Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“One of them was a better soldier than I was.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on September 17, 2018

Private Lawrence Daffan, Co. G, Fourth Texas Infantry, at Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862:

On the evening of the 16th we crossed the Antietam Creek, falling back from Boonsboro Gap. This occasioned some skirmishing and artillery duels across the creek, as we had taken a stand near Sharpsburg. We had orders the evening of the 16th to cook up three days’ rations, and to be ready to move at a moment’s warning. We were located nearly a half mile south of an old Dunkard church. There was heavy timber between us and the church; north and west of us there was a large stubblefield where wheat was cut. North of this stubble was a large cornfield of considerable dimensions. Corn there in September is as high as it is here in July; fodder was about ready to be gathered. By daylight the pickets commenced firing. By sunrise wer were ordered forward in line of battle. We stopped near the church in the heavy timber, the branches were falling on us, and many spent balls played around us.
 
A short time after this we were ordered “forward.” We emerged from the timber into the stubblefield; some of it I think had recently been plowed.
 
As we emerged from the timber, a panorama, fearful and wonderful, broke upon us. It was a line of battle in front of us. Immediately in front of us was Lawton’s Georgia Brigade. After we left the timber we were under fire, but not in a position to return the fire. As we neared Lawton’s Brigade, the order came for the Texas Brigade to charge. Whenever a halt was made by a command under fire, every man lay flat on the ground, and this was done very quick. Lawton’s Brigade had been on this line fighting some time before we reached them. Lawton’s Brigade attempted to charge, and did charge; their charge was a failure, because their numbers had been decimated; they had no strength.
 
Then the Texas Brigade as ordered to charge; the enemy was on the opposite side of this stubblefield in the cornfield. As we passed where Lawton’s Brigade had stood, there was a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see. Just before reaching the cornfield General Hood rode up to Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter, commanding the fourth Texas Regiment (my regiment), and told him to front his regiment to the left and protect the flank. This he did and made a charge directly to the west. We were stopped by a pike fenced on both sides. It would have been certain death to have climbed the fence.
 
Hays’ Louisiana Brigade had been in on our left, and had been driven out. Some of their men were with us at this fence. One of them was a better soldier than I was. I was lying on the ground shooting through the fence about the second rail; he stood up and shot right over the fence. He was shot through his left hand, and through the heart as he fell on me, dead. I pushed him off and saw that “Seventh Louisiana” was on his cap.
 
The Fifth [Texas], First [Texas] and Eighteenth Georgia, which was the balance of my brigade, went straight down into the cornfield, and when they struck this cornfield, the corn blades rose like a whirlwind, and the air was full.

_____________

Lawrence Daffan was seventeen years old at the time. He survived this fight, the assault on Little Round Top at Gettysburg the following year, and the Battle of Chickamauga, only to be captured in late 1863 and spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois. Passage from My Father as I Remember Him, by Katie Daffan. Image: “The Hagerstown Pike,” by Walton Taber.
 

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“They lay as thick as autumn leaves”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 19, 2012

Friday, September 19, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland:

I took the delay to ride over the field of battle. The Rebel dead, even in the woods last occupied by them, was very great. In one place, in front of the position of my corps, apparently a whole regiment had been cut down in line. They lay in two ranks, as straightly aligned as on a dress parade. There must have been a brigade, as part of the line on the left had been buried. I counted what appeared to be a single regiment and found 149 dead in the line and about 70 in front and rear, making over 200 dead in one Rebel regiment. In riding over the field I think I must have seen at least 3,000. In one place for nearly a mile they lay as thick as autumn leaves along a narrow lane cut below the natural surface, into which they seem to have tumbled. Eighty had been buried in one pit, and yet no impression had apparently been made on the unburied host. The cornfield beyond was dotted all over with those killed in retreat.
 
