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September 29-30, 1864: The Battle of New Market Heights and the Contributions of the United States Colored Troops

September 9, 2021 by | 72 Comments

On September 29, 1864, Black soldiers serving in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCTs) led an assault against Confederate defenses protecting Richmond during the Battle of New Market Heights. New Market Heights was part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. It included fighting at Fort Harrison, Fort Gilmer, and Laurel Hill. During this battle, two brigades of the USCTs proved their heroism, fought courageously and captured New Market Heights. Fourteen soldiers from the USCTs earned Medals of Honor for gallantry.

Battle of Chaffin’s Farm

In September 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant approved a plan to send Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Army of the James to break through Confederate defenses guarding the Confederate capital of Richmond. Included in the 20,000 Union troops were some 4,500 Black soldiers fighting in the USCTs.

The offensive consisted of a two-pronged attack, which called for Major General Edward Ord’s XVIII Corps to cross the James River at Aiken’s Landing and move toward the Confederate-held Fort Harrison. Fort Harrison was later captured and renamed Fort Burnham.

The second prong, and focus here, is Maj. Gen. David B. Birney’s X Corps, and Brigadier General Charles J. Paine’s USCT regiments (who were detailed from the XVIII Corps but operating with the X Corps that morning).

At dawn on September 29th, Paine’s division, spearheaded by the 4th and 6th USCTs (Third Brigade), crossed the James River at Deep Bottom Landing. Their objective was to take New Market Heights. That would give them control of New Market Road, which led directly to Richmond. As they advanced towards New Market Road, the division came under heavy fire from Confederate earthwork defenses. After heavy losses of half their forces, the Union brigade withdrew.  

36th USCTs, Company I

Next, the Second Brigade, consisting of the 5th, 36th, and 38th USCTs, advanced. They also engaged in brutal fighting and lost more than 1/3 of their forces before finding an opening and bursting through the Confederate line. They advanced up New Market Heights while the Confederates retreated toward Richmond.

When the battle was over, the Union Army suffered an estimated 3,300 casualties for soldiers fighting north of the James River on September 29-30. Confederate casualties numbered 1,750. Soldiers from the USCTs proved their mettle. Over and over, as color-bearers and white commanding officers were shot down, Black soldiers stepped up to retrieve the colors and lead the troops. During the entire Civil War, only 16 Black soldiers received the Medal of Honor. Fourteen of those were awarded to soldiers after the Battle of New Market Heights.

Following are short bios for each of the 14 members of the USCTs awarded Medals of Honor for their actions that day:

William H. Barnes was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and enlisted in the 38th Regiment of the USCT, Company G, on July 2, 1864, at age 19. He was 5’4” and listed his occupation as a farmer. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Barnes was “among the first to enter the enemy’s works; although wounded.” Barnes was later promoted to Sergeant and traveled to Indianola, Texas, with his regiment. While in Texas, Barnes contracted tuberculosis and died in Indianola on Christmas Eve in 1866. He was officially mustered out of service in January 1867. 

Powhatan Beaty was born in Richmond, Virginia, on October 8, 1837, and was formerly enslaved. At some point, he became a freedman and moved to Cincinnati, where he studied acting. Beaty enlisted in the 5th USCTs, Company G, on June 9, 1863, in Ohio. He served as a 1st Sergeant. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Beaty raced to retrieve the flag from a fallen color-bearer. Finding the officers all dead or wounded, he took command of his company and gallantly led it.” He mustered out of service on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina.

James H. Bronson was born in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. His military records show that he was 25 years old and mixed race. Bronson had grey eyes, dark hair, 5’9”, and was employed as a barber when he enlisted July 4, 1863, in Trumbull County, Ohio. He served in the 5th USCTs, Company D. He was later promoted to 1st Sergeant. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Bronson took charge of his company and led them throughout the day after his company officers were all killed or wounded. Following the battle, Bronson requested to have his rank reduced so he could join the regimental military band. He was mustered out on September 20, 1865, at Carolina City, North Carolina.

