In 1864, George Blessing, “Hero of Highland,” bravely battled Confederate raiders on his farm near Wolfsville, Frederick County, Maryland, but the real man and his deeds became almost unrecognizable in popular retellings.
John Caleb Leatherman (1852-1952), who was a child during the Civil War and a neighbor of the man who would earn the sobriquet “Hero of Highland,” told a Hagerstown Daily Mail reporter in 1950, ”Boy, that ol’ George Blessing was a spunky one. Those Rebels were trying to get a hold of all the horses they could. When [my] Father heard about it, he took his horses up into Pennsylvania. Not George Blessing—he just stood pat on his own farm there.”
A barnyard shootout at Blessing’s Highland Farm took place on 9 July, 1864, the same day that the Battle of Monocacy was fought only a few miles away on the outskirts of Frederick City. At the end of that month, the Frederick Examiner ran a letter to the editor, suggesting “the raising of a sum, by the contributions of Union men … for the purpose of procuring a medal, with the appropriate device and inscription, to commemorate [Blessing’s] noble feats of that occasion.”
In the years that followed, the grandiosity of the tale and the pious nature of the hero was escalated by his niece, the writer Nellie Blessing Eyster, who published grandiose versions in both a noted ladies magazine and in her 1867 novel Chincapin Charlie. In the latter, she called him “one of Nature’s noblemen,” wrote that he was possessed of a “strange power” from “living so close to Jesus,” and that as he was “thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ’76, loving the government for which his fathers died, next to the God whom he so devoutly worshipped … he defended his home from what he sacredly believed an unrighteous invasion.”
“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.”
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.
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 was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”
To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey Richborough P.D. Bucks County Pennsylvania C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey Please forward
High Point April 27th ‘84
Dear Cousin Anna,
Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.
I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.
“Many cultures accept the faulty nature of memory. They know even the photograph only gets it halfway right. They believe there is only one way to bring the dead back to life, story.”― Jon Chopan
This beautiful young woman was photographed somewhere in the antebellum United States in about 1852—a date I assign for two reasons. First, the fashions she wore, which include a distinctive corset type, ribbon choker, and an open-front bodice—all styles that were enormously popular in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Second, ambrotypes, which are produced by a wet-plate collodion process invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer, became commercially available in 1852, so the image cannot date any earlier.
The subject was surely not more than about 18 years old when photographed and she appears to wear a wedding ring, making it possible that this is a bridal image. At some point, a large curl of her thick brown hair, still as glossy as the day it was cut, was tucked behind the ambrotype packet between slips of newspaper. The text of the newsprint is largely advertising for several companies in northern states, but there is also a mention of the Union occupation of Memphis, Tennessee, which began in June 1862. Together, these facts make it likely the young woman belonged to a northern family.
“Poor boy! I never knew you, yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.”―Walt Whitman
The carte de visite (CDV) shows the young and almost impossibly handsome John Van Der Ipe Quick, born 27 August, 1829, in Lodi, Seneca County, New York, northwest of Ithaca. The CDV is a copy of an daguerreotype that was taken in about 1850, probably when he reached the age of 18.
John’s parents were farmer and Reformed Dutch Church member Christopher Quick and his wife Ellen Van Der Ipe, who was the daughter of John Van Der Ipe and Harriet Ten Eyck. Christopher Quick was born in South Branch, Somerset County, New Jersey, 14 August, 1798, to Abraham Quick (1766-1819) and Catherine Christopher Beekman (1766-1848). Abraham Quick, was, in turn, the son of farmer and Revolutionary War soldier Joachim Quick (1734-1816), who had been born in Harlingen, Somerset County, New Jersey, 22 July, 1734. His tombstone can be found in Harlingen Reformed Church Cemetery, Belle Mead, New Jersey. His wife, John’s great-grandmother, was Catherine Snedeker (1739-1815).
The final resting place of Joachim Quick, Revolutionary War soldier and John Quick’s great grandfather.
The gravestone of Abraham Quick, John Quick’s grandfather.
John’s father Christopher’s union with Ellen Van Der Ipe, who was born 3 November, 1798, in Neshanic, Somerset County, resulted in three daughters: Harriet Ten Eyck Quick, born 30 November, 1822; Maria (b. 1825, died young); and Catherine (b. 1827). After John arrived two more sons followed: Abram, born in 1832, and James, born in 1838. But the Quicks soon may have felt this verse from Job spoke to them most particularly: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.”
The 1840s began pleasantly. Eldest daughter Harriet married Cornelius Peterson (b. 1823) on 8 December, 1841. Tragedy struck hard, however, when paterfamilias Christopher Quick died at age 44 on 9 January, 1842. At that time, the recorder of deaths at the Farmville Reformed Dutch Church had the habit of noting a biblical verse by the name of each entry; for Christopher Quick, he chose Mathew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Christopher was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Interlaken, Seneca County, New York. In his Will, he bequeathed each of his children $100. His wife was left in charge of his property until his youngest child turned 21, then his estate was to be evenly divided between the children with one-third for his widow.
