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William Hugh McDowell

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

mcdowell pic

Most young readers of Civil War historic fiction meet Hugh for the first time in Elaine Marie Alphin’s book Ghost Cadet.  In the story, Benjy, a teenager visiting his grandmother in New Market, Virginia, meets a strange boy as he visits the battlefield.  It turns out that the boy is a ghost from the battle that took place there over a hundred years before and he is looking for his lost watch.  It turns out through research that Hugh, his watch, and the battle are all real.

William Hugh McDowell was born December 31, 1846, at Beattie’s Ford in Iredale County, North Carolina.  He entered the Freshman class at Virginia Military Institute August 22, 1863, at the age of  sixteen.  The following letter of reference requests a cadetship for Hugh.

The following letter was written by Mary Anna Jackson, the wife of General Stonewall Jackson, on behalf of her relative William H. McDowell. The letter was addressed to General Francis H. Smith, the Superintendent (President) of VMI.

Charlotte, N.C. Jany 20th 1863

Gen’l F.H. Smith

My dear Sir,

         I have been requested by a cousin of mine, Mrs. McDowell, to make application to you for a cadetship in the Institute for her son–a youth of fine character & talents. I would be much gratified if you could receive him, as I feel special interest in him, feel assured he will do well & his parents are very anxious for him to have a military education. Please let me hear from you as early as you conveniently can on the subject.

         My love to Mrs. Smith & your daughters. With kind regards for yourself, I am, my dear Gen’l,

Yours very truly, Mary Anna Jackson.

Many cadets and instructors from VMI left as the Civil War got underway to serve in the Confederate Army.  One was Mary Anna Jackson’s husband, General “Stonewall” Jackson.  In the following letter, Hugh’s mother writes to request information about arrival time at the institute and to introduce her son to the superintendent.

The following letter was addressed to Francis H. Smith, the Superintendent (President) of VMI. The cousin she refers to is Mary Anna Jackson, the widow of General Stonewall Jackson.


June 1st, 1863

Col. Smith

         I write for information concerning the time when the exercises at Lexington commence; as you promised Mrs. Jackson last winter that you would take him in July but did not state what time in July. Please let me know the time, the regulations, and terms.

         I might obtain the necessary information from my cousin but her grief is too recent, too great, & sacred to obtrude upon with my concerns. Virginia had reason to be proud of & thankful for such a chieftain as Jackson. A great & good man, a pure & unselfish patriot, and it is a pleasure to us to think that we can do something by kind offices & soothing attentions, to cheer his widow on her lonely way. We all mourn him, through the length & breadth of this Confederacy.

         You will find our child careless & thoughtless, but high principled, & too firm to be led astray. I hope his conduct & deportment may be unexceptionable as it has been hitherto. And let me beg of you to take an interest in him. I can scarce hope to have him with me much more after he goes to you–as when he leaves you twill be to enter the army. He has been a good obedient child to me and I would feel relieved to know that far from home and among strangers he has found one friend and protector.

Please direct your letter to Mrs. R.R. McDowell, Mt. Mourne, P.O. Iredell Cty, N.C

Very respectfully, R.R. McDowell


In the fall of the year, Mrs. McDowell sent a letter with money to request that her son’s picture be taken.

The following letter was addressed to Francis H. Smith, the Superintendent (President) of VMI.


Oct 3d 1863

Genrl Smith

         I enclose you $10 for the use of my son William H. McDowell, with which I beg that you will have a good Daguerreotype, or photograph of him taken. He is my eldest child, and is far from me. And should any misfortune befall him, I would wish some likeness of him preserved. I have no idea of the cost of such a thing at the present time, and should this be insufficient for the purpose I will remit more. Should it be more than enough, tis subject to your discretion. Willie can retain the daguerreotype until there is an opportunity of sending it to us. By attending to this request, you will confer a favor on

R.R. McDowell


Throughout the war, VMI’s superintendent, General Francis S. Smith, had made known the availability of the institute’s corps of cadets with supporting artillery, in the event they were needed to help defend the Shenandoah Valley region.  He was thanked and kindly told that it would not be necessary.  In May of 1863, General Stonewall Jackson, an instructor from the institute, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville.  A year later, May 10, 1864, cadets from VMI participated in a graveside memorial.

stonewall grave

That night the VMI cadet corps was called out to report to General Breckenridge at Staunton to help defend against a Union army invading from the north.  William Hugh McDowell along with 256 fellow cadets and a battery of artillery began the march which would lead to New Market.  As they marched north from Lexington, they spent the nights in the open or in a church along the way, constantly exposed to the weather which included much rain.  Arriving at New Market on the eve of battle and in a rainy downpour, the VMI cadet corps was placed in reserve behind the front lines.  They were awakened around one AM in a pouring rain to advance to their position.  In their approach to the battle, they had to descend a hill which they did in parade field formation, and came under immediate artillery fire from the enemy.  Three cadets were killed here, Cabell, Crockett, and Jones, all killed by the same shell.