Christian A. Fleetwood

Christian A. Fleetwood was born a freeman in Baltimore, Maryland, and enlisted in the 4th USCTs on August 11, 1863. Before he enlisted, Fleetwood worked as a clerk. He was 23 years old, with a brown complexion, black eyes, black hair, and stood 5’4.5” tall. Fleetwood received a promotion to Sergeant Major. At the time, this was the highest rank a Black soldier could attain in the U.S. Army. At the Battle of New Market Heights, Fleetwood “Seized the colors after two color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.” Following the war, Fleetwood worked as a clerk in the War Department.

James Gardiner

James Gardiner served as a private in the 36th USCT, Company I. He was born in Gloucester, Virginia, and worked as an oysterman. He enlisted on September 15, 1863, when he was 19 years old and 5’7” tall. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Gardiner “rushed in advance of his brigade, shot at a rebel officer who was on the parapet cheering his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet.” The day after the battle, Gardiner was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was mustered out of service at Brazos de Santiago, Texas, on September 20, 1866.

James H. Harris

James H. Harris was born in 1828 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. When he was 36 years old, he enlisted in the 38th USCTs, Company B. He was a farmer and described as 5’10” tall with a black complexion, black eyes, and black hair. He was promoted to corporal on July 25, 1864, and then to sergeant on September 29, 1864 – the same day as the Battle of New Market Heights. During the battle of New Market Heights, Harris was wounded and later awarded a Medal of Honor for “gallant conduct.” His muster roll records show he spent September and October in the hospital and returned to duty in November 1864. On July 1, 1865, his rank was reduced to private, although no reason is given in his records. Harris mustered out of service on January 25, 1867, at Indianola, Texas.

Thomas R. Hawkins

Thomas R. Hawkins was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to his obituary, Hawkins “escaped the Southern lines in 1863” and as soon as he reached the North, knelt down and kissed the Union soil. He vowed to do anything he could for the cause of liberty. He enlisted in the 6th USCTs in Philadelphia and entered service as a Sergeant Major. He was wounded in the arm early in his service but quickly rejoined his regiment when the wound healed. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Hawkins was shot through the shoulder, hip, and foot, but managed to rescue the regimental colors. After the war, Hawkins was active in the Temperance Society in Washington, D.C. This letter found in the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry® shows Hawkins asking for the use of a room to hold a Temperance Society meeting in 1867. The wounds Hawkins received during the Battle of New Market Heights eventually led to his death. He was awarded a Medal of Honor on February 8, 1870, but died less than three weeks later, on February 28, 1870, in Washington, D.C.

Thomas R. Hawkins applies for space to hold Temperance Society meeting – From the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry
Alfred B. Hilton Pension Record from the Freedmen’s Bureau Record Collection on Ancestry

Alfred B. Hilton was one of 14 children born to parents who were formerly enslaved. In August 1863, Alfred and his two brothers joined the 4th USCTs, Company H. Hilton was 21 years old and listed his occupation as a farmer when he enlisted with the rank of sergeant. During the charge on New Market Heights, Sgt. Hilton retrieved the regimental colors after the color bearer was wounded. Hilton was also wounded and struggled forward until he could no longer continue. Hilton was admitted to a military hospital at Fortress Monroe where his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. He eventually died from his battle wounds on October 21, 1864. According to Freedmen’s Bureau Records, Hilton’s parents, Isaac and Harriett, received a $90 pension payment in 1868.

Milton M. Holland

Milton M. Holland was born in Austin, Texas in 1844. When he was 18, he enlisted as a Sergeant Major in the 5th USCTs, Company C, at Athens, Ohio. He was a shoemaker who stood 5’8” tall. His Medal of Honor citation states, “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Despite acting as an officer during combat, Holland was refused an officer’s commission because of race. Following the war, Holland moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a government clerk. When he died on May 15, 1910, his valuable estate consisted of “thirty-two acres of land, more or less, improved by a twelve-room frame dwelling house, all modern improvements: good barn, stable and carriage houses and all other necessary outbuildings.”

