A Soldier of the North and South: The Remembrance Day Legacy of Minion Knott

By Ryan Bilger ’19

For the third straight semester, I have returned to the Killed at Gettysburg project to chronicle the life and death of another soldier who lost his life in southern Pennsylvania. My personal interest in this project has not waned since I authored the first of my five profiles of Union soldiers in Dr. Carmichael’s “Gettysburg in History and Memory” course in the spring of 2017. I firmly believe that no interpretation of the Battle of Gettysburg is complete without a strong understanding of the unique lives that were extinguished there. This reminds us all that the battle was fought by men with their own personalities, hopes, and dreams, rather than faceless chess pieces on a map, and promoting this mindset has become a key goal of mine.

This semester, I faced a different challenge than those presented by my past projects. Our collective task for the fall 2018 cadre of soldiers was to profile Confederate soldiers, adding a greater diversity of narratives to the project. Admittedly, this initially posed some challenges for me. I am Pennsylvanian born and raised, and a Unionist through and through. Yet I knew I had to set aside my personal foibles in order to truly gain an appreciation of the Civil War as a whole, and I feel that it has made me a better as a historian to have done so. Another difficulty of studying Confederate soldiers comes in the relative lack of documentary evidence compared to men who fought for the Union. The excellent compiled service and pension records of men like Charles Phelps and Augustus van Horne Ellis, two of my past Killed at Gettysburg soldiers, were not to be found in this instance. However, in the course of my preliminary research, I came across one man with a story so captivating that I knew it had to be told. It is a story of tragedy, of evolving ideas, and of a state torn asunder by the cataclysm of civil war, one with a legacy that continues to this day. It is the story of Private Minion F. Knott, 1st Maryland Battalion, C.S.A.

Even after all the research I have conducted in these past three months, Minion Knott remains, in many ways, an enigma. He grew up in a state wracked by contradictions and shifting allegiances as Maryland teetered on the edge between North and South, with a wide gulf separating supporters of the Union and the Confederacy. Slavery remained legal in Maryland during the war, providing a further point of contention. Knott seems to embody these conflicted loyalties within his own life. He enters into the historical record at only two points. The first of these, originating in the spring of 1861, shows that he spent three months in a company of the Washington, D.C. Union militia, fighting to protect the United States’ capital. Considering his eventual turn to the Confederacy, this poses fascinating questions as to why he enlisted to serve both the North and the South.

Knott likely enlisted with the Maryland Confederates in the spring of 1863, joining veterans of the former 1st Maryland Infantry, C.S.A. He first saw battle at the Second Battle of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley during Lee’s army’s march northward, and as part of Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division of Ewell’s II Corps, he participated in the attacks on Culp’s Hill near Gettysburg on July 2 and 3, 1863. At some point on July 3, Knott was mortally wounded in the side. He may have received care on the battlefield from Maryland Union soldiers in a moment that exemplified both reconciliation and the great tensions that wracked this border state during the war, as the Federals likely felt a mixture of compassion for their fellow Marylanders and deep anger at the Confederates’ decision to betray their country.

Minion Knott’s second foray into documentary history comes in the form of the record of his death at the Union hospital facility known as Camp Letterman on August 24, 1863. He was only fifteen miles from his home state. However, due to administrative confusion and the hectic nature of the preparations for the new Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Knott’s remains were somehow labeled as those of a Union soldier. He now rests in the cemetery’s Maryland section, a location intended to be off-limits to the Confederates of the Old Line State, amid the very same soldiers whom he and his comrades sought to kill.

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Minion Knott’s grave in the Soldier’s National Cemetery.

Every November, Minion Knott’s grave in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery is decorated with the flag of the United States of America. Though he spent time in the Union forces, he died under the banner of a nation that sought to rip the United States in two, presenting a complicated contrast that characterizes his legacy. On Remembrance Day, he will be among those soldiers referenced in the various ceremonies and speeches, despite his status as a Maryland Confederate. His memory, to the majority of those who visit the National Cemetery, has been fully absorbed into that of the Union through his mistaken burial. Knott’s sacrifice is honored in the same way as those of the soldiers at whom he aimed and fired his gun, a fact that infuriated many Federal veterans after the war.

