Fort Woodbury is built.

Fort Woodbury drawing (Twiss Collection) site

A wartime drawing of Fort Woodbury which was probably done by a soldier in the Fourth Michigan Infantry.

Fort Woodbury drawing #2

A similar wartime drawing of Fort Woodbury with a few subtle differences, apparently done by the same artist.

Fort Woodbury

This engraving of Fort Woodbury in September of 1861, was printed on letterheads and envelopes used by some of the men in the regiment during the war.

Fort Woodbury by Lt. Charles Gruner

Fort Woodbury, as depicted in a panel of Lieutenant Charles Gruner’s first print of war-time scenes of the Fourth Michigan Infantry.

Company K at Fort Woodbury Image~

Eight soldiers of Fourth Michigan Infantry’s Company K, pose for a photographer during their stay at Fort Woodbury in September of 1861.

According to page 108 in the book “Mr. Lincoln’s Forts, A Guide to the Civil War Defenses (New Edition), written by Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen (published by Scarecrow Press in 2010 :

“The fort (Woodbury) was named in honor of Brigadier General Daniel Phineas Woodbury, who died of yellow fever on August 15, 1864, at Key West Florida. Fort Woodbury was built on land owned by John Lamden and was a lunette with a stockade gorge. The fort’s perimeter was 275 yards and had emplacements for thirteen guns. The armament consisted of five 24-pounder guns, three 30-pounder Parrott rifles, four 6-pounder guns, and one 24-pounder Coehorn mortar. The fort contained two magazines and bombproof barracks.”

Fort Woodbury was actually named after the commander of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, Colonel Dwight Woodbury, who was in charge of the forts completion and occupation by the regiment in September of 1861. While it may, or may not have, had emplacements for thirteen guns along it’s perimeter, the three period drawings of the fort indicate that only five were in place. Private Eri House of Company K, one of the two companies manning the fort’s guns, stated that there were eight 24-pound guns mounted in the fort by the the time of his letter, dated September 1, 1861.

According to Cooling and Owen’s book, there are currently no visible remains of the fort which was located at what is now the intersection of Troy Street North and Court House Road in Arlington, Virginia. However, a historical marker pertaining to the fort is located at 14th Street and Court House Road.

Accounts of Fort Woodbury from the the men of the Fourth Michigan Infantry

Several letters from soldiers in the Fourth Michigan Infantry make reference to the fort, it’s construction, and dedication to Colonel Woodbury. One of them, seen here, was written by Lieutenant Harrison Jeffords of Company K on September 21, 1861.

jeffords-letter-dated-9-21-1861-d

Sergeant John Bancroft wrote this entry in his diary….”Aug. 16th (Fri.) — Pack up and move back one-half mile nearer the river. We are to build a fort. Raining yet.”

A few days later John wrote…. “Aug. 20th (Tues.) — On guard as Serg’t of the Guard. Our new camp commands a fine view of Georgetown and Washington. We are in the trenches building a fort. The works are being put forward as fast as possible.”

Bancroft goes on to write in his diary for the days of August 28-31 …”Aug. 28th (Wed.) — In the morning were out again. Work on the fort has been done by the 4th Michigan assisted N.Y. 23rd.

Aug. 29th (Thurs.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.

Aug. 30th (Fri.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.

Aug. 31st (Sat.) — Work on the Fort. Nearly finished.”

Taken from a letter written by Private Eri House (of Company K) dated August 25, 1861, we read …” We are building a fort. We will not be able to use it in this battle if they keep advancing. It is very lazy business for me to be a soldier. I have got the birth of wagoner. It’s a very good birth. I am excused from all duty. The boys have all got  to dig in the fort. The sergeants and the corporals, it makes them growl.”

Private Eri House wrote again about Fort Woodbury on September 1, 1861….”We are in a fort. We have built a fort here. The name of it is Fort Woodbury named after our Colonel. She has eight large guns — twenty-four pounders. Co. K and Co. F will man the guns. ¹ Solomon Wilsey will be the captain of K’s guns. We have a very good fort. The Potomac river is lined with soldiers. I think Washington is well guarded. The secession troops are advancing on us all the time. They are building forts in four miles of ours. We can see them shoveling dirt. We expect an attack every day — perhaps before tomorrow morning. We are getting well prepared for a fight. All we want is men enough to slay all they can produce. We want to take everything clean when we commence again. It will be a very tough battle.”