Miles James was born in 1829 in Princess Anne County, Virginia. He enlisted in the 36th USCTs, Company B, on November 16, 1863. At the time, he was 34 years old and worked as a farmer. During the Battle of New Market Heights, he was severely wounded in the left arm, necessitating an amputation right on the battlefield. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the citation reading, “After having his arm so badly mutilated that immediate amputation was necessary, [he] loaded and discharged his piece with one hand, and urged his men forward…” While recovering in the hospital, Brig. Gen. Alonzo G. Draper, commander of the 36th USCTs, wrote a letter saying that James requested that he not be discharged. He wished to remain in the service. Draper urged military officials to grant the request. Draper wrote, “He is one of the bravest men I ever saw… and a model soldier. He is worth more with his single arm, than half a dozen ordinary men.” James was discharged by order of Surgeon’s Certificate for disability on October 13, 1865, at Brazos de Santiago, Texas. In the 1870 Census, James was living in Norfolk with his wife Sarah and three children working as a shoemaker. He died on August 28, 1871, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Alexander Kelly

Alexander Kelly was born near Saltsburg in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 1840. He enlisted in the 6th USCTs, Company F, at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on August 24, 1863. He was a 23-year-old coal miner and enlisted as a substitute for his brother Joseph Kelly after Joseph was drafted. Joseph had a large family dependent upon him for support, so Alexander took his place. Kelly saw fighting at Petersburg, Dutch Gap, and at the Battle of New Market Heights. During that battle, when the color bearer had been shot down, he gallantly seized the colors, rallied the survivors, and led them in a charge on the breastworks of the enemy. Kelly died on June 19, 1907.

Robert A. Pinn

Robert A. Pinn was born a freeman on March 1, 1843, in Stark County, Ohio. His father escaped from slavery and fled to Ohio at the age of eighteen. Pinn attempted to enlist in the Union Army at the beginning of the war but was denied because of his race. Instead, Pinn joined the 19th Ohio Infantry in 1861 as a civilian worker. He fought in the Battle of Shiloh despite his non-military status. After President Lincoln opened the way for Black men to serve, Pinn enlisted in the USCTs 5th USCTs, Company I, in 1863. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Pinn served with gallantry at Fort Harrison. Later that same day, he was severely wounded at Fort Gilmer and hospitalized in Portsmouth, Virginia. Following the war, Pinn returned to Ohio where he studied law and became the first Black lawyer in Massillon County. He was active in the GAR and became the first Black Commander of Hart Post 134. He died in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, in 1911.

Edward Ratcliff was born enslaved on a farm in James City County, Virginia, on February 8, 1835. Ratcliff, along with 37 other enslaved individuals, worked the lands for slave owner Alexander Hankins. When the Civil War broke out, Hankins formed a Confederate military unit, called the James City Artillery. In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and one year later, 29-year-old Ratcliff walked away from the Hankins farm to enlist in the 38th USCT. During the Battle of New Market Heights, Ratcliff took command after his commanding officer was killed. Ratcliff became the first Union soldier to enter the enemy’s defenses and stand inside their fortification. He was promoted to 1st Sergeant, and later to Sergeant Major. Ratcliff was mustered out of service at Indianola, Texas, on January 25, 1867. He died on March 10, 1915, in York County, Virginia.

Charles Veal was born in 1838 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He enlisted in the 4th USCTs, Company D, in July 1863. At the time, he was a 25-year-old fireman. During the Battle of New Market Heights, the 4th and 6th USCTs were the first to advance. Christian Fleetwood, a fellow Medal of Honor recipient, later recalled the battle. He said that a color guard consisting of 14 men (two sergeants and twelve corporals) advanced on the field. One of them was Veal. They came under fire, and Veal was the only one left standing. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry when he “seized the national colors, after two color bears had been shot down close to the enemy’s works, and bore them through the remainder of the battle.” He died July 27, 1872, in Hampton City, Virginia.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of New Market, visit Fold3® today. Also, explore the new Freedmen’s Bureau Records Collection for free on Ancestry® for additional records related to the USCTs.  

New POW/MIA Records Added!

August 30, 2021 by | 20 Comments

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Defense. Their mission is to recover the remains of military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from past conflicts. We’ve added a new collection of indexed records for the estimated 82,000 American military and civilian personnel still missing in action. The index covers multiple conflicts including WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and more recent conflicts including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The DPAA collection is divided into two groups. Group A, which consists of 38,000 missing service members whose remains are considered recoverable; and Group B consists of 44,000 missing service members whose remains are considered unrecoverable.

One of those listed in this DPAA index is 2Lt. Charles V. Safford. He served in the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, where his Battery suffered terrible losses in the Philippines. Of the 149 men enlisted in the battery, more than half were lost.

