Far Beyond the Sounds of Battle – Seattle, 1864

Emerging Civil War welcomes guest author Richard Heisler…

Seattle 1869

“Detail of First Hill from Commercial Street (1st Avenue S) and Main Street, Seattle, 1869” Courtesy Washington State Historical Society (1995.10.1)

In 1863, a person living in the fledgling northwest village of Seattle, Washington Territory, was about as removed from the ongoing Civil War as one could be as an American. Just 12 years had passed since the first white settlers established themselves on the location. The village would not even formally be incorporated as a town until 1865. As the Civil War raged through the eastern half of the country, Seattle was just beginning to carve out its place among the wooded hillsides of the eastern Puget Sound shoreline. Far removed as they were, the less than 200 permanent residents still anxiously received news regarding the war, although irregular and often weeks after the events had transpired. To get the news, they waited for these updates that arrived normally in the form of sections from New York papers that had travelled by ship from New York down the Atlantic coast, by land across the isthmus at Panama, then by ship again north along the Pacific coast by steamer to San Francisco, then Portland. From Portland the news moved by pack train or wagon to Olympia, and finally by boat to Seattle. Early Seattle history writer Roberta Frye Watt wrote that the “pioneers’ interest in the war was intense, as was whetted by the scarcity of news.” News of the war and politics were of course of tremendous interest but so too were any hints pertaining to the families and communities of the Seattle pioneers that they had left behind on their move to the far Northwestern frontier.

It was not until late 1863 that the town had a newspaper of its own, the Seattle Gazette, which printed its first issue on December 10 of that year. Of the Gazette, Frye Watt wrote, it “was not much either of news or of a paper, but it chronicled the war for the pioneers, and it boosted their civic ambitions and enterprises. The Gazette, which was supposed to be a weekly, but really came out only when there was sufficient news to warrant an issue, consisted of four pages, each having nine and a half by fourteen and a half inches of printed matter. Its first copy was not too ambitious, nor did it claim to be.” Reading the news in their own Seattle Gazette, despite eastern and war news being as delayed as it was, likely provided some feeling of normalcy to these early pioneers.

Seattle 1870

“Seattle, Washington Territory.” Engraving from “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine” (September 1870, volume 41, number 244, page 491)

A certain buzz was surely created in the village when its eighth issue was printed on February 2, 1864. In addition to the regular war news and other typical local fare, the Gazette printed a transcription of a letter from Maryland that had been recently received in Seattle. The letter had made the several weeks-long journey from the theater of war to Bucksport, Maine native, Edmund Carr from his nephew John F. Haynes, then a soldier in the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery1:

Fort Sumner MD, Nov 5th, 1863

Dear Uncle:

Having perused your kind and patriotic letter with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, I thought I would improve this opportunity to write you a few lines.

I enlisted in the 18th Maine regiment, the 23rd of July, 1862, was transferred to the artillery in December, and have had a good chance. Our work is not hard. I have never been in battle yet; but I have a brother whose blood has stained the slave blasted soil of Virginia, and I long to have an opportunity to strike a blow for the cause we are engaged in. My time will come by-and-by, and I shall try to do my duty then. We are engaged in a war with a relentless enemy that will improve every means to overthrow the Government, and we must make up our minds to never yield while there is an arm left to strike a blow for liberty. Let us swear that while there is a man left to bleed in defense of his country we will never give up the struggle – swear it by the flag our fathers fought under, by the Union which they gave us as a precious legacy, by the thousands that have bled on the fields of the South, and by our homes and liberty. What is life without liberty? What is man withoutgovernment? Nothing.

In the darkest hours of our country’s peril, our brave soldiers have never faltered; the booming of the guns that swept Sumter’s walls had scarcely died away before they caught up the sound and sent back an answering shout that rung from the hills of Maine to the plains of the West, and thousands rushed to the support of our standard with willing hands and stout hearts ready to defend the flags of our Fathers or lay their bodies in a soldier’s grave.

But some of our own free States have done all they could at the ballot-box and by the press to injure our cause and help the cause of treason and slavery. There might be some excuse framed for the Southern rebels, but for the Northern tories, who have turned against their homes and neighbors, there is no excuse. They are totally depraved; they are no longer men – they are brutes; for where there is a spark of manhood, there is love of country. They will meet with their reward; for as sure as there is a God in heaven, there is a day of reckoning for northern tories. [1]

This remarkable letter is valuable in understanding the fiery sentiments of a young soldier of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery feeling cooped up in the monotony of drill and fortification building at Fort Sumner, Maryland late in 1863. It is doubly valuable in how it documents the letters’ importance in bringing some piece of the war of such a personal nature to the long distant settlers. That this letter was deemed significant enough to warrant its printing in the young Seattle newspaper clearly tells of its importance to the residents.