“A little removed from the spot where Cabell fell, and nearer to the position of the enemy, lay McDowell, it was a sight to wring one’s heart. That little boy was lying there asleep, more fit, indeed, for the cradle than the grave. He was barely sixteen, I judge, and by no means robust for his age. He was a North Carolinian. He had torn open his jacket and shirt, and, even in death, lay clutching them back, exposing a fair breast with its red wound.”  (From An End of an Era by John S. Wise, copyright 1899)

Ten days later this letter was sent to Hugh’s father.


May 25, 1864. Death of Cadet William H. McDowell

Virginia Mil. Institute

May 25th, 1864

Mr. R.I. McDowell

Mount Mourne, Iredell Co. N.C.


         You have doubtless received before this the mournful intelligence that your [noble] son has been added to the long list of the gallant dead who have fallen in defending their country against the invasion of a ruthless foe. The newspapers have furnished you with accounts of the victory gained by Gen. Breckinridge over Sigel near New Market, and every notice of the fight bears unequivocal testimony to the value of the aid rendered by the Corps of Cadets and the [illegible] valour that they displayed in the action. You have also received, I suppose, an official letter from the Adjutant informing you of the sad event.

         I can add nothing more except the statement that the fatal ball passed entirely through his body, entering a little to the [illegible] of the breastbone and coming out on the left of the spine, passing probably through the heart, so that it may be concluded that his death was instantaneous.

         This I received from Col. Gilham who examined the body before its interment. I have not been able to see anyone who was near him when he fell, as the cadets have not returned to the Institute, [having been] ordered to Richmond.

         The Quartermaster will endeavor to preserve any mementos or any property of the cadets who have fallen, but cannot at present while the Corps is absent identify what belongs to each. The letter which you gave me for him [3 words illegible] and which weighed as a heavy burden on my heart after I heard before I reached home, that the words of affection it contained could never reach the eyes closed in death forever–together with a second one received from the office for him, I have directed to be kept subject to your order not choosing to subject them to the risk of the mail in the present uncertainty of transmission.

         I offer no words of condolence. I know how to sympathize with you for my noblest son fell slain in battle not two months after he left the Institute–and I know by experience that the only comfort for so great a sorrow must come from a source higher than any on earth.

Yrs truly

J.T.L. Preston


Letter of reply from Robert McDowell regarding the death of William.


Mount Mourne, May 30 1864 N.C.

J.N. Morrison, Esq.


Your letter informing me of the death of my son Wm McDowell has been received. It came upon me like a clap of thunder in a clear sky, as I was not aware the cadets had been called out. I wrote a letter to Col. Preston in regard to his clothes, books, and gold watch, desiring him to have them sent to me at Charlotte by Express. I would feel greatly obliged to you for any assistance rendered in this matter. I desire to retain them as memorial of my beloved son, [thus] cut off in the opening of life.


R.I. McDowell


In all, five cadets were killed in battle and five more died later.  Breckinridge was victorious and the cadets played a major role in the action, charging across a field of mud and capturing enemy artillery.

 cadets at cannon

Hugh and the other four who died that day were buried in the churchyard in New Market.  They were later reburied in a small cemetery at VMI. Years later, a memorial was placed at the Virginia Military Institute for the cadets who died in battle at New Market.  The bodies of the six cadets whose markers can be seen behind the memorial are buried beneath the monument in a copper box.  The memorial was created by Cadet Moses Ezekiel, the first Jewish cadet at VMI, who fought that day at New Market and who sat with his mortally wounded friend Cadet Jefferson until he died and who wanted to be an artist when he grew up.


Finally, this letter from Hugh’s mother describes her grief following his death.

This letter is courtesy Dr. and Mrs. Murphy Cronland, owners of the original document, and reproduced with their permission


July 25th, 1864

My Dear Aunt,

         I have been intending to write to you but have felt so badly that I put it off from day to day, hoping that my heavy sorrow would grow lighter. But it does seem to me that it only deepens as I reflect on it and realize my loss as days pass away.

         At first, I could think of every blessing that had been vouchsafed me in connection with it. But now, altho’ I do not murmur or complain and can from the heart say “Thy will be done,” yet I recall the mercies remaining, but can’t feel the same gratitude.

         I felt so thankful that the poor, dear child was not wounded & taken prisoner by our cruel foes–that he did not linger in agony and that as he had to die, that he died in the discharge of his duty to his God & his country, and not a craven coward, [illegible] away his life. I realized that there are some things, harder to bear than death, the disgrace of those we love. I felt so thankful that I had full assurance of happiness & that he passed from earth to Heaven with but one sigh.

         But now I only feel my loss. I can’t think of him in Heaven with that bright angelic host mingling his praises with the Redeemed. I only feel that his loss to me is [irreparable]. That I shall no more see his form — so erect –no more gaze at his beautiful eyes–lit up with mirth or enthusiasm — no more see those dimples in his cheeks as he would break out into his merry peal of laughter or look at the long dark lashes when he was in thought. This was the month in which he was to have been at home, and when I had expected to send him into the army with my prayers & blessings. I had made up my mind to give him to his God & country, but O not so soon! Could I weep, it would bring relief, but I cannot.

