A Soldier’s Story: Part II

For more than a day, the Union sergeant lay among the 153 men from his regiment who were wounded and the 71 men who died. Did he drift in and out of consciousness? Did he recall the events of the day before, or were they just garish sounds and nightmares?

He was tended by medical officers in the field. He would be assigned to a nearby barn, house, hay mound, tent, or church in which to recover from his neck wound. Sergeant Henry Couchman was gravely hurt. Would his mother and siblings in Manhattan be told of his fate in battle…he had survived?

That September, 1862, day would begin months long of recovery. He would rest in this small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, until it was determined where he would be sent next. On 1 October, it was decided that he would be taken by medical wagon train to Frederick, Maryland. It was a distance of 25 miles along rutted, bumpy roads on which the patients would not rest comfortably. The journey would be tortuous to all.

Medical Wagon Train At Antietam
Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Once in Frederick, Henry was assigned as Patient #165, Group Hospital 3, Old Church. The pews from the Episcopal Old Church had been removed and converted into a hospital ward. This group of eight hospitals was set aside to care for patients who required a long convalescence with Henry among them. How did Henry spend his days? Was he able to write letters back to his family?

Three months later on 5 January 1863, Henry left the hospital. Because of his disability, he received an honorable discharge from the U. S. Army. He was given transportation home to Manhattan. What were his thoughts as he headed home? What were his plans for his future?

Notes: Most helpful in finding information about Henry were the following:

American Civil War Forums (https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-walk-through-the-field-hospitals-antietam-september-1862.162729/)

Fold3.com Civil War Records for Henry Couchman, 59th Infantry, New York

National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Maryland

Terry Reimer. One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Sites in Frederick, Maryland after Antietam. Gaithersburg, Maryland: Signature Book Printing, Inc., 2001. (This book includes a detailed hospital patient list.)

Of further note: currently, the National Archives is closed due to Covid. Until further notice, it will be unable to scan Civil War Veterans Military and Pension Records for researchers. When this service restarts, guess who will be among the first to request records?

A Soldier’s Story: Part I

It was more than an Ancestry hint. It was an invitation to dig deeper, get more of the story, find some answers. The simple notation stated the Civil War soldier had been wounded at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg on 17 September 1862. That battle was one of the bloodiest in the conflict. What were the hidden details of this note?

Emigrating from England with his widowed mother and siblings, Henry Couchman was living in Manhattan, New York City, when the War of the Rebellion began. Four months later on 7 August 1861, he enlisted in the New York 59th Infantry, Company C, as a Corporal. He was 22 years old…blue eyes; light colored hair; fair complexion; 5 foot, 8 inches in height. His occupation was listed as a machinist. He was enlisted to serve for three years…his fate would not observe that timetable.

Corporal Couchman, 1861

Henry had been quickly promoted to Sergeant as the regiment was stationed first in Washington, D.C., to help guard the capital city. At first, General McClellan observed and waited for the need to move forward and meet the Confederate Army face to face. General Lee was moving north into Maryland. Maryland was a border state that straddled the Union and the Confederacy. It was a slave state. Time for the two armies to truly engage. Sergeant Couchman would find himself in the midst of battle outside the little village of Sharpsburg, near the Antietam Creek. It was Wednesday, 17 September 1862. Henry was fighting with others in his company near the West Woods. A bullet struck him in the neck, and he fell to the ground. He and one hundred fifty-two of his regiment fell wounded while seventy-one others were killed. What would be his fate now?

West Woods at Sharpsburg/Antietam

This battle would rage for about twelve hours. Who would hear his cries against the background of screaming bullets? Who would see him on the ground amid the dense smoke from gunfire? Did he have a prayer of surviving?

Note: I am currently researching how the wounded were cared for after the battle. My next blog will focus on that research.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: In The Kitchen

“From farm to table” are catch words for today’s marketing approaches. If my Grammy were here today, she will smile and shake her head. She must have been a woman ahead of her time: she always cooked from her farm to her table.

