This week’s Civil War soldier’s story comes from Kevin Walker. Kevin is a scholar who is most comfortable in small rural towns with people with old time values.
His family research is documented on his blog: Who We Were, Are & Will Be Our Family. Kevin describes his writings as “Obtuse genealogical studies into the Walker-Casattas family tree. This also includes the surnames of Chelsey, Needham, Gibson, Surpluss, Frank, Molfino, Mack (Mach) and Derfler, among many others.”
Kevin’s Civil War ancestor is his great great grandfather Henry Martin Walker, Sr. Henry’s story ends tragically and is certainly one to honor today on Civil War Saturday.
In January of 1865, in Springfield, Illinois, Henry Martin Walker enlisted in Company A, 33rd Regimental Infantry, Illinois Volunteers, Union Army. He was dead six weeks later due to a tragic accident.
Henry probably enlisted at the behest of his brother-in-law Harvey Dutton who was the Captain in charge of this particular company. The consensus at the time was the war was winding down, and this was a chance for Henry to come in at the end of the fight and qualify for benefits.
In those early months of 1865, the 33rd Illinois was stationed along the Opelousas Railroad outside of New Orleans to prevent guerrilla attacks and keep supply lines open. This was all swamp, and illness took its toll on the men. By the end of the war, all totaled the regiment suffered many more deaths by disease than they did by battle, and that includes the siege of Vicksburg of which they were a part. But that is not how my g-g-grandfather died. Here is the account taken from HISTORY of the Thirty-Third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry IN THE CIVIL WAR: 22nd AUGUST, 1861. to 7th DECEMBER, 1865 by GENERAL ISAAC H. ELLIOTT, published in 1902. –
After staying at Brashear and along the railroad for nine months and thirteen days, we received the welcome order to join the expedition to operate against Mobile, and on the morning of Thursday, March 2nd, 1865, the companies were picked up at the several sta-tions, beginning at Bayou Boeuf. I was in command of the regiment, Col. Lippincott being absent. The train was a mixed one of flat and box ears, carrying all our baggage and horses. Many of the men were on top of the box ears. After Company B had been taken on at LaFourche and Des Allemandes there was only left Company H at Boutee, some seven or eight miles distant.
We were now considerably behind time, and the train from New Orleans was nearly due at Boutee. I inquired of the conductor if he could make that station before the other train was due to leave it. He replied that he could, and we went ahead at quite a high rate of speed. I had some anxiety about meeting the train from New Orleans, and was leaning from the door of the baggage car near the rear of the train looking forward. Suddenly I saw a horse running close alongside the track, and then dart in front of the engine. Instantly the second car from the tender left the track and was thrown broadside around, and those behind it crashed into it and each other cars were crushed to fragments, and the rails of the track torn up and driven through them. The whole train, except a few cars at the rear, filled and covered with men, was a horrible wreck.
The men had been in a very gale of joy, singing and shouting at the happy release from the pestilential swamps. Now they were to see a more active life and be able to do something to bring the war to an end and go home. In an instant the happy shouting was changed to cries and shrieks for help from beneath the shattered cars. Every effort was made to release the wounded and imprisoned men, each company working frantically to help its own members; and how they did work! Perhaps not always to the best advantage, but with a frenzy that told of the affection they had for their suffering comrades.
It was a horrible scene, worse than any battle, and with none of its honors. Company A, being near the head of the train, suffered the most. Brave, splendid 1st Sergeant Spillman F. Willis, who carried the flag at Vicksburg, and who was loved not only by his company, but the entire regiment, was ground to dust;
Howell, Greening, Walker and Wolf, of A, were killed. Melvin, Walden and Webster, of H, and Barkley of G, were killed; seventy-two of the regiment were wounded, some of them soon died. One young soldier of Co. D had both feet cut off, and I believe is still living at Springfield, Illinois.
There was one spectacle in all this terrible scene that could not but be admired. I know that all members of – the 33rd will remember my own horse with a white mane and tail. No finer styled horse ever wore a bridle. The flat ear he was on was shoved up on the one in front of it, and he stood there quietly and unhurt, high above the wreck. No finer equestrian statue was ever looked at.
It was a forlorn and badly broken up regiment that went into Algiers that night. The wounded were taken to the hospitals in New Orleans, and the regiment across the river and quartered in a cotton press. . . .
Here is a second accounting, same source, but this time the author is Harvey Dutton, Henry’s brother-in-law –
The winter of 1864-65 passed with no other incidents of special moment that I remember, except the accession to the company of the following recruits: Charles Greening, Alphonso K. Smith, Henry W. Smith, Henry M. Walker, Jerome Wolf, Hans Erickson and William J. Hester. All but the last two were from Metamora, ILL., my home. H. M. Walker was my brother-in-law, the others acquaintances. They had enlisted January 10th, ’65, for one year, and had chosen Company A because I was Captain. February 23, 1865, Lieut. Fyffe was sent to Thibodeaux, La., division headquarters, on detached service as Judge Advocate.
Then came the railroad disaster of March 2nd, 1865. As we loaded our effects into that box car, and ourselves into and on top of it, that pleasant spring morning, there was some grumbling about the gorgeous accommodations “Uncle Sam” saw fit to furnish us; still the boys were in good spirits, believing we were to take part in the closing campaign of the war. The make-up of the train brought Company A near the engine, the place of greatest danger in case of accident. They were in the third car; the first was an empty, the second was occupied by B Company. For fear of repetition (as the whole regiment except Company H was concerned in this horrible affair) I will only insert here remarks from the first “muster roll” of Company A made after the occurrence: “March 2nd, 1865, started at 8:80 a.m. by railroad for Algiers, La.; near Boutee Station met with serious disaster; train thrown from the track by running over a horse; five of the company killed ; twenty-one wounded seriously, were sent to the hospital; several others were more or less injured; lost a large quantity of camp and garrison equipage and ordinance stores; arrived at Algiers about seven in the evening; crossed the river at New Orleans and camped in the Anchor Cotton Press. The killed were:
1st Sergt. Spillman F. Willis, Vet.; Private, Chas. G. Howell, Vet.; Private Chas. Greening, Private H. M. Walker, and Private Jerome Wolf.”
A peculiarly distressing feature of this affair to me was not only that Company A had lost its noble, brave and efficient Orderly Sergeant, and another veteran of three and a half years of faithful service, but that of the five new men from my home, as before mentioned, three of them, one my brother-in-law, now lay dead. Upon me devolved the painful duty of sending the unwelcome tidings to loved ones so sadly bereft. Those seriously injured and discharged on account of such injuries were Sergt. S. W. Durrlinger, and Privates W. H. Foster, Harvey D. Garrett and David Shaw. . . .
Thank you Kevin for sharing your Civil War ancestor’s story here today. It’s powerful and one I won’t soon forget.
Additional posts about Kevin’s Civil War ancestors can be found on his blog. Click “Civil War” in the list of labels in the right hand column. Walker examines the effect that Henry, Sr.’s death had on his family. Census rolls show the family was completely broken up, his wife and his three children each went to live with a different relative. Henry, Sr.’s widow married again but to a drunk and physically abusive man whom she quickly divorced nine months later. She would marry again. Henry, Jr. was less than a year old when his father died, and we know already of some of the trouble he got into (shooting his wife three times and going to prison). His older sister Letta married a man almost thirty years her senior! But all in all a case study for how broken homes can lead to broken lives.
You can learn more about Kevin and his family research at Who We Were, Are & Will Be Our Family.