Danville’s First Killed in Action, Rebels Vanish, and Vermont Soldier Gives Birth

The May 17 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly featured a dramatic Winslow Homer illustration of Rebel Soldiers. The image is captioned, “Rebels Outside Their Works at Yorktown Reconnoitering with Dark Lanterns – Sketched by Mr. Winslow Homer”. The image is an impressive illustration of well equipped and disciplined confederate troops on a reconnaissance mission.

By Gary Farrow, member Danville Historical Society

Danville’s first direct war casualty comes home. The Federals gain the upper hand at New Orleans, and the rebels in Yorktown disappear. Meanwhile there is a little miracle on Ship Island.

North Star May 10, 1862

Death of a Danville Cavalry Soldier

We regret to announce the death of corporal John C. Chase, who belonged to Co. D. 1st Cavalry, a resident of this town, and who enlisted last fall and served under Capt. A. W. Preston. He received a mortal wound on the 27th …under the following circumstances. On that day, an expedition was sent up in pursuit of Ashby’s Cavalry, in the Valley of the Shenandoah … Orders were given to pursue Ashby’s Cavalry, who occupied a small village about 12 miles from Harrisburg.

Co. D. of our Cavalry led by Lieut. Cummings was then ordered to charge through the village which order they executed in fine style, driving the enemy completely across the river. It was while making this charge that Corporal Chase was wounded – not by the regular army foe, but by a pistol fired by some one from the window of a house – the ball entering into his hip and pressing into his abdomen. Chase did not notice the wound at the time but road forward and ran down one of the rebel cavalry, taking him and his horse prisoner.

He soon however became faint and called upon his brother soldiers for help, who came up assisted him off his horse, and he was taken to camp where his wound was dressed, and afterwards was conveyed to the hospital in an ambulance. He lived but 24 hours retaining his faculties to the last…

…The funeral took place at the Methodist Chapel in the village, last Thursday in the presence of sympathizing friends. The deceased was buried with full military honors… The funeral procession was escorted to the grave with martial music, and a guard of soldiers. The coffin was draped in the American flag… The scene was solemn and impressive – the last sad rite, that of firing a volley over his grave – and the brave soldier was “left alone in his glory.”

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The Vermont Cavalry’s Corporal John Chase lost his life in an engagement against Ashby’s Cavalry, part of Confederate Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. The Jackson forces conducted a guerrilla hit-and-run operation within the Union’s interior lines with a series of minor battles over the course of 48 days. This tied up three Federal armies (52,000 men), which would otherwise have been supporting the North’s offensive to take Richmond.

Entering the Army relatively late in life, 37, Chase was well regarded by his Company. Upon his death, his colleagues chipped in $150 to provide a metallic coffin and transport his body back to Danville. His service was held at the Methodist Church next to the Danville green.

Prior to joining the service, he was active member of the congregation and volunteered as the head Sunday school teacher. Each Sabbath he would walk the two miles from his home in Greenbank’s Village and back again.

Corporal Chase was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery (now called Danville Green Cemetery). His tombstone reads:

Servant of God, well done
Thy glorious warfare is past
The battle is fought, the race is run
And thou art crowned at last

Eventually 130 of his colleagues in the Vermont Cavalry would suffer the same fate.

North Star May 10, 1862

From the Potomac Army
Operations Against Yorktown
The Rebel Army Compelled to Evacuate Yorktown
Large Amount of Property Abandoned
Our Troops in Possession of the Enemy’s Works
The Enemy Pursued by Our Army

First Despatch Washington May 14 12:30 P.M.

The following report has just been received from Fortress Monroe: –

“Yorktown was evacuated last night. Our troops now occupy the enemy’s works. The enemy left a large amount of camp equipage and guns, which they could not destroy for fear of being seen.”

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The Confederate army was in bad shape. They were extended across the Virginia peninsula from York on the York River to Walnut Creek, where the Vermont Brigade had sustained their casualties; not only outnumbered ten to one, the Southerners were in disarray over the transition between expiring enlistments and the implementation of conscription.

But they did manage to buy some time through a bit of trickery. Confederate General John B. Magruder marched a couple of thousand troops through a small clearing within site of the Federals and brought them back around again through a small forest and repeated the exercise over and over. Consequently General Heintzelman, who was leading the federal advance, reported back to McClellan that the Confederates were well fortified with many more coming to the front. However, rebel command knew the ruse could not go on forever and that the position was ultimately untenable, and they withdrew.

North Star May 17, 1862

Battle of New Orleans–Rebel Treachery

Com. Porter states that after the forts had agreed to surrender, and while he was in the

Commodore David Porter commanded an independent flotilla of mortar boats at the capture of New Orleans. Later, he was advanced to the rank of (acting) rear admiral in command of the Mississippi River Squadron, which cooperated with the army under Major General Ulysses S. Grant in the Vicksburg campaign.

cabin of the Harriet Lane, under a flag of truce, drawing up articles of capitulation with vessels of the fleet all around him, the rebels were employed in towing an iron floating battery of 18 guns – … to place above the forts, set fire to the battery and turned adrift upon our vessels. Com. Porter asked the rebel General aboard his ship (who was present to sign the papers of capitulation) if the battery had powder or guns aboard – The General replied he did not know.

The Commodore told him that he and his men could stand the fire and blowup if he could, and went on with the conference, after directing his officers to look out for their ships. While drifting on us, the guns getting heated, exploded throwing the shot about the river… Had she blown up near the vessels, she would have destroyed the whole of them.

Com. Porter afterwards took prisoners the officers and men engaged in this business and put them in close confinement. He thinks they should be sent North and kept in close confinement until the war closes or be tried for their infamous conduct in violating a flag of truce.

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New Orleans is located 105 miles upriver from where the Mississippi enters the Gulf, At the 30 mile mark confederate forts St Phillip and Jackson lay across opposite sides of the river protecting against a further advance towards the city. Com Porter’s role in the federal invasion was to lay waste to these strongholds so that the rest of the navy could safely pass. His flotilla pumped 13,000 mortar shells into the two forts while the rebels sustained a loss of four men killed, fourteen wounded and only seven guns disabled. The forts could not be disarmed so the Navy had to fight its way up river.

Once Admiral Farragut’s ships came on Lake Pontchartrain, they were at a higher sea level than nearby New Orleans. This would have allowed them to rain shells down upon the city. The Confederates had no choice but to evacuate.

North Star May 23, 1862

War and General Items

A letter to a person in Brandon, from Ship Island, says that a Vermont private on guard

Frances A. Clayton, a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War.

there fell sick one night and was taken to the hospital, where the soldier gave birth to a child. The soldier and young recruit are doing well.

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Over 400 women, besides nurses, served during the conflict. No doubt there were a few more “Civil War” babies born along the way.

North Star May 31 1862

The Wounded Vt. Soldiers

The Burlington Free Press of last week says – By the kind permission of Dr Thayer, we spent an hour or two recently at the Marine Hospital, now occupied as an Army Hospital filled with Vermont troops wounded at Yorktown…

The wounds are of all descriptions, the majority, however, being in the legs and thighs, showing the rebel soldiers fired low.

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Some of the patients’ recuperative success was attributed to Vermont’s clean air.

 

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