THE BLOOD OF FARMERS
by Randy Starkey
This is a story of brave men. Studying the Civil War often seems like it look at same irrelevant dark age, It comes alive when it becomes a look at a tragedy within your own blood-line, Wars are not simply a clash of armies. They are fought by brothers, cousins, fathers and sons. My ancestors are not in history books but: their blood was shed with honor. Most fame is achieved by generals. Most of the blood is shed by privates. This is the story of three privates named Starkey,
When the state of Virginia seceded from the Union on May 23,1861, a large number of angry citizens in western Virginia sought their separate statehood to continue their allegiance to the Union. Two conventions in Wheeling, in May and June 1861,resulted in an election of Francis If. Pierpont as Provisional Governor of a "Restored Virginia," This state became WestVirginia, and joined the Union in 1863.
In July of 1861, Governor Pierpont appointed James Evans, a prominent Morgantown farmer, to the rank of Colonel and urged creation of a volunteer regiment to assist the Union in putting down the rebellion. This unit became the Seventh West Virginia Volunteer Infantry and is the focus of this story.
With a small cadre of officers commissioned by the governor, Colonel Evans began recruiting men throughout western Virginia, eastern Ohio, and southwestern Pennsylvania. By the time it was fully organized in December 1861, the Seventh had 1,129 men arranged into ten companies, Most were young farmers.
Beginning in January 1862, the Seventh became attached directly to the Army of the Potomac. During 1862, the Seventh fought and suffered heavy losses in numerous battles such as Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. In 1863, the unit took its variant place of honor at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. A monument to the bravery of the Seventh rests at the base of Cemetery Ridge at the Gettysburg Battlefield.
By early 1864, the Seventh had been decimated by death, wounds and disease. In February 1864, only 392 men in four companies remained in its rolls, Here is where my story begins.
In 1864, Starkeys lived in several counties of West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Originally from Abbeyleix, Ireland, Thomas Starkey arrived by ship in New Jersey in 1664 His later descendant, Nathan Starkey, migrated to southwest: Pennsylvania in the late 1700's, One of Nathan's children was Levi, Levi was a blacksmith who had settled in Jefferson County, Ohio, in the late 1820's Among his children were three sons: Levi, Samuel, and Charles, From son Levi, among other children, came a son Levi W. Starkey. From son Sanuel, came John T, Starkey,my great, great grandfather, From Charles, came Curtis M,
Starkey. In March 1864, these three first cousins, Levi W, John T. and Curtis M. joined the Seventh West Virginia Volunteers, Within two months, all. three were destined to shed blood in some of the most ferocious infantry fighting ever to take place on American soil.
The Seventh had been on furlough in West Virginia from mid-February to mid-March of 1864. Officers tried to recruit new men during this respite and the three Starkeys enlisted. They were three of the 412 men who left Wheeling, on April 3rd, to rejoin the Army of the Potomac.
On May 3, 1864, the Union Army's Second Corps, commanded by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, crossed southward over the Rapidan River in Virginia, at Ely's Ford. They reached Chancellorsville, near Fredericksburg, on May fourth.
The Starkey cousins marching with the Second Corps were aware they were at the place where a second cousin, Nathan Starkey, had been wounded exactly one year earlier. Shot through the right lung and arm, Nathan had been among thousands of casualties of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The famous Confederate, Stonewall Jackson, had been mortally wounded in that battle.
The cousins served in Company "D" of the Seventh, It was commanded by Captain Isaac B, Fisher, Fisher had led Company "D" since its -formation in 1861, He 'was a battle-hardened veteran and one of the few remaining original officers.The regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan H, Lockwood, Lockwood was not a handsome man. His weathered face was deeply furrowed and crow' s feet surrounded his eyes, He had a huge nose, He was a tough yet genuinely revered leader, Lockwood was a salty, conscientious soldier with a sense of humor. At Antietam, a Confederate sharpshooter shot his horse out from under him, Three bullets hit the horse and a fourth emptied Lockwood's canteen, Lockwood said he regretted the loss of the contents of the canteen as much as the horse. It had contained good western Virginia applejack!