Harriet became pregnant at about the time of her father’s death, and her first child, a son named Christopher Quick Peterson in honor of his grandfather, was born 8 November, 1842. A life was taken and a new life given, but the cycle was far from finished: The youngest Quick, James, died 29 November, 1843, aged four years, eight months, and 15 days. (The registrar of deaths chose Isaiah 3:10: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.”) The following year, John’s sister Harriet bore another son, Peter. In 1848, there was the birth of a third son, John Bergen Peterson, as well as the death of John’s little brother, Abram Quick, on 18 April, aged 16.
The 1850 Census enumerated the surviving Quick family in Lodi, with mother Ellen Quick running the family farm valued at $5,500. John was a laborer there, along with 14-year-old William Peterson, who may have been brother-in-law Cornelius’s younger brother. There was one more birth—that of Harriet’s son Abram, on 16 April, followed in short order by the death of John’s sister Catherine Quick on 1 October. A final Peterson child—this time a daughter named Mary, was born 1 November, 1856. (Happily, all of the Peterson children thrived and lived into the 20th century.)
A decade later, on the 1860 Census of Covert—a Seneca County town not far from Lodi—Ellen, John, and William Peterson lived with Hannibal and Maria Osborn and their children—the Quick family farm presumably sold. Osborn was a sawyer—a man who sawed wood, particularly using a pit saw, or who operated a sawmill. John and William were listed as sawyers as well, and this may have been where John’s career rested had the Civil War not removed him from his native state.
John joined the Union Army on 6 August, 1862, at age 29, for a three-year term, entering as a private in the 126th New York Infantry, according Civil War muster roll abstracts. In his enlistment records, John was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and standing 5’8″.
By September 1862, John was in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). On 12 September, the troops of Confederate Major General Stonewall Jackson attacked and captured the Union garrison stationed there. The muster rolls state that John surrendered to the enemy on 15 September and was paroled 16 September. The Union Army: a History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861-65, explains, “The men were immediately paroled and spent two months in camp at Chicago, Ill., awaiting notice of its exchange. As soon as notice of its exchange was received in December, it returned to Virginia, encamping during the winter at Union Mills.”
The muster rolls note that John was present during the entirety of 1863, which means that he fought at Gettysburg. According to the regimental history, “In June, 1863, [the 126th] joined the Army of the Potomac, and was placed in Willard’s Brigade, Alex. Hays’ (3d) division, 2nd corps, with which it marched to Gettysburg, where the regiment won honorable distinction, capturing 5 stands of colors in that battle. Col. Willard, the brigade commander, being killed there, Col. Sherrill succeeded him, only to meet the same fate, while in the regiment the casualties amounted to 40 killed, 181 wounded and 10 missing.”
A monument to the 126th can be seen at Gettysburg today. In part, it reads: “The regiment was in position two hundred yards at the left, July 2 until 7 p.m., when the brigade was conducted thirteen hundred yards farther to the left and the regiment with the 111th N.Y. and 125th N.Y., charged the enemy in the swale, near the source of Plum Run, driving them there from and advancing one hundred and seventy-five yards beyond, towards the Emmitsburg Road, to a position indicated by a monument on Sickles Avenue. At dark the regiment returned to near its former position. In the afternoon of July 3rd it took this position and assisted in repulsing the charge of the enemy, capturing three stands of colors and many prisoners.”
From 5 to 24 July, the 126th pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee to Manassas Gap, Virginia. By October, it was fighting in the Bristoe Campaign, followed by the battles of Brandy Station and Mile Run.
The muster rolls state that John Quick was on furlough from 6 to 16 February, 1864, presumably visiting his family in Seneca County. Once he had returned, he was promoted to corporal. His regiment had been hard hit by losses and seasoned men were being elevated to replace the dead. Returns from Fort Wood, Bedloe’s Island, New York City Harbor (where later the Statue of Liberty would be built), place John there in April 1864, where he was amongst the “enlisted men casually at post” on the 25th of that month.
Between 5 and 7 May, John fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, where the regiment lost five men, 62 were wounded, and 9 went missing. Just a few days later, he was at Spotsylvania Court House, where six died, 37 were wounded, and seven went missing.
The 126th saw further action at Totopotomy, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, the Siege of Petersburg, and Deep Bottom. But it was at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, where John’s luck ran out. According to the website for the battlefield’s preservation, “On August 24, Union II Corps moved south along the Weldon Railroad, tearing up track, preceded by Gregg’s cavalry division. On August 25, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth attacked and overran the faulty Union position at Ream’s Station, capturing 9 guns, 12 colors, and many prisoners. The old II Corps was shattered. Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock withdrew to the main Union line near the Jerusalem Plank Road, bemoaning the declining combat effectiveness of his troops.”
