Monday, September 28, 2009

James F. McGinley - update 8/30/2016

James F. McGinley was born on December 11, 1835, probably in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of Irish-born Daniel (1804-1876) and Anne (Sheridan, 1814-1899).

As a young man James lived in Roxbury, Massachusetts and attended the “Washington School.” He eventually moved west, probably with his family and by 1855 they had settled in Wisconsin. The McGinley’s would eventually settle in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.

James married Agnes Lydia Crawford on October 26, 1858, at St. Mark’s Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and they had at least one child: Frances (b. 1858).

By 1860 James was working as a teacher and surveyor living with his wife Ellen and daughter in Manistee, Manistee County, where James was reported as a solid and respectable man in the community. According to T. J. Ramsdell of Manistee, in the years shortly before the war, every Sunday in Manistee

was a free all around fight every Sunday, which could be most easily started by one man's boastfully asserting to another, "I am a better man than you." The merits of the two individuals were quickly put to the test with the eventual participation of the bystanders. A group of small pine trees at the mouth of the river stood stript of their bark where it had been knocked off by the heels of kicking and fighting men. Of one logging crew nicknamed " The Fighting Crew," each individual had one or two ears bitten off. When finally this Sunday fighting became intolerable to the better class of citizens, a subscription was taken by James McGINLEY, from whom this [GAR] army post is named, to buy a horse to bring a Catholic minister from Grand Haven. Thus came Father TUCKER, a fine looking Prussian, the happy possessor of good muscular Christianity, well equipped to deal with these men. At his first services Father TUCKER was moved to take a drunken man by his collar and the seat of his trousers and throw him down stairs, at the most effective means of teaching him not to thus pollute the divine sanctuary. Father TUCKER staid and held services long enough to break up Sunday fighting.

Many years after the war Manistee physician Dr. Lothrop Ellis recalled that in early April of 1861, “as I was busy in the yard of premises known as the ENGELMANN home, McGINLEY came along with a small bundle in his hand. After the usual salutation he told me he was going to Grand Haven to enlist, to travel afoot and alone one hundred miles through forests and along the beach to answer the impulses of his soul to rush to the rescue of his imperilled country. No drum beat, or enthusiasm at home need be added to the sound that came from Fort Sumter.”

If Dr. Ellis recalled correctly, it took James the better part of a month to walk the 100 or so miles Grand Rapids, the nearest enlistment office. He stood 5’6” with hazel eyes, brown hair and a florid complexion and was 27 years old and still residing in Manistee when he enlisted in Company I on May 28, 1861. (Company I was made up largely of men from Ottawa County, particularly from the eastern side of the County.)

Shortly after the Battle of Bull Run, while the Regiment was at Arlington Farm outside of Washington, James wrote his sister.

My Dear Sister: I wrote a note the other day to let you know that I had come safe from the battle, and in it I promised you an account of the fight and I now set about it, supposing that my friends would like to see what is a very scarce article in the newspapers, a correct recital of the events of that eventful Sunday. As I gave you an account of the first fight in the letter I wrote you at Bull Run, I shall commence where I then left off.

Our first fight was on Thursday; on Friday morning we marched back and took possession of the battle ground without any interference from the enemy, and remained there, keeping a sharp lookout, doing picket duty, scouting in the daytime, securing some prisoners, and sleeping on our arms in line of battle every night until Sunday, the nearest troops being several miles in the rear of our brigade. We were afoot as soon as day broke and something seemed to tell me that we were to have a fight that day, so I took my gun and started out to find if my prognostications were correct. Passing to the rear and right of our position to some elevated land, in a widely cleared section, I could see approaching from Centerville and points to our right, toward the left of the enemy's position, long lines of our troops presenting, as you may well imagine, a "gallant array" as they moved briskly along, their long lines of polished gun-barrels floating splendidly in the morning sun. I knew then that we were to have an eventful day and turning on my heel I returned quickly to the camp, thinking that our generals were hurrying things a little and having little confidence in the result, for I knew that we were ill-prepared for the combat; that the enemy outnumbered us largely, and I must say that I made up my mind for the bloodiest kind of a victory if we won any.

When I got back to my regiment a number of cannon had arrived and everything seemed ready for the fray but eating our breakfast, which was soon disposed of. The artillery advanced to the open field and took up its Thursday's position and our regiment was drawn up in line of battle to support it.