Lockwood's canteen rarely held water but it must have contained an elixir of courage. At Gettysburg, Lockwood was cited for "gallant and meritorious conduct on the field." During the fight, a bullet struck Lockwood's sword, hanging at his side, with such force that its blade seriously wounded him. The injury painfully haunted him and ultimately caused his death,
On February 4, 1864, at Morton's Ford on the Rapidan, Lockwood had part of his shoulder torn away by an artillery shell. The surgeon bandaged his wound but Lockwood refused to leave his men and kept the field. At other times, in various battles, Lockwood was seen bleeding from minor wounds as he calmly remained in command. With frequent cussing and periodic swigs from his canteen, Lockwood persevered.
Lockwood was no man of letters, A terrible speller, he hated writing the endless reports required by the army and he was forever behind in his paperwork , He left little in writing to color the history of the Seventh, One thing was clear, though. He knew how to lead men in battle.
During this early May campaign, the Seventh was one of nine regiments of the Third Brigade of the Second Division. The Brigade commander was Colonel Samuel S. Carroll. Carrol was an 1856 graduate of West Point and a true professional. He had a shock of red hair and bushy red sideburns to his chin. This drew him the nickname "Bricktop." Carroll quickly and efficiently followed every order given him by a superior, His commanders confirmed that his behavior under fire was the coolest and most professional they could remember.
Carroll's Third Brigade was under the command of Second Division's Brigadier General John Gibbon. Gibbon was universally considered one of the Union Army's best generals.
These units, and others under the command of Major: General Hancock in the Second Army Corps, were considered the Union Army's elite fighting forces.
Into a regiment whose survivors had become tough veterans, stepped three farmers, turned privates, They were not the only Starkeys to serve but their fates were to be dramatically intertwined. Curtis M. Starkey was 33 years old and Lived . in Jefferson County, Ohio, He had a fair complexion and stood five feet, ten inches tall. He had blue eyes and dark hair, He was married. Levi W. Starkey was 27, He and wife Elisabeth made their home in Marion County, WV. Five feet, ten, Levi had a dark complexion and dark brown hair. John T, Starkey was 23, 'We and his wife, also Elizabeth, had three children and one on the way when he kissed her good-bye at their farm in Wetzel County , West Virginia. John stood five five inches tall. He had light complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. Unlike his two cousins, John T. could neither read nor write
The cousins had voluntarily enlisted for three years, This was a second enlistment for Levi W, and John T, though neither had ever seen action. They received the standard private's pay of thirteen dollars per month, They wore wool uniforms consisting of a short blue coat with lay-down collar, and lighter blue trousers. On their heads, they wore the small forage cap, "kepi." On top, was the embroidered white trefoil(clover).
This was the emblem of the Union Armys Second Corps. Around their waists, they wore heavy leather belts to support their leather cartridge boxes. The cartridges were not the modern kind of brass cartridges. They were actually pre-measured charges of black powder and a lead "minie" ball. The name came from its inventor, not its size. The powder and ball were sealed in a paper cartridge with a string to tear it open. The powder and ball had to be poured into the barrel of the rifle from its muzle and the packed with a ramrod.
The men carried a .58 caliber, Model 1861 Springfield rifle. The rifle was 52 ¾ inches long and weighed 9 ¾ pounds. It used a percussion cap to ignite its muzzle-loaded charge. At the time, the rifles cost the army ninteen dollars each. In the right hands, its 40-inch barrel was deadly accurate up to five hundred yards.
The army of the Potomac, in May 1864, was an imposing force. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was in the field to supervise its conduct though it was under direct command of Major General George Meade, a short-tempered but effective leader. The force exceeded 120,000 men arranged into five corps. They were the Second Corps, Fifth Corps, Sixth Corps, Ninth Corps, and Cavalry Corps. There were a total of fifteen infantry divisions and three cavalry divisions. One cavalry brigade was commanded by Brigadier General George A. Custer. Within this army were numerous battalions of both light and heavy artillery. The supply of the army was impressive. It was accompanied by more than 4,000 horse-drawn wagons full of supplies. End-to-End, this supply train would stretch non-stop for more than sixty miles!