The wounded Rebels had been carried away in great numbers and yet every farmyard and haystack seemed a large hospital. The number of dead horses was high. They lay, like the men, in all attitudes. One beautiful milk-white animal had died in so graceful a position that I wished for its photograph. Its legs were doubled under and its arched neck gracefully turned to one side, as if looking back to the ball-hole in its side. Until you got to it, it was hard to believe the horse was dead.
 
Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams,
Division Commander, Army of the Potomac

________________________

Alpheus S. Williams, Milo Milton Quaife (eds.), From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams (Detroit: Wayne State, 1959). Image: Library of Congress.
 

“One of them was a better soldier than I was.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on September 16, 2012

Private Lawrence Daffan, Co. G, Fourth Texas Infantry, at Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862:

On the evening of the 16th we crossed the Antietam Creek, falling back from Boonsboro Gap. This occasioned some skirmishing and artillery duels across the creek, as we had taken a stand near Sharpsburg. We had orders the evening of the 16th to cook up three days’ rations, and to be ready to move at a moment’s warning. We were located nearly a half mile south of an old Dunkard church. There was heavy timber between us and the church; north and west of us there was a large stubblefield where wheat was cut. North of this stubble was a large cornfield of considerable dimensions. Corn there in September is as high as it is here in July; fodder was about ready to be gathered. By daylight the pickets commenced firing. By sunrise wer were ordered forward in line of battle. We stopped near the church in the heavy timber, the branches were falling on us, and many spent balls played around us.
 
A short time after this we were ordered “forward.” We emerged from the timber into the stubblefield; some of it I think had recently been plowed.
 
As we emerged from the timber, a panorama, fearful and wonderful, broke upon us. It was a line of battle in front of us. Immediately in front of us was Lawton’s Georgia Brigade. After we left the timber we were under fire, but not in a position to return the fire. As we neared Lawton’s Brigade, the order came for the Texas Brigade to charge. Whenever a halt was made by a command under fire, every man lay flat on the ground, and this was done very quick. Lawton’s Brigade had been on this line fighting some time before we reached them. Lawton’s Brigade attempted to charge, and did charge; their charge was a failure, because their numbers had been decimated; they had no strength.
 
Then the Texas Brigade as ordered to charge; the enemy was on the opposite side of this stubblefield in the cornfield. As we passed where Lawton’s Brigade had stood, there was a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see. Just before reaching the cornfield General Hood rode up to Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter, commanding the fourth Texas Regiment (my regiment), and told him to front his regiment to the left and protect the flank. This he did and made a charge directly to the west. We were stopped by a pike fenced on both sides. It would have been certain death to have climbed the fence.
 
Hays’ Louisiana Brigade had been in on our left, and had been driven out. Some of their men were with us at this fence. One of them was a better soldier than I was. I was lying on the ground shooting through the fence about the second rail; he stood up and shot right over the fence. He was shot through his left hand, and through the heart as he fell on me, dead. I pushed him off and saw that “Seventh Louisiana” was on his cap.
 
The Fifth [Texas], First [Texas] and Eighteenth Georgia, which was the balance of my brigade, went straight down into the cornfield, and when they struck this cornfield, the corn blades rose like a whirlwind, and the air was full.

_____________

Lawrence Daffan was seventeen years old at the time. He survived this fight, the assault on Little Round Top at Gettysburg the following year, and the Battle of Chickamauga, only to be captured in late 1863 and spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois. Passage from My Father as I Remember Him, by Katie Daffan. Image: “The Hagerstown Pike,” by Walton Taber.
 

The Veteran, the Historian, and the Things Not Seen

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 23, 2011

Over the Christmas holiday in 1905 Lawrence Daffan (1845-1907), a former private in the Fourth Texas Infantry, dictated to his daughter Katie a biographical sketch of his life, along with more detailed accounts of two major actions he served in. After his death, Katie published these in a memorial book, My Father as I Remember Him.

In the memoir, Daffan recalled that after the Army of Northern Virginia was turned back at Gettysburg and withdrew across the Potomac,

we then marched to Culpepper, where we camped a while, then on to Fredericksburg, thence to Port Royal, where we camped some weeks.

