I own just a few early photographs of African-Americans, for they are scarce and much sought after. I present them with love.
I own just a few early photographs of African-Americans, for they are scarce and much sought after. I present them with love.
“Platitudes for the fallen officer were given in great numbers and the correspondent concluded with a highly personal plea: ‘Poor Joe! May the turf lie lightly on his manly breast.’”
“In the spring of 1864, the pages of Schuylkill County’s most important newspaper was filled with information of exciting events from America’s increasingly bloody civil war. But amid the news of battlefield drama also came the sorrowful news of local soldiers cut to pieces during hellish combat in the rolling hills of the Virginia countryside.”
Read more via Wynning History’s “With great sorrow I address you” – A heartbreaking letter to the father of a fallen Civil War soldier. Ω
Meet Nathaniel Amory Tucker—seafarer, gentleman, businessman, handsome dandy, ardent hunter, Civil War paymaster, brevet lieutenant colonel, faithful Catholic.
The opulent mat surrounding this daguerreotype would draw attention from the portrait of a lesser subject, but not the ruggedly handsome, square-jawed, blue-eyed Nathaniel Amory Tucker, then aged 39. Blessed with money and looks, one of his obituaries described him as “an officer and a gentleman of much talent and geniality of wit.” Frère Quevillion, a Catholic priest who knew him well, called Tucker “a rich [man] in every sense.”
Tucker was the son of Catherine Hay Geyer (1778-1869), who married merchant Nathaniel Tucker (1775-1857) on 8 July, 1802, in Boston. The Geyers were well-moneyed. Before the Revolution, Catherine’s father—Nathaniel’s grandfather—Friedrich Geyer (1743-1841), had inherited an estate worth £1,000. The family name was originally Von Geyer and the family was “a late immigrant hither, and the tradition was [that] he was of a good German family,” reports English origins of New England families, Second series, Vol. I.
Frederick Geyer married Nathaniel’s grandmother Susanna Ingraham (1750-1796) on 30 April, 1767. In 1778, just before the birth of his daughter Catherine, Geyer—an ardent British royalist—was exiled and his property sequestered.
In the years that followed, the Geyers were based in London. The family had grown to include one son and five daughters, the latter of whom were undoubtedly raised to be prominent ladies of good society. The eldest, Mary Anne (1774-1814), married Andrew (1763-1841), the son of Jonathan Belcher, first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, on 7 September, 1792. When Catherine’s younger sister Nancy Geyer married Rufus G. Amory on 13 February, 1794, a guest at the wedding was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, father of the future Queen Victoria, who was in Boston on his way to Halifax.
Amongst her father’s property seized in 1767 was their Summer Street mansion—a possession not reconveyed until 1791 when Geyer’s U.S. citizenship was restored. “The [Summer Street] house, in the days of Mr. Geyer, was famed for its social gaieties and elegant entertainments. Tradition tells us of the brilliant gatherings of wit and fashion around its sumptuous Board,” notes the article “A Home in the Olden Time,” excerpted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. “Mrs. Geyer was noted for the courtesy and grace with which she presided and put everyone at their ease. There could have been few pleasanter banqueting rooms in Boston.”
It is likely that Catherine Geyer, born and raised in London, considered herself British and spoke with a like accent. With the wealth, connections, and good looks she assuredly possessed in youth, she was a fine catch for Nathaniel Tucker. He came from a line of Nathaniels, including his grandfather (1744-1796), a Massachusetts Revolutionary War private who served under the command of Colonel Thomas Hutchinson.
Whilst living in Massachusetts, Nathaniel and Catherine had four daughters: Anna Amory (1803-1875), who married merchant Henry Atkinson Green; Catherine Geyer (1805-aft. 1870), who married James Iredell Cutler; Marion Belcher (1807-1851), who wed Rudolph Geyer; and Charlotte Mayette (1812-1850), who married George W. Summer. A son, Nathaniel Amory, was born 30 May, 1809, but died in 1813. A new boy given the same name was born 14 August, 1814, in an apparently successful attempt to replace the first beloved child and only son. This Nathaniel Amory, called “Nat-Nat” by his family perhaps in reference to his position as the second Nathaniel, would grow as the heir to money that was old, new, and accumulated by his own merit.