At half-past six the first three guns were heard far off on our right. Soon a battery of three guns on our left opened upon the batteries with which we had the contest on Thursday, and our guns shortly lent their huge voices to the deathly chorus, but the only answer was the bursting of our shells in the enemy’s camp. Our fire was kept up briskly for more than an hour before we heard anything from their side; then the increased cannonading on the right, quickly followed by the fierce rattle of musketry in the same direction, told that the work of destruction had commenced. For six long hours the battle raged with unabated fury, the commingled roar of cannon and small arms swelling and lulling like the cadences of a storm. Our skirmishers, though they tried often, were unable to draw a reply from the foe opposite our position, but our rifled cannon fired upon everything that looked like soldiers and every cloud of dust that arose in the woods within three miles. It was to the re-enforcing of Beaureguard by Johnson, whom Patterson had allowed to get away from him, that we owe our defeat. This army of Johnson’s we could see from our position as it came over the hills in the rear of the enemy's left about a mile and a half away, and our rifled cannon threw spherical case shot among them as they crossed a broad, open field, and when the shells exploded you should have seen them scatter, the cavalry breaking from their lines in every direction, their horses rearing and plunging and dashing wildly away, the columns of infantry opening and suddenly halting and dashing forward at a double quick to the cover of the friendly woods. We could tell by the firing and moving clouds of smoke that our right wing was making serious inroads upon the enemy and was driving him back. At about four o'clock word was passed along our lines that the enemy was in full retreat, but we could see his reinforcements pouring in and still doubted our success. Soon we were ordered back into the woods, where the rest of our brigade was stationed, together with two New York regiments, and stacked arms. Hardly had we broken line and set about getting supper when we were startled by a sharp fire of artillery and musketry on our left. All the regiments were ordered to "fall in, double quick;" then came an order, blundered out by some officious fool, to leave everything but our canteens and arms. So we, supposing that we were going to help our boys on the left, doused our blankets, knapsacks, haversacks and jackets, and hardly had we done so when Col. Richardson rode up and gave the orders; "Left face! Forward, double quick, march!" And away we went toward Centerville, followed by the other regiments, thinking still, that we were only going to go ‘round the woods to the fight on the left, but soon found ourselves drawn up in line of battle, near Centerville, three miles from our encampment with our artillery planted on the high ground as a reserve for the retreating right to rally upon. This was the first we knew of our defeat, and we rather expected that the enemy would follow us up, so we all got into position, stacked arms and lay down to rest.

As soon as I could get away from the regiment I went over to the rear among the troops just returned from the fight. It was now about 8:30 P.M. and some tired soldiers were yet arriving exhausted with their hard day's work. Campfires stretched in regular lines away to the left for a mile or more, and soldiers were lying around them. Stragglers were wandering uneasily around in search of their respective regiments, and to my questions as to how the battle went, they in almost every case replied, dolefully, that their several corps were "all cut up!" I met a member of the 1st Rhode Island regiment and he told me that they had lost all their field officers, Gen. Sprague had had two horses shot under him, and were going to Washington to recruit! Since then I have learned that out of 1300 they lost 13 killed and missing! You can see from this how the newspapers came to be filled with such extravagant stories of our loss, and the "Pictorials" with such exaggerated pictures purporting to be taken "By Our Special Artist." On the Washington road several regiments and a large number of stragglers had built their campfires. Here I met Major Wadsworth, aid to Gen. McDowell, who told me that I had better stay with my regiment as the army was going to retreat to Washington. I was surprised for I knew we occupied a strong position and that the enemy must have suffered as severely as we had, whatever our loss was. To my questions he replied that within an hour the disorganized regiments would take up the line of march for Washington and the organized would follow in their rear. I was still incredulous and asked him who he was and he told me. I could not believe that we were to retreat, and concluded that he was drunk. I went back to the Third and laid down on the cold ground without jacket or blanket to keep off the chilly air and went to sleep thinking that a soldier's was indeed a gay life. At eleven o'clock we were aroused, formed in platoons so as to form a hollow square with the greatest expedition, marched half a mile toward Washington and halted on the top of Centerville Hill, while sixteen regiments in good order marched by us and then closed in as the rear guard, to protect the retreat, expecting to hear the enemy’s cavalry after us every moment, but they didn’t trouble us. I have seen a good many different accounts of the battle and retreat but none of them do us justice. Our brigade fought the first battle unsupported, yet I have seen it stated in the papers that the 69th and 71st N. Y. drove the enemy back at the point of the bayonet. For three days we were miles in advance of the rest of the army, yet the papers all persist in saying that we commenced our advance from Centerville at the same time as the rest on Sunday morning. Our Third Michigan was the rear guard all the way in from Centerville, and still others bear off the honors for the present. Col. Stiles, U. S. A., who as well as Gen. McDowell was drunk as a fool that day, and came in with that worthy in the van of the retreat, has informed the Washington papers that his corps of regulars brought up the rear and that was the reason the army was not pursued by the enemy! When we got here, soaking with rain at one o'clock next day I sought shelter in the tents of the regulars, and found them taking a comfortable smoke after having changed their clothes and eaten their dinner! When I say that McDowell and Stiles were drunk, I speak of what I saw myself, and thus you see what drinking whisky has cost us in this single instance, a loss that can only be repaired by the blood of thousands and thousands of precious lives. Our retreat was not so confused as the papers have represented, as you will understand when I tell you that after we had found our line of battle at Centerville I counted twenty-two regiments in line and I am sure that there were many others that I could not see, and after we left there, there was nothing to confuse them. There is one thing I do know and that is that reporters got scarce mighty quick when the cannon balls began to fly around us on Thursday, and on Sunday I'll bet my blanket — that the rebels have got — that there wasn’t a soldier in the army that could have retreated as fast as they did. They thought the army was confused on the same principle, I guess, that a drunken man imagines every one else drunk and himself sober.

I have talked with intelligent men belonging to nearly every regiment, engaged in the battle; and conclude that we had decidedly the best of it with comparatively little loss up to the beginning of the retreat. The minor details of the battle were managed admirably in almost every instance, and if the general management had been as good — i.e. if Patterson had done his duty and McDowell kept sober we would now be in possession of Manassas. Our men fought well and completely dispelled the illusion that the southerners could whip us with the odds in our favor, and what is more, established the fact that they are no match for us even handed, for they never came to the point of the bayonet with our boys, for as soon as bayonets came close they broke and ran. A great deal has been said about their cavalry, especially the "Black Horse Cavalry," but the "Fire Zouaves" taught that organization a good lesson.

