I wrote about this time last year about some research I’d done on an ancestor of mine (specifically, my four-times-great-grandfather), James Crozier Huhn, who was a Civil War soldier in the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was active in the Shenandoah Valley. As I mentioned in that post, there were a few blanks in my research, especially regarding how exactly James was injured: in battle or by accident? I hadn’t really expected to find more-detailed information. I’d figured that I had a pretty substantial amount of info as it was–I knew approximately when James was injured and what the injuries were in a general sense (e.g., he was injured in the back). I had things like his height and eye color. It seemed like pretty good stuff to me, and given that I had no primary source from James (there are no letters, journals, or photographs), it seemed like all I could hope for.
As a Christmas gift for my father, I decided to put together my research into a single file, with a write-up at the beginning and print-outs of some of the documents I had found in James’s pension files at the National Archives. As I was sorting through the material I had, I noticed that quite a few of the pictures I’d taken were incomplete (I didn’t get the full page). So I decided to head back to the National Archives to get the full documents.
When I went up to the reading room to pick up the pension file I’d requested, I was a little surprised but also very pleased to see that what they’d brought me was a different file than the one I’d seen on my previous trip. There was more!
Naturally, I was thrilled. I started to page through. Much of the material were the originals of documents I’d previously seen. Other documents didn’t add much useful information.
But . . .
I came across this statement:
That while a member of the organization aforesaid, in the service and in the line of duty at Hagerstown, in the state of Maryland, on or about the 15th day of December, 1862, he, while shoeing a horse, had the second toe of his left foot broken, from which he has suffered ever since. And on or about the 1st of June, 1864, that while shoeing a horse at Staunton, Va., [he] was thrown and badly injured in the back, from which injury he still suffers.
Which wasn’t at all a surprise to me, since I knew from the documentation that James had been a blacksmith as a civilian, and that he continued to act as blacksmith for a cavalry regiment. So, clearly the man shoed more than a few horses during the war (and before and after, I imagine). However, it was wonderful to see it confirmed: James wasn’t injured in combat but while performing his duties as blacksmith. And we also know what happened each time. In 1862, the horse stepped on his foot (ouch) and in 1864, the horse threw him (again, ouch!).
As noted in my previous post, the pension record further showed that James lost an eye in a gruesome accident while quarrying stone. The record also indicates that he lost a foot. Originally, I took this to be some kind of lingering effect of the injury he sustained during the war to his left foot. However, on further inspection, I noticed that it was his right foot that he lost in his later years. So, not related at all to the Civil War injury. It was all a bit hazy, until I came across this:
On the 11th day of June, 1896, he, the said soldier, James C. Huhn, accidentally shot himself with a shotgun, which penetrated the instep and heel of right foot, which gunshot wound necessitated the amputation of his right leg 3 inches above the ankle joint on the 26th day of June, 1896. The amputation was performed by myself, assisted by HB Giver. The said gunshot wound was not caused by vicious habits, as the applicant is an honest, upright citizen without vicious habit of any kind.
Again . . . ouch! Also, this poor man was exceptionally accident-prone. The man was injured badly twice while shoeing horses, then lost an eye in an accident, then lost his foot to a self-inflicted (accidental) gunshot wound.
In spite of all that, I have to remind myself again that he lived into his late 80’s, apparently independently until the last two years of his life, when he ended up in the Soldiers Home in Erie, Pennsylvania.
My research also took me to the Library of Congress. (Living in the DC area certainly has its advantages.) They have there a history of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, written by a man who had served in it (William Slease, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War : a history of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry from its organization until the close of the Civil War, 1861-1865). Over the course of three visits, I read through his account of the regiment’s service. It was formed in the autumn of 1862, just after the battle of Antietam, not so far south of where James lived in Pennsylvania. The regiment served for the duration of the war under Sigel, Hunter, and Sheridan in the Valley. Although it isn’t as well remembered as other theaters of the war, the Shenandoah Valley was crucially important to the war effort. It was a major source of food and supplies for the Confederate army, and it also acted as a conduit from the heart of the Confederacy to the doorstep of Washington DC. It was fought over constantly, with the various armies washing up and down the Valley as their fortunes ebbed and flowed.
There was a major campaign in 1864. The Union army constantly harried the Confederate troops, and the Confederates pushed back. The 14th took part in the raid on Lynchburg and the burning of the Virginia Military Institute (where Stonewall Jackson had taught). Although these were “minor” operations, the activity in the Valley forced Robert E. Lee to send reinforcements from Petersburg, where he and Ulysses S. Grant were in a muddy stalemate. Not only did it take troops away from Lee, it meant that Lee couldn’t use troops from the Shenandoah as reinforcements for himself–instead of reinforcing Lee, they had to be reinforced by Lee.
In any case, the account I read gave a pretty harrowing account of the kind of conditions that the regiment faced. Slease talks about hard marches up and down mountains in snow and heat, crossing and re-crossing rivers several times in a single day, leaving behind everything but a single pair of shoes and a single set of clothes for several weeks of hard campaigning. In three months in 1864, the regiment marched 1700 miles, were hotly pursued for 47 days, and made 52 charges.
There were a few interesting anecdotes, but the one that struck me most was the story of a particular Confederate officer. A Union scout there in the Shenandoah came across a wedding. Dressing in civilian clothes, he slipped into the wedding and discovered that the groom was a Confederate lieutenant, and the wedding party was full of other Confederate soldiers. The Union scout slipped away and alerted the regiment; a short while later, Union soldiers descended upon the wedding, taking all the soldiers there prisoner. There’s a (rather maudlin) description of the bride saying farewell to her soldier as he’s taken away as prisoner. A few days later, the regiment was being hotly pursued and had to cross a river that was apparently very high. Sadly, the Confederate lieutenant was caught in the river and drowned, his life with his new wife ended before it even began. A tragic end, and a reminder that this sort of thing was happening everyday in a place usually considered something of a footnote to the main action.
In any case, it was wonderful to get a better idea of my ancestor’s experience in the Civil War.