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.