The Santa Fe New Mexican – November 10, 1945

Safford was captured during the fall of Bataan in 1942 and sent to Davao Penal Colony, where he and other prisoners endured extreme abuse and deprivation. In September 1944, after more than two years as a POW, Safford and 750 other American POWs were loaded aboard the Japanese cargo-steamer Shinyo Maru, bound for Manila.  

Allies intercepted messages and believed the Shinyo Maru was carrying enemy troops. On September 7, 1944, the USS Paddle fired upon the Shinyo Maru. The ship began to sink, and panicked prisoners scrambled to escape the flooding hold of the ship. Japanese guards fired upon those trying to escape. By the time it was over, only 82 POWs survived. Safford’s remains were never identified and his name is now included in the DPAA index.

Search this index to learn additional details for unaccounted military personnel, including their residence, military branch, death date, and more. Explore the new DPAA collection on Fold3® today!

The Liberation of Stalag IX-B POW Camp

August 18, 2021 by | 116 Comments

On February 9, 1945, the State Department sent an urgent telegram to the Secretary of State. The message informed him that thousands of American soldiers, captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were being held at a notorious German POW camp. It stated that Stalag IX-B was “previously not (repeat not) known to be a large American camp.” The POW camp, also known as Bad Orb-Wegscheide, was located near Bad Orb in Hesse, Germany. After receiving reports of the horrific conditions in the camp, plans immediately got underway to liberate the prisoners. On April 2, 1945, an American task force broke through the German line and drove 37 miles through enemy-held territory to rescue the prisoners of Stalag IX-B.

Telegram informs military officials that Americans are held at Stalag IX-B

Stalag IX-B was a German Army training camp during WWI, but in 1939, the Wehrmacht seized it and converted it into a POW camp. The camp housed prisoners from at least eight countries, including Americans, which began arriving in December 1944.

During the Battle of the Bulge, some Americans were captured and sent to Stalag IX-B. The first group, numbering nearly one thousand, was taken prisoner on December 17, 1944. They were forced to march for four days, only receiving food and water once. Then they were packed into boxcars for the five-day trip to Stalag IX-B, again only receiving food and water once. Those that were wounded were denied medical attention and suffered tremendously. The prisoners finally arrived at Stalag IX-B nine days later, but camp officials were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of POWs. They lacked beds, food, and supplies. The appalling conditions of the camp were indescribable.

Report on Stalag IX-B

In January 1945, the International Red Cross visited Stalag IX-B and reported on conditions. They described 1,300 men sleeping on the floor and others sleeping on vermin-infested straw or mattresses. Many of the barracks had broken windows, and the POWs lacked blankets or coats. There were no washing facilities and insufficient toilets. They gathered a list of soldiers imprisoned there, noting some had already passed away. At another visit in March, a report noted conditions had gotten even worse, with prisoners suffering considerable weight loss, disease, non-existent hygiene, and small portions of food.

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds

Included among the Americans held at Stalag IX-B were Jewish-American troops. During one daily line-up, the camp commandant ordered all Jewish prisoners to step forward. Roddie Edmonds quickly spread orders that his men should stand firm. He then responded with, “We are all Jews here.” For this act of bravery, he was awarded Righteous Among the Nations, the first American soldier to be so honored.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, a reconnaissance task force comprised of members of the 2nd Battalion, 114th Regiment, US 44th Infantry Division, the 106th Cavalry Group, and the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion broke through German lines and went ahead of the main body of American forces. They arrived at a hill overlooking the town of Bad Orb. When a German garrison opened fire on the American position, they answered with machinegun fire and artillery shells throughout the night. Finally, Germany withdrew its troops. The following morning Stalag IX-B was turned over to the Americans, many of whom wept when they saw the condition of the emaciated prisoners.

If you would like to learn more about Stalag IX-B or other WWII POW camps, see our collection of WWII records and search Fold3® today!

August 14: National Navajo Code Talkers Day

August 5, 2021 by | 60 Comments

In 1942, US military officials visited the Navajo Nation and recruited 29 Navajo men to train as Code Talkers in the Marines. Code Talkers used their tribal language to send secret messages on the battlefield. By the end of the war, more than 400 Navajos were trained as Code Talkers, participating in nearly every major Marine operation in the Pacific Theater. Their code remained unbroken throughout the war, and their contributions helped the United States achieve victory in the Pacific.

