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George Felch

Most information in this blog is paraphrased or quoted from a book published by the  Seventh New Hampshire Veteran Association in 1896 entitled the Seventh Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion written by Henry Little.

George Felch was born on February 18, 1830 in Canaan, Grafton County New Hampshire (east of Dartmouth College area) and was the oldest of the children born to Parker and Hannah Felch.  George left behind his wife Elmira and their son George Parker when he mustered in. George and Elmira had celebrated their 10th anniversary in early 1863.  George Parker was nine years old when his 33 year old father went to war.  George, like Marshall had been working in Alvah Bean’s shoe shop in West Fairlee Vermont when he mustered in.

 

Morris Island

Marshall’s older brother George mustered in with the New Hampshire 7th on October 31, 1863.  He and many other replacements were needed because of loss of troops.  The Seventh New Hampshire lost many soldiers in the battle to capture Fort Wagner back in July of 1863.  At that battle they lost more officers than any other regiment in any one engagement during the war.  Serving in that same battle was the famed Massachusetts 54th, a battle visually described in the movie Glory.

The new replacements including George joined battle hardened soldiers who were at the time conducting battery operations during siege operations on Morris Island.  The New Hampshire 7th and other Union troops were firing cannons at Fort Sumter and the City of Charleston while on an almost continual level receiving return fire by confederate troops.

If a puff of smoke was seen to at once cry out “Cover, Bull of the Woods,” or “James Island,” or “Moultrie,” as the case might be. So accustomed did the men get to such warnings that they would at once seek the nearest cover without looking to ascertain whether or not the lookout was right or wrong, and the habit became so confirmed, that at this day, more than thirty years after, quickly sing out “Cover, Moultrie,” in the presence of a soldier who served during that memorable siege, and ten to one he will strike for the nearest cover.

Preparing for Battle

In 1864 the Union wanted to take control of Florida to halt the flow of foodstuffs to other parts of the Confederacy and a decision was made to mount a force that would move into the northern Florida inland in early 1864 near the town of Lake City.

Near the end of December 1863 the New Hampshire 7th was transferred to St. Helen Island to the south of Morris Island and to the north of Hilton Head.  The regiment was issued Spencer repeating carbine rifles and intensely drilled over the next two months.  By the end of January with their new carbines they were one of the finest fighting regiments in the Union. Such rifles could fire much more rapidly than the older muskets they were used to.   In early February they found themselves disembarked from a carrier ship and near the St. John’s River near modern day Jacksonville.

 

A few days later in a rather bizarre twist of fate, about half of the 7th infantry were ordered to turn in all their Spencer repeating rifles to a Calvary unit.   In exchange they were given much older muskets that either worked poorly or did not work at all.  It was those weapons that many would be going into battle with.

Colonel Abbott, in speaking of the matter in a letter to the adjutant general of New Hampshire, near the close of the war, says:

“I am compelled here to allude to a matter upon which it is difficult to speak, after this lapse of time, without indignation. On my return to Sanderson’s on the night of the 12th of February, General Seymour directed me to turn over enough of the carbines in my possession to arm a mounted regiment (the Fortieth Massachusetts), which was in his force, and receive Springfield rifles in return. I protested, but in vain.”

Olustee

A battle force of about 5,500 Union men including the New Hampshire 7th regiment and the 8th United States Colored troops were headed toward a disastrous defeat in that effort.

They were marching toward Lake City Florida on the 20th of February in north central Florida when about 5,000 union troops found themselves going into battle with a relatively well prepared and fortified Confederate force.

When they were about 200 yards away from the confederate force, a series of commands were given that basically put both the New Hampshire 7th and the eighth United States Colored troops into an illogical and untenable position.  They came under intense fire and quickly found themselves scattered and in retreat.

Sergt. Otis A. Merrill, of Company H, in a letter written home six days after the battle, in regard to the attempt at the formation of the line of battle, says: “We had marched all day by the flank, left in front. The column was not deployed until we were all under fire, and the wrong order was given. The order was, ‘By company into line, march!’ ‘Close column!’ ‘On eighth company deploy column, battalion, left face!’ when the order should have been, ‘ Battalion, by the right and left flank, march!’ The regiment was not fairly deployed before the men began to fall back amidst the confusion, and became more or less scattered, and could not be properly re-formed again.”

Sergeant Merrill says when the men commenced falling back, owing to the heavy fire in front, he stopped where his company stood until the bullets came faster from the rear than the front, and he had to get back. He also says: “When Colonel Abbott saw that a mistake had been made, he added, ‘As you were,’ but the different companies had already begun to execute the movement to deploy, and before the tangle could be straightened out they had begun to fall back.” At the moment the command was given to deploy column the bullets were flying thick and fast from the rebel line, but their artillery fire was high and did but little execution to our infantry line on the right.

The Eighth United Stated Colored Regiment consisted primarily of free blacks from Pennsylvania, along with a few contrabands (escaped slaves), and blacks from the Border States.  They formed in December of 1863 and received some very basic training in January of 1864.  Their story is nicely told in an excerpt from the book the Black Pharynx.    The new very enthusiastic troops arrived ready to be soldiers as evidenced by this quote from Lt. Oliver Norton, 1st Lieutenant.

” The boys are singing–

‘Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.
Down with the traitor, up with the star.’ 

These Union troops were handed a severe and unexpected defeat followed by a retreat towards Barbour’s plantation to the east.  Most of the wounded were left on the battle field and at the end of the day the New Hampshire 7th found that two hundred and nine were either killed, wounded, or missing.   Obviously if the right orders had been given, all the troops fully trained, and guns provided that worked, the situation might have been different but this was not the case. Most all prisoners who were captured at Olustee including a few of the colored troops would find themselves at Andersonville.

George Felch was one of those left behind.

Andersonville

In the book by Little there is major section written by corporal Robert Farrand in the New Hampshire 7th who was captured at Olustee, transferred to Andersonville.  He was one of only two few survivors from the group he arrived with who survived.   George’s situation would have been very similar to Roberts.

Farrand was blinded during the battle and captured.   Initially he was taken to Lake City, then later to Tallahassee where they remained until March 19, 1864.  They then found themselves locked into a box car on its way to Andersonville.   Farrand and twenty two others he arrived and entered Andersonville where they arrived on March 22.  Only two would survive.   The following are some paragraphs from Farrand’s description of the experience.

“In the evening, a box car was run down to the depot, into which we were put for safe keeping for the night. There were twenty-two of us. The car door was closed within two inches and securely fastened. The bottom of the car was covered to the depth of half an inch with wet mud, in which we were compelled to sit or lie as we thought best. In the morning, our car was attached to a train, and we started for our destination. The people all along the line seemed to be expecting us, for at every depot crowds were gathered to get a sight of the Yanks.’ About noon we reached Americus.

…Here we found that the story of the hospital and nice beds was a lie, told to us for what purpose we did not know. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon of this day, March 22, we reached Andersonville. After leaving the cars, we were marched to the stockade, about three quarters of a mile away, and, though we did not know it, what we had passed through was like paradise compared to what we afterwards suffered. Of the twenty-two men who entered Andersonville with me, only two, Charles Danforth, of Hopkinton, and myself, ever left it alive.

…. “When we entered the stockade we were placed in different companies, to fill up the ranks depleted by death. I was very fortunate in being assigned to a company which already contained fifteen men from my regiment. This was very pleasant, for I felt that, although I was blind, I was among friends who would assist me as far as they were able.

…Perhaps there would be no better time to tell of what our rations consisted than now. When I first entered Andersonville, the prison was in charge of a lieutenant of the army, and he allowed us one pint of meal per day. It was cob and corn ground together, and a piece of bacon about one inch square. About the twentieth of April, Wirtz took command of the stockade, and he at once reduced our daily allowance of food to two thirds of a pint of meal, and a very small piece of bacon. I wish to say here that the bacon was that which had been condemned as unfit for their soldiers, so it was sent to feed the prisoners with. Most of the time it was alive with maggots. The way of cooking the food was by taking the meat on a tin plate and setting the plate on a fire, then the maggots would crawl out and we could throw them away ; then, alter mixing the meal with water, fry it in cakes. Of course I could not do this, so my comrades would do it for me, for which I was truly thankful, for without this and other kind favors, the writer would not have lived to write this story. For some time after I entered the prison, the only water that we had to drink was from a brook which ran through the middle of the stockade. This brook came through two rebel regimental camps, and all the slush and grease from their cook-houses was thrown into it, so that when we drank from it our mouths would feel and taste as if we had been eating fat meat. After a time they allowed us to dig wells, and many availed themselves of the privilege and got pure water. “Sometime in June, during a severe rain-storm, a spring broke out near one side of the prison, and the men named it ” Godsend Spring,” which indeed it was to all the prisoners confined there.

…Andersonville was a parallelogram in shape and contained twenty-five to thirty acres, but was guards were outside this fence on the ground. The dead line was a fence two and a half feet high, made by driving posts into the ground a rod apart and nailing a two or three inch scantling on top. This was about twenty feet inside the stockade. The object of this dead line was to prevent the prisoners from digging the stockade down, as nearly every morning the guards would find from one to six posts and some of the prisoners gone. They were hunted with bloodhounds and almost always found and brought back; only one or two succeeded in reaching our Union lines, while one poor fellow who failed to climb a tree was almost torn to pieces by the bloodhounds.

…No blame can be attached to the rebels for building the dead line, but they were to blame for allowing the abuse of prisoners by the guards. The orders were for the guard to shoot any prisoners who crossed the dead line, and as a reward for so doing he was given thirty days’ furlough and the first commission vacant in his regiment, and as their story would be believed before ours, they did not wait for a prisoner to cross the line before they shot him. I will give two examples; one was a poor sick man unable to eat the rations given him, and so weak that he could only crawl on his hands and knees, seeing a piece of hard-tack near the dead line which some new prisoner had shaken from his haversack, he tried to get it, but he was so weak that when he lifted his hand to pick it up, he tipped forward. The guard, who had been watching him closely, instantly fired, sending a ball through his head, for which the guard got his reward, both a furlough and a commission for killing a Yankee.

..Most of the prisoners had shelters made of pine boughs, in which to sleep, and the floors were carpeted with pine needles.

…Owing to the lack of means to keep clean, the prisoners had become very filthy, and our clothing had become infested with vermin in the shape of body lice, and the morning hour was devoted to hunting and pests.

…”Along in May, prisoners were brought in from New York regiments, consisting of bounty jumpers and the rougher element from that great city, who formed themselves into raiding parties:

…”Sometime in the early part of July, the surgeons appeared to become very solicitous for our welfare, and desired the prisoners to be vaccinated, as they feared small-pox would break out in the prison. A number of the prisoners consented; this was a fatal mistake, for when the virus began to work gangrene would get into the sore and eat the flesh from the muscles and veins and bone of the arm, necessitating the amputation of the arm, which would invariably be followed by death. Of all the cases of amputation which came under my observation, but one survived.

…”During the months of June, July, and August, the death-rate reached its highest figures, averaging over one thousand per month. Those who died during the day were brought to the gate and laid side by side, like sticks of cord wood; those who died during the night remained where they were until morning, when they were brought and laid beside their fellows, when the dead cart would arrive and convey them to their burial place.

Corporal Robert Farrand’s story continues and he lives to tell it.   As many as a hundred prisoners a day were dying at Andersonville.

Andersonville Today

JoAnn and I had a chance to visit Andersonville which is now a national monument and cemetery on March 31, 2017.  There is a nice visitor center that they operate as a tribute to all POW’s, not just Andersonville.   The actual prison area is to the “back” of the visitor center and a number of monuments from different states are near the of the prison area closest to the visitor center.   White markers outline the fence line of the prison walls and along with the “dead line”.   When you first look at the prison area you notice that it sits on one side of a valley with a small stream cutting through the middle and you see where the prison was extended up the other side of the valley.  They have a few places where they have replicated the stockade to give you a sense of the experience.  The NPS also did some historic overlays of the site that are quite interesting and some pictures of a “luminary event” in 2013 that must have been a powerful experience.

Photographer AJ Riddle visited Andersonville in August 1864 and took the only known photographs of the prison during its operation.  Thomas O’Dea’s made a drawing of the Andersonville Prison which is also shown on their website.

Located a short distance away and to the other side of the visitor center is the national cemetery.   It is the location where the Andersonville POW’s were buried but also includes veterans of all wars.  They have a grave locator to find POW’s who died in the camp and were buried in trenches.   George Felch was number 12440 and we found his site relatively easily and spent some time there on a most gorgeous day.