Monday, May 26, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Note: Charles Austin enlisted at Fairhaven, MA on August 7, 1862 and was mustered that same day as a Private in Co. F of the 18th Mass. Infantry. It's unknown what relationship Silas P. Alden, the recepient of the following letter, had, if any, to the Austin family.
Sept. 28th 1862
Capt. Silas P. Alden
I now take my pen to communciate to you the sad news of Charles H. Austinís death which took place at the Lutheran Hospital, Sharpsburgh, Maryland Sept. 24th 1862 at which place he is buried. He belonged to Co. F, 18 Reg Mass Vol & tented with me what time he was with us. His complaint was camp fever of the worst kind & diareah. He suffered but very little. He was very ambitious & tried hard to keep along with the Reg but I saw that he began to fail the next day after we joined the Reg. but did not notice it so mutch until we reached Fort Cocoran & their he seemed lost & out of his head by spells. I told him he must go & see the doctor & he did so & the doctor gave him some pills & told him to keep still & two days after the Regiment was ordered to move under light martching orders. That was rubber blanket , overcoat, canteen & haversack for the recruits had no guns then & Charles was ordered to stay with some others & go to the hospital. But 4 days after we left the Seargent three other men that had been left in charge of the knapsacks started for the reg. He felt pretty smart & though he must keep up with the Reg & so he started to & traveled five days before they caught up with us. I had been of on piquet duty & when I came in the Reg was in line ready to martch & who should come up & take me by the hand but Charly. I never was more surpised in my life for he looked wild & haggard & apparet very mutch beat out but said he felt first rate. I told him there that he had better go to the hospital but he thought he was getting better & thought that he could keep along with the regiment & that after noon we had a heavy shower as we were crosing the late [Antietam] battle field & he got some wet & saw a large number of dead & wounded & I think it had a bad affect on him for he never appeared like himself after. Then we had to on piquet again that night & came to me to know where he was bunk that night. I told him if we slept at all it would be along side of the fence where we were then lying & seemed surprised. I got him as good a place as I could under present circumstances & the next morning we were ordered to martch & he came along with us to this place & we stoped here two nights & one day & then [on September 20, 1862] we were ordered into line to ford the Potomac into [Shepherdstown] Virginia & went but did not stop long for we found the Rebs there in large force. We had a few rounds at them & were ordered to fall back again acros the river. We did in good order with a loss to the Reg of 2 killed & eleven wounded & when I got back I found that Charly had been over but came back before we did. When I saw he looked very bad. We got him dry & got in him in to a tent & made him as comfortable as we could. The doctor came to see him & said he should go to the hospital the next day, but the ambulances were all away so he did go until the day that he died. The steward of the hospital sent his wifeís picture & five dollars in money to the Company. The orderly sargent sent for me & gave it in my cair. i shall send the money in this letter but the picture is in a case & cannot be sent by letter. I will take care of it & if Mrs. Austin wants me to send it by Adams & Co. Express you will please write to me to that affect. The rest of the boys are all well & send their best respects to you. No more at present.
[Company F, 18th Massachusetts Infantry]
It is all around Sarah Austin, like a stalking horse, crushing her soul and being. Her husband lying cold in an unknown place too many miles away to calculate with no money to bring him home to the familiarity of his native soil and now her precious, sweet, little darling Sarah Ellen, but fourteen months into this life on October 27, 1862 of fever and swelling on the brain. Is there no mercy to this life she asks of no one in particular. She is grateful for the eight dollars a month and the two additional dollars a month for each dependent child from a grateful nation, but it is not enough to stave off creditors who foreclose on her farm. Is this life so coldly calculating that it steers all those who walk in the way of the righteousness to a grave while still in the burst of relative youth? That is a question seven-year-old Arthur and five-year-old George would have asked at their motherís passing on June 25, 1865 had they been then old enough to formulate it.
