Salem Soldiers at Andersonville

It is during the weeks around Memorial and Veterans Day that I feel the absence of an active Salem historical society or museum most keenly. Don’t get me wrong: there are dedicated interpreters of the past in our city. Salem has a wonderful veterans’ agent (a SSU history grad) who does an amazing job marking these days and creating initiatives which reference the past while also attending to his present duties. And there is a Salem Historical Society consisting of avid historians who provide important resource and reference roles and highlight moments when they can, but it has no collections and no official commemorative role. Everything is in Rowley, of course, and the “official” purveyor of all things historical seems to be Salem’s tourism office, Destination Salem, though if you go to its website and consult the timeline of “Salem’s History” you would not know that Salem had experienced any war after the War of 1812: no Civil War, no Spanish American War, no World War I or II, no Korean War, no Vietnam War, no wars in Irag and Afghanistan.

Of course, Salem men (and women) participated in all of these wars: these wars are part of “Salem’s History”. I have tended to focus on the Civil War in my Memorial Day posts in the past, perhaps because its aftermath and collective mourning are the origins of the “holiday”. I also use these posts to come to some understanding of this war and its impact personally: I’m not an American historian and I don’t have grounding in the historiography of this conflict, but I can see and feel, as we all can, that it is still with us. This year I want to highlight a source that has given me new insights into the experience of Salem men during the Civil War: Patriots of Salem. Roll of Honor of the Officers and Enlisted Men during the Late Civil War, from Salem, Mass. compiled by Thomas J. Hutchinson and Ralph Childs (1877).

This is such a great source, and if you cross-reference it with other sources (like the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database maintained by the National Park Service and local and genealogical sources—I have some key references here) you can glean both broad and specific perspectives of Salem’s contribution to the Union effort, which was great: over 3000 men served in the war and there were myriad support efforts at home. The compilers of Patriots of Salem endeavored to produce a register, “in neat and compact form” to be utilized “for future reference” and kept in every home, as a memorial reminder of sacrifices made. They succeeded: the volume is a great expression of both commemoration and local history. As its subtitle indicates, it includes rank, age, date of mustering in, date of discharge and the cause thereof for every Salem soldier, as well as a list of prisoners of war, the wounded and killed in action, and those who died in service. Because the book has been digitized by the Internet Archive, you can also search its contents and make up your own list of who was at Antietam, who was at Wilderness, who was at Gettysburg: noting that William L. Purbeck of Church Street and the 5th Massachusetts Battery died at the latter battle at age 18, I searched through all the sources to find his dying words: “Who shall care for Mother now?”

Monument to the 5th Massachusetts Battery at Gettysburg, c. 1880. Huntington Library.

The majority of Salem soldiers were discharged due to “expiration of service,” thank goodness, but records of desertion, suffering and death are embedded in the text: apparently a detachment to Louisiana was a veritable death sentence, due to disease rather than combat. I was thoroughly unprepared for the number of Salem men who ended up at Camp Sumter at Andersonville, the most notorious of the Confederate prisoner of war camps: 31, of whom 20 died there. I know I have cited a much smaller number in previous posts but my blog is so unwieldly now I can’t find them. Twenty Salem men died at Andersonville, from June 22 to September 15, 1864. This time frame is significant: most of the Salem men were among the nearly 10,000 prisoners of war transferred to Andersonville from other southern POW camps beginning in June, and by the end of that month a reported 30,000 Union soldiers were being held in a camp which had been built for 10,000. Patriots of Salem does not list the precise causes of death of the 20 Salem men who died at Andersonville, but the most common conditions were typhoid, dysentery, scurvy, gangrene, and above all, “chronic diarrhea”. On the very day that the photographs below were taken, July 17, 1864, Privates Charles W. Coney and George W. Cross, both Salem shoemakers from the 14th Massachusetts, died: two losses among nearly 13,000 at Andersonville.

Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia, July 17, 1864, Library of Congress.


25 responses to “Salem Soldiers at Andersonville

  • az1407t

    I thought the quote “Who shall care for Mother now?” by William L. Purbeck, Church Street, of the 5th Massachusetts Battery, to be very poignant. Just 18 years old, yet so mature. Most 18 year olds today are playing video games. People grew up a lot faster in those days and for most, they probably had no choice, like they do today. Excellent post and so timely. Thank you, Donna.

