Sunday, May 3, 2009

Words and Sounds of the Civil War

Presented by Bebe Brock, Bob Ward and Carl Copp, April 11, 2009

Every two years the five libraries of Dennis, MA, host a month-long community event called Dennis Reads Together. The theme this year was the American Civil War and featured displays, talks, movies, book discussions, music, genealogy, and crafts centering around the Civil War era. The program culminated with a Civil War reenactor's encampment on the Dennis Green and a concert by the 2nd South Carolina String Band.

On Saturday April 11, 2009, and dressed in costume, CCGS members Bebe Brock, Bob Ward and Carl Copp shared their connections with the Civil War through the "Words and Sounds of the Civil War" program at the Jacob Sears Memorial Library in East Dennis, MA.

Bebe Brock
Bebe Brock's Civil War ancestry traces back through her great-great-grandmother Sarah Freeman Cornish from Plymouth, who married Gorham Crosby from Centerville. Their niece, Elizabeth Cornish, married an army lieutenant, Augustus Davis Ayling, who saw action throughout the Civil War and kept a personal diary.

In his retirement, Augustus Ayling, then an adjutant general in the New Hampshire National Guard, made a typewritten copy of his memoirs. These were lost until nearly 50 years later when Bebe's father, Charles F. Herberger, found the copy at the Centerville Historical Society. Her father edited the diary and published it under the title A Yankee at Arms : The Diary of Lieutenant Augustus D. Ayling, 29th Massachusetts Volunteers.

Reading from her father's book, Bebe shared some of Lt. Ayling's Civil War experiences with the audience. She cited several instances where soldiers on picket duty would converse across the lines, knowing that one day they would eventually be shooting at one another. One night Lt. Ayling got lost in the woods, but could hear muffled voices nearby. Fearing he was among the enemy, he tentatively called out and was relieved to discover he was among a company of Union soldiers 150 yards away from Ayling should have been. Embarrassed, Ayling retuned to his own company.

Bebe has Civil War connections also through her Crosby line and recently discovered another Civil War ancestor, Philander Keith, from Bridgewater, MA. Bebe suggests using the Massachusetts Civil War Research Center at http://www.massachusettscivilwar.com. "If you're looking for Massachusetts Civil War names," she says, "it's a great place to start." Once you have a unit or regiment name, she advises, you should follow through with looking up the name by unit in Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, which will give you home town and other information.

Bob Ward
Bob Ward read selections from the Civil War letters of his great grandfather, Col. George H. Ward, who commanded the 15th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteers and was killed at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

Col. Ward and his wife, Emily E. Mayo, who were both born and married in Worcester, MA, exchanged nearly 300 letters during the Civil War. Bob read selections from his great-grandfather's letters, some of which described his being quartered in once-beautiful mansions now in near ruins because of the war, and his candid impressions of superior officers. Perhaps the selection most remembered by the audience was this paragraph from Col. Ward's last letter home, written about a week before he was killed at Gettysburg:

I am writing this out of doors in the open field. I have just reached down and plucked a leaf of clover which you will find enclosed. It was right by my foot and I send it as a memento. I am afraid we have not seen the worst of this rebellion yet and I almost shudder at the thought of what we are to pass through before this struggle is over, but I still trust and believe that all things will turn out well.

Were it not for the housekeeper of one of the Colonel's descendants, the letters and other items in the Colonel's collection would have been lost. They ultimately made their way to the Worcester Historical Museum, where Bob and his father, CCGS member David Ward, "discovered" them on an "ancestor-hunting expedition in the early 1990s," according to Bob. "We both became very excited and have since examined the collection entirely and have learned a great deal about that generation of our ancestors." Bob relates the letters are now being prepared for publication.

Bob has numerous ancestors who served in the Civil War on both sides of his family. In addition to Colonel George H. Ward, there were his two brothers Charles A. and Samuel S. Ward; and a half-brother, Henry C. Ward. On his mother's side was his great-great grandfather Elijah Huested of Cedarville, NJ. Bob has several Civil War ancestors among collateral lines as well.

Carl Copp
Carl Copp, a descendant of Union soldiers and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, gave a live demonstration of some of the bugle calls used by the US Army during the Civil War and later.

"Calls were used to order movements during battle," explained Carl. "Bugles and their calls were designed to be heard over the din and confusion of battle." Bugles were also made with varying pitch and timbre, depending on their specific use. Many buglers in the Civil War were often young teenagers, according to Carl, since boys beyond that age usually carried guns. Not only buglers, but officers had to know and be able to play the calls used to order troops during battle.

Since bugle calls could be heard so clearly over the noise of battle, they could be heard by the enemy. "It was like spying by picking up the enemy's codes," said Carl. Generally it was too late to react by the time you heard the other side's buglers, he added.

Carl is a member of Bugles Across America, an organization that locates and provides certified buglers for military memorials and funeral services for veterans. Choosing a bugle from among the collection he brought with him, Carl gave the audience a moving rendition of Taps.

Carl found the Civil War pension records to be most helpful in tracing the lives and activities of his two Civil War descendants: Charles Dearborn Copp, who was a Medal of Honor winner at Fredericksburg; and John Copp, who was wounded at Olustee, FL, and a POW at the Confederate prison at Andersonville, GA.