When I visited my grandparents on their Alton, Osborne County, Kansas farm in the summers, my Grammy was as busy as a hen in a barnyard. She raised her own chickens, pigs, and goats. She cooked big hearty meals for my grandfather. During harvest time, she and some neighbor women would gather in her kitchen to cook up the noon day meal. They set up a big table with a piece of plywood stretched across sawhorses. Yep, the table even sported a tablecloth.

The cooking would start early that morning. Hens were gathered and meet their fates at the chopping block. Plucked and butchered for frying in cast iron skillets, the chicken was seasoned with salt, pepper, flour, and paprika along with a buttermilk soak. Can you smell that yumminess frying, sizzling, and popping on the stove? After the chicken was done, flour, milk, salt, and pepper were added to the pan drippings to make the white gravy for the mashed potatoes. Using those little crispy bits as the base for the gravy gave it its perfection of a taste. Yummo! Fresh corn was a grand side dish along with homemade yeast rolls. Then the piece de resistance was being served a piece of homemade pie, possibly boysenberry. Oh, that homemade pie crust (made with lard) and filling made for tasty bites. At the end of the meal, the ladies gathered up the plates and utensils so they could set up washing and drying everything. Often, they washed up the pots and pans before the meal so final clean up would be easier. The men would return to the fields, and the women would return to chatting and catching up. The next week, the farm hands and ladies would set up harvesting some other neighbor’s fields.

When I think about those long ago days in my Grammy’s kitchen, I would love to sit again at that sawhorse table and enjoy that wonderfully cooked meal with her friends and neighbors.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Favorite Photo

The biggest treasures I have ever uncovered…that still make my heart pound and bring tears to my eyes…are black and white family photos. Beautiful, stunning, memory-raising, they escort me back to their given time periods. I can envision that snapshot of a moment as I notice the details all around me. Once again, I can hear the sounds of voices, the glee of laughter, and the vastness of smiles.

My favorite photo, I am asked to share. Which could it be? Who will be there with me? When I think of my father, Edward Joseph Slabik (1924-2007), one definite picture comes immediately to mind. My guess for the year is 1954. We lived in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. My mom, Merna Mae Storer (1924-2014), took the picture in our living room. I was my dad’s little girl, and he always took time to play with me. We would laugh and carry on. Always, he showed great affection and talked with me. He would teach me little lessons in how to throw balls, pat the dog, and run through the backyard. This photo is a summation of the joy we felt with each other.

Two years after my father passed away, I made a scrapbook about his life as part of my grief therapy. The album I chose had a cutout for a photo on the front cover. What would be placed there? I knew exactly what photo…our photo together…a piece of a golden memory from my treasure chest.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Oldest

Among the treasures of my oldest childhood memories is my first home in Falls Church, Virginia. This is where I came home from the hospital after my birth. This is where I met and bonded with my first playmates. This is where I learned to roller skate and ride a bike. This is where I made mud pies and played in the dirt. This is the Westlawn neighborhood.

I decided to take an online journey back after discovering old photos. It would be simple to just type in the address of 1008 Westlawn Drive and my old home would magically appear. What!?! The house numbers had all been changed to digits beginning with 6700. (Weird since my part of the street started Westlawn Drive…a current map even showed that.) How would I mentally retrieve images of the houses on the street by thinking of old neighbors down to the corner? I could not do it. Where to go now?

I googled the street name and tried to find where my home could be. I looked at real estate listing and Zoom. No answers. I typed in “neighbors on Westlawn Drive”…bingo I found a listing of names. I remembered that our next door neighbors had never sold their house and had passed it on to their daughter. Their daughter had never married. I knew their last name started with a P and was Italian in ethnicity. Well, double bingo! There was their name…yes, the daughter still lived there. At our house, the people that bought it from my parents in 1956 still lived there. Well, holy cow! I looked at the houses on Zoom. My home had 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and was a rancher. The current owners had added a second story, 3 more bathrooms, and 3 more bedrooms. My parents had paid $7,000 in 1950. This home was valued at over $850,000! My parents always said that if they had to buy that house again, they would not have been able to afford it…true.