  • everythingsundry

    My dad was a veteran of WWII as were his three brothers. Imagine the worry that my poor grandmother endured, especially when my dad was captured by the Germans and was a POW towards the end of the war. I still have the telegram that the government sent her upon his capture.

  • Glenn McDonald

    A very interesting book. I haunted old book shops when I was kid, and I got my copy at Joe Roach’s antiquarian book shop below the Puritan Arms Restaurant (now the site of the District Courthouse). He had a knack for buying up estate libraries in Essex County. He also had a knack for bring burned out out of business, such as when the Puritan Arms went up in smoke. He, and George Gloss, on Boston’s Corn Hill were my two favorite booksellers… maybe i should make it three, and add Goodspeed’s, on the corner of Beacon and Somerset(?) Streets across from the State House, too.

    I remember the gruff old man fondly. I know that he was in at least four Salem locations.. the aforementioned Puritan Arms, on Washington Street, Next to Shushel’s deli, and the original Army & Navy store on Central Street, followed in quick succession by a shop on North Street, across from the Merit Gas station and finally, in The Salem YMCA building, from where, I think, he went to the great book shop in the sky.

    Does anyone else have memories of Salem booksellers? I delivered newspapers for years to the little book shop on the corner of Hamilton and Essex Streets, but I cannot remember the name of the shop, or of the lady who owned it.

    I’ll also mention that I have a copy of the History of the 5th Massachusetts (Phillips’) Battery in the War of the Rebellion, but i didn’t get it from old Mr. Roach.

    • daseger

      Just love the name “Puritan Arms”: going to search for some photos. I assume you’ve seen what is on the site of the District Court now?

  • Ralph Trigger

    The Confederates made multiple diplomatic attempts to make Prisoner Exchanges with the Union.

    One well-known location, locally, where Confederates were held was Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.(I pray those poor souls had blankets).

    Anyhow, President Lincoln refused every attempt to exachange prisoners. He maintained the Confederates had a scarity of troops, whereas with Irish Immigrants the Union’s supply of conscripts was nearly endless.

    A cruel, ruthless decision. But strategically wise.

    As was Sherman’s March through Georgia, which targeted civiilians.

    • daseger

      I think you are neglecting one of the key factors influencing prisoner-exchange policy: the Confederates did not recognize African-American soldiers as eligible for exchange, or even legitimate soldiers, just as they did not recognize their humanity before the war. The complete context for prison exchange is laid out here:

      • Ralph Trigger

        Yes, as with most matters, there are multiple factors involved.

        But were there any African/Americans in Andersonville, or other Prison Camps ? I do not know.

        I fear not; as perhaps the Confederates would have killed them outright rather than incarcerate them.

        Still, if I were in Andersonville I may not appreciate I was being allowed to die by my Commander-in-Chief so as to shorten a war.

        Especially since the South was doomed anyways.

        I hope people remember that after the war all Confederate Soldiers were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, and after that were legally considered American Citizens once again.

        Few today sympathize with the cause they fought for, but on this Memorial Day they too deserve to be treated with dignity.

      • daseger

        Well you led with policy so that is where I followed. I wish that it were true that few sympathize with the “lost cause” today, but I saw Confederate flags in our Capitol mere months ago.

      • Ralph Trigger

        Thank you, Daseger for the link.

        It confrimed some of what I had learned, but added new, critical info as well.

        I am surprised to learn that the Confederates accepted African/American Soldiers as Prisoners at all. Though I still expect many were simply executed.

        Of course General Grant’s policy made sense. In a “perfect” situation all captured soldiers would be well treated and simply held until War’s end.

        But Andersonville was a Death Camp. Not in the NAZI sense; the Confederates did not want the Union Soldiers to die.

        They simply had no food or supplies to spare.

        And any food the Union may have shipped them (and there is no evidence I am aware of that this was ever considered) would have certainly gone to Confederate Troops first.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Kudos on maintaining your Memorial Day tradition by celebrating those Salem soldiers who served in the Civil War, particularly those who suffered at Andersonville.

    Long before those “databases” that you referenced were available, I mentioned to a Civil War buff that my father always said that his two grandfathers had served in the conflict. They were Patrick Gallagher and Patrick Bohan, fine Irishmen from Lynn. Then this friend collected the pension records from some source in DC for me regarding Gallagher and Bohan. What a wealth of info in these records. Both survived with some residual health issues from combat.

    Ralph Trigger’s comment above struck me as particularly poignant:

    “President Lincoln refused every attempt to exchange prisoners. He maintained the Confederates had a scarcity of troops, whereas the Irish Immigrants the Union’s supply of conscripts was nearly endless.”

    Both of my great grandfathers were Irish “greenhorns” who enlisted to show their loyalty to their new country. Fortunately, they returned to Lynn and raised families.

  • Ralph Trigger

    As far as Confederate Flags go, I remember the “Dukes of Hazard”. The primary prop was a car with a huge Stars and Bars painted on the roof, which was named the “General Lee”.

    To be honest, I do not recall watching a single episode. I also do not recall any widespread outrage. And I’m pretty sure the show had no racist undertones.

    Symbols change their meanings with time.

    Even the Swastika was no more than a Good Luck icon for many centuries, across many cultures, until the Reich co-opted it.

    And now eBay pulls auctions of empty Medicine Bottles from the early 1900’s that sport that Good Luck symbol in the apparent belief they will encourage White Sumpremacy ?

  • Ralph Trigger

    “Decoration Day” was declared on May 5, 1868, and the date May 30th was chosen because no known battle had been fought on that date.,memorials%2C%20holding%20family%20gatherings%20and%20participating%20in%20parades.

    Eventually the name must have been thought not particularly descriptive, and “Memorial Day” became the norm.

  • Ralph Trigger

    In contrast to Andersonville, Boston’s Fort Warren lost only thirteen POW’s. That’s something to be proud of.

    In an odd footnote, one of those was accidentally killed by his own wife, during a botched escape attempt. She was then tried, covicted as a spy, and hung.,Confederate%20soldier%20that%20was%20imprisoned%20there%20in%201861.

  • Ralph Trigger

    One of the many beautiful and respectful postcards once popular in the USA.

  • Ralph Trigger

    Much enjoy this insightful forum.

    But I don’t understand the “like” system.

    I click on the blue star, and it disappears.

  • Glenn McDonald

    There was a formal process for “Paroling” and “Exchanging” prisoners of war, both Federal and Confederate.

    For the Federals, a parole basically consisted of requiring the rebel prisoners to swear that they would not take up arms against the Federal Government until they were formally exchanged. They were then allowed free passage home (with proper documentation).

    There was also a formal exchange ratio for captured officers. A captured general officer would be exchanged for so many of the other side’s field, or company grade officers, and so on down the officer ranks. I don’t know/remember if such a scheme ever existed for enlisted personnel.

    I read about the process in one of the many regimental histories of cavalry outfits operating in the Shenandoah Valley that i finished over the last year. I can’t remember in which book it was described, at the moment, but I do remember that everything was well footnoted, so I assume that ample documentation of the policy exists.

  • Ralph Trigger

    I’m certain Donna has covered this before, but for recent readers it is curious how much the actual date of Memorial Day can vary.

    Until 1970, it was a fixed date: May 30th.

    Then it was changed to the last Monday of May, making any date from the 25th thru the 31st possible.

    Personally I much prefer Holidays to have fixed dates, rather than modifying them to suit the lovers of the 3-day weekend.

    But that is a battle that has certainly been lost.

  • Brian Bixby

    Certainly a lot of work must have gone into Hutchinson and Childs’ report, for record-keeping in the Civil War was sometimes haphazard. There’s a famous example of Lincoln’s “Bixby letter” in which he offers condolences to a widow who has lost five sons in the war, while in fact she had lost only two. (Very distant cousins of mine, incidentally.) And place names certainly were variously reported as well; for example, there’s a monument in Groton’s old cemetery for a soldier who died at “Coal Harbor” (Cold Harbor).
    (Pardon any typos, I’m typing with a broken arm from a bicycling accident.)

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