How the awesome power of highly caffeinated coffee may continue to shape Union soldiers’ Afterlives.
On a chilly, drizzly day in March 2018, my lifelong boon companion Julie and her daughter, my honorary niece, joined me for a day trip to Gettysburg. My niece had never visited the town or battlefield before. In addition to seeing the historical sites, she was keen to undertake some EVP/ITC recording with her “Weird Aunt,” as I’m known to her circle. That day, we combined the driving tour and the ghost hunting, practicing what I call a “drive-by”—rolling the vehicle to a stop, lowering the window, turning on an iPad ghost box app and digital recorder, and inviting anyone present to speak.
(Electronic voice phenomenon, or EVPs, are recorded human voices that appear with no explanation across the spectrum of audiovisual technologies. The messages are often evidential, personal, and thought-provoking. Instrumental Transcommunication, or ITC, uses various forms of electronic devices, such as the so-called ghost box, to generate white noise or randomly generated phonemes from which it is theorized that spirits can shape speech.)
After purchasing an excellent driving tour CD with the marvelous Stephen Lang narrating, we set off, shortly reaching McPherson’s Ridge and the railway cut near the McPherson farmhouse, which saw heavy engagement during the first day of fighting. Before the battle, the area was excavated, but no rail tracks had been laid. This made a perfect spot for entrenchment by both sides as the battle lines shifted throughout the day.
What we captured there included the following:
Male voice one: What’s the coffee?
Male voice two: Official dark boots.
The audio file below repeats the sequence four times—twice at normal speed, once slowed, and once slowed with noise filtration.
At the time we recorded this exchange, I was unaware of the primacy of highly caffeinated coffee in the day-to-day lives of military men trying to get through the next chilly morning, the next hard march along muddy and rutted roads, or the next siphoning up of courage for a battle they might not survive.
“Coffee was often the last comfort troops enjoyed before entering battle, and the first sign of safety for those who survived,” John Grinspan, curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, wrote in a July 2014 New York Timesarticle. Union quartermasters issued each solder 36 lbs. of coffee beans per year, which the men roasted and ground themselves. Some of them used a Sharps coffee grinder carbine to do the latter, wherein the normal cartridge box built into the shoulder stock was replaced by a grinder with a detachable handle.
“Reading their diaries, one can sense the delight (and addiction) as troops gushed about a ‘delicious cup of black,’ or fumed about ‘wishy-washy coffee,'” noted Grinspan. “For much of the war, the massive Union Army of the Potomac made up the second-largest population center in the Confederacy, and each morning this sprawling city became a coffee factory. First, as [one] diarist noted, ‘little campfires, rapidly increasing to hundreds in number, would shoot up along the hills and plains.’ Then the encampment buzzed with the sound of thousands of grinders simultaneously crushing beans.”
To underscore exactly how much coffee meant to the average Union soldier, Grinspan tallied up how often the word coffee appeared in diaries and letters. The total was much higher than for words such as “war,” “mother,” and others that should have weighed on the mind of a soldier.
Confederates, on the other hand, used their ink and paper to complain that their coffee wasn’t worth a hill of Yankee beans (because it wasn’t coffee, but a grain- and vegetable-based, noncaffeinated horror show), and how annoyed they were that the enemy had the consolation of the good stuff.
In 1888, Union veteran John D. Billings wrote in his book Hard Tack and Coffee about the lives of Civil War soldiers, “What a Godsend it seemed to us at times! How often after being completely jaded by a night march—and this was an experience common to thousands—have I … made and drunk my pint or so of coffee and felt as fresh and invigorated as if just arisen from a night’s sound sleep!” Other soldiers referred to the dark brew as their “nerve tonic,” and when rations ran short, fumed that “no one can soldier without coffee.”
From the sound of things, they still can’t.
My friend, my niece, and I wonder whether we recorded two Union soldiers in conversation, one referring to the coffee aptly and humorously as “Official Dark Boots” in the same way we name our coffee blends—for example, “Wake the F$%# Up,” “Feels Like Flying,” or “Fog Chaser.” The beans, received from the quartermaster, were indeed official and boiling the grounds in a mucket would result in a black brew that provided them a figurative kick in the pants and give them the will to march. Ω
“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
“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The above daguerreotype, which includes a 20th-Century handwritten note indicating it was once held in the collection of the Ossining, New York Historical Society, shows Avis Burr Wooster in about the fifty-fifth year of her life.