While at Culpepper we had something of a riot in our regiment, caused by one of the regiment being ordered to wear a ball and chain, which we thought was a disgrace to our regiment and to the State of Texas. A number of us boys, who did not know any better, attempted to take him from the guard. Charges of mutiny were made against twenty-five of us, and we were put under arrest. Our captains were responsible for our appearance at court. This relieved us from drill and every other duty for six weeks of the summer.

Our trial was ordered to take place at General Longstreet’s headquarters, at Fredericksburg, in the first days of September, 1863. We were then camped at Port Royal, twenty miles east of Fredericksburg. We were all ordered to report to General Longstreet’s headquarters, near Fredericksburg, to be tried. On the way there I stopped at my uncle’s home, Champ Jones, twelve or fifteen miles from Fredericksburg, and did not arrive at Fredericksburg until after my “crowd” had arrived there. In going, I was alone. There was no guard with any of us. In looking for the headquarters where I might be tried, I went to the camp of the battalion of artillery, and the major commanding met me. I asked him to tell me where the General’s headquarters were, and he said “At the Reynold’s place, a large, white house about a mile away.” He said, “What are you going for?” I said, “I am going to be court-martialed for mutiny.” He said, with astonishment, “What, looking for a court to be court-martialed? That beats everything I ever heard of.” I said, “yes,” and he replied to go ahead, that he didn’t think I would be shot. I was then eighteen years old. We were all cleared through the influence of General Lee.

This anecdote was first widely published forty years ago in Harold B. Simpson’s Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard, and has been mentioned in other secondary accounts since. To my knowledge, it’s not corroborated by other firsthand accounts. (Giles’ Rags and Hope mostly skips over this period of relative inactivity.) Ten years ago, Texas A&M historian Charles E. Brooks included this anecdote in his journal article, “The Social and Cultural Dynamics of Soldiering in Hood’s Texas Brigade,” published in the Journal of Southern History. Brooks briefly summarizes Daffan’s account, and then assesses it in terms of its time and place — not 1863, but 1905:

Written years later after the cult of the Lost Cause had romanticized the war and magnified the heroic deeds of Confederate soldiers, Daffan’s account only noted parenthetically that neither he nor the others “knew any better” at the time. But his amplifying comment was characteristic of many wartime reminiscences, which often glossed over the continuous conflicts that had taken place between officers and men concerning matters of discipline and subordination. Young Private Daffan and the others knew exactly what they were doing when they tried to rescue their fellow soldier. Although enlisting as a soldier of the Confederate Army required soldiers to occupy a new social status somewhere between freedom and slavery, the ball-and-chain punishment had blurred the distinction beyond what they were willing to accept.

Shorter: Daffan’s account is a reminiscence that has to be understood in the context of the time it was recorded.

Comparing these two passages makes for a good illustration of what a professional historian does. Daffan’s account, like so many written about that same time, stresses the humor and devil-may-care attitude of soldiering during the war. Daffan was indeed eighteen at the of this incident, but he was also a veteran (by his own count) of at least six different engagements, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg and Little Round Top. The soldiers understood what they were doing when they tried to overpower the prisoner’s guard. Daffan and his compatriots also understood at least the potential penalty upon conviction of mutiny by a court martial; it cannot have seemed to Daffan at the time to have been such a summertime lark as he suggests when he describes his arrest as relieving “us from drill and every other duty for six weeks of the summer.”

Brooks’ reference to the pervasiveness of the Lost Cause is not supposition; it’s true both generally, and in Lawrence Daffan’s case specifically. Daffan was an active member of UCV and the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association; his daughter Katie was secretary and sole female member of the latter organization. When the local UDC chapter bestowed the honorary title of “colonel” on Lawrence Daffan, he adopted it immediately, and used it in both his personal and professional life so much that, upon his death, newspapers around the state referred to him as “Col. Daffan,” even though he’d never risen above the rank of private during the war.

