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:



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Charles Gilson Chapter II: The Rookie

             The martial music had faded away; the patriotic parades were a memory; the job of soldiering began. The regiment was marched off to Capitol Hill’s camp Chase.  Upon arriving, Charlie was given his first of what would become a monotonous diet of army camp rations.  The men were marched to the commissary shed for the “banquet.” (1)  The rations “consisted of beef, rice, beans, bread, coffee, sugar, salt and vinegar. (2) Charlie was most likely also issued “candles and soap” which were part of the allowable ration for soldier. (3)  Once the rations had been distributed Charlie and the regiment were “issued their guns and accoutrements.” (4 )   Charlie Gilson was about to begin his formal education as a warrior. 

            The regiment marched to their assigned area of camp Chase. The officers laid out the company streets.  “Each man was issued a tent cloth, and with these strips of cloth were directed to construct shelter tents; ‘dog tents’ was the name given them.” (5)   John Billings wrote of the dog tent, “I can imagine no other reason for calling it a dog tent than this, that when one is pitched it would only accommodate a dog, and a small one at that.  (6)     Henry Welch gave a very good description of the dog tent in a letter home.  The piece of cloth was “four feet square with buttons on three sides.” (7)  If two men joined their pieces together you had an eight foot square tent that would be hung over a ridge pole.  The only problem was that both ends were open to the elements.  If you wanted to close off one end, you asked another man to be your tent mate and used his shelter half to cover one end. This made the sleeping accommodation rather cramped.  Who did Charlie join up with to make a shelter?  Did they become lifelong friends?  Did this person survive the horrors of battle?  If so, did this person leave a diary of his experiences?

            The day following their arrival at camp Chase, the men of the regiment would get a taste of their company cook’s culinary ability.  The cooks for each company “were appointed” most likely by their officers . The meal was the same for each company; “a spoonful of boiled rice, a square chunk of salted pork, and one slice of hard tack” and a cup of “dark fluid that was called coffee.” (8 )    The culinary skills of each company’s cooks decided the quality of the meal.  Private Bull’s critique of this first repast prepared by the cooks of company D was scathing. “The rice was badly burned and inedible; the hard tack…seemed like biting into a wooden shingle and had not much taste.  The pork very salty and the coffee was not made by an expert.” (9)  Henry Welch of company K had similar feelings about the food but did not go into detail about the meal.  He was so disgusted with the food that he refused to go into any detail about its quality in his letter home on October 11, 1862.  I wonder how Charlie described the food when he wrote home?    

Charlie and his comrades had their first lesson major lesson in practical soldiering with in forty- eight hours after their arrival at camp Chase.  The ground the regiment occupied was neat and level.  “The tents were new… white and attractive”; however “a hard thunderstorm” erupted and they were “washed out of house and home.” (10)  The men had forgotten to dig a trench around their tents for water drainage. I wonder if Charlie, a shoemaker by trade or his tent mate, was smart enough to “ditch” their tent?  I tend to believe that they were in the majority of the men in the regiment standing their soaked through to the skin in wool clothes and leather brogans with no change of dry clothing to be had.  I can just imagine Charlie standing out in that deluge his wet hair matted against his skull, his uniform water logged weighing twice its normal weight, his knapsack with his extra clothing laying in a puddle of mud, and his growling due to lack of decent food  yelling to no one in particular ‘I volunteered for this!’ 


            The regiment spent a week at camp Chase adapting to military life.  They would drill and do camp guard duty. Once the regiment and the men had been equipped with all their necessary accoutrements, the “orders came to strike tents” “prepar (sic) for heavy marching immeadly(sic).” (11)  (12)  The men packed what they believed to be the bare necessities.  On September 17, 1862 the regiment began its “long march” approximately eight miles into Virginia to camp near Fort Albany.  The day was extremely hot. “Every soldier was loaded down with many things then considered indispensable”, the new recruits quickly became exhausted and began “falling out by the wayside.”  It was here near Fort Albany the new regiments of the army were drilled and trained in the art of soldiering.   