This Confederate soldier, buried in one of the most sacred spaces within the Union, poses several questions that remain unanswered today. How would Minion Knott have felt about being laid to rest in a Federal national cemetery, where his legacy has been subsumed by that of the Union to all but the most intrepid visitors? What can his final resting place say about war and reconciliation in Civil War-era Maryland and the United States? Should greater efforts be made to highlight his difference as a Confederate, or should he be treated the same as all the dead of the National Cemetery, as an American soldier? On Remembrance Day, we should all ponder these questions as we reflect on the complex and intertwined legacies of the Civil War. These themes of a state and a nation ripped apart, of a man who took up arms for both the North and the South, and of a difficult reunion and attempts at reconciliation must all come to mind when we gaze upon the simple carved words “M.F. Knott Co. F Regt. 1” in the Maryland section of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.


Sources:

Coco, Gregory A. Wasted Valor: The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1996.

Goldsborough, William Worthington. The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. 2nd ed. Gaithersburg, MD: Butternut Press, 1983.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993.

A Common Soldier: William H. P. Ivey

By Isaac Shoop ’21

When I set out to pick a soldier for my first Killed at Gettysburg project, I did not know what I would find. I chose to research a Confederate soldier named William H. P. Ivey simply because he was born and raised on a farm, like me. As I did my research, I realized that Ivey’s life tells us a lot about the motivations and thoughts of a common southern soldier in the Civil War. Like most Confederate infantrymen, Ivey’s family was of the lower class and they were not slaveholders. Ivey, along with his brother Hinton, enlisted in the 8th Alabama on May 8th, 1861. Ivey was 20 years old at the time and his brother only 16, which was under the legal age to enlist, but that did not stop him. They likely enlisted to protect their homes and family, as well as to protect their stake in the institution of slavery. Even though the Iveys did not own slaves they still benefited from the institution: They would have been able to hire out slaves when they needed extra labor and slavery assured them a higher social standing than the bottom rung of the ladder. The Ivey brothers came from the small town of Radfordsville, Alabama which had a population of 1,100, with roughly half of the population being enslaved peoples. Notions of masculine honor and patriotism undoubtedly also played into their decision to enlist.

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Members of the Independent Blues of Selma, Alabama. Later became Company D of the 8th Alabama.

The Ivey brothers and the 8th Alabama fought in numerous, bloody battles, including the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, and Fredericksburg to name a few. In fact, the 8th Alabama was the first regiment mustered into Confederate service for the duration of the war. During the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5th-6th, 1862, Ivey was wounded in the groin and spent time as a prisoner of war in Union hospitals. Ivey was admitted to both the Mill Creek U.S.A. General Hospital and the Chesapeake U.S.A. General Hospital in the Fort Monroe, Virginia area. After four months, Ivey recovered and was exchanged, so he rejoined his regiment in time for to the Battle of Antietam. Ivey was probably happy to be out of the hospitals and back with his friends and especially his little brother whom he likely felt great responsibility to protect. At Antietam, Ivey was a relatively “green” soldier because of his wounding, but his comrades were veterans and Ivey likely fed off of their courage in the heat of battle. Following the Chancellorsville battle, the 8th Alabama marched north into Pennsylvania and arrived at Gettysburg on July 1st, but they were not engaged until July 2nd and 3rd.

On July 2nd, the men of the 8th Alabama were positioned north of the Peach Orchard and participated in General Longstreet’s attack on the Union left flank. The widespread death and carnage of July 2nd, mixed with Confederate defeat, likely weighed heavily on Ivey. However, like many other Confederate survivors of the July 2nd fighting, Ivey saw how close the Confederates had come to cracking the Federal line, and likely held out hope for the next day’s attacks. On July 3rd, they found themselves marching over much of the same ground which they had trod the day before in support of the Confederate artillery batteries that participated in the cannonade prior to the infamous “Pickett’s Charge.” Ivey was unfortunately wounded again on July 3rd and he was cared for on the Adam Butt farm, a field hospital located to the west of town, until his death on July 12th. His brother was also wounded on July 2nd, but he would ultimately survive the war and return to Alabama. Ivey’s body was buried on the Butts’ property until he was disinterred and moved to his final resting place in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery in 1872. Ivey’s death had a detrimental impact on his family because it forced upon them a larger workload and likely forced the women in the family to assume new roles, such as increased manual labor around the farm.

