Parents, Wives and Siblings Who Came Looking for their Soldier After the Battle

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
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Jan 16, 2015
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photo from https://civilwartalk.com/threads/assorted-images-of-grave-diggers.158130/#post-2056659

After the battle, Chaplain [William C.] Way [with the 24th Michigan] of Plymouth, found Private John Ryder’s body at the edge of Herbst woods and buried it himself. Two days later, the chaplain encountered John’s brother, Alfred, from the 1st Michigan Cavalry, in a field hospital established at the public school on East High Street. He promptly wrote a letter to Alfred’s father, who hurried to Gettysburg. When the chaplain described the casualties for a hometown newspaper, he noted that Mr. George Ryder was with his son as of July 20. On July 22, Alfred succumbed from his wounds and was buried the next day along with his brother John [whose body was exhumed from Herbst woods] in the graveyard of the German Reformed Church. (The Ryder Family, by Raymond A. Ryder, Michigan History, vol. 46, 1962, pp. 72-75; Advertiser and Tribune, July 20 and 23, 1863, http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/1419/tribune.html)

[Private] “Charles Ruff, Company D [of the 24th Michigan], died yesterday [July 22] and was buried by his parents, both of whom were here, in the cemetery at this place.” (July 23, 1863 letter of Chaplain William C. Way, 24th Michigan, published by the Advertiser and Tribune on July 30. ) [Ruff died in the hospital established in the Lutheran Seminary]

“A lady sits near me who arrived yesterday in search of her son, who was wounded on the 2d day of the battle. Soon after her arrival a messenger came from the hospital – four miles distant – saying that the young man could survive but a short time. It was nearly 9 o’clock p.m. when the mother arrived at the tent where her son, with eight others, lie upon the bed of straw groaning out his precious life. He expired at 5 o’clock in the morning. What were the emotions of that mother during the few hours of consciousness that remained to her child, who but a mother in similar circumstances can tell.” (July 14, 1863 letter of Chaplain Philo G. Cook, 94th New York, published by the Commercial Advertiser, July 18, 1863, New York State Military Museum, 94th Infantry Regiment, Newspaper Clippings)

“Father [local farmer John Cunningham] notified the families of all the Union wounded who were brought to his place. Among many others, the sister of one badly wounded man, Ellen Howard of Meriden, New Hampshire, started at once for Gettysburg. And on the train a stranger engaged her in conversation, asking if, should she find her brother dead, she had money enough to bring the body home. She had not, and he opened his purse and handed her forty dollars. The brother had died [on July 18] before she arrived. (Private Charles F. Howard, Company I, 2nd New Hampshire, Killed in Action, by Gregory A. Coco, Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1992)

“July 9, 1 p.m., Hanover Junction. Mr. Chancellor is up to see after his son who lost a leg in the late battle.” (Letters of William F. Norris, Adams County Historical Society) [His son was 1st Lieutenant Henry Chancellor, Company B, 150th Pennsylvania.]

“July 23, Gettysburg. My dear husband, I leave Rush a few minutes to write. Mrs. Hill sits by him. … We moved him yesterday, he stood it as well as we expected. … I talked with the lady into whose home he was brought the day he was wounded. She said he suffered terribly, groaning all the time. The surgeon did not think he would live.” (Mother of Lt. Rush P. Cady, 97th New York, digital document, Hamilton College, New York) [Lt. Cady died the next day, July 24.]

Sarah Hutchins from Baltimore arrived at a field hospital to tend to the wounded, including Corporal Leonard W. Ives, Company A, 1st Maryland Battalion. Ives’ brother, William, hurried down from New York City, arriving before Leonard died on July 14. In December 1863, William and his wife visited Sarah and her husband Thomas Talbott Hutchins, a lawyer, in Baltimore. (All for a Sword, by Jonathan W. White, National Archives, Spring 2012, vol. 44, no. 1)

“July 13, the wife of Lieutenant Mathew Elder, 11th [U.S.] Infantry, is with him. I think all the officers will marry when they see what a wife is at such a time. At least they should.” … “July 24, during the evening his wife hangs over him, pressing her face to his, caresses, kisses and fondles him. But all her love cannot rouse him and a little after 2 a.m. he dies. Mrs. Elder says she had hope, ‘til just a minute ago.’ While she is fondling him, dreading his death, she in anguish breaks out, ‘and this is war.’ What a commentary. And this is war.” … “July 26, I. N. Baker, Lansing, Michigan, with his daughter, Mrs. Elder, embalm in cider the remains of Lt. Elder to take to their own home.” (Diary of Surgeon Cyrus Bacon, 2nd U.S. Infantry)

“July 15, saw Mrs. Lieutenant Malbone F. Watson of the artillery in town looking for a room for her husband who has lost a limb.” (Diary of Surgeon Cyrus Bacon, 2nd U.S. Infantry)

“July 26, Lt. Barber [2nd Lieutenant Amaziah J. Barber], 11th [U.S.] Infantry, has his brother-in-law with him, who goes to town, gets drunk and does not return, leaving his brother to die for himself, as he now will die.” (Diary of Surgeon Cyrus Bacon, 2nd U.S. Infantry) Lt. Barber had earlier written to his family in Burlington, Iowa, that he had lost his left leg above the knee, but he sounded hopeful. (Killed in Action, by Gregory A. Coco)
 
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Lincoln56

Corporal
Joined
Jul 24, 2016
Location
Texas
@Tom Elmore thanks for another interesting set of vignettes.

Wonderful that many family members were able to make the journey to find and tend to their loved ones in such difficult circumstances.

Too many suffered and died alone, and worse, unknown, without the comfort of a family member present to ease their physical and emotional pain or care for their bodies after their deaths.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
A Worse than Hell (a terrific book, BTW) describes two other such incidents after Fredericksburg: Walt Whitman went in search of his brother and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. went in search of his son. Whitman stayed on, helping out in Union hospitals. Young Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was underwhelmed.
 

Dave D

Private
Joined
Feb 21, 2019
@Tom Elmore thanks for another interesting set of vignettes.

Wonderful that many family members were able to make the journey to find and tend to their loved ones in such difficult circumstances.

Too many suffered and died alone, and worse, unknown, without the comfort of a family member present to ease their physical and emotional pain or care for their bodies after their deaths.
My great grandfather's youngest brother was captured a few days before the battle of 3rd Winchester and was sent to Camp Chase POW camp, Columbus, Ohio - he died there a few months later [ see John G. Deatherage, Camp Chase Grave 855 ]. There are only a couple of references to John in the letters, memoirs, and Bible entries left by the family and I get the feeling that they didn't really know what had happened to him.

There is now a headstone on John's grave but that wasn't placed until 1908. With the help of internet searches, the national archives, and electronic image scans of the Official Records and the Compiled Service Records of Confederate soldiers, I was able to locate his grave and learn that he had died while in captivity [see John in the O.R. ]

It's too bad that I can't time travel back in time and tell his family what happened to him.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2020
A Worse than Hell (a terrific book, BTW) describes two other such incidents after Fredericksburg: Walt Whitman went in search of his brother and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. went in search of his son. Whitman stayed on, helping out in Union hospitals. Young Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was underwhelmed.
A Place Worse than Hell, a wonderful book, highly recommend.
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
This incident of a mother looking for her son was reported by the Patriot Daughters of Lancaster in their 1864 book "Hospital Scenes After the Battle of Gettysburg." The Patriot Daughters nursed the wounded at the First Corps hospital located in Christ Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street.

“Since Saturday, I had given all my time, to the care of a young man from the northwestern part of the State, who had five terrible wounds, either of which, the surgeon said, might prove fatal. I had noticed his expression of agony in passing, and at last I heard him say to the attendant, “ask that lady to come to me.” I went immediately; he told me that he knew he was going to die; that for two long nights he had laid there alone thinking of his state; he knew he was a great sinner, he said, but he trusted, that for Christ’s sake he might be forgiven. He had an old mother; would I write her? I did, while he dictated the words. I am sorry I did not keep a copy of the letter, so full was it of love and patriotism. Love for his old home, love for his mother, love for his country, for which he said he gloried in dying, and love for his Savior who had suffered and died to redeem him. He did not fear to die, he said, but the thought of dying alone, with no one to care for him, had added to his agony; but now, if I would stay with him until all was over, he could patiently await the summons. I promised him I would, and though he lingered all day, I did not leave him until nearly dark, when with a short prayer commending his soul to God he passed from time into eternity.

“The next morning on going over to the Hospital, I noticed a nice looking old lady seated on the church steps; it was his mother. She came the night before, but too late, and though they had tried to persuade her to go away and wait until morning, it had been impossible to move her, and there she sat, through all the quiet watches of the night. I took her to the spot in the church where her son died, gave his parting words, walked down in the fresh morning air to the grave yard and said all I could to console her. I never met with more exalted christian piety and resignation. One son lay before her a corpse, another was in Libby Prison, and a third wounded in one of the corps' hospitals; she hoped that God would save our country, and look with pity on the many sorrowing hearts.”
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
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