Nine Weeks at Harper's Ferry

Companies C, I & K, September 1st - October 31st 1861

Harper's Ferry, 1859

View of Harper's Ferry in 1859.  The rail road bridge was destroyed by Confederates June 14th 1861. Lock 33 of the C & O canal, where Companies I & K head-quartered,  is visible across the river to the left side of the bridge. (Historic Photo Collection, Harper's Ferry NHP).

Table of Contents


The nine week period Companies C, I & K were detached from the Regiment at Harper's Ferry was eventful, but it was not written about in the official history.  (Company C went to Monocacy Bridge but would join the other two companies at Harper's Ferry on September 30th).  Companies I & K were headquartered at Lock 33 of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, directly across from the town. They guarded the river fords that connected Virginia to Maryland from Sandy Hook to Two Locks, (3 miles above the town).    Major Jacob Parker Gould, head-quartered at Sandy Hook, a mile below the town, commanded the detachment.

At this time Confederates  battled Union troops in Western Virginia for control of the mountain passes that connected the state.  A strong Confederate offensive was expected. Scouting parties of the 13th Mass., frequently went over to Harper's Ferry and the Virginia side of the river to confiscate any materials that could be useful to the U.S. government, or the rebels.  On September 2nd one of these parties commanded by Captain Schriber of Company I, was attacked at Harper's Ferry by Confederate Cavalry.  One Confederate was killed, and one man of Company I, wounded slightly. The other 7 companies were still at Sandy Hook, and some were rushed to the Ferry as re-enforcements.  This engagement is known as the skirmish at Beller's Mill.  You can read more about it on the Sandy Hook page of this website.

John Brown's FortOn September 15th a heavy skirmish took place along the Potomac  river opposite the 13th Mass. pickets.  It started when John L. Spencer was shot and killed while riding along the tow path of the C & O canal on a scout.  Enemy fire pinned down the other men in the party for 2 1/2 hours.  Spencer was the first man of the regiment killed by the enemy.  The engagement is known as the skirmish at Pritchard's Mill.  This fighting was quite different from the relative quiet the rest of the regiment experienced 40 miles away at Darnestown, but the detached companies had some lighter moments too.

Members of Company I acquired one of the most interesting relics of the Civil War in late September; the "John Brown Bell."  The bell came from the engine house of the famous little building known as "John Brown's Fort," which stood on the grounds of the ruined federal arsenal.  Members of Company I, formerly with the Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department wanted the bell as a souvenir for their building back home, which didn't have a fire bell at that time. The bell was taken from the ruined arsenal grounds and kept until Major Gould obtained permission from the Government for the boys to keep it.  The bell was carefully boxed up and brought along to Williamsport when Company I moved there to join the rest of the regiment on October 31st.  But, it would be another 30 years before the bell finally arrived in Marlboro, -- its intended destination.  Today, it hangs from a tower in the Marlboro Massachusetts town square.

Picture Credits:  Lt. Charles B. Fox, Lt. William H. Jackson, Corporal George E.  Marshall, Lt.  David L. Brown, &  Priv. Chandler Robbins, from Army Heritage Education Center, (AHEC) Carlisle, PA;  Panoramic of Harper's Ferry by John Hamil 2008, (titles added by Brad Forbush);   Images of Harper's Ferry, The Engine House, Bell Cupola, Marines Storming the Engine House, Lock 33, Canal Boats, Virginius Island, and Herr's Mill, from Historic Photo Collection, Harper's Ferry NHP;  Company C from my private collection;  Photo of the John Brown Bell Tower & scan of Joseph Barry's book cover by Brad Forbush; Lauriman H. Russell from the Marlboro Historical Society; His map from John Buszek's "History of Marlboro" website; Major J. P. Gould downloaded from the web;  Col. John White Geary & all other images, Library of Congress.  All images have been altered in Photoshop.  Painting of John Geary attributed to artist J.M. Boundy, circa 1867, from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, PA Historical and Museum Commission.  Used with permission.

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Austin Stearns Description of the Region

Panoramic view of Harper's Ferry

View from Maryland Heights, John Hamil, 2008.

From "Three Years With Company K" by Sgt. Austin Stearns, deceased, Edited by Arthur Kent; AU Press, 1976; (p. 25 - 27) used with permission.

"Perhaps a few words about the country would not be amiss.  The Blue Ridge runs in an almost north east and south west direction, while the Potomac's course is generally south east.  It looks as though, in some far remote ages, the river broke through the mountain barrier and it's waters found an outlet to the sea, for the pieces of rock in the river bed, and the jagged appearance of those on it's banks all testify to such an event.

Marines Storm Engine House

The Ridge takes to it's self names.  For instance, the principal ridge is called the South Mountain Ridge.  At the Ferry - Maryland Heights.  At the east of South Mountain Ridge across Pleasant Valley is the Catoctin Ridge.

The place where the river runs through is called Point of Rocks.  To the west is Elk Ridge, and still farther away is Old North Mountain Ridge. The Shenandoah River comes up from the south west and empties it's waters into the Potomac at the Loudoun Heights.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came down from the west and crossed from the Point to the Maryland side on a bridge now in ruins. 

Everything about the Ferry bore marks of war.  The fine large houses on the side and top of the Heights - the residences of the oficials of the works - had not escaped. A road wound round and up a hill to the village of Bolivar.  Loudoun Heights commanded the place, and from the Maryland Heights (which commanded both), the country could be seen for miles up the river.  Sandy Hook was a mile down the river on the Maryland side, where the headquarters of Major Gould were, in Command of the detachment.

Ruins of the Bridge

Captain Scriber established his headquarters on a canal boat - so [as] to be ready to retreat at any time, his men said.  Blackmer took for his quarters the rooms over the store on this side, which stood up close under the Heights.

The canal was on the Maryland side of the river, and there was a road that ran up about a mile to the Lock (Lock 33) and turned up into the Valley between the Ridges. There were two locks in the Canal at the Ferry; up the river about a mile there was one Lock and a mile beyond this were two more. This was the limit of our picket duty this way.  Down the river we went as far as the Hook, and at times still farther down."

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Skirmish at Beller's Mill, September 2nd

On September 2nd, Companies I & K,  of the 13th Mass, marched into Virginia to confiscate some grain at Beller's Mill.  On the return from the mill, Confederate cavalry fired upon the two companies.  Members of Company K were crossing the Potomac in boats, while Company I was still in town.  For men of Company I, the engagement is memorable, due to the heroic(?) actions of their mysterious Captain R. C. Shriber.   More details about this engagement are posted on the Sandy Hook Page of this site.  Information about Captain Shriber can be found on this page.  The following article (which is also posted on the Sandy Hook page of this site) gives news of the week following the skirmish.

September 21, 1861

Regular Army Correspondence, No. IV.
Sandy Hook, Md., Sept. 9th 1861.

Messrs. Editors:   As far as my experience goes ‘Regular Army Correspondents’ serving in the ranks, too often find the regularity of their communications disturbed by unexpected orders, marches, etc.  Don’t you find it so?

To night, (or this morning – it being 12 A.M.) I am an occupant of the guard house!  Not as a prisoner, however, but as an officer of the guard; while five members of Company K., bound prisoners of Morpheus, lie stretched upon the floor beside me.

The telegraph and papers must have furnished you ere this, with their account of our skirmish with the rebels at Harper’s Ferry on Monday last.  Though we troubled the ‘seceshers’ a trifle, the newspaper reports give us rather more credit than we deserve, perhaps.  During the forenoon of Sept. 2d both companies stationed here (I and K), crossed the river as a guard while grain was being procured, marching about a mile and a half into Virginia, to a mill.  After a halt of two hours, Company was ordered to return to advance and recross the river first.  As they marched through the streets of Harper’s Ferry they sang their favorite “Hallelujah’ song.

John Brown’s body, etc.

With the purpose, perhaps, of adding fresh fuel to the fire of the ‘Southern harts,’ if any such should happen to be beating within sound of their voices.

When two-thirds across the river, a ball came whizzing over the boat, and striking but a few yards ahead; which was the first intimation given that an enemy was upon the hills of Harper’s Ferry.  A few shots were fired from the boat into the clump of bushes and yard in which the enemy were concealed, and from which a scattering fire was directed at the boat; but none of their shots hit the mark nearer than the papers hit the truth in their report of the affair.  On reaching shore, the company were posted where they could command good shots if the enemy should again be seen.  But the firing was now turned upon company I, who were still upon the Virginia side, at the base of the hill occupied by the enemy:  whereat we were ordered to re-cross to their aid.  We did so; and found them by the flag-staff at the Arsenal, they having had to retreat, with one man wounded.  The two companies then formed into platoons, and taking different streets marched up the hill.  Before reaching the summit, we learned that the rebel cavalry, number 30 or 40 men, under command of Col. Ashby, had retreated, taking off one man killed by a shot through the head and breast,* and 4 or 5 wounded.  A platoon of Company K found a loaded rifle lying in the grass, and spotted with blood, which they keep as a trophy.  The ‘twenty-five prisoners’ reported taken, are minus, we not having had sufficient practice in ‘double-quick to catch up with the retreating foe.  At nightfall all returned, with a detachment that had been sent to our relief.

