Advance To The Rapidan
This page concludes the time spent along the Rapidan river in the late Summer & early Autumn of 1863.
If it weren’t for the executions witnessed here, the time the regiment spent along the Rapidan would have had a ‘lighter’ tone, in terms of remembrance. But we have the executions. All accounts mention them; Charles Davis, Austin Stearns, Sam Webster, Calvin Conant, Charles Manning, and men from the other regiments in their brigade. That, combined with the low marshy grounds where General Robinson's 2nd Division camped probably brought more dreary memories to mind for the veterans who were actually there.
When I set out building this section of the history two years ago, there was a lot of ambiguity surrounding the reported executions of Daniel Sullivan, (13th MA, Company E), and another un-named solder who turned out to be William Smith of the 90th PA. Gradually more information surfaced, and I solved the mystery. Sullivan was reprieved from execution by command of President Lincoln, and William Smith or Smitz was the poor soul executed during the rainstorm on October 2nd. The confusion results from the incorrect reports published in the newspapers. These rare executions, were staged as a deterrent to put a check on desertions among the new drafted men. According to Sam Webster, it didn’t work. They continued to desert in large numbers.
PICTURE CREDITS: All images are from the Library of Congress Digital Collections with the following exceptions: Soldiers at camp from "The Boys of '61" by Charles Carleton Coffin, Estes & Lauriat, Boston, 1896, (& other works by the author) accessed at the Internet Archive; Charles Reed's illustration "Execution" is from the Book HARDTACK & COFFEE, by John D. Billings, accessed digitally at the web archive; Portrait of Dr. Hixon in his uniform from Army Heritage Education Center, Digital Image database, Mass. MOLLUS Collection; The post-war portrait of Dr. Hixon is from the personal Scrapbook of 13th MA veteran James H. Llowell, Company A, The contents of the scrapbook were generously shared with me by one of Llowell's many descendants, Mr. Tim Sewell; The image of Dr. Hixon's former school "Eagles Nest" was found on a real-estate website after careful research in digital newspapers which defined the location of the property. The panoramic views and other photographs of contemporary Culeper, Madison & Orange Counties, Virginia were taken by the author/webmaster; [Bradley M. Forbush]. ALL IMAGES have been EDITED in PHOTOSHOP.
Army of the Potomac,
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck
The officers principally engaged in raising funds for the testimonial to General McClellan promptly agreed to my request to stop the whole proceeding on my representing to them the view that had been taken of it. They furthermore disclaimed any intention of doing anything offensive to any one or in violation of regulations.
I trust this solution will be deemed satisfactory.
Journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright
September 30, Wednesday. We changed our headquarters camp again yesterday, the spot where we were being found very wet. The soil here is like that on all the level land I have come across in Virginia, a light top and heavy clay bottom, so that the slightest rain makes it horribly muddy.
Our tents are now pitched on a rocky spot around a
house, which I believe is marked on the map as J. Vaughn’s, or one
occupying the ground so marked; for a small stream runs across
close by, which I take for Cowstir run. As for obtaining any
information out of the people living in any of these houses, there is
no use attempting it; they are utterly ignorant or else unwilling to
tell what they do know. Here we are comparatively dry; but
spell of dry weather which has been somewhat prolonged now should come
to an end, it will be very nasty getting about in the mud here.
We are about 3 miles from Culpepper, with a pretty direct & wide road. Once you get off of it however into the woods, you are pretty well lost. In trying to make myself acquainted with the roads around the other day, I became completely confused, & slightly scared as I wandered around the foot of the Poney Mountain with only an orderly & one dull saber between us, lost in the dense woods which cover several square miles of country on this side of that hill. On arriving safely at home Learned for my satisfaction the Painter’s (our Corps Q.M.) principle wagon master & two men were “gobbled,” on that very ground today. Several other men, orderlies &c. have disappeared in the last day or two; & the army is full of reports of murders. I doubt the killing but believe the capturing. We shall have to surround the district & carry off every man woman & child from it.
These movements of ours about here have quite stirred up the newspaper correspondents, who are indulging in all sorts of vagaries as to our crossing the Rapidan; Lee’s army being much depleted by reinforcements sent to Bragg &c &c. All of which are mere gammon. I do not believe any troops have been taken from Lee, since Longstreet’s Corps was sent off; & all our moves are merely threatenings; which can count to nothing unless Lee makes a move against us or our communications. — In connection with the reports of Lee’s depletion, some of the papers talk about Rosecrantz having been outnumbered two to one; which is all nonsense. Bragg could not have had more than 15,000 men the most, if indeed he exceeded R. strength. The truth of our defeat seems to be that about two thirds of our men behaved badly, & some of the General Officers bungled from ignorance. Letters from officers with that army say so. Rosecrantz himself seems to have done all he could & to have behaved like a Gen’l; but as that kind of behavior is not possible, he will doubtless be sacrificed. I trust he will be the last, & that now the radicals have secured themselves at home, they will find it possible to leave our army commanders at liberty to put down the rebellion.— The Richmond papers of yesterday announce the departure of the 11th & 12th Corps for the west, so there is no secret about the matter now. They were pushed through from Washington with amazing diligence so there is no doubt that it is intended to relieve Chattanooga, & drive the rebels away from there before Bragg can be reinforced.
The order requiring the men to keep five days rations in their knapsacks was rescinded yesterday, which is pretty good evidence that no work is meant just at present.
Gen’l Meade received a despatch day before yesterday in reply to the complaints of a want of men in the light Batteries which if only carried out, will at once fill all our volunteer Batt's to their maximums. He is authorized to permanently transfer men from the Infantry to Batt’s of the same State, with the consent of the men. The despatch was sent around at once, but as yet no steps have been taken in the matter, for we have no instructions as to how the men wishing to be transferred can be found out. There is no doubt but double the number of men required can be found anxious for the transfer; & those the very best men in the reg’t s. In order to be ready to act instantly, I have directed my Batt’y Commdr’s to at once forward lists of such men as they wish to have transferred. My two Maine Batt's will have to go out of the Corps as there is but one reg’t from their state in it, & that has hardly men enough to fill them up. [16th Maine - B.F.] It will doubtless raise the deuce among the infantry officers; & I very much fear that Meade will not carry the permission out. I have told my Captains to get men who will re-enlist under present orders if possible. This re-enlisting, by the bye, makes no progress at all at present.
I was at Army H’d Qts the other day and leaned from General Hunt [Henry Jackson Hunt, Commander of Federal Artillery––B.F.] all about the McClellan testimonial. The evening that they received the New York papers with an account of McClellan's speech on Staten Island, he, Meade and several others were talking it over, and expressing the high opinion they had of McClellan as a man, and the attachment they still felt for him as their old commander. Among themselves they proposed to send him some little remembrance, and to ask some of his old personal friends to join with him. It was originated entirely as a privae affair, and meant solely to show the General that the affection he had expressed himself as still entertaining for his old army, was fully reciprocated by themselves With this idea, Sedgwick, Sykes, French, and others were invited to join. The two first in addition to accepting the proposition (which all did) protested against limiting the affair to McClellan's personal friends, and claimed that as the General's interest had been expressed for all his old army, so all should be allowed to join in returning the good will. "Uncle John," [John Sedgwick ––B.F.] too, pledged himself for $20,000 in his corps.
So after talking the matter over, the circular issued was agreed upon. General Newton agreed to it, but was too cautious to take an active part in pushing the matters. [Gen. John Newton got in trouble with President Lincoln for criticising Burnside after the Battle of Fredericksburg. –– B.F.] Subscriptions were fully started in the other corps; when General Meade being in Washington, the President called his attention to it as a reflection on the government, and a breach of discipline, requesting him to issue an order stopping it. Meade replied that the presenting of testimonials to their ex-commanders had always been common in the army; that he had himself received one only a month ago, to which Mr. Lincoln had not objected, but had even approved, and that consequently he could not himself issue such an order, that it must come from the War Department. The next day the Chronicle comes out with its assertion that the testimonial is a political move, and tries to raise an issue on that question. Sooner than allow such a thing even to be supposed it was dropped at once. The amount of indignation felt in the army generally among those who served under McClellan is very great, but we are gradually getting accustomed to the tyranny of the ruling party, and learning to obey the curb and whip without kicking over the traces.
The freedom of action of an American citizen is being rapidly limited. Army H’d Qts are pleasantly located around the “Wallach house.” The Artillery reserve lies close by, on either side of “Mountain Run,” where they have a good sod to camp on, & plenty of water. It is a large command now; & makes quite a display in the open ground. I have been down to our picket line once or twice, & saw nothing new; the rebels on the other side are easily seen, & are busy strengthening their position still further.— There has been no more trouble from guerrillas around Poney Mountain since the wood was scoured.—
Letter of Warren Freeman, Company A
In Camp Near Culpepper, Va., September 21, 1863.
Dear Father and Mother, — We are back near old Culpepper again : it was near here that I saw the Webb boys a little more than a year since. We left Rappahannock Station on Wednesday, I think, and marched here ; it was a very hot day, and a hard march, if it was but twelve miles.
I received No. 97 last night, with Aunt Mary Anne’s letter inclosed. She is very kind to take so much interest in my welfare; I hope I may live long enough to see her again.
On Friday there is to be one of Company E’s conscripts shot for desertion; his name is Sullivan. There is another deserter belonging to the Ninetieth Pennsylvania in our division to be shot at the same time. There were ten deserters shot last Friday, but none of them were out of our corps.
We were paid off the other day, and I will inclose thirty-five dollars, which you will please take care of for me.
Conscript Daniel Sullivan, 13th MA
BOSTON EVENING TRANSCRIPT
FROM THE POTOMAC ARMY.
New York 26th. The Herald’s Headquarters Army of the Potomac despatch of the 25th says John Tomlin, Co D, 146th New York regiment, 12th corps, Daniel Sullivan, Co. E, 13th Massachusetts regiment, 1st corps, and Charles Williams, Co. D. 4th Indiana regiment, 1st corps, were executed today for the crime of desertion.* The others who were to have been shot today are respited by the President.
It is ascertained that our entire loss in the cavalry engagement day before yesterday was three killed and one wounded, and one man taken prisoner. We buried 21 dead rebels, and captured 64 men, including six commissioned officers. Their wounded for the most part escaped.
*The 12th Corps was en-route for the west at this time. I cannot find Tomlin's name in the rosters of the 146th NY. I could not find any 4th Indiana Infantry unit. There was a 4th In. Cav. and a 14th Indiana Inf. (2nd Corps).
TELEGRAM TO GENERAL McCALLUM.
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON,
GENERAL McCALLUM, Alexandria, Va.:
I have sent to General Meade, by telegraph, to suspend the execution of Daniel Sullivan of Company F, Thirteenth Massachusetts, which was to be to-day, but understanding there is an interruption on the line, may I beg you to send this to him by the quickest mode in your power:
TELEGRAM TO GENERAL MEADE.
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON,
MAJOR-GENERAL MEADE, Army of Potomac:
Owing to the press in behalf of Daniel Sullivan, Company E, Thirteenth Massachusetts, and the doubt; though small, which you express of his guilty intention, I have concluded to say let his execution be suspended till further order, and copy of record sent me.
History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers, (Webster Regiment), by Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin F. Cook:
Sept. 26. A heavy detachment out working on intrenchments. A deserter from the Thirteenth Massachusetts, and one from the Fourth Maine, were shot.
* * * * * * * * * *
Execution of Private William Smitz (or Smith), 90th PA Vols.
From History of the Ninth Regiment ––83rd New York
Vols.–– N.Y.S.M.––N.G.S.N.Y. :, by George A. Hussey:
The 2nd of October was signalized by the execution of a member of one of the Pennsylvania regiments, who had been found guilty of sleeping upon his post while on picket duty. Infliction of the extreme penalty was rare in the army, but occasionally the commanding general found it necessary to make an example of a particularly flagrant case, in order that the men might not think the articles of war a dead letter. The firing party was taken from Company E of the Twelfth Massachusetts, and the execution witnessed by the whole division.
History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers, (Webster Regiment), by Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin F. Cook:
“One of the Ninetieth Pennsylvania shot for sleeping on his post. It again fell to the lot of twelve men from Company E of the Twelfth to carry out the sentence of court-martial. The surgeons, upon examining the body of the poor fellow, found that two balls had entered his heart, one his right lung, and one his shoulder.”
Sam Webster Diary, continued:
Friday, October 2nd 1863. Darkey’s moved out of a cabin near where we get water and I borrowed “Geo. Washington’s”* horse and cart, and got enough boards to build me a shanty, today. Did it during a rain storm, while the regiment was off to the execution of one of the 90th Penna. deserters. It is represented as a most degrading sight and almost like butchery.
* Charles E. Davis, Jr. wrote in the Regimental history that a contraband named George Washington joined the regiment on October 2nd as an officer's servant. George would later enlist in one of the black regiments, and re-appear again when he visited their camp this time a soldier, in June, 1864. See Webster's last entry on this page for another mention of Washington.
Charles E. Davis, Jr. sardonically writes in the regimental history, “Three Years in the Army” :
Friday, October 2. The division was turned out to-day to see a soldier shot for desertion, or sleeping on his post — we cannot recall which. It made no difference to him which it was.
Letter of Warren Freeman, October 3, 1863.
Near Rapidan River, October 3.
The man that was to have been shot in our regiment Friday has been reprieved, [Daniel Sullivan] but the one from the Ninetieth Pennsylvania was shot on that day. [William Smith]
Our division was turned out in a a violent rain-storm to witness the execution. We marched to a field about half a mile from here, and were drawn up so as to form three sides of a hollow square. In a short time the prisoner came along in an ambulance with his coffin in front; there was a priest with him. In front of the ambulance were twelve men of the provost guard, and a band playing a dirge. They halted at the open space, or fourth side of the square, when the prisoner got out and the ambulance drove off. He was then placed in the proper position on his coffin, when the priest conversed with him for a few moments. His hands were then bound, and a bandage placed over his eyes. The guard were within about ten paces when they fired; he seemed to die instantly; four balls passed through him.
One day the whole division was ordered out into a field and, after forming three sides of a square, we ordered arms to await results. Near the centre was an open grave and a coffin beside it, and coming nearer and nearer was the sound of the muffled drum. Soon a dozen men in charge of officer marched in, followed by an ambulance in which was a soldier condemned to be shot for desertion. Beside him was a priest. They went to near the grave, when he was taken out and seated upon his coffin, then blindfolded with his hands tied behind him and legs strapped together. The soldiers were drawn up before him and at the command ready, aim, fire, the fellow fell back and all his earthly accounts were forever settled. We shouldered arms and marched back to camp, having witnessed an event that was becoming common. At another time we were ordered out in a drenching rain to witness what would have been another execution and this time a man of our own regiment.
The circumstances are these. After the subs came to us and we had drilled and we got somewhat acquainted, guns were given them and when we moved they were expected to do a soldiers duty. One night when we were in the face of the enemy, he with others were detailed for picket, and while on his post deserted. He had told some of his chums before that he intended to desert to the enemy. When daylight came and he was between the lines, his courage failed and he stayed between the lines all day hid. At night we moved, [and] he started back, thinking he could reach New York where he knew he would be safe, but after swimming the Rappahanock he was picked up by the Cavalry and sent to the army. As desertions were of daily occurrence, examples must be made, so he was to be tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot. His friends in New York, for he had powerful ones, went to Archbishop Hughes to have him intercede with President Lincoln, and the result was a reprieve [that] came after we were ordered out and his grave dug. He served the remainder of his time in a penitentiary in New York.
Friday, October 2d, marked a sad day in the annals of the Division; the forenoon had been so rainy that it seemed as though nothing could add to the discomforts of the situation, yet the prospect of a march to witness the execution of a bounty-jumper was not so inviting as it might have been under less watery conditions. It was about noon that the Regiment fell into line, and, after standing an hour under the pelting rain, thoroughly drenched it moved out and in mud and water seemingly knee-deep marched some two miles or more to the assigned rendezvous where, after many changes of position to accommodate other portions of the Division, the rain having cleared away, the band of the Sixteenth Maine playing a dirge announced the approach of the procession; the same consisting of the provost guard, followed by an ambulance in which rode the prisoner, sitting upon his coffin, accompanied by his chaplain. Blindfolded and kneeling upon his coffin, the firing squad, obedient to orders, discharged their weapons and the deserter of the Nintieth Pennsylvania passed on to his reward; however gruesome the scene may have been, undoubtedly the lesson was a valuable one upon such as thought the laws of the land could be broken with impunity.
The return from the execution to a camp, practically under water, was anything but inspiriting and whatever was eaten had to be taken out of the haversack, for campfires were out of the question and sleep to men soaking wet was hardly possible. The weather clearing during the night gave some chance for drying garments during Saturday, the 3rd, and Sunday began to seem endurable and adapted to letter writing, when there came orders to pack up, once at least heard with no sign of regret.
Report of the number of men tried for desertion in the Army of the Potomac from July 1st to November 30th 1863. The number found guilty and the number sentenced to be shot, and the number shot.
Viewing the above period the records of the Provost Marshal General show about 2000 deserters have returned to their regiments.
1st Corps Communication
My officers still report that there are indications of the enemy having reduced his force on my right front, based on sentinels reporting that there were not so many drums and bugles heard this morning as usual. This is all the information I have.
Calvin Conant Diary, continued:
Saturday, October 3rd — The rain has cleared up and the sun shines bright –– I have raised my house and put in a good bed read a letter from home last night drawed Soft - Bread
Sunday, October 4 — Was in Camp had Inspection at 8 moved Camp at 11 about 4 miles to the west out on high ground the rest of the day was occupied in pitching tents Cleaning up. Letter from N.H.
Sam Webster Diary, continued:
Sunday, October 4th, 1863. Moved camp across the fields about a mile, still in the direction of Mitchell’s Station, which is a few miles off. Carried our boards with us and set up a shanty. Sides about 3 feet high, two tents (12 ft) long, floored, open at each end, though fixed to be closed. Table, etc., all very nice and comfortable. Rebels fired at a wagon train gathering corn near the river today. (––Col. Wainwright mentions the shelling below).
Boston Evening Transcript, October 3, 1863
BOSTON EVENING TRANSCRIPT, October 3, 1863.
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
The story from the Rapidan is growing old. It is still very quiet, notwithstanding that the enemy anticipated an advance and a battle. The statement that General Slocum resigned from the army is untrue, though he did at one time ask to be relieved. He has consented, however, to remain in command of his old corps, the 12th, and will ere the fall campaign is over, do himself and his fighting corps ample credit. General Howard, too, remains in command of the 11th army corps, though rumor has had his resignation spread far and wide.
The enemy’s position is a strong defensive one, near the Southwest Mountains and running toward Raccoon Ford. The Richmond papers even confirm this, though it is apparent that Lee does not intend to attack our forces. It looks as though for the present both armies would remain mutually defensive.
October 4; A Rebel Shelling
From the Journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright :
Three Miles From Raccoon Ford, October 4, Sunday. On Friday we got the rain which had been threatening for some days; it fell pretty steadily all day, and has made the country decidedly muddy.
The rain is not a cold one, but every one seems to have caught cold as the effect of it. My own nose is running a stream to-night almost as full as the brook across the road. As this is the first cold I have had without a return of the old fever, I am rather enjoying it, under the idea that that horrible malaria is at last fairly rooted out of my system.
Everything remains quiet within our lines; this morning one of the rebel batteries on the other side of the Rapidan let fly a few balls at some of our wagons which shew themselves outside the skirt of woods, but did no damage.
Our pickets are kept very close within the cover of the woods & orders are strict about men leaving camp without permits from the Division Commanders.
My battery commanders have been busy taking down the names of infantry men who want to be transferred to their companies. They have more than double the applications there is room for, and so will have a grand chance for selection if the thing is carried out. As yet we have received no further instructions in the matter; and there is a very strong opposition to it springing up, especially in some of the other corps, where the corps commander has himself issued orders on the subject. I heard of one regiment where over 300 of the men applied for transfer out of less than 400 present.
From the History of the 39th MA:
The narrative of the 39th MA compliments Wainwright's October 4th journal entry regarding infantry recruits for the artillery.
[Sunday, October, 4th.] While waiting for orders to march, all ears were startled by the sound of cannonading, which proved to be an effort of the enemy to shell a Union wagon train which had driven somewhat near the rebel works. When the start was made and the new camping spot found, it proved to be an excellent one, high and dry, with plenty of wood and water, and by general consent, the site was first-class; in honor of the Surgeon-in-Chief of the First Corps, the place was known as “Camp Nordquist.”
At dress parade, Oct. 7th, an order was read to the effect that men, desirous of changing from infantry regiments to light artillery batteries, could do so by sending their names through the proper channels. Much to the surprise of the officers, there was a very general response to the proposition; indeed two hundred and twenty-three men, almost one half of the effective regimental organization, had filled out papers. Colonel Davis [Colonel P. Stearns Davis –– B.F.] forwarded the long list to division headquarters with his approval, but the applicants had so far overdone the matter, nothing came of it, save that General Robinson in a special order said that the service must inevitably suffer, if so many men were to go from one organization, and there the project ended. General John Cleveland Robinson, pictured.
Boston Evening Transcript, October 6, 1863
BOSTON EVENING TRANSCRIPT, October 6, 1863
News from the Rapidan. Washington, Oct. 5. Yesterday morning, as some of our teamsters were foraging near the Rapidan, north of Clarke Mountain, one of the enemy’s intrenched batteries fired seven shots at them. The rebels had previously given our pickets notice that they should do so if they repeated the act. No one was injured.
A rebel brigade occupies a strong position north of the Rapidan, near the railroad, a short distance from our lines. The road is in good order between the two lines. Our troops strongly picket the Rapidan to its mouth, thence down the Rappahannock below Falmouth.
Guerillas still infest the southern side of the Potomac. Some of their raids and captures, it is known, might be prevented if our troops were more watchful of the enemy’s movements. Severe penalties are the result of their fancied security.
From the history of the 16th Maine: (A conscientious objector among the recruits).
October 6: Three hundred and thirty-eight conscripts joined the regiment.
October 7: Six conscripts received.
The division camp is known as “Camp Nordquist.” The lieutenant-colonel today had an experience with one of the conscripts who declared himself a “Second Adventist” and a non-combatant, and refused to do duty or obey any orders except to eat. He was tied to a tree to learn by suffering that he was human like his comrades, and must not hide his cowardly instincts behind a pretence. This man was of good physical and mental structure, and would have developed into a good soldier but for his shameless position. Men who willingly carried fifty pounds on long marches, stood guard in storms of sleet and rain, faced worse storms of shot and shell, had no patience with any man’s conscientious scruples when they conflicted with one’s duty to country and comrades. They called it a cowardly pretence, and no one was disposed to dispute the charge.
Comments: I have come across more than one case of a conscientious objector being drafted into the army in 1863, some with a slight connection to the 13th Regiment. The examples are interesting in how they were each handled and the results of each case. Some time I would like to explore this topic in depth, but time now prevents it. –– B.F
From the Diary of Samuel D. Webster:
Excerpts of this diary (HM 48531) are used with permission from The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
Wednesday, October 7th, 1863. The pickets continue on good terms. Notwithstanding yesterdays firing. 300 substitutes arrive for the 16th Maine. Turned myself out at battalion drill — very unusual for me.
Friday, October 9th, 1863. Move tent about twenty feet. Orders issued to have five days rations in haversacks. The Dr. (Hixon) asked Ike [Sam's brother] if I don’t wish to study arithmetic. I wonder if he’ll carry a library for me?
The Dr. has a fine class of the Officers’ boys (colored) which he exercises around the fire at night.
As he is “hard of hearing” he don’t hear the “prompting” of some of the lookers on, and gets quite disgusted at their repeatedly spelling baker b-a-c-k-e-r, etc. etc. “Squire Gaithers” (probably Bob Williams) always commences with an E, and George Washington seldom commences anything. Clarke's Mountain is just opposite us.
Clarence H. Bell of Co. D, 13th MA published an article in 13th Regiment Association Circular #10, (December, 1897) titled “Some Camp Followers of the Thirteenth.” In it he says, While the regiment was at Williamsport, Md, in the winter of 1861, three contrabands clad in full Confederate Gray, crossed the Potomac and joined the 13th. He gives their names as George Washington, Henry Clay, and Squire Gaiters. The author then expounds on the careers of some of them. Of these 3 mentioned, he writes about George Washington in particular, and said, “He seemed to be a faithful worker, a good servant, and was anxious for the time when the Government would accept the services of black soldiers.” George Washington did eventually join the service, with the Colored, Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry. Very little is written about the others. I intend to post the entire article on this website, when I get to the page devoted to the Winter Camp, 1863-1864.
These last entries take the narrative up to October 9, 1863. In the wee hours of the morning, October 10, the regiment marched through the woods toward Morton's Ford in preparation for an advance across the Rapidan river into Orange County Virginia. They were to link up with John Buford's Cavalry Division, and also the 6th Corps, waiting to cross a little further up river. But plans suddenly changed. Later that same day they were marching north instead of south, retreating instead of advancing. This was the beginning of the Bristoe Campaign. So this brings this episode of their history to a close. I'll end the page with an eloquent tribute to Dr. Lloyed Hixon, Assistant Surgeon of the 13th Regiment.
January 18, 1829 - December 26, 1907.
Dr Lloyd W. Hixon joined the regiment, March 21, 1863, and mustered out with it on August 1, 1864. Sam Webster mentions the doctor in his October 9th diary entry above. As a member of the Drum Corps, Sam traveled in the rear of the regiment with Surgeon Hixon and his wagons; something Sam did not like at all. The feisty 18 year old who grew up in the army [Sam turned 18 years old on September 19, 1863 ] chaffed at the Doctor's deafness and mannerisms. He had lost his hearing in one ear, said to be the result of a shell exploding, which could be trying when danger approached. In the midst of the bloody Overland Campaign Sam wrote:
“The Doctor concludes to move on account of shells. Finds them thick –– and finds them thicker as he moves back toward the right, and so concludes to halt, in the edge of wood within easy reach of both them and the regiment. The old plug can't hear, and don't know whether he is where he should be or not. The men in the line are much better covered most of the time than are we poor devils who have to follow around after our old Grandmother Hixon.”
The following article appeared in Thirteenth Regiment Associaton Circular #21, December, 1908. Its a poignant post-war tribute to a good man.
LLOYD W. HIXON.
BY C. E. DAVIS, JR.
Dr. Lloyd W. Hixon was mustered into service as assistant surgeon in the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment March 21, 1863, and remained with the regiment until its muster out, Aug. 1, 1864. His life presents one of the noblest that can be expected of man; an example of moral and physical courage that is rarely to be found combined in the same individual. The regiment contained no more intrepid man than Dr. Hixon. He was so modest and unpretentious in all his actions that some time elapsed before the regiment appreciated his great merits, but he soon acquired the love and respect of the boys and held it to the last. The deep and kindly interest he felt for them, his suggestions for their comfort, their health, or to add to their knowledge, was shown in many ways and was highly appreciated. He procured books from home, which he distributed among the boys for their edification or improvement.
Among the books he had collected were some for instruction, and to make the best use of them he formed a class to which he devoted all his spare time. I have been told by several that their after success in life was due to the doctor's friendly interest in their behalf.
He was one of those, rare individuals that had the gift of imparting information to others and exciting a desire to learn. Having abandoned the practice of medicine, he started a preparatory school for boys wishing to enter college. Soon he was obliged by reason of his deafness to abandon even this, and shortly after he became totally deaf, permanently interrupting a career of great usefulness. Notwithstanding the great disappointment it must have been to him, he bore his affliction with patience and a cheerfulness that was remarkable.
In his simplicity he was great; in his devotion to others he was beautiful, in his friendships he was ideal; in his life he was a hero and an example of the finest type of a gentleman. His whole life was the embodiment of all that was good and pure and his greatest happiness in doing for others. He was a man of strong religious instincts, a face radiant with sympathy and love, speaking cheer and comfort to those about him, acquiring the affection of all who came in contact with him. Though his religious instincts inclined him to serious thoughts, he was gifted with a strong sense of humor and his wit often found expression in caustic though cheerful repartee, as some found to their amazement when attempting practical jokes upon him, of which he had an intense dislike. We find it difficult to express our admiration for a mind so simple, so willingly contracting itself to the humblest duties though capable of expanding itself to the highest.
I wrote him shortly after our dinner giving an account of our reunion, who was present and what was said, particularly the expressions of regard that were uttered about him. His reply to me was dated the twenty-first of December, and five days after he was dead. The suddenness of his death reminded me of the following poem by Ironquill (Eugene H. Ware) :
“An aged soldier, with his
Nashota, Wis., Dec. 21, 1907.
My Dear Davis:
Your most welcome letter came this morning. Your apology was unnecessary. My rank in the Field and Staff was the lowest and I was never associated with it in any military function, so I scarcely realized I belonged to it — certainly not when I read your statement in the circular.
Though I am not so very old — not quite four score years, I have outlived all my early companions. I am the oldest survivor of my grand parents descendants. I am the oldest member of my college class — forty have died in fifty years. I am a perfect stranger when I walk the streets of Lowell, where when a boy, I knew the name of every person I met, and to suddenly find out that I was within one life of being the sole survivor of the Field and Staff of the Thirteenth when I probably had always been the eldest, rather startled me. I thought of Campbell's poem “The Last Man.” It gives me a prominence not warranted by my service. The statement will be true before many years, so you can keep it on hand.
You will remember me most kindly to the Major (Pierce) when you have an opportunity.
I have received sympathetic letters from (Dr. Edwin H.) Brigham and (Wm. R.) Warner. They were all the more gratifying because I do not remember them personally, though I do their names.
Pictured above are left to right, Elliot C. Pierce, Edwin H. Brigham and William R. Warner. Veteran James H. Lowell kept a scrapbook containing these images and others, of his former comrades and correspondents. Lowell's descendant, Mr. Tim Sewell shared the contents of the scrapbook with me for use on this site.
Though I have passed almost fourteen very pleasant years here and have made many acquaintances and a few friends and am perfectly contented, in my heart of hearts I am a Yankee with a big Y and any indication that I am remembered there, though it be merely an official intimation, is most pleasant. I never expect again to see the loved land, but it is a great satisfaction that my body will be buried among my my ancestors in what used to be called an old graveyard — now a cemetery. Mind I do not say wearied body or that it shall rest, for my body is neither tired nor needs rest. Were I where there were more social stimulus, I should be rather a frisky old gent.
I have a great horror of post-mortem resolutions and dislike obituary notices, and so intently paid no attention to the request you made in your letter written a year ago, asking for information that might be used in some public post-mortem notice. I may have been discourteous in not making an explanation then, and so make an apology. But your repeated application and interest shown in me by Brigham and Warner have led me to think that the desire to know more of my history by the Thirteenth, I think as I came as a stranger into the Thirteenth and but little of my life was known there, ought to be gratified, though at the expense of private feeling. So I send you a bald statement of data of the principal events of my life, and perhaps a few remarks to be used as you may decide.
I have full confidence in your taste and that not too much will be made public.
My bodily infirmities have increased since my return from California, and though I am assured I am free from organic lesions, yet chronic indigestion is often as sudden and fatal in its action.
I wonder if the humor of comrade Jones' remark (in the circular), that during his administration as president the debt had been reduced from $7.79 to $2.14 was generally appreciated?
Sunday — To-day's mail has brought a Christmas card from Jenness of Co. E.
(Then follows personal remarks of no interest to others.)
Yours very truly,
I was born in Great Falls, N.H., Jan. 18, 1829. In 1834, my parents moved to Lowell, Mass., where in a few years my father died, and my mother in 1860. Attended the public schools of Lowell and Phillips Academy, Andover. Graduated from Dartmouth College in 1857. Taught in Lowell High School two years. Graduated from Medical Department of University of Pennsylvania in 1861.
For some months was contract surgeon in United States Army, March 3, 1863, received commission as assistant surgeon in Thirteenth Regiment Mass. Vols. Was mustered out with regiment.
Then became assistant surgeon in insane asylum, Taunton, Mass. Remained two years. For several years kept a boarding school for boys, at first in Lowell, then in Newburyport.
In 1894 became librarian in Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, Nashotah, Wis. Resigned on account of infirmities in 1907. These business changes were owing to deafness, which has been total for twenty years.
On my mother's side am descended from the very first settlers of Plymouth Colony; on my father's side from the Hixons of Norfolk County.
It may not be a matter of general interest, but I feel it would be disloyal should I omit saying I was brought up in the Episcopal Church and have always remained in its communion.
The following was from the pen of the Rt. Rev. William Walter Webb, D.D.:
The death of Lloyd W. Hixon, M.D., on the morning of December 26 at Nashotah House, means the loss of a very dear personal friend and of one who will be very much missed by the many students and clergy who were attracted and helped by his strong personality. The doctor was born in 1829. He attended Dartmouth College, at which institution he took the degree of bachelor in Arts. Later, after a course in medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, he received that of Doctor in Medicine. Upon the breaking out of the Civil War he offered his services as a surgeon and was appointed assistant surgeon in the Thirteenth Regiment, Masssachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The bursting of a shell nearby so far impaired his hearing that he was no longer able to practise medicine. For a short time he taught at St. Paul's School, Concord, and later started a school of his own in Lowell, Mass. This school he afterwards moved near Newburyport, where he had bought a property on the banks of the Merrimac River, subsequently known as “Eaglenest.” Here he had a most successful school, and here he entertained his friends, especially the clergy, with the open-handed hospitality which was characteristic of him to the end of his life.
[Research in newspaper archives, helped me to locate the home that was formerly Dr. Hixon's preporatory school, "Eagle Nest," on the Merrimac River in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Dr. Hixon tried to rent the home out when his finances were strained, but he was unsuccessful and the home was auctioned. Today it is a million dollar property. View from the back.]
Dr. Hixon was a strong churchman of the Tractarian school. His home was frequently used for retreats, and he always took an intense interest in all that went on in the church. He was always proud of the fact that he voted for Dr. DeKoven at the meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts after the death of Bishop Eastburn. His hearing having entirely failed he gave up his school and in 1893 he accepted the position of librarian at Nashotah House, in which capacity he served until a year since when, feeling that his strength was not equal to the work involved by the office, he resigned. He made his Communion in the Seminary Chapel the Sunday before Christmas and, although not feeling well, said that he had had one of the happiest Christmas days of his life. An unusual number of his friends, and he had many all over the country, had remembered him. He died quietly the morning after Christmas, his death, at the end, being unexpected. We had the Requiem Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Nashotah Chapel the morning of December 27 and accompanied the body to West Medway, Mass., where the doctor had desired to be buried beside his mother. The interment was on Sunday morning, the 29th, and there were present a number of the doctor's friends and relatives. We were assisted in the service by the Rev. Herbert Dana, of St. Mary's, East Providence, R.I.
Dr. Hixon was a gentle man of the old school, a very strong and unique personality. He had the finished scholarship of the past generation and was an omnivorous reader, keeping up with the events of the day and reading everything of current importance. He had a keen sense of humor, told a story well, and was quick at repartee, so that, despite his absolute deafness, he was excellent company. He had learned the lip language sufficiently to talk without much difficulty with those whom he knew well.
He was generous to a fault and delighted in giving pleasure to others — The students who have been at Nashotah during the years that he was there have always found in him a good friend, having been helped by him in many ways. He despised anything that was mean or underhanded, and his sterling truthfullness and strong common sense made him a valuable adviser. He was able to give them advice impossible, in many ways, for the faculty. He was always most careful not to betray their confidence saying that he “was not a messenger of the gods.” The writer owes more to Dr. Hixon than he can tell. Humanly speaking, the doctor was the means of his studying for Holy Orders. At the time that he had his school near Newburyport I was studying mining engineering at the University of Pennsylvania — During the summer I was staying near his home and was lay reading at a little church, St. James', Amesbury, Mass. We were camping out one night on the seashore at the mouth of the Merrimac when he said to me; “Have you never thought that perhaps God might call you to the Ministry of the Church ?” He put the whole matter so strongly before me that before the summer was over I had decided to take Orders. He was present at my ordination and also at my consecration. He has left behind him many devoted friends, not a few of them graduates of Nashotah House, who will miss his kindly interest in their work and the problems that came to them. May his soul rest in peace and may eternal light shine upon him !
A few extracts from a letter received since his death show how he was admired by his oldest friends. One has written of him: “His patience and courage are an object lesson to us all. How loyal he was to faith and friend! Withal how ready a fighter and how vigorous a hater! I count it one of the gracious gifts of God that I knew him so intimately!” From the wife of one with him in the war: “My husband often spoke of his courage and devotion on the battlefield, never hesitating to put himself in charge where he could be of service to any sufferer.” From a classmate: “How patiently for forty years he suffered deafness. The the loss of his beloved home — 'Eagle nest' — with its superb pines and beautiful river front, and the many devoted friends. He was never known to complain of the loss of all the earthly objects most dear to him. He was cheerful and interested in those about him to the last.” From one of the professors of the Roman Catholic University in Washington comes this tribute to his lifelong friend: “He thought his life to be a failure, but through him our Lord taught a more effective lesson than falls from the lips of many a professsiional preacher.” Another reminds us of Thackeray's Colonel Newcome: “And lo, he whose heart was as that of a little child had answered to his name, and stood in the presence of “the Master.”
One cannot read without emotion the following beautiful letter of Mrs. Leeds, giving a charming picture of the doctor's daily life. I have taken the liberty of publishing it in full:
Bishop's House, 222 Juneau
Chas. E. Davis, Esq.:
My Dear Sir: I can but jot down the every-day incidents that appealed to me personally in Dr, Hixon. Few realised how heroic he was at the time his school was given up and he was almost penniless. I was at the auction when his old friends bought in what they could. I never shall forget his tall handsome figure, his kindly, and at times entertaining, speeches, as the furnitue was carted away. He went from the fine old house to a small house of three rooms, unpainted and dilapidated; this he called “The House Beautiful” after the one in Pilgrim's Progress. There he gave tea drinkings and did his own cooking. At this time his friend, Judge W. C. Robinson of the Roman Catholic University, Washington, his friend of Dartmouth days, got him his pension –– $30 a month — and my brother, then President of Nashotah Theological School, asked him to be librarian, in return for free board and lodging. The doctor occupied two rooms — a study and bed chamber — looking out upon the lake. This was a meeting place for the students. Until last year he had chafing-dish suppers for those he thought he could cheer or encourage. The seminary is miles from any village; many of the men from the far West and East. Those who held missions nearby coming back from long drives cold or weary, found a cup of coffee or tea waiting them.
Truly the doctor was a “vessel of election,” beloved of God and honored among men. He often said to me my life is a failure, but through him our Lord taught a more effective lesson than falls from the lips of many a professional preacher.
Christmas and other great feast days, the boys' birthdays, etc., he had some little token of remembrance if only apples and cakes. Meantime he catalogued and arranged twelve thousand volumes. Was in the library two hours daily to loan books. He was a constant reader himself and always took the “Boston Transcript,” several magazines and journals.
He was a good whist player and played frequently. He was never idle; he knitted shawls, mitts, and sweaters. Until the last year of his life he took long walks. I have heard the men say at Nashotah that he was the man of all their circle the most respected and looked up to. He was a most loyal friend, never weary of talking of his Dartmouth chums and of his comrades of war days. He enjoyed everything that was good and beautiful in life. On Sunday he was never absent from his stall in the chapel choir, although he could not hear a word. The men have told me at night they could hear him saying his prayers aloud and praying for his friends by their individual names. After his death I found his bible and prayer-book worn with use. He was interested in all Christians and earnest thinkers, but the Episcopal Church he loved with a passion that never wearied. He always suggested Colonel Newcome to me, in his dignified submission to the loss in this world of all dearest to him, in his courtesy and exquisite appreciation of the things of the spirit, and like Colonel Newcome in Thackeray's words, “And lo, he whose heart was as a little child had answered to his name, and stood in the presence of the Master” . . .
As a child I passed my summers at Newburyport in my grandfather's house near Dr. Hixon^s school. Three years, went by and I did not see him frequently till six years ago, when my husband died and I went from time to time to visit my brother, then Dr. Webb of Nashotah, Bishop Webb now. My brother and I were as children devoted to him. He had us there at “Eaglenest” constantly. He kept open house in those days, was in fact too generous to his pupils and saved nothing out of his school.
My mother used to send him money to come and visit her in Philadelphia from time to time. Dr. Hixon was very proud and I think few outside my own family knew how very liltle he had. He was always dressed with care and neatness. Out of his little he gave to foreign missions, loaned money to needy students and friends. Always had medicines on hand for the boys. He knitted me something each year. He was perfectly dear in his mind till the very last. A cold weakened him and brought on heart failure. He died in bed about 10 A.M. The day previous he was up and dressed all day and so far as we know had no thought of its being his last illness.
© Bradley M. Forbush, 2020
Page Updated April 22, 2020.