         Before these Union people, some of whom I have heard of exulting him his death, I talk of my noble hero boy. I am calm – cheerful. I tell how thankful I am that he fell at the post of honor & duty & c. But my heart – O how it aches! afterwards – but if I died, they should not know if was with grief. My child died in defence of the South. To that cause my life is devoted and my God in his mercy take all that are dear to me & myself before we ever bend to yankee rule.

         We had a kind & sympathizing letter from a gentleman in Lex[ington] whose son was a room mate of Willie’s on last Saturday. He says that his son Edward Tutwiler & Willie were “fast friends” & that his son was much attached to him – that a short time before the Yankees took possession of Lexington he visited the room the boys occupied for the purpose of getting away the clothes & other things left by his son & on examination he found several articles belonging to our son, among them his daguerreotype. He says that he looked for his trunk but it could not be found & Col Preston writes that it is believed to have been burnt in the Inst or carried off by free negroes before.

         His watch (his father’s gold one, bought while he was in college) cannot be heard of, neither his Bible. Col Preston’s son, who was Capt of the Company, said that he assisted in burying him, that there was no mutilation, no bruise on the body except where the fatal ball entered but neither his watch nor Bible were on his person. Mr. Tutwiler says that his son in writing to him from New Market said “my roommate McDowell was killed, in the front rank. I know he has gone to heaven for he was a sincere Christian” & the Father adds in his letter –”This should cheer you, in your sad affliction, for your loss has been His gain.”

         Revd Dr. White of Lexington, whom I’ve met with at the Gen’l [illegible], has sent us part of his hair, retaining the other half for fear it might be lost, and writes that he hears Willie spoken of by every body who knew him in the most flattering terms–by Profs. & c. Dr. White & Col. Preston have both lost most promising sons in battle, & seem to sympathise much with us. We have been treated with much kindness by all our friends & had very many kind letters.

         Willie had not been social until grace sanctified his heart. But on his last visit home his health was better & he was so bright & merry and his associates always spoke of him as being so intelligent, & well read, so truthful & reliable, despising everything low & mean. He had the qualities that would have ensured success–integrity, perseverance & energy with great [several words illegible]….

         …We had such a kind letter from dear James about Willie. May God spare him to you, dear Aunt & bless you all. With much love to Lizzie & Carrie, yr attached

niece,        R A McD


Much more can be learned about William Hugh McDowell and the corps of cadets who fought in the battle at New Market as well as the battle itself from the following websites:  VMI archives   New Market Battlefield State Historical Park

 mcdowell grave


next: more boy heroes

In the words of William Bircher

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013


bircher diary copy 1  sketch chickamauga


William Bircher lived in Minnesota when fighting began in the civil war. Like most 15 year-old boys William was excited by this war business. William wanted to become a solider and help the union army defeat the confederacy. At first he was rejected by the union army because he was too young. Fortunately “company K” of the Minnesota regiment needed a drummer. Bircher was allowed to join the union forces, as a drummer boy.

Many boys like William got in the war as musicians.  Each Civil War Regiment had a band. Bands usually cheered on the soldiers with concerts. Almost 40,000 musicians served in the Union Army, about 20,000 musicians served in the confederate army.

A drummer boy recounts the Battle of Chickamauga

In “A Drummer Boy’s Diary: Comprising Four Years of Service with the Second Regiment Minnesota Veteran Volunteers, 1861-1865, drummer boy William Bircher recounts his observations and experiences at the commencement of the Battle of Chickamauga. Bircher writes:

September 19th: Hot and dusty. At daybreak, as we marched along, we saw troops falling into line on the right of the road; the artillery was unlimbered, the gunners stood to their guns, and every thing had the appearance of a battle. We marched along the rear of the line until we reached the left wing of the army, where we piled up our knapsacks, formed in line, marched to the front, and deployed skirmishers. We advanced but a short distance in the woods, which was a pine forest, before we came upon the rebel skirmish-line. We heard on our right the heavy roll of musketry and the terrible thunder of the artillery, and it came nearer and nearer, until, in less time than it takes to describe it, we were engaged with Bragg’s army. The terrible carnage continued at intervals all day. Hide

At night we heard, from all over the field, the cry of the wounded for water and help, and the ambulance corps were doing all in their power to bring all the wounded into our lines. The night was cool, with a heavy frost, and the water was very scarce. We lay on our arms all night, and on Sunday, the 20th, the battle was renewed with terrible slaughter on both sides. Towards noon we heard that Chittenden’s and McCook’s corps, on our right, had been driven back, and all that was left on the field, to hold in check the entire rebel army, was our corps,—Thomas’s Fourteenth. We held the enemy back until evening, in spite of his desperate assaults, and after dark we retired to Rossville. Here General Thomas posted Negley’s right, stretching to the Dry Valley Road, Brannan’s (our) division in reserve to Reynolds’s right and rear, while McCook’s corps extended from Dry Valley nearly to Chattanooga Creek. Bragg’s army was too tired and too sadly worsted to attempt to follow on the night of the 20th. Oh the 21st a few straggling shots were directed against our army at Rossville. Thomas felt that he could not hold his position there against the Confederate army. Orders were received at 6 P.m. on the 21st, and by seven o’clock the next morning our army was withdrawn, without opposition from the enemy. This ended the battle of Chickamauga. Though retiring from the field, our army had succeeded in shutting the rebels out of Chattanooga.