It appears that amongst the many prisoners taken was Corporal John Quick. The muster rolls called him “missing in action at Ream’s Station since Aug. 25 ’64.” Another notation stated, “Captured Aug. 25.” It is believed that more than 2,000 Union soldiers were taken prisoner that day. However, in the correspondence of the Ontario County Times dated three days after his supposed capture, Quick was seemingly still with his unit:
“Casualties of the 126th Regt. N. Y. S. V.
Headquarters 126th N. Y. Vols.,
Camp near Petersburg, Va. Aug. 28, 1864.
To the Times:—The following is a list of the casualties of the 126th in the [battle] of Ream’s Station, Aug. 26th:
Killed—George M. Fuller, Co. D.
Wounded—Corp’l John Quick, Co. C, face; Aaron H. Abeel, Co. E, leg; Chas. Wolverton, Co. E, neck; 1st Sergt. Cornelius Alliger, Co. I, leg.
Missing and supposed to be prisoners: Sergt. Martin McCormick, Co. B; Isaac Miller, Co. C; Alex. Wykoff, Co. C; Michael Cunningham, Co. D; Chester B. Smith, Co. E; Andrew J. Ralph, Co. G; Edgar T. Havens, Co. G; Nathan D. Beedon, Co. B; Charles H. Dunning, Co. B; Frank Dunnigan, Co. G.
None of the wounds are necessarily fatal. I have prepared this list hastily.
J. H. Wilder, Capt. Comd. Regt.”
The extent of John’s face wound, and how, when, and for how long he remained in Confederate hands is unclear, although the military records all indicate that he was indeed a prisoner of war at some point. After his capture at Ream’s Station, he may have been sent to Libby Prison in the Confederate capital, Richmond. Another soldier taken that day, George E. Albee, 3rd Wisconsin Light Artillery and Company F, 36th Wisconsin Infantry, was sent there, as noted in his 1864 diary. He was eventually exchanged and lived to rejoin his family. Another captured soldier from Ream’s Station was Edward Anthony of the 3rd New York Cavalry; Anthony was also held at Libby then Andersonville Prison, and died of an unknown illness in Macon, Georgia, that September. Others captured that day ended up at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.
The final muster roll notation was that handsome Johnny died 4 April, 1865, “of disease,” with a note appended beneath, “in Rebel prison.” However, a pension application submitted on his mother’s behalf noted that “John Quick died 4 April, 1865, at Harrisburg, Pa. (Camp Curtin) of typhoid fever and scorbutus [scurvy].”
A Federal training camp named after the Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, “Over 300,000 soldiers passed through Camp Curtin, making it the largest Federal camp during the Civil War. Harrisburg’s location on major railroad lines running east and west, and north and south made it the ideal location for moving men and supplies to the armies in the field. In addition to Pennsylvania regiments, troops from Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and the Regular Army used Camp Curtin. The camp and surrounding area also saw service as a supply depot, hospital and prisoner-of-war camp. At the end of the war, Camp Curtin was used as a mustering-out point for thousands of troops on their way home. It was officially closed on November 11, 1865,” states the Camp Curtin Historical Society.
Camp Curtin’s hospital was John Quick’s last stop on a long road through a terrible war. Weakened by a facial wound and a sojourn as a prisoner of war that resulted in scurvy, this brave man who had survived the carnage of countless battles and skirmishes finally succumbed, so very close to home. His death was not by a bullet or bayonet, but by a disease born of contaminated water or food. Typhoid is excruciating, with high fever and diarrhea that leads to dehydration, delirium, intestinal hemorrhage, septicemia, or diffuse peritonitis. We can only hope that John passed quickly. He was most likely rapidly buried at Camp Curtain in a grave unmarked today.
As for his mother Ellen Quick, the pension application states that “credible witnesses testify that all the property of claimant consists of the income of seven pe’ct interest on $1200. Support by son shown before and after enlistment.” John, it seems, had sent his pay home to his mother. On 13 January, 1866, Ellen was granted a pension of $8 per month, backdated to April 1865.
Four years later, Ellen was listed the 1870 census of Covert, dwelling with her son-in-law, 49-year-old retired farmer Cornelius Peterson, and her daughter Harriet. Ellen, who was then 71, was listed as having no occupation but she had real estate valued at $1,400. She died 8 August, 1878, at age 79. Harriet lived more than three decades afterward, dying 14 December, 1914.
After his tragic death, the 1850s daguerreotype—most likely the only image of John Van Der Ipe Quick in existence—was taken to a studio so that CDV copies could be made for his mother or other relatives. Never a husband and father, the image is John’s only legacy. Ω