Today the 8th Alabama is memorialized through the monument to the State of Alabama. This monument shows a woman pointing the way for two soldiers to go perform their patriotic duty and fight. This woman may be a mother telling her sons to go and fight. These two common soldiers, just like the Ivey brothers, were fighting to protect their women, their home, and their way of life, particularly slavery.

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Battle Flag of the 8th Alabama. 

Finding information on Ivey and his family proved to be a challenge. Ivey did not hail from the aristocracy and he left no letters behind. That meant I could not learn about Ivey from Ivey himself. I began my research by searching the United States Census, and with a little luck, I was able to find Ivey and his family. From the census, I was able to determine who William’s siblings were, the town they lived in, and that he was a laborer prior to enlisting. In addition to his brother Hinton, Ivey had a sister, Milly, and his parents, Henry and Mary. Through secondary readings, such as James McPherson’s What They Fought For and Gary Gallagher’s The Confederate War, I was able to piece together the background of a common southern soldier like Ivey and provide social and cultural context for the world in which he lived. Non-slaveholding southerners, such as Ivey, fought to protect their families and to protect their right to own slaves. All common southerners aspired one day to become slaveholders. I used various online sources, including the Alabama Department of Archives and History, to find information on the 8th Alabama and their actions prior to Gettysburg. To find information on the 8th Alabama at Gettysburg, I made a trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park Archives. These sources provided me information concerning the 8th Alabama, including the muster-in date of the regiment, the battles they fought, and reports on their actions at those battles. Although reading through census records, historical documents, and secondary readings was more time consuming than I had anticipated, I was rewarded when I came across useful information and was excited to see Ivey’s story unfold in front of me.

As I was researching Ivey, I realized that he was a perfect embodiment of the common southern soldier. Although he came from a poorer background and he owned no slaves, like many other southerners, he fought for the right to own slaves and the benefits of a slaveholding society. He also fought for the protection of southern women from the ravages of African American men, whom many southerners feared posed an immediate threat, as well as the protection of his home from invading Yankees. Ivey is also an embodiment of the common Civil War trope of communities and families literally fighting in arms, as he and his brother joined the same regiment and fought together in numerous battles. Ivey has an important story to tell because through him we can personalize and thus better understand the worldviews of ordinary southern soldiers and how they experienced the Civil War. For many, stories like Ivey’s are not nearly as romantic as those of Confederate officers, and can easily be overlooked or oversimplified. However, through Ivey’s story, we are able to see how his experiences compare to that of the iconic, wealthy, slave-owning southern aristocrats. In doing so, we can not only gain a fuller understanding of the rich texture of southern society, but we can recognize important differences between these two classes, as well as the key similarities that bound them together in common goals, interests, and worldviews as they fought together for the future of the Confederate States of America.


Sources:

Alabama Civil War Service Database.” Alabama Department of Archives and History. Last updated July 19, 2013.

Ancestory.com 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Ancestory.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestory.com 1860 United States Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestory.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Busey, John, and Travis Busey. Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive
Record. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017.

Complied Service Records. William P. Ivey. Accessed through Fold3 by Ancestry.

Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Herbert, Hilary. A Short History of the 8th Ala Regiment. Accessed through Gettysburg National Military Park Library.

Laino, Philip. Gettysburg Campaign Atlas. Gettysburg: Gettysburg Publishing, 2009.

McPherson, James M. What They Fought For: 1861-1865. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

More than a Stereotype?: A Reflection on the Life of Benjamin Watkins Leigh

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

For my most recent, and likely final, foray into the Killed at Gettysburg digital project, I delved into the story of Major Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Adjutant for “Alleghany” Johnson’s Division. This has certainly been a departure from my previous projects, Private Hannibal Howell of the 76th New York Infantry and Private James Bedell of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. Rather than examining unknown stories of Union privates, I worked to narrate the life and death of a Confederate officer. This was certainly a challenge, both because I lacked familiarity with Confederate primary sources and because of my inherent Unionist biases. I decided that the best way for me to approach the topic was to research someone with clear causes that motivated him as he joined the Confederate army. This way I wouldn’t need to presume his motivation and would instead be able to be fairly confident about why he chose to serve. Leigh’s immense wealth, familial upbringing by a father who was a vocal defender of slavery, and ownership of dozens of human beings makes it painfully clear that he understood the cause of the Confederacy to be the cause of furthering slavery.

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Major Benjamin Watkins Leigh

In many ways, Leigh first appears to be the stereotypical Confederate officer. He was born into an influential Richmond, Virginia family. His father, Benjamin Watkins Leigh, Sr., was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and even a United States Senator. Leigh was surrounded by the benefits of class prestige built upon human bondage, personally owning 34 slaves in 1860. Using his political and social connections, he received the rank of Captain, personally recruited Company A of the First Virginia Battalion, and went off to “whip the Yankees” when the war began.

Leigh later helped to reorganize the 42nd Virginia Infantry in late 1862, a unit that Brigadier General John R. Jones had called “almost entirely disorganized for want of a commanding officer competent to discipline it and manage its officers.” Leigh worked hard to reshape that unit, and though he would not receive promotion to Colonel as Jones had requested, his administrative abilities became evident. He was transferred to the staff of General A. P. Hill to serve as an Adjutant. The role of Adjutant is not one that catches the attention of public audiences. It isn’t a glorious job. It doesn’t come with the valor of front-line command, leading troops into battle and toward victory. Instead, according to the 1862 publication of the Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field, it carries out tasks such as “publishing orders in writing; making up written instructions and transmitting them; reception of reports and returns…establishing camps; visiting guards and outposts; mustering and inspecting troops; inspecting guards and detachments; [and] forming parades and line of battle.” Though less dramatic than front-line command, these tasks were absolutely necessary for the functioning of the enormous armies that emerged in the Civil War.

As Hill’s Adjutant, Leigh was present at one of the most famous events within the Civil War. On May 2, 1863, in the midst of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Hill and Leigh accompanied Thomas L. “Stonewall” Jackson on a reconnaissance. As they returned to Confederate lines, southern soldiers opened fire on them, mortally wounding Jackson. In the chaotic aftermath, Leigh rushed to Jackson’s aid. Leigh ran in search of a litter, and then personally carried Jackson’s stretcher out of danger as artillery shells rained above him. Reflecting upon Jackson’s death in a letter to his wife Hellen, Leigh wrote, “The sleeve of my overcoat – the new one which you had made for me – is stained with Gen. Jackson’s blood which fell upon it as I was assisting him when he first rose and walked a short distance; and also are my gloves. I have a notion of preserving them as relics, and would do so if I had not daily need of them.” Leigh’s account of Jackson’s wounding is one of the definitive primary sources of the event. Written the same month, it accurately describes the aftermath and earns Leigh a mention or a footnote in nearly every scholarly history of Chancellorsville, even if he didn’t gain much fame for his actions at the time. Nevertheless, Leigh’s attachment to this story of duty and honor enhanced his reputation, allowing him to gain a small portion of Jackson’s reputation based off association.

Leigh performed yet another famous act, though it is less well known than his first. Reassigned to serve as the Adjutant for Johnson’s Division for the Gettysburg Campaign, he assisted in the planning for that division’s assaults on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd and 3rd. Around 11am on the 3rd, the final assaults were grinding to a halt. Trapped behind a rock ledge as most Confederates withdrew, approximately 40 men faced a difficult choice: Make a break for Confederate lines and risk certain death or face the shame of surrender? They chose surrender and began to wave a makeshift white flag. Leigh, watching from the base of the slope, rode up the hill to stop what he saw as a cowardly action. A Union volley immediately felled both horse and rider, with some accounts stating he was pierced by no fewer than seven minie balls. Riding up that slope into the jaws of near-certain death show the importance of southern notions of chivalry and martial masculinity. If anything, the fact he died attempting to carry out what he saw as his duty is potentially more heroic than if he had succeeded and lived.