Avis was born on 26 May, 1796, in Southbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, in the ember glow of a hot century that had seen Connecticut change from a British colony to a sovereign state inside a new nation. By the time the Revolution exploded, Southbury was already a venerable place, having been established on land bought from the Paugusset tribe in 1659. The area remains much as it was in Avis’s day: rural, agricultural, quiet.
The Burr family’s transplantation to the New World was courtesy of Jehue Burr, born in about 1605, who sailed with Governor Winthrop to Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1630. Jehue eventually removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, and planted the seeds of a lineage that would include the noted vice president and unfortunate dualist Aaron Burr. Avis’s line was through Jehue’s son Nathaniel (1635-1712) to Avis’s great-great-grandfather Colonel John Burr (1673-1750) to her great-grandfather Captain John Burr (1698-1752) to her grandfather of the same name and rank (1728-1771), who married Eunice Booth (abt. 1728-bef. 1786) circa 1750.
Avis’s father, William Burr (23 June, 1762-28 Jan., 1841), lost his own father tragically when he was less than ten years old. According to the parish record of Stratfield, on 28 July, 1771, “Capt. John Burr, a farmer, son of…John Burr, was killed by lightning at the old Pequonnock meeting-house…. The congregation was standing in prayer. Parson Rose stopped praying, and after a pause he uttered the following words, ‘Are we all here?’ When the congregation moved out it was found that David Sherman and John Burr were dead. They were both in the prime of life, with families (the very pick of the flock). There was no rod on the steeple at that time.”
A mere five years thereafter, when the Revolution began, teenaged William Burr joined the Connecticut Militia, enlisting on 1 April, 1776. His pension files, included in the tome Revolutionary War Records of Fairfield, Connecticut, indicate that his postings were many and varied, and that he served for a time as a substitute for another man, Andrew Curtiss. One of Burr’s postings was to the “Battery at Black Rock,” or Black Rock Fort in New Haven, later Fort Nathan Hale. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution note, “Fort Hale is situated upon an insulated rock, two miles from the end of Long Wharf, New Haven…. The Americans [had] a battery of three guns upon this point, which greatly annoyed the enemy when landing.” Many years later, Aaron Turney of Fairfield attested that in 1779, Burr was 1st sergeant at the battery and second-in-command under Captain Jarvis. Burr appears to have left military service sometime in 1780.
Having reached manhood during the fight for independence, Burr beat his sword into a plowshare, marrying Sarah Hubbell (1770-1857), the daughter of Jeremiah (1725-1801) and Sarah (1724-1775) Hubbell, on 23 November, 1786. The above-cited pension records include testimony by friend Aner Wheeler, who was “born and lived in Sarah’s neighborhood, and knew her from childhood,” that she “saw William Burr and Sarah Hubbell married in Huntington in the fall of 1786” by Congregational Minister Rev. Elisha Rexford.
The couple was blessed with a multitude of children whose names and dates of birth were presented by Sarah Hubbell Burr during her attempts to gain a pension increase and land bounty based on her husband’s service. Although it may at first seem tedious to list them, doing so illustrates the spacing between infants that was either natural to, or practiced by this American family, and is illustrative of the sibling maelstrom in which Avis Burr was raised: Alvan (1788); Abigail (1790); Sally (1792); Betsey (1794); Avis (1797); Olive (1800); George (1803); Erastus (1805); Eliza (1808); Harry (1811); and William, Jr. (1814).
As is sadly the case with bygone women, there is little to fill the story of Avis’s days until 15 November, 1820, when she married farmer Russell Wooster (b. 25 April, 1791) in Southbury. Wooster was the son of Joseph Wooster (abt. 1743-1819) and Hannah Woodruff (abt. 1755-1835). He was descended from the early immigrant Edward Wooster, born in 1622 in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, who became the first permanent settler of Derby, Connecticut, and died there 8 July, 1689.