After the birth of their children, the Tucker family removed to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a town that made much money from industries such as paper milling, woolen textile production, and factories that produced furniture, marble, sashes and blinds, iron castings, carriages, cabinet ware, rifles, harness, shoe pegs, and organs. Connecticut River Valley in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire: Historical Sketches by Lyman S. Hayes explains how the family got its wealth, as well as provides a story about young Nat-Nat himself. It is worth including in near entirety:
“One of the most prominent citizens of Bellows Falls a century ago was a man named Nathaniel Tucker. In 1826, he came into possession of the old first toll bridge across the Connecticut River here, and in 1840, he planned and financed the erection of the present structure that has now served the public 88 years. Mr. Tucker was born in Boston in 1775 and became a resident in Bellows Falls in 1815.
“The first bridge became unsafe, and, in 1840, Mr. Tucker consulted a noted local bridge builder, Sanford Granger, in regard to it. Together they planned and built the present structure…. [Tolls were] gathered for passing these two bridges from 1785, when the first bridge was built, until the towns of Rockingham and Westminster made the present bridge free on November 1, 1904, a period of nearly 120 years….
“During most of the years of his ownership of the bridges, Mr. Tucker attended to the collection of the tolls himself…. Mr. Tucker was a small wiry man, extremely nervous, and was often the victim of pranks by the boys who teased him. He had a son, Nathaniel, Jr., who was somewhat peculiar and erratic. He was a hunter of some note. At one time, he went hunting on horseback, and in riding through the woods, his gun was accidentally discharged and killed the horse. His father, when he returned home and was told of the accident, was greatly excited, and shaking his cane in the young man’s face exclaimed, “Nat-Nat Tucker, the next time you go hunting on horseback, you go afoot!” much to the amusement of several bystanders.
“In 1839, there was a great freshet and the frame bridge at South Charlestown, known as the Cheshire Bridge, was washed away, coming down the river whole…. The old toll bridge was much lower than the present one, and Mr. Tucker feared for its safety if the oncoming bridge came over the falls whole. Neighbors who saw Mr. Tucker that day often told of his great excitement as the bridge neared the falls, and he frantically motioned with his cane, shouting to the bridge to go on the Vermont side where there was more room. As the bridge neared the dam, it suddenly fell apart and passed under Mr. Tucker’s bridge without harming it.
“Mr. Tucker was an ardent churchman, much troubled at hearing profanity used. The fact that he was very brusque and sometimes thoughtless in his reproofs, caused the boys to annoy him greatly. He was a most ardent friend of Rev. Carlton Chase, rector of Immanuel (Episcopal) Church, who later became bishop of New Hampshire. Mr. Chase was with Mr. Tucker during the freshet referred to above when the water was so high it was in danger of lifting the toll bridge off its abutments. Assisting in tying it with ropes, Rector Chase fell into the rushing rapids, nearly losing his life. A rope was quickly thrown to him, which he grasped, and by which he was drawn, much exhausted, to safety.
“Once each year, Mr. Tucker advertised in the local newspaper that all those from New Hampshire points who wished to attend the Christmas services at Immanuel Church could pass the bridge free of toll. The Christmas services were at that time much more extensive than at present, including illumination of buildings, open hospitality; and, with fine music, they drew crowds from thirty miles around.
“When staging times excited much competition, at one time the ordinary fare from Boston to Bellows Falls was $3.00, but for a short time, even that was reduced to 25 cents. Drivers sometimes ran the bridge to get here first. One day, Driver Brooks ran the bridge and was followed by Mr. Tucker to the local Stage House. He exclaimed with much heat, ‘You run my bridge. The fine is $2.’ Upon which Mr. Brooks drew out his wallet and offered to pay; but Mr. Tucker turned away much calmed, saying, ‘Well, don’t ever do it again.’….