Separate families would take in the sons, raising them as their own, Georgeís life harder than Arthurís. Each would marry, with one child between the two. Each would see the turn of the century that carried with it the introduction of a carriage that moved without the aid of a horse and word of the Wright brothers defying gravity. Did either travel south to visit their father at Antietam National Cemetery in their lifetime? I do not know, but want to believe it to be so. I do not want to believe that I am the first of all those who knew or have known of Charles Austinís life to have found his grave. It causes me to linger, to seat myself close by on the ground to his marker, and read aloud Benjamin Sampsonís letter of his passing.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Sometimes it is for something different, like the man whose family had found a tombstone of a soldier and wondering how to return it to the right cemetery. A few months ago it was for something totally different, yet very moving and powerful.
I wonít mess with perfection, instead letting the email speak for itself
My name is Master Sergeant Gene Nelson and I am currently on active duty serving with the National Guard in Arlington, Va.
I am writing you in order to share a most unusual journey. In the late 1960s when I was about 14, I was cutting through a cemetery in Taunton, Massachusetts when I happened to notice a stone with the name of a soldier who died at Bull Run. The stone didnít refer to any battle. I would learn later it was in reference to a civil war battle.
Last October I visited Manassas, Virginia and the two battle areas. As I was walking through the fields, I remembered back forty years to the walk in the cemetery in Taunton.
This morning I returned to the Taunton cemetery and parked within fifteen feet of the resting place of W.E. Manchester, Company F, 18th Regiment ,V Corps. Why I would remember this manís name is a wonder to me at best. It is still more amazing I was able to track down how he died through your web site. If by chance you have any information on this soldier other than what is already listed I would be very interested.
Thanks for letting me share this journey. I will be flying back to Arlington this evening with the intent to go back to Bull Run and gather a small amount of soil and bring it back to Private Manchester's grave site.
I feel some connection to this young soldier but do not know why.
Two months later we would receive the following from MSG Nelson
But this wasnít the first time we had heard from someone dealing with William. Last year we had a collector contact us who had bought some of Williamís equipment and wanted to know if we had any additional information on him. It also allowed us to grab pictures of the equipment which added yet another piece to the puzzle we call the history of the 18th Massachusetts. You can still view what was bought by going here and scrolling down until you find William's name.
Long time readers will know of Donaldís firm belief (one that I concur with) that there are forces unknown to us that help us in our quest of the 18th Massachusetts. William has been brought to our attention twice, neither by a relative or someone who "should" have a connection to the 18th or this man. Yet, they found him and then found us, letting us know how so long after he died, he still is around.
Tonight as I type and look at Williamís gravestone, I think I have finally come up with a succinct way of stating the belief.
Sometimes we chase the dead, other times, they chase us.
We just need a few more to chase us down.
William E. Manchester: born in Rehobeth, MA, the son of William and Catherine Manchester. He was a 27 years old resident of New Bedford when he married Clarissa E Walker, the daughter of George and Elvira, at Taunton, MA on Jan. 1, 1854. They were the parents of four children born in New Bedford, William A., born Jan. 3, 1855; Ida F., born Sept. 10, 1856; Charles K., born Sept.. 1, 1858; and Elmira, born Nov. 30, 1860. Manchester was a 34 year old Cooper from New Bedford, MA, when he enlisted on Aug. 23, 1861 and was mustered into the 18th Mass. Infantry on August 24, 1861 as a Private in Co. F. He was killed in action at Second Bull Run on August 30, 1862. Clarissa Manchester, who resided in Taunton, applied for a Widow's pension on Nov. 7, 1862 and was issued benefits of $8.00 per month and an additional $2.00 per month for each minor child under Certificate #: 731. Clarissa Manchester died in Taunton, MA on Dec. 16, 1921
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
They knowingly leapt into this life hand in hand, Sarah Reed, then 16 and two months pregnant, and Charles Austin, four years older, when they married on January 20, 1857. They harbored no illusions, no fanciful dreams. Their strength, they were directed, was to rest in each other, their vow to draw the other up in the face of this certain reality, and mourn uncertainty together if and when it came like a howling noríeaster, merciless and dry eyed to sorrow.