Such was the battle of Bull Run as I observed it, a repulse to be sure, but important in its results, teaching us many things material for us to know, silencing clamoring politicians, proving the superiority of our men and ridding us of a drunken commander, who if successful now might have got us into a worse scrape at some future time.On September 3, 1861, James, who was detached from the Third Michigan, wrote his sister Kate from Four Mile Run, Virginia.

My Dear Sister: Your just appreciation of and kind approval of the course I have pursued through these perilous times gave me great gratification, for nothing can so cheer the heart of the weary toiler in the rugged path of duty as the consoling knowledge that the dear ones who "miss him at home" think that he is doing just what he should do, and are ever ready with words of encouragement for his lonesome ear and to breathe a fervent prayer to Providence in his behalf. That’s right, Kate, stand up for the "stars and stripes." Hurrah for that glorious banner again and again, and my most heartfelt prayer is that I may help to bear it on to victory until it waves in triumph over patriotic Rebellion and all its other enemies, and not another traitor breathes throughout the length and breadth of our country! You are right, there are indeed brave, sober men enough in the United States to whip these dastardly rebels, and its got to be done if it takes the life of every second man in the nation!

The first newspaper accounts of the Bull Run affair were very much exaggerated, but they cropped their excrescences somewhat after they had canvassed it awhile, and the light of truth began to break in upon the excited brains of the "Special Correspondents." No, Kate, I did not see any of that terrible "bowie-knife" work — neither did anyone else. That bowie-knife story couldn't claim as much credit as our yellow-covered literature, that of being "founded on fact;" it had no reality; it was merely a horrid phantasy that sprung, "armed cap-a-pie," like Minerva from the brain of Jove, from the boastful stomach of some deserting Zouave who like many of his comrades and their special patrons of the New York press tried to hide their disgrace by arrogating to the "Pet Lambs" the little hard-earned glory won by other brave fellows on that day. The Zouaves had a few men killed and lost more prisoners that any other regiment in the right wing, and there were more deserters among them than in any other organization in the army. Of course there are a great many brave men among them, and it is true they did much gallant fighting, but as a regiment they fell far short of the expectations that were founded on their future.

I am not at present with my regiment, but with a detachment of 30 men guarding a new fort now in process of construction at this point. Opposite Washington the land is elevated only some twelve feet above the tide, and this "flat" is from one-half to a mile and a half wide, and is bounded on its western side by the famous Arlington Heights, which rise to the height of perhaps 125 feet, abruptly in places, in others with a gentle slope. Opposite Georgetown, in the bend of the river is the northern extremity with no intervening level between the foot of the hills and the river. At this point is Fort Corcoran built by the 69th N. Y., of which you have read so much. The 2d Wisconsin now has charge of the fort, and the 9th Massachusetts is stationed near it. A mile further down on the heights is the "Arlington House," Gen. Lee’s residence, and was formerly the property of Mrs. Washington’s son, Charles Parke Curtis, whose grand-daughter is Lee’s wife. A mile still further we come to the road leading from the much talked of "Long Bridge" to Fairfax Court House. On the river bank at the Virginia end of the bridge, is an extensive and formidable earthwork called Fort Reunion. Here where the road ascends the hill is another strong fort, Fort Albany. These heights are merely bluffs, and after you ascend them you find that they are but the abrupt termination of the table land, exactly like the Manistee, (Mich.) river bluffs. Directly in front of Fort Albany rises a commanding swell of land perhaps 40 feet higher than the fort, and there five companies of the Michigan 3d - Co. I being one - are encamped and are employed with others of our brigade in building there a large fort. From this hill you can see the rebel breastworks on Munson's Hill, four miles or more up the country. Our brigade is the 4th, and is under command of Brig. Gen. Richardson formerly of the 2d Michigan and comprised of the 2d and 3d Michigan, the 14th Massachusetts and 37th New York regiments. We have possession of Forts Albany and Reunion, besides the two new forts. The 14th Massachusetts is one of the new regiments that have arrived since the battle of Bull Run and it took the place of the 1st Massachusetts that was with us at the battle and has been put in some other brigade. In the latter regiments I found many of our old Roxbury, (Mass.) acquaintances, including some of the boys that I knew at the "Washington school."

Below Fort Albany, the bluff circles gradually round toward the river and at this point they almost meet; at Fort Albany is the head of the ravine which runs in the same direction as the bluff and widens until a valley of considerable dimensions and terminating in the valley of Four Mile Run, three-fourths of a mile from the fort. Four Mile Run or creek empties into the Potomac and Arlington Heights ends here four miles or more below Fort Corcoran. Here is a new fort fronting and commanding the valley of Four Mile Run and the London and Alexandria railroad, which passes through it. The valley is perhaps a mile wide and opposite us the hills rise with an easy slope to the elevation of the table land. On the other side of this valley Gen. Blenker's brigade is encamped; to the left, i.e. down the river, the flat lands stretch a mile or so wide, for three miles, to Alexandria, whose trees allow us to see nothing of it from this point but house tops and steeples. It is a beautiful sight on one of those fine mellow mornings of which we have so many here and so few in the North. When we retreated from Bull Run all these hills were covered with timber partly second growth of some 40 or 50 years standing except some forty acres around Arlington House which appears to be of original stock. All but the last have fallen before the sturdy blows of the Northman’s axe. The hill that this fort is on belongs to Lieut. Hunter, U.S.N., whom you will remember as a writer of fiction. Our regiment chopped on this plantation over 260 acres and have chopped nearly a thousand acres in all. McClellan told the boys when visiting them the other day that they had done more work than any other regiment in the army.