Later in the evening, a fresh alarm started both companies up the canal to prevent any passage of cavalry across the river; and Co. K spent the time till 10 P.M., in erecting plank barricades, while Co. I remained on guard till morning.  The later are now in possession of several rifles taken on a scouting expedition into Virginia the next day; and yesterday afternoon a small party of them captured a valuable horse, belonging to a rebel surgeon who had come into Harper’s Ferry to gather information, - himself escaping by a back-door arrangement.

During the week quite an amount of fatigue duty has been performed by both companies, erecting barricades, digging rifle-pits, &c., along the bank of the river,- proving to us, at least, that ‘carrying knapsack, gun and bag, ‘with the other duties of a soldier,’ is harder work than farming.’  Those who enlist to escape the drudgery of farm work must have suffered grievous disappointment ere this.

On Friday last, one of our members had a narrow escape.  A spent ball from one of the enemy’s pickets passed through the side of the shed in which he was and struck him in the back; with so little force, however, that it dropped harmlessly at his heels.

Nearly every day straggling shots are fired upon our guards, and upon the canal boats, thus far without damage; and almost nightly some quaking or startled sentinel discerns signals or moving lights upon the far-off hills of Virginia, in the lightning bugs that hover but a few yards from his post; and discharge their pieces at innocent and unsuspecting swine, whose movements they mistake for the clatter of horsemen or the tramp of rebels.  But no such ‘rude alarms’ now disturb the stillness of the quarters, unless the drum sounds the long roll to ‘fall in.’

Yesterday afternoon our worthy Captain Blackmer conducted Divine service, preaching a brief, practical sermon.  He has officiated for the Chaplain on two or three occasions.

We are now expecting to leave this place within a few days, to rejoin the regiment who left their camp on Monday evening last, and are now within twenty miles of Washington.  Our transportation will be effected by means of a scow, on the ‘raging canawl,’ a hoped-for sail of forty miles.

My next letter will probably be from ‘camp.’

Yours for the War - .

(The man wounded Sept. 2nd was George Brown of Southboro; struck in the fleshy part of the arm and thigh, but no bones broken-webmaster). (digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

*NOTE: If this is the same man Joseph Barry mentions in his book (see "Scouting Parties" section of this page) the Confederate man killed was a man named Jones, shot in the hand and breast.

Austin Stearns describes the same action:  

"One day a detachment of I and K under Major Gould went over the river to the "Sacred soil' and up the Shenandoah to some Flouring Mills, where there was quite a quantity of wheat stored. After staying an hour or so we went back, K in advance.  All was quiet til the boat I was in was half way across the river, when the bullets commenced to whistle over our heads, fired at us from Bolivar Heights.  It seemed they had been watching us all the time.  As we outnumbered them, they had not dared to open fire till we were partly over the river. Co. I was coming down Shenandoah Street and they were fired upon too.  We did not return their fire till we were over, for the boat was crowded.  Orders came to recross.  We went back, threw out a line of skirmishers, and advanced up the hill, the rebs retreating as we advanced.  We picked up a gun, a Mississippi rifle, which Chandler Robbins sent home to Westboro.*    The citizens said they carried away three in a wagon. We went over beyond the town and stayed till night.  Nothing more was seen of the rebs."  (Three Years With Company K;  p. 34 - 35; used with permission). 

Confederate Lt. Col. Turner Ashby, C.S.A., reported in September, 1861, from his camp near Halltown, "I had occasional skirmishes with the enemy in this vicinity, they having crossed twice - once at Harper's Ferry and again at Shepherdstown.  I have driven them back each time without loss, having only 1 man wounded, and he doing well.  I have killed several of them each time.  They fire at every man, woman, child, or horse that passes the river upon this side.  I have sometimes allowed my men to return their fire with long range (small-arms) guns, wth some known effect." [Turner Ashby, Correspondence with Adj. General's Office, C.S.A.,  O.R., Series I. Vol. 5.]

*Note: For more information about Chandler Robbins and the rifle he captured see the section Scouting Parties on this page.

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Mysterious Captain Shriber


During the skirmish mentioned above Captain Shriber of Company I distinguished himself when,
"at the first fire he jumped into the Shenandoah to hide behind a stone wall that protects the Winchester and Potomac railroad from the strong current of the river.  Although he shielded himself against fire, he was not equally successful against the river which at this place is both deep and rapid and he had much difficulty in saving himself from being drowned.   As it was, his fine clothes were much damaged and a red sash, which he wore around him, left a stain on his uniform which could not be removed by any amount of washing.  It would appear as if a soldier's uniform eternally blushed for the cowardice of the unworthy wearer.  This officer was loaded down with medals and badges of merit which he said himself he had gained in the Crimean campaign, fighting against the Russian Bear.  Our hero was certainly a poor specimen of the men who fought at Alma and Sebastopol, if, indeed, he ever saw the Crimea, which is very doubtful.  His men however, on this occasion showed a good deal of gallantry and, under Lieutenant Brown, of the same company - his name needs no concealment - they stood their ground like good soldiers until the enemy retired."
The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry, book cover.

The preceding is from Joseph Barry's Book "The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry;" 1903.

Moses Palmer and David Brown worked hard to organize the rifle company that became Company I of the '13th Mass.'; elected Captain and First Lieutenant of the company respectively.  But before leaving Fort Independence, Governor Andrew appointed R. C. Schriber Captain of the company.  Palmer and Brown were bumped down a rank.  

Joseph Barry concludes his comments on Captain Schriber thus:

"The officer whose conduct in the skirmish was so discreditable would have been left to oblivion, had not his behavior to some ladies of the place been as disgraceful as his cowardice in battle.  But, notwithstanding his name is mercifully omitted."

Researcher Richard Humphrey, current owner of the original Company I field books, has put together the following article on Captain Schriber.


"Captain R.C. Shriber"
By Richard Humphrey 2000.

"Captain Shriber was a somewhat mysterious character in this story of interesting characters. The very spelling of his name and his origin is not totally known.  The Descriptive book of the Company lists only “Robert C. Shriber, Captain, July 16, 1861.”   There is nothing more in this book.  Charles E. Davis, Jr.  lists him as “Charles H. R. Screiber, age 26, mustered in as Capt., July 16, ’61; mustered out, April 1, ’62.”   Serg’t. Austin C. Stearns in “Three Years withCompany K” refers either to “Captain Scriber” or “Captain Schriber.”  Of course the Captain signs his letters R. C. Shriber.

Both Charles Davis and Sergt. Stearns have something to say about Captain Shriber.

Stearns says “Captain Scriber had a good deal of trouble with his men. Some were in the guard-house about all the time. Some were fond of whiskey, and would contrive all ways to get it. He seemed to have a particular grudge against one named Sullivan; he told him he would put him in the guard-house and keep him there almost forever. One day he was drilling them in the manual of loading and firing. He told them to load – aim – aim higher:   about one half mistook the order for aim – fire, and fired. It was fun to see the Dutchman rave and storm, using language not generally heard on drill. More of the men were put in the guard-house.”

Some of the documents of Court Martial against Horace L. Crocker, Thomas Thompson, George F. Washburn and Henry J. Callahan have survived.  One proceeding brought by R. C. Shriber is as follows:

Charge & Specification preferred against Private Henry J. Callahan of Company I  13th Regiment Mass., Volunteers
Charge.    Drunkeness while on Guard.

Specification.  In this that Private Henry J. Callahan of Company I 13th Regt. Mass, Volunteers was drunk while on Guard on or about the night of September 7th 1861 between the hours of 12 o clock midnight & 2 o clock of the morning of the 8th Sept. 1861

This at or near Harpers Ferry Lock Md.

                                                     R. C. Shriber
                                             Captain Commanding Co. I
                                                     13th Mass Vol.

To which Charge and Specification the prisoner Private Henry J. Callahan of Company I 13th Regiment Mass. V pleaded as Follows
                    Of the Specification                      Not Guilty

                    And not guilty of the charge

The Court after mature deliberation upon the evidence adduced finds the prisoner Private Henry J. Callahan of  Company I. 13th Regt. Mass V.
                                                      Guilty of the Specification
                                                       & Guilty of the Charge

and does therefore sentence him Private Henry J. Callahan of Co. I. 13th Mass Regt. Mass. V to the stoppage of one half of each of two months pay.  The other half to go direct to his wife.

The Proceedings, findings & sentence in the above case is approved, and will be

Harpers Ferry Lock Md
Sept. 12 1861

Evidence brought before the Garrison Court Martial which convened at Harpers Ferry Lock Md. Sept 12 1861 in the case of Private Henry J. Callahan Co I 13th Regt. Mass. V.