Their first child was born in the heat of an August drought that laid waste to fields that had held promise in the spring, sickening corn, withering the winterís salvation that was to be gotten from a vegetable garden not twenty feet from the front door, a drought that siphoned off the last remaining droplets from a well that in the end yielded pebbles and dirt in the bucket. They named the child Arthur for reasons unknown, thirty years before Tennyson would reincarnate the romance of a long ago King in his prose, and forty years before such a name would come into vogue.
She did not whisper her thoughts to him in the darkness, this orphaned woman-child. He was half a brother, half a father, she a mother to herself, a child to herself still, her own parents dead these past few years. She would turn from his touch, forsaking duty as wife, until he would have his will and way. Her tears would later drop as illumined diamonds in a tallowed glow when a second wrinkled baby failed to take breath. She would not look, turning her head away, and upon his return did not tell where he buried this still born son or daughter. He would not say which and she did not ask until in a moment of melancholy a month later. Even then he would not answer and himself turned away to an envelope of silence.
Winter came, dry and bitter, threatening to tear the front door from its hinges when opened and push the glass from each pane. Soil crumbled in the hand through the spring, into the summer, and he took work wherever it was to be found. She peddled the few small eggs gathered from an ever-shrinking flock, twisting the last henís neck in November to give meager thanks for an abundance that was never theirs or promised to them. He had reasoned going to sea, for their future he told her, and she railed at him for the ease in which he would abandon her and his only child just now learning to talk, the ease at which he would consider tempting fate in the swirl and churning of the deep.
The first rain came in mid-March, a sprinkling so spare that the drops seemed to strike the hardened ground and rebound back to the clouds, leaving piles of dust quivering like beads of mercury. There were prayers rising to an invisible deity from pews packed tightly with those who implored the benevolence that came from the bounty of a green, yellow, gold, and ripened harvest. For one more week there was the starkness of the thin overhang of white clouds. They gradually massed, grew darker, and finally let loose for four days
Two summers pass and there is news. The buried child long since discovered by wild rooting hogs is forgotten by the hungry suckling of a son they name George, a curiosity to his brother who expresses his displeasure by pinching folds of skin. He is whipped mightily when his mother discovers the trigger for the infantís sudden screaming bouts. There is to be no Cain and Able in this house heís warned as the leather strap slaps against his skin. By the time a sister Sarah Ellen is born on August 14, 1861, he is older, wiser, and an adoring older brother.
The rumors that were just that have faded away, replaced by men feverish with patriotism amid the fevore of war. Sarah begs. He listens and watches as friends gather on a railroad platform wearing uniforms surrounded by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, their children, and those who wish them well. They are all proud men. Men who talk of bravery and daring, of Union, of country. They do not talk of dying. They wave from the open car windows and his envy almost overwhelms him. He feels almost a coward, safe as he is in his Massachusetts town. Almost disloyal. What does he believe in? It gnaws at his conscience, gnaws at his belief system, gnaws at his manhood, like a saw biting into wood.
Fifteen months of war. More are needed in the aftermath of Bull Run, Balls Bluff, and the Peninsula. All have combined to bleed the Union, slowly, surely. The Recruiters come and the town sweetens the pot in order to meet their quota. $100 bounty to all those who answer the call. He signs his name where required on August 7, 1862. He barely has time to say goodbye, though theyíve said their goodbyes the night before and on this morning. He kisses Arthur and George. They do not understand. They remain dry eyed. She is not dry eyed. She is not proud. She is not brave. She fears, is consumed by fear. She has heard the newspapers read aloud and has seen the families of the deceased consumed by grief. He will write he tells her. Every day. She nods, promising the same. It is time. He climbs aboard the train with his friend Benjamin Sampson. They do not turn to wave. There is grimness in their demeanor. They have spoken to each other of death.