Civil War biographies

Move over, John Burns!

Aged War of 1812 veteran and former Gettysburg constable John Burns is often reported to be the only civilian to take up arms to fight with the Union Army at Gettysburg. Such an assertion is not true, however. The 12th Massachusetts had its own “John Burns” in its ranks as it fought along the Mummasburg Road north of Gettysburg. A slender boy the soldiers estimated to be sixteen had tagged along when the regiment marched through Emmitsburg, becoming enmeshed with Company A.

He went into battle on Oak Ridge on July 1 and was wounded in the arm and thigh by Confederate fire. The boyish volunteer was carried beyond the crest of the ridge and given water. He was later taken away to a field hospital, and his comrades never heard from him again. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Cook recalled, “His very name is unknown; for he was never mustered into service.”

Cook may have never known the civilian’s name, but J. W. Weakley survived his wounds. One of eight children of an eccentric indigent mountaineer, the illiterate Weakley later enlisted in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry. In November 1864, the unsung Gettysburg hero drowned ignominiously when he suffered an epileptic seizure and fell into in a camp cesspool.

Adapted from Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg Campaign, Volume 2.

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Abner Doubleday

I spent Tuesday making my first visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. There is a large oil painting of Civil War general Abner Doubleday as you enter the waiting room for the introductory movie, and a brief discussion of the 1905 account by a local resident that first linked Doubleday to the origins of the game of baseball. During his lifetime, the general made no such claims, but the Cooperstown citizen sent a letter to the men studying the origins of baseball and purported that Doubleday had indeed written the first rules. Later, an old baseball was found in the letter writer’s attic in a trunk as his personal effects were being inspected. This seemed to give further credence to the story. The myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball persists today, even in some Civil War and Gettysburg books.

Baseball was indeed played in the Civil War, and I have read a few accounts of ball games being played during rest breaks during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was more popular in the Northern army, but was not unknown to Southerners. There are a couple of good books on the subject that are worth reading for additional information.

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Perhaps more than any any event in American history, the Civil War elicited divided emotions and passions. In some quarters, sectional rivalries and bitterness lingered far into the 20th Century, and there are pockets of regionalism even  today that stem from antebellum roots.  Nearly 150 years after the final shots of the war, some wounds remain festering, although America has made significant strides in many areas. Slavery is gone, but racism is not. Secession is gone, but individual states rights remain in play over issues such as gay marriage and others. The shooting is over, but the war to protect, preserve, and interpret the sacred ground remains constant.

Why did men (and boys) so eagerly go off to war in the early 1860s? Reasons varied, of course. A number of my ancestors were on the Union side. On my mom’s side, James Fauley, her paternal great-grandfather, was a member of the 5th U.S. Infantry, a Federal regiment in the Regular Army. For him, military life was a profession, a means of making a living. By contrast, her maternal great-grandfather, John D.  Sisson of Dover, Ohio, was a drummer the  51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. War for him was an olbigation imposed by the government. My great uncles on my dad’s side of the family, the Chambers boys, enlisted in the 7th [West] Virginia to preserve the Union. Their part of the Old Dominion State wanted nothing to do with the upstart Confederacy which had split the mountain region from the rest of Virginia in terms of loyalty and emotions.

Different reasons to serve their state and country, yet these men followed their passions, as did hundreds of thousands of other men, North and South. Others served for adventure, for fame or glory, for an escape from their antebellum personal lives, for money, or for other reasons. Many paid “that last full measure of devotion.”

I will be in Gettysburg later today for a book signing. I will pause by the 7th WV monument on East Cemetery Hill to remember and honor the Chambers boys, and to reflect on my other ancestors and their military heritage. We can never allow the sacrifice of the previous generations to be forgotten, nor can we ignore today’s call to serve our country and fellow mankind.

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The Pride of Zanesville (and Little Round Top)

I’m back in my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio, for the weekend. Dinner last night with some of my wife’s relatives, attending a wedding today for my nephew, and some other family get-togethers. Debi and I were born here and all of our siblings and both of our mothers all live in the vicinity. The town is perhaps best noted for its Y-shaped bridge, as well as being the home of western author Zane Gray.

Zanesville has six ACW generals buried here, most notably Robert S. Granger who served  in the western armies, fighting most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee against Joe Wheeler’s cavalry. Zanesville was a major recruiting and training center for southeastern and southcentral Ohio. Camp Goddard is today’s county fairgrounds.

There is a direct connection with Gettysburg. Not far from the grave of another of my nephews is the plot of Lt. Charles E. Hazlett, a Zanesville resident who labored with his crew to haul his guns up to the summit of Little Round Top. Hazlett of course was gunned down there and, as he lay dying, was comforted briefly by General Weed, who also soon fell victim to a gunshot presumably from Devil’s Den. His brother John C. Hazlett also died during the Civil War, killed at Stone’s River. One of their relatives, Robert Hazlett, was among the most prominent riverboat captains on the Muskingum and Ohio rivers. There are dozens of the Hazlett clan buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, and descendants abound in the region.

As Charles Hazlett moved off to LRT and his fate, he clasped hands with Major Charles H. Ross (MG James Barnes’ aide-de-camp), another Zanesville native and Hazlett’s boyhood friend. Ross’s great-great-grandson roomed with my son in college.

Zanesville Post 81 of the Grand Army of the Republic was named in Hazlett’s honor. A city street is named Hazlett Court.

However, Hazlett’s tomb has been neglected and vandalized over the years. Recent efforts have started to better maintain it and restore it. The Muskingum County Civil War Association, Inc. is accepting donations at Box 1863, Zanesville, Ohio, 43702 (phone 740-452-1075,

Categories: Civil War biographies, Gettysburg | 2 Comments

A Rebel general from Yankeedom

The Civil War was truly a war of brother against brother, family against family, and neighbor against neighbor. Such was the case here in York County, Pennsylvania, where a number of local men served in the Southern forces, particularly in Maryland units. One brevet major general in the Confederate States army hailed from this area. Johnson Kelly Duncan was born and raised in rural Chanceford Township in southeastern York County, which borders the Susquehanna River. 

duncan.jpgDuncan was born March 19, 1827. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1845, and graduated from West Point in June 1849. A good student, he ranked 5th in a class of 43 cadets. With his high academic standing, he was breveted as a second lieutenant and assigned to the Second U.S. Artillery in July of that year. Not long afterwards, on October 31, he was given the full rank of second lieutenant and reassigned to the Third Artillery. He saw his first combat action serving in the Florida hostilities against the Seminole Indians.

From 1850 until 1853, he was attached to Forts Sullivan and Preble in Maine, primarily serving on garrison duty. Promotion came relatively slowly in the antebellum army, and officers often resigned to take up civilian pursuits. Duncan Johnson was no exception. On Christmas Eve in 1853, his promotion to first lieutenant came through, but he was frustrated with army life.  He was the assistant on the Northern Pacific railroad exploration until December 1854. He tendered his resignation from the U.S. Army on January 31, 1855, and entered private life in Louisiana.

Duncan became the Superintendent of Construction and Repairs in New Orleans, in charge of the branch mint, marine hospital, quarantine warehouse, and the Pas a l’Outre boarding station. Duncan, in collaboration with P.G.T. Beauregard, completed the work on the New Orleans Branch Mint in early 1859. From then until 1860, he was professionally occupied as civil engineer, surveyor, and architect in New Orleans, becoming also, in 1860, Chief Engineer of the Board of Public Works of the state of Louisiana.

When the Southern states began seceding from the Union, Duncan reentered military service, this time as an enemy of the United States Army. He enlisted in the CSA forces as a colonel and rose in rank and status rather quickly. Promoted to brigadier general of Louisiana troops on January 7,  1862, he was assigned to command the defenses of New Orleans and the Lower Mississippi, and he quickly became widely known as one of the finest artillerists in that region. He commanded Forts Jackson and St. Philip at the time of their capture by Admiral David S. Farragut, on April 25, 1862, and became a prisoner of war. After being exchanged, Brigadier General Duncan was assigned to the staff of Braxton Bragg, becoming Chief of Staff.

Johnson K. Duncan contracted a malarial fever and died far from his native York County in December 18, 1862,  at Knoxville, Tennessee at the age of only 36. He was buried in the McGavock Confederate Cemetery on the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. That cemetery is the largest private Confederate cemetery in the country, with over 1,500 graves.

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