from A Drummer-boy’s Diary:

Again we sat down beside [the campfire] for supper. It consisted of hard pilot-bread, raw pork and coffee. The coffee you probably would not recognize in New York. Boiled in an open kettle, and about the color of a brownstone front, it was nevertheless…the only warm thing we had. The pork was frozen, and the water in the canteens solid ice, so we had to hold them over the fire when we wanted a drink. No one had plates or spoons, knives or forks, cups or saucers. We cut off the frozen pork with our pocket knives, and one tin cup from which each took a drink in turn, served the coffee.


next:  William Hugh McDowell





In Their Own Words

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013


Taken in part from

 The Boy’s War by Jim Murphy


Reluctant Witnesses by Emmy E. Werner



elisha stockwell      bardeen-2

Elisha Stockwell                                       Charles Bardeen


bircher diary copy 1   dougherty diary

diary/journal of William Bircher and Michael Dougherty



In 1861, President Lincoln announced that boys under eighteen could enlist only with their parents’ consent. The next year, he prohibited any enlistment of those under eighteen. But heavy casualties led recruiting officers to look the other way when under-aged boys tried to enlist, and thousands participated in the conflict as drummers, messengers, hospital orderlies, and often as fully fledged soldiers. They carried canteens, bandages, and stretchers, and assisted surgeons and nurses. Many young soldiers signed up as drummers, who relayed officers’ commands, signaling reveille, roll call, company drill, and taps. In the heat of battle, many carried orders or assisted with the wounded; at least a few picked up rifles and participated in the fighting.

Their motives for enlisting varied, including patriotism and a desire to escape the boring routine of farm life or an abusive family. A few were jealous of older brothers, and some young Northerners were eager to rid the country of slavery. For some young Confederates, there was a desire to repel northern invaders from their soil. One southern boy made his feelings clear with words colored by irony: “I rather die then become a Slave to the North.”


Elisha Stockwell of Alma, Wisconsin, was fifteen years old when he enlisted.

We heard there was going to be a war meeting at our little log school house. I went to the meeting when they called for volunteers, Harrison Maxon (21), Edgar Houghton (16), and myself, put our names down…. My father was there and objected to my going, so they scratched my name out, which humiliated me somewhat. My sister gave me a severe calling down…for exposing my ignorance before the public, and called me a little snotty boy, which raised my anger. I told her, ‘Never mind, I’ll go and show you that am not the little boy you think I am.’

The Captain got me in by lying a little, as I told the recruiting officer I didn’t know just how old I was but thought I was eighteen. He didn’t measure my height, but called me five feet five inches high. I wasn’t that tall two years later when I re-enlisted, but they let it go, so the records show that as my height.

I told her [his sister] I had to go down town. She said, “Hurry back, for dinner will soon be ready.” But I didn’t get back for two years.

Elisha Stockwell, quoted in Jim Murphy, The Boys’ War, 13, 14



The Union Army was unprepared for a major war, as some young soldiers quickly discovered.

There was considerable delay in issuing us clothing and equipment. It was not until the second week of [1861] that we were issued wooden guns, wooden swords and cornstalks with which to drill and mount guard. We went to parade in our shirts, still not being fully uniformed.

Thomas Galwey of the Eighth Ohio Regiment, quoted in Emmy E. Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 12



Excitement over enlistment swiftly gave way to the boring routines of camp life and marches.

Day after day and night after night did we tramp along the rough and dusty roads ‘neath the most broiling sun with which the month of August ever afflicted a soldier; thro’ rivers and their rocky valleys, over mountains—on, on, scarcely stopping to gather the green corn from the fields to serve us for rations…. During these marches the men are sometimes unrecognizable on account of the thick coverings of dust which settle upon their hair, eye-brows and beard, filling likewise the mouth, nose, eyes, and ears.

Sixteen-year-old Confederate soldier John Delhaney, quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 27



Young soldiers’ romantic illusions about military glory evaporated under the harsh realities of combat. They suffered hunger, fatigue, and discomfort, and gradually lost their innocence in combat. Every aspect of soldiering comes alive in their letters and diaries: the stench of spoiled meat, the deafening sound of cannons, the sight of maimed bodies, and the randomness and anonymity of death.

As we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home, and I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away to get into such a mess I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me.

Elisha Stockwell after the battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in 1862. Quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 33


The rains have uncovered many of the shallow graves. Bony knees, long toes, and grinning skulls are to be seen in all directions. In one place I saw a man’s boot protruding from the grave…leaving the skeleton’s toes pointing to a land where there is no war.

