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Serving Uncle Sam

Sunday, November 28, 2010

As my class on the Civil War draws to a close, I remain fascinated with the matrimonials by soldiers, and here is another one. There's so much to love about these: the men themselves, of course, but even more about how informative they are. Moreso than any other ad, they give you actual, real live, facts about the people who wrote them. For example:

Three young gentlemen who have served Uncle Sam faithfully for the last three years, aged 20 and 21, and whose term of service will expire next June, and desirous of forming the acquaintance of three young and accomplished ladies, between the ages of 17 and 20, with a view for matrimony. Young ladies are required to enclose their cartes de visite, which will be returned if desired. Address in sincerity, Charles Wright, Louis Anderson, or Charles E. [?], Headquarters, Excelsior Brigade, Second brigade, Second division, Third corps, Army of the Potomac.

Let's start with the thing that "touches me to the quick," as people might have once said. If these boys had been serving for three years, that means they joined the army when they were 17 and 18. I know that people still join the army at that age today, so it's really not that young, but when I think of what they'd been through by this time, it blows me away. The Excelsior_Brigade had, by this time, fought in some of the worst and deadliest battles of the war, like the Battle of Gettysburg, which had the most casualties of any battle in the entire war (~46,000 dead, wounded, captured or missing). Seven Days (~36,000 casualties), and Chancellorsville, (~30,000 casualties), Fredericksburg (~18,000 casualties). And Charles, Charles, and Louis somehow made it through. The sad news is that they had four more months to go at the time this ad was written, and in that time fought at Spotsylvania (~31,000 casualties) and a couple other skirmishes. But they were mustered out and sent home soon after that, so, we can hope they made it through.

In addition, though, we get some pretty detailed information about these guys, and I bet with a little research it wouldn't be too hard to find out more about them. A lot of men would have just written they were in the Army of the Potomac, but these guys get down to specifics: Excelsior was in the Second brigade, which was in the Second division, which was in the Third corps, which was in the Army of the Potomac. Interestingly, they don't specify their infantry unit (I now know way more about military chain of command than I've ever wanted), but this still narrows them down quite a bit. It's possible they don't mention those because there are so few men left; I'm not sure. I can't find anything about the make-up of the brigade in a quick Google search, but I did find this monument in its honor at Gettysburg.

Anyway, that's way off topic when it comes to discussing this actual ad, but when I think about these boys in blue as having "served Uncle Sam faithfully" at Gettysburg at such a young age, I shudder to imagine what they must have gone through. And now all they want is to go home and find domestic happiness. In a strange sort of way it renews my faith in the ability of people to endure - which was, of course, what Abraham Lincoln called for exactly 147 years (and 9 days) ago.

I may go cry now.

©2010 Pam Epstein


CQ December 12, 2010 at 6:46 AM  

Charles E. Benedict?

R'n'R RN December 12, 2010 at 11:45 AM  

I'm with CQ on the subject of the creased name, and came in to the comments to see if there was any update as to the outcome of the 3 lads with more of the war to see. Fascinating stuff.

Pam December 12, 2010 at 4:30 PM  

Benedict makes perfect sense - that's probably it. Thanks!

R'n'R RN - I wish I could have an update on these boys! It's the sort of thing that with enough research I could find out what happened to them...but it'd be a LOT of research. When I'm rich, I think I'll devote myself to tracking down all the Civil War advertisers to find out their stories. But for now...

kuroneko4276 May 10, 2013 at 2:55 AM  

I found three Charles Benedick/Benedicts and three Charles Wrights in the Army of the Potomac, but no Louis Anderson.

Charles H. Benedick, age 18, served from August 31, 1862 to June 16, 1865 and was mustered out, meaning he survived the war. I think this is him, given the timeline.

And our Charles Wright is unlikely to be either of the fellows by that name who served from 1861-62 (one discharged for disability, one deserted,) so I think he's the one who served from Nov. 24, 1861, was promoted to corporal Sept. 14, 1863, wounded in action Sept. 19, 1864 at Winchester, VA and mustered out December 6, 1864. So he got promoted and was wounded, but lived.

I'm still looking for our Louis Anderson, but still, two out of three at least appear to have survived the war. I'm not 100% sure yet, because I've only had 30 minutes and I haven't gotten to the library to use the cool pay-to-see genealogy databases to find out if they ever found wives, lived happily ever after, etc, but as Jim Steinman wrote, two out of three ain't bad.

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