The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia facing this Union Army was about half its size. It was under the command of General Robert E. Lee. It was arranged into four corps: First Corps, Second Corps, Third Corps, and Cavalry Corps. Lees army was not nearly as well-equipped. In May of 1864, many Confederates had no shoes and were forced to re-supply themselves with food and provisions by looting their dead opponents. The Confederates, though, had a tremendous fighting spirit and excellent leadership throughout. Their fighting skill and tactics had more than compensated for their inferior numbers on so many occasions that wise Union Officers feared and respected them.
On May 5, 1864, these two great armies of over 200,000 men met to fight in the dense forest of young trees and thickets. This battle was to be known thereafter as the "Battle of the Wilderness."
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About eight miles west of the Chancellorsville Battlefield is where the two armies met. Two separate and roughly parallel roads were the focus of the battle. The village of Orange Courthouse lay about eighteen miles west and slightly south. A northern road running northeast from Orange was called the Orange Turnpike. About three miles south lay the Orange Plank Road. The Orange Plank Road was so-names for the embedded wooden planks to allow passage when heavy rain turned the dirt road to mud. Both roads ran slightly northeast and intersected a north-south road called Brock Road. These roads are still in use today though long-since paved.
From the southwest came Lees army. From the northeast came Grants. As the battle began on a warm May 5th, the Fifth Union Army Corps was engaged to the north along the Orange Turnpike with the Confederate Second Corps. To the south, the intersection of the Orange Plank and Brock Roads was, at first, defended by just one Union cavalry regiment. It was quickly driven back by a vastly superior Confederate force their Third Army Corps. Hancocks Union Second Corps had already marched south of this position and was in the vicinity of a place called Todds Tavern, when the Confederate Third Corps hit the cavalry.
This was nearly a military disaster since the Confederates were in a position to cut Grants army in half by being between Hancocks Second Corps and the rest of the Union Army. This made the control of the Plank Road-Brock Road intersection of absolutely vital military importance.
At 10:30 A.M., upon recognizing the potential disaster, Meade ordered Brigadier General George W. Getty, Second Division Commander of the Sixth Corps, to Immediately fill the gap at the intersection of the two roads. They did so on the run and barely arrived ahead of the main force of Confederates.
At the same time Hancock was ordered to reverse direction and march north of the Brock Road from Todds Tavern to reinforce Getty. Hancock complied with this order immediately but it took most to the day. Though less than ten miles away, his corps was more than 28,000 men, horses, equipment and artillery. The effort was further hampered by having to march past a huge supply train which had been following the Second Corps.
The Starkey cousins, at 11:A.M., were with Carrolls brigade at Todd;s Tavern. Along with all the others, the cousins marched north that hot afternoon to arrive near the intersection at about 3: P.M.
It would be hard to imagine a worse site for a major battle between large forces. Beyond the narrow roads, the surrounding country was uneven terrain. It was covered with a dense, second-forest of young trees less than six inches in diameter. These were interspersed with impenetrable brush, briars, vines and saplings. To make matters worse, gullies and mounds ran off in all directions and unseen swamps and mud holes were traps awaiting the unsuspecting. Mere paces off the road, a man could easily become disoriented. Trying to launch any large infantry unit into such a forest invited a disorganized disaster. Throughout the day, both sides constructed opposing rifle pits, and breastworks. Many of those rifle pit trenches are still visible today more than 130 years later.
The fighting did not begin in earnest until about 4:00 P.M. The Confederate Third Army Corps, under command of Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill, vastly outnumbered Gettys one division at that point. Meade, several miles away, and mistakenly believing Hancocks forces to be fully in place to reinforce ordered Getty to attack.
Confederate lines ran at right angles, north and south, crossing the Plank Road. These lines were about a quarter of a mile from the intersection and extended north and south into the woods almost a half mile in both directions. The Confederates were well entrenched and camouflaged.