On September 1, 1861, Private Elum J. Todd  (of Company H) wrote from “Camp Union” (which was the name of the regiment’s camp that was located adjacent to the fort during its construction)…. “We have been building a fort and we have got it almost done. We have got two of the big guns mounted. They are thirty-two pounders. We shall soon have  it done and the guns all mounted.”

In his letter dated September 7, 1861, Corporal Austin T. Smith ( of Company K) wrote… “We have been to work building a fort which is now finished and we are now at work on a breastwork which, after being completed, will be about three miles in length. But we are not alone in this job. We have got to build about a hundred rods of it, and we shall have our part of it completed by next Sunday, if we have good luck.”

Private Alanson Piper (of Company B) wrote about the work on the fort in his September 8, 1861 letter which was co-written with his brother, Private Abel Piper ( also of Company B) …” We have got our fort almost done and will finish it in a few days. We are also building breastworks about a 1/2 mile long from our fort to another.”

Sergeant William Eaton (of Company A) wrote in this in his letter dated September 11, 1861…. ” You will not find anything of importance in the news line as I know of none to write for we have been having a very monotonous life for the last four weeks fortifying ourselves against an attack from the enemy. We are now situated on the Virginia side of the Potomac about 2 miles west of Georgetown where we (our brigade) have built quite a large fort where we have 4 large 32-pound siege guns and one mortar mounted ready to give the rebels the Military salute should they approach our line. From where we are camped we can see 7 large forts. I think if they should attack us, they will meet a much heartier reception than they are aware of.”

On September 14, 1861, Private Charles W. Phelps (of Company D) wrote this paragraph in a letter…. “Last night our pickets were driven in about a mile and the secesh burnt a number of houses and barns. They made a splendid light. We were all called out in battalion order. Under there was eight regiments, two batteries of artillery, and one cavalry company, and (we) were behind a breastwork which runs from our fort (Fort Woodbury, named after our Colonel) to the fort north of us.” This indicates that the breastworks that the regiment had been working on ran between the two forts.

Sergeant Hubert Dwight Smith (of Company H) wrote in his letter dated September 14, 1861….”`You inquire how I spend my time. It is about as you supposed, only I do not consider that being a Picket Guard worse by any means than drilling, or working on our entrenchments. Our pickets occupy a very responsible stand when on duty and [it] causes them to feel that dignity and manhood, which the position inspire in a true soldier.

I cannot give you a very accurate description of our forts & c. but will try and draw a crude diagram to represent the forms.

First a fort (#1) [at] the level of the ground.

(#2) a step [up] of four ft.

(#3) top of step and sustains the foundations of the cannon.

(#4) top of embankment, about six feet wide, and the guns are set down so as to [be] on a level with it, and so arranged to be turned either right or left., as necessity demands.

(#5) is the trench 14 ft. wide and ten deep.

(#6) solid earth. The sides are lined with thoroughly packed sod. The front, or entrance side, is guarded by picket posts ten feet high and six or eight inches in thickness, the sides hewn so as to meet closely, forming a light wooden wall with portholes to shoot out from.

Breastworks are in this form. (see diagram) We stand in the trench to load, step up on 1st step with our foot on second, fire over the top, fall back and load, while the rear rank performs the same. The steps are all well sodded and look very nice. The particular names for this is various steps, slopes, and c. & c. about the fort and the other, I have not learned. So please do not show this to anyone.”

On the following day,  September 15, 1861, Sergeant Hubert Smith wrote….” Last night (September 14, 1861), while on parade, the Adjutant read the order [of] Gen. McClellan, calling “a small fort thrown up and built by the 4th Mich. Regt. by the name of Fort Woodbury” so that instead of writing from Camp Union, we address you from a more honorable station. Our Col. made some very appropriate remarks, stating his surprise of the honor shown him–the name being solicited by the Regt., unbeknownst to him”.

