Saturday, July 7, 2012

On May 17, 1862 Alpheus S. Williams wrote “with all our victories, I do not feel we are gaining much. There is so much jealousy and detraction, in and out of Congress so much selfishness, such a struggling after self-aggrandizement, so little pure and disinterested and ingenuous patriotism, that I shudder for the future. If we have a reverse, God help us! You do not see it as I do, and perhaps I am morbidly alive to it. But I am surrounded by its presence, I see it so palpably in Congress, in the heart-burnings and bitterness of our commanding generals, in the divisions and sub-divisions of our forces to give command to favorites, in the sacrifice of power which lies under our hand, just to checkmate some rival or to destroy some dreaded popularity, that I tremble at some great disaster. Was the whole government, civil and military, united and actuated by one great and engrossing and fine purpose, this rebellion would be destroyed in two months. As it is, I fear it may yet destroy us”. (From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of Alpheus S. Williams, pg 74-75)

Alpheus Willams
Sound familiar? Seems like Congress hasn’t changed much in the 150 years. Always chest-thumping as to what is right or wrong for the country and pointing out who is to blame for these failures but yet doing nothing to correct the situation. It seems that only a little over a year into the war, Williams felt that Congress was acting as a dividing force rather than keeping  the county unified for the common goal of ending the rebellion and defeating the Confederacy. However, during the secession crisis and then the outbreak of war, a significant portion of members  from the 36th and 37th Congresses resigned  in order to join either the US military, Confederate military, or Confederate Congress. The sense of patriotism of these men, some may say treason, is something I don’t think many of us could imagine today. These men gave up their privileged Congressional seats, their personal and financial safety, their families and homes, for what they understood to be the greater good. I could be wrong, but after 9/11, I don’t recall a single member of Congress resigning his/her seat in order to join the military and defend America.

With nearly ¾ of the 36th Congress resigning and still more from the 37th Congress to leave as well, it was inevitable that these former members would meet again on the battlefield. Some would continue to serve together side by side on the battlefield just as they had in the halls of Congress. However, sadly, some would serve from opposite sides of the battlefield. At least twelve former members participated in the Maryland Campaign. 
34 NY Monument
(Antietam National Battlefield) 
My little disclaimer is that this list changes every now and again. In some cases it has been impossible to determine whether an individual was actually present. I’m still looking for information on these three men- James Madison Leach, Frederick Conkling,  Socrates Sherman (Sherman was the surgeon of the 34th NY and his name is listed on the statue at Antietam but I have found no conclusive evidence that he was at the battle).
  The following served in the Army of the Potomac--- Alexander Diven, Charles Russell Train, John Farnsworth, Robert Van Valkenburgh, John Cochrane, Richard Franchot.
The following served in the Army of Northern Virginia--- Roger Pryor, Robert Toombs, Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, William Barksdale, Thomas Hardeman Jr, William Smith.
 Over the next few weeks I plan to introduce each of these men as part of my list of lesser-known but important characters during the campaign.

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