Saturday, March 18, 2017

Among the Last Sacrifices

John D. Gillespie was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not too far outside of Philadelphia. Little is known about his formative years, but the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself in 1861 when Gillespie was only 17 years old. War had broken out and after Lincoln's call in the summer of that year for 500,000 volunteers, the young man enlisted in August for three years of Federal service, probably with many friends, in Company B of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as a corporal.

Monument to the 49th PA at Gettysburg
The regiment earned a reputation through its list of engagements that continued to mount as the war lurched ahead; Seven Days, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Church, and Gettysburg. In late 1863 John Gillespie re-enlisted with the regiment. Their worst battles ensued with the commencement of the Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864. From May 4 -14 the regiment suffered 392 casualties. There were only 130 men left for service and one of them was young Corporal John Gillespie, who had passed unharmed through every single battle. Due to a combination of attrition and experience, he was promoted to sergeant.

The regiment was at Cold Harbor, with Sheridan in the Valley Campaign, and at Petersburg, and Gillespie was still unscathed. He was again promoted, this time to first sergeant of Company E. In April of 1865, Grant finally forced Lee out of his defenses at Petersburg and the Army of the Potomac pursued the wavering Confederates vigorously.

The 49th Pennsylvania saw their last major action at Sailor's Creek on April 6, 1865. They were pressing the enemy, specifically Ewell's Corps and the fight was nasty, but short-lived as they overwhelmed the tail of Lee's disintegrating army. Seven men in the regiment went down with Rebel lead that day. After three years and eight months of service, the luck of 21-year-old John D. Gillespie finally ran out.

He was taken to Carver Hospital in Washington, D.C. and surely he received news of the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Over the following month though, he continued to decline. John D. Gillespie succumbed to his wound on May 12, 1865, among the last sacrifices of the bloody struggle. His remains were transported home where he was buried in the Saint Agnes Cemetery, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania with other members of his family. Although I have not been able to find any wartime documents that corroborate this information, his tombstone reads "Lieut." He may very well have been acting in that capacity at the time of his wounding, and surely if he had survived he probably would have received a promotion. Rank means little to the sacrifice, but in some way it might be an appropriate epitaph to the bravery of this young man.

Finally, here is a picture of young John D. Gillespie, so much youth and seemingly plenty of life ahead, but it was not to be.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Brandy Station Photo Tour

A strangely warm Saturday in late February is the perfect time to tour Brandy Station, but there's never a bad time when Bud Hall is involved. This post will take you on a photo journey around the Brandy Station battlefield in Culpeper County, Virginia saved for future generations thanks to the Civil War Trust and the efforts of many, but especially Bud Hall...

A panorama from Buford's Knoll, just west of the Rappahannock River...



From the Cunningham Farm looking towards the easternmost stone wall that figured prominently in the fighting between "Rooney" Lee's Brigade and Ames's Brigade of Buford's command. Yew Ridge is visible in the distance.

Breastworks constructed by the Sixth Corps along the Hazel River during the winter of '63-'64.

Confluence of the Hazel River (left) and Rappahannock River (right) just above Beverly's Ford.

Beverly's Ford from the west bank... This is where Buford's troopers splashed across the Rappahannock in the fog on the morning of June 9, 1863.

The old Beverly's Ford road as it moves towards Brandy Station.

Bud Hall at Beverly's Ford
Beverly's Ford from the east in August of 1863... by Edwin Forbes
This is where the Beverly's Ford Road crests the ridge, now at the end of the runway at Culpeper Regional Airport

Bud holding up a wartime sketch of St. James Church.

Meade's Headquarters during the winter of '63-'64 were located where you see the buildings in the distance. Fleetwood Hill is behind and to the left of this view looking north.

From Brandy Rock looking towards the northwest and the Cobbler's Knob just visible through the storm clouds.

Bud interpreting the battle of Brandy Station at Brandy Rock, the home of WWII Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss.

Farley (or Welford) Plantation... this is privately owned today but was the headquarters of "Uncle John" Sedgwick during the winter of '63-'64 at Brandy Station. See the following picture taken during the war... Sedgwick is in the group.


The "front" of Farley

From Fleetwood Hill looking towards the Rappahannock River... J.E.B. Stuart's Headquarters were located just north (left) of here on June 9, 1863.
Third Corps Headquarters atop Fleetwood Hill in March of '64
Barbour House, now known as Beauregard Farms... This is where Lee arrived on June 9, 1863 before noon as the crisis was unfolding from where this photo was taken around Fleetwood Hill.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Story of Ferdinand Fobes

