Thursday, February 9, 2017

Civil War Battle Has a Somewhat Personal Connection

The Third Battle of Winchester took place on the 19th of September in 1864. A number of coincidences about this Civil War battle pertain to me. At the superficial level, that date was exactly 87 years before my birth. The location is about 100 miles as the crow flies from where I live today in Charlottesville, Virginia. And that was the day that my first cousin three times removed (my great-grandmother’s first cousin), Sergeant Hubbard Hiram Baldwin (Or Hiram Hubbard—his name appears both ways in the census records in Massachusetts)  was killed in action.

Third Battle of Winchester (Opequon)

Usually listed as Hubbard H. or simply H.H. Baldwin in military records, Baldwin had lived in both Vermont and Massachusetts, and joined Company I of the 26th Regiment, of the Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers. Sergeant Baldwin’s unit had come to be part of the XIX Army Corps by the time he marched toward Winchester. The previous year, this army unit had fought in Louisiana against Confederate General Richard Taylor (son of the late-President Zachary Taylor). 

Now his unit was marching toward Winchester from the east as part of Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah, facing off against Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley. At 9 a.m., XIX Corps, led by Gen. William Emory, crossed Opequon Creek (An alternative name for this battle is the Battle of Opequon) following VI Corps, which was under Gen. Horatio Wright. They marched along Berryville Road toward Winchester. The XIX was behind a baggage train that rather got in the way of their progress, but by early afternoon, both of these two Union corps had met rebel forces. During the fighting, Rebel Gen. Robert Rodes and Union Gen. David Russell were both killed. The Civil War was one of the last major wars in which generals went into battle beside or even in front of their troops. This proved disastrous in many instances. for example, at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, fought just over two months after Third Winchester, the Confederates lost seven generals in one battle—six killed, one captured, and seven more wounded.

After his corps commander, General Emory, Sgt. H.H. Baldwin’s division commander appears to have been Gen. Cuvier Grover (2nd Division) and his Brigade commander was probably Gen. Henry Birge (1st Brigade). Shortly before noon, the 1st Brigade marched across an open field (referred to as the Middle Field) near Red Bud Run, in a battle that the maps tell us was between Grover and Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon. Grover tried to get Birge to pull back, but the brigade would not stop moving forward, mistakenly thinking that the Confederate withdrawal before them was a full retreat. Birge’s men were decimated by cannon fire as well as Confederate muskets. This fight went on until about 2 p.m., but by then XIX corps had suffered terrible casualties—1,500 (including both dead and wounded) in Grover’s division alone. It is possible that this is where my cousin died, perhaps around noon.

Brig. Gen. Henry W. Birge (when he was still a colonel)

The ultimate result of the battle is judged to be a Union victory and one of the most important battles of the Valley Campaign. The Confederate side, probably outnumbered four to one, suffered 276 dead, 1,567 wounded and 1,818 missing. The Union side suffered 697 dead, 3,983 wounded and 332 missing. This is the genealogical note I wrote when I was first trying to guess my distant cousin's part in the battle:

"Sgt. H. H. Baldwin of the 26th Massachusetts Regiment... was killed during the pivotal Battle of Opequon near Winchester, VA on September 19, 1864, probably shortly before noon when Brig. Gen. Cuvier Grover’s division [within] the Nineteenth Corps—the first brigade of which included members of the 26th Massachusetts—emerged from some woods and was attacked by Confederate artillery as well as musket fire. The corps suffered its worst casualties of the entire war on that day."

Hubbard Hiram Baldwin (1833-1864) was the cousin of my great grandmother, Flora A. Whitney (1861-1944), who, in 1879, married my great grandfather, Albert H. Wright (1853-1906). Flora's aunt, Cylanda (or Cylenda) Whitney Baldwin (1810-1891) and her husband, Mason (born 1811), were Hubbard's parents. The Baldwins may have lost another son, Bramwell or Brumwell W. (born 1846), to the war, but this is uncertain.  Albert Wright was too young to participate in the Civil War, but his older brother, Orin W. Wright, having been born in 1846, did serve. He joined the Vermont 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment, which also participated in the Third Battle of Winchester.

At the time of the battle, Hubbard and Orin might or might not have known each other. The Baldwin and Wright families became friends, but it is not clear when this friendship began. What is clear is that, by the late 1870s, the two families were friends, because this was when Cylanda introduced Albert to her niece, Flora. Flora's brother-in-law, Orin, survived the war but contracted tuberculosis, which eventually disabled and killed him. For years, the United States government refused to acknowledge that Orin and veterans like him had contracted tuberculosis during their service, and the government refused to give them the extra pensions to which disabled veterans were entitled. The mistreatment of veterans is not new, unfortunately.

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