Thomas Galwey, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 17


I passed . . . the corpse of a beautiful boy in gray who lay with his blond curls scattered about his face and his hand folded peacefully across his breast. He was clad in a bright and neat uniform, well garnished with gold, which seemed to tell the story of a loving mother and sisters who had sent their household pet to the field of war. His neat little hat lying beside him bore the number of a Georgia regiment…. He was about my age…. At the sight of the poor boy’s corpse, I burst into a regular boo hoo and started on.

John A. Cockerill, 16, Union regimental musician, at Pittsburg Landing, Mississippi, April 1862, quoted in Emmy E. Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 25


. . . I was certainly scared. One shell had exploded near enough so that I could realize its effects, and the one thing I wanted was to get where no more shells could burst around me. This patriotic hero who had declared in front of campfires how he had longed for gore, would have liked to be tucked up once more in his little trundle bed. Bomb ague is a real disease and I had caught it.

There was no question of getting back to the regiment …. I could see that my division was preparing to march, and while I did not actually run I certainly walked fast to get to it. It is curious how little annoyances will keep themselves prominent even in time of danger. I had on thick woolen drawers which had somehow broken from the fastening that held them up. It was a warm day and as I hurried up the hill those drawers kept slipping down till they drove me almost distracted, disturbing my equanimity more than the danger did.

Charles W. Bardeen, a fifteen year old drummer boy with the First Massachusetts Regiment, at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December, 1862, A Little Fifer’s War Diary, 107


Dear Mother,

My first battle is over and I saw nearly all of it…. Saturday the hardest fighting was done. I saw the Irish Brigade make three charges. They started with full ranks, and I saw them, in less time than it takes to write this, exposed to a galling fire of shot and shell and almost decimated…. I saw wounded men brought in by the hundred and dead men lying stark on the field, and then I saw our army retreat to the very place they started from, a loss incalculable in men, horses, cannon, small arms, knapsacks, and all the implements of war, and I am discouraged. I came out here sanguine as any one, but I have seen enough, and I am satisfied that we never can whip the South…. Let any one go into the Hospital where I was and see the scenes that I saw….

Charles W. Bardeen, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 36


The sight of hundreds of prostrate men with serious wounds of every description was appalling. Many to relieve their suffering were impatient for their turn upon the amputation tables, around which were pyramids of severed legs and arms…. Many prayed aloud, while others shrieked in the agony and throes of death.

Edward W. Spangler, a sixteen year old with the 130 Pennsylvania Regiment, at the battle of Antietam in 1862. Quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 32


The horrors of the battlefield were brought vividly before me. I joined a detachment which was collecting the dead for burial. Sickening at the sights, I made my way with another detachment, which was gathering the wounded, to a log house which had been appropriated for a hospital. Here the scenes were so terrible that I became faint, and making my way to a tree, sat down, the most woebegone twelve year old in America.

Fred Grant, son of then Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, describing the scene at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 78

fred grant

Fred Grant


Life as a Soldier

Young soldiers frequently complained about a lack of equipment, inadequate clothing, and the quality of the food.


After we had been in the field a year or two the call, ‘Fall in for your hard-tack!’ was leisurely responded to by only about a dozen men…. Hard tack was very hard. This I attributed to its great age, for there was a common belief among the boys that our hard tack had been baked long before the beginning of the Christian era. This opinion was based upon the fact that the letters “B.C.” were stamped on many, if not, indeed, all the cracker-boxes.

Fifteen year old William Bircher of St. Paul, Minnesota, A Drummer-boy’s Diary: Comprising Four Years of Service with the Second Regiment Minnesota


Again we sat down beside [the campfire] for supper. It consisted of hard pilot bread, raw pork and coffee. The coffee you probably would not recognize in New York. Boiled in an open kettle, and about the color of a brownstone front, it was nevertheless…the only warm thing we had. The pork was frozen, and the water in the canteens solid ice, so we had to hold them over the fire when we wanted a drink. No one had plates or spoons, knives or forks, cups or saucers. We cut off the frozen pork with our pocketknives, and one tin cup from which each took a drink in turn, served the coffee.

Sixteen-year-old Charles Nott of New York, quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 48-49


We managed to find four blankets, two of them wet and frozen, and a buffalo skin. The snow was scraped away from the windward side of the fire, and the frozen blankets were laid on the ground – a log was rolled up for a windbreak, and the buffalo [skin] spread over the blankets. On this four of us were stretched, and very close and straight we had to lie.

Charles Nott, quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 55


We marched through Corinth [Mississippi] in a cold, drizzly rain, and as I didn’t have my blankets, I was wet through. I suffered that night as we had only green wood to make a fire. It stopped raining so I got my clothes partly dried. I lay down on the wet ground to sleep, but would get so cold that I would have to get up and hover over the smoky fire. I put in about the most disagreeable night in my life.