Leigh’s final, somewhat well-known, distinguishing factor is his unique burial situation. His martial heroism gained the respect of both Union and Confederate soldiers alike. Rather than burying him as an unknown in a mass grave, a fate that befell most Confederates who died on Culp’s Hill, Union soldiers brought Leigh’s body within their lines and buried him in an identified grave. The grave is even one of the handful of labelled burials on S.G. Elliot’s famous map of Gettysburg burials. For decades, Leigh captured the attention of scholars such as Gregory Coco who believed that he had been brought to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and buried as an Unknown there. However, following a long and complex search for his burial and reinterment process, his relatives ultimately ensured that he would be buried in the family cemetery in Richmond. He left behind a wife, Hellen, and three children, one of whom had been born while Leigh was off on the Gettysburg Campaign. Despite the family’s hardship, Victorian notions of the “Good Death” meant that it was extremely important to bury Leigh in an identified grave in a place that could be visited by loved ones.

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A part of Elliot’s map of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Leigh’s grave is marked right in the center.

Leigh’s story proved to be a great deal more complicated than the stereotype of a wealthy slave owning officer initially suggested. Although he commanded combat troops for a time, he spent much of his service in an administrative role; he neither solely fits the romantic idea of field command nor solely the stereotype of an easy office job. His role as Adjutant is a task often overlooked by historians in favor of more dramatic actions, though the task of Adjutants was vital to the successful operations of armies. Of course, it does still conform partially to the stereotype, as Leigh’s high class and social position doubtless assisted him in attaining his Adjutant’s rank. Although his merit did assist him, rank in the Army of Northern Virginia often depended just as much on social status and pre-war connections as on personal ability.

Additionally, Leigh’s two famous acts do tend to conform more to the romantic stereotype of brave southern officers shepherding men through battle and not the tasks done by an Adjutant. Almost any Confederate nearby at Chancellorsville could have chosen to carry Jackson’s stretcher, and the task of rallying the wavering soldiers under fire is one suited for a combat officer. Although Leigh’s actions live on in historical narratives, there is no monument to Leigh or the men who carried out the key role of Adjutant on Civil War battlefields. Memorials tend to focus on heroic combat acts rather than administrative processes that brought men to those positions.

Leigh’s story is one that implores the public to look beyond his surface achievements and wealthy background. Leigh was more than the initial stereotype of a wealthy southerner who either romantically led gallant troops into battle or enjoyed the more “comfortable” life of war-time administrator. Indeed, Leigh was both. Furthermore, beneath the surface of Leigh’s Adjutant career lies a life not defined by romance, but often beset by bureaucracy: Denied promotions, tasked with largely “behind-the-scenes” administrative work, and a much-delayed return home due to the complex process of disinterment. Although his two “heroic” actions gained him fame and remembrance, Leigh’s other actions were the ones that actually made an impact on the war effort. Leigh’s administrative ability shaped the courses of battles a great deal more than his failed attempts to save Jackson or rally a small group of Confederate soldiers. Public attention, however, tends to focus on individual, dramatic moments in history rather than the day-in and day-out actions that often have more impact on historical events. Due to his unique background, Leigh’s life thus transcends simple classification and becomes far more complicated, but also somewhat more understandable. Rather than a marble man, these complex aspects of his life trajectory help to humanize his story.


Sources:

1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2009.

Chapla, John D. 42nd Virginia Infantry. Berryville: Virginia Book Company, 1983.

Craighill, William P. Army Officer’s Pocket Companion; Principally Designed for Staff Officers in the Field. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1862.

Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers: Subject File, circa 1835-1899; Leigh, Benjamin Watkins, undated. Library of Congress.

Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Pictures:

Detail of Elliott’s map of the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Library of Congress.

Digital Image, Benjamin Watkins Leigh. Virginia Historical Society.

Perspectives on Our Past: The Killed at Gettysburg Stories of Franz Benda and Augustus van Horne Ellis

By Ryan Bilger ’19

Once again, I have spent the semester working on the Civil War Institute’s Killed at Gettysburg project. This project continues to be one with which I feel a strong connection, as I have always taken an interest in the stories of Gettysburg’s fallen. As such, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work on it again.

