Sunday, August 22, 2010

Charles Hamilton and the 5th PA Reserves at Antietam

Corporal Hamilton and his Company A of the 5th PA Reserves fought in a sharp, fierce action charging up steep, rocky terrain at South Mountain. They then marched along with the rest of Seymour's First Brigade of Pennsylvania Reserve regiments in Meade's 3rd Division of Hooker's I Corps to Sharpsburg. On the early evening of Sept. 16th, they came down the Smoketown Road to the East Woods, bordering on the north east and east side of the cornfield to be become infamous the next day.

(The edge of the East Woods)

The 5th PA Reserves formed the extreme left of the I Corps.  There was heavy skirmishing that night, and Col. Fisher reconnoitered the ground to the east of the woods, coming into contact with the 4th Alabama in the darkness. Early the next morning, Sept. 17th, the 5th advanced through the east edge of the East Woods, driving out any Confederates and supporting the left of the 13th PA (the "Bucktail" regiment).  Moving just to the east of the Smoketown Road, the 5th emerged at the south-east corner of the East Woods.
(South east area of the East Woods from the Smoketown Road)

 According to Ezra Carmen, the 5th PA Reserves "lining up behind the fence, opened fire upon Trimble's Brigade, in line across the plowed field near the Mumma grave-yard, 300 yards distant. The fighting was severe, the Confederates suffering most, being on open ground, while the Pennsylvanians had the cover of trees."
(Fence along original fence line at bend in the Smoketown Road where it emerges from the East Woods, the Mumma graveyard in a brick enclosure in front of the trees in the center).

At this point the Bucktails ran out of ammunition and pulled back to be relieved by the 2nd Reserves. Col. Fisher saw the 13th pull back but not the 2nd coming into the line.  Apparently, believing his right was gone, leaving the 5th exposed now on the right as well as left, Fisher led his regiment back through the East Woods and out of action for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 1870: Debacle - Hamilton and Purman return to Marianna

Facing a serious challenge for the Democratic nomination for the congress, Hamilton planned to rally his support base by campaigning in Jackson County. The dedication of a new schoolhouse in Marianna in early August provided the occasion for a public rally and Hamilton’s first visit to Jackson County in nearly two years. Hamilton arrived accompanied by Purman, and a small band of supporters. From the start, this visit was a disaster. Hearing rumors of a planned assault, they fortified their lodgings, posted armed guards at the windows. The night was full of "great excitement" with the "running of horses and blowing of horns."

The rally was a catastrophe. To Hamilton’s complete surprise, J. C. Gibbs, Florida’s Secretary of State and a challenger for the Democratic nomination, appeared and attacked Hamilton, blaming him for the recent violence. This denunciation from Florida’s most prominent African American office-holder delighted the audience filled with the former Bureau Agents’ white antagonists.

After the meeting ended, Hamilton and Purman faced the daunting prospect of leaving Jackson County alive. Reliable information indicated their lodging would be stormed, but that all the routes heading east toward Gadsden County were picketed by waiting assassins. Purman and Hamilton upped the ante by proposing to raise a posse of several hundred armed blacks to escort them out of Jackson County. News of this proposal alarmed leading Marianna citizens who assembled to negotiate with Hamilton and Purman over measures to ensure their safe and swift exit from Jackson County. Hamilton and Purman prepared a list of twenty prominent white citizens and announced that if ten of the proposed men would escort them over the Apalachicola River, they would retract their call to raise a posse of blacks. The ten men gathered and the party left Marianna, selecting an unfrequented road northward toward the Georgia border and Bainbridge, rather than one of the main roads leaving east to Quincy.

Upon their safe arrival in Bainbridge, Purman and Hamilton thanked their escorts, treated them to champagne, and released them. Marianna Courier editor Frank Baltzell later accused the leading citizens who provided the escort as having "tarnished their honor and contaminated their characters" by consenting to protect Hamilton and Purman.