Meade had promised Getty immediate assistance from Hancocks troops to support the attack but only the lead units of Hancocks forces had begun arriving when the attack began. Separated by less than a hundred yards of woods, neither side could see each other nor accurately assess the opponents strength. Gettys charge turned out to be near suicide.
Charging Through the woods, Gettys men almost immediately slammed into a wall of fire and lead. Men fell like the leaves in October as entrenched Confederates unleashed volleys from thousands of muskets simultaneously. In this fire storm, many of the soldiers not killed or wounded panicked and fled in all directions, many directly into enemy lines and capture. The roar of the musketry was deafening at the scene and could be heard miles away. Cries of the wounded and dying could occasionally be heard amid momentary lulls in the battle. The forest was raining twigs, branches, and even entire trees as the flying lead minie balls shattered flesh, bone, thicket and timber. Survivors later tried to describe a forest whistling and crackling from thousands of lead balls. One man would be struck in the leg, The next man was pierced through the brain. A third might have his lower jaw blown away with his bloody teeth spattering everywhere.
All of this death and destruction was hurtling from nowhere and everywhere. Most men killed or wounded never saw the source of fire. The density of the forest and the clouds of musket smoke create a ghostly nightmare of death.
It was into this living hell, the three Starkey cousins of Company "D" were about to charge. Carrolls brigade had been held in reserve for about an hour after arriving near the battle. At about 5:00 P.M. Major General DavidBirney ordered Carrol to attack and relieve the exhausted troops already fighting. Under Lt. KCol. Lockwoods command, the cousins charged into those murderous woods just north of the Plank Road.
The scene they witnessed was dreadful. The dead and dying lay everywhere. Bloody men streamed from the forest on stretchers. Muskets were roaring all around and the shouts and cries of unseen men were blood-curdling. The men fighting around the cousins had grim, determined faces covered with gunpowder. These macabre masks of powder came as men tore open their paper cartridges with their teeth in the rush of battle. There is one word to describe what a man needs to sustain himself in such a setting guts.
Having already lasted an hour, the battle became even more intense as more combatants joined from both sides. Reinforcing Union Divisions that had poured into the woods behind Getty were initially successful in killing many Confederates and pushing them back perhaps a hundred yards. The price was high.
The bodies clad in blue and gray were piling up throughout the woods. Two Union cannon were rolled into the Plank Road and began firing at the Confederates. A fierce Confederate counter-attack ensued and rebels momentarily overran the artillerymen and seized the big guns. Union forces of Gettys and Hancocks men fought mightily and retook the cannon. The Seventh helped push the Confederates back about a quarter of a mile. As the men fought for their lives, Private Curtis M. Starkey was suddenly hit by a bullet in the thigh. Less than one hour after entering his first battle, Curtis was heading for the Second Corps Field Hospital. Mean while, his two cousins fought on.
For nearly five hours, the battle raged near the Plank Road. Most infantry battles are decided quickly with one side gaining decisive advantage within a short period of time. This one was different. At times, the Union would try to advance and be cut to pieces. Then the Confederates would try the same thing with similar results. At times, thousands of muskets would fire together, unnerving even the toughest veterans. All of the burning powder and shooting ignited the dry woods. An estimated 200 wounded, from both sides, were burned alive as the forest fires raged during the battle. The horrible sounds of men screaming as the were incinerated could be heard in those woods and never forgotten by the survivors who were powerless to do anything to help their comrades.
At dark, exhausted men fell upon their rifles in the woods and tried to rest. No cooking fires were possible since the front lines were literally within shouting distance of one another. Any campfire would have draw a blistering roar of musketry. Moans of the wounded and dying eerily pierced the warm night. Most could not be reached or assisted. Any movement or noise drew a volley of fire from the unseen enemy or even friend in the anxiety of that awful night.
One Union soldier heard Confederates digging a trench nearby in the dark. He shouted his opinion as to the canine ancestry of his rebel foe. The response was a volley of musket fire.