You want to know something about camp life; well, we live in tents when we are in camp; sometimes we lay our hands on boards enough to make a floor and sometimes we get straw to sleep on, and when we haven’t either we do the next best thing and sleep on the ground. There is generally two or three men in each company detailed to cook for all the company. The orderly sergeant of each company draws its rations from the commissary at intervals of from one to five days according to the articles drawn. We get the best of salt pork and beef, nice white coffee sugar, good bread, and fresh beef every other day or so as it can be supplied. Also coffee, tea, beans, rice and desecated vegetable for soup. We save rations enough to sell to get us some other things for variety, and we "cramp" as much more as we can reach; perhaps you don't understand the term, but I can assure you the soldiers do. When we were camped away from the rest of the brigade down on Hunter’s place our colonel kept a close guard around the camp, and would let us out only when we went to work for there were a good many cornfields and potato patches near by and he knew that the boys wouldn’t be averse to drawing rations from them. A number of peddlers, taking advantage of our confinement, used to come from the city to sell us their wares charging of course, exorbitant prices, selling pies for 20 cents, watermelons 50 cents, potatoes 50 cents a peck, eggs 25 cents a dozen etc.; it worked quite well for a while until the boys began to run out of change and then the peddlers began to run out of profits although their stock went off faster than before. It was laughable to watch the performance. The peddlers generally had covered wagons and a man at each end to sell stuff, but in spite of all they could do the goods that went out overbalanced the money they took in. I've seen the boys "cramp" cakes and then go back and make the peddler put sugar on them. One day a peddler undertook to get mad about it and before he knew what was going on the soldiers had taken his horse from the thills, unharnessed and turned him loose, had taken his wagon-box to pieces, and but for the interference of the "officer of the day" I don’t know how he would have come out. Another day a fellow came in with a wagon load of watermelons to sell; there hadn't been any in for a day or two and the boys were pretty civil and did not "cramp" any. The peddler was a stranger to the ways of our camp, I guess, for I had never seen him there before; he took umbrage at the way some of the boys were mauling over the melons and told them that they had better let them alone. "All right," said one, taking a melon and stepping back, "Put that melon back heyah!" said the man; the soldier placed his fingers to his nose very significantly; the fellow immediately lifted the butt of his whip to strike him, and was on the point of springing from the wagon when the soldier passed the melon to some one behind him; the man hesitated a moment as if considering what to do, when someone snatched another melon from the other side and put out. Down jumped the peddler and gave chase — the crowd gave way for him but he hadn't gone a rod before he was tripped up, and when he had regained his feet both melon and "cramper" had disappeared, and when he turned toward his wagon he saw soldiers flying in every direction, and when he looked into his wagon-box he discovered that it was empty. That’s what soldiers call "cramping."

Well, it is very evident that McClellan meditates an attack on the rebels within a short time. Troops having been moving all night the last three nights; of their number or object of course I know nothing, for all movements of the army are kept a profound secret. But straws show which way the wind blows and it is from straws that I have drawn the above conclusions.

Sept. 5, morning. Well, all is quiet here this morning, but our brigade is under orders to be ready to march at a moment's notice, with three days’ rations cooked, and we expect that the enemy’s works on Munson's Hill will be stormed to-day. A report has been current here for a couple of days that Jeff Davis died on the 2d of this month at Richmond and we have been hoping that it was true, for his death might save some honest men’s lives. Tell brother John that I think he had better not enlist at present. I think he is needed most at home and that I can do soldiering enough for one family just now. But I suppose he would like to strike a blow for his country, and if things would go wrong with us, and he feels it his duty to shoulder a musket, let him put his trust in the Almighty and perform his part as becomes a true man and a lover of this great republic. Tell all who enlist to beware of the soldier's worst enemy, strong drink. It is the bane of the army and I can see many a fine, brave fellow around me who is nursing within him an enemy, who will sooner or later drag him to the lowest depths of degradation.

Tell father that though I may have been delinquent in other things that I'll never disgrace the name I bear, the race I sprang from, nor the land of my birth on the field of battle. Say to mother that it was the patriotic sentiment she instilled into my boyish heart that sent me forth to do battle for my country, and I bless her for teaching me my duty.

James was apparently away from the regiment but by early spring of 1862 had rejoined his company, when he wrote a friend