Whilst running a prosperous farm (the value of the real estate was $6,000 in 1870), Russell and Avis had four children: William Burr (1821-1900); Cynthia Cordelia (21 Dec., 1824-17 Aug., 1868); Samuel R. (22 April, 1830-5 Feb., 1906); and Avis Amanda (1839-1889).
Avis’s eldest daughter Cynthia—whose strong resemblance to her mother is evident in the photo below—married Thomas Merwin Downs (15 July, 1823-19 Feb., 1874) on New Year’s Day 1845. Downs, also pictured below, was the son of Henry Downs and Sarah Ann Botsford. He was listed on the 1850 Census as a farmer, and on both the 1860 and 1870 censuses as a “laborer.” By the latter enumeration, two years after his wife’s death, he had amassed $5,500 in real estate and $3,000 in personal wealth. The couple had three children: Imogene Amanda (5 Sept., 1847-12 May, 1881), Wilber Russell, and Avis Elena (b. abt. 1866-aft. 1931). The circumstances of Cynthia Wooster Downs’s death are unknown, but she was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia, Connecticut. Her husband would remarry, but have no further offspring.
Cynthia Cordelia Wooster
Thomas Merwin Downs
Avis and Russell’s second daughter Amanda lived with Cynthia’s widow Merwin, presumably undertaking the duty of replacement mother for her sister’s children until Merwin married again. She left the Downs’ residence by 1872, when she wed the widowed Joseph White Naramore (1827-1898), the son of William White Naramore and Mary Lyman. Naramore’s first wife, Amelia Wallace, died in 1870. Naramore listed his profession in 1860 as a machinist and in 1870 and 1880 a pin maker with $5,000 in real estate and $2,000 in personal property.
Amanda and Joseph had two daughters: Amelia Wooster (b. 1874) and Harriet Avis (b. 1875). Harriet never married and remained her mother’s companion all her life. Amelia married Harrison Abram Cornell, Jr., a fire insurance agent in Ossining, New York. They had three children: Marguerite E. Cornell (1901-1940); Joseph Naramore Cornell (b. 1904); and Greta A. Cornell (1911-1997). As was noted at the start of this article, my daguerreotype of Avis Burr Wooster was formerly in the collection of the Ossining Historical Society, and by this connection that mystery is solved: one of the Cornells certainly made the original donation.
Joseph Naramore died in 1898 in Derby, and was laid to rest at Oak Cliff Cemetery beside his first wife. In 1900, Amanda and Harriet were living with her brother Dr. Samuel Wooster, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By 1910, Samuel had passed away and Amanda and Harriet returned to Connecticut. Twenty years later, the 1930 Census found the pair living in Park Street. Amanda died in 1933, aged 96, the last survivor of Avis and Russell Wooster’s brood. Harriet died in Hamden, Connecticut, 6 December, 1957, and is also buried in Oak Cliff.
“Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings.”
On 1 June, 1858, Wooster married Josephine Ella Godfroy, who was born 28 February, 1837, in Michigan, to Detroit native Richard Godfroy and his Canadian wife Anne Lewis. Samuel and Josephine had one daughter, Louise D. Wooster, born in January 1860.
During the Civil War, Samuel Wooster was first attached as an assistant surgeon to the 8th Michigan 8th Volunteer Infantry, which, according to the unit’s Record of Service, was mustered 23 September, 1861, in Detroit.
With the regiment, Wooster saw service as part of Sherman’s Expeditionary Corps, including “a severe engagement with the enemy on Wilmington Island [and] at Secessionville on James Island, the regiment distinguished itself by a bayonet charge upon the enemy’s works, and though their ranks were swept by the enemy’s artillery, not a gun was fired until the parapet was reached.” The cost of this gallant rush on the Union side, noted the 8th’s record of service, was 13 dead, 98 wounded, 35 taken prisoner, and 36 missing.
Wooster saw the injured as they were offloaded at a wayside surgery that was hastily established. The soldiers were triaged in order to save those who had a real chance. This would become the process during the major conflagrationary battles of the war in which Wooster was a surgeon, including Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam, to name the most famous scenes of carnage—as well as many smaller, bloody affairs across a wide swath of nation busily consuming its own.