In looking through my first neighborhood, many houses had been updated on the outside while others had not. My old neighbors had not updated the outside. I had remembered that there was a big rock at the end of their walkway…the rock was still there.

My next question about my oldest memories…why did the city of Falls Church change the house numbers…and where is that answer? I am going to find out.

PS I did use Ancestry to see if I could find any of my first neighbors. I found high school yearbook pictures of some of my friends. I could a death certificate for my neighbor, Tony P, in addition to his marriage certificate. I found neighbors on FindAGrave. I thank them for being such good people.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Namesake

Stevens 50th Wedding Anniversary: My grandmother is the girl in the middle row with a flowered hairdo.

Well, bless my bloomers…nobody ever told me that. I had to figure it out all on my own. The clues were right there calling out my name to pay attention to the details. Right there, by golly! Why was I so slow in figuring it out? So here is my story.

Climbing up the family tree is an awesome adventure. Gathering names, dates, and locations fills out the branches. Getting the big picture of how we all fit together in our families is an honorable task. It is only natural to notice who is named after whom as names are often repeated. For some confounded reason, I never gave thought to these ladies. I was too busy checking out the male namesakes.

There she stood, my maternal grandmother. Her name was Isabella Mary Boultinghouse. She was the baby sister of the four children…three girls and one boy. Her two older sisters were both originally named…first time that there were a Pearl and a Helen. The boy’s first name, Edward, was shared with his father’s middle name. It wasn’t until I looked over a picture from 1916 when a family photo was taken of Isabella’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Her maternal grandparents were William Henry Stevens and Isabella Anna Couchman…Isabella, Isabella. My wheels were turning. What about her middle name of Mary? Why, her paternal grandmother was Mary Magdalina Kramer, who had married Amos Howell Boultinghouse! Now, my brain was making the connection. It was clear how she was named.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that I was named after my grandmothers. Hmmm, how could that be…their names were Grammy and Babcia? I was too young to know that those were their “grandma names”. Later, I would make that connection of Mary (Isabella’s middle name) and Anna, my father’s mother. I am Mary Anne Slabik-Haffner. The connections one makes as she touches the leaves on her family tree.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Family Legends

Discovering family legends is like finding a gold nugget. Some nuggets are right on the surface and staring the finder in the face. Some are buried beneath the surface and waiting to be assayed. Some are merely pyrite, fool’s gold, with no great truth or value.

The journey taken was not a call to the gold rush of family discoveries. The little nuggets of stories were hidden among bedrocks of facts and dates. Nothing shiny lie on the surface. It took a keen eye and focus to spot the nuggets.

The legends were discovered in sifting through digitized copies of a small Kansas county weekly newspaper, The Western Empire. The print was so tiny that it needed enlargement to view the sparkle of the nuggets. The nuggets belonged to my second great grandfather. He was touted as a pioneer in having settled newly established territories in what would later be the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kansas. On those Kansas plains, he was recognized as a sheep farmer, who prospered by selling parts of his flock each year along with their fleeces. Raising hard working, God fearing children was a sparkling character trait of both him and his wife Mary Etta. Using a grant from a Mississippi agricultural college, he raised cottonwood trees on his property as the plains yielded only a small amount of tree groves. Tiny nuggets of his life story that may have gone unnoticed…undiscovered…untapped.

These nuggets of truth and value were left behind by Andrew Storer (1817-1895). He came with his wife Mary Etta Soule and family to Osborne County in the 1870s. One tiny nugget was that he brought the first pig to the county…that little piggy rode in a covered wagon to its new home.