I arrived at Camp Winfield Scott, before Yorktown, on the 26th of April, and found my company (I, Third Michigan) detached from the regiment and engaged in running a one-horse steam saw mill “getting out” timber and planking for the batteries, and lumber for hospital purposes. We did what would be called in our Northwestern woods a “driving business,” and although we couldn’t supply the demand, we helped to make our work a great deal more efficient than they could otherwise have done. I see that many of the Eastern journals, with the facility with which they always ignore the services of Western men in this army, have already given the credit of our lumber business to one of the Maine regiments. The mill is situated on the main thoroughfare to Yorktown, from which place it is distant only two miles, and was therefore right under the rebel guns, and could be distinctly seen from their works. They tried hard to shell us out, and their 100-pound and 80-pound shell passed over the mill and burst all around us, without, however, hurting any one, although there were many hairbreadth escapes. We worked night and day, but on Saturday night, May 3d, the rebels fired so “careless” that Gen. Heintzelman, whose quarters were close by, ordered us to shut down. I turned in, and was soon as sound asleep as if my little picket tent had been impervious as the mail of the Monitor to the big shell that were constantly falling and bursting nearby, and was awakened about sunrise by the music of bands. I turned out immediately, to ascertain the cause of the unusual commotion, and learned that Yorktown had been evacuated, and our pickets were in possession. Our people soon began to return, with prisoners and trophies. The Fourth Regiment, Excelsior Brigade, brought in two rebel standards. By seven o’clock our cavalry began to come up from the rear, and passed into Yorktown, the time occupied by them in so doing being four hours. Several batteries of rifled cannon accompanied them. The horses of both arms are in splendid condition, and seemed to “sniff the battle afar off”; and horse and rider appeared eager for the fray. The passage of that gallant cavalcade presented a most magnificent and exciting spectacle and never before did I realize, with all the warmth [?] of poetry and romance, the “pomp and circumstances of glorious war.”

At noon we packed up and joined our regiment and by 3 pm we were on the road to Yorktown. We passed through there about six o’clock, and camped two miles this side – all hands agreeing that we had just as soon fight the rebels somewhere else as at Yorktown. Rain began to fall during the night, and when, at 9 o’clock, we started. The roads were in a delightful condition. We could gear the cannon booming away far in the advance, but made very slow progress through the mud, rain, batteries and ammunition trains. We had “got along” a couple of miles, when we began to hear rumors of severe fighting in advance – ammunition giving out, regiments cut up, etc – but nothing definite, and we pushed on. Soon orders reached us that our brigade (Gen. Berry’s) – we being advance of our division {Gen. Kearney’s) – must come up, if we had to throw away our knapsacks, and we pushed on at a quicker pace – the roads growing worse and more encumbered at every step; on we went sometimes knee deep in mud, sometimes plunging to our waists in creeks that looked more like mud than water, every man “going in on his nerve.” Now in the middle of the road, now helter skelter in the woods on either side – past the infantry of Keyes’ Corps, past cavalry, past artillery, past wagon trains – no one murmuring, every man doing his best and listening intently to the increasing roar of battle in front.

We turned off on a by-road some two miles from the fighting, discharged and newly loaded our pieces. Unslung our knapsacks and started again, striking the main road on the left. We passed a rebel fortification which appeared to have been newly built to command the road, but which, like Yorktown, they had evacuated on the approach of our men. This road was even worse than the other, but we [hurried] on at double quick, past rebel army wagons and . . . through woods for a mile and half, and reached a cross-road at the edge of a plantation. Here we found A. G. McKeever [?], Chief of Heintzelman’s staff, who cried out as we approached, “the Third Michigan will keep the direct road and the other three regiments turn off here.” As we passed McKeever, Capt. [Stephen] Lowing, of our company, asked him, “How goes the battle?” “Not very well,” he replied, “two or three of our regiments had proved d____d cowards and run away from the enemy.” “What regiments?” was asked. “Of Sickles’ Brigade,” was the answer. We dashed on up the road and across the fields to a house that was being used for hospital purposes and halted. In front of us opened a splendid plantation which extended to the James on the left and to the front a mile or more. On our right was thick wood, and in them the fight was in progress. The cheers of the men we could hear rising over the sharp volleys of musketry, mingled with the occasional booming of cannon. Soon the Third and Fourth Maine, of Birney’s Brigade, and a battery of heavy brass pieces joined us, and we went forward half a mile. . . . We were ordered back without seeing a rebel; then we marched off into the woods and went directly towards the battle ground where we arrived at dark, by which time the musketry had entirely ceased, and a couple of rifled guns were throwing missiles occasionally into the enemy’s works. Wounded men were scattered here and there in the woods, along the road, and were being carried to the rear as fast as the mud were permit. Oh! The horrors of war! Well we stood an hour or so in the mud and then returned two and half miles to where we piled our “dunage.” I’ll never forget that tramp through the darkness, driving rain and such mud! Why, I never comprehended the deep significance of the word mud till then. Twelve o’clock, after imbibing a quart of hot coffee of my own manufacture, I stretched myself on the wet ground with my feet to the fire, drew my wet woolen around me, and awoke the next morning with the sun smiling pleasantly on my face. All was quiet, and . . . soon we were marching again and we crossed the battle field where the fight had been the hottest. Many of our wounded were still in the woods. Our dead were everywhere in the woods. I counted , where I crossed the enemy’s rifle pits, within 20 feet of each other, 15 rebels dead, all shot in the forehead; behind the pit was a “slashing” about 10 rods wide, and in it the dead of friend and foe were mingled indiscriminately. This “slashing” extended all along their line, and back in the open country in a line of square earth fort extending from the creek on the York River side to the James. Two miles from the battleground is Williamsburg, and the intervening country is all open, and it was here that our cavalry overtook their rear guar don Sunday afternoon. They drove our horsemen to the woods and there our fellows dismounted and acting like infantry, kept them in check till the infantry came up.

The people say that the rebels did not intend to fight us here, and I do not believe they would if they could have got away. Most of the people in the ancient burg stayed at home, simply because they did not have time to get away, but I have heard some of the most intelligent among them say that they did not expect such considerate treatment.