The noted Stanley B. Burns, MD, wrote in Surgery in the Civil War, “Military surgeons learned to amputate and perform a wide variety of procedures as they were actively engaged in conflicts…. Few were mentally or physically prepared, on either side, for what was to come.” Unfortunately, sterilization was unknown and unpracticed, and those who might otherwise have survived perished of post-operative infections. “Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings. Knives were often held in the mouth and sutures were wet with saliva,” Burns noted.
Another Union surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston Adams of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is the only medical officer to be honored on Gettysburg battlefield. “On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the doctor set up a rude field hospital close to the line of battle. (One flat rock that was used as a surgical table is still there.) Adams had noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care. Because he began treating patients so quickly and near the fighting, the 1895 plaque reads ‘many of our wounded escaped capture or death,’” noted his great-grandson Mitchell L. Adams during a lecture covered by the Harvard Review. “Adams…labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg—up for two days and three nights—that he was blind with exhaustion. In 1864, he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness and captured by Confederate forces. His left leg shattered, he lingered untreated for weeks. Gangrene set in, but Adams treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into the wound.”
After serving with the 8th Massachusetts, Samuel Wooster was commissioned as a full surgeon with the Michigan 1st Calvary, into which he mustered 11 April, 1863. He rose to the position of brigade surgeon in July of that year while on duty at General George Custer’s headquarters. He was made surgeon-in-chief of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Brigade from 15 September, 1863, then was appointed an acting staff surgeon by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. During this final posting, Wooster served in field and hospital practice, the Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: A Historical Account states.
After the war, Wooster practiced for a time in Muskegon, but returned to Grand Rapids in 1871. In 1874, he was one of Kent County’s two coroners, a city physician and health officer of Grand Rapids in 1880, and president of the Kent County Medical Society in 1889.
By 1900, Samuel, Josephine, and Louise lived with his sister Amanda Wooster Naramore and niece Harriett at 165 Jefferson Street, Grand Rapids. A few years later, on 1 June, 1905, at age of 45, Louise Wooster married William Cary, who was employed by a local glass factory.
In one of Fate’s weird twists, Dr. Samuel Wooster died 5 February, 1906, during an operation for chronic cystitis that sent him into shock. He was aged 75 years, nine months, and 16 days. The old doctor was buried in the mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Grand Rapids. Josephine died 20 November, 1922, after a fracture of her right hip, and was buried in the vault with her husband. Their daughter Louise died 12 March, 1950, aged 90.
“He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery.”
The Wooster’s eldest son, William, began his life “until early manhood…following the plow and tilling the soil upon his father’s farm, teaching school in the surrounding districts during the winter months,” wrote John W. Storrs in the Twentieth Connecticut: A Regimental History.
Wooster had been educated at the South Britain Academy and later Yale Law School, after which he was admitted to the bar in 1846. As the 1850s progressed and his law career grew successful, his thoughts turned to politics: In 1858, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives from the town of Derby, and in 1859 he was voted to the Connecticut Senate; in 1861, he returned to the Connecticut House. “In politics he has been a Republican from the outset, and the honesty and uprightness of his political views have been exemplified in every step of his career,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut.
William Wooster was a strong abolitionist and he viewed the war as a righteous blow to end slavery, but he was also unsure that he was fit to command men. Almost year after his younger brother had joined up, William had not gone into uniform. At last, in early September 1862, he received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Together, this group “left behind them the green hills of their fathers, left with them also their mothers, their wives, their children, and sweethearts with heroic bosoms swelling with patriotic devotion…. But alas! with a very inadequate idea as to what was to be the cost thereof,” Storrs lamented.
During in early May 1863, Wooster was in command of the 20th Connecticut during the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia—an engagement during which “two horses were shot out from under him and his sword taken,” reported the Ansonia Valley Post. He was captured and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, the Confederate capital.
“Libby takes in the captured Federals by scores, but lets none out; they are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines,” described the Richmond Enquirer in February 1864.