The first 29 Navajo Code Talker recruits are sworn in at Fort Wingate, New Mexico

During WWI, soldiers from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes became the first known US Code Talkers. Seeing their success at passing messages in code, WWI veteran Philip Johnston, who grew up on the Navajo reservation as the son of missionaries, proposed Navajo Code Talkers at the beginning of WWII. Marine officials were hesitant, worried that using a tribal code may not work again. After seeing an impressive demonstration, military officials began recruiting Navajos into the Marines.

Navajos had to meet three requirements to be a Code Talker: first, they had to be fluent in both Navajo and English. Second, they needed to be between 17 and 30 years old, and finally, they had to pass basic training. The original 29 recruits left the Navajo nation and began to develop a coded alphabet. To accomplish this, they chose an English word for each letter of the alphabet, then translated that English word into Navajo. For example, the word for the letter “a” was ant, and the Navajo translation for ant was Wol-la-chee. The Code Talkers also developed code words for military words. Officials were pleased and surprised at how quickly and accurately coded messages could be sent and received. Instead of the standard 30 minutes needed using code-breaking machines, the Code Talkers could translate three lines of English in 20 seconds.

Their work was dangerous. Code Talkers often worked in pairs, with one person operating the radio and the other receiving and relaying the messages. Radio operators were already a target, so Code Talkers had to keep moving as they performed their work. During the first two days of the Battle of Iwo Jima, they transmitted 800 messages without a single mistake. At least 14 other Native nations also served as Code Talkers during WWII, but the Navajos were the most formally organized. One of the original 29 Code Talkers, Allen Dale June, joined the Marines when he was 17. The irony of being asked to defend the country was not lost on June or other Code Talkers. “Naturally we were concerned about the survival of the country in the Great War at the time. At the same time, we were defending our own country, the Navajo Nation,” he said.

Sgt. Allen June at age 91

The Code Talkers were so successful that military officials wanted to keep the program classified. After the war, Code Talkers remained quiet about their service for 23 years. Finally, in 1968, the project was declassified, and the Navajo Code Talkers received public recognition for the first time. That recognition extended on a national level when in 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 as Navajo Code Talkers Day. In 2001, the 29 original Code Talkers were honored with Congressional Gold Medals by President George W. Bush.

If you would like to learn more about Navajo Code Talkers, search Fold3® today.

New World War I Records Added!

July 27, 2021 by | 29 Comments

We’ve added a new collection of WWI records to our archives! The U.S. WWI Burial Cards document the death and burial of over 78,000 American soldiers in WWI. These cards contain information including:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Unit assigned
  • Date and cause of death
  • Burial location
  • Final resting place if reinterred
  • Emergency contact information (often the name of a family member)

Pictured here is the Burial Card for Quentin Roosevelt. Quentin was the well-known son of former president Theodore Roosevelt.

Quentin was attending Harvard when the U.S. entered WWI. He dropped out to join the 1st Aero Company of the New York National Guard, later joining the U.S. Army Air Service’s 95th Aero Squadron division, where he achieved the rank of First Lieutenant. On July 14, 1918, he was flying near Chamery, France, when he engaged in aerial combat with several German aircraft. He was shot down and died at age 20.

Quentin Roosevelt

Quentin was buried by the German military, with full battlefield honors, his grave marked with a make-shift cross fashioned out of two pieces of wood bound together with wire from Quentin’s downed plane. As seen on his Burial Card, his grave was No. 1, Isolated Commune #102, Coulonges (Aisne), France.

Quentin’s Burial Card lists his mother as his emergency contact. It also records that his parents were officially notified of his death by letter (L.S. – letter sent to parents). After WWII, the American Cemetery was established in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Quentin’s remains were disinterred and moved there so that he could be laid to rest next to his oldest brother Ted. Ted helped command the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division during the D-Day landings but died of a heart attack the following month in France. Note that Quentin’s Burial Card shows “Grave Released to N.R.” (Nearest Relative). Do you have an ancestor that died in WWI? Explore this newly added collection of U.S. WWI Burial Cards today on Fold3®.

