Month: November 2015

#Thanksgiving in the Civil War: a Proclamation from #History

It seems fitting that on this day of giving thanks and thoughtful reflection to wonder just a little bit about Thanksgiving in the Civil War. The first Thanksgiving was in the 1600s-ish but the tradition didn’t really catch on until the Civil War. On July 15, Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring a national day of thanksgiving for October 3rd, 1863.

Lincoln 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
Lincoln 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation (Library of Congress)


By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State


Thanksgiving in Camp 1861 - Sketch by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress Image)
Thanksgiving in Camp 1861 – Sketch by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress Image)

Four Letters from the Civil War – William Child, JR Montgomery, Alva Marsh, and an Unknown Confederate Soldier

One of the most moving remnants from the #CivilWar are the letters to soldiers and from the soldiers to their loved ones. I’ve written previously about the importance of and impact of mail during this time but thought I might include a couple of examples. One of the best resources for anything Civil War is the National Park Service. They have some fantastic educational materials suitable for classrooms, including a collection of letters and some fantastic videos. Although only one of the examples below are from men in the Invalid Corps, they are letters from soldiers themselves giving us insight into a moment in their lives.

Currier and Ives Print of Soldier Dreaming of HomeWilliam Child, Major and Surgeon with the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers
September 22, 1862 (Battlefield Hospital near Sharpsburg)

My Dear Wife;
Day before yesterday I dressed the wounds of 64 different men – some having two or three each. Yesterday I was at work from daylight till dark – today I am completely exhausted – but stall soon be able to go at it again.

The days after the battle are a thousand times worse than the day of the battle – and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered. How awful it is – you have not can have until you see it any idea of affairs after a battle. The dead appear sickening but they suffer no pain. But the poor wounded mutilated soldiers that yet have life and sensation make a most horrid picture. I pray God may stop such infernal work – through perhaps he has sent it upon us for our sins. Great indeed must have been our sins if such is our punishment.

Our Reg. Started this morning for Harpers Ferry – 14 miles. I am detailed with others to remain here until the wounded are removed – then join the Reg. With my nurses. I expect there will be another great fight at Harpers Ferry.

Carrie I dreamed of home night before last. I love to dream of home it seems so much like really being there. I dreamed that I was passing Hibbards house and saw you and Lud. in the window. After then I saw you in some place I cannot really know where -you kissed me – and told me you loved me – though you did not the first time you saw me. Was not that quite a soldier dream? That night had been away to a hospital to see some wounded men – returned late. I fastened my horse to a peach tree – fed him with wheat and hay from a barn near by – then I slept and dreamed of my loved ones away in N.H.

Write soon as you can. Tell me all you can about my business affairs and prospects for the future in Bath. Will Dr. Boynton be likely to get a strong hold there. One thing sure Cad, I shall return to Bath – if I live – and spend my days there. I feel so in that way now. Give me all news you can. Tell Parker and John and the girls to write although I can not answer them all. Tell Parker I will answer his as soon as I can.

In this letter I send you a bit of gold lace such as the rebel officers have. This I cut from a rebel officers coat on the battlefield. He was a Lieut.

I have made the acquaintance of two rebel officers – prisoners in our hands. One is a physician – both are masons – both very intelligent, gentlemanly men. Each is wounded in the leg. They are great favorites with our officers. One of them was brought off the field in hottest of the fight by our 5th N.H. officers – he giving them evidence of his being a mason.

Now do write soon. Kisses to you Clint & Kate. Love to all.