Elisha Stockwell, quoted in Murphy, Boys’ War, 56


Confinement in a Confederate Prison Camp

The accounts of young Union prisoners at Confederate prison camps are especially harrowing. Sixteen-year-old Michael Dougherty was shocked by the sight of “different instruments of torture: stocks, thumb screws, barbed iron collars, shackles, ball and chain. Our prison keepers seemed to handle them with familiarity.” William Smith, a fifteen-year-old soldier in the 14th Illinois Infantry, was shaken by the physical appearance of prisoners at Andersonville in Georgia, a “great mass of gaunt, unnatural-looking beings, soot-begrimes, and clad in filthy trousers.”

Michael Dougherty was the only member of his company to survive imprisonment at Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

No one, except he was there in the prison can form anything like a correct idea of our appearance about this time. We had been in prison nearly five months and our clothing was worn out. A number were entire naked; some would have a ragged shirt and no pants; some had pants and no shirt; another would have shoes and a cap and nothing else. Their flesh was wasted away, leaving the chaffy, weather beaten skin drawn tight over the bones, the hip bones and shoulders standing out. Their faces and exposed parts of their bodies were covered with smoky black soot, from the dense smoke of pitch pine we had hovered over, and our long matted hair was stiff and black with the same substance, which water would have no effect on, and soap was not to be had. I would not attempt to describe the sick and dying, who could now be seen on every side.

Michael Dougherty, who was 16 when he joined the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Diary of a Civil War Hero, p. 43.


next: In the words of William Bircher

Julian Scott, Fifer and Artist

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

self portrait

a self-portrait sketch of Julian Scott


sketch of home

a sketch by Julian of his home

Julian Scott was 15 years old when he enlisted as drummer and fifer with the 3rd Vermont Infantry.  He liked to sketch pictures and frequently sketched scenes and people in camp as well as scenes from the battlefield.  During the 7 Days Battle retreat from Richmond in the early summer of 1862, his unit was involved in combat with the Confederate Army which required crossing a creek.  As his regiment retreated across the creek, many wounded were trapped on the Confederate side.  Julian made several trips under fire across the creek to bring back wounded soldiers.  For his actions that day, he was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

A number of Julian’s war sketches became famous after the war. He had a natural talent for drawing and painting, and after the close of the war he entered the Academy of Design in New York, where he remained for some time. He afterwards went to Paris and completed his studies. Upon returning to this country he opened a studio in New York, and remained there for a few years.  He later became a renowned artist of Civil War art.  Included herein are copies from one of his letters and of his art.


The following extracts are from a letter by Julian A. Scott, written to his father in Johnson, and dated near Kent Court House, Va., May 11:

A soldier of the 5th Regiment and I, went in advance of our army, so as to get some trophies the rebels left behind. We had got about a mile in advance when I spied a rebel scout. We resolved to take him, dead or alive; so we parted — my comrade going one way, and I another, so as to come on both sides of him, in order to take him alive. If he shot one of us, the other would be sure to bring him down.. I had my revolver cocked, and ready to take him if he meant to get away.. We caught up with him at the same time he spied my comrade. I saw the rebel take aim, and drew my revolver on him, so that if his took effect he must come too. He fired- the shot passed by. I hallooed “halt”, pointing my revolver at him. He saw his fate, and threw down his gun. I walked up to him and took it, and my comrade and I took him to General Smith, feeling proud of our prize. The general spoke to me and said, “ Scott, where did you get that fellow”. I told him. He asked me if I had a gun. I told him I have not. He then said I might keep the one the rebel had. He asked the rebel a few questions about the secesh army. I then took him to the provost Marshal, and left him.


After the Battle of Williamsburgh he says:


I passed over the battlefield: It was covered with blood. There was one poor fellow that was dying near me. When I spoke to him, he said he was dying, and wished that his mother could know his fate. His father was killed at Bull Run: he enlisted to get money for his mother. He died in a few minutes. I closed his eyes , and tied my handkerchief around his head. To his order, he was buried the next day. There was one Lieutenant of Co. I, 5th North Carolina Regt., who was shot through the heart. The Col. Of the 49th Penn knew him, and said he would give five dollars to anyone who would bury him. Three of us took him under an old tree, and gave him a decent burial. I took his watch and drinking cup. In his wallet was his commission, looks of his wife, and his mother’s hair, a gold pen, and some rebel postage stamps. His name was Samuel P. Snow.

My health is good. I take delight in fighting the rebels.


Samples of Julian Scott’s art

fallen bugler

Picture 6

plyg crds copy 1

More information can be found on these web links from which this article was prepared:


next:  in their own words

Powder Monkey and Ship’s Boy

Monday, November 4th, 2013

sharp photo

Boys, like this one aboard the U.S.S. New Hampshire, were called powder monkeys because they ran bags of gunpowder from the stores below deck to the gun crews, moving with speed and agility.  These boy assistants, as young as 10 years old, slept in hammocks below the gun decks.  They were selected for their job because of their speed and height – short so they would be hidden behind the ship’s gunwale, keeping them from being shot by enemy ships’ sharp shooters.


h mashage

Twelve-year-old Henry Messhage was a 1st class boy or ship’s boy or powder monkey, seen here with a bag of powder for one of the ship’s guns.  When not in combat, these boys served as personal assistants to the officers, cook’s helpers, and general helpers for whoever needed them, assigned to whatever odd jobs needed to be done.

George Hollat, a 16-year-old powder monkey on board the U.S.S. Varuna during an attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April 1862, received the Medal of Honor for his bravery during battle. His citation reads, “He rendered gallant service through the perilous action and remained steadfast and courageous at his battle station despite extremely heavy fire and the ramming of the Varuna by the rebel ship Morgan, continuing his efforts until his ship, repeatedly holed and fatally damaged, was beached and sunk.”


Credit: Massachusetts Commanders Military Order of the Loyal Legion and the U.S. Army Military History Institute, and other on line sources under “Civil War powder monkeys”


next: Julian Scott, fifer and artist


Henry Burke, Drummer Boy at Shiloh

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013


Among the many who fell on the Federal side was little Henry Burke, the 13-year-old drummer boy, who was among those who perished in the fighting in “the Hornets Nest.”  Some soldier who, perhaps, viewed the dying scene of this brave boy, penned the following lines shortly after the battle, entitled The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.

The Drummer Boy of Shiloh

On Shiloh’s dark and bloody ground
the dead and wounded lay,
Amongst them was a drummer boy
that beat the drum that day;

A wounded soldier raised him up —
his drum was by his side –
He clasped his hands, and raised his eyes,
and prayed before he died.

“Look down upon the battlefield,
O Thou our heavenly Friend,
Have mercy on our sinful souls” —
the soldiers cried, “Amen!”

For gathered ’round, a little group,
each brave man knelt and cried –
They listened to the drummer boy
who prayed before he died.

“Oh, Mother,” said the dying boy,
“Look down from Heaven on me!
Receive me to thy fond embrace!
Oh, take me home to thee!

“I’ve loved my country as my God,
to serve them both I’ve tried,”
He smiled, shook hands, death seized the boy
who prayed before he died.

Each soldier wept then like a child —
stout hearts were they, and brave;
The flag, it was his winding sheet –
they laid him in his grave.

One wrote upon a simple board
these words, “This is a guide,
To those who mourn the drummer boy
who prayed before he died.”

Angels round the throne of grace,
look down upon the brave,
Who fought and died on Shiloh’s plain
now slumb’ring in the grave.


Next:  Powder Monkeys and Ship’s Boy

Mennonite and Amish boys who served in the war

Saturday, August 10th, 2013


Aaron’s story told by a descendant       Aaron’s grave with GAR marker

Romaine Stauffer

Aaron Stauffer  [1847-1869] enlisted in 1864 at age 17, trained in Harrisburg, assigned to infantry, wounded at Cold Harbor, while in hospital contracted tuberculosis, died at age 22 of  this illness contracted during the war, buried in the Pike/Stauffer cemetery in Snyder County, his grave marked with a Union Army flag holder shaped like a star marked GAR for the Grand Army of the Republic [Mennonite]

Valentine (Felty) Rissler  [1844-1898] enlisted at age 19, assigned to cavalry with his friend, John Seibel, deserted at Cold Harbor after John was wounded, taking John’s carbine with him, survived the war, buried at the Mount Zion United Methodist Church of Narvon in Lancaster County [Methodist]

Daniel Brubaker, true identity unknown; oral tradition and other military records suggest he was the son of Daniel B. Brubaker or an unnamed member of the Jacob Brubaker family or David B. Garver of Juniata County

John Seibel  [1847-1864] enlisted at age 16, assigned to cavalry with his friend Valentine Rissler, wounded at Cold Harbor at age 17, taken to a hospital in Washington where he later died, among the first to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his gun was brought back from the war by Felty who deserted at Cold Harbor and it is still in the family[Mennonite]

source: Aaron’s Civil War by Romaine Stauffer, and chapter 13 of Faith, Hope, and Love by Gary Good with war records/documents in the appendix


Michael Garver                                         Michael’s saber and carbine

Michael Garver [1843-1916] first enlisted at age 18, second enlistment the following year, reenlisted a third time in 1864 with his brother David, mustered out in 1865 keeping his saber and Spenser Carbine, an extensive war record exists, following the war became a medical doctor in Ephrata, buried in Bowman Cemetery  [father-Amish, mother-Mennonite]

David Garver  [1847-1918]  enlisted at age 16, with General Sherman in his march to the sea, sent to Victoria, Texas, at war’s end, mustered out at end of 1865, married, lived in California until 1880, moved to Kansas, buried in Corning, Kansas

[father-Amish, mother-Mennonite]

source: The Garvers of Ephrate by Steve Garver, and articles by Gary Good

More Medal of Honor

Monday, July 15th, 2013


William Horsfall  was just 14 when he left home with three friends, without money, or a warning to his parents, and stealthily boarded the steamer, Annie Laurie, moored at the Cincinnati Wharf at Newport on the 20th of December 1861.  At the last minute, his friends had a change of heart and ran ashore as the steamer prepared to leave port.  William stayed hidden until the boat was well under way.  When discovered, he said he was an orphan, and was allowed to remain on board.  On January 1, 1862, Horsfall enlisted as a drummer boy in Company G, First Regiment Kentucky Volunteers, at Camp Cox [Charleston], West Virginia.