The two Starkey cousins who spent that night in those woods would never forget the experience. Not only were they reeling from the wounding of their cousin and the battle they had witnessed, they knew the morning would bring a renewal of the carnage. All present wondered if this was to be their last night on Earth. No doubt prayer was the most common event that night.
The Unions Chief of Ordnance later reported an average of eleven rounds fired per union soldier during the May 5th battle. This included the fierce battle on the Turnpike which also lasted throughout the day. This would work out to roughly one million bullets fired that day just by the Union side!
The fighting conditions had rendered the Union Armys huge artillery advantage impotent. Very little could be used. The Union Armys two-to-one manpower advantage was also negated by the dense forest. The battle was described as "a butchery, pure and simple," by one participant.
Shortly after dawn on May 6th, the battle resumed along the Plank Road. A concentrated Union charge was on the verge of smashing Hills Confederate Third Corps when the Confederate First Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet, arrived. His unit thrust into Hancocks men and stopped the attack cold.
At mid-day, Longstreet took part of his force south of the main battle. By sneaking eastward along an unfinished and unguarded railroad bed, he took position on Hancocks open left flank without detection. He attacked and ripped through the southern flank of Hancocks force. One senior Union officer said Longstreet "rolled me up like a blanket."
Along with others, the Starkeys fled in retreat to rifle pits on the Brock Road. The official report by Colonel Carroll describes the events well.
" Shortly after noon the troops in my front commenced hastily falling back, and I perceived the enemy coming around their left flank. I at once changed the front of my command so as to meet them and fought them for some twenty minutes, but finding that everything else was retiring in great confusion, being hard pressed and flanked myself, besides hearing from some source I cannor recall that orders had been received to fall back to the rifle-pits on Brock Road, I followed the rest of the troops and emerged from the wood on the Brock Road to the right of the plank road, where my command was immediately formed in proper order "
Longstreets troops attacked Carrolls men at about 3:30 P.M. and temporarily drove them from the works in the Brock Road. Carrol was the ordered by General Birney to retake the works immediately. At this Point Levi W. and John T. fixed bayonets and, with the rest of the Seventh, helped retake the works in a bold charge led by Lt. Col. Lockwood.
Longstreets efforts effectively ended when he was wounded, ironically, by his own men. Thus, like Stonewall Jackson one year earlier, friendly fire again made a casualty of a great Confederate General.
The day ended, as had May 5th, in a draw. In two days of fighting in the wilderness, the Union had suffered 18,000 casualties. The Confederates lost 9,000. Overnight, General Lee withdrew his army to the southeast.
LAUREL HILL AND SPOTSYLVANIA
John T. Starkey was officially shown as wounded sometime between May 10th and May 14th, 1864. The original military records cannot confirm the exact date of his wounding. An eyewitness account, which follows, sheds light on why John himself was unsure. It is my educated belief that John was wounded during his units assault on Laurel Hill on May 10, 1864, Between 4:30 P.M. and 5:30 P.M. I make my case based on what is known.
After the bloody wilderness battle, Lee moved his Confederates southeast about twelve miles to a place called Spotsylvania Courthouse and dug in quickly. The rebels were masters at quick movement and entrenchment. Slightly to the west of the main Confederate lines was a rise called Laurel Hill.
During the complex movements of units between May 6th, and May 9th, the Confederates managed to build an imposing defense at Laurel Hill. Infantry of Confederate Major General Charles Fields Division of the Confederate First Army Corps had built impressive breastworks, abatis, and trenches just below the crest of the hill. Abatis, a forerunner of barbed wire, was made of downed trees with branches shortened and sharpened and laid down across the enemys expected path of advance. The Confederates faced north and west. Behind them was supporting artillery from two artillery battalions. In addition, an artillery battery was placed along the Confederates east, or right, flank at Brock Road.
In order for the Union troops to take this hill, they would be required to leave the main woods, charge through a stand of short cedars, and cross an open field while running uphill. This would occur while taking intensive artillery fire from the front and from their left flank. Surviving this shelling, the Union troops still standing would meet heavily dug-in troops behind logs and abatis who could clearly see their advance and shoot them like ducks in a bathtub. The Union officers who were present to see the defense considered such a charge sheer madness. This suicidal charge is exactly what was ordered by General Meade, who, from several miles distant, had no idea what he was ordering done.
