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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Bullets flew about me like hailstones"

Cecil Amander Burleigh (cecilsletters.com)

     During the past two years, I have been part of a team of volunteers who transcribe documents from the archives of the Library of Virginia. This crowdsourced program is open to anyone who has an interest in Virginia history at www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/
     Recently, I have devoted my time to a large cache of letters sent and received during the Civil War by Cecil Amander Burleigh and his wife, the former Caroline ("Carrie") Dickerman. I have come to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of this married couple, whose personal difficulties during the war were replicated tens of thousands of times across America.. This collection of letters, numbering in the hundreds, was made available to the Library of Virginia by Patricia Bangs, a direct descendant of Cecil Burleigh.
     Cecil and Carrie Burleigh were devout, patriotic people of high ideals whose lives were informed by a devotion to duty and a highly developed love of their country. They were also strongly opposed to the institution of slavery, and their letters make references to the "slave cursed soil" of the South. Their letters also clearly show their deep affection for each other and how well they coped with long periods of separation. Many of Carrie's letters to her husband end with some variation of "May God keep you from danger and may you be spared to return to your family." Cecil signed almost all of his letters to Carrie as "Burleigh," and the letters he received from friends and fellow soldiers usually begin with the salutation "Friend Burleigh." And so that is how he will be known in today's post.
     For those of you who may already be asking yourselves why I am writing about a Connecticut Yankee today, I hasten to say here that the first battle experienced by Burleigh was at Chancellorsville. My focus will be on those events of Burleigh's life leading up to that epic fight and its immediate aftermath.
     Cecil Burleigh was born on June 30th, 1833 in the town of Richford in Tioga County, New York. He left home at age 13 to apprentice as a blacksmith in the nearby town of Berkshire. At the age of 20, he was invited by Edward Dickerman to work at his smithy at Mount Carmel, near Hamden, Connecticut. While employed there, Burleigh met Edward's niece, Carrie, whom he married in 1855. They had one child, Louise, who was born in 1861.
     Burleigh next worked as superintendent for Ives & Pardee, hardware manufacturers, until they went bankrupt in 1860. He then taught school, reluctantly, until the outbreak of the Civil War. In April 1861, he became a recruiting officer for the Union army, a job that required a certain amount of traveling. When the 20th Connecticut Volunteers was organized in August 1862, Burleigh enlisted as a first sergeant in Company I. On August 27, 1862, examining surgeons at New Haven selected 980 men as fit for duty in the new regiment.
     After a brief period of training and equipping, the 20th was sent to Virginia, where it became a part of the 12th Corps, commanded by Major General Henry Slocum. The 20th Connecticut moved from Fairfax County and encamped near Stafford Court House by January 25, 1863. This would be Burleigh's home for the next four months.
     In a letter written to Carrie from that place on January 27, he plainly stated how he viewed the aims of the war:

     "I have no uncivil feelings against the people of this state but they need the influences of education and Christianity more than any people I ever saw. Perhaps you think it a poor way to reform them to lay waste their country & destroy their habitations but desperate diseases need energetic treatment. Before the proclamation of freedom to the blacks I began to fear we were fighting in vain but now we are fighting  for a noble cause to save from bondage not only four millions of people but all future generations."

     In at least one subsequent letter, Burleigh revealed to Carrie his willingness to lead a detachment of black soldiers. When Carrie wrote him of her ambivalence about such a notion, Burleigh told her that it would enable him to get a promotion more quickly. In any case, he never seriously pursued this as a career move.
     In late February 1863, Burleigh received a furlough and returned home to visit his family and friends in Connecticut. On his way back to Stafford in early March, Burleigh visited Washington, D.C., where he observed the House of Delegates:

     "We got there just as members were taking their seats, & listened to the prayer of the Chaplain during that time there was tolerable good order in the house but no sooner was the amen said than the bustle commenced it was not half so respectable an assembly as a town meeting in Hamden."