Arlington Heights
            The camp was located on Arlington Heights, Virginia The men began the dull routine of drill, drill, drill. They did regimental drills of changing front and brigade drills of changing front. The brigade drills could become “tiresome” when the regiment was on the “extreme flank and had to make the long swing to get into line.” (13)  The men were becoming use to the army food and the army way of doing things. Rice Bull noted in his memoir; “A certain length of time was required to bring us to the starvation point and found it at this camp. When we had taken to army ration we had no further trouble.” (14)   It was here at Camp Arlington, that Charlie and his comrades passed through an unseen portal. They transformed from naive patriotic volunteers, eager to get into the fight immediately and whip the rebels, to soldiers accepting the army and all of its conditions.  This is not to say that they became disenchanted with the Union. On the contrary, they were still very eager to get into the fight.  Their letters home tell of their devotion to the Union cause.  They had just become accustomed to the machination of the Union Army.

While the regiment was stationed at Arlington Heights camp, President Lincoln paid a visit to a Massachusetts regiment which was heading to the front.  “Soldiers crowded around his carriage cheering calling for a speech. ” (15) The speech, unfortunately, went unreported. Rice Bull stated the President “looked thin and worn and one could see that he was troubled an anxious.” (16)  President Lincoln “impressed upon the men that it was their efforts alone that would save the country”. (17)

After his speech, President Lincoln remained to shake hand and greet the soldiers who were now part of the effort to restore the country.  Was Charlie among the crowd of soldiers gathered around President Lincoln’s carriage cheering him, calling for a speech?  Did he shake President Lincoln’s hand? Did the President talk with Charlie?  Well, we don’t know.  Charlie could have had guard duty at that time. But the chance of Charlie not being on guard duty on the same day that Lincoln visited the camp are in his favor. 

On September 29 1862 the regiment received Marching orders.  Their time at Arlington Heights camp was over.    



Source notes


1.      Bull , Rice . Soldiering The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull. San Rafael : Presidio Press , 1977.  11     (Bull 1977)


2.      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). 11   (Morhous 1879)


3.      John Billings , Hardtack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life, (Boston : George M. Smith & Co., 1888), 111   (Billings 1888) 

4.      Morhouse  p. 11

5.      Bull  p. 10

6.      Billings  p. 52

7.      Welch , Henry . Hamilton College Library , "Hamilton College Library Digital Collection ." Accessed November 21, 2012.  Oct  11, 1862

8.      Bull  p. 11

9.      Bull  p. 11

10.  Bul  p. 11

11.  Morhouse  p. 12

12.   Welch   9/16/1862

13.  Bull  p. 15

14.  Bull  p.  15

15.  Bull  p. 14

16.   Bull  p. 14

17.  Bull  p. 14


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are You My Great-Great Grandfather Charles Gilson?

One of the maddening things about researching my family history is that I have no pictures of my ancestors. It seems like everybody else has pictures of their Civil War ancestors, but my family had a particular ability to not have their pictures taken.  I do not know if this is a family trait, I don’t like having my picture taken, or their masterly ability to be anywhere else when the pictures were being taken.   At one time I’m sure there were pictures but they have been lost to the ages.   However, there is an outside chance that, a slim chance that there is a picture of my Great, Great Grandfather Charles Gilson 

                At the United States Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pa. the online research digital photo collection, Civil War, has a picture of an unknown corporal  from Company A 123rd New York Volunteer infantry.   Could this be my ancestor?  I do not know but maybe someone can identify him.   Even if it is not my great-great grandfather, it would be a mystery solved for one descendant of the 123rd NY Vol. Inf. searching  for a photograph of their ancestor.

                The 123rd NY, Vol. Inf. has a joint website with the 28th Georgia Vol. Inf.   This website has the rolls by company of the 123rd.,  as well as a page of pictures of the men.   Of the fourteen corporals-there were eight originally appointed when the company was formed  and six promoted from the ranks during the war. In Company A  four corporals can be identified in the website by their picture.  

                Richards, John; Tanner, Albert;  Durham, Richard; LaPoint, Joseph

Which means, the unidentified corporal in the photo could only be one of ten possible men.

Bosworth, Harvey N,;  Cowan, Eugene;   Cook, Albert;   Dobbin, John;  Gilson, Charles;  Hyatt, Arnold; Janes, Roswell; Manning, William;  Rice, Hiram; Tucker, Charles
                                          Photo is from the U.S. Military History Institute Key word search
                                          123rd New York Infantry   

                So who is the unnamed corporal?  There is a one in ten chance that this is my great-great-grandfather.  It is also 10 to 1 against.  I’m going for the long odds.  If no one claims him in thirty days he’s  mine.  No, I’m only kidding.  I can’t do that; can I?     

Civil War Pension Files: The Ultimate Text Message

I used the pension file of my great,-great grandfather in my English III class.  I wanted my students to understand what research is and to see how a primary source document sheds light on an era.  The students were impressed until they asked if I paid for it.  I told the class the cost of obtaining the file.  They were shocked.  One student remarked that he could pay two month on his IPhone contract and I was crazy to pay that much.  Text messaging was more important to him than his family history.   They did not realize that I had the ultimate text message.

  These documents contain a wealth of information which gives the researcher a glimpse into the lives of the men who fought the civil war and the women who loved them.  Family skeletons long buried are just waiting to be unearthed. Stories of devotion and government red tape will touch your heart and cause your blood to boil; all this waiting to be unwrapped. Your family history is just waiting to be rewritten.   

                So what did I find in my family’s pension files? Well, answers to questions and questions to be answered.  For example, my great,- great grandmother Delia was not a sweet innocent young lady, a devoted wife of a soldier fighting for the Union, a wife praying for the day when her husband would come home safe and their life together could resume.   In this file, I found depositions from their children stating they were raised by their maternal grandparents and they believed their mother was their older sister until one day a cruel teenage friend told them it was not true.  

              Then there is the story of my great,-great -great  Aunt Julia widowed at 30,with a ten year old son,  applying for a widows  pension on the same day that her brother in-law was killed in action. The file is closed out, many years later, upon her death with a request by her son Lewis for government burial benefits under her widow’s pension.  Julia and George had been married ten years when he volunteered to fight for the Union in January 1864.  He was killed in action 5 months later in a rear guard action during the closing days of the ill-fated Red River Expedition.  She never remarried. 
Pension records obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration


The story of how the men of Natick, Massachusetts stood by my great- great- great Aunt Lucinda because she stood by her husband when he came home fatally debilitated because of his service in the Union cause.  Lucinda and Jesse Beal were married in February of 1861.  Jesse was drafted in 1863. He died in April of 1870 from TB contracted while in the service.  The last five years of his life Jesse slowly and most likely agonizingly wasted away while his wife Lucinda cared for him.   Four years later she married George Sleeper which caused her to lose her widow’s pension.  She states in a letter that he was immoral, cruel and abusive and that his daughter tried to murder her.   But Sleeper was a prominent citizen of Natick and was able to cover up his indiscretions. 

 National Archives and Records Administration

To The Honorable Washington Gardner

of Pension Bureau

I, the Widow of Jesse N. Beals, ask for a few minutes of your valuable time to hear some of the facts in my case – as you have rejected my claim for the Pension.

I suffered 5 years of cruel and abusive treatment from my second husband – Geo. L. Sleeper and he allowed his daughter to choke me nearly to death – then I screamed murder – he pushed her off and took me by the arm and flung me out in the hall and said for me to go to my room- but instead I went out doors, where two of my neighbors came to my rescue and took me in their home and gave me stimulants to revive me, and then took me to Sister’s home,  I suffered all this because I would not live the immoral life he lived. He paid me fifteen hundred dollars to keep it out of court and then in about three years he got the divorce because I did not contest it, my friends advised me not to – on the grounds that he was so dishonest that he would cause me more trouble.  In 1894 I married Easman Alexander and lived happily 17 years.

I am 84 years old – and very deaf and my eyes are failing and I am needy and beg and pray that  you will deal kindly with me , and consider my claim and restore my name to the pension rolls.