I have been over the battle field, and am certain the rebel loss is more than double ours, but I will make no estimate because you have got the figures from more reliable sources. Our brigade lost 67 killed and 212 wounded. The fifth Michigan lost the most. In front of where the Fifth fought I counted 67 rebel dead. All the way from Williamsburg here the road was strewn with arms and clothing, and all the bad places are marked by rebel cannon, caissons and wagons. From my person observations and inquiry, I think that when we count their killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters, and make a proper allowance for those “used up” on their hurried retreat over bad roads, we may safely put the enemy’s loss down at 10,000 men in his last grand “strategic movement.”

This is a most beautiful country, and very few of its inhabitants fled at our approach. White flags are flying at every gate.

James was reported as a Sergeant and was probably wounded on August 29, 1862, at the battle of Second Bull Run.

He was serving with the regiment at Camp Pitcher near Falmouth, Virginia in early March of 1863 when he wrote his brother Daniel in Wisconsin.

March 3, 1863 – My Dear Brother: I get letters from our brother occasionally and they amuse me very much; he is a regular Union "Fire Eater" and his letters fairly glow with patriotism. If a few of those, whom I might mention, rejoicing in the profits of "high places" were blessed with half his zeal, 'twould be better far for our poor country. But then human nature is very imperfect, and it would, indeed, be passing strange if the events of now should not exhibit similar phases of man’s frail character, that we read of in the history of other times. We must not expect too much. We need clear heads, steady hands, and true hearts in the ranks and above them. Great times have always produced parallel men, and we only need to go steadily on with this war, and the proper men will be found for the exigency where we least expect them.

We have had somewhat of a "weeding out" among officers in this army, and I am right glad of it, for "Fighting Joe Hooker" is my beau ideal of a soldier; not that I believe that Burnside is a bad or even inefficient officer if he is unlucky. I don' like Sumner nor Franklin, nor never did. Did you read Kearney's famous letter? He called Sumner a "bull in a china shop," and said that his (Sumner's) only experience in the field was in Mexico where "from a rear column he saw the distant flash of a guerrilla fight," and that Franklin's brain was "ossified in a four company garrison on the frontier." Kearney's opinion is worth a good deal. Ah! My boy; he was a soldier! Our division won an immortal name while under his command, and the old 3rd was high in his favor. Joe Hooker commanded the 2d division while Phil Kearney led the 1st division of the 3d corps under Heintzelman during the peninsular campaign. We were the fighting corps in those days. We are now in the 3d brigade, 1st division, 3d corps. Col. Hayman, 37th New York, commands the brigade, Brigadier-General Birney the division, and Brig General Sickles the corps (temporarily). That Dan Sickles is a brick. You probably remember how the radical republicans tried to ride him down at first when the senate refused to confirm his appointment as brigadier-general. He has fought his way upward and his enemies find him irrepressible. I like Sickles because he never went to West Point, and I like Joe Hooker because he can recognize merit in men who are not West Pointers. I see by this morning's papers that the conscript bill has passed both houses - they are getting sensible at last.

I am very sorry to hear of so much grumbling among our troops about the government. What if things don't go just right? Are we to jeopardize our own cause by nonsensical quarrels among ourselves, while the slaveholders grin maliciously and exultingly over our divisions? I hope not. It is the fault of congress that we are not paid, but the new financial measures will brighten matters up in a short time. This army - no matter what croakers may say - was never in better spirits or condition, and under Fighting Joe I believe that we will retrieve our past. The treasury once in working order under the new laws, and one important success of our arms either east or west, and the clouds that darken our horizon will lift and once more our nation shall bask in the general sunshine of prosperity. He's a poor man who succumbs to disaster. Well you are gradually working down the river and may soon have that great water highway again under the "old flag." There are many wild rumors afloat here about the success of your "cut off" at Lake Providence, and we hope that they are true. Remember me to all my acquaintances in the gallant old 16th (Wisconsin). I should like to have helped you thrash those rebs you speak of. It has never been my luck to get into a skirmish. Always a big fight or none. We had a good sight at them at the battle of Fredericksburg, where five Georgia regiments charged upon the 37th New York, and the Third, but with the help of a small battery we soon made them make a very undignified retreat.

There is a good deal of talk about sending our regiment home to recruit. I can’t tell what our chances are, but they have sent home several regiments that were no more reduced in numbers that ours, and we've been in as many battles as any of them. Oh, it would be a proud day for the old Third if it could march back into Grand Rapids, bearing the splendid banner, given us by the ladies of that place, now riddled by the bullets of a dozen battles! How proudly we have borne that flag, and how faithfully our brave boys have guarded it in every danger! There is no blot of dishonor on its fair escutcheon! Not one.

On April 17 he wrote his brother from “Camp Curtin,” Virginia.

Dear Brother: We moved camp two or three weeks ago and built good log quarters here, expecting to stay here for some time. These are the best quarters we have ever had. President Lincoln reviewed us lately, and our division turned out without arms to receive him besides. The old chap looked much older and more careworn than when I last saw him, but Mrs. Lincoln's blooming looks testify that the "cares of state" rest lightly upon her at least. Four corps were out the day we were reviewed, representing a force of 80,000 – probably 65,000 or 70,000 were not. The 1st corps was reviewed separately and has a force of at least 35,000 men. The 11th and 12th corps lay about Aquia Creek and were reviewed together and I am told that they are over 70,000 strong. Beside, 18,000 calvary-30 odd regiments-were reviewed in one body. You see we have an immense force, and if we can only get at the rebs in our strength-not "fight in driblets" as we have heretofore-we will surely win. Old Joe Hooker has been our favorite general for some time and I think we have got a man to lead us at last.