Daffan was captured late in 1863 an spent the remainder of the war in the prison camp at Rock Island. Although he spent almost as much time as prisoner as he did as a soldier in the field, in his memoir he generally declines to discuss the hardships of this period in his life, commenting instead on the sheer boredom of the experience, where one day was exactly like the one before, and exactly like the one following, so that there was little concept of the passage of time. In fact, Daffan apparently left much unsaid in his dictation, and found his recollections, as they appeared on the page, difficult emotionally. As a preface to his autobiographical sketch, Katie wrote that

he would frequently related some anecdote or little incident, which he did not deem worthy of being included in the sketch, but which was invariably interesting.

Once or twice, while reviewing the battles [i.e., Second Manassas and Sharpsburg], he gave way to weeping and expressions of the deepest feeling, very unusual for him.

He told me that it carried him back to the days when he was a boy, that it was all so vivid, and so much had occurred since to change him, and so many of his friends and comrades had died, that it made him very sad.

What were the “invariably interesting” anecdotes that Daffan thought too inconsequential to commit to paper? More important, what ugly and terrible experiences remained, insufficiently blurred by the passage of time and memory, that he declined to recall for Katie’s note-taking? My guess is that the latter includes Gettysburg, notably missing from Daffan’s story, where the Fourth Texas remained pinned on the slopes of Little Round Top after the failed assault on the Federal left on July 2, or the habit of the “hundred dazers” walking post on the wall at Rock Island occasionally to relieve their own boredom by squeezing off rounds into the prisoners’ barracks.

None of this diminishes the value of the memoirs of old veterans like Daffan, but it does remind us that, even as important as they are as the record of the men who were there, they nonetheless have real limitations. Their tales of battle, hardship, humor and adventure are only as complete as they themselves recalled them.

Or were willing to.

___________

Image: Fife and drums at the United Confederate Veterans’ reunion, Washington, D.C., 1917. Library of Congress.

“He died without a struggle.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 10, 2010

Army of the Potomac
October 6th, 1862

Dear Brother — I was surprised to hear of the death of Henry. I had heard that he was wounded, and got a furlough of two days to go and find him. Starting when your letter came to me, I wandered all day over the field at Antietam. I kept going for miles and miles, looking at every grave I saw, and was about to give up the search from fatigue and hunger (for I had already gone over twenty five miles), but I kept on till dark, and just as I was about to lie down for the night, I saw a few graves under an apple tree, a few rods off, and there I found the grave of our dear brother. It was a solemn time for me as I sat by the grave.

I found a person who watched with him, and was present at his burial. He was shot in the early part of the action. He died without a struggle. It will be a hard struggle for mother. To think he was taken away in so short a time after leaving home, while I have been engaged in six or seven battles! But the thought of his dying so peacefully (and no one can doubt his Christian character or fitness to meet his Maker) will lessen the grief of our mother, and brothers, and sisters. We have lost him; but this we know, he was a Christian, and showed a Christian spirit in all his actions. It seems like a dream. As I look from the “Heights” (Bolivar) [near Harper’s Ferry], I can see the rebel army, and a battle is expected in a few days. I am willing to meet them, no matter how hard the battle, or how long and forced the marches are, if we can only finish the war, or make a beginning of the end. I may too, like Henry, be shot down. If I die, I die in the faith of Christ, and have no fears as to what awaits me. I am happy wherever I am. I can lie down with as much ease, and rest for the night within range of the enemy’s guns, knowing that at dawn we may meet face to face, as I could at home upon my bed. It is near midnight, and I must close.

Sergeant S. P. Keeler

Corporal Henry Keeler enlisted in Company C of the 14th Connecticut Infantry on August 20, 1862. He died four weeks later when the 14th charged Confederate positions along a road later called “Bloody Lane.” Corporal Keeler’s remains were later returned for burial at Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The author, Silas P. Keeler of Waterbury, Connecticut, was a twenty-one-year-old sergeant in Company E, 8th Connecticut Infantry. He had originally enlisted in the 1st Connecticut Infantry in April 1861, mustered out a few months later, and re-enlisted in the Eighth in September 1861. He mustered out of the service in February 1865.