During the Siege of Corinth on May 21, 1862, Horsfall, who then described himself as “an independent sharpshooter,” recounted how a Union captain was wounded in a desperate charge across a ravine and left between the lines.  “Lieutenant Hocke said, ‘Horsfall, Captain Williamson is in a serious predicament.  Rescue him, if possible.’  so I placed my gun against a tree and, in a stooping run, gained his side and dragged him to the stretcher bearers, who took him to the rear.”

The drummer boy continued to take part in marches with his regiment for the rest of 1862.  During the charge at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Horsfall was surrounded by hostile infantry, but Rebels “took pity on his youth,” enabling him “to run for his life,” he wrote.  About a year after enlisting, Horsefall became so ill that he had to be hospitalized.  Twice in the next three years, he re-enlisted, before receiving a $400 bounty upon his final discharge in 1866.

William Horsfall received his first Medal of Honor “for saving the life of a wounded officer lying between the lines” August 17, 1895.  He received a second when the design was changed in 1904.

from information in an article written by reporter Cindy Schroeder

Pictures of the following boys have not yet been found, but each was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of heroism beyond the call of duty.


John Cook, 15, was bugler for Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery.  During the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, upon returning from running a dispatch, he found the gun crew was down from enemy fire, took over as cannoneer and operated a gun under a terrific fire of the enemy, helping to prevent the enemy from over running his line of defense.

George Hollat, 16, was a first class boy or powder monkey on USS Varuna during an attack on Forts Jackson and St. Phillip in April 1862.  He was responsible for running bags of powder from the store room below deck to the gun crew.  His citation reads, “He rendered gallant service through the perilous action and remained steadfast and courageous at his battle station despite extremely heavy fire and the ramming of the Varuna by the Rebel ship, Morgan, continuing his efforts until his ship, repeatedly holled and fatally damaged, was beached and sunk.”

William MaGee entered the service at age 15, as drummer for Company C, 33rd New Jersey Infantry.  On December 5, 1864, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, having become acting orderly for General VanCleve, was ordered to charge the enemy with the 181st Ohio.  He was among the first to reach a battery of the enemy and, with one or two others, mounted the artillery horses and took two guns into the Union lines.

Julian Scott, 16, was a fifer in the 3rd Vermont Infantry, the same unit as Willie Johnson, the 11-year-old drummer who was awarded the Medal of Honor.  During the action at Lee’s Mills, Virginia, April 16, 1862, Julian repeatedly crossed the creek under terrific enemy fire to help rescue wounded soldiers from the battlefield.  He was among the first, along with Willie Johnson, to be awarded the Medal of Honor, shortly after it was created by Congress.

Many other young teens were recognized for their gallantry with the Nation’s highest honor.  Their stories can be found through on-line searches and in books such as Too Young to Die, Boy Soldiers of the Union Army by Denise M. Keesee and When Johnny Went Marching by G. Clifton Wisler.

next: Mennonite and Amish boys who served in the war

Casualties of War

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

This image of an unknown dead boy is said to have been taken in the defenses around Petersburg, Virginia, which came under attack June 15, 1864.  This led to a siege lasting for over nine months.

Clarence McKensie, 12, was a drummer for Company D 13th New York State militia.  He played for the Prince of Wales’ reception in October 1860.  After the attack on Fort Sumpter, his unit was sent to Annapolis, Maryland.  While in his quarters with his back against the wall, a gun was fired accidentally from the outside.  The bullet passed through the wall, into his back, out through his stomach, and into a facing brick wall.  He died two hours later.

Edwin Francis Jemmison, 15, was a Confederate soldier in the 2nd Louisiana Infantry.  Having enlisted July 1, 1862, he was part of a charge against the Union defenses at the Battle of Malvern Hill during the Union retreat in the Peninsula Campaign.  Edwin was one of 182 killed and wounded.  He died by the end of the day.

Benjamin Knox, 15, was a private in Company H 20th Ohio Infantry.  During the attack on Atlanta, he was shot in the Atlanta trenches and died in company quarters a short time later.

William Black, a 12-year-old drummer, was wounded in his left hand and arm by an exploding shell.

Willie Lawn, 10, is identified only as a soldier.  He was wounded near Suffolk, Virginia, April 23, 1863, and lost part of his right arm.

Rashio Crane, 15, was a drummer for Company D, 7th Wisconsin.  He was captured May 5, 1864, in the Wilderness while helping a wounded comrade.  Rashio was sent to Andersonville Prison where he died July 23, 1864.

next:  more Medal of Honor


Journey Into Darkness

Friday, May 17th, 2013


The stories of boys who were in the war will be presented by the author at:

Prelude to Gettysburg at Columbia, 9-4, June 29,2013

Honey Brook Library, 6-7 PM Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Landis Valley Museum Civil War Living History the weekend of July 27-28, 2013

Pequea Valley Library Civil War event, in Intercourse, Saturday, August 3, 2013