Stories From Gettysburg

July 14, 2021 by | 88 Comments

Thanks for joining us earlier this month during our live stream from the Gettysburg battlefield. It was our privilege to work with the American Battlefield Trust as we learned more about this important battle. We’re highlighting a few of the soldier’s stories and artifacts you may have missed during the broadcast. Our special thanks to David Malgee from the Gettysburg Foundation. His amazing collection of Gettysburg artifacts are both a poignant and illustrative reminder of the impact this battle had on so many soldiers, their families, and communities back home.

John F. Payne discharge paper

John F. Payne enlisted as a private in the Virginia 18th Regiment, Company A, on April 23, 1861, in Danville, Virginia. He was admitted to a hospital in Petersburg under the care of Dr. John Claiborne and discharged in March 1863. He folded up his discharge paper and placed it in his coat pocket and rejoined his regiment. On July 3, the Virginia 18th took part in Pickett’s Charge, the deadly infantry assault on the last day of battle at Gettysburg. Payne was shot in the chest and died on the battlefield. A Union soldier, rifling through his coat pocket, found his folded hospital discharge paper, stained with blood. He scrawled “Rebel Blood” across the document and kept it as a souvenir. This blood-stained record represents just one of the many Confederate deaths during Pickett’s Charge. Learn more about Payne in this video.

Edwin R. Good camp hatchet

Edwin R. Good enlisted in the New Jersey 11th Infantry, Company F, in August 1862. He was later promoted to lieutenant and wounded during the Battle of Chancellorsville. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he was wounded three times. He was hospitalized and tried to return to the battlefield but was later discharged for disability. Pictured here is the camp hatchet Lt. Good used during the war. It is engraved with his regiment and company. Learn more about Lt. Good in this video.

John Allen Kelly was born in April 1841 in Alabama. He enlisted in the 13th Mississippi, Company I, in April 1861, the day before his 20th birthday. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 13th took part in the assault on the Peach Orchard and adjacent positions. Kelly’s company took heavy casualties but he survived. In 1909, Kelly attended a Confederate Civil War reunion. When asked if he was happy to be there, Kelly responded, “I suppose I am. When I take into consideration the fact that out of 46 members of my company who went into the Battle of Gettysburg, 41 of them were killed, wounded, or missing. Why shouldn’t I be glad?” Pictured here is John Kelly’s 1855 Springfield rifle. Learn more about Kelly in this video from the live stream.  

John A. Kelly’s 1855 Springfield rifle

Francis “Frank” Chester Goodrich was born June 1, 1837, in New Hampshire. He received an appointment at West Point but transferred to Harvard University after a short time. In 1861, Goodrich enlisted in the Massachusetts 3rd Infantry, Company B. He later transferred to the 2nd U.S. Infantry, serving as a lieutenant. On July 2, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg, Goodrich was killed during the fighting at the Wheatfield. He was 26 years old. His body was temporarily buried on the battlefield where he fell. This original battlefield grave marker marked the spot. His father later came to Gettysburg and had his son’s body exhumed and brought back to New England for burial. Learn more about Goodrich in this video.

We’d love to hear your feedback about the Gettysburg live stream. Did you enjoy it? Do you have any suggestions on how we can improve? To see all the live stream videos you may have missed, click here. To research your own Civil War story, search our Civil War record collection on Fold3® today!  

The Battle of Gettysburg

June 21, 2021 by | Comments Off on The Battle of Gettysburg

“It affords me very great satisfaction to be able to inform you that…I received the sword-belt and scabbard which were taken from your father’s body upon the field at Gettysburg,” wrote Dr. John Wilson Wishart from a field hospital near Cold Harbor, Virginia. The recipient of the letter was 10-year-old Emma Roberts, a young girl orphaned by war.  

Richard Roberts

The years leading up to the Civil War were hard on the Roberts family. Richard Roberts was a prominent lawyer and the district attorney of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. He married Caroline Henry on May 1, 1851, and the union produced three children—Thomas, Mary, and Emma. Emma J. Roberts was the middle child born on December 2, 1853, and the only Roberts child to live to adulthood. On February 4, 1862, Caroline passed away, leaving Robert a widower and Emma motherless.  