Although the addressee of Sergeant Keeler’s letter is unknown, it seems clear it was written to a family member, with the intent that it would be shared. In addition to assuring that Henry had died “without a struggle ” and the typical assurances of religious faith and comfort in the face of danger, Keeler also mentions that “I found a person who watched with him, and was present at his burial.” This was an important consideration in the 19th century, that even when nothing could be done for the man, he did not die alone, and had a mourner at his interment. Sergeant Keeler was making sure that his family knew that Henry had died a “good” death, as it was understood at the time. Even in his own circumstances, the writer was focused entirely on assuaging the fears and unease of his family in Connecticut.

Letter from Soldier’s Letters from Camp, Battlefield and Prison, ed. by Lydia Minturn Post (New York: Bunce & Huntinton, 1865). Image: “Looking for a Friend,” by Walton Taber.

“They lay as thick as autumn leaves”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 5, 2010

Friday, September 19, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Maryland:

I took the delay to ride over the field of battle. The Rebel dead, even in the woods last occupied by them, was very great. In one place, in front of the position of my corps, apparently a whole regiment had been cut down in line. They lay in two ranks, as straightly aligned as on a dress parade. There must have been a brigade, as part of the line on the left had been buried. I counted what appeared to be a single regiment and found 149 dead in the line and about 70 in front and rear, making over 200 dead in one Rebel regiment. In riding over the field I think I must have seen at least 3,000. In one place for nearly a mile they lay as thick as autumn leaves along a narrow lane cut below the natural surface, into which they seem to have tumbled. Eighty had been buried in one pit, and yet no impression had apparently been made on the unburied host. The cornfield beyond was dotted all over with those killed in retreat.

The wounded Rebels had been carried away in great numbers and yet every farmyard and haystack seemed a large hospital. The number of dead horses was high. They lay, like the men, in all attitudes. One beautiful milk-white animal had died in so graceful a position that I wished for its photograph. Its legs were doubled under and its arched neck gracefully turned to one side, as if looking back to the ball-hole in its side. Until you got to it, it was hard to believe the horse was dead.

Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams,
Division Commander, Army of the Potomac

Alpheus S. Williams, Milo Milton Quaife (eds.), From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams (Detroit: Wayne State, 1959). Image: Library of Congress.

________________________

“One of them was a better soldier than I was.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 23, 2010

Private Lawrence Daffan, Co. G, Fourth Texas Infantry, at Sharpsburg (Antietam), September 17, 1862:

Then the Texas Brigade was ordered to charge; the enemy was on the opposite side of this stubblefield in the cornfield. As we passed where Lawton’s Brigade had stood, there was a complete line of dead Georgians as far as I could see. Just before we reached the cornfield General Hood rode up to Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter, commanding the Fourth Texas Regiment (my regiment), and told him to front his regiment to the left and protect the flank. This he did and he made a charge directly to the west. We were stopped by a pike fenced on both sides. It would have been certain death to have climbed the fence.

Hays’ Louisiana Brigade had been in on our left, and had been driven out. Some of their men were with us at this fence. One of them was a better soldier than I was. I was lying on the ground shooting through the fence about the second rail; he stood up and shot right over the fence. He was shot through his left hand, and through the heart as he fell on me, dead. I pushed him off and saw that “Seventh Louisiana” was on his cap.

The Fifth [Texas], First [Texas] and Eighteenth Georgia, which was the balance of my brigade, went straight down into the cornfield, and when they struck this cornfield, the corn blades rose like a whirlwind, and the air was full.

Lawrence Daffan was seventeen years old at the time. He survived this fight, and the assault on Little Round Top at Gettysburg the following year, only to be captured in late 1863 and spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois.

Quotation from Voices of the Civil War: Antietam (Time-Life, Inc., 1996). Image: “The Hagerstown Pike,” by Walton Taber.