Saturday, February 9, 2013

Surgeon S.R. Welles, 61st Regt. NYS Vols. - Silver Chalice

The Welles family line fought for the Crown in the American Revolution. 
Almost a century later my great great uncle, Surgeon S. R. Welles
received this chalice for his service during the American Civil War

Silver chalice presented to my ancestor, Surgeon S. R. Welles, 61st Regt. NYS Vols, by the
Officers and men as a mark of respect for his conduct during the Civil War. July 23, 1862 

Inscription Reads

"Presented to Surgeon S.R. Welles, 61st Regt. NYS Vols. by the Officers and men as a mark of respect for his conduct during the Battles of Fair Oaks, Allens Farm, Savages Station, White Oak Swamp, Charles City Crossroads, & Malvern Hill. Harrison's Landing, Va.  July 23, 1862" 

Family Tradition Holds

Family tradition holds that he was captured by the Confederates as he was treating the wounded from both sides after the July  1, 1862 battle of Malvern Hill. After being held in Richmond's Libby Prison, he was exchanged and rejoined his regiment. He was horrified by what he saw during the war, and became an Episcopal priest in the years after the war. The idea was that if he could not save lives (this was before the germ theory), he could help people save their souls. He never married and had no children. 

Historical Scholarship - Regiment's Activities

The regiment fought in the Second Corps, First Division, First Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. The regiment fought June 1, 1862, the second day of Fair Oaks, also called Seven Pines.

"Yet there was no doubt that the enemy was there. Stray bullets showered leaves and twigs down on the Yankees and better aimed bullets found their marks. In a neighboring regiment, the 61st New York, Colonel Francis Barlow reported that 'a most violent firing began on both sides.... In about three minutes men were dying and groaning and running about with faces shot and arms shot, and it was an awful sight.' One of every ten men in the 61st New York would die in this morning's fight." Sears, page 143.

The regiment also fought at Charles City Crossroads, also called Glendale, on June 30, 1862.    

"Kearny also welcomed the 61st New York and Colonel Francis C. Barlow, an uncommonly gifted officer who was looking for a fight to get into. Barlow's regiment, from Israel Richardson's division, was one of those called from White Oak Bridge when the fighting at Glendale began, and in the rush from the bridge it had become separated from the rest of the brigade. Marching toward the sound of the guns, Colonel Barlow went looking for the first general officer he could find, who happened to be General Robinson of Kearny's division. Robinson put him into action promptly.      

"Barlow's New Yorkers rushed with a shout at charge bayonets across a field. In the smoke and dim light, Barlow wrote home, 'we could not distinctly see the enemy on the open ground but they heard us coming and broke and ran. ... ' He picked up a fallen Confederate battle flag and sent it to the rear. In the woods beyond they ran against the enemy and were challenged, 'Throw down your arms or you are all dead men!' Barlow's response was the order to fire. After a 'vigorous fire was kept up on both sides for a long time,' the 61st New York withdrew to the original line." Sears, pages 303-304

“Colonel Francis Barlow marched his 61st New York, of Caldwell’s brigade, to the front to brace Couch’s beleaguered line. ‘The men fought better than ever before, standing in line with great coolness,,’ Barlow would tell his family. So rapid was their fire that the guns of many of them became fouled by burned powder, making it impossible to ram home the charges. ‘Then we lay down and prepared to hold the place by the bayonet if the enemy charged out of the woods,’ Barlow wrote. The Rebels did charge, ‘with a yell,’ but the 72nd New York next to them had just enough cartridges left for a last volley, ‘which broke them and they ran.’ Barlow remarked that a Federal battery behind them too often fused its shells improperly, ‘and a good many of their shells burst over our heads and even struck behind us which did not add to the pleasure of the occasion.’ “ Sears, pages 327, 329.

Sears’ last mention of Barlow and the 61st New York indicates the regiment and its commander did not have great respect for Army of the Potomac Commander George McClellan, who spent part of the Battle of Malvern Hill on a gunboat in an adjacent river.

“There remained, however, the verdict rendered by such fighting men as Colonel Francis Barlow of the 61st New York. ‘I think the whole army feel (sic),’ Barlow wrote three days after Malvern Hill, ‘that it was left to take care of itself and was saved only by its own brave fighting.’“ Sears, page 331.

Sears, Steven W. To The Gates of Richmond. New York: Mariner Books, 1992. ISBN 0-618-121713-5.


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