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So Many Rabbit Holes, So Little Time

Lt. Col. Albert M. Edwards, 24th Michigan Infantry and member of Gettysburg's Iron Brigade

Last week, I talked about a story told by my great-grandfather Josiah Hackett about a family who died in a boating accident on Casco Bay in Portland, Maine, while he was garrisoned with his regiment at Fort Preble. Fort Preble is gone; the site is now the location of the Southern Portland Community College.

Rummaging through other newspaper clippings I have found on either Newspapers.com or NewspaperArchives.com (I like the latter better than the former, but both are a gold mine for family history researchers), I found a piece written by Josiah’s older brother, my great-great-uncle Henry Clay Hackett (1841-1922) that was published in The National Tribune in Washington, D.C., in 1892. The Tribune is a treasure trove of stories written by and about Civil War veterans on both the Union and the Confederate sides. I need to do more research there.

Anyway, here is my Uncle Henry’s story about his stay at the “Libby Hotel” in Richmond, Virginia, 30 years after the fact:


Thursday, October 6, 1892 ––


PRISON EXPERIENCE

A Michigan Man Tells of His Treatment at Southern Hotels

Having read articles from different comrades in regard to the treatment of Union prisoners by the rebels, I have waited for someone else to write up some of the things that occurred while I was boarding at Libby and other hotels of the kind. I was taken prisoner near Charlestown, Va., on the last day of February 1862, by a part of Ashby’s Cavalry. After I was taken one man came up and said, “You Yankee hound, what did you come down here for?” and struck me on the head with his revolver, fracturing my skull.

After that two of them shot at me, but did not hit me. After we got back about two miles, they stopped at a farmhouse where they got a rope and threw it over the limb of a tree in the yard, and led my horse nearly under the noose, when one of them said: “Stop, there comes the Lieutenant.” He rode up and put a stop to the proceedings. I learned his name was Glinn or Glynn, and will say for him that he acted the part of a gentleman, and should this come to his notice I would be pleased to hear from him.

About the last of March I found myself in Libby, upper floor, northwest corner. One morning a wagon backed up to the walk on the south side of the building and they rolled 14 barrels of gunpowder into the building. There were no others who saw this besides myself, but I cannot remember who, except one named Alcott or Allcock, a correspondent of the New York Tribune, another named Lawrence, afterward Assistant Harbormaster at Fort Monroe, and, I think Serg’t A.M. Edwards, afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel of the 24th Michigan.

When the officers of the prison were asked what the powder was put there for, they answered, “To send you fellows to …. if McClellan captures Richmond.”

I could tell how they put us on bread and water to discourage the boys, so they would join their army; of their shooting in at the windows when there was no provocation—only, their officers said, the boys were out of practice, as if they regretted they did not kill more of us.

— H .C. Hackett, Co. G, 1st Mich. Cav. and Co. I, 1st Mich. Engineers & Mechanics, Union Springs, N.Y.

 

My first takeaway: Thank God for my Uncle Henry that Gen. George McClellan, one of the most incompetent generals tapped to lead the Union Army, did not take Richmond.

My second takeaway was

just another of those “WTF” moments I have while doing research lately: That Uncle Henry was taken prisoner in Charles Town, W.Va. (then still Virginia) in February 1862. Yes, the same Charles Town where my friend Robert Jefferson was born nearly 60 years earlier. I traveled to Charles Town in 2020 and had no idea that I was walking some of the same ground as my great-great-uncle who was in the 1st Michigan Cavalry at the time of his capture. This was not the first time, but I’ll save that for future posts.

Col. Albert M. Edwards

So, rolling up my researcher's sleeves, I took advantage of the “low-hanging fruit” to start researching the facts in Uncle Henry’s article. I decided to find out more about this Sgt. Albert M. Edwards, the only comrade he mentioned using a full name, who also was lodging at the Libby “hotel.”


On July 1, 1863, Albert M. Edwards, at that time a captain, was serving in the 24th Michigan Infantry led by Col. Henry A. Morrow. Their regiment joined with others that day to form the famed Iron Brigade and was involved in fierce fighting against Alabama and Tennessee regiments led by Gen. James J. Archer’s brigade, part of Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s Corps, along Willoughby Run and Herbst (a.k.a. McPherson) Woods.

Morrow was wounded, but not mortally, that day as he carried the regiment’s flag up the slopes of Seminary Ridge; Capt. Edwards, only one of three of the 24th’s officers not wounded, then took command.

Later, while fighting in the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, Edwards, now a major, captured a Confederate flag; that same flag is held in the archives of the War Department in Washington, D.C., according to House Concurrent Resolution No. 19, legislation that was passed in 2018 by the Michigan House of Representatives in which Edwards was put forth to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Civil War.

Edwards was elevated to lieutenant colonel and was still attached to the 24th Michigan when it was sent to garrison the military post in Springfield, Ill., in February 1865. Because of their location, the regiment was selected in April 1865 to escort at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. The regiment mustered out on June 30 that year.

I don’t know that Josiah Hackett ever knew Col. Edwards, but the two men fought at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. I find that quite interesting.

There are so many stories we don’t know that can be unearthed in the digitized databases of historic newspapers. It is something I am so very grateful for; but, I worry. With so many newspapers having been closed down or relegated to much smaller roles in the recounting of history — as it happens today — what will future researchers be left to find. I mean, if they can’t find it in the future on the internet, or the Internet Archives “Way Back Machine,” what will anyone know about local, regional, and state news as it is happening today, right now?

The scary answer is that it all will be lost.

Do me a favor as you read this post: Please subscribe to your local newspaper or news source. Support it. And pray that we will be able to continue documenting history as it happens. It is vitally important to the survival of democracy.

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