The next arrival of news regarding Private Haynes would certainly affect Edmund Carr and his Seattle neighbors very differently. He was granted his wish to “strike a blow” when the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery was removed from the defenses of Washington and pressed into service as an infantry unit amidst the grinding combat of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864. Haynes fought bravely with the 1st as they progressed southward through May and into June, crossing the James River on June 14 having thus far survived the early summer’s fighting uninjured. As the armies began to face off around Petersburg, on June 18, John Haynes would step off from the Prince George Courthouse Road with the rest of the regiment in a fateful charge that would end in just 10 minutes with the regiment suffering more than 600 killed and wounded of the approximately 900 who made the assault. The casualties that the Maine regiment suffered that day stand as the single highest number of losses to one regiment in any battle of the war.

John F. Haynes was among those wounded. He’d been shot in both legs and one arm. Worse yet, in addition to his nephew John, Edmund Carr’s cousin, George W. Carr, happened to be a sergeant in the same company and was also severely wounded in the leg during the attack. Both men lay suffering between the lines. The surviving men of the regiment looked on as “were now lying between those lines of breastworks over yonder upon that awful field of carnage, from whence was still coming the crash of infantry firing and the booming of artillery and shrieking of shells. Most of them were dead, some were dying. Many were wounded, hungry, thirsty, waiting for the moment when a lead or iron missile from friend or foe, or some daring comrade under cover of the mist of the morning or the darkness of the night, should bring them relief. If they were not stretched upon that field, they were yonder somewhere around that old house upon the hill, half a mile back of us, where all night long the corps of surgeons had been dressing wounds, amputating limbs, and probing for bullets”.

Both Haynes and Carr were removed from the field and taken first to nearby field hospitals. There they joined what regimental historian Horace Shaw described as a “great multitude of shockingly wounded men.“ Among casualties of the Maine regiment were:

“…every kind of wound known to the battlefield had been inflicted upon some one or another of these comrades. Some were just emerging from the effects of chloroform administered for the operation. Some were becoming cheerful and hopeful and encouraging others. Some were lying in a semi-conscious condition, pale faced, in utter helplessness. Over the ghastly faces of some the pallor of death was just creeping. Some had struggled through the operation, the forces of nature had collapsed, and they had passed over beyond the scenes of battle, to be mustered with the great army.”

Chaplain Joseph Twitchell witnessed the scene and wrote, “The dear, glorious fellows have been writhing and groaning and dying ever since, and my heart aches for them. It is a sorry sight to see them brought one after the other – these Maine boys and laid on the Surgeon’s table. A pile of loyal Maine legs and arms is the token of what the day’s work has been.” One of those legs belonged to George W. Carr. After being moved on to a hospital in Washington he would fight for life until July 10th, when he died. Young John Haynes, wounded in two legs and an arm, was transported to the hospital at City Point but died just 4 days later, on June 22nd.

When news did arrive for Edmund Carr in Seattle about the deaths of his cousin and nephew, it must have been shocking and devastating. This did not make it into the Seattle Gazette but was news that most certainly brought grief and mourning to not just to the Carr family, but to many in Seattle who knew them. Despite the weeks’ long, arduous journey every letter and bit of news required to reach the far-flung little village during the war, the impact was no less emotional than for Americans anywhere else in the country. Edmund Carr must have felt great pride delivering his nephew’s letter to the Seattle Gazette’s printing office. Grief surely followed months later upon the learning of his nephew’s and cousin’s horrible deaths in the fighting in front of Petersburg. Despite Seattle’s distance and remoteness, the war still touched its citizens just the same as in communities elsewhere across the continent.

————

Richard Heisler is a 30 year resident of Seattle with a lifelong passionate interest in Civil War history. An early life steeped in history and art on the battlefields and in the museums of the Mid-Atlantic led to an education and career in art with history always being an underlying theme. Visits to the Gettysburg Cyclorama as a child were formative and helped set a life’s course with the paintbrush and the history book. 

Richard is the founder of Seattle’s Civil War Legacy, a public history project aimed at bringing the rich and complex history of Seattle’s Civil War veterans to a broader, more diverse audience than would typically be exposed to this subject. Upwards of 3000 former Civil War soldiers and their families made their homes in Seattle and surrounding towns in the decades after the conflict. The legacy of these men during the Civil War and their subsequent roles in Seattle’s development are an underappreciated aspect of a shared national heritage. Seattle’s Civil War Legacy uses Social Media platforms, video, writing and tours all as part of the mission to bring Seattle’s Civil War connections to the public. 

www.facebook.com/seattlescivilwarlegacy
www.seattlescivilwarlegacy.com

Sources:

February 2nd, 1864, “The Seattle Gazette” pg.3

Watt, Roberta Frye, 1931 “Four Wagons West: The story of Seattle” Portland, OR, Binfords & Mort

Snowden, Clinton A, 1909 “History of Washington: The Rise and Progress of an American State, Volume 4”, Century history Company

Shaw, Horace H, 1903, “The First Maine Heavy Artillery 1862-1865” Portland, ME

Chaplin Joseph Hopkins Twichell, 2006, “The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell, A Chaplain’s Story”, University of Georgia Press

U.S. Census Bureau, 1850, 1860, 1870, “United States Census

1 Private John F Haynes, Company G, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery was the nephew of early Seattle pioneer Edmund Carr. The letter is transcribed in the Gazette only as “Dear Uncle” but this would have been referring to his uncle Edmund Carr.

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