Corporal E. A. Albee sworn
              Went as Corpl. Of guard to place Callahan on post.  Tried to awake him, pinched him, called him, raised one leg.  Then called musician James M. Gleason Co. I and Private William A. Alley to assist.  Gleason raised him from the floor and then dropped him. Did not state he was drunk.  Said, could not wake him.  Did not smell his breath.  He vomited before this time.  When waked was a moment recovering and then did his duty.

Private Wm. A Alley of Co I  13th  Regt Mass. V. sworn
             Was returning from Knoxville – had wrong countersign and was detained.  Went in and saw no one.  Corporal was relieving.  Soon came to relieve sentry & put on Callahan.  Confirms previous witness.  Thinks the man was dead drunk.  Did not smell liquor.  There was no light.  Did not know prisoner except from the calling his name by others.  Musician James M. Gleason Co I  13th Regt Mass. V.  Confirms the testimony of previous witness.

Sergt. Howe sworn
        Belongs to Co I. was Sergt of the Guard.  Callahan was arrested next morning.  Did not prefer charge. Callahan lay from 9 to 12 o clock on floor, vomiting part of the time. Left at 12 o clock for Main Guard.  Was informed by Gleason & Alley that Callahan was drunk.  Went down and aroused him without much difficulty.  Thinks he had been drinking.

Statement of Prisoner
        Between 2 & 3 o clock P. M. went to Sandy Hook after water.  Drank two glasses of Ale and one small glass of Whiskey.  Drank no more.  Was at Guard house the remainder of the day.

                                                                            Sandy Hook Md.
                                                                             Sept. 14, 1861.                 

           I hereby approve of the decision of the Court Martial and the verdict rendered in the cases presented to them for trial, with the exception that I would suggest that the Court Martial consider the propriety of changing the sentence of Henry J. Callahan so that he may be deprived of one months pay and that sum be sent to his wife.

                                                                        J. P. Gould Major

 I direct that the Captains immediately carry into effect the punishments returned by the Court Martial
                                                                    J. P. Gould Major
                                                                     Commanding Post.

Notes on Private Henry Callahan.
From the Descriptive book of Company I   No. 27:  Henry J. Callahan, Age 23, 5” 8”, Dark Complexion, Blue eyes, Black hair from Boston, Mass., Printer.  In battles of Bolivar and Bull Run. 

Deserted April 23, 1863 from hospital at Frederick, Md."

Muddy Branch Camp
Headquarters Gen. Banks Division
October 31  1861

Lieut M. P. Palmer
Co. I 13th Mass Vol
Williamport MD

My Dear Comrade,

In all hurry a few lines for you - I am detailed as ast. Aide-de Camp to the General until his regular staff officers come from Washington - I may be back in Williamsport by 10 days, but it might be earlier I would therefore beg of you to make out as soon as possible for me, the claims my company has agaisnt me as a whole and individuals - please announce this at evening roll call.  I shall take the battery of R.I. Artillery, the Marylanders are too shabby, probably I shall be detailed from the artillery back to the general.

Are you all well?  I can not deny that I miss after all you and Lt Brown and my company, whatever the men may be, they grow dear to ones heart, nothing new otherwise.  There will be no fighting this winter - God Bless You and Lt Brown and my company. -

See that my property which might be in the hands of any of the members of the Co. is looked after.

           Believe me ever to be your
           Sincere Friend and Faithful Comrade
                            R.C. Shriber
Capt 13th Mass Vol Ast. Aide de Camp to Gen Banks

Send me my letters back by messenger.

Headquarters Gen. Banks Division
Frederick City Md December 14th 1861

To 1st Lieutenant M. Palmer
Comdr Co. I 13th Mass Regt
Williamsport, Md

My Dear Comrade,
                            Owing to the pressure of business here at headquarters it has been almost impossible for me to write earlier to you though I thought often of you and Lt. Brown and the Company in general.  It is my painful duty to announce to you that poor Kiltridge really  dies in Baltimore.*  The enclosed papers will make you acquainted with the case and that what he left - you better have these things sent up to your company and sell them keeping the money till called for but throwing it for the present in the company funds.  The same thing ought to be done with Spencers Money. -

                          Do not omit to report the death of Spencer and K. and the circumstances under which it occurred to the Adjutant General of the Army as proscribed in the army regulations - I have omitted so to do in the case of Spencer - I understand that the sick in Baltimore are doing well and Pierce will rejoin the company before long - it always makes me glad to hear good news from the company and the regiment and the praise you got from the Lieut-Col was rejoicing to me - General Banks attributes the 13th as the finest regiment and the behavior of the men during the recunt little fights have warrented again its good reputation.

                           I am anxious to see the company filled to its standard number again.  Why does Brown not go to Boston and Marlborough.  I am sorry that the matter of my promotion is so lengthy at Washington so that you might get yours, but they have there so much to do that I feel it will take a month before it will come out.

                              How is Fanny and her mother?  Let me know about them.  My horse Fanny is completely broken down - the horse I got from Lt Brown is a strong good animal but stumbles when the least fatigued.  If you will send me your horse, by a man from Williamsport, I can sell him for you to an aide-de-camp for a fair price or come yourself with him - Tell Mr. Brown that I will pay him on the 1st of January, and that if he likes I will give him a draft on any place he wishes by return of mail.  I enclose an order for your horse, detail through Leonard a cavalry man to bring him.  Whatever you ask I am assured you will get if at all reasonable.  Put down a minimum price and a maximum.  I will look out for your advantage - Maj Gould will soon be back in W.  He knows nothing of the horses!!!  I spoke to him.  The Sutler received his leggings and I had to pay him $4.25 additional for leggings not accounted for so that if I pay Maj Gould for Spencers Coffin, I will be quit with the company funds.

                        Your and Lieut Browns promotion is certain.  Gen. Banks on my application recommended you to the Colonel who has promised me that no one else will be nominated. Sergent Horne may have a chance.  I think we will stay here in winter quarters.  Now my dear friend - God Bless You and Comrade Brown and all, I have to see you soon.

                                             Ever Yours Very Truly
                                                           R.C. Shriber


Headquarters Gen. Banks Division
Frederick City Md.
Decbr. 13th 1861

            Pass the bearer
            And a horse through all the Guards and
            Picketts between Williamsport and Frederick,
            to which latter place he will bring the latter
            for delivery to the undersigned

                                        R.C. Shriber
                                Deputy Ast Adj. Gen & Aide-de-Camp

NOTE: Kittridge is Lewis Kittridge; age, 28, born Germany; farmer; musterd in as priv., Co. I, July 16, '61; died, Nov. 23, '61, Baltimore.  Spencer, is John L. Spencer, KIA Sept. 15, 1861 during Pritchard's Mill Skirmish. Pierce, is John Pierce, Co. I, who accidentally shot himself leaning on his gun while on guard. He was sent to the hospital in Baltimore.

     We know when he officially left Company I from the Company I Order Book.  Probably an actual promotion arrived from Washington at this time since he had been gone, off and on, since October, 1861.

Orders No 164
Section II

Headquarters 13th Regt Mass Vols
Camp Manassas Va June 28th 1862

In consequence of information received at these Headquarters.  The promotion of Capt. R. C. Shriber of Co. I. Lieut M.P. Palmer will command said Company until further orders. Capt R. C. Shriber will be dropped from the Roll of said Company tomorrow morning and report as lost by promotion.  By Order of

S.H. Leonard Col.
D.H. Bradlee.

"There is a three page report from R. C. Shriber Aide-de-Camp and Acting Inspector-General to Brig.-Gen. James Shields, WINCHESTER, March 26, 1862 which relates in flowery prose how he almost single handedly won the Battle of Kernstown and ends with “Most respectfully, your obedient, humble servant.”  There is nothing humble in the message and I am not going to waste space here.

R.C. Shriber is mentioned in Official Records three times.  Two of the three are unimportant mentions as commander of Company I  (O.R. series I.  vol V  pg 198 & 240 ).  In O.R. I. XII page 353 there is an important mention in a message by Jas. Shields to Brig.-Gen. Carroll on June 7, 1862.  Here as Gen Shields refers to deterioration in the situation “Colonel Shriber is at work.”  The index confirms that this is R. C. Shriber.

And there is this message I found on the internet at ehistory:

May 24, 1862
       R.C. Shriber, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, and Assistant Adjutant General, Headquarters, 1st Division, Department of the Rappahannock.  Near Fredricksburg, Virginia. To Carleton White, Clerk, Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio.

Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Shriber, Chief of Staff and Acting Assistant Adjutant General 1st ( or Shields } Division

So this man has managed to string a grand title and get on the good side {?} of his general, and reaches the pinnacle of his career.

We have a good idea when he was dismissed from the Army.