     The winter encampment of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers at Stafford Court House was cold and wet and stupendously boring. Burleigh shared a ramshackle hut with some friends who helped him build it. Other than occasional picket duty or other routine tasks, there was little to do but write letters, read letters, and try to remain warm and dry. It snowed or rained almost continually until late spring.
     On April 26, 1863, Burleigh wrote his last letter to Carrie from Stafford Court House. "We have positive orders to march at daybreak. I have no idea where we are to go but think we are bound to Richmond which place I hope to see in ten days (not a prisoner)." Incredibly, Burleigh had foretold his own fate.
     The 12th Corps broke camp on April 27 and marched about 30 miles west and crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly's Ford. They then pushed on to Germanna Ford and forced a crossing against Confederates dug in on the south bank of the Rapidan. General Slocum and his command reached Chancellorsville about 3 p. m. on April 30.

Battle of Chancellorsville, May 3, 1863 (Wikipedia)

     On May 3, 1863, Union positions in the immediate vicinity of the Chancellor House came under intense artillery fire from Confederate batteries nearby. Dr. Daniel Lee Jewett of the 20th Connecticut was inside the residence attending to the wounded during the bombardment. One of his patients was killed by shrapnel while Dr. Jewett was operating on him. During the battle, the 20th heroically stood its ground during the savage fighting until it was forced to retreat when supporting forces on both their flanks gave way. The regiment suffered 197 casualties that day.
     Sergeant Burleigh, as well as other members of the 20th, was captured by the Confederates. He was taken to Fredericksburg, and was then transported to Libby Prison in Richmond,  but was soon paroled. Two weeks after the battle, he was at last able to write a letter to Carrie and tell her of his experience:

"Annapolis Md May 16th 63
Dear Wife
     I want to write you a few lines but the wind blows so here I cant keep my paper still...I dont know where my reg't is or how many were killed or wounded I know four of our Co. were killed & as many wounded & there are nine of us taken prisoners Paddock & Bradley [1] among them Bradley & I stood up & fought till we were entirely surrounded & the ground covered with dead & wounded so did a number of others perhaps it would have been better to have retreated with the regt but the rebels paid dear for our capture. We were captured on Sunday May 3d we were behind a slight breast work made of poles lightly thrown together our forces were driven back on our right & two assaults were made upon our position but we repulsed them handsomely & could have held our position till this time but our forces gave way both on the right & left of us & we were nearly surrounded when Col Wooster gave the order to retreat & the regt left on the double quick I started to follow them but it was so much against my disposition that [I] determined to sell my life as dearly as possible. I found a Co. of the 84th P. Vs. [Pennsylvania Volunteers] who where making a gallant fight. I was very much exposed to the shot & shell & bullets flew about me like hail stones but I thank God he preserved me in all that danger, & kept my heart from fear. I presume you have heard from the regt several times since the fight. I dont know how I am reported perhaps you think me dead but hope your heart has not been subjected to that terrible trial of course you have been very anxious to hear from me but I could not let you know where I was any sooner. As soon as I got inside of our lines I tore a leaf from my memorandum book & an envelope that had been wet & stuck together & wrote you a few lines which I hope you have received it was the best I could do. I will not write you much more to night we did not get here till nine oclock this morning & of course are not settled yet but I can now get enough to eat & feel better than I did but it will take some time for me to get in as good condition as I was when we left Stafford. You may direct to Parole Camp, Annapolis Maryland. I shall need some money but you need not send any till you hear from me again. I dont know how long we shall stay here before we are exchanged but presume it will be two months if so I should like to have you visit me if you felt able to for they say they wont let a paroled prisoner go home though I can see why. Give my love to all good friends & much love & many kisses to my dear wife Mother & child
C A Burleigh"

     Carrie's first knowledge that her husband was still alive came not from this letter, but from the hurriedly written note Burleigh mailed just before departing to the parole camp in Annapolis.

