Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers

Company A, Inc.

Fort Warren 1997 Event Report

Ft. Warren, George's Island
Boston, Massachusetts
August 16-17, 1997
August 17, 1862

From the diaries of Pvt. Hal Elwell - 8th Conn. Vols.

Ah, the vagaries of army life. For the first time in longer than I care to contemplate, I am afforded time to reflect upon my recent adventures. Earlier in the year, as spring was becoming summer, I was granted a furlough to return home, and thus separated myself from my dear comrades of the 8th. Near the end of my allotted time, I received notification that I was not to return to Company A of the eighth, but was being temporarily assigned to the 14th.

As fate would have it, I joined them in late June, just in time to charge with them across the fields of Gettysburg, in an attempt to take a large barn which was in the hands of the rebels, and being used quite effectively to fire upon our lines. I am told that we took it, and burned it to the ground, but cannot attest to it myself, as the last thing I remember of the battle was sheltering behind a stone wall, seeing a cloud of smoke from an enemy volley, and then the rock before me splintering with the impact of a musket ball. I awoke in a field hospital with a crashing pain in my head, and bandages swathing my face and left eye.

Even so, I was in much better condition than many of the brave boys surrounding me, and was informed that I was to be sent by train to Philadelphia for further care. After a hike of five miles to the railhead, with a brief stop a lodge staffed by members of the Christian Commission, I found myself on a train bound not for Philadelphia, but rather New York. It seems that there were already more casualties in that city than the hospital could care for. I spent a fortnight at the hospital, and although the wound was painful,

I have retained sight in both my eyes, and was deemed fit to return to duty. It was somehow decided that I should be assigned to the garrison at Fort Warren in Boston harbor, while awaiting passage back to the 8th. While passing through Connecticut on my way to Boston, I was entrusted with the care of two drummers, also bound for the Eighth. We traveled overland to Hull Massachusetts, where we were ferried to George's Island, and disembarked before the imposing granite structure of the fort, now serving as a prison for captured confederates, as well as the guardian of the bay. The drummers and I presented ourselves to the Colonel in command of the fort, and found him in a frenzy. It seems that he had been informed that a prisoner uprising was imminent, and he was making plans to quell it in no uncertain terms, while attempting to guarantee the safety of the informants (a pair of laundresses with ties to the rebels).

The drummers, Ryan and Adam, were sent to the musicians, and I was pressed into service with a detail charged with containing the prisoners, and escorting the laundresses to safety. The Colonel's plan was to substitute unloaded weapons for the loaded ones being smuggled to the prisoners, allow them to break out from their barracks, identify and capture the ringleaders, and return the rest of the prisoners to their area. The plan seemed simple and elegant, but contained one fatal flaw. It did not consider the rebel's ingenuity in breaking into the powder house and making off with powder and ball.

Although outnumbered, thus supplied, they put up a spirited fight, resulting in the death of the Colonel, and the wounding of the Lt. Colonel, second in command. The prisoners were ultimately subdued, but at a dear price to both factions. In spite of his wounds, the Lt. Colonel immediately convened a court martial to determine the complicity of the senior confederate officer in the plot to escape. While hearing the impassioned testimony of the laundress (who was revealed as the confederate's wife, and who supposedly cooperated with the Lt. Colonel in return for a promise of clemency for her husband), the Lt. Colonel was overcome by his wounds. The next senior federal officer, a Captain Clark, had the Lt. Colonel taken to his barracks, and continued with the court martial, insisting on the immediate execution of the confederate prisoner.

With the consent of the other assembled officers, a squad was formed to carry out the sentence, I myself being one of the men chosen for the duty. The prisoner appeared prepared for his fate, but before he could be dispatched, a commotion broke out, caused by his hysterical wife accosting Captain Clark, and the appearance of the Lt. Colonel, struggling against his wounds, imploring the captain to reconsider, and then charging him with insubordination and ordering the dismissal of the firing squad. The captain responded by stating that the Lt. Colonel was obviously incapacitated, and that he was being removed from command and was forcibly removed from the area. Amid the resulting confusion, Captain Clark gave the order to fire on the prisoner, and possibly as a result of conflicting loyalties, a ragged volley rang out and the deed was done.

After the body was removed, the assembled men were dispersed, and some semblance of order returned to the parade grounds. Later that evening, I was informed that a transport ship would be leaving the next morning, and made arrangements for my two charges and I to be aboard.

I am now aboard said ship, and have the entire trip to mull over the tumultuous events I have just described, and consider what may yet await me when I am once again reunited with the men of the Eighth.


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