Wooster was paroled in a prisoner exchange in time to command the 20th Connecticut at Gettysburg as part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. The monument to the 20th Connecticut’s heroics during the three-day battle tells the tale: “The [brigade] formed on this line on the morning of July 2nd. At eve it moved to the support left of army. Returning, it found the position and woods on rear occupied by Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Corps. During the night it lay in line of battle. At dawn, July 3rd, the 20th Conn. advanced under cover of artillery and fought 5 [hours], driving the enemy and reoccupying the works. Was relieved by the 123rd N.Y. In the afternoon moved to support the 2nd Corps against Longstreet’s assault.” The 20th Connecticut suffered the loss of 28 men and upwards of 70 wounded.
On 8 March, 1864, Wooster accepted a colonelcy with the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Colored, the state’s first black regiment. “He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut. “But it required great moral courage not less than loyalty to one’s convictions, to assume the leadership of a regiment of colored men even in 1864. All honor is due to Colonel Wooster for the frankness and manliness of his course.”
When the new unit paraded in New Haven, one of the soldiers, J. J. Hill, recalled, “White and colored ladies and gentlemen grasped me by the hand, with tears streaming down their cheeks…expressing the hope that we might have a safe return.” Even so, the unit had much to fight against—not only the Confederacy, which held an estimated 4 million slaves, but also the bias and bigotry of a Northern white society skeptical that blacks could be effective soldiers.
The unit went south to Virginia, where it fought admirably to capture Fort Harrison, not far from Richmond. Then, “On October 13, the regiment participated in a scouting mission which led to the Battle of the Darbytown Road, and two weeks later the men pushed the Confederate army back at the Battle of Kell House, which resulted in over 150 casualties and many captured soldiers,” states a well-researched article on the history of the regiment at Connecticut History.
Frederick Chesson of the 29th wrote of Richmond’s fall, “We began to realize as we had not till then . . . that this was one of the great days of the Lord. Right out there in the open in sight of the flaming city we went wild with excitement. We yelled, we cheered, we sang, we prayed, we wept, we hugged each other and threw up our hats.” As it would happen, Wooster and his colored 29th were the first to enter the Confederate capital—the irony must have been great.
After the Union victory, the 29th was sent to Brazos de Santiago, Texas, arriving in July, 1865. Wooster stayed until the unit was settled, then mustered out in August. A law practice back in green Connecticut beckoned. He became a partner with Wooster, Williams & Gager then paymaster general of the State of Connecticut in 1867. In later years, Wooster was president of the Derby Gas Company and the Birmingham Water Company.
At census time, 1870, William Wooster, aged 48, lived alone in an upscale rooming house in Birmingham, Connecticut, but later that year he married 37-year-old Jemima A. Wallace, known as “Jay,” who was born in New York 11 October, 1833, daughter of the prominent industrialist and English immigrant Thomas Wallace. Her father’s company, Thomas Wallace & Sons, was founded in Ansonia in 1848 and incorporated in 1853. It produced rolled metals, drawing wire, and finished items such as library lamps until 1895.
The Woosters traveled extensively after their marriage, spending several years in Europe. William’s passport application gives us a glimpse of him at age 60: 5’6-1/2″, with a high forehead, blue eyes, a Roman nose, small mouth, medium chin, and brown hair shot with grey.
On 21 September, 1900, the Ansonia Valley Post reported, “Colonel William B. Wooster died suddenly at his home…from apoplexy. He attended a Grand Army celebration in New Britain yesterday, and came home last night in his usual good health. Shortly after arising this morning he was taken ill and died within an hour.” His wife survived until 23 March, 1927.
Avis Burr Wooster, the mother who bore hero sons, herself the daughter of a revolutionary patriot, had predeceased William and Samuel by nearly twenty years, dying 17 September, 1881, aged 86. She and her husband, Russell, who died 23 April, 1877, are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia. I am saddened that I cannot tell her story more fully at this time and have some concerns about the latter years of her life. The 1880 census placed her at age 83 in Derby, keeping house for Ira Bliss and Emma J. (Lines) Newcomb. The connection of this couple to Avis remains unclear, as does why her two successful, wealthy sons did not house her, but this absence of facts should not impugn their characters until further research is undertaken. Ω