The Fifth Union Army Corps, under Major General Warren, attacked shortly before 4:00 P.M. The Second Corps, including the Seventh West Virginia, was held in reserve. The foolish carnage that resulted from this first attack was predictable. The first attack failed miserably and those surviving retreated quickly into the woods.
Those Union units that had witnessed these movements were demoralized at the prospect of their being ordered to try this same murderous dash. This was exactly the plight of the Seventh at about 4:00 P. M. Colonel Carroll made no bones about what next happened to his brigade. He wrote, "..About 4:00 P.M.,was ordered by General Gibbon, Commanding Division, to assault the enemys line in my front, which I executed as ordered. Charging through a belt of burning woods, 35 or 40 yards wide, the right of my line gained the enemys breastworks and the whole line reached the abatis, but was exposed to such a concentrated and murderous fire from two lines as to make the position untenable, and I fell back to the original position where we remained."
It is during this attack, I believe, that John T. Starkey was wounded. It was the only time during the four-day period noted that the Seventh was subjected to artillery fire. John T. was wounded in both the forehead and the shoulder by an exploding canister. The head wound no doubt affected Johns memory of events. Consider his fellow soldiers eyewitness account. William Shreve, in a pension affidavit, wrote, "John T. Starkey ..was injured by the bursting of a shell at or near the top of his head..said shell tore away the crown of his hat, knocking him prostrate upon the ground and seemed to make him blind and deaf and crazed by the concussion of said shell bursting. And he was carried from the battlefield by his comrades "
As his direct descendant, I had an eerie feeling reading this account of John T.s wounding. Since my great grandfather had not yet been conceived, this nearly fatal wound almost precluded the existence of an entire long line of descendants. I might never have been born.
Now that John T. was, like his cousin Curtis M., enroute to an army hospital in Washington D.C., it was left to Levi W. to continue the fight with the Seventh. It was his destiny to join the longest sustained infantry battle ever held on American soil. This battle was th be known as th fight at the "Bloody Angle," at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Before dawn on May 12th, 1864 the entire Second Army Corps of the Union Army, under Hancock, assembled in woods roughly 400 yards in front of Lees entrenched forces. This Union force was made up of approximately 25,000 men. Their plan was to attack at dawn, in a massive column, and pierce the enemys lines like a sword. The Confederates were aligned in a "mule-shoe" salient, or bulge, before them. The Union attack was aided by two circumstances not of their doing: the weather and rare strategic blunder by General Robert E. Lee.
The night before, a rain began and by morning was continuous. It was accompanied by thick low clouds which greatly obscured visibility. The moisture in the air dampened black powder charges in Confederate rifles and, in the early fighting, few rebel rifles would shoot. The night before the attack, Lee feared a Union attack from a different point that the "mule shoe" since the salient was considered a strong defensive point. He ordered all the artillery removed from the salient. This nearly caused the defeat of his army and perhaps the end of the war. It was only their ferocious fighting spirit which saved the Confederates that day.
Aided by poor visibility and their own discipline in following strict orders not to shout or fire upon the enemys works, Hancocks troops, at 4:45 A.M., caught the Confederates off guard. They broke through the lines and overwhelmed the rebels so quickly that few shots were fired, at first. As the Union forces attacked, the Seventh was in the thick of it. Their Position was in Carrolls Brigade to the left of General Barlows First Division.
This charge was against troops of the Confederate Division of Major General Edward Johnson. Within fifteen minutes, the Union troops had captured more that 3,000 rebels including Johnson, and another general, Brigadier General George H. Steuart. Led boldy by Lt. Col. Lockwood, The seventh captured 300 Cofederates and three battle flags. Their success, however, was short-lived.