Just after the battle of Cedar Mtn.  (Battle of Cedar Mtn. August 9, 1862), the following is related in “Three Years With Company K” by Serg’t. Austin C. Stearns on Page 90:

“In a few days we marched down the west side of the mountain and pitched our camp close up under the south side.  At our first halt and before we had taken rest Col. Leonard said:  ‘Men of Massachusetts have you heard the news?  R. Morris Copeland and Cap’t Schriber have been dismissed from the service.’  Of what particular offence Copeland was guilty I do not know, but Schriber could have fraud wrote after his name and not over express it.  And so they weeded them out, but not as fast as they deserved to be.”

officer illustration

The best summation of the career and character of Captain Shriber is given by Charles E. Davis, Jr., on page 10 of  “Three Years in the Army.”  He does this without ever mentioning his name.

“We had scarcely reached the water before it was discovered that again the cause of alarm was a pig who made sufficient noise in his wanderings to alarm the officer in command of the detachment, who thought it was the enemy.  This time it was a Prussian idiot, who playing the role of Don Quixote, deprived us of a night’s sleep.  On the way back to camp, at daylight, he was the subject of comment, and some there were who boldly expressed a wish that he might be sent where the wicked cease from troubling.

The appointment of this officer to our regiment was one of the instances of attempting to graft foreign fruit on to a native tree.  As it proved a lamentable failure, no apology is necessary for showing him up as a warning to future governors in making such attempts.  The fact that he had expressed a contemptuous opinion of Yankees doesn’t count for much, of course, but that was no reason why he should make himself or the regiment conspicuous by peculiarities in dress or manners.  Eccentricities of this kind were unbecoming in a man of such mediocrity as he.  Evidently the air we breathed was unsuitable for a man of his expansive nature, and we were glad when he shook the dust of the Thirteenth from his feet, remembering that ‘Pride goeth before destruction,’ we watched his career with interest as he sailed aloft, unconscious of his elephantine conceit, soaring higher and higher until he reached the rarefied air of a lieutenant-colonel in a Maryland brigade, where swindling and conduct unbecoming an officer were frowned upon.  Having reached this giddy height he exploded like the sky-rocket, whose flight he so much resembled, and like it plunged to earth again, followed by the fiery tears of his mysterious friends.  Notwithstanding he was dismissed from the service, he is, probably, now in ‘Fair Bingen on the Rhine’ relating the heroic deeds he performed in Yankee land to save the Union. He was the author of ‘Company I, run!!!’"

Richard Humphrey, 2000

*NOTES:  The Massachusetts Adjutant Generals report shows Schriber received a commission as Major in the 1st Maryland Cavalry, April 1st 1862.  He had been gone, off and on, from the regiment frequently since October.  Captain Moses Palmer and Lt. Brown were promoted to their rightful place.  Lt. William R. Warner attributes Shriber's command "Company I, Run!" to the Battle of Bolivar Heights, (see Warner's journal entry in the Bolivar Heights section on this page.) - B. F.

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 Scouting Parties

The presence of the '13th Mass.,' represented a build up of Federal troops along the Potomac River, under Major-General Nathaniel Prentiss Banks commanding the Department of the Shenandoah.  Banks replaced General Robert Patterson July 25th  and soon relocated headquarters to Darnestown, Md.

The men of the 13th opposite Harper's Ferry made occasional foray's across the river into Virginia to confiscate materials that might be of use to the Confederates.    The Virginia side of the river at this time, was irratically defended by Southern Militia, Lt.-Col. Turner Ashby's cavalry was the most active,  headquartered at Charlestown, 7 miles from Harper's Ferry.  The majority of Southern Militia raised in this region were at Winchester, 30 miles south, training to be soldiers.

Harper's Ferry resident and local historian Joseph Barry, describes the character of the men in the 13th Mass.

Excerpt from "The Strange Story of Harper's Ferry" by Joseph Barry; (p. 111-112).

View from the Cemetery

After the departure of the main army for Darnestown the 13th regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers was left at Sandy Hook as a corps of observation and a guard for the ford at Harper's Ferry.   These men were uncommonly zealous in shooting at rebels as long as they -- the 13th -- were on the Maryland side of the river with the broad Potomac between them and the enemy, or rather between them and Virginia for, now, it rarely happened that a Confederate soldier appeared anywhere within gun shot of them.  Crouching under the buttresses of the ruined bridge on the Maryland side of the river in the now dry bed of the canal, or among the thickets and rocks of the Maryland Heights, the gallant 13th kept up a constant fire on the few inhabitants of Harper's Ferry, suspecting or affecting to suspect them of being rebels.

Everything that moved about the streets they shot at vindictively.  The appearance of even a mullein leaf swaying in the wind elicited a volley from these ever vigilant guardians of the nation, and it was lucky for the place that they were indifferent marksmen, else it would have been wholly depopulated....

Sometimes the 13th would send detachments in skiffs across the river and on one or two occasions they were encountered by parties of Confederates who would occasionally lurk in the cemetery and behind the fences on Camp Hill and keep up a scattering fire on the “Yankees” in the town.  In one of these skirmishes a rebel soldier named Jones was killed near the graveyard, a bullet having penetrated through the palm of his hand and then into his stomach."*

*Probably the skirmish of Beller's Mill; September 2nd. 

Excerpt from "Three Years With Company K"

Austin Stearns describes a few such expeditions in his Memoirs, “Three Years with Company K,” Austin Stearns, (p. 28-30).    

"We frequently crossed the river to the sacred soil of Virginia.  I remember of crossing over on the ferry boat one day -- five or six of us; we tried to manage the boat ourselves.  The current was quite rapid and we lost control of her -- away she went -- down the river, striking one of the piers of the bridge, turning her completely round.  Down we went toward the rocks, but good fortune favored us; the current here turned in shore.  We caught hold of some bushes, holding her fast, escaping a good ducking if nothing more. Someone went for the boatman; he came and took us over with out any difficulty.

"We amused ourselves by walking about, looking over some of the unoccupied houses, bringing away some things that were amusing if not very useful.

…I was on an expedition under Lieut. Fox that went over to the Loudoun side and up in the valley two or three miles. We captured four or five horses, then went for the geese -- getting a dozen or so; these we cooked and tried to eat.  I might as well have tried to chew leather as the flesh of the goose I had.  I have never tried to eat goose since."

Lock 33; C & O Canal       “We had several members who were troubled with an optical illusion - especially in the night when on guard.  They could see millions of boats, loaded to their utmost capacity with rebels armed to the teeth crossing the river to massacre us, advance, take Washington, and subdue the North.  Just at the critical moment, when the Nation's life hung by a thread, he would fire.  The Corporal with a file of men would double quick to his post to find out the cause.  He would relate what he saw; but the dull eyes of the Corporal could see nothing but the running water on it's way to the sea.  The next week an extract from the heroic soldier’s letter would appear in the Westboro paper, through the kindness of friends, giving the details of the nation's narrow escape through his vigilance.

All the boats, scows, and skiffs, for miles up and down the river, we had destroyed or taken to our side.

Lieut. Fox with a score of men -- I was one of them -- had been down the Virginia side and destroyed everything we could find that would float.  Other parties had gone up the river on the same kind of errand.”  

Drug Store Clean-out (Austin Stearns, continues)

"There was a most violent seccessionist who kept a drug store in the Ferry, who at all times never failed to show his hatred toward us.  His insults were unbearable, so one day [when] we were ordered to the Ferry, proceeding to his store, we commenced to clean it out.  We made a clean sweep of everything he had, and carried it across the river.  Some of it was used for hospital purposes, but the greater part was, I think - by the cigars smoked, and the general appearance of the boys - used here.  We saw no more of the druggist."

 Lysander Parker's Recollections of the Clean-out.

Lysander "Dixie" Parker of Company I, has another such remembrance found amidst “The Story of the John Brown Bell;” a pamphlet prepared by members of the John A. Rawlins Post 43, G.A.R.  Copyright 1910 by Rawlins Building Association, Marlboro, Mass. 

“One thing quite amusing which is still fresh in memory was the seizure of a stock of goods at a drugs store.  The Full Company was at this raid with overcoats belted on the outside.  When we entered the store the captain gave strict orders that everything should be sent down to the boats, to be forwarded to Washington, and that we must not appropriate anything ourselves.  The store was quickly cleaned and the company ordered to fall in.  When the order came to front, the spectacle which confronted the captain was indeed ludicrous.  Above the belt, around the body and up to the chin, could be seen very prominent the shapes of cigar boxes and the necks of bottles, and the expressions on the boys faces would have excited the risibilities of any army mule -- The captain had to smile but said nothing, and of course the contents inside the overcoats were all sent to Washington.  One night, after sampling the contents of some of the bottles, the boys had lots of courage and crossed the river without orders, in search of pigs and poultry, and came very near being captured.”

October 12, 1861


From Co. K. – A printed letter from a member of the company states that they have been having the equinoctial storm out there, and that it was very severe.  The writer says: “We have had to lay on the ground, wet to the skin, and it was cold enough to freeze even a Northerner.’  ‘The river,’ he continues, ‘has risen three or four feet since the rain, sweeping the remains of the bridges burnt by secessionists, in large piles down the river.  Timbers which were being used in the reconstruction of the bridges were also carried away.’

