Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Trip to Honor My Ancestor for the 150th of Third Winchester

On Saturday morning I eagerly got behind the wheel and drove an hour west to attend a special descendants' reception at the Old Court House Civil War Museum in Winchester, hosted by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Third Winchester. This unique Sesquicentennial event, entitled "Don't Forget That I Did My Duty," brought together individuals whose ancestors had fought on both sides of the battle.

As readers may recall, I've written several times about Pvt. William Baumgarten, who served with Co. K, 102nd Pennsylvania throughout the bloody eastern campaigns of 1864. William was part of Phil Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah and participated at Third Winchester, where he was wounded slightly in the left leg. A few days later, at Fisher's Hill, William was wounded again -- this time in the left hand.

Excerpt from the Pittsburgh Daily Gazette & Advertiser, Oct. 6, 1864, showing William Baumgarten among those soldiers of the 102nd Pennsylvania wounded at Third Winchester (courtesy of Vince of the Lancaster at War blog). William's last name is misspelled here, something with which I am all too familiar!

Before going to the reception, I decided to "retrace" the footsteps of William's unit. The 102nd Pennsylvania belonged to Frank Wheaton's brigade (1st), George Getty's division (2nd), of the VI Corps. Thanks to Craig Swain's legwork, I had a good idea of where the regiment advanced against Stephen Ramseur's Confederates. On the map below, Getty's division moved east to west across the land south of the Berryville Turnpike (VA-7), parallel to and along today's Valley Mill Rd. (CR-659).

Unfortunately, much of this part of the battlefield has been forever lost to residential development. I drove along Rt. 7 through the Berryville Canyon and turned down Greenwood Rd. (CR-656) onto Valley Mill Rd. In a general sense I followed the path of Getty's men, including the 102nd Pennsylvania, but couldn't really get much of a feel for the wartime appearance of the land. And the actual ground where the 102nd marched is likely somewhere among all those homes you see on the map. I wasn't going to risk trespass charges or dog bites to walk where William may have fought, so I had to remain satisfied with an overall tour of that area of the battlefield.

Looking south from Valley Mill Rd.  near VA-7 towards the general vicinity where the 102nd Pennsylvania and other units of Getty's division advanced. This view is one of the few that is less cluttered by modern development, although housetops are visible in the distance.
Following my battlefield "tour," I arrived at the Old Court House Civil War Museum, where I joined the growing crowd of descendants. Based on a show of hands at the start of the morning's program, Union and Confederate soldiers were represented in near equal numbers, and a few people even had ancestors who fought on both sides. Given the need to find a seat and keep it, I wasn't able to mingle as much as I wanted to. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to meet two men whose family members had served with the 60th Virginia, as well as the descendant of a soldier from the 14th New Hampshire.

Kevin Walker, SVBF CEO, addresses descendants at the Old Court House Civil War Museum. Following the presentations, attendees were given free admittance to the museum's extensive collection of Civil War artifacts.

Kevin Walker, the CEO of the SVBF, kicked off the program. Calling us all "VIP guests," he observed that the descendants were "the closest thing we have" to the actual soldiers who participated in Third Winchester being there for the 150th. I looked around the room and was overcome by emotion. Here we were, a direct link through blood (or DNA, as one speaker put it) to those who had battled at Third Winchester. We all cared enough to take the time out of our busy lives to honor our distant family members who had sacrificed so much. And even though our ancestors may have shot at each other 150 years ago, today we all sat together in the same room, more alike than different, and all Americans.

A few other speakers also addressed the crowd. Gen. Duncan Campbell, SVBF Membership Ambassador, discussed his own family's ties to the battle. SVBF Chairman Emeritus Nicholas Picerno focused on the 29th Maine at Third Winchester. An avid collector of Civil War artifacts, he brought along some objects belonging to those who had participated in the battle. Picerno also told the story of the fight to preserve the Third Winchester battlefield. His group successfully saved the Middle Field, but developers beat them to most of the ground where the VI Corps was engaged.

Picerno had several of his artifacts on display, including this frock coat worn by Maj. William Knowlton of the 29th Maine, who was killed on the Middle Field at Third Winchester.
Following the program, the descendants posed for a formal group photograph on the Old Court House steps. We also broke into state groupings. These individuals all had ancestors who served with Virginia regiments. I had my picture taken with the Pennsylvania group, many of whom had ancestors with the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
All attendees received this Third Winchester Reunion ribbon, intended to replicated the ribbons worn by veterans at their reunions after the war.

My participation in the descendant reception felt like a proper way to commemorate William Baumgarten's service during the battle and the war. However, I often had a sense that something was missing. I wanted to know William -- What did he sound like? What was his personality? Why did he fight? When and how was he wounded? What did he write to the folks back home? I also wondered what William would have thought about the event that attracted so many descendants of both sides. Would he have been honored to know that I was here, 150 years later, recalling his sacrifice? In the end, I can never know. But I left the reception satisfied that I was able to represent William and remember his part fighting for the Union and freedom at Third Winchester and elsewhere.


Dick Stanley said...

Good for you, going and doing that. I did my Virginia trips back on the 125th, including the surrender at Appomattox.

Did the speakers get into the "Burning" or "Red October" where Sheridan used his victory at Third Winchester to lay waste to the Valley Early was trying to protect? S. reported to Grant setting ablaze more than 70 mills and 2,000 barns from Staunton in the south about 60 miles north to Strasburg. Some residents, whose homes inevitably also were destroyed, though there were no orders to do so, said the skies were dark with smoke.

Ron Baumgarten said...

We didn't get into the Burning. But your comment raises an interesting question for me personally--to what extent was my ancestor involved in these activities? I hadn't really thought of that side of things.