As before, I have focused on two soldiers in my research this spring, one an enlisted soldier in the ranks and one a regimental commander. The latter, Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry, has a life-sized statue of him on the battlefield, while the former, Private Franz Benda, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, remains obscure. Both of them, though, lived fascinating lives, and each of their deaths reverberated far beyond the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. Through text narratives and interactive story maps, I sincerely hope that both of their stories can be told to broader audiences who can thus gain a greater appreciation for these men who heroically gave their lives for the cause of the Union.

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Company H, 26th Wisconsin Infantry. These men would have been among Franz Benda’s comrades. Photo courtesy Oshkosh Public Museum.

Writing about these two soldiers has been extremely valuable for me in that it has encouraged me to think about different perspectives. For example, Franz Benda immigrated to the United States from his birthplace in Bohemia at a young age. He and his parents built a new life for themselves as farmers in Wisconsin, and the young man appeared well on his way to achieving a piece of the American dream. Everything changed in 1862 when he joined a regiment that made up part of the ethnically-diverse Eleventh Corps. The unit’s failures at Chancellorsville brought down heavy nativist criticism against Franz Benda and his comrades, making them feel as though they did not belong as fighters for the Union.

His story also ended in a heartbreaking fashion, as after his death at Gettysburg, his parents lost their farmland and died in poverty. While I knew the stories of the Eleventh Corps before this project, I had never taken the time to deeply consider what it must have been like for a young man like Franz Benda to experience that sort of pain and shame, much of which was undeserved. To consider his family’s tragic loss of both the human life of their son and the way of life they had made together. Benda’s story provides a powerful example of how soldiers could reach such psychological lows in the Civil War, and how the friends and relatives of those who died often lost so much more than their loved ones. As such, I feel proud to have developed a concise narrative of his life and legacy so that more people can learn about these themes as I did.

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A statue of Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis atop his regiment’s monument gazes out over the field where he gave his life for the Union. Photo by the author.

The story of Augustus van Horne Ellis has raised other valuable questions in the course of my research. For example, what qualities of a man and a leader could inspire those he commanded to include a statue of him atop their monument decades after his death? Ellis’s story is one of leadership and loss delicately intertwined. He clearly had the sort of strong personality to win over the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, as they elected him captain in his first term of duty. Ellis led his men well at First Bull Run but also had to grapple with the heartbreaking loss of his brother at that battle. He became known as a strong disciplinarian and a good recruiter, leading to his becoming colonel of the 124th New York, a regiment he played an instrumental role in raising and with which he forged a strong bond. Ellis died near Devil’s Den leading his men in a valiant but ultimately brutal charge, sealing his place in their memories as a brave commander to the last. Yet, his young wife of just four years had to deal with the loss of her husband in a profoundly emotional way that changed the course of her life. These twin narratives intersected throughout the short life of Augustus van Horne Ellis in different ways, raising issues of what it meant to lead men in the Civil War and what it meant to lose loved ones as well. Just as Franz Benda’s story creates certain important questions in the mind of the reader, Ellis’s does too, and I am happy to be able to bring the New Yorker’s story to the public.

The stories of the past continue to hold relevant connections to the lives of the present, and the Killed at Gettysburg project this semester has been valuable to me in this way. Considering the perspectives of others, whether that of a young, poor immigrant private or of a colonel born and bred in the nation’s largest city, remains extremely important today, in addition to the specific details of their lives and legacies. Working on the Killed at Gettysburg project has once again been highly enjoyable for me, and I hope that through it more people can ponder the lessons of the past and how we can apply them to our presents and our futures.


Sources

Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.

McAfee, Michael. “The Sons of Friends and Neighbors: Orange County’s 56th and 124th Regiments of New York Volunteer Infantry.” The Hudson River Valley Review 22, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 1-9. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/pdfs/hrvr_22pt1_mcaffee.pdf.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pula, James S. The Sigel Regiment: A History of the Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865. Campbell, CA: Savas, 1998.

Weygant, Charles H. History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Regiment N.Y.S.V. New York: Journal Printing House, 1877.