They appear to have once more ‘invaded the sacred soil,’ and to have found good picking.  They got about ten boxes of tobacco, fine cut in papers, lots of champagne and whiskey, six or eight hundred cigars, some looking-glasses, two mules, three horses, three or four saddles, one tent, a barrel and a half of flour, and four or five guns.  Quite an assortment.

He further says:  “I have not received any letters from home for some time.  We are badly situated to get anything by mail or express without much delay.  We are right down between two mountains and can see nothing but the mountains and the sky; and we can’t hear as much as we can see.’

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush)

Chandler Robbins; Sending Souvenirs Home

Chandler Robbins, Co. K     Chandler Robbins was already a good story teller and interesting character when he enlisted in Company K, the Westboro Rifles.  Born in Plymouth, Mass., 1819, Robbins settled in Westboro, Mass. about 1840, a wheelright by trade.  He married Francis Mellen in 1842 and had 5 children with her, only two survived.  He left Boston in 1849 on the first ship to leave for the newly discovered California Gold fields via Cape Magellan.

"He was connected with the Fremont surveying party there, which was led by the famous path-finder himself  [John C. Fremont] and guided by Kit Carson.   In the two years of his absence he had a varied experience, which included surveying, mining and exploring, and a few hours captivity among the Indians. On his return trip, via the Isthmus, the train which carried the proceeds of his labors was robbed, leaving Mr. R. little but his experience.  His description of what he saw in South America and Califonia furnished many interesting stories for friends at home.” -Westboro Chronotype, April, 1880.

Robbins, at age 42,  was one of the first in Westboro to enlist at the outbreak of the war.   While at Harper's Ferry he served as Company Cook.  Of this occupation regimental historian Charles Davis writes,

"At this time of our service men were detailed in turn, in each company, to do its cooking.  It was soon discovered, however, that too many cooks did, indeed, spoil the broth.  Rather than waste all the food that was issued the companies soon settled down to one man, with an assistant, and they were relieved from all other duties.  It required the patience of  Job to cook for ninety-eight men, as we know from experience.  One week at it was convincing proof that a good cook was a "heap"  bigger man than McClellan."

Robbins was soon detailed as  hospital steward,  for which he gained a reputation as a committed and caring individual.  In 1864, when General John C. Robinson was severely wounded at the Spindle Farm, he requested Steward Robbins be assigned as his personal nurse. Three times Robbins was taken prisoner being twice paroled on the field, and once after a short confinement in Libby Prison.  In the following letter, Mr. J. F. B. Marshall, Westboro Selectman, receives a gift from Private Chandler Robbins, who captured it after the skirmish of September 2nd.

October 12, 1861.

Mr Marshall, of the Military Committee of this town, has received from Chandler Robbins, of Co. K, an old Harper's Ferry musket, captured from the rebels in a late dash upon them.  By the accompanying letter, it appears that the rebels came down to the river, on the Virginia side, and fired upon the men, who immediately gave chase.  Several shots were exchanged, but the rebels finally fled, leaving two killed and a number wounded.  Company I (of Marlboro) had one man wounded.  The musket sent to Mr. Marshall fell from the hands of one of the killed rebels.  On the return of our men to camp, both companies claimed the musket ; but Mr. Robbins, taking advantage of the nine points of law which are said to arise from possesion, retained the prize in behalf of Co. K., till opportunity offered to forward it to Mr. M., with the request that he would preserve it as a memento from the company.

Mr. B. B. Nourse recieved several articles, - among them a venerable old shave and bevel, which he inclines to the opinion must have been dropped overboard from the ark by some careless member of Noah's family, while in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry.  Also a Minnie ball, which seems to have been fired at Mr. Robbins while acting in his official capacity of cook.  The ball struck the rock upon which he had his cooking utensils arranged, without injuring himself or his pots and kettles.  He very much deprecated the carelessness of the rebels.

Several other articles were sent in the same package, - among them two or three pieces of the bell that hung in the Harper's Ferry Armory when it was burnt.  Some of Co. K's boys went over and raised it out of the water in which it laid three feet deep, and broke it up to send home.

The following, from Mr. Robbins' letter, shows the estimation in which the labors of the Military Committee in their behalf are held by the company.

"Having a few leisure moments, I take liberty to address the Committee through you.  My words of gratitude come truly from the heart, and I cannot doubt that they express the minds of others of Company K.  What I write now is a part of what I wanted to say to friends left behind on the eve of our departure ; but my heart was too full to express my feelings at that time.   *  *  *  For one, I must say to you, gentlemen of the Committee, and our lady friends, one and all, in Westboro and out, who took so deep an interest in our welfare, so bountifully providing for our wants, that you have our most sincere thanks :  and I hope that by our faithful labors in the cause in which we are engaged, we may win such laurels as will in some measure repay you.

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Engagement at Pritchard's Mill & The Death of John L. Spencer; September 15th 1861

September 19, 1861; (pg. 2, col. 6.)

Point of rocks, Md., Sept.16. Yesterday, as six men of the Massachusetts 13th regiment were riding upon the tow-path, two miles above Harper's Ferry, they were fired upon by the rebels on the opposite side of the river, and one of them was killed. A considerable force of the rebels was posted behind the warehouse and other buildings. Capt. Schriber, of the Massachusetts 13th, directed the fire of a 12-pounder against the building, dispersing the rebels.  It is supposed that five or six of them were killed.

Thomas Harper, who was wounded by the rebels last Thursday, is in a dying condition.

Portrait of John Geary

Major Jacob Parker Gould commanded the small detachment of 13th Mass. troops, but Gould had to report to Colonel John W. Geary of the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteers, commanding all the troops in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry.  Geary was an ambitious man.  At a young age, he put himself through college after paying off his father's debts; working as a surveyor and engineer on the Allegheny Portage Rail Road.  Active in local militia, he went to the Mexican War as Lieutenant-Colonel. in the 2nd Pennsylvania.  He fearlessly led them in a charge at Chapultepc.  Geary was wounded 5 times.  He returned home a hero, moved west, and became San Francisco's first mayor.  There, he cleaned up the vigilante gangs of that wide-open city.  President Pierce called on 36 year old Geary to bring an end to the bleeding in Kansas territory appointing him Governor; August, 1856.  In 3 months time, with the force of Federal troops, Geary faced down both pro-slavery & anti-slavery factions that were terrorizing the region.  The six foot, six inches tall Geary was truly a commanding figure.  When the Civil War broke out, he raised two regiments and took command of the 28th Pa. Vol. Inf.

This painting of John W. Geary is attributed to J.M. Boundy, artist, circa 1867; oil on canvas; from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, PA Historical and Museum Commission.  Used with permission.

Making things hot for the Union troops at Harper's Ferry was Turner Ashby and his Confederate cavalry who frequently picketed the Virginia shore.  Ashby's friends at Harper's Ferry kept him apprised of federal troops' activities.   Likewise Col. Geary was informed by his friends in town, of Confederate plans to occupy Harper's Ferry on September 14th with 3,000 troops aided by Ashby's cavalry.  Geary was skeptical, but increased his vigilance.  The morning of September 15th, a mounted scouting party led by Lt. David L. Brown, Company I,  received a sudden volley from concealed Confederates on the opposite shore near Pritchard's or Peacher's Mill.   John L. Spencer, Co. I,   was killed instantly, the first man of the regiment killed by the enemy.  The rest of his party were pinned down for more than two hours.  This opened a general skirmish along the river at Harper's Ferry.  Colonel Geary's report follows:

(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, series 5, vol. 5).

SEPTEMBER 15, 1861. – Skirmish at Pritchard’s Mill, Va., near Antietam Ford, Md.

Report of Col. John W. Geary, Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry. 

September 17, 1861.

SIR:  On the night of the 13th instant I received reliable information that about 2,200 rebels were stationed in an offensive attitude between the Shenandoah and Shepherdstown, on the Virginia shore of the Potomac. This force was composed of infantry (the greater portion of them being in the neighborhood of the Old Furnace and Pritchard’s Mill.  The number of them actually engaged is variously estimated at from 500 to 600, while they had a reserve of 1,500 or 1,600 within a short distance behind the hills and along the railroad in the direction of Martinsburg), cavalry, and artillery, with four pieces of cannon.  Their object seemed to be to attack the right of my command, resting about 3 miles above Harper’s Ferry, on the Maryland side of the river, and threatened that they would turn that position, gain the rear of my pickets, and capture a considerable portion of my command, consisting of two companies of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment.  This information reached me at 11 o’clock at night; and one hour after I proceeded from my camp at this place with three companies of riflemen, (B, I and L) of my regiment, a section of the New York Ninth Battery, with two rifled cannon, commanded by Lieut. J.W. Martin.  After a very rapid and, owing to the extreme [heat] of the weather, fatiguing march of 12 miles I reached Harper’s Ferry about daylight on the morning of the 14th.  I found the rebels then engaged in making an attack upon the troops stationed above my command near Sharpsburg.  Those troops made a handsome defense, and before I could proceed to their assistance the rebels retired, under pretense of having received orders to report at once at Manassas.

