Saturday, August 4, 2012

who were they ...

… what price did they pay? What tickles the brain and sneaks into my heart is wondering how different these lives might have been without the war and Gettysburg … better or perhaps worse?

In the fall of 1861, Alonzo Ulmer was a 20 year old man with few ties in life. His father, brother and sister had all died when he was just a child and then when he was just 13, his mother married her sister’s widower and he was taken from the coasts and sea of Maine to the flat grasslands of western Illinois. He did not get along with his stepfather and most of the rest of the family, probably as much his fault as theirs, so when war broke out he returned to his home town of Thomaston, Maine, and enlisted with others and went off to join his friends, relatives and neighbors in Company B of the 4th Maine.

Not quite a year later, Chalkley Sears enlisted in Philadelphia in Company F of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was a 30 year old married man, a hatter in nearby Phoenixville in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Mary had had two daughters but the older, Julia, had died the past April, not long after the birth of the second daughter, Mary. Whatever his motives for enlisting, he is credited with raising an entire company there at Phoenixville which accounts for his being Lieutenant of the company.

Later that same month, Jacob Weller mustered in to the 1st New York Light Artillery right after his eighteenth birthday. Jacob was the next to youngest child of immigrants from Wuerttemberg, Germany, who had arrived in 1832 and made a life for themselves in Buffalo, New York. Three of their children had been born in Germany, one was born at sea on the voyage to America and they had eight more children after settling here.

Chalkley was probably the least seasoned of the three when July and Gettysburg came. The 150th had been assigned to guard duty in Washington, D.C. and although sent to Chancellorsville in May they had been held back and not participated in that battle. Jacob on the other hand was at Chancellorsville that May of 1863 his unit having 4 men killed and 10 wounded, being compelled to leave two of the guns on that field, all the horses of one gun being shot, and nearly all the men on the other wounded. Alonzo was becoming a seasoned veteran with nearly two years of marching, fighting, and making camp in all sorts of weather including at Chancellorsville.

In June of 1863, these three men joined thousands more headed for Gettysburg. On July 1st, Chalkley in the 150th Pennsylvania was at McPherson’s Farm on the Ridge of the same name, Jacob was with the guns of the 1st New York Light Artillery, taking a position on East Cemetery Ridge and Alonzo and the 4th Maine were headed for Devils Den at Little Round Top, sometimes referred to as the Valley of Death.

On that first day, Chalkley and his men fought, trying to hold the line at McPherson’s through the day. By afternoon they were in the farmyard, at the barn and the farmhouse. Chalkley was shot in the left hand, not quite a crippling shot but enough to leave the field if he wished. He stayed with his men during the retreat through the streets of Gettysburg in which many more were killed, wounded or captured. During the retreat they helped hold off the enemy long enough for an artillery unit to fix their guns for retreat. The unit is believed to be one of the 1st New York’s batteries although not Jacob’s which was further east.

On the 2nd of July, the 1st New York batteries were still holding Cemetery Hill. That evening there was an artillery assault from the Confederates and Jacob, the youngest of our three, was hit by a piece of a shell, smashing his right elbow causing his arm to be removed a few inches below his shoulder on July 3rd.

On the 3rd, the final day of battle, Alonzo and Company F of the 4th Maine were far out on the left flank of Little Round Top in the boulder strewn area known as Devils Den in Plum Run Valley. It was here Alonzo was shot in the side, with the ball piercing through, leaving entrance and exit wounds. He was among 40 or more of his fellows captured by the Confederates but probably fortunately he was abandoned in a Rebel field hospital when they retreated.

All three of these men recovered from their wounds but it is unlikely their lives were unaffected. Chalkley returned to duty in late August but in October was hospitalized with “intermittent fever” and discharged due to disability in December. He returned to his family, settling in Philadelphia with them and returned to his occupation as a hatter. He and his wife had no more children until 1881 when they had a son, Stuart, who never married. Only their daughter Mary had children, including my grandmother Dorothy.

Jacob, the worst wounded of the three, spent some months in the hospital and then was transferred to the Invalid Corps to finish out his term of service. After his discharge and return to Buffalo, he filed for and received a pension finding some work for a while as a letter carrier and a laborer. By 1880, he is living with his brother, my great great grandfather, Alexander Weller and in 1883 he dies, leaving no wife or children.

Alonzo recovered and was transferred to the 19th Maine to complete his term of service. Perhaps because he had no other life to turn to, he then enlists in the 9th US Volunteers for a year. After that he returns to Maine where he marries but in November of 1869 he tries returning to the Army but deserts from Fort Gratiot in Michigan in May of the following year. He seems to have wandered for the next couple of decades, visiting his mother, sister to my 3rd great grandmother, sometimes, perhaps spending time in the gold fields of Idaho Territory. Eventually, in 1898, he marries in Illinois and has a daughter, Virginia, named after his long deceased little sister. Beginning in 1903 he bounces in and out of the nearest soldiers home, eventually dying there in 1912. His daughter marries at least twice and leaves “no known family survivors” when she dies in 1989.

Much of the information above comes from the three pension files and may not precisely line up with battle accounts. Jacob may have been injured on the 3rd and Alonzo may have been wounded and captured on the 2nd but those differences are unimportant.

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