G. O. # 9 Fort Woodbury Sept. 9, 1861(a)

G. O. # 9    Gen. George B. McClellan, Headquarters Army of the Potomac     Sept. 9, 1861

G. O. # 9 Fort Woodbury Sept. 9, 1861(b)

Article XVII of G. O. # 9   September 9, 1861   “The naming of Fort Woodbury”

On September 16, 1861, Henry N. Strong, the chaplain of the Fourth Michigan Infantry, gave the following address during the occasion of “The Raising of the “Stars & Stripes” over Fort Woodbury”. It’s very probable that this speech was delivered as part of a regimental ceremony dedicating Fort Woodbury in honor of their Colonel Dwight Woodbury….

 “Officers and Soldiers:

 Ye may remember to have read that years ago, certain presumptuous men, in a distant Land , went out from their Legislative Halls to enact the solemn farce of burying the Bible. They may have dreamed, in there hours of madness, that by their act, they would blight the hopes of immortal men, and, in perpetuating their malice towards God, perpetuated the miseries of their countrymen.

 Others, equally misguided, dwelling in a portion of this fair Country, not long ago, in spiteful mockery, buried the Stars and Stripes; our Nation’s Flag; and covered it with the soil which its free folds alone had consecrated.

 But ye have learned, among those other sacred letters of the nursery, that death has in itself the seed of future life; that burial is God’s prophet of a coming resurrection.

 That buried Bible lives! It’s light and life are shared by millions of faithful men; our houses and hearts by it are hallowed. That buried Flag-striped with our Father’s blood; starred with the symbols of God’s protecting and defending love-yet waves our flag, on many a hill top, above many domes; yea, still waves over our threatened Capitol.

 Ye are summoned here to defend it, and in the laws of God, His Government in America. It means peace in the homes ye have left, quick at the hearthstones where your dear ones kneel; and reunion with them is hinge upon its triumph over rebellions

 Today it floats above this fabric, reared mainly by your hands. Given to the breeze amid our prayers, you my comrades, will turn every eye on me , and respond with the noblest resolution of your souls, while I say to these commanding officers, who are exercising  God’s authority over us, not as expressions of the impulse of the occasion, but as the educated purpose of our hearts; – Lead us where ye dare lead brave men, and we will prove the words of our gallant Colonel to be true. Words, uttered when he  received at the hands of the fair women, the miniature color of his Corps; -“Sooner than trail to treason, this Flag shall become the Pall of the Regiment.”

In his letter dated September 21st, 1861, Private William Lindsey (of Company H) wrote…. “I hurt my back lifting on the cannon [while] helping [to] mount it and have not been able to stir around much since.”

Private Elum J. Todd also wrote “We have moved from our old camp where we built the fort.” in a letter dated October 3rd, 1861.

On October 5th, 1861, Sergeant John Bancroft again wrote “Last week we took up our encampment at Fort Woodbury and moved it, clearing up stumps and grading the streets in the nicest order, making one of the finest camps this side of the river and as oftentimes we have left it”

There is also an account of the Fourth Michigan Infantry while it was stationed at Fort Woodbury that is written by Private Matthew Baird, from Company E of the Third Michigan Infantry. The diary entry is shown here with the transcript of the relevant entry shared below it.

Matthew Baird of Company E of the Third Mich. Inf. August 26, 1861 diary entry

August 26th,1861 diary entry of Private Matthew Baird, of Company E, Third Michigan Infantry. He writes about his visit with the Fourth Michigan Infantry at Fort Woodbury. This Matthew Baird diary for 1861 was provided through the courtesy of the Historic Charlton Park collection in Hastings, Michigan.

Transcription

 “August 26th   Today I paid a visit to the 4th Mich. Regt. to see one or two old acquaintances. This is a healthy robust looking regiment. It is stationed a half a mile west of Fort Corcoran and formed part of Sherman’s brigade. The 4th is at present engaged in building another fort on a commanding situation to the right of their camp. The work has progressed finely since they began. The boys seem to be in good spirits, jovial, and full of life.”

That “Tasseled Hat”

A Peculiar Form of Headgear

It’s pretty safe to say that many Civil War enthusiasts have seen the image shown below at some time or another. It’s been published in a several books covering various topics of  the American Civil War. Some may even remember it when it was on the cover of the November / December 1994 issue of  “Military Images”, a very popular magazine among collectors of Civil War photography.

Landscape

Pvt. Richard Cramer; Library of Congress

The reason behind the popularity of the image obviously varies among it’s viewers.  Some simply appreciate the youthful spirit and innocence found in the young man, an honest portrayal of an amateur soldier who’s about to discover the horrors of war. Others see the content and clarity of the image as an perfect example of the talents of Matthew Brady (and his staff) during the early infancy of Civil War photography. Military collectors may find the soldier’s “battle-shirt”, or the knife and pistol tucked into his federal regulation belt, as the items that attract them to this military portrait from the fall of 1861.

All of these attributes were of significant importance to me as well. But they were secondary to the fact that the soldier in this image was from the Fourth Michigan Infantry. Based on an inscription found on the back of a similar photograph, he is identified as Private Richard L. Cramer of Company I, Fourth Michigan Infantry. You may notice in this image that he is seen wearing the “Canadian Hat”, a peculiar form of headgear worn by several  Fourth Michigan soldiers during the late summer and fall of 1861. Credit for the earliest use of this hat’s moniker has been given to Frank T. Miller’s Semi Centennial 10 volume collection of books entitled “The Photographic History of the Civil War” published in 1911. We have only speculation as to how he came up with that name for the hat at this time.

The Fourth Michigan Infantry however, was not the only Civil War regiment to wear this sort of hat during the war, so one has to be careful in assuming that soldiers photographed wearing similar styled hats were from this regiment. Over the course of twenty five years I have seen several images misidentified as being men from the Fourth Michigan Infantry, simply because of a close resemblance in headgear on the soldier. Due to this concern, I decided to assemble a collection of images of men who were “conservatively” identified as members of the Fourth Michigan Infantry and wearing “Canadian Hats” in order to form a basis for a comparative analysis. The forty images found below are the main core of that group, and as noted, are identified with substantial confidence as men who served in the Fourth Michigan Infantry.

Canadian Hat Group # 1 copy

Please keep in mind that as you scan the various portraits you must take into consideration the type of the photograph (tintype / photo on sheet metal, ambrotype / a photo on glass, or albumen / a photo on paper) that was taken for each of these soldiers. Additionally, the lighting used to take each image will have a significant effect on the shades found within it. The photo’s contrast and clarity are also very important for the purpose of our comparison. Unfortunately, the original photographs themselves are over 150 years old, and were taken by both amateur, and professional photographers with their varying portrait setting conditions in which to perform their task, that of creating a “likeness” of the soldier.

 

Canadian Hat Group # 2 copy

Over the years I have seen several soldier’s photographs which were improperly described as being that of men from the Fourth Michigan Infantry. But in reality, they weren’t. Otherwise unknown soldiers photographs were being given this identification based on the fact that the subject in their image was wearing a hat “similar” to those seen above. Most of the time there was nothing else to support the owners claim with regard to provenance or image content. So the key word here for their misunderstanding is of course, similar with regard to the headgear. In many of those situations the photo was being offered for sale to me, and so it became crucial to establish some form of criteria for a comparative analysis of headgear in order to determine a more confident link to the Fourth Michigan Infantry.

So I came up with these points to consider:

The color of the hat

The hat’s material and form

The location, color, and style of the hat’s tassels

The hat in connection to other content of the photo

I will continue this study in an upcoming blog as time permits.

To Begin With…..

National Cemetery

 

Creating and managing a website dedicated to the Fourth Michigan Infantry and its role in the American Civil War, was never written on a “to do list” at any point in my life. In fact, neither was the idea of becoming a researcher / historian for that regiment. But yet, here I am posting my very first blog on this website. On this site I hope to share with you much of the information that I have gathered over several years while researching the history of the men of the Fourth Michigan Infantry. This website, and much of the information found on it, was only made possible by the assistance of so many great people that have led me to this point. I’ve listed many of them on the home page of this site as a credit to  them for their contribution and encouragement. I ask that you visit that page in recognition of their support.

 So how did I get here?

Back in 1968, I remember bringing books home from the school library that I believe were published by American Heritage, among others. Through those books and the wonderful maps found inside, I had developed a passion for European and American military history, especially the conflicts from the time period of the mid 1700’s up to and through the 1860’s. Napoleonic styled warfare seemed to just fascinate me, and I spent a lot of my “homework” time reading about the battle of Waterloo, the American Revolution, the French and Indian War, and the American Civil War instead.

David Greenspan-Chickamauga

An example of the wonderful drawings found within the American Heritage series of books published by Harper and Row.

As I grew older my military interest eventually focused on the Civil War exclusively and  I began collecting items pertaining to the “War Between the States”. In 1986 I had been operating an antiques business for a couple of years and a “picker” came into my shop. After selling me a van load of antiques and collectibles, he offered to sell me a brass  belt plate with an eagle cast into it. It appeared to be of military origin and so I took a chance, paid him his asking price of $20, and started on my very expensive way down the road to collector’s poverty. In case you’re wondering… after a little research, I learned that very first relic in my new hobby was an authentic Federal Pattern 1851 waist belt plate, which I still have to this day.

 

My buckle (a)

The front of my pattern 1851 Officer’s belt plate, my first Civil War relic.

 

My Civil War collecting interests were pretty broad for the first few years and I bought items from both “sides of the fence”, discovering in the process that items from one side (the Confederate) were typically much more costly. Due to that fact, most of the items I had purchased were from Union soldiers. I had purchased a few canteens, about four drums, three swords, an artillery jacket, a Federal forage cap, etc., etc. A few years later I acquired my very first Civil War image, and that’s when things went to whole new level in the “What in the world are you doing with all of your money?” routine often discussed in marriages. After spending a few years and several thousands of dollars in Civil War images, I came across the historical account of a local hero from here in my hometown, Dexter, Michigan. It told of the heroism of Colonel Harrison Jeffords, an officer of the Fourth Michigan Infantry. I read of his patriotic sacrifice made while attempting to retrieve the Fourth Michigan’s flag in “The Wheatfield” at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, and I knew that I had finally found my calling. However, it was financially impossible for me to continue collecting other relics and photographs if I was to  pursue this newly found “Holy Grail”. So I sold all of my image collection as well as my relics, except that belt plate of course, and began passionately seeking all things “Fourth Michigan Infantry”.  In the future I will write another blog where I will share the trials and tribulations that I came across as a “regimental specific” Civil War collector rather than take it up here. 

This newly discovered collecting interest eventually made me realize that research was going to be a very fundamental requirement if I wanted to fully appreciate where all of my time and money was disappearing to. And so I began. I traveled to the National Archives in Washington D.C. several times over the ensuing years scanning, or ordering hundreds (of the 2000 plus) military files for the men of the Fourth Michigan. I visited many museums and libraries, both large and small, in an effort to get copies of many of the letters, photos, and diaries that you’ll find on this site. My search had led me to  dozens of the various battlefields on which the regiment fought or were present at approximately 150 years earlier. At some point along the way, I expanded my effort and took an interest in  locating and recording the graves of the men of the regiment. That led me to travel to over 400 cemeteries across a dozen or so states. That too, will quite likely probably be the topic of another blog here in the future.

As the years went by and my collection and research records grew, it became apparent to me that I needed to share what I had gathered over the last twenty five years or so. In actuality, I was obligated to do that, not only for the sake of those men who served, but for those who had entrusted me to do something relevant with the contributions they had made over the years on my behalf.

A couple of books had been written about the regiment during the last several years but I found that they had major limitations that a website would overcome. Unlike a printed account, within this website you’ll find not just portions or excerpts of letters or diaries written by those that were actually there, but rather the whole letter and the complete diary of the soldier, thus enabling you to get a better and more accurate sense of what they themselves wrote, thought and felt. This site provides scans of the actual letters when available, and transcriptions as accurate as possible (while acknowledging the possibility of human error on my part) of those letters as well as the diaries I’ve shared. In addition to that, changes and corrections can, and will be made, when errors are discovered, which are quite unlikely in a book, unless it is reprinted or an addendum is issued.

So in summary, while I never would have thought that years ago I would create this web-site, a passion, an obligation, and the assistance of many wonderful friends and colleagues led me to do just that. It’s been a tremendous and exciting undertaking and I hope that it’s worth your visit. I invite you to follow along as we together look into the life of the soldiers of the Fourth Michigan Infantry during the American Civil War.

 

Just out of the box

 

Private William Newell papers

Imagine if you will, a very large box filled to the  top and overflowing with documents filled with information about the Fourth Michigan Infantry. As you reach into that box and sort through the papers, you categorize and file a great majority of it. After a short period you find that you have some really viable and interesting information, something  that obviously should be shared, but on it’s own, separated from those items and documents that have already been categorized and posted on other pages of this site. This blog is where many of those treasures will be shared.