May 18, 1921                                                  Your Humble Servant

                                                                        Lucinda Alexander

                                                                        70 Hampshire St., Methuen, Mass

The layers of the onion just keep peeling away and questions are answered and new questions arise.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chapter II Merrill Beal “…with banners flying and martial music. We embarked…” George Buhrer, Cal. Battalion


Monday morning March 23, 1863, Merrill and his comrades of the California Battalion prepared for their final parade through San Francisco.  Every man in the battalion made sure his buttons were shined, his leather polished, his saber gleamed, and his uniform was perfect.  As the Battalion formed in companies preparing to leave Platt’s Hall, seven companies of the local militia prepared to escort the Battalion to Folsom Street Wharf.  

            The city turned out to see their Battalion off to war.  The route of the parade was known before hand; “all the thoroughfares along the line of march were crowed with people… some on foot many in vehicles.” (1) The band from the local militia played martial music. Three hundred and seven cavalry men marched in step through the streets of San Francisco. As the California Battalion made its way to the wharf, the crowds “continually cheered, while the ladies waved their kerchief…” (2)  

By the time the Battalion reached the wharf, “it was densely crowed” with the people of San Francisco. (3) “Every nook and post” was utilized by the citizen of San Francisco to get a glimpse of the men of the Cal Battalion as it departed for the East to  the Union cause. (4)     

            The crowd was so thick and congested that the escorting militia “with some difficulty forced a passage through the dense crowed.”  (5)  Once a passage was cleared, the local militia formed an honor guard along the wharf to the S.S. Constitution.  As the Cal Battalion marched along the wharf to the gang plank, the honor guard saluted.  This outpouring of patriotic pride and raw emotion, from the local citizens for the Cal Battalion, must have made Merrill and his comrades march smartly and stand taller.  Merrill and the men of the Cal Battalion answered the call to save the Union voluntarily. California was not required to send men east to fight.  The citizens of San Francisco understood what the men of Cal Battalion were voluntarily giving up.

            Once on board the S.S. Constitution, the American flag and the company guidons were flown from the stern of the ship.  Merrill standing at the rail along with the rest of the battalion waited while the crowd cheered and the band played. “After a delay of about an hour”  the order was given to cast off all lines.  “The band played Home Sweet Home,  the artillery fired a salute,” and  the crowd cheering as the SS Constitution began its journey south to Panama. (6)

             The fourteen day trip down the west coast of California, Mexico and Central America was probably the first time Merrill had seen these far away exotic lands. George Buhrer of company E kept a daily account of the trip. Buhrer noted in his entry for March 24 that one of the men had fallen overboard and was lost at sea.  As the ship sailed down the west coast, land was always insight. On the 29th of March, the Ship landed at Manzanilla.  To Merrill and his comrades the tropical “greenery was picturesque and… romantic”   However, upon closer inspection the place had a “few houses and some miserable huts.”  In the opinion of Buhrer “the natives were indolent and slovenly in the extreme.”  (7)    
Manzanilla 1947

            On the evening of the Thirtieth of March, the steamer made port in Acapulco.  Compared to their previous stop Acapulco was an exotic tropical paradise.  For Merrill, this was most likely the first time he saw a tropical paradise. The night air was “cool and laden (sic) with the fragrance and perfume of thousands of tropical flowers.”  When Merrill looked up into the clear  evening sky, the luminescing glow of the stars were overwhelmingly beautiful.  (8) 

Two days later the weather changed.  The steamer encountered bad weather.  Between the “stormy weather” and the “ rough seas” the “boys … became sea sick.” (9)  The S.S. Constitution was a side wheel paddle steamship approximately 150 feet in length.  By today’s standards, this ship was small.  It was probably tossed about the ocean like a rubber life raft in moderate seas.  I’m sure Merrill was one of the men standing at the rail holding on for dear life as he prayed to God to end his misery but save his life.   Finally “during the night” the storm abated and the sea calmed down. 
Steamer Commodore a typical steamship that worked the West coast in the 1860s

The rest of the trip was uneventful. The Battalion arrived on the west coast of Panama at 4am on April 6, 1863.   By 10 am the Battalion was loaded into “the cars of the Panama Rail Road Co.” and “ …. transported across the Isthmus to Aspinwell” on the east coast of Panama.  (10)

On Tuesday the 7th of April, the Battalion embarked on “the Ocean Queen escorted by the naval gun boat Connecticut.” (11) The reason for the escort was due to the fact that rebel pirates were prowling the area looking for prize vessels.  The conditions on the Ocean Queen were “miserable” compared to the Constitution.  Thankfully the passage was short; however the weather became “cold and windy” throughout the voyage. 

The Battalion arrived in New York Harbor on April 14th at 2 pm.   Waiting at the pier was the “state agent for Massachusetts Col. Howe”   Howe proceeded to” escort the Battalion to the Park Barracks” where they would spend the night. (12)  The Men were fed after which, Governor Nye of Nevada gave the troopers a speech commending their patriotism.   The New Yorkers did not disappoint the men from California.  After their long tedious ocean voyage the Battalion was “extended an invitation” to the New Bowery Theatre for an evening of entertainment.  (13)
Park Barracks

  New York City was not done showing its appreciation to the Cal Battalion.  The following morning the Battalion was escorted to their ship by the “Sons of New England and New York along with the Seventh Regimental Band …”  From there, the Battalion marched down a patriotically festooned Broadway.  In “every windows,” there “young girls or women” cheering and “waving handkerchiefs” as the Battalion began its march into history.  (14)
By the time the Battalion reached the pier, it was late afternoon.  The men boarded the steamer Plymouth Rock to the “sweet strains of music” by the accompanying band. (15)  As he was getting closer and closer to home, I can’t help but wonder what was going through Merrill’s mind.  Dressed in Union blue cavalry uniform, trimmed with gold cavalry piping, marching in formation down, what would later become known as the Canyon of heroes, Broadway  Merrill must have had a sense of patriotic pride, a sense of satisfaction at being able to fulfill one’s duty, a sense of adventure, a sense destiny.  


1.      Rogers , Larry , and Keith Rogers . Their Horses Climbed Trees: A Chronicle of the California 100 and Battalion in the Civil War, FromSan FRancisco to Appomattox . Atglen : Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001. 112-113. Print

2.      Rogers and Rogers 112

3.      Rodgers and Rodgers 111

4.      Rodgers and Rodgers 112-113

5.      Rodgers and Rodgers 112-113

6.      Rodgers and Rodgers 111

7.      Buhrer, George. " The Daily Journal of George N Buhrer." The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians. Michael Sorenson Collection . Web. 10 Nov 2012. <>.

8.      Buhrer

9.      Buhrer

10.  Buhrer

11.  Buhrer

12.  Rodgers 123

13.  Rodgers 121-122; Buhrer

14.  Rodgers 123

15.  Buhrer
Picture Credits 
Manzanilla, Mexico:  www.aquaticsportsadventures...
Park Barracks:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

For three years unless sooner discharged: Charles E. Gilson, Company A, 123rd New York Vol. Infantry

June 1862, “President Lincoln called for "300,000 volunteers to serve for three years. The New York quota  was 59,705 men, Which was apportioned among the individual counties of the states.” (Bull p.2)   

            Twenty-Four year old Charles Gilson was one of the volunteers who answered Lincoln’s call. On August 6, 1862, he signed enlistment papers at Greenwich, New York, and became a member of Company A, 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry.  He enrolled for three years unless sooner discharged. His Compiled Military Service Record states  Charles was 5 feet 4 inches tall, light complexion, blue eyes, black hair. He stated on his record that he was born in Canada and his occupation was that of a Shoemaker. (CMSR)

   On September 4, 1862 with the regiment’s compliment of enlisted men and officers filled, the 123rd was mustered into Federal service at Salem, New York.  There are no surviving letters from Charles to his family; however the historical record and diaries of other men from the 123rd New York Vol. Inf. make it possible to show what Charles experienced. 

            On the very same day the regiment was mustered into Federal service, the 123rd Regiment received ordered to proceed to Washington D.C. ,by train,  the following day.  Overnight, thousands of relatives, friends, and neighbors of these newly activated soldiers quickly came to Salem to see their boys off to war. In his Diary Rice C. Bull wrote, “ … late in the afternoon we shouldered our knapsacks and marched to the train, the great crowd following us. Then there was the last handshake and kiss.  The train slowly started.  The people lining the tracks were so wrought with emotion that they found no voice to cheer.  They silently waved their hands while we could see their faces filled with tears.”  

Another member of the regiment, Robert Cruikshank, recorded events a little differently, “ At ten pm … As we left the depot cheer after cheer went up from those left behind and was responded to by the regiment again and again until we passed out of hearing, thus covering up our anguish of heart;” two very different accounts of a fateful day. What was Charles thinking, feeling and seeing that day?  Was he waving goodbye to his pregnant wife,  Delia (Beals) Gilson, of three months and their baby daughter or where they back in Natick Massachusetts. Did Charles family show up to say goodbye?              

            The men of the regiment where sent off with “haversacks” full of home cooked food, the last they would see for a long while, that their friends and relatives had brought to the camp.  Twenty-four hours and two hundred miles later the regiment arrived in New York City. The regiment marched down Broadway, out of step for they were un-drilled, to the barracks at City Hall Park.  It was here that the men were first introduced to the army way of cooking meals for thousands of men.  As Rice Bull stated we “were unenthusiastic about the meal.” (Bull p.6) 

            At this point Charles, a long with his comrades, was beginning to realize just what Army life was all about.  Hurry and wait, line up and wait.  The next morning the regiment marched aboard a steamer which crossed the Hudson River to South Amboy, New Jersey where they boarded a train for Washington D.C.  The train stopped in Philadelphia so the regiment could be fed at the Coopers Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon. “The whole regiment was seated at once.” Philadelphia and the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon were fondly remembered by many Union Veterans for their hospitality and decent food. After breakfast, the men boarded another train and continued their journey to Washington. (Cruikshank)    

The regiment left Salem, Ny  Friday night. They arrived at Baltimore about six pm the following Monday, Their train stopped on the north side of Baltimore city. The regiment had to march through the city to board another train on the south side of Baltimore for Washington D.C

            It was here, at Baltimore, that Charles and his comrades saw the first signs of secessionist feelings. There was not “a great deal of enthusiasm displayed by the citizens at seeing us past through the streets.”  The march through the city made the men hot and thirsty. The only people who afford the soldiers water along the route were women who were “mostly Negroes.”  (Bull p. 7)   

              By Noon the next day the train had reached the outskirts of Washington D.C. The regiment off loaded from the train and was marched to the Soldier’s Home where they were marched into a holding area that was floored with rough wood and covered in filth and overrun with “vermin and rats.”  The regiment was kept there until their dinner (lunch) was ready. (Bull p. 8) 

In his diary Rice Bull described the accommodations as “the worst conducted institution of its kind.” The seats and tables where made of rough board.  The men ate off of tin and iron plates and drank out of tin cups. They were fed bread, salty pork, and a liquid mixture rumored to be coffee.  Rice Bull believed it was a mixture of coffee and tea.  Robert Cruikshank’s description of the dining facilities, in a letter to his wife, leaves nothing to the imagination. “The tables were wet with coffee and the bread was thrown into it. The coffee was brought in tin cups which I think were never washed. Coffee was running on the floor and most of the men threw what was brought to them there also.” 

            Once the men were finished eating, they were marched to the  Capital were they stood in formation awaiting orders.  While standing in formation the men were able to observe war time Washington. “Hundreds of wagons going in every direction”, wounded soldiers hobbling by on the sidewalks. When they looked up, they saw the unfinished dome of the Capital building, staging set up all around it but empty of workers.  The people’s house had been turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers. As Charles stared up at the unfinished Capital Dome, while standing in formation,  I wonder what thoughts went through his mind. (Bull p. 9)

            On that day in Washington, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Atlanta, and Reseca were just names on a map. The horrors of war were in the future.  On that day in Washington D.C., Charles Gilson and the 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment joined the fight to save the Union.                  


Bull, Rice C., Ed. Bauer, J. (1977) Soldiering; The Civil War Diaries of Rice C. Bull 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry; Presidio Press San Rafel, Ca.  

Cruikshank, Robert, Civil war letters to his wife; (Aug. 20, 2011)

            Gilson, Charles E.; National Archives, Compiled Military Service Record (CSRM)