"May 15th 1863 Fortress Monroe
Dear Wife I send this to let you know that through the mercy of God I am still alive & well except I am nearly exausted with the hardship & privations of the last two weeks for I am on board of a transport & shall arrive at  Annapolis tonight I will write you from there as soon as I can I know nothing of the regt since I was taken prisoner Will Bradley & Paddock are with me & six others from my company there were several killed & wounded that belong to our Co but I think none that you know write me direct to the paroll camp Annapolis M. D. & I think I shall get it. I have very much to write but this is all the paper I have. I have lost everything but my Bible & your picture with love C A Burleigh"

     Carrie received this note from Burleigh three days later. She immediately sat down and wrote to him:

"Mt Carmel May 18th / 63
My dear dear Husband
My heart is so full of joy & gratitude to night that I cant begin to find words to express a thousandth part of it, your few words written on your way to Anapolis reached me to night, & it seemed almost like hearing from the dead, you can scarcely know what I have suffered in mind for the last two weeks..."
     Carrie also received a letter from Lieutenant Edward Doolittle, who reassured her about her husband's safety, and then added his own observation of Burleigh during the battle,

"...[his] earnestness is the only cause I can assign for his unwillingness to leave our entrenchments at a time when almost & perhaps all others had left. He was urged strongly by Corpl Austin to leave. I also tried to persuade him. his only reply was "he could not then." As for coolness & self possession few men possess it to the degree than did he. All through the engagement & while standing there alone, he was calm & self reliant, never for a moment seeming the least distressed or dejected. I of course had no chance for conversation  with him during the engagement but from his very looks I was satisfied that he felt that all would go well with him. He would look up at me and smile (I was very nearly directly behind him) this he did repeatedly during our stay behind the Breastwork."
     Lieutenant Doolittle himself would lose his life just five months later in Stevenson, Alabama.


Parole Camp at Annapolis, Maryland (Wikipedia)


     At this point during the Civil War, prisoner exchanges still routinely took place between the United States and the Confederacy. Captured soldiers signed paroles pledging not to rejoin their respective armies until properly exchanged. Confederate soldiers simply went home and usually awaited notification that they had been exchanged and could then rejoin their regiments. Union soldiers were confined at parole camps until they were exchanged. In the case of Sergeant Cecil Burleigh, this took quite some time.

Convalescent Camp, Alexandria, Virginia (Library of Congress)

     Burleigh stayed at the Annapolis camp for a short time and was then transferred to the Convalescent Camp in Alexandria, also a holding facility for paroled Union prisoners awaiting exchange. In late May or early June 1863, Burleigh was given a furlough to go home to Connecticut for a short visit. On his way back to Alexandria, Burleigh wrote Carrie from Baltimore on June 10: I feel more than ever how dear my little family is to my heart & I long for the time to come when I may be permitted to stay with them but I will try to exercise patience."

     It would be another two years before Cecil and Carrie Burleigh would see each other again.

     Sergeant Burleigh remained confined until the end of September, when he was at long last officially exchanged. He spent more than a week traveling by train through Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky in order to catch up with the 20th Connecticut Volunteers. Burleigh finally reunited with his fellow soldiers in Decherd, Tennessee on October 9, 1863, more than five months after he had been captured.
     The 20th was now part of the 2d Brigade, 3d Division of the 20th Army Corps. In February 1864, Burleigh was promoted to Lieutenant and assumed command of Company C. Just a couple of months later, the 20th, now part of General Sherman's army, left Tennessee and made its way toward Atlanta. During the fighting around Atlanta Lt. Burleigh had a few close calls but managed to avoid injury, illness or recapture.
     When Sherman took the bulk of his army east to Savannah, the 20th Connecticut remained behind with the rest of the troops garrisoning Atlanta. The 20th rejoined Sherman's main army shortly before the capture of Savannah. Burleigh then marched through South Carolina and then North Carolina. Shortly before the war's end, Burleigh was brevetted to Captain. At the war's conclusion, the 20th Connecticut then marched to Washington, D.C., where they participated in the triumphant military review in May 1865.
     Lt. Cecil Burleigh was mustered out of the Union army in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1865. He returned home and took up his trade of blacksmithing. He served several terms as town councilman in Hamden and was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1880. In his later years he worked in the insurance business.
     Near the end of his life, Burleigh suffered from the complications of diabetes. During his last month he was in such pain that the was kept in a constant state of sedation by the heavy use of opiates. He died on April 27, 1895 and is buried in Central Burying Grounds in Hamden, Connecticut.

Burleigh's photograph and details of his life are from http://cecilsletters.com/project/about
I also referred to John W. Storrs' history of the 20th Connecticut: https://archive.org/details/twentiethconnect00stor
    
[1] Sergeants Robert E. Paddock and Willis A. Bradley

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