Lieutenant David L. Brown, Co. I   On the morning of the 15th I acquired considerable knowledge of the position of the enemy, and desiring to assure myself more particularly with regard to their movements, I detailed scouting parties to such points as the rebels were said to be, to ascertain the truth. One of these parties, consisting of an officer (Lieutenant Brown,)(pictured) 1 sergeant, and 6 privates, all of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, mounted, by my direction pushed forward as far as Antietam Ford; this party, returning, while opposite Pritchard’s Mill, were fired upon suddenly from a body of men perfectly concealed.  One man of the party was instantly killed on the spot, and, owing to a continuous fire kept [up] on the remaining portion of the party, it was impossible for them to move from the position to which they had taken themselves to prevent further losses as the enemy deployed down the river.

About the same time a number of the enemy made their appearance on the apex brow of the Loudoun Heights, also on the road leading around its base to Harper’s Ferry, and commenced firing. At the same [time] a considerable number of them opened fire from the heights back of Harper’s Ferry and from all parts of the railroad along the river up to Pritchard’s Mill.  The latter were deployed, well covered behind the embankments of the railroad and bushes, and secreted in houses, barns, and lime quarries.

I stationed Company L, under command of Captain Barr, of my regiment, upon that portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad below the abutment of the burnt bridge, in the direction of Sandy Hook, with instructions to clear the Loudoun Heights and the road at their base, which they did, causing the enemy quickly to retire, leaving 5 or 6 killed and wounded on the ground. I stationed a company and a half of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Major Gould, from the bridge upward to the first lock on the canal, a distance of about 1 miles, to defend against attacks from the town and surrounding heights. I also left one piece of artillery with Major Gould’s detachment in such position as to sweep the several streets of Harper’s Ferry.  I placed Company B, Captain Warden, of my regiment, above the lock, where the right of Major Gould’s command rested, and deployed it along the river about 1 mile.  This company rendered very efficient service by its good marksmen at long range and seriously galled the enemy.  I then advanced with one piece of artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Martin; half of Company I, Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Captain Schriber; and Company I, commanded by Captain McDonough, Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers.  The combined advance, numbering about 130 men, took possession of several dry basins along the canal and a point known as Maryland Ore Banks, which afforded an excellent shelter to my men. Thus situated, a very spirited fire was maintained for something over two hours, the fire of the enemy gradually slackening as they were dislodged by our artillery and sharpshooters, until about 6 o’clock the firing entirely ceased.  (The enemy were driven from every point they occupied and sullenly retired beyond the range of our guns toward the interior).  During this affair considerable damage was done to the mill, houses, and barns in which the rebels had taken shelter within reach of our cannon.

As far as can be ascertained through Virginia sources deemed reliable there were 18 of the rebels killed and about 25 wounded.  It is impossible to ascertain exactly what the casualties of the enemy are, from the fact [that] the river divided us from them, and we have partly to rely upon the Virginians themselves for our information. Our loss was 1 killed and 3 slightly wounded.  The wounds all occurred from fragments detached from the bands around the James shell, discharged by our own artillery.

Philadelphia Inquirer

The engagement was briefly described in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia Inquirer
September 17, 1861

Affairs On The Lower Potomac

Colonel Geary Repulses a Rebel Attack.

Point of Rocks, Sept. 15 – About three o’clock this afternoon a force of five hundred Rebels attacked a portion of the troops under Colonel Geary, stationed about three miles above Harper’s Ferry.  Colonel Geary commanded in person, and the fight lasted about three hours.

The enemy were driven from every house and breastwork, and no less than seventy-five of them are reported as killed and wounded.

Our loss is one killed and a few slightly wounded. Our troops behaved like veterans. Companies B, D, and I of the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, and two companies of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, were engaged in the conflict.

During the fight a Rebel was seen taking aim at Col. Geary, when the Colonel grasped a rifle from a soldier, and shot him on the spot. Our troops are in fine spirits.

Col. Geary’s Official Despatch.

The Death of John L. Spencer

Captain Moses Palmer, a principal organizer of Company I, kept the bullet that killed Spencer.  Palmer's descendants still have the misshapen bullet with a piece of paper that reads “This is the ball that killed John L. Spencer of Co. “I” 13th Regt. Mass. Vols. Spencer was shot on the tow path of the Canal near Sandy Hook, Md. and was shot by the Rebels from the Harpers Ferry side of the River Potomac -- first man killed in the Regt.  His body was sent to Marlboro.  The ball passed through his body killing him instantly.”  M. P. Palmer, Comdg Co “I”  

The loss of Spencer was keenly felt. The following letters give more detail.

Sept. 21, 1861

From a letter received by Mr. David B. Goodale, - from which we are permitted to make extracts, - we learn that Mr. John L. Spencer, a member of the Marlboro Union Guards, was shot on Sunday afternoon last by the rebels, while out on a scout under command of Lieut. Brown.  The ball entered the right side, about four inches below the arm-pit, and passed directly through the body, so that it was picked out just beneath the skin.  This sad occurrence took place while Capt. Blackmer of Westboro was preaching, and he immediately discontinued divine services.  Spencer was highly esteemed by Mr. Goodale, in whose employ he remained a number of years, and was a member of the Sons of Temperance in Marlboro.  His body was forwarded to Marlboro.

John Pierce, of the same Company, shot himself, accidentally, while on guard duty a few days ago, by leaning on his gun.  He was sent to the Hospital at Baltimore, and it is thought by the physicians that he will recover.

George Brown, of Southboro, belonging to the same Company, wounded some days ago, is recovering.

The above Company is having a pretty busy time; evidently being in an exposed position, and constanty engaged in skirmishing.  They have improved in drill and discipline, with a fair prospect to take the palm from the pet lambs of the regiment.

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

September 28, 1861

From Harper's Ferry. – C. R. Brigham under date of Sept. 14th, 15th, and 16th, writes that they had just been into Virginia, and seized another 12-pounder, two mules, worth $150 each, and one prisoner.  They had the fire engine, previously captured, into working order; and Corporal Jones and Private Geo. Emery were making themselves useful in building carriages for the captured guns.  As soon as the four other expected pieces of artillery should arrive, they would probably make an attack on Charlestown (the place of John Brown’s trial), 8 miles distant.

In regard to the skirmish of the 15th, he writes:  “This A.M., a scouting party of 6 from Co. K and 6 from Co. I, started out on horseback.  * * Nothing special transpired in camp until 3 o’clock, when the drum sounded to fall in for religious services, Capt. Blackmer acting as chaplain.  The services commenced, - and so did the rebels.  Word came that our pickets were being fired upon, and 4 companies and 1 piece of artillery were immediately sent forward.  The rebels kept up their fire from behind a log house across the river; but the artillery soon shelled them out.  We had the pleasure of seeing some 6 or 8 of them fall, and probably double that number were killed in and about the house and the woods behind it.  The only loss to our forces was John L. Spencer, of Co. I, killed. He was with the scouting party, and was killed at the first volley.  The men of that party used up all of their own cartridges, and those upon the body of Spencer, and then were forced to lay in the water of the canal two and a half hours.  The artillery fired 29 shots, at a cost of $77, besides about 1500 rounds from our rifles.

‘Since the regiment came out here there has been one killed, (SPENCER ) one wounded by the enemy, one by our own men, (EDWIN SMITH) and one by his own carelessness.’(JOHN PIERCE).

‘We have just learned that the rebels are planting a battery in the woods where we had the fight yesterday.  We expect to have another set-to right away.”

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

Letter of William Henry Forbush; Spencer's Funeral

Private William Henry Forbush, Company K

Harpers Ferry Lock Sept 17th 1861

Dear Mother
     I have rote you two letters this week and now I will write you another     in My last I told you that one of Com. I Men had bin killed and now I will tell you of his funeral  the Orderly Sargent Kimbal came into our Mess room yesterday Morning and wanted 12 Men to go as Berriers to the Funeral and Fly and Myself and 10 others went    we went without our Equipments then we went into the room and placed the coffin or rather a box on two barells     the American Flag was wrapped around the coffin     the coffin was made of rough boards

     And he had one of our New Winter under Coats on and pants and Stockings and green leaves at the head of the coffin and a bunch of snow balls on his breast      after we fetched him out and placed him on the Barrells then the Company made there Apperance     Comp I of which he was a Member.    they had there Guns and Equipments on     they fell in front of the Coffin and then Capt Blackmer came out and Spoke to them and us telling them that there was some thing Singular about this Mans death   only the Night before he was up all Night with the Man that Shot himself accidentally and did not leave his side all Night    and then to think he was the first one to be shot dead the

P 3
     Next day      but he said it was glorious to die in such a noble cause and at his Post  he said who will be called next   God only knows   he said we had bin verry Lucky about Loosing our Men since we Started     the man stood the first Man in the ranks of his company in the lines