A lesson learned is that flecks of gold and little nuggets of truth lie right in front of the genealogical miner…find your treasures!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Beginnings

The beginnings of love affairs are always revisited, recounted, and remembered. Over 65 years ago, I experienced the beginnings of such an affair. To this day, I remain in love. This love has grown to a vastness all its own.

It all began when I was a toddler. There was something magical that lived right in our home with me. I was curious as I longed to discover what was hidden inside my toy chest. My mother treated those treasures with respect as they were carefully laid in the top of the chest. When they came out at bedtime, they were glorious in holding my attention. Excitedly, I looked forward to each nightly visit. I was in love! They were picture books whose story lines and illustrations cast a spell over me. The objects of my affection were Mike Mulligan who had a steam shovel named Mary Anne…that was my name, too. My other new love was a bull named Ferdinand, who was a peaceful soul. When my mother presented these stories to me, she was cracking a code called reading. I could not wait to be able to do that on my own.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel:
Virginia Lee Burton, 1939
The Story of Ferdinand:
Munro Leaf, 1936

As I grew in age, I fell deeper in love with reading. We had our own secret rendezvous spots. A favorite meeting place was my town’s library. What a sacred place that was! It was filled with the most glorious books. To add to my thrills, I received my own library card which entitled me to borrow my selected treasures…only to return them to savor more.

John Handley Library: Winchester, Virginia

Since my childhood, I have never stopped loving my books. The beginnings of my literacy journey have taken me far and filled me with the joy of reading.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Unforgettable

What would a second grade girl know about music in 1957? Oh, she knew Elvis, Little Richard, and the early rockers. Yes, she had seen Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. She could sing and dance along to the music. Her babysitter would squeal and sigh as she spoke of Elvis.

Then, 1957 became an unforgettable year for her. It was that year that her family moved in a brand new house in a recently developed neighborhood. With a bigger house, her dad wanted a hi-fi system. A console model with radio was purchased…suddenly, the house was filled with the sound of her father’s records. Her dad sang along with the music, and she did as well. One of the first albums he purchased was “Love Is the Thing” by Nat King Cole. Nat’s rich voice reached out and invited them to sing along to “When I Fall In Love”, “Stardust”, and “When Sunny Gets Blue”. It was magical and unforgettable for the girl. Nat became one of her favorite male singers. But Nat’s voice was not the only one to fill out the house. The girl met Joni James, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra. It was unforgettably heavenly!

1957 also proved to be unforgettable for the young school girl. She loved going to school! She loved to learn and wanted most of all to read and write. A new Catholic school opened in her town. She was in the first second grade class there. New friends and friendships awaited her. Also, her new neighborhood had a whole gang of kids her age to run around with and enjoy.

Oh, yes, 1957…unforgettable.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Small

Drum and Bugle Corps by Winslow Homer

It was just a small detail, and it was just a small lie. The bigger picture was that he had been called to serve by Mr. Lincoln himself. It did not really matter…he was 14 years old, but he swore he was 17. He was small in stature at only 4’11” with a dark complexion. He was called to be a drummer boy in the 87th Regiment, Illinois, Company I. He was ready to make a contribution. Yes, sir, Private David W. Grubbs was ready to serve! He enlisted in August, 1862.

At first, David was required to learn many drum calls. These calls would direct his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. David was intelligent and could easily memorize these. He would not be carrying a weapon. Second, he had to prepare himself for other duties on the field. When the battle commenced, he would move to the rear to stay away from the shooting. He could be killed or wounded. He could be asked to assist medics in getting the wounded to safety. He could be asked by the surgeons to assist in amputations and other surgeries. He could be asked to hold down patients. He could be asked to dispose of discarded limbs in piles. David was a farm boy and had witnessed butchering on his homestead, but he had never before witnessed the slaughtering of other humans. The young boy was required to be mature and steadfast…no small tasks for anyone.

In July, 1865, Private Grubbs was mustered out. He was 17 years old. He went back to his family’s farm. Seven years later, he would marry and start his family. Did he tell his children any war stories? He would die at the young age of 47.