We have now been under marching orders three days. We have packed up and turned over to the care of the Q.M. department, our overcoats and extra clothing, retaining only a shirt, pair of drawers, socks and blanket. We have five days rations in knapsacks and three in haversack, and are to turn in our shelter tents, our rubbers answering every purpose. There are two or three pack mules with each regiment to carry ammunition and the luggage of the officers. We never made such complete preparations for an advance as we have this time. 14,000 cavalry started on the 15th inst., but we have had a heavy rain since which may retard the movement somewhat. It is very evident that an important movement is to be made at once, and God grant we may be successful. This army was never in better spirits or condition.

Affairs seem to be culminating rapidly and the end cannot be far off. Our fleet have met a repulse at Charleston, but I think it will have but little effect one way or the other who holds Charleston. Foster seems to be in a fix in North Carolina, but I guess he will come out all right. I believe that those outside affairs are intended to divert the enemy from this point, and that we are to strike the big blow when the opportunity offers. Whatever is our fate, be it victory or defeat, there is, for the sincere patriot, but one line of conduct, and that is to stand firm and "try again." Things without conscience may desire "peace on any terms," but to men "in the likeness of their Maker" annihilation is preferable to degradation. For my part, my country’s fortune is mine.

He was absent sick in the hospital but soon returned to duty and was wounded, probably on May 3, 1863, at the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia; he received the Kearney Cross for his participation in the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863.

From Camp Curtin he wrote his sister on June 6, 1863.

My Dear Sister: I, too, am very grateful to Almighty God for giving me such uninterrupted good health, for precious as health is to every one, it is inestimable to those who have staked all for the Nation's life. I do hope that Grant will get Vicksburg. You say that people want to know what this army is going to do in case Grant is successful. I can't tell that. We may not gain any great victory, but we can contract to kill off our rebellious friends, over the way, faster than any other army in the United States when we get at them, and what we kill here will not have to be licked in the Southwest. There was quite a fight at Fredericksburg yesterday. Our forces crossed the river again and occupied the town.

And on June 11 he wrote his brother Daniel who was serving in the Sixteenth Wisconsin, from Camp Curtin,

Dear Brother: My commission came only two days after the promulgation of the order forbidding promotions in small regiments; as it is I have received an honorary brevet as second lieutenant and act as such, still holding my place on the rolls as first sergeant of company I. Hooker opposed the consolidation measure of the war department so strenuously that nothing has been done about it in this army. He called it "military suicide." Our governor was here a couple of weeks ago and promised to fill us with conscripts. If he does I will get my full rank and pay. Am very sorry to hear of the consolidation of the old 16th (Wisconsin) but neither your colonel nor any other man can reduce you to the ranks without cause, and you are now, entitled to your discharge under the consolidation act. Of course it is full as honorable to serve your country in the ranks as elsewhere, but that does not justify illegal proceedings, and when a man has fought his way to a higher place he naturally wants to stay there or go up another notch. The latest news from Vicksburg is very flattering and I pray that you may be successful. You seem to think that McCellan is the only man to lead this army, but I think we could not find any one who would do worse. We have just received orders to be ready to move at a moment's notice. One division of our army crossed the river last Friday, just below Fredericksburg, and took over 100 prisoners and have since been building rifle-pits. Sunday a secret expedition of 6,000 cavalry and four picked regiments of infantry, fell in with the enemy on the other side of the river opposite Rappahannock Station. The rebels were about 12,000 strong, but our boys routed them, capturing 200 prisoners and a stand of colors. There is every evidence that we will soon have an active campaign.

On November 2, 1863, he wrote his sister Kate from camp near Warrenton Junction, Virginia.

Beloved Sister Kate: You have read about our falling back, no doubt, so there is no use of my dilating upon it. After the reinforcements were sent west our retreat was a foregone conclusion. Our division had three skirmishes with rebel cavalry in which we suffered but little. One day about 1500 of them got ahead of us on the road and tried to stop us, but they paid dearly for their temerity. What a nice thrashing the 2d corps gave them at Bristow’s Station. I was over the other day and saw over one hundred rebel graves. There are seven buried side by side out of one company of a North Carolina regiment. We looked on at the fight from the heights of Centerville.

Yes, the old 3d was one of the regiments sent to New York to cool off the rioters, and we did have a "good time" up there. We were sent from New York City to Albany and Troy. You ought to have seen how proudly the boys marched up famous Broadway. I can assure you their brown visages scared the Copperheads out of all thoughts of resisting the draft, and the gleam of our bayonets prevented their riotous thoughts from returning. The loyal people overwhelmed us with favors. I never knew how much a soldier amounted to before. We were dined, honored and petted ‘til we were nearly spoiled. Our regiment has just seven months more to serve. That will not be long passing and then I’ll visit all ‘round at least before "I’m off to the wars again."