Then he offered a prayer and then we started for Sandy Hook a distance of two Miles and we carried him all the way     6 of us would carry him and then 6 more when they got tired,  we carried him in the Midle of the ranks and the Company on each side  the two drummers had there drums Muffled and drapped in Mourning  and they played all the way   and when we got there we sat

P 4
     The coffin down and the Company came up and fired 3 rounds over the coffin   some 300 Shotts and then we placed him in the cars and left there Sargent with him to go to Massachusetts    Marlboro Mass    his Father Living in New York State somewhere but they didn’t Know where and so they were goin to take him there to the Man that he used to work for     and then we came back     but the Minister said perhappse this man was taken to warn?  the? others?   that Such an hour as we think not we may be taken   Mother I am on guard to day and it is most time to go out and relieve My Man   I am on the Post with Mr. Joseph Fairbanks today    but I must close

I am all right and  [page torn] some and Tough as a nut   but I must close     Good bye     Love to All

Wm Forbush

Arrival of the Body at Marlboro, Massachusetts

 Sept. 28, 1861

The body of John L. Spencer, who was killed by the rebels in Virginia last week Sunday, was received in Marlboro, last Thursday afternoon and was deposited in the Town House.  On Friday afternoon The Hook and Ladder Co. the two Engine Companies, accompanied by the Onamog Divisions Sons of Temperance, - of which Spencer was a member – turned out in large numbers, to perform the last sad obsequies to the memory of the departed patriot.  A procession was formed at the Town Hall.  The remains were taken in charge and the solemn courtege moved to the Congregational Church where the formal Ceremonies were performed by Revs., and Mssrs. Anthony, Bailey and Wakefield.  A feeling of sadness, pervaded the assemblage, and when the rites were over the mortal remains of John L. Spencer, were consigned to the tomb to await the action of his friends at or near Rouses’ Point.

Co. I of which Spencer was a member have forwarded to us a series of resolutions on the death of their brother in arms, which we cheerfully publish.

Harper's Ferry Lock, Sandy Hook, Md.
Sept. 16, 1861.

At a meeting of the Officers and members of Co. I Capt. Shriber, 13th Regiment Mass. Vol. (Union Rifles Marlboro,) it was unanimously resolved:

That we deeply mourn the loss sustained, by the death of John L. Spencer, which reached him in the gallant execution of his duties, as a defender of his country’s government, in an action on the banks of the Potomac, Sept. 15th.  His kindness of heart had won for him without an exception the deep attachment of all his comrades, his promptness and bravery made him much respected by his officers, and his generosity and politeness made him much respected by all who knew him.

Resolved;  That we desire to convey to his parents and relatives our deep sympathy in their bereavements, trusting that it might be a comfort to them to know that the whole company feels with them the loss sustained, and that it was for our country’s sake, that he gave his life.

Resolved;  That we convey our heartfelt thanks to Major Gould and Captain Blackmer, of the 13th , Capt. Richardson, of the 21st Mass. Vol., and those members of Co. K. 13th and 21st Mass. Vol. who bore the remains of our comrade to their final resting place, and the Union Relief Committee of Baltimore for their kind assistance.

Resolved; That the clerk of the company will transmit a copy of these Resolutions, to the Marlboro Journal, for insertion, and also a copy by letter to the relatives of the deceased.

L.H. Russell,                                         Committee

A. G. Howe,                                             on

C.W. Whitcomb.                                  Resolutions.

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

Spencer's Final Resting Place

Bangor Cemetery, Franklin Cty., NY

John L. Spencer's remains were sent to Franklin County, New York.  He is buried next to his mother Rebecca, wife of Charles, at Bangor Cemetery off Country Route 53.  The three markers in the plot are:

John L. SPENCER   Died Sept. 15, 1861   AE 26 years (NOTE: There is an illegible inscription on the bottom of this stone.)

Separate stone in the same lot:
Silas W. SPENCER   Died Sept. 9, 1851   AE 23 yrs. (NOTE: There is an illegible inscription on the bottom of this stone.)

Rebecca   Wife of Charles SPENCER   Died Oct. 7, 1866   AE 71 yrs. (NOTE: There is an illegible inscription on the bottom of this stone.)

NOTE: This cemetery was transcribed between 27 May and 4 June 2000 by Joyce M. Ranieri. It was checked against earlier records owned by the House of History, Malone New York. Discrepencies were resolved by re-visiting the cemetery on 5 June 2000.

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The John Brown Bell

The John Brown Bell

Members of Company I, obtained a fascinating souvenir of Harper’s Ferry -- the bell from the firehouse known as "John Brown's Fort" located on the grounds of the ruined Federal Arsenal.  The bell took 30 years to finally reach its intended destination, Marlboro Massachusetts, where it is now enshrined in the town square.   Years after the war, James Gleason, a younger participant in the story, used to give occasional talks on the bell, and accompany it in parades.  When Gleason died, and as others  aged, surviving members of Company I, decided to record an official statement about this important relic.  Lysander Parker gives an account of the first leg of the journey in a pamphlet published, 1910 by Post 43, G.A. R. Rawlins Building Association, Marlborough, Mass.

Excerpt from "The Story of the John Brown Bell" Post 43, G.A.R., 1910.

“Our Company tendered their services to the U.S. Government May 20th, 1861, and was ordered to report at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor, June 29th, and became Company I of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.    

"We were mustered into the U.S. Service July 16th and left Boston for the front on the 29th.  On the 23rd of August, we went into camp two miles from the Potomac, and about six miles from Harpers Ferry.

"On the same date, Companies I, K and C, and a section of Rhode Island Artillery under command of Maj. Gould, were detailed to go to the river and guard the fords which connected Harpers Ferry with the Maryland side.  While there we received orders to go to Harper's Ferry and take everything of value to the Government and remove it across the river where it was to be shipped direct to the War Department. We immediately pressed into service two scows, lashed them together, then stretched a rope diagonally across the river, the highest point being on the opposite shore.  Another line was there made fast, with the other end passing around a pulley on board the scows.  With this device, we easily pulled the boats across the river, and although heavily laden on their return, with the assistance of the current and use of poles, we landed our freight on the Maryland side. From the Arsenal and Hall's Rifle Works, we took a large quantity of minerals, also fifteen thousand stands of arms, and various other things of less importance. Being on historic grounds, our thoughts naturally turned towards the engine house, for 'twas here that John Brown fought his last fight for the liberation of the slaves.  Again in imagination we could see the old Spartan as he felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and grasped his rifle with the other.


"In vain we searched for something to take with us as a souvenir, for others had been there before us and appropriated everything of value. We finally decided to take the bell and send it home for the Fire Department, as the Hook & Ladder Co. had none.  Brown had planned to use this bell to sound the signal for the slaves to rally and flee to the mountains of Virginia, and there to make a stand and fight for their freedom.  The question was how we should remove it from the belfry.  We were equal to the occasion as the sequel proved.

"On Fast Day, which occurred Sept. 26, 1861, Lieut. David L. Brown and fifteen others of Company I crossed the river and procured a rope at a store nearby, then climbed to the roof of the engine house, disconnected the bell from the belfry, and proceeded to lower it.  Just as it reached the edge of the roof, the rope parted and the bell dropped, and striking on a flagstone, chipped off a few pieces from the flange, but not enough however to injure the tone of the bell.  We then loaded it on the scows and took it across the river.

"Realizing that our treasure was the property of Uncle Sam, we thought best to consult proper authority before proceeding further, and immediately through Major Gould, Provost Marshal of the 13th at Sandy Hook, we made direct application to the Government for it and in due season received permission from the War Department to appropriate the bell.  It was then boxed by Levi Taylor and Algernon S. Smith and placed on board the canal boat “Charles McCardell.”  This boat was used during the time we were there for the officers quarters and there it remained until we rejoined our regiment.

...On the 31st of October we received orders to return to our regiment, which was stationed at Williamsport.  The canal boat accompanied us and the bell was landed at Williamsport Lock.

"Our regiment remained at this place during the winter. While there, we made the acquaintance of William Ensminger, who with his wife owned and managed two or three canal boats.  Mrs. Ensminger being an excellent cook, we engaged her to bake the bread of our company while we remained.

Armory Grounds, Harper's Ferry

"Opinions there as well as at Harpers Ferry concerning the War were about equally divided.  The Union and Confederate Armies were constantly being recruited from both centers.  The war spirit was in the air and something must be done with the bell.  Unlike the ark of the covenant, it was too heavy for us to carry in our wanderings. Our salaries, eleven dollars per month, were hardly sufficient for us to ship the bell to Marlborough, and at the same time meet the demands of the sutler when pay day came around. We finally made a trade with Mr. Ensminger to care for the bell until called for.  We also left with him our regimental hats, a very gaudy affair, with a big black feather on one side and the American eagle on the other.  During the winter we accumulated an extra quantity of clothing, which, being too cumbersome to carry on the march, was left in care of the same party.

"The first day of March, 1862, we were ordered across the river into the enemy's country.  Bidding farewell to our new found friends, we marched away, and the bell for some time was forgotten.  There it remained for thirty years."

To be continued...

