lives of my ancestors.  Tell their stories through their eyes.  Tell what they experienced so that when someone wants to know who was that number it is no longer a statistic but a person.  A person who had hopes and dreams.  A person who interrupted his life to fight and die for a cause he believed in.   A person who left family behind.  A living breathing human being who had people that loved him and prayed for the day he would returned.   That day never came.  No it is much more than an integer in a rectangle.   

Photogaph:  National Archives and Records Administrations

Record Group 111:Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 - 985Series:
Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, 1921 - 1940

New York Public Library Internet Archives: