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GETTYSBURG - A FAMILY AFFAIR

"Gettysburg" is a word that conjures for many Americans complex emotions that the range from pride to sorrow and confusion. The battle marked the high water mark of the Confederacy and lasted for 3 days. Its impact was terrible because it was a civil war battle, a war that tore families apart, a war in which all the casualties were American.

Growing up during the Centenary of the Civil War (1961-65), I knew that Harper Carroll, my greatgrandfather, was a soldier in the Confederate Army. There was therefore a family inclination to sympathise with the "Lost Cause" of the doomed but chivalrous Confederacy, especially as Robert E Lee was a very distant cousin. The Carrolls came from Maryland, a border state, and the family story was that when the war started one brother went South, one went North and the third brother stayed at home to look after the farm. Family stories and sympathies, however, can come crashing down when one starts to research and look at what actually happened.

When my Mother, Helen Marguerite Carroll, died in 1996, she left the family archives in my care. This was fortunate timing as it was just as the Internet was opening up new ways to research family history. One of my first finds was photocopies of Harper Carroll's letters to his first wife, Eleanor Thompson. I transcribed the letters and then went online to research the context of the letters, the originals of which were donated by Mother and Mary Lee Carroll Muth to the Maryland Historical Society in 1968 (www.mdhs.org). I quickly discovered that two brothers (Albert and Harper) went South and two brothers (John Lee and Charles) stayed at home with the land. Bang went family story Number One. I then wrote to the National Archives in Washington and requested Harper Carroll's service records. The only available records indicated that he enlisted in the 1st Virginia Cavalry in May 1861, and was discharged a year later. This was not a concern because Confederate Army records are known to be incomplete as some were destroyed during the war. His letters and other records show that he served in the Confederate Army until late 1864, including periods on the staffs of Generals JEB Stuart and RS Ewell. He participated in many of the key battles from Bull Run to the Defence of Richmond.

Only a few weeks after his wedding in the Shenandoah Valley, Harper Carroll caught up with the Confederate Army at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863. His role with the Army is unclear as he was dressed as a civilian and only carrying a pocket pistol. Perhaps he was acting as a scout. Just 4 days after the battle he dashed off a poignant letter to his wife:

My Darling Girl
We have had a fearful time this attempt to get at Maryland. We marched through Penn. very well till reaching Gettysburg where Gen. Lee I believe gave way to his officers and corp commanders and attacked an impregnable position. We were repulsed with 15 or 20000 loss hardly the latter. We are now in a bad position as the river is high but these troops are very ready to meet the Yankees fairly. Our cavalry has been very active. I missed Gen. Stuart at first & by it I missed getting home as he passed within 3 miles of the Manor. The weather is most horrible raining heavily cold wet. We are hungry, horses half starved and bare footed. I have not time to write more. Do not fear our army being whipped. One single word, one smile from you my darling little wife would disperse in an instant all my troubles. I have been unable to get anything as I have no federal money & have now no friends. If it is possible send me note telling me of yourself, one line from you would give me so much pleasure. Remember me to all.
Your most attached.
Harper

He remained with Lee's Army as it retreated back to Virginia, and was involved in the skirmish at Hagerstown, Maryland. By October 1863, he had a clear role as a Lieutenant on the staff of Gen R S Ewell.

In another letter that I found, a Maryland private, D.R. Howard, wrote many years later of Harper Carroll:

"- on recovery from wound received at Gettysburg I returned to the army on the Rapidan. Charlie Bradock and I were bed fellows. We had one light flimsy blanket and suffered from cold + were made ill. About the same time Col. J.S. Rhett . left for me a splendid double white citizens/blanket. One day Lieut Harper Carroll of Gen. Ewell's Staff came into our camp, having brought the blanket all the way from Richmond. Truly it was a God send. This act of kindness is still appreciated, altho' 40 years have passed since it was done."

Also at Gettysburg was a Capt. Alanson M. Randol, a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. I found some of his letters in a biscuit tin in Mother's attic, and these opened up new perspectives of the Civil War. A quick search of the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion" (digital.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/waro.html) showed that he was at Gettysburg where he commanded 1st United States Artillery Batteries E and G, supporting the Cavalry Corps including Brig. Gen. George Custer amongst others. On Saturday 3rd July 1863 these batteries helped repulse Gen. JEB Stuart's attempt to turn the Union line and get behind the Army of the Potomac.

In his official report, Brig. Gen. D. McM. Gregg wrote

"The batteries commanded by Capt. A.M. Randol and Lieut. A.C.M. Pennington, Jr., rendered most effective service. The fire of the artillery during this engagement was the most accurate that I have ever seen".

Today there are two monuments to Randol's batteries on East Cavalry Field.

What is the significance of this Union soldier at the same battle as my great grandfather and why were his letters in Mother's attic? In 1900 Harper Carroll's son, Charles Carroll, married Mary Randol, Alanson Randol's niece. Also on the field of battle that day were Capt. R.B. Smith, 11th US Infantry (Mary Randolph's uncle by marriage) as well as many distant cousins of Harper Carroll including three senior officers (two Confederate generals and one Union colonel). Two other Union officers were also married to cousins of Harper Carroll, one of whom, Dr Jonathan Letterman, was the Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, and is now considered to be the Father of Battlefield Medicine Dr Letterman was married to one of the many Mary Digges Lees, and her brother, Charles Carroll Lee, was a surgeon on Dr Letterman's medical staff.

I was therefore fascinated to discover that another member of the family also helped care for the wounded in the aftermath of the terrible battle. A lucky find on the floor of Mother's basement were over 200 hand written pages of memoirs of yet another distant "cousin", Mrs Mary Amis Hooper. Mary Amis was born and bred in the Deep South, and on her mother's death in 1851, she and her sisters went to New York to live with their aunt, who was married to Alanson Randol's uncle. The memoirs almost read like fiction:

"The civil war was a terrible experience for everyone. There was scarcely a family who had not friends or relations engaged on both sides Union and Confederate. Cousin Emily's husband, George B Butler was a lieutenant in the New York 7th regiment and was wounded at Gettysburg - how badly we were unable to find out - so my aunt and Cousin Emily went to Gettysburg to search for him and have him cared for. After two days search they found him in a hospital. He had lost his right arm. They had him removed to a private dwelling, where the family kindly gave up their parlour to him. There were no trained nurses to be had. My cousin became ill from fatigue and anxiety. My aunt found a maid to wait on my cousin while she nursed Lt Butler.
My aunt was however called home, and telegraphed for me to come take her place beside George's bed. I arrived in Gettysburg 4 days after the battle. The hospitals were over crowded. Many of the southern wounded and dying, lying on the floor. The stench was terrible, and I had to wear a veil over my face to keep off the hordes of flies which swarmed everywhere. I would sit up at night to keep George's arm wet with a preparation the doctors left for him, and in the day I would visit the wounded southerners in the hospitals, carrying them all the ice I could steal from the ice pitcher. This I would hide under my shawl which I had to wear though I nearly melted in the August heat. Ice was scarce and only a few favored ones had it."

Was George Butler's arm amputated by either Dr Letterman or Dr Lee? In any event it must have been well done as Butler was an artist, and he learned to paint again with his left hand, working for many years in Italy.

If Harper Carroll and Alanson Randol actually fired at each other at any of the battles in which they both fought, I am thankful that they didn't kill each other. Fortunately they both survived the war, and afterwards raised two great families. Sadly Eleanor Thompson Carroll died of TB in 1865.

Article provided by Harper Wright


The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Spring 2013