“At the New Hampshire end of the old toll bridge, during the first half of the last century, stood a large building known in its last years as the Tucker Mansion, erected previous to 1799. It was built for a hotel and known early as The Walpole Bridge Hotel. In 1817, it was known as the Mansion House Hotel. Soon after the latter date, it became a dwelling house and was long occupied by Nathaniel Tucker … and the tollhouse also was located on the New Hampshire side of the river, just in front of it. These buildings, with numerous outhouses, were, in their day, the most entitled to the name of ‘Mansion’ of any in this whole region, because of their grand proportions, elegant surroundings of gardens, statuary, and decorative trees and foliage. They were a prominent feature of the landscape when the Great Falls were noted far and wide for their scenic beauty. Persons coming from the south to this vicinity were struck by their beauty and majestic location. They were removed when the railroad was built in 1849…. Mr. Tucker then purchased the brick dwelling on Church Street, now known as the Hetty Green House, and there, spent his last years, still taking tolls at his bridge.”
Early in life, living near the port city of Boston, Nat-Nat’s imagination was captured by ships and the sea. According to the History of St. Joseph Parish, Burlington, VT 1830-1897, edited by Robert G. Keenan, “He went to sea at the age of 15 and in twelve years progressed from seaman, through mate, captain, and shipmaster, but kept the title of captain.” By 1842, as he approached the end of his 20s, Captain Tucker left the sea behind, possibly for the woman he loved—Maria D. Deming. The couple wed that year and Tucker settled with his wife in Burlington.
Born 10 March, 1817, Maria was the daughter of Eleazur Hubbell Deming (1785-1807) and Fanny Fay Follett (1788-1878). According to Genealogy of the Descendants of John Deming of Wethersfield, Connecticut by Judson Keith Deming, “Eleazur … moved early in life to Chittenden County, Vermont, where he became a prominent merchant in Burlington. He was a man of great energy and sterling honor, and it was said of him that he was the best businessman in Northern Vermont. His son Charles Follett Deming, was a graduate of the University of Vermont, and of Cambridge (Mass.) Law School, who died at the onset of what promised to be a brilliant career as a lawyer.”
Julius, the only other son, died in infancy. There were also five daughters, only three of whom survived to adulthood. The eldest was Caroline—born 19 November, 1811, who married Carlos Baxter and died 25 May, 1843; Juliet—born 20 October, 1814, and lived only a few months; Maria; Anne—born 21 July, 1819, who married in 1838 the Reverend William Henry Hoyt and died 16 January, 1875; Frances, who was born in 1822 and died in 1823; and Mary Elizabeth, who was born in July 1827 and died the following June. All of the children were raised in Burlington at 308 Pearl Street. This was a fine mansion built by their father in 1816 that Maria would eventually inherit.
Tucker was in business with his brother-in-law, James Cutler, operating a paper mill at Hubbell’s Falls, and was also a partner in the merchant company of Bradley, Canfield, and Co. In 1847, Tucker helped found Burlington Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Next, The businessman is also referenced in History of Chittenden County, Vermont by W. S. Rann: “[S]team tow-boats had become necessary for the purpose of ensuring the regular passage through [Lake Champlain] of boats going to New York…. On the 2d of November, 1847, a charter was granted by the Legislature of Vermont to John Bradley, Thomas H. Canfield, O. A. Burton, H. L. Nichols, N. A. Tucker, A. M. Clark, Horace Gray, J. C. Hammond, Charles F. Hammond, and Allen Penfield, for a steam towboat company.”
The month before towboat enterprise charter was issued, Nathaniel and Maria Tucker officially converted to Catholicism; they had previously been ardent Episcopalians. The History of St. Joseph Parish records, Maria’s “brother-in-law, Rev. William H. Hoyt, was Rector of the Episcopalian Church in St. Albans. When the Hoyts converted to Catholicism in 1846, they started [a movement] and about fifty persons are reported to have followed them into the church; among them were Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.” The couple was baptized 8 October, 1847, in Chambly, Quebec, Canada.
Professor Jeremiah K. Durick of St. Michael’s College wrote in the church publication Our Sunday Visitor of 2 August, 1953, that—surprisingly—the Tuckers did not suffer social backlash from their conversion. This fact was put down largely to Nathaniel Tucker’s affability and hospitality at their Pearl Street mansion. In 1853, the Tuckers would hold a reception there for the installation of Bishop Louis DeGoesbriand (1816-1899). The mansion, now known as the Deming-Isham House, still stands in Burlington and is listed on the Library of Congress Register of Historic Buildings.
Nathaniel’s Father, the nervous and irascible Nathaniel, Sr., died on 2 Aug 1857, in Bellows Falls. By that date, it had become clear that Nat-Nat and Maria would have no son to extend the line of Nathaniels. Whether there were miscarriages is unknown, but no children were born of the marriage. It may have been a great sorrow to them, but the couple may have accepted it as God’s will and as a mandate to dedicate themselves entirely to their faith and community.
Tucker was 47 when the Civil War began. A man of his age could not be expected to fight, but he could serve in other ways. First, he was an inspector of ordnance at Reading, Pennsylvania, then on 13 June, 1864, he enlisted as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Volunteers Paymaster’s Department and was promoted to full major on the same day. In this capacity, he became a military paymaster who served with the soldiers in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Carolinas.
On March 12, 1866, Tucker was appointed as brevet lieutenant colonel. The 1866 Executive Journal notes his nomination by President Andrew Johnson thusly: “Additional Paymaster Nathaniel A. Tucker, United States Volunteers, for faithful services in the Pay Department, to date from February 7, 1866.” After the war, Tucker was given a position in Washington, D.C., with the Bureau of Preferred Claims of the War Department. He mustered out 1 February, 1869, and returned at last to Burlington.
On the day of the 1870 Census, the reunited Tuckers—now 50-somethings—lived alone in Bellows Falls in the old mansion on Pearl Street. On the official document, Nathaniel listed his profession as “merchant” and stated he possessed real estate worth $25,000 (more than $450,000 today); his wife listed her own personal income as $20,000.
The 28 February, 1873 edition of the Burlington Free Press reported that in January 1871, Tucker suffered a stroke that resulted in some paralysis from which he quickly recovered. Sadly, only a few months later, another stroke crippled him. “From that time onward, he was an invalid, confined most of the time to the house, his powers failing by successive strokes…. For two weeks before his death he lay motionless and speechless, yet perfectly conscious, indicating by his eyes and the feeble motions of his lips, his recognition of his friends and the attention shown him. He bore his struggles with unexampled patience, accepted the offices and consolations of religion, and passed away at last without a struggle” on 25 February. Maria, the article noted, had scarcely left his side for eight months.
Nathaniel Amory Tucker was described by the newspaper as “a man of wide acquaintance with men and things, of quick and generous sympathies, and an interested and intelligent observer of public affairs. He was fond of society and gifted with uncommon powers of anecdote and conversation, which with his genial temper and kindly humor, made him a delightful companion. His integrity and frankness won him the respect of all who knew him, and few citizens of Burlington were ever more missed than he when his patriotic duty and subsequent disease withdrew him from daily intercourse with the community.”
Nathaniel was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Burlington. He was outlived by his mother, Catherine Geyer Tucker, who died in 1875. Maria lived on in Pearl Street with her niece, Jane A. Hugh, and several servants, in the home her family had filled—a house that she and Nathaniel once hoped to fill with their own brood. She lived on until the summer of 1904, when the Burlington Free Press announced her death in the 21 July edition. After 30 years, she returned to Nathaniel’s side. Ω
My attention was drawn by the unusual name carved into one tombstone: Raisin Pitts, a Confederate private who died 26 September, 1862, now buried in a Yankee town in a Union state, far from home.
Recently, and quite serendipitously, I visited Mount Olivet Cemetery—the preeminent burial grounds of Frederick County, Maryland. Francis Scott Key, who in 1812 wrote the poem that became the National Anthem, reposes there. Also interred at Mount Olivet are prosperous Victorians and Edwardians, Colonial and Federal-era area residents moved from their original gravesites in small family plots and cemeteries around the county, and Civil War soldiers who fought for the Confederacy but breathed their last as Union captives.
It was Confederate Memorial Day, a solemn remembrance of which I was unaware when a friend and I decided to visit the cemetery. We found Mount Olivet’s Confederate graves bedecked with flags. Reenactors laid wreaths after a small, bagpipe-led parade.
My attention was drawn by the unusual name carved on one tombstone: Raisin Pitts, a Confederate private who died 26 September, 1862, now buried in a Yankee town in a Union state, far from home. My curiosity propelled by his unusual—and unlikely—name, I decided to search for more about Private Pitts.
I have apparently not been alone in my quest. Several weeks later, during a visit to the Pry House, where some 800 wounded soldiers were treated during and after the bloody Battle of Antietam, I mentioned to staff member Katie Reichard that I was writing about an oddly named soldier buried at Mount Olivet. She immediately asked, “Is it Raisin Pitts?” Several years ago, another historian held a program about Pitts at Pry House, she said. Reichard added that he had reached my same conclusions about one soldier proposed to be Raisin Pitts but had not mooted an alternate identification.
According to his stone, Raisin Pitts belonged to the 6th Alabama Infantry, 2nd Brigade, under command of Colonel John J. Seibels. It was established in May 1861, containing 1,400 men divided into 12 companies. The recruits were drawn from Autauga, Henry, Jackson, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Russell, and Wilson counties. Company B, headed by Captain J. M. Kennedy, was known as the “Loachapoka Rifles,” as the company was accepted in Confederate service at Loachapoka, Lee County, Alabama, for a one-year term of service.
Shotgun’s Home of Civil War provides a concise summary of the action the 6th Alabama saw up to the date of Pitts’ death: “Its first service was at Corinth. It was soon ordered to Virginia, and during the winter of 1862, was stationed far in front of the army, at Manassas Junction. Its first serious battle was at Seven Pines, May 31 to June 1, 1862, where the regiment was greatly distinguished, losing 102 officers and men killed and wounded, including Lieut.-Col. James J. Willingham, Maj. S. Perry Nesmith, and Capts. Thomas Bell, Matthew Pox, W. C. Hunt, Augustus S. Flournoy and John B. McCarty. The Sixth served in nearly all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, including Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862; Cold Harbor or Gaines’ Mill, June 27th and 28th: Malvern Hill, July 1st to 5th; Boonsboro, September [14th]; Sharpsburg, September 17th.”
Returning to Private Pitts, I wondered whether “Raisin” was a nickname or whether “Raisin Pitts” was an entirely false moniker, provided to his Union captors as he lay wounded? Whilst possible, the latter is unlikely, as there is no evidence of captured soldiers hiding their identities except in extremely select cases. Providing a false name could mean that loved ones would never know the soldier’s fate—something that was understandably important to the majority of them.
What is demonstrably true, however, is that Raisin Pitts was neither of two men previously proposed (and conflated) by other researchers: Erastus J. Pitts and Erastus T. Pitts.
The Erastus J. Pitts who served with the 6th Alabama, Company B, is without doubt Erastus Jesse Pitts, born 10 January, 1836, in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, to farmer Jesse Pitts (1812-1855) and his wife Martha Bryan (1815-1854).
After his parents’ deaths in the 1850s, Pitts relocated to Alabama and enlisted in the 6th, Company A, on 11 May, 1861, in Abbeville, Jefferson County. Later, he transferred to Company B. His unit participated in the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland, and in its aftermath, Pitts was only tentatively accounted for.
Extant Confederate records note that during October, November, and December, Pitts was “sick at some unknown hospital since 25 September.” Other records show that on 18 October, he was admitted to hospital at Camp Winder, one of the largest Confederate medical facilities, located in Richmond, Virginia—quite a distance from Sharpsburg. Records show he remained at Winder until 15 December, when he was transferred to a hospital in Danville, Virginia. He remained there until 30 January, 1863, then returned to active duty. The only clue about what led to this four-month hospital stay is the word “debilitas” written by the category “complaint.” The term was used by the era’s medical practitioners to denote overall weakness and feebleness and is more of a descriptive than a diagnosis.
After rejoining his unit, Pitts left further documentation of his service: He was paid and reimbursed for clothing on 3 November, 1863, and again one year later, in November 1864. He appeared on a muster roll of September 1864 and on a payroll of 1865. Erastus J. Pitts eventually ended his long Confederate military service interned at Point Lookout on the farthest tip of Southern Maryland. He was taken prisoner at Petersburg, Virginia, and arrived at the peninsular Union prison on 11 April, 1865. Several months later, he swore an oath of loyalty to the renewed United States, was released, and returned to Alabama—years after Raisin Pitts was laid to rest in Mount Olivet.
On 21 September, 1867, Pitts married Samantha J. Haughton in Henry County, Alabama, and took up, or returned to, a livelihood of farming. In May 1894, through the U.S. Government’s Homestead Act, Pitts was deeded 160 acres in Houston County, Alabama. The 1900 Census places him, still farming, in Brantins, Geneva County, Alabama. Before the 1910 Census, Pitts had removed to Holmes County, Florida. He died there on 10 January, 1909, and was buried at Sandy Point Cemetery, Ponce de Leon.
The second individual associated with Raisin Pitts is Erastus T. Pitts, the son of Robert G. Pitts (1822-1850) and Adeline Nell Deshazor (1822-1890). He was born 10 July, 1848, in Shelby County, Alabama. His father died unexpectedly when he and his brother were toddlers, and the extant tangle of estate paperwork indicates his widow Adeline was left in a precarious financial state. She married again soon after, but the social status of the Pitts boys appears to have been permanently impacted. Erastus T. Pitts went on to farm in Shelby County with his first wife Emiline E. White (1840-1872), whom he wed 27 December, 1868. After her early death, he married Louisa Laura Crowson (1851-1925), who bore him eight children. Later in life, he took up carpentry and died intestate in Birmingham on 24 April, 1927. He is buried in Union Baptist Cemetery, Lipscomb, Jefferson County.
Erastus T. Pitts, who was a young teen when the 6th Alabama Infantry formed and who was technically underage during the duration of the war, left behind no record of Confederate military service.
Having determined who Raisin Pitts was not, the focus now shifts to whom he might be. “Civil War headstones, especially those with errors, reflect the limitations of record-keeping of the era,” the National Park Service points out at the Andersonville (Georgia) Prison Historical Site. Andersonville’s historians freely admit that their database and military tombstones are rife with errors, and it is certain that the Union also made plentiful mistakes in the rolls and on the burial markers of their prisoners. If Raisin Pitts, with his Southern drawl, was asked his name as he lay wounded, in agony, or slipping in and out of consciousness, it may be that the Union questioner merely misheard and misrecorded the proffered response. It is also possible that a later transcription error is to blame. The result of either mistake is carved in stone at Mount Olivet today.
A search through 6th Alabama Infantry service records for soldiers with the last name Pitts led me to this man: Drayton Pitts, who enlisted as a private for a 12-month term in Company J of the 6th Alabama Infantry on 15 May, 1861, at Montgomery, Alabama.
Drayton Pitts was born to Amassa Pitts (1788-1857) and Catherine Pitts (1802-1857, daughter of Caleb Pitts and Frances Cole) in about 1833. According to the 1850 Census, his family worked a farm in with real estate valued at $4,000 in Newberry County, South Carolina. Amassa Pitts had been previously married, so Drayton’s siblings included half-brothers Michael, Giles, and Joseph, as well as full siblings Abner, Permelia, Ira, Hillery, Sandford, Rueben, Rachael, Susan Jane, Pamela, and Frances Ann.
Like Erastus J. Pitts, Drayton Pitts appears to have migrated to Alabama after the death of both his parents. By the day of the 1860 Census, he was in Russell County, Alabama, and was enumerated as “Dratin” Pitts on land farmed by the Law family.
A letter appeared in the 20 July, 1861 edition of the Opelika, Alabama, newspaper Southern Republic composed 5 July from Sangster’s Crossroads, Virginia, by a soldier of the 6th Alabama, who signed himself “J. M. P.” The soldier wrote, “On Friday morning, June 28th, a scouting party of eleven men from each of our four companies…were detailed under the command of Capt. [Walter H.] Weems to proceed in the direction of a place called Accotinck and find out the strength of the enemy there.” The men afterward continued on toward Union-held Alexandria.
The extended reconnaissance included hunkering down in the woods for a night and being brought a stout breakfast there by local sympathizers, hearing from a “friend” that “a tory named Gilliham had gone into Alexandria…to inform [the Union] of our whereabouts,” and eventually coming within sight of Union armaments at Alexandria while marching quietly “in our stocking feet, with boots and shoes in our haversacks.” The group was eventually spotted and the reconnaissance ended in a skirmish that included hand-to-hand fighting during which J. M. P. saw Captain Weems shoot several Union attackers.
Against the odds, the group made it back to the Confederate camp, where “all had given us up for lost, as General Ewelle had sent the Battalion a dispatch that we had been captured.” Only one of the Confederates had been lost. “His name was Hayes and he was from Richmond, Va. Our boys recovered his body, but could not carry it with them. We [later] learned that the ladies of Alexandria had it interred in a splendid metal casket…. Your humble correspondent was also reported dead, but I knew it was a lie as soon as I read it,” J. M. P. joked.
Among the men with Weems and J. M. P. on this mission was Drayton Pitts. The published detailed letter provides a singular window into his life as a soldier and may explain his eventual promotion to 2nd Lieutenant: He was a man willing to take risks.
During a reorganization at Orange Courthouse in March 1862, Pitts was reassigned to Company F. Afterward, he moved with the 6th Alabama Infantry in the same pattern of battles as did Erastus J. Pitts, surviving Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, and Malvern Hill. Then came South Mountain.
South Moutain, part of the Blue Ridge, is a meandering behemoth, rocky and beautiful. The battle that roiled upon and around it on 14 September, 1862, was fought over control of three gaps in the mountain—Crampton’s, Turner’s, and Fox’s—that provided passage east and west. It was a resounding Union victory that set the stage for the Battle of Antietam only a few days later.
Before the battle, Henry Tisdale of the 35th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, penned his feelings, which could have easily been those of Confederate Drayton Pitts: “Prospects of our getting into action before night multiply causing a sort of feverish excitement to come over me. Help me my heavenly Father to do my duty in thy fear and for glory for Christ’s sake, Amen.”
Tisdale was shot in the leg that day and lost a quantity of blood. Whilst retreating toward the medics, he recalled that “a wounded rebel who was sitting against a tree called me and asked me if I did not have something to eat. Exhibiting a loaf and going to him I opened my knife to cut off a slice when he placed his hands before his face exclaiming ‘Don’t kill me’ and begging me to put up the knife and not to hurt him. Assuring him I had no intention of hurting him I spoke with him a little. Found he had a family in Georgia, that he was badly wounded and was anxious to have me remain with him and help him off. But found I was growing weaker from loss of blood and that the surging to and fro the troops about us made it a dangerous place so limping and crawling was obliged to leave him and move for the rear.”
That day, the Confederates forces, which numbered approximately 1,800, suffered 325 killed, 1,560 wounded, and 800 missing. One of these casualties was Drayton Pitts. The October returns for Company F reported that Pitts was “Absent. Wounded in battle Sept. 14 ’62 and captured by the enemy.” His company was at that point unaware Pitts was dead. By November, it understood his fate. The return stated that Pitts “died in October of wounds suffered at Boonsboro.”
After the Battle of South Mountain, whilst their wounded soldiers “still lay sprawled unseen among the craggy terrain, the Confederates began their retreat from the slope,” wrote Kathleen A. Ernst in her seminal work, Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign. Drayton Pitts may have been one of those left behind on the field.
What happened to Union soldier Henry Tisdale after he was shot may mimic some of what wounded Drayton Pitts experienced. Tisdale was first treated in the garden of a nearby home then moved back to one of the many temporary military hospitals quickly assembled in places such as Middletown. Eventually, he would be sent to Frederick. Indeed, the aftermath of 14 to 17 September would see approximately 8,000 wounded from both sides trundled into the overwhelmed city on a steady flow of horse-drawn Union ambulances.
Lavinia Hooper, a girl of nine when the casualties began arriving in her town, later wrote, “I can recall standing on Market Street, which was a dirt road then, and how we used to watch the wagons bringing the wounded into Frederick for us to look after. There was so much blood dripping out the backs of the wagons and falling on the dirt road, that eventually the mud became red as the wagon wheels plowed through the streets.”
At first, Union doctors must have thought Drayton Pitts could survive. It seems unlikely that under the new triage system developed by Union Medical Director Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Pitts would have been sent on the long, bumpy ride—perhaps first into Middletown and later Frederick—taking the place of a soldier with better chances. Once arrived, Pitts would have been admitted to a building commandeered as a hospital—possibly the Birely Tannery—and treated as competently as possible in the midst of the madness that only escalated as the days passed.
If the tombstone in Mount Olivet is at all correct, Pitts failed to improve, then began a steady decline that ended on 26 September. He may have succumbed to infection, gangrene, dehydration from diarrhea, or perhaps his wounds were never survivable. Whatever caused Drayton Pitts to pass from life, my hope is that he went quietly, with a kindhearted stranger by his side.
Drayton Pitts’ family may not have known of his death for some months, but his siblings were definitely aware by July 1863, when a sale of their late brother’s personal property raised $399.25 in Confederate money. (The goods included a grey mare, a black-headed cow, a red cow, a red heifer, a white heifer, and a feather bed and coverings. Drayton’s younger brother and executor Rueben Pitts bought the bed for $32.) In early November, the dead man was commemorated by his elder brother Abner, whose wife Mary Goodwin Pitts gave birth to a son they named Drayton Abner (1863-1943).
For reasons unclear, settling Drayton Pitts’ estate took years. Finally, on 21 December, 1869, Rueben filed documents with the probate court attesting that all surviving family members received their share and that those to whom his late brother owed money were paid. This is the final mirror glimpse of Drayton’s short life.
I believe that the evidence supports a conclusion that Raisin Pitts, who has lain in Mount Olivet for more than 150 years, was Second Lieutenant Drayton Pitts of Company F, 6th Alabama Infantry. But whether or not my conclusion stands the test of further research, it is clear that whoever the brave Alabaman was, his true identity deserves to be established and memorialized beneath a new headstone. Ω
A selection of vintage images from my collection featuring sitters whose identities, sadly, are unknown.
All images copyright the Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
These early Eastman Kodak adverts entice by their gauzy nostalgia, leaving us longing for Auld Lang Syne.
See more via Tim Jeffers’ The Witchery of Kodakery. Ω