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A Civil War Story
by John T. Marck

 

A tribute to my Civil War hero, and to a regiment that suffered one of the greatest losses at the Battle of Antietam.

 

 



 

  A Civil War Story

A Tribute to my Great-Great Grandfather

William Benton Marck was born on May 18, 1839 in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of John Michael Marck, Jr., a cigar maker age 21, and his wife Sara Jane Bloxton, who was one year older at 22. Willie's father, John Michael was born in Pennsylvania on March 15, 1812. His wife, Sara Jane, was born in Virginia in 1816. When she married John Michael, she had always longed to return to her beloved Virginia. So when Willie was about 16 in 1855, she and her husband moved to Fredericksburg. Here he continued his business of cigar making, and Willie worked with his father, and soon established himself in the cigar making profession.

Although they employed no slaves in their business, they were sympathetic to the Southern cause. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Willie enlisted in the Confederate Army on May 23, 1861, at the age of twenty-two, with the rank of corporal. On July 1, 1861, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, the same day the 30th was mustered into Confederate service.

On that warm day in May 1861, as Willie was packing to march off to war, Sara was beside herself, as her only son was leaving, and maybe, never to return. "When you leave t'morrah, you must promise to be careful," she said. "And don't forgit your socks and shirts." "I'll be careful," Willie replied, "and I won't forget to take the clothes." As his mother left the room, she used her shawl to hide her eyes, so that Willie never saw her tears.

The next morning came and the family sat down to a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. As Sara held back her tears, the family spoke of happier days. But then it was time for Willie to leave. When he wasn't looking, Sara placed two jars of Raspberry jam and some biscuits in Willie's pack. Willie, being young and spirited, did not realize the horror he was about to see. He hugged his father, who had the feeling of proud concern, then his mother pulled on his shirt, waved her hand through his hair, all as mother's do, to make sure he looked his best.

As Willie walked to the train that would take him to Richmond, he looked back at his home, and remembered the cool nights and the smell of the burning wood in the fireplace, and his mother's cooking. The smell of the freshly baked bread did not leave his mind. He remembered working with his father at the cigar business, and the fun he had climbing trees and fishing in the nearby steam. But soon his thoughts became diverted, to the cause, that reason he enlisted in the army. But what was his cause he thought to himself. He had mixed emotions, as he and his family owned no slaves, nor did he actually approve of such things. Yet, being from Baltimore, originally, but more importantly having roots in Virginia, his cause was that of support for his state, regardless of the deeper reasoning others felt. Maybe he could convince the Yankees to go home he thought, as he neared the train station. If I could do that, maybe I could stay at home, and this terrible war would be over.

As he boarded the train, he saw several companies of Confederate soldiers. Even as a young man, and not a boy, he still held the excitement of the war. The soldiers, the uniforms, the guns and cannons, all were things that boys enjoyed. The concept that the guns and cannons were real, and not as he played in the fields using a stick for a rifle, had not hit him yet.

His father had a rifle, which he gave to Willie to take to war. It was a Springfield, 1848 .58-caliber musket. His father had taught him how to use it, and Willie was a very good shot. He had only killed on a few occasions for food with his father; things like rabbits and such. The idea that he might have to shoot another man had not even entered his mind.

As he had enlisted, he entered the Virginia Volunteers as a corporal, and about a month later was mustered into Confederate service, into Company "C," 30th Infantry.

One of the many regiments who gallantly fought at the Battle of Antietam was the 30th Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia. Originally organized as an US Militia, they entered the war as the 2nd Infantry Battalion Virginia Volunteers (Militia) along with eight other companies in state service on June 13, 1861. On July 1, 1861, it was transferred to Confederate service, as the 30th Virginia Infantry, and reorganized on April 19, 1862.

The 30th Infantry consisted of ten Companies, A through K, and were involved in numerous battles throughout the war; namely, The Seven Days Battles, Malvern Cliff, Harpers Ferry, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Hampton Roads, Winchester, Front Royal, Harrisonburg, Cross Keys, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Mobile Bay, Petersburg Siege, Sayler's Creek, Knoxville and Plymouth Sieges, Drewry's Bluff, Five Forks, Antietam, and Appomattox Court House.

To understand something about the one thousand three hundred ninety-three men who served in the 30th Infantry, it is interesting to note the various occupations of these men, of which 802 are on record. The largest number of men were farmers with 180, followed by laborers (136), students (105), carpenters (55), managers (49), clerks (31), shoemakers (23), merchants (16), teachers (15), bricklayers (15), overseers (14), millwrights (13), blacksmiths (12), physicians (11), grocers (10), sailors (10), tailors (9), wheelwrights, printers, painters (8 each), lawyers (6), policemen, tanner, tinner, dentists, coopers, confectioners (5 each), mechanics, moulder, factory hand (4 each), miner, gentlemen, baker (3 each), and butcher, druggist, cabinet maker, preacher, restaurant keeper and nurserymen (2 each). Additionally, there was one of each of the following: bookseller, carder, drayman, hotel keeper, fisherman, caster, cigar maker, engineer, machinist, postmaster, plumber, plasterer, railroad conductor, stone cutter and livery stableman.

Of these men who served in the 30th, the enlistment age is known for one thousand one-hundred twenty-eight. Of these the youngest were thirteen (2), fourteen (1) and fifteen (5). The oldest were two men, aged fifty-six and fifty-seven. The most frequent ages were eighteen (98), twenty-two (88) and twenty (84). The median age was twenty-four years and the average was twenty-five years. Twenty-eight percent of the men were married, and the average height was five feet eight inches.

The Razor and 58 caliber Rifle used by William Benton Marck

July 1861 was a tough time for Willie and the recruits of the 30th. The various companies were spread across a wide area on the Potomac River, from Marlboro, Pratts and Matthias Points. Military drills were constantly being held, often in painful doses. Tiresome, boring picket duties on the river's edge were made more difficult by the swarms of insects. Sleeping was impossible, not only from the heat, but also because of the thousands of mosquitos.

Finally, on July 20, 1861, Colonel Richard Milton Cary, commander of the 30th, announced that a forced march shall begin to Manassas Junction, where the war's first battle was brewing. The first day's march was tiring, very hot and dusty. By dusk the 30th reached the village of Aquia. Willie described the village as a store, with a couple of dilapidated houses, and a tobacco warehouse. Nothing much there to provide any relief after the long march, he noted.

Early in the morning on July 21, the march resumed toward Manassas. Most of the day, Willie recalled the incessant sound of infantry fire, which only added to the discomfort of the long seven-hour march, after which they stopped to eat at a place known as Cole's store, and rested for about three hours. As Willie puffed on one of his cigars, he recalled that during the morning's march, the "green" soldiers gave out and fainted from the tiresome march and the heat. Finally at about 8:00 p.m. they arrived in Manassas, in a total state of exhaustion. He remembered that Colonel Cary was quite proud of the men, as they had covered forty-seven miles in less than twenty-nine hours. Fortunately, the Union army had fled earlier in the day, as the 30th was in no condition to fight.

The following morning brought a downpour, turning the once dusty roads into thick mud. The 30th camped approximately one-half mile from Manassas Junction. All day on July 22, Willie and the men of the 30th witnessed their first real taste of war, as they watched the dreadful sight of wounded fellow soldiers being brought back from the field. Sergeant Marck, along with other sergeants and Lieutenants Cole, Mason, Carmichael, Dabney, Knox, Smith, and Chesley, were given strict orders from the commanders of Company C, Captains Alexander and Wallace, to maintain tight discipline of the men, keeping them in camp. All requests from the men to view the battlefield or collect souvenirs were denied. The wounded men were a horrible sight. Men were bleeding, and some had lost limbs. This first taste of battle for the men of the 30th was one they would never forget. Wounds from rifle fire left holes the size of silver dollars. Others, from cannon fire were too gruesome to describe. Medications in the war were quite limited.

One fact of the Civil War that is concerning is that more than twice as many soldiers died of illnesses than were killed in battle. This resulted from soldiers being forced to live in unhealthy conditions; often poorly fed, in crowded unsanitary camps. Epidemics would sweep through encampments and take more lives than the battles. Most of the diseases of this time were little understood, and at times the treatment did more harm than good.

Willie remembered that the universal ailment of all soldiers, and probably the deadliest, was called many names. Some called it the "Tennessee trots," others the "Virginia quick steps," or merely the "bowel complaint." Doctors had labeled this ailment "debilitis," or "diarrhea." Treatment for this ailment varied according to the doctor, and the available medications. One soldier in Company C, who had this ailment was treated with heavy doses of lead acetate, opium, aromatic sulfuric acid, tincture of opium, silver nitrate, belladonna, calomel and ipecac. Two weeks later the soldier died, and no wonder. Consequently, soldiers regarded a visit to the doctor as more a death sentence, rather than a cure. Because of this they would endure very long periods of suffering, rather than be sentenced to a hospital, with similar treatment. One medication commonly administered to soldiers was a mercury and chalk compound called blue mass. This was used in cases from toothache to constipation, and was the staple of all doctors' medicine bags. Quinine was the most valuable medication during this time. It was known to be an effective treatment for malaria, and as a prescription for about a dozen other complaints, as well as use as a dentifrice or toothpaste. Although quinine was thought to be good, the most commonly used medication, for both the North and the South, was alcohol, usually in the form of whiskey or brandy.

July 23 brought the 30th to marching again, this time back toward Manassas. The men of the 30th were happy to be marching again, as this time they were not scheduled for battle. After several days march, they arrived at Marlboro Point, where they stayed for forty-seven days, until September 12. From here they moved to Camp Holmes, outside Brooke's Station. Willie and several of his friends cheerfully remembered that this new camp was far from the river with its insects, and from the railroad.

For a year or so, Willie, with Company C, fought bravely at the battles of Front Royal, the Seven Days Battles, and Cross Keys. During this time, and throughout most of the war, temporal supplies were in great demand. Although most of the men in Company "C" had money, as they were paid on a regular basis, the badly needed clothes and shoes "could not be gotten for mere money." Finally, a shipment of six hundred sixty English blankets arrived, which was a real bonanza for the troops, at the cost of $2.75 each.

In the early months of 1862, Confederate authorities endeavored to reenlist the majority of soldiers whose twelve-month enlistments were about to expire. Although many desired to go home, most reenlisted. Some out of patriotism, and others for fear of news of a possible draft, with the conscription law soon to be passed.

On September 1, 1862, the 30th crossed the river and marched to an area one mile north of Culpepper Court House and camped for the night. A torrential downpour came during the night, drenching everything, and the men were forced to lie on cold wet blankets. Over the next several days they marched through New Baltimore, Buckland, and the area on which the Second Battle of Manassas had just been fought several days earlier. At 11:00 a.m. on September 7, 1862, the 30th reached the Potomac, amid cheers and music. In order to cross, the men had to strip, as the water was waist deep. As they crossed, they sang Maryland, My Maryland. Willie recalled one of the men saying, "So I bid farewell to old Virginia for the present, hoping to come back soon flushed with victory, and go to our peaceful homes." Soon thereafter several of the men reminisced about how available and cheap food and clothing was before the war, and how nice it would be to have it so again.

After crossing the Potomac, the 30th marched to the edge of Buckeystown. On the morning of the eighth, they marched only approximately one mile beyond Buckeystown. Most of the day was spent in a mass washing of men and clothes alike. The next day, they marched to Frederick, then turned back to their old camp beyond Buckeystown due to the condition of the men, either sick or ill equipped, with most having no shoes. In spite of their condition, the 30th marched in earnest on September 9, as their mission was to destroy the C & O aqueduct. Beginning their march at 5:00 p.m., they reached the aqueduct about 11:00 p.m. The aqueduct, a huge masonry structure was no match for the unit, given their poor tools, and the short amount of time at their disposal. At 3:00 a.m. they were ordered back to the camp from where they had come. Traveling across dirt covered, hard dusty roads, with most being shoeless, they needed a good night's rest.

But, the rest they needed did not come. Just as Willie laid down to sleep, they received additional orders to re-cross the Potomac, and move toward Harpers Ferry, where they were to meet "Stonewall" Jackson and assist him in any way possible. The 30th began their march as darkness fell, on September 10, and reached the river at Point of Rocks around midnight.

The C & O Canal created another obstacle for the artillery and wagons. The men had to carry railroad ties for more than three hundred yards to bridge the canal for the vehicles. By this time they were exhausted. When the job was completed, many of the men bathed and relaxed in the water, to the rising sun. Having made camp in the early hours of September 11, most of the men slept straight through the first sunlit hours. Generally, they would start their marches at 5:00 a.m., but this day the march did not begin until about 8:00 a.m. Marching most of the day, they reached Loudoun Heights, just across from Harpers Ferry. One of the men in the unit described Loudoun Heights saying "I suppose it has about fifty houses, although it looks like an old place, but probably has a number of pretty girls."

The march on the morning of September 13, took them to the foot of the Blue Ridge, with orders to occupy the heights above them. Through random Union shelling, they reached the heights without further opposition. The shelling ended at dusk, and the men of the 30th attempted to get some sleep. Roused at 9:00 p.m., they were ordered to return to the bottom of the hill. In a camp near Hillsboro, in a zombie-like condition, they finally slept. Once again, their sleep was interrupted, as Colonel Manning at 3:00 a.m. ordered them to his position, about one mile down the road from their camp.

September 14 was a dangerous day for the 30th. The Stafford Light Artillery along with the men of the 30th, had to carry three Parrott guns and two rifle artillery pieces up the hill to the heights. Captain French, who commanded the entire detachment, had crossed his fire on Harpers Ferry, with other Confederate artillery that encircled the town. During the cross fire, on French's bad planning, a shell exploded wounding Lieutenant Robertson of the Stafford Artillery, as well as a good friend of Willie's named John James Murphy, of Company C, who was an eighteen-year-old apprentice cabinet maker from Fredericksburg. Murphy survived, only to be captured much later in the war, at Five Forks. The morning of September 15 brought heavy mist and fog, so not much firing took place. As the skies cleared, the 30th saw Confederate Major General A.P. Hill's column approaching the town. Soon thereafter the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry surrendered. The 30th, along with others had been victorious. In celebration, they seized a large supply of pistols, coffee, sugar, food and horses; supplies that were badly needed. As the celebration continued, "Stonewall" Jackson and his column marched into town, and joined in the victory. One of Willie's greatest thrills during the war was meeting and sharing stories with "Stonewall" Jackson. The rest of the morning was quiet and restful for the 30th. At noon, they were on the march again, being ordered to cross the river a third time, where they camped for only a short time on the left bank of the Shenandoah. Around 1:00 p.m., they moved again, this time twenty miles, passing through Shepherdstown. Later in the afternoon, the 30th had to cross the Potomac again. The current was so strong several men were swept off their feet, drowning one. General Walker reported back to General Lee that they had reached their bivouac. It was now late in the afternoon on September 16.

September 17, 1862

September 17 was the bloodiest single day in the American Civil War. For Willie, and the men of the 30th, it was the bloodiest single day several times over.

At 3:00 a.m. the 30th marched several miles to an open field on the extreme right of the Confederate line, crossing Snavely's Ford on Antietam Creek. Union artillery fire was falling against Toomb's Brigade, some distance away to their left. Since the artillery wasn't falling near them, Willie and several men of Company "C," now without good drinking water, decided to search for some. A farmhouse near them had a well, so they headed for it, but they were out of luck. The farm owner, a Yankee, and not at all sympathetic to the southern cause, had broken off his pump handle and mangled the pump to deny water to the uninvited guests. Consequently, Willie and the others had to settle for water in muddy puddles in the yard, while others managed breakfast of hardtack and meat.

Returning toward the sound of the guns, Willie and the others did not realize that nearly fifty men of the 30th were heading toward their deaths. Three companies, including Company C, headed up the West Woods, through a small corn field (not the Miller corn field). As they advanced through the corn field they were met by a hail of bullets, slapping against the stalks, described as a terrible sound. Throughout the West Woods, bodies lay about from previous fighting. As they advanced through the West Woods they were met by heavy fire of shot, shell, grape and bullets. Moving forward, they reached the edge of Hagerstown Pike, at Dunkard Church. For reasons unknown, they believed that the Union army was now retreating. Before they knew what was happening for sure, they were in deep trouble. At an area running across the front of the 30th was Smoketown Road. This road was confined by fences on both sides. On the far side of Smoketown Road is a rocky ledge, where the Maryland Monument now stands. On this rocky ledge, waiting, were the Union troops of Greene's infantry along with Tompkin's artillery.

The 30th Virginia was ordered to charge at the left side edge of the woods at the Dunkard Church. As they advanced, a Union stinging fire of bullets and artillery met them. They were literally cut to pieces. As Willie charged with Company C, an artillery shell hit to his left, killing four of his friends, and fracturing two bones in his left foot. Within seconds another shot landed in an area almost directly in front of the church, wounding several others. Now laying wounded, Willie and the others knew they had to retreat. As Willie, along with the other wounded soldiers lay on the ground, they still attempted to return fire, but their attempt was hopeless. Although barely able to walk and in severe pain, Willie started to crawl toward the rear of the church. Finally, he along with others of his company who were wounded, were able to get to the area behind the church and lay behind a section of large rocks. As the frantic fighting continued, Willie and about eight others were able to move back into the thick woods behind Dunkard Church to avoid capture. The entire exchange of gunfire lasted only about fifteen minutes, and covered only about one hundred-fifty yards. After the battle, one of the men of the 30th remarked: "Volley after volley were after us. It was a wonder that any of us escaped. I had often heard of men talking of a shower of bullets, but never saw or experienced it until this day."

The losses of the 30th Virginia this day were staggering. On the day which still stands as the bloodiest in American history, Company C, 30th Virginia was at the head of the Confederates' ghastly list: forty-nine killed or mortally wounded; one hundred-five wounded; eight more wounded and taken prisoners; and ten unwounded prisoners. Of the two hundred thirty-six men of Company C, one hundred seventy-two were lost. To the entire Antietam campaign, including September 12 through the 14, must be added losses of one wounded and nine lost, bringing the total to one hundred eighty-two for the entire campaign. In about fifteen minutes, three-quarters of the regiment was lost. After the Battle of Antietam, a survey was made of the flag of the 30th Virginia. One corner was shot off the flag and the rest of its fabric was perforated with fifteen bullet holes. The 30th Virginia was given widely circulated credit for bravery at the Battle of Antietam, accounts of which were published in newspapers in New York as well as in Virginia.

Willie spent several weeks in hospitals, recovering from his wounds. Though he recovered, the wounds left him with a permanent deformity, that kept him out of active duty. Upon recovering, he was detailed as a hospital guard in Petersburg, Fredericksburg and Richmond, where he served to the end of the war. His time spent in Fredericksburg gave him the opportunity to visit his home, and see his parents again. This helped in making the horrors of the hospital a little easier to take. Willie's regiment, fought in other battles during the war, and was one of the regiments who fought in the Appomattox Campaign and surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

After the war, Willie returned to Fredericksburg, but soon thereafter returned to Baltimore as a cigar maker, and on September 6th, 1871, married Clara Amelia Somers, of Baltimore. William and Clara had three children, Sarah Elizabeth, Grace Edna, and William Allen. They then moved to Groveland Avenue, West Arlington, Baltimore, where they lived until his death on July 28, 1908 at the age of sixty-nine.

Medals and Certificate presented to William Benton Marck on September 20, 1880

Retirement paper for William Benton Marck

Copyright© John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.