By the summer of 1862, the situation in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War was reaching a boiling point. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia escaped the clutches of the Federal army around Richmond, Virginia, and was campaigning into Northern Virginia, eventually moving into Maryland. During this “Emergency of 1862,” President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for volunteers to bolster the Federal ranks. Roberts, an ardent republican and supporter of the Union, called on Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin to allow him to raise a company in defense of the country, but did not wait for the governor’s reply. Instead, on July 18th, he began traveling to churches in rural Beaver County, rallying men to the cause. He must have been a passionate and influential speaker because instead of filling one company, he filled three!

By September, Roberts found himself at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and elected as colonel of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Companies from Greene, Mercer, and Washington Counties joined their Beaver County comrades. Richard often corresponded with Emma. “I think about you every hour in the day and hope you think about your Pa,” read one letter. In another, he asked about her visits to the homes of her aunts and reminded her, “remember the very good lessons taught by your Ma, so that you may grow up to be as good as woman as she was.” Having lost his wife and two other children, Richard consistently inquired about Emma’s health, often offering suggestions about how to stay healthy. Most letters were signed “Your Affectionate.” or “Your Loving, Pa.”

In May of 1863, Roberts and his 140th Pennsylvania fought in their first battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. The unit was in the thick of the action near the Chancellor House. As a memento, Richard sent Emma, “a quarter dollar which I carried her in my pocket during all the days of the Battle of Chancellorsville.”

In June of 1863, the 140th Pennsylvania was on the march in pursuit of Lee’s army during the Gettysburg Campaign. Richard Roberts was sick through much of the march into Pennsylvania. It was a grueling trek along hot, dusty roads. On July 1, Roberts sat on a tree stump outside of Uniontown, Maryland, and penned a quick note to Emma. The closing read, “We are going to march in a few minutes. Be a good girl. Good by my dear. Your affectionate, Pa.” They were the last lines that the father wrote to his daughter.

On July 2, 1863, Lee’s army attacked the Federal position at Gettysburg. The Rebels attacked at now-famous places such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, and the Wheatfield. Roberts and his 140th Pennsylvania were called into action late in the afternoon. They assumed a position on Stony Hill, adjacent to and west of the Wheatfield. There the Keystone State men held the right of the 1st Division, 2nd Corps. Confederates from South Carolina and Georgia assailed their position. “Men of the 140th!” bellowed Roberts as his men went into action, “Recollect that you are now defending your own soil and are fighting to drive the invader from your homes and firesides. I shall therefore expect you to conduct yourselves as in the presence of your wives, your sisters, and your sweethearts, and not disgrace the flag you bear or the name of Pennsylvanians.” The battle raged on and around Stony Hill as Roberts stalked the battleline, reminding his men to “Fire low. Remember, you are Pennsylvanians.” As he prepared to redeploy his regiment, a bullet ripped into Roberts body. He fell dead on the field of battle, his unit driven from Stony Hill. Of the 515 men from the 140th Pennsylvania who entered the action on July 2, 241 were killed, wounded, or captured. Due to the melee of battle, Roberts’s body was not recovered for a few days, and in that time, he was stripped of his valuables, including his sword, scabbard, and sword belt.

In the meantime, letters containing condolences and well wishes from the men of the 140th Pennsylvania streamed into the Pittsburgh area to their newly “adopted” daughter Emma. She was known as the “Daughter of the Regiment.” On May 6, 1864, the sword belt and scabbard of Richard Roberts were “taken from the body of a dead Rebel vol…in the Wilderness…” by a member of the 149th Pennsylvania. It was probably of little consolation to the young girl that her father’s sword belt and scabbard were recovered, but clearly, to Dr. Wishart and the men of the 140th Pennsylvania, it helped them to cope with their grief at the loss of their commanding officer, and they hoped too, that it might help Emma in her healing process. “I look forward to meeting you in person with an interest arising from my relations with your father whom, we all sincerely mourn, and, meantime, commending you to the care of our heavenly Father, the God of all comfort who comforteth [sic] us all in our tribulations.” 

Richard Roberts was buried in Beaver Cemetery and Mausoleum. His beloved daughter Emma grew up, and in 1876 married Richard Harter, second cousin of First Lady of the United States Ida Saxton McKinley. The couple moved to Canton, Ohio, and she had three children of her own, two of which lived to adulthood. Emma J. Roberts Harter died in Canton, Ohio, on October 22, 1929, at the age of 75.

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