“I am very happy to inform you that your son was a promising young man and an excellent soldier and was beloved by his officers and comrades, and whether he died on the battlefield or in camp, his friends can have the satisfaction of knowing that he died an honorable death and was doing his humble part towards restoring the Union to its former position.”
~Captain James Chipman of Co. D, 33MA to the parents of Otis W. Pinkham (grave #5144)
When one thinks of battle casualties, combat deaths come first to mind. Many more men were wounded than killed instantly; those that did not die within a short time on the battlefield were carried to field hospitals where overworked, undertrained, and undersupplied doctors tried to keep up with the stream of men coming off the field.
Private Thomas Hill (grave #5492) fought in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign in May 1863. He was wounded in the groin during combat on May 3rd and was taken to a hospital. On May 14th he wrote to his parents from the hospital telling them of his wound and directing them to send their letters to the hospital. Three days later he was dead.
Joseph M. Seiger (grave #3778) of the 140th New York from the area of Rochester, NY was a first sergeant at the age of twenty-two. During the fight at Saunder’s Field that began the Battle of the Wilderness May 5, 1864 Seiger was wounded in three places: a ball travelled through his right hip and out his groan, another passed into his stomach and out his left breast, and a third went through his left arm. Conscripted soldier John McGraw, whom Seiger had looked after, found the wounded man and dressed the wounds. McGraw was “overcome with grief” as he carried Seiger on a stretcher the three miles to a hospital. Seiger did not survive the day.
Sergeant Samuel Edward Rice (grave #1161) of Company H, 7th Rhode Island enlisted in 1862 against the wished of his parents due to his young age. On May 18, 1864 at Spotsylvania a Confederate shell took off an arm and a leg, and another account specified that he also had a wound in his side and in his other leg. Conscious when he was taken from the field, Rice shouted at his comrades to keep going forward and remember him to his family back home. He arrived at the hospital at two in the afternoon and died three hours later.
The ravages of battle and wounds could not match the war’s biggest killer, disease. With thousands of men coming together from different locations, spending time in the close quarters of camp, diseases spread rapidly. This was facilitated further by unhealthy and unclean conditions around camp. For many regiments, their first casualties of the war were before they ever saw combat.
Private Andrew Courtright (grave #1000) was the first man to die in the 15th New Jersey, perishing of typhoid fever at a regimental hospital at Stafford Court House on November 23, 1862. Being their first casualty, the regiment buried Courtright with reverence. Boards were foraged for a coffin and the recently arrived regimental band proceeded with the body to its final resting spot where the chaplain gave a benediction and oversaw the firing of three volleys. As the war continued, there would be no time for funeral ceremonies, Courtright benefited with his comrade’s unfamiliarity with war.
The 13th New Hampshire experienced their first regimental death in the passing of sixteen year old Ira Whitaker (grave #2986). He died in Falmouth on January 15, 1863 from the measles. Whitaker too benefited from his comrades freshness as soldiers; he not only received a coffin and funeral procession, but a sealed bottle containing his information was buried with him. It was most likely this identification that prevented him from an unknown grave when he was reinterred in the National Cemetery. Five days later twenty-four year old George Annable of the 12th New Hampshire also passed away from the measles. Annable had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Fredericksburg but was quickly exchanged and returned to his regiment. A regimental history stated that he closed his own eyelids with his fingers as he died.
Walter Ames of the 147th New York was called to the regimental hospital of the 14th Ohio to claim the body of his brother Nathan. Nathan’s heath had been failing for several days before he died on January 9, 1863 and he was described as “nothing but skin and bones.” Walter intended to receive a furlough so he could take his brother home, but that must have failed because a regimental detail buried him on January 12 and he now lies in grave #2616. Also facing a drawn-out disease was George E. Waring (grave #5181), an eighteen year old private in Company D, 61st Pennsylvania who contracted a disease during the Peninsula Campaign that stuck with him. Discharged on a Surgeon’s Certification of Disability, May 9, 1963, he remained in the regimental hospital until his death on March 10, 1864.
Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies. She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012. Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate. She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War. In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.