Battlefield Guide Services

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Monument Then & Now

On May 19, 1901, thirty-seven years after the action that brought respect to the once maligned Heavy Artillery, veterans of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment assembled on the Spotsylvania farm of Mr. Thomas H. Harris. They came to dedicate a monument commemorating their first engagement as Infantry. Accompanying them were some of the veterans of their former foe, the Army of Northern Virginia.

While in route to the Spotsylvania dedication, the Massachusetts veterans visited other fields of their past valor. On May 15th they arrived at Petersburg and were met by members of the A.P. Hill Camp of Confederate Veterans. Blue and Gray assembled together at the Confederate Veteran’s Hall and were addressed by Commander Harwood, who said in part:
"Brave men will always honor and respect brave men. Men may differ upon questions as to the constitutionality of laws, but who will doubt their fidelity to their cause, or their heroic deeds during those 'heroic days' of ’61 and ’65, when 'life was counted but a worthless thing, where honor was at stake,' of either the men who wore the Blue or the men who wore the Gray, and by their deeds showed the world the valor of true American manhood?
You gentlemen have your memories of the past; we have ours—'Memories wreathed with honor and immortal fame' –a common heritage of a brave and patriotic people."

The owner of the Spotsylvania property, Thomas Harris, had witnessed the opening engagement on what was then his father Clement’s farm. Thomas was barely ten at the time of the battle, and he and his mother and siblings watched from under a cherry tree in the garden while the Massachusetts men struggled with the approaching Confederate forces under command of General Richard Ewell. As the heat of battle seemed to get more intense, the Harris family moved from their place of observation and took shelter in the basement of their home. Thomas Harris saw it fitting to donate the parcel of land to honor the bravery he witnessed that day.
Throughout the Spotsylvania campaign the Harris home and outbuildings were used as a hospital by the Union forces.

An ancestor of my own, the Prussian born, Frederick Unger, was wounded during the fighting near the Harris farm, on the fields of their neighbor Susan Alsop, a widow. Unger served in another of the Heavy Artillery Regiments, the 7th New York. He took a bullet along the length of his forearm which impaired his abilities for the remainder of his life. His wound was treated in the field at the Harris farm by the regimental surgeon, George Newcomb.

Today, the Harris farm has been subdivided and is known as Bloomsbury, the longtime historic name of the property. The Massachusetts monument is now protected by the efforts of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.


Eric Mink said...

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) transferred the land and easement to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). The CVBT is now the protector of the monument and property. Last year a nice little memorial plaque was dedicated on the property to an Alabama soldier killed at Harris Farm.

John Cummings said...

Thank you Eric for the update. Sometimes items like that slip by. I did notice the Alabama memorial plaque last year. I thought it was nice how they tied it into the replacment of cedar trees that line the approach to the monument. Some of the original trees are in rough shape, and a few took some damage from the heavy snows we had.

Jared Frederick said...

Hi John,
Thanks for including my blog under ones you enjoy. Actually, I own your Images of America book and have enjoyed/used it much. Thanks!

John Cummings said...

I am happy to include your blog among my favorites. I enjoy the verve with which you approach your subject matter. An inspiring blog indeed.
I am likewise appreciative of your including mine in your watch list.
Thanks also for the mention of the book, I am always gladdened to find it has been enjoyed and put to use in the field.

Jared Frederick said...

Thanks. Actually, I have ideas for a book or two in conjunction with that publisher. Perhaps we can talk sometime about it.

Xbox OneGuide said...

Wow I was surprised to find out that such a historic site was bulldozed over for a subdivision. So the placard and monument are sitting in the middle of a neighborhood (so to speak)? Are there any other areas of Spotsy that hold hidden Monuments? Are some of the families that live here during the war period still in the area, seems like most of our residents are "transplants."

nosurfinsouthdakota said...

I am a descendant of a soldier in the 20th NC regiment that was killed in the action of May 19.Are there monuments to any of the Confederate brigades or regiments that fought on the Alsop Farm?His regiment was part of RD Johnston's brigade though I believe that Col. Thomas Toon was in command at that time

John Cummings said...

Yes, you are correct, Robert Johnston had been wounded on May 12, 1864 and command of his Brigade went to Colonel Toon of the 20th NC. Toon was made a brigadier general at the end of the month.
I am sorry to report there are no monuments to Confederate units on the Harris/Alsop/Peyton Farms battlefield of May 19.
What was your ancestor's name?

nosurfinsouthdakota said...

His name was Alfred Lingle,which is also my Dad's name