Well, you have had the draft up there at last. Hope it has "salted" some of the Copperhead leaders. It is rather too bad that "Rosey" had to be relieved, but after all there’s no denying that Grant is the man for the big work. Col. Mallon, of the 42d N.Y., acting brigadier-general, who was killed at Bristow’s Station, came out with our division and used to be Kearney’s adjutant-general. Didn’t Ohio settle old "Val" though. He’ll get tired of "waiting and watching" over there, I guess. Such – and worse – be the fate of all Copperheads! The people will back old Abe as long as he don’t tread on the "constitutional rights" of any but traitors, and the army shouts: "Bully for them!"
On November 15 he wrote his brother from camp near Culpeper, Virginia,

My Dear Brother: We have some stirring times here lately, and we are likely to have more of them before the holidays. Our brigade led the advance at Kelly’s Ford. We charged across the river – water up to our hips – drove the rebs from their rifle pits, capturing 400 of them, losing only about 30 men. The prisoners were mostly of the 24th and 30th North Carolina, and the 2d Georgia infantry regiments. The North Carolinians were exultant over their capture. One of them, a middle-aged man, came up to our colors and looking at them with tears in his eyes, exclaimed: "The good old Stars and Stripes once more, thank God!" We were all much surprised at the outburst of enthusiasm, but it was genuine feeling no doubt.

One old man, grey-haired and venerable, came up to me, seized my hand and shook it as if I had been his dearest friend, saying: "Lieutenant, I’m just where I’ve wanted to be for a long time, and where I would have been long ago if I could!" He was from North Carolina, a conscript, and had been in the army but a few days. You ought to have seen our boys shaking hands and cracking jokes with the North Carolinians after the skirmish, while the Georgians looked grimly on. It was fun. Last Sunday we drove the rebs across the Rapidan in a hurry. They had fine winter quarters, log houses with shake roofs, etc., etc., all of which we are now enjoying. I have got a big tent of theirs and there is seven or eight others in the regiment. I sleep on a rebel bed, sit on a rebel chair, and write this on a table they so generously donated. They hadn’t time to stop for small matters you see.

It was a grand sight to see the Army of the Potomac "go for them," when they made a stand on a high ridge commanding a big plain near Brandy Station. It was the greatest military display I’ve witnessed in all my experience in the army. As I said, they were posted on a ridge; there was a plain between us two miles wide and four long without a fence. We halted behind a piece of woods until all the corps were up, and then started across the plain. First a heavy skirmish line; then three lines of battle with intervals between columns; after the lines, regiments in column by division, artillery in column in the intervals; then ten columns of infantry moving by the flank; in the intervals artillery, ammunition wagons and ambulances, all moving at a quick walk. As you may suppose, the rebels "limbered to the rear" not being disposed to try the shock of 60,000 men at once. In half an hour we had possession of the ridge and our flying artillery and cavalry were pitching into the flying rebel columns far in advance.

We had a hard storm of rain, thunder and lightning last night and this morning, but it is clear and cold this afternoon. While it was yet raining this morning, orders came to be ready to move at a moment’s notice, and immediately afterwards artillery commenced booming a couple of miles in advance. The fight, whatever it was, raged quite fierce for about twenty minutes, but the firing soon became irregular and kept getting farther and farther off, and at last died away in the distance. I have not learned what it amounted to yet, but guess the cavalry have been having a bout, probably the rebs are trying to find out where we are. As soon as the railroad bridge is finished across the Rappahannock, I think we’ll pitch into the enemy on the other side of the Rapidan, and then – may God protect the right!

Didn’t our folks get the start of the rebs nicely at Lookout Mountain? I saw some Southern papers and they all growl considerable about it. By the way, you see Wisconsin has done better than Ohio on the Union question. Good for the Badger state! Hurrah for he 20,000!

Pile on the rails, stir up the coals,
And let the blaze flash higher;
They’re rebel rails, but still they make,
A right good Union fire!

James was detached as a Sergeant on recruiting service in Michigan from December 4, 1863 through March of 1864, and reenlisted on March 27 or 29, 1864, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Manistee, Manistee County. On April 1 he was promoted to First Lieutenant of Company K at Brandy Station, Virginia, commissioned the same day, replacing Lieutenant Andrew Nickerson. He may have been home on veteran’s furlough in April, although this is uncertain.

In any case, James was with his command when he was shot in the right shoulder on May 5, 1864, at the Wilderness, Virginia, and was sent home to Manistee in order to recover his strength. He was still at home in Michigan when he was transferred (on paper) to Company E, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.

On June 13, 1864, McGinley was examined by Dr. L. S. Ellis in Manistee. Dr. Ellis certified that after having “carefully examined this officer” he found him to be “suffering from the effects of a gunshot wound through the right shoulder inflicted on the 5th of May, and that in consequence thereof, he is, in my opinion, unfit for duty and unable to travel. I further declare my belief that he will not be able to resume his duties in a less period than twenty (20) days.” McGinley was soon back with the Regiment. By July he had returned to duty and in August was serving as acting Adjutant in August.

James was promoted to Adjutant in September, commissioned on September 1, and commissioned Captain on October 10; his commission was forwarded on October 25. Two day later, James was wounded for a third time and taken prisoner on October 27, 1864 at Boydton Plank road near Petersburg, Virginia. He died of his wounds the following day. (His commission was returned on January 1, 1865.) Dan Crotty of Company F wrote some years after the war that in his estimation McGinley was “as brave a soldier as ever marched.”

It is possible that James’ parents arranged to have his body brought back home to Wisconsin or he might have been buried in an unknown grave somewhere near Petersburg. Either way, there is a marker for him in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Saukville, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.

In December of 1865 Agnes was living in Manistee when she applied for and received a pension (no. 85551). In 1875 Agnes remarried to Leonard Miller Bohall in Manistee.

The Grand Army of the Republic James McGinley Post No. 201 in Manistee was named in his honor.

No comments: