Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hiel P. Clark

Hiel P. Clark was born October 2, 1834, in New York, the son of Curtis (b. 1805) and Melinda (b. 1807).

New York native Curtis married Vermonter Melinda and they settled in New York where they resided for some years. Hiel’s family moved to Michigan (probably from New York) sometime before 1843, and by 1850 were living in Dexter, Washtenaw County where Curtis operated a farm and Hiel attended school with his siblings. In 1860 Hiel was working as a farmer and living with his family in Boston, Ionia County.

He was 26 years old and still living in Ionia County when he enlisted as a Corporal in Company D on May 13, 1861. Hiel may have been related to George B. Clark of Oakfield, in eastern Kent County, who also enlisted in Company D. (Company D was composed in large part of men who came from western Ionia County and Eaton County.)

On July 24, 1861, Hiel wrote to his parents from Washington, DC to let them know that

I am alive and well. One week ago yesterday we started from Camp Blair and marched into Virginia and encamped at Vienna [at] about 12 o'clock that night and started the next morning at 6 o'clock and marched about fourteen miles and then stood picket guard all night and marched the next day until noon when our skirmishers came upon the rebel pickets at Bull's Run. We were brought into the field in double quick time, the artillery passing upon the road and in [a] few moments we heard the firing from their guns faintly answered by the enemy from [a] little battery right in front of us, all of their shot falling short of our guns. They fired four shots and then retreated leading us to suppose that they did not calculate to make a stand there but they soon deceived us. We marched right in front of a piece of woods and sent our skirmishers in when they commenced firing on us, the balls whistled over our heads like hail stones, but hit none of our Regiment. The N.Y. 12th charged before they knew it when they opened fire on them but the first shot was too low and the next was too high when they retreated with but little loss and in good order.

On July 29, 1861, he wrote to his sister from the Patent Office hospital in Washington, DC. “We were in action on the 18th and 21st and were forced to retreat back to Washington but wherefor I do not know. We think the whole thing was badly managed and that the General is not loyal. It was General Tyler [McDowell]; he is now superseded by General McClellan. We had on the 21st 20 thousand men and the enemy had 85 thousand but dare not come and attack us but kept behind their masked batteries and did not even follow us after we had retreated. On the 18th our Regiment lay one hour right in sight of the enemy and they fired at us all the time with rifled cannon and wounded only two of our men. . . .”

He was still in the hospital in Washington on August 11, when he wrote to his sister asking her to “Write to me how the wheat yielded, how the corns looks, how the potatoes look and how the cattle and horses and sheep and hogs get along and how much butter mother had made and how much it is a pound; it is only 31 cents here and eggs are only 2 cents a piece and everything else in proportion. Tell me how Father gets along with the farm. It is raining on my paper and as their is now news to write happening that the next time I write to you that I may tell you that I am well.” And on October 1, 1861, he wrote from Fort Richardson that he was healthy again.

We are here at the fort yet but don't know how long we shall stay here. We have been expecting to march for the last two days; day before yesterday we had orders to pack up and be ready to march at a moment's warning but we have not gone yet and may not for a month. But I shall be pretty apt to know it when we get started. They do say that the army moved southward yesterday but I think that it was only a part of the forces, that they intend to move. There was a little fighting on our right last Saturday and left their big gun. There has been so much blow about as being the one that they took from us at Bull Run, it proved to be a huge stove pipe. They left in such a hurry that they could not take it with them. They have left for Bull's Run; they think they can fight a better battle there than anywhere else. . . . We have rather cold nights here but no frost yet though it has been cold enough for one; but the wind blows too hard for frosts. I was Corporal of the guard yesterday and had to lay outdoors in the night and caught a little bit of a cold.

He added in a postscript written the following day “There is no stir here, the excitement has all died away.”

On October 17, 1861, he wrote to his sister from Eagle Hill, Virginia, updating her on his latest movements. On the 14th

went out to drill this morning. While drilling with the bayonet an old union man came along and asked the Captain to march his company up to his house and get some good water which we done. He has a nice place. Oct. 15th - last night liked to froze; had to get up twice to warm; felt rather hard this morning. Went into the tent and went to sleep. This afternoon had to go to Fort Lyon to take charge of a fatigue party; when I came back found the Regiment had changed their quarters; had the pleasure of pitching my tent; but we have a better place than we had before. Have just had two and a half dollars paid me on a bet, the bet was on the pay of members of Congress. I won, of course. Oct. 16th - got up this morning at three o'clock, expecting to march at daylight but was disappointed. Went to work fixing up our tent; made a bed of barrel staves, laid on poles, and a writing desk by putting a barrel head on a keg. The boys are dancing as usual; had a little fun today hearing fifer [George] Hill read some of his letters, especially one from Mattie Dodge. Though it was fun for me, I don't think any more of him for showing them to me; he is a regular puppy.

He wrote his sister again on October 25, 1861 from Eagle Hill that he had been out in the countryside and had seen Mount Vernon. “What would have been [Washington’s] emotions could he have seen today his beloved Virginia” with “countrymen fighting against each other at the instigation of a few defeated politicians who are trying to ruin a government founded in the wisdom of our Fathers. . . . I have lived to see what I never expected to see and what I hope never to see again.” On November 13, 1861, he wrote his sister from Eagle Hill that he had

received yours day before yesterday and just as I got ready to write had to go on guard and was on till one o'clock the next morning when orders came to draw off my guard and be ready to march at three. Well we got ready and we did march, we went to a church called Pohick Church about 12 miles southwest from here and then sent skirmishers out through the woods but did not find what we were after. The report was that the rebels were building a battery in that section but we failed to find it. Our skirmishers went in one direction to what is called Occoquan Creek and we went in another to the river but without success. All we could learn was one cavalry man said on a certain road two Regiments of infantry, a few artillery and a squadron of cavalry were seen about an hour before we got there, leaving and marching fast when the report came to the General he said it was just as he expected and all we had got to do was to turn round and go back which we done, and today I am so sore and lame that I can hardly stir. We are getting new tents today, they are called the Sibley tent, so constructed that we can build a fire in them. There is no news and no prospects of a fight right away; tell Willie that I guess the war will last long enough so that he will get big enough to fight. Van [Sylvanus] Staring, Urias Story and Bill Jackson [Co. A] are all well. . . .

“We are still on the same ground,” he wrote on December 6, 1861, “and likely to stay here for some time. We have to drill twice each day. The nights are cold and the ground freezing in the night and thawing by day makes it rather bad walking; the sacred soil of Virginia sticking to a fellow's foot like grim death to [a] nigger. Speaking of negroes while I was on picket the last time two of them came in from the other side of the lines and said they wanted to go to Alexandria. I sent them to the Lieutenant and come to find out they did not want to come back. They said their master had gone to Manassas and was going to take them there too and they did not want to go for they all know that they are free when they get inside of our lines. There is a family of Quakers out where we go on picket and I boarded there; while I stayed there was one nice girl there. You had better believe I would like to marry that part of Virginia; without joking it is the best looking place I have ever seen [and] if I live through the war I think I shall stop there and work for the old Quaker.”

He was acting Sergeant Major in July of 1862, and from Camp Lincoln he wrote his sister on June 18, 1862.

You are probably anxious to know the reason of my long silence. Well I will tell you. Just after we had crossed the Chickahominy [River] our knapsacks and desks were all ordered back. I supposed we were going right through to Richmond, and sent all my papers, pens, ink, and envelopes back in the desk, and have had nothing to write with till today, our desks came up, and I found everything all right, but my paper, and gold pen they were stole[n]. I borrowed a sheet this morning; it is rather rough. But we have rough times down here, why sis they shoot right at a fellow. We had to fight hard on Saturday the 31st to keep from being cut all to pieces. The [sic] most of our Regiment fought well, some of them shrunk out though, both privates and officers, the most prominent among the latter class was one [D. C.] Crawford, second Lieutenant of Company E. He is among the wounded sent to Washington but the doctor says there was not a scratch on him or his clothes. He says he will report him for cowardice that would be rough, but it would be right. I was sorry to hear of Geo. Cummings death, but it is the fate of war. I am safe so far, and think I shall pass through safe but there is no telling. We have a strong position here, and I guess Gen. McClellan calculates to siege them out of Richmond. It is a slow way but rather a safe one.

He added in a postscript that “I shot [at the rebels] twelve times at forty rods with a good rifle and took good sight every time. if I missed every time I shall consider myself a poor shot.”

On August 1, 1862, Hiel wrote his sister from Harrison’s Landing, “We had rather a rainy time of it yesterday last night at midnight was awakened by heavy firing and for about an hour they kept it up with the greatest fury. I have not heard what it was for nor how they made of it but from the sound I concluded that secesh got the worst of it or it would not have stopped so soon, . . . It is no use talking, sis, we are fighting against just as good men as the north” has “men who have got their hearts in the work they are doing and we have got to have an equal number of men to cope successfully with them. You see all the country we get we have to protect that takes a great many from our army. That is the reason why we have to have such an enormous force; to bring an equal force into the field against them.” He was absent sick in the hospital in August

On November 8, 1862, he wrote his sister from Fauquier County, Virginia, “We have been marching since the 28th of last month and our halt is now only temporary on account of bad weather and to get rations. We shall start again today or tomorrow. It is bad marching now, the weather is so cold that a fellow has to carry a cart load on his back in order to sleep warm nights. We even have to carry our tents; it is wearing out a good many men, your brother amongst the rest. These winter campaigns are a nice thing on paper but they are death on soldiers; but this, if successful, will end the war by preserving the Union; if unsuccessful it will end in separation for our army if beaten will be badly beaten.”

Heil was promoted to Sergeant sometime before May 1, 1863.

He was killed in action on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and presumably buried among the unknown soldiers at Chancellorsville.

GAR Post Hiel P. Clark No. 153 in Saranac, Ionia County was named in honor of his memory.

In 1877 his mother Melinda applied for a dependent mother’s pension (no. 231,253) but the certificate was apparently never granted.

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