Some regiments from the Civil War need no introductory eulogy. The mere name is testament enough to the sacrifices made and the record of battle. One such unit is the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Another is the 22nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry. From Belmont to Perryville, Stones River to Chickamauga, Chattanooga to Atlanta... combined these two regiments not only bore witness to, but played a part in most of the major engagements in the western theater of the war. Initially in two separate armies, they never served side by side in any of these battles. For a short time in early 1863 they were both attached to the 14th Army Corps, but that's the extent of their ties. The men that served in these two units would find themselves intertwined in other ways though.
Ferdinand Francis Fobes enlisted in Company I of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on August 21, 1862 at the age of 20. He hailed from the town of Wayne, in Ashtabula County, Ohio and was in the middle of six other siblings. His ancestry came from Connecticut and he was the grandson of a Revolutionary War patriot known as “Captain” Simon Fobes. Clearly the stories of family lineage and the young country’s history were instilled in Ferdinand early on and he carried them with when he joined the Union war effort. It was also the opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime.
               Ferdinand was one of so many soldiers who also enlisted with one of his best friends from Wayne, 21-year-old Roderick M. Jones. The two had grown up together and probably imagined they could conquer anything together. Quickly the reality of the crisis at hand set in for these two greenhorn soldiers. Company I was mustered into Federal service at Camp Taylor in Cleveland officially on August 21, 1862. Within hours the regiment was ordered to Covington, Kentucky and arrived there the following day. They spent a significant amount of time at Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky where the 105
               By late September, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army had invaded the state and the 105th as part of the Army of the Ohio was sent to stop any farther advance. Ferdinand and Roderick saw their first action at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. The regiment went into action 800 strong, one of the larger regiments on the battlefield. By the end of the day 265 men were missing from the ranks, but Ferdinand and Roderick were unscathed.
               In late November the regiment was dispatched toward Carthage, Tennessee to chase down John Hunt Morgan and his contingent of cavalry. Luck was smiling upon the two boys from Wayne, Ohio. This detachment kept the regiment out of the next big fight at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The regiment arrived there just days after the battle ended during the second week of January 1862 to witness the suffering of the wounded and the battlefield cleanup. Murfreesboro would become their home for much of the next year.
               Major General William Starke Rosecrans ordered his army to construct a massive fortress to provide the Union army with a supply base for potential thrusts into the heart of the south. When it was finally finished five months later, Fortress Rosecrans encompassed approximately 200 acres and was the largest earthen fort constructed during the war. The thousands of hours of back-breaking labor proved invaluable to the coming Federal efforts.
               The 105th Ohio next embarked upon the Tullahoma Campaign and General Rosecrans was able to maneuver his army in such a way that Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee retreated to the south side of the Tennessee River and eventually into the defenses of Chattanooga. At the successful culmination of the campaign, luck finally ran out for the two boys from Wayne, Ohio.
               Ferdinand had taken sick and was moved to General Hospital Number 1 in Murfreesboro. His best friend Roderick was by his side. It is unclear what ailment if any, or wound, Roderick was suffering from since in most cases the only way he could have joined Ferdinand is if he himself was afflicted. It was here that the two were also introduced to Captain William Gregory of the 22nd Illinois. Gregory had served with his regiment since 1861 and at the age of 36, he must have been respected by his superiors to some extent. He was given command of Lunette Rouseau at Fortress Rosecrans to which the general hospital was attached, on the northeastern side of the massive fortification.
               On September 3, 1863, Ferdinand passed away from his affliction with Roderick attending his death. Unfortunately, it was not until nearly two months later that Captain Gregory was able to parlay the details homeward to Ferdinand’s parents. The campaign that led to the battle of Chickamauga and the siege at Chattanooga kept the army busy with more pressing concerns. None the less, on December 1, Captain Gregory wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Fobes saying, “I did all in my power to make your on comfortable while with me + I had him decently buried. The whole company turned out + placed in his grave + paid him all the military honors… I have marked your sons grave so that any time you wish to visit it, you can knowes.” Even though Ferdinand was from a different regiment, he was a comrade all the same and in another situation Captain Gregory probably only hoped that someone might do the same for him.
               Even before Captain Gregory’s letter, Roderick had already communicated with his friend’s family. Of course Mr. and Mrs. Fobes wanted any personal effects that could be provided. This included a small sum of money that the captain sent, but because of delays in the mail system it created concern about the honesty of Captain Gregory. Not only did Roderick serve his late friend well through regular communications with his family, but he also made sure nothing was lost for Ferdinand’s distraught parents. He visited Captain Gregory in person and wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Fobes that the captain may simply be “negligent rather than dishonest.” Regardless, even Roderick could not get his friends personal effects back to the family in a timely manner because “the Railroad is so busy with Government business…”
               Both Captain Gregory and Private Roderick Jones had much fighting in the year ahead, but together they had successfully reassured parents of another dead soldier that their son was properly cared for and had the support system he needed in his final moments. Even though bullets could not kill Ferdinand Francis Fobes, the miserable living conditions so far from home did. His death was not the glorious kind reported in newspapers across the country after a big battle. Instead his sacrifice went unnoticed, except to his family and maybe most importantly, to his friend Roderick.

               Ferdinand’s body was later exhumed and reinterred at the Stones River National Cemetery. At home in Wayne, Ohio, the Fobes family erected a simple shaft in the town cemetery with Ferdinand’s dates of life and his unit affiliation. Most appropriately of all, to this day there is a G.A.R. star, which cradles the shaft of a small American flag, the very flag he fought, suffered and died for. Roderick M. Jones returned to Wayne and married Charlotte R. “Lottie” Wilcox. He outlived his wife and was deeply involved in veteran’s affairs, attending many of the reunions of the 105th Ohio. Surely his friend Ferdinand was in his mind through all these commemorations. His longevity took him well into the next century, finally passing away in the same year the U.S. entered World War II. He was 99 years old.




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