James Bedell: The Inhumanity of War

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

This semester, I am continuing to work on the Killed at Gettysburg digital history project. This time, I selected James T. Bedell, Private in Company F of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. I was introduced to his story while transcribing Henry Janes’ Case Book for Gettysburg National Military Park as a part of my work study program. Henry Janes was the doctor in charge of Camp Letterman, and after the war he compiled the bed cards of many soldiers treated at the hospital, creating his Case Book. Bedell’s record on a page entitled “Skull, Fractures of, with Injury of the Brain” was one of the first cases I transcribed back in September 2017, meaning that my year at Gettysburg will conclude with a nice tie back to the beginning. However, Bedell’s story became incredibly personal to me and shows just how inhumane the American Civil War really was.

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Camp Letterman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Enlisting on January 1st, 1863, Bedell was thrust into the world of a cavalryman. As a farmer, he may have had experience with horses, explaining why he didn’t go into an infantry regiment. Winter was filled with training, and spring was composed of light guard duty and a handful of small skirmishes. Gettysburg would be Bedell’s first and final major battle. On July 3rd, the Michigan Brigade was deployed east of town on what is now called the East Cavalry Battlefield. While Pickett’s Charge assailed the front of the Union lines, Confederate cavalry clashed with Union troopers in the rear. The untested 7th Michigan Cavalry, led by George Armstrong Custer, was sent to charge Confederate troops to prevent them gaining momentum for a charge of their own. It was a disaster.

The regiment charged directly into a fence and became disorganized. During this chaos, Bedell’s horse was shot out from under him, and he was unable to withdraw with the rest of his unit. Uninjured, though likely disoriented, he was captured and led to the rear. The Confederate officer leading the column of prisoners was furious at Bedell for not keeping pace. He struck Bedell with his saber and left him beside the road to die.

BedellCard
Photo credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Bedell was brought to the Cavalry Corps Hospital and ultimately to Camp Letterman. There, his wound was described as “on the left side of the cranium by a sabre stroke crushing the skull from a point one inch above the lambdoidal suture extending anteriorly nearly 4 inches on a line parallel to the saggital suture.” The saber had opened his skull, and he was weak with a slow pulse. He was completely lucid, and when roused from his depressed state was able to communicate effectively. He survived in this state until August 30th, when his pulse suddenly increased, and he suffered from a severe chill. This increased stress led to the brain protruding from the wound, and he went blind. Throughout all this his mind remained clear for hours until he finally died.

On May 21, 1862, Surgeon General William Hammond had issued Circular No. 2. This order instructed medical officers to “collect and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General, all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical and medical, with may be regarded as valuable.” It also established the Army Medical Museum as a repository for these unusual cases. Hammond hoped to use the war as a way to further medical knowledge and believed that gathering battlefield specimens in this new museum would allow them to be studied in more depth. James T. Bedell’s wound was considered one of these valuable specimens. Saber wounds were rare, and doctors were undoubtedly curious as to how he had survived for nearly two months. Following his death, his skull was removed from his body. It was shipped to the Army Medical Museum where photographs were taken, and the remainder of his body was laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Gettysburg. It is highly unlikely that his family was ever asked for consent. These images accompanied with his medical history would be published in medical journals through the 1870s.

Nat Cem stone
Photo credit to the author.

The sheer inhumanity with which Bedell was treated in both life and death shocked me. A Confederate officer struck down a prisoner of war, utterly shattering the 19th century bonds of masculine honor. Bedell was left for dead and brought to a hospital, where he clung to life for nearly two months experiencing extreme discomfort. Following his death, he still was not treated as a human being. He was given a named place in the National Cemetery, a place of honor. However, Bedell’s skull does not read beneath that stone with the rest of his body. Instead, it still sits in the National Museum of Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Treated poorly in both life and death, I can only hope that my telling of his story returns some level of humanity to a man regarded only as interesting for medical science.


Sources

Busey, Travis and John Busey. Union Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record, Volume 1. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc, Publishers, 2011.

Dr. Henry Janes Case Book. University of Vermont – Special Collections. Transcription at Gettysburg National Military Park.

National Museum of Health and Medicine. James T. Bedell File.

Reports on the Extent and Nature of the Materials Available for the Preparation of a Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion: Circular No. 6 War Department, Surgeon General’s Office, Washington, November 1, 1865. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1865. Pp. 40.