The taking of the bell was reported in the newspapers.

October 3, 1861
Pg. 1

From the lower potomac
Interesting from general Banks' column.

Darnestown, Sept. 30. – The first frost of the season was experienced here last night.

Capt. Collis' independent company of Crimean Zouaves, 101 in number, arrived at head-quarters on Saturday night, after performing a march of thirty-one miles in nine hours.  They are now doing duty as Gen. Banks’ body-guard.  Each one of the number has seen service in the late Continental wars of Europe.

Capt. Williams, late Assistant Adjutant-General of Gen. Banks’ Division, left here yesterday, via Washington, to take command of the Massachusetts Cavalry.

The Rebels have given up all idea of crossing the river, unless Maryland assumes a hostile attitude.

Sandy Hook, Sept. 30. – On Thursday last, Major Gould and Captain Scriber, of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, under the guidance of Major McDaniels, of the special service went over to Harper’s Ferry and succeeded in recovering two valuable bells belonging to our Government, one of which weighed 1700 and the other 900 lbs., together with a fire engine and other articles captured by the Rebels.  On the same day they arrested a Mr. Magraw, who had been engaged in the laudable occupation of robbing the Unionists for the benefit of the Rebels.  Letters were found in his possession showing that he was in constant communication with the Rebel leaders.  The officers confiscated his mules, wagons and other articles. Magraw remains a prisoner. There is plenty of evidence to prove him guilty of the grossest treason.

The four large pieces of ordnance which were recently recovered from Harper’s Ferry have been fitted up in an ingenious manner, by Captain Scriber, and frequently pay their respects to the Rebel scouts when they visit the Ferry.  The same officer has collected large quantities of railroad spikes, which he wires in suitable bundles, and discharges them in place of canister shot.  Captain Scriber declares that he can keep the Secession Army from crossing here with these novel projectiles.  Great credit is due to Major Gould and captain Scriber, for their mechanical skill in the erection of batteries and fortifications fronting Harper’s Ferry and ford, extending a distance of several hundred yards, the latter perfectly protect our forces from any attack.

There are but very few families remaining in Harper’s Ferry, and these being Unionists, earnestly desire the before-named officers with their commands should remain.

(This story will continue later at this website but if the reader is anxious to read the rest of the story visit the links page and follow links for the John Brown Bell).

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Lauriman H. Russell & His Maps

Lauriman H. Russell

Civil Engineer Lauriman H. Russell was born in 1820.*  He was 41 when he enlisted as a buglar, in Company I, of Marlboro.  The roster lists him as age 34, incorrectly.  He was one of 17 children.  Two brothers served in the '13th Mass.' with him, twenty-three year old Benjamin, and twenty year old John.   Russell was highly respected in the community prior to the war, O. W. Albee,*  local educator, abolitionist, State Representative for 4 years, and State Senator for 2 years was a personal reference when Russell advertised his services..  Lauriman put his engineering skills to good use while with the regiment at Harper's Ferry. He drew at least two maps there, and another later on, at Four Locks up river, when Company I was picketing that place.

The first Harper's Ferry map was drawn September 14, 1861 and is signed in the lower right corner.   The original map is still in the possession of the family of William Barnes, Russell's  comrade.  The map notes the location of "Fort Fox," built by the soldiers under the  direction of 2nd Lt. Charles B. Fox.  A captured 12 pound canon was mounted at the fort to fire railroad iron across the river at Confederates.  Also depicted are the  headquarters of Companies I & K;  picket posts,  barracades along the river, and the location of the John Brown Bell at the Engine House on the grounds of the ruined Federal Armory. 

Russell's Map of Harper's Ferry

Fort Fox is in the lower left corner, Russell's signature in the lower right.  Map is dated Sept. 14th 1861.  A better image of the map can be found at John Buczek’s Marlborough History Website.  See 'Links' Page.

A second map is referenced in Mr. Boyd B. Stutler's 1963 book, "West Virginia in the Civil War."  Referencing the Battle of Bolivar Heights, Mr. Stutler writes,

"Most important in understanding the movements is a detailed sketch map drawn by Laurimer Howe Russell, Company I, 13th Massachusetts  Infantry, a participant, in the basement of the Marlboro, Massachusetts, Public Library.  Russell, a Marlboro man serving in a Marlboro Company, not only located every position in the action, but detailed the line of fire of the artillery engaged, even noting the spot where a comrade  was killed."

The spot marked for the killed comrade is actually the site where John L. Spencer fell at the engagement of Pritchard's Mill a month before "Bolivar Heights."  The Mill itself, is across the river, on Elk Run, close by to Bolivar Heights and an old iron furnace.  The map that  once resided in the Marlboro Library is no longer there, possibly destroyed by fire in 1969.  However a copy of it exists at the West Virginia State Archives.

Detail of Russell's map

At left is a detail of Russell's map of Bolivar Heights. The digital image is twice the length. Resolution of this scan is poor but it gives some idea of the detail Russell put into his map. The Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are easily identifiable.  The spot where Spencer fell is marked on the right.  Peacher's or Pritchard's Mill was just across the river on the Virginia side. Part of Old Furnace road can be seen sweeping up towards Bolivar Heights.  The position of the Wisconsin troops during the Battle of Bolivar Heights,  is at the top center.  Loudon Mountain is depicted on the left.  Maryland Heights at the bottom center.  An extensive key has been cropped out of the image.

A third Russell map depicts Company I's position at Four Locks of the C & O canal, a few miles up the Potomac, where Company I skirmished with rebels on December 20th.  I have only seen a  very poor photocopy of it.

Today, (in part due to this website)  these maps are a valuable resource in the public  interpretation of historic events at Harper's Ferry during the fall of 1861.

Lauriman Russell was detailed, February, 1863, for 'side service,' as Assistant Engineer at the Convalescent Camp in Alexandria, Va., while he waited for a discharge from service due to disability, which came on December 23, 1863.  His two brothers were killed in the war.  John died from wounds received at Antietam, October, 1863, two months prior to Lauriman's discharge, and Benjamin was killed July 1st at Gettysburg. 

After the war Lauriman settled in Winthrop, Mass,. and continued to work as an engineer.

*NOTE:   There is an editorial by Obediah Albee on the June, 1862 page of this website.  His son, Eugene was in Company I.  Biographical information on Russell, courtesy of Mr. Paul Brodeur, Trustee of the Marlboro Historical Society.

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Virginia Raids; A Confederate Citizen Complains

Gen. Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, C.S.A.

     The Union expeditions across the Potomac irked prominent Confederate sympathizers who lived in Virginia along the border with Maryland.  James L. Ranson, Andrew Hunter, and Alexander Boteler  lobbied Confederate Secretary of War,  J. P. Benjamin, to appoint a high ranking officer to direct all military operations along the border. The Confederate Army soon appointed a very capable officer to take command of Shenandoah Valley troops; Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who arrived in Winchester the evening of November 4th.  The following letter is from the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 5.

Charlestown, October 5, 1861.

Hon. J. P. Benjamin,
     Secretary of War ad interim, &c,:

Dear Sir :  At the instance of a number of the good citizens in this quarter of the State (my own judgment fully concurring) I am induced to call your attention to the condition of things here connected with the operations of the military, and I beg leave to protest that I do so under a full sense of the diffidence and delicacy which should govern a mere civilian in dealing with such subjects.  I know of no one connected with the military at Winchester or on this border who is not my personal friend, and as to whom certainly I have none other than the most kindly feelings, and yet I deem it my duty to say broadly that the management of military affairs in this quarter is in utterly incompetent hands.

Ever since General Johnston marched his army from Winchester in July, most absurdly as it seems to me and to hundreds of others here, large bodies of militia have been assembled there and kept there, 30 miles from the border, where the enemy are constantly not only committing depredations, but doing everything in their power to debauch the minds of our people off from their allegiance and loyalty to the South, and recently, at the very time when the enemy are making their boldest inroads upon us, plundering, insulting females, and keeping the whole border for miles into the interior in a state of uneasiness and alarm, the militia from this (Jefferson) county have been marched away to Winchester, and are now held there under the miserable pretext of drilling them.

The feeling is becoming very general among our people that while we have plenty of men ready and willing to protect the border against these incursions of the enemy, yet that we are suffering needlessly for want of competent officers.  Without, therefore, entering further into particulars, or perferring complaints of incompetency or inefficiency against any particular officer or officers, I beg leave to submit whether it be not practicable and expedient to send here (that is, on this border of the valley) some competent regular or experienced officer of the army to take charge of and direct the whole military operations in this quarter, or if this can't be done, and we must have the peace establishment militia officers still in command, then that some experienced and intelligent officer be sent here to inquire into the condition of things, and report was is proper to be done.

My friend and collegue Hon. A. R. Boteler I presume is now in Richmond, and he will give you full and minute information about the matters and things referred to in the foregoing.

                    Very truly, your obedient servant,
                                                                       Andrew Hunter.

Next Page:  "The Battle of Bolivar Heights"

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Page Updated October 25, 2016.

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