Yours as ever



James Robert Montgomery, Signal Corps, Heth’s Division, 3rd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, C.S.A.
May 10, 1864 (Spotsylvania County, Virginia)

Dear Father

This is my last letter to you. I went into battle this evening as courier for Genl. Heth. I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled & I knowdeath is inevitable. I am very weak but I write to you because I know you would be delighted to read a word from your dying son. I know death is near, that I will die far from home and friends of my early youth but I have friends here too who are kind to me. My friend Fairfax will write you at my request and give you the particulars of my death. My grave will be marked so that you may visit it if you desire to do so, but it is optionary with you whether you let my remains rest here or in Miss. I would like to rest in the grave yard with my dear mother and brothers but it’s a matter of minor importance. Let us all try to reunite in heaven. I pray my God to forgive my sins and I feel that his promises are true that he will forgive me and save me. Give my love to all my friends. My strength fails me. My horse and my equipments will be left for you. Again, a long farewell to you. May we meet in heaven.

Your dying son,

J.R. Montgomery

The video below from the NPS tells a bit more about Montgomery’s story. You can also see/hear the letter in Ric Burn’s Civil War documentary, “Death and the Civil War.”


Alvah MarshAlva H. Marsh, Corporal, Company E, Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry
February 10, 1864 (Fairfax Seminary Hospital, Virgnia)

Dear Mother I take my pen to inform you that I got safe to my home in the hospital on Sunday at two o clock today I have been down to Alexandria to get some papers and envelopes so as to write to you I have been examined twice since I came back from home the doctor says that I will always be lame

I am thankful to think it is no worse then it is I think they will put me in the Invalid corps but I can stand it in the condemned Yankees for the balance of my time if they only ask me to stay for the next three months I can get out by [illegible] next if they want to stay all summer in the invalid corps I shant do it for I am sick of the war I want To stay at home some of my life don’t you think so Frank I suppose you are at home yet

I want you to take good care of the girls for me I was homesick when I began to [illegible] the hills of Virginia I tell you but it is of no use to have the blues here for a fela has got to stay but I cant write any more at present this from Alwah Sarah you must be a good little girl until I come home I don’t mean Sarah Hathaway for I know that she will be good you know I think so How is Alice and Miss [illegible] write to me as soon as you can

from A W Marsh

*from the University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University


Unknown Confederate Soldier
July 3, 1863 (Gettysburg, PA)

Dr. Holt worked in a field hospital behind Seminary Ridge. He spoke of the unforgettable courage of a wounded soldier stating, “His left arm and a third of his torso had been torn away and he dictated a farewell letter to his mother.” It read simply,

“This is the last you may ever hear from me. I have time to tell you that I died like a man. Bear my loss as best you can. Remember that I am true to my country and my greatest regret at dying is that she is still not free and that you and your sisters are robbed of my youth. I hope this will reach you and you must not regret that my body cannot be obtained. It is a mere matter of form anyhow. This letter is stained with my blood.”

*from – The epic story of the Battle of Gettysburg as told in the participants’ own words.

The Crowdfunding is Over but the Journey is Just Beginning (well, continuing actually)

The Kickstarter is officially over! 

Thank you everyone who donated and everyone who Liked, Shared, and Tweeted about the Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens! This last month has been incredibly exciting for all of us on the Invalid Corps Team and we are tremendously grateful for all of your support. We’ve made 161 new friends, who together have pledged more than $9,000. Your enthusiasm and dedication got us to our goal early, and because of you, we could expand our ambitions and plan ahead towards production to ensure the best possible short film that captures the story of these men.
Thank You Written in Multiple Languages

Who’s in your family? #CivilWar #History Comes Home

This it! We’re down to the last 24 hours of the Kickstarter for the “Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens,” if you haven’t, please take a moment to go donate. If you have, thank you for helping us bring this amazing story to the screen.


FHelp Spread the Wordor these last few hours we’re asking you to please pass along word of this project – Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…even just word-of-mouth. We’d love to have as many people as possible be aware of this; not just because of the crowdfunding but because of the many stories out there that still haven’t been heard.

The Civil War is the story of our country’s first major internal challenge and it is a history of our country’s people. It is that latter that both surprises and elates us. It captures the imagination of historians, genealogists, reenactors, and families. This isn’t just a story about long ago battles and famous generals, but a story about families and individual people and their choices of how to live, and what they were willing to die for. The Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens documentary film has been couched as a lost disability and veterans’ history but it is more than that.  It could be your family history too.

Eagle and ShieldI had a discussion with author and musician Shawn Humphrey about this project and out of the blue he says, “I think one of my ancestors may have been a part of that.” After a bit of research it comes to light that James Mulvaney was listed as “absent/sick” in Washington, DC on March, 16, 1864. Mulvaney was not formally mustered for the 9th Veterans Reserve Corp. until August 16, 1864, but what is clear is that he was present in Washington, DC when the attack occurred. Now Shawn is on a hunt to discover what his ancestor may have been doing at the time. Was he a part of the defense of the city? Was James Mulvaney actually on the walls at Fort Stevens?

Perhaps the biggest surprise came last week when a family member, my uncle and his wife, sent me a package with information about her great great grandfather:

Jonathan Lyman

Meet Jonathan Lyman of Company K of the 8th Regiment of the Invalid Corps (Veteran Reserve Corps).*

So yes, even I, who was born more than 10,000 miles away, on a different continent, have a connection to the Invalid Corps.  🙂

This documentary is called, The Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens, but in truth, it is about the men themselves and all of our connections to this history. Veterans’ stories and disability history seem sanitized, academic terms for what this really is: family history.

So today, this last day of our crowdfunding, please help share the message and spread the word this one last time and ask people, “Who is in your family?”

The answer may surprise you.


*Special Thanks to Uncle Gary and Aunt Erma for sending such wonderful detailed information about Jonathan Lyman!


Kickstarter Fully Funded!

A very quick, short, yet important, Update:

We did it!

Thank you everyone for your help, support, donations, and social media savvy to spread the word about the Invalid Corps documentary.

It seems fitting that on the eve of ‪#‎VeteransDay‬, that we get the news that we are fully funded and will now be able to make our short film about Civil War disabled veterans who never got the chance to have their story told and their sacrifice fully recognized.

The Kickstarter still has 7 days and we have some amazing stretch goals to make the project even better. As such, our team will be working hard right up to the very end to give you the best possible film.

But for now, let’s take a moment to celebrate. You made this happen. Thank you.


100 Funded Stamp in Red

Who Held the Saw: Discovering Mary Walker, Civil War Army Surgeon – From Julia Marie Myers

Mary Walker - Woman in long dark dress, dark hair, pale skin and medal pinned to breast
Mary Walker – Image: US Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History

It was Day who first told me of the Invalid Corps. I had never heard of it before. I remember listening with rapt attention as she painted a picture of the night when members of the Invalid Corps defended the Capitol against a Confederate army of 15,000. It was a classic, incredible story epic.

Intrigued, I went and did more research. It began to boggle my mind the pure numbers of soldiers injured during the war — we all know that in theory, but in literal, stark numbers … approximately 17,300 Union casualties at the Battle of Chancellorsville alone (the one where Stonewall Jackson was injured, later dying from his wounds), with almost 10,000 of those being wounded, rather than killed or missing[1]. Ten-thousand. Ten-thousand bodies, strewn about, amongst those who have already perished. How do you even know which ones are still alive?

“Near by, the ambulances are now arriving in clusters, and one after another is calld to back up and take its load. Extreme cases are sent off on stretchers. The men generally make little or no ado, whatever their sufferings. A few groans that cannot be suppressd, and occasionally a scream of pain as they lift a man into the ambulance. To-day, as I write, hundreds more are expected, and to-morrow and the next day more, and so on for many days. Quite often they arrive at the rate of 1000 a day.” – Walt Whitman, Specimen Days, Ch. 33[2]

With so many soldiers and varieties of injuries, I began looking into the army surgeons who had to navigate this chaos — the ones who had to determine how to triage the patients, who ultimately had to “wield the saw.” One particular surgeon stood out.

Mary Walker’s story unfolded in front of me as I flipped through the virtual pages of the internet, piecing together information about her career. She was clearly a “disruptive” person — the only woman at the time enrolled in her medical degree program at Syracuse, the first woman surgeon ever to be employed by the US Army.[3]

As I read more about Mary, I found her story incredibly modern. Mary wore men’s clothes. She surely faced discrimination and ridicule for this choice — and indeed on more than one occasion she was arrested for “impersonating a man.”[4] It strikes me as incredible that she existed so long ago, but that she could just as easily be a next door neighbor of mine, who faces similar concerns and judgments about her identity today. We are divided by centuries of time, but when I look at her, I see a saturated, piercing image of the modern world staring back.

Mary’s story as well as the stories of the members of the Invalid Corps inspired me to write my own short fiction film inspired by both historical narratives, for which I am now beginning the pre-production process. I felt that Mary’s role in disrupting the status quo of women, but also in standing on her own as an influential person regardless of her gender, paralleled so beautifully with the story of these men of the Invalid Corps, who defied not only their labels as “cowards” and “cripples,” but who rose up to show that they mattered, fully and fundamentally, as people.

It has been a great pleasure intertwining these stories together in a creative way, and it has been a perfect complement to my working with Day on her documentary on the Invalid Corps. Every day, we are learning more and more, and it only makes me more excited to share what we have discovered, and what we are creating, with you.

Don’t forget to visit our “The Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens” Kickstarter: 

Please share widely. We need you to help get the word out about this documentary! 


Civil War Medical Instruments
Civil War Medical Instruments





Kickstarter First Stretch Goal Revealed! – Civil War Mail

A quick Update from our Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens Kickstarter.  We’ve reached 90%! We are thrilled and humbled by the support we’ve received.  And now we have 13 more days to reach the full amount. Considering the closeness to our goal, we thought it prudent to unveil our first Stretch Goal.

Our first Stretch Goal is a simple one, and one we hope is in relatively easy reach: $8,000. We hope to entice more people to support this project and/or to consider backing at a higher level. Why? Because at its heart, the Invalid Corps documentary is about the content and the stories of these men. Additional funding will allow us to begin to pay for direct production and have higher production values – To get this done right.

It means being able to afford things like a professional sound editor; some compensation for musicians (we have a composer so this project will have an original score but musicians have to eat too); and being able to send a full crew out for additional interviews with historians and descendants of Invalid Corps members. As for those who may be wondering, what additional reward that may entail, I give you the paragraphs below. 🙂

Patriotic Union Envelope
Patriotic Union Envelope – Image: Postal Museum

Mail has always been very important to soldiers. During the Civil War, these fragile notes are what connected families and in many ways have continued to connect military families, even today. These letters tell a much more intimate story than our textbooks of generals and battles. And of course, as we know, many soldiers carried letters in their pockets, to be forwarded to loved ones if they were killed in action.

About 45,000 pieces of mail per day were sent through Washington D. C. from the eastern theater of the war, and about double that in the west, through Louisville. According to Bell Wiley’s “Billy Yank,” a civilian worker with the U. S. Sanitary Commission, who visited a number of units, reported that many regiments sent out an average of 600 letters per day, adding up to more than 8 million letters travelling through the postal system per month. Franklin Bailey wrote to his parents in 1861, that getting a letter from home was more important to him than “getting a gold watch.” (via Dave Gorski at

In recognition of the role that letters played, with this first stretch goal, we will send each backer (at the $25 and up level) an actual piece of PHYSICAL mail. They’ll receive a custom postcard of Invalid Corps imagery via the US Postal Service. Sent the same way families mailed letters more than 150 years ago, this is our “letter,” in thanks.


Don’t forget to visit our Kickstarter! We need your to help get the word out about this documentary.


Falmouth, Va. Group in front of post office tent at Army of the Potomac headquarters
Falmouth, Va. Group in front of post office tent at Army of the Potomac headquarters


Black Civil War Soldiers with Injuries, Chronic Conditions, and Disabilities

Thomas Nast Franchise - Black Amputee Veteran with Lady Liberty asking Franchise. And not this man?
“Franchise. And not this man?” despite his service and sacrifice. From Harper’s Weekly, August 5, 1865.

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”   

– Frederick Douglass

As a woman of color, while doing research on the Invalid Corps one of the things that I wondered about was what happened to African-American injured soldiers? In fact, while doing research on the Invalid Corps it occurred to me that I had not seen one image of an injured black soldier. So, I started where everyone does: Google. I put in “Black Civil War Soldier” and found several images.  I added the term “Injured” and I found a Thomas Nast illustration from Harpers Weekly came up a lot.

Considering that more than 180,000 African Americans served, making up about 10% of the Union Army, and more than half survived the war, I would think there would be some evidence of their presence and their survival post injury. I changed to the word “amputee.”  Granted, it’s very specific but so far I had not been able to find ANY images of injured black soldiers.
Private Lewis Martin, Black Civil War Soldier missing an arm and a leg

With that change, one image came up. Only one. It’s a photo of Private Lewis (sometimes spelled Louis) Martin, of Company E, 29th United States Colored Troops.  His photo was found glued to his certificate of disability for discharge by  Civil War Conservation Corps volunteers while compiling records at the National Archives.  His wounds were described in his discharge form:  “Loss of right-arm and left-leg by amputation for shell and gunshot wounds received in battle at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 in charging the enemies works.  In consequence of which is totally disabled for military service and civil occupation wholly.” He was a forgotten Civil War veteran for more than 120 years, buried in the paupers section of Oak Ridge Cemetery in an unmarked grave until a community effort was made to mark his grave with a tombstone.

From what is known, Private Lewis Martin was born in Arkansas, a slave, but somehow became free, enlisted in Illinois in February of 1864.  A muster roll record lists his place of birth as Arkansas, his age as 24 years, his height as 6 feet, 2 inches, and his occupation as a farmer. A few months later he took part in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia and was wounded, resulting in the amputations.  He was sent to the General Hospital at Alexandria, Virginia, then later transferred to Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC before finally being discharged. He returned to Illinois.

After that, his story is hard to follow, but from what I can find, it is a sad tale. He obviously was unable to work, and was the victim of discrimination and public humiliation.  He became an alcoholic. It would seem his obituary and articles in several papers made mention of it:

Died from Exposure & Drink

Louis Martin, a Colored Man, Dies Alone

At FindaGrave the IL State Register’s obituary reads:

A negro named Lewis Martin, who is well known in this city as the one-legged and one-armed old soldier, was found dead yesterday morning in his bed. He resided in a house, corner of Lincoln avenue and Jefferson street, and up to a short time ago he had been having a white woman at his home as a housekeeper, but she left him recently and he had since lived alone. About 7 o’clock yesterday morning, Mrs. Carrie Boone, colored, who came to the house frequently to look after him, found him dead. Mrs. Boone immediately notified some of the neighbors.

He was a private in the Twenty-ninth Illinois volunteers during the war, and received a pension of $72 per month for the loss of his limbs and one eye in the army. He received some time ago back pension money amounting to $6,500, a portion of which he invested in property on West Jefferson street, including the place where he lived. He also had some money saved up. He was about 45 years of age, and has two brothers residing in Alton, who have been notified of his death. IL State Register, Springfield, IL 1-27-1892

On November 2, 2013, citizens from the Springfield community held a ceremony honoring Private Martin. A marker for his grave was erected and Civil War re-enactors presented the colors; a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” all the things Lewis did not get when he died. Considering, the dedication was exactly 2 years ago today, it seemed pertinent to write and reflect on Private Lewis Martin, his service and his sacrifice.

Lewis Martin Gravestone

Some great resources, articles, and posts of Private Martin’s story

Dave Bakke: Black Civil War veteran’s grave identified at Oak Ridge –

They were Men who Suffered and Died –

Public Comes Through for Civil War Icon –

Teaching With Documents: Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops –


Please don’t forget we are in the middle of our Kickstarter to raise funds to tell the story of the Invalid Corps; of soldiers with disabilities who continued to serve: