I WILL NOW REVEAL what a complete and utter geek I am when it comes to nit-picky historical details. I wanted our Pritchett boys, Will and Quinn, to run off and become soldiers in the Civil War during the early months of 1864. Here’s my wish list for the perfect Picture the Dead Union regiment:
- It had to be Massachusetts-based, with recruitment out of Boston.
- It had to have additional recruits join up in 1864.
- Its soldiers had to have fought in battles that might cause them to be captured and become prisoners of war.
- When these soldiers were captured, there had to be the possibility that they would be incarcerated at the prison camp in Andersonville.
Lo and behold, I found it: the 28th Massachusetts Infantry. It was also known as the “Irish Brigade,” but not all of its members were of Irish origin. There were many soldiers who came from a variety of backgrounds, including Canadian and other non-US citizens, especially from the pool of newer recruits mustered in during the later years of the war: for instance during February and May of 1864. Perfect.
There is an excellent website maintained by the 28th Massachusetts Reanactment Unit, here, with more information than any history nerd could possibly need, including regimental history, rosters of all the soldiers in every company, accounts of battles and casualties, and transcripts of original soldiers’ letters home. I found tons of valuable information there.
I then hightailed it over to the National Park Service’s Soldier and Sailors System. This is amazing. It’s a database containing basic information about servicemen who served in both the Union and Conferate armies of the US Civil War. There’s a database of soldiers who were imprisoned at either Fort McHenry (Confederate soldiers) or Andersonville (Union soldiers). So if you look up, say, soldiers from Massachusetts regiments who were at Andersonville, you come up with this lovely, massive list of names. 2687 names, to be exact. And if you are me, then you page through all these names until you find someone like John Buckley.
John Buckley was a private with the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, Company A. He was captured on May 5, 1864 in the Wilderness, in Virginia. He was in prison at Andersonville and survived.
William Brabson was also a private, in the 28th Company B. He was also held at Andersonville and survived. He was captured in Po River, Virginia on May 10, 1864.
John Hart, a private in Company G, was not so lucky. He was captured in Cold Harbor, Virginia on June 1st, 1864 and buried in the National Cemetery.
So back I run to the 28th Massachusetts site, where I look up company G and there’s Private John Hart:
Hart, John. Private. Schoharie, N.Y., 22, laborer;
enl. and must. 3/18/1864; captured 6/1/1864 near Cold Harbor, Va.;
died of disease a prisoner of war, 7/18/1864 at Andersonville, Ga.
and here’s John Buckley:
Buckley, John. Private. Boston, 26, farmer;
enl. and must. 4/16/1864; taken prisoner 5/5/1864 at Wilderness, Va.,
sent to Andersonville, Ga., 6/8/1864. No further record.
and William Babson, who is here called William Brabson:
Brabson, William. Private. Boston, 18, watchmaker; enl.
10/25/1861, must. 12/13/1861; re-enlisted 1/1/1864;
made prisoner 5/10/1864 at Po River, Va.; exchanged 12/1/1864;
prom. Corpl. 5/26/1865; must. out 6/30/1865.
This kind of stuff gives me chills. I particularly loved seeing the professions of the individual soldiers: blacksmith, tinsmith, butcher, teamster, printer, seaman, spinner, compositor, (I think that’s a typesetter) clerk and actor. It’s unvbelievable to me that we know so many details about something that happened so long ago.