To the rear of the Confederates were General Lee and a reserve force commanded by Brigadier General John B. Gordon. Gordons actions that morning can be considered to have saved the day for the Confederate Army. His quick and bold leadership in organizing a counterattack were crucial. By 6:00 A.M., Gordons fierce counterattack plunged into the Federals and sent them reeling. Close firing and hand-to-hand combat drove the Union troops back over the breastworks as they scrambled for cover.
At about 6:30 A.M., during this counterattack, a musket ball plowed a furrow along Lt. Col. Lockwoods scalp. This ended his field command of the Seventh. Captain Fisher, Company "D" commander, took command of the regiment as Lockwood was rushed to the rear for medical treatment.
At about this same time, Levi W. Starkey was shot through both hips and was carried to the rear, also. By 9:00 A.M., the Seventh had run out of ammunition and was pulled back with the rest of Carrolls Brigade. Six were killed and six wounded of the Seventh West Virginia Volunteers. The battle, though, was far from over.
From 4:30 A.M. May 12th, until about 2:30 A.M. May 13th, these two armies fought a pitched battle, without respite. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand and musket-to-musket. The battled raged for twenty-two hours in the pouring rain. Men were shot with rifle and cannon at close range. Men were bayoneted and clubbed with rifle butts. Confederates lay on one side of the log breastworks. Union troops lay on the other. Upon raising his head, a soldier was almost always hit by lead within seconds. Bodies of the dead and wounded were piled four and five deep as the carnage continued. The wounded, who might have survived otherwise, were often smothered by the bodies of their comrades on top of them as they wriggled in the muddy pools of rainwater. Reinforcements joined from both sides and the slaughter continued without cessation as the mud ran red with blood. Soldiers fought on the backs of their fallen comrades all day and all night. Even the most hardened veterans were shocked at the vicious fight. Men would fall face down in the mud or carnage with exhaustion. After a few moments rest, they rose like possessed madmen to continue the butchery.
The firing by thousands of Union soldiers, over almost 22 hours, cut down the entire forest behind the Confederates. It turned the log breastworks into splinters. Sometime after midnight. An oak tree more that twenty inches in diameter, crashed down among the Confederates. It had been downed by musket balls. Today, the severed stump of this tree is on display in the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
When this campaign at Spotsylvania ended a few days later, 18000 Federals had been killed or wounded. The Confederates had lost about half that number. In the afternoon of May 13th, Colonel Carroll, nursing a painful wound in the right hand, was hit in the left arm with a bone-shattering bullet. This ended his field command of the Third Brigade.
Private Curtis M. Starkey, wounded in the wilderness, died of his wounds, in a Washington D.C. hospital on June 10, 1864. His body is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 27, Grave #533 in Arlington, Virginia.
Private Levi W. Starkey, was treated and later released to return to his home in Marion County, West Virginia. He lived in that county for twenty five more years and later served as school commissioner in Mannington. He moved to Steubenville, Ohio in 1889 and died near there in 1903. It was reported he ultimately died from his battle wound. He is buried in Steubenville.
Private John T. Starkey, was treated in a hospital in Washington D.C. He was granted a recuperative furlough in June 1864, to return in July 1864. He went home to his farm in Wetzel County, West Virginia. He failed to return from furlough. His official statement was that he had been too ill to return as required since he was being treated for pneumonia. The army, desperate for troops and unsympathetic, tracked him down. He was arrested at his farm on January 9, 1865, by Deputy United States Marshal Jesse T. Snodgrass. He was taken first to Wheeling, West Virginia, and then to Cumberland, Maryland, on January 12th. He was tried by General Court Martial, for desertion, on February 27, 1865, and found guilty. He was sentenced to be returned to his unit, under guard; to make up all time lost; and to forfeit ten dollars per month, of his privates pay of thirteen dollars, for a period of twelve months.
John T. Starkey remained so ill, however, that he remained in army hospitals until the war ended in April with the surrender of General Lee. John T. Starkey was released shortly thereafter and sent home. Over time, he recovered, and lived to age 76. He died August 29, 1916 and is buried in the Stouts Run Cemetery near Smithfiled, in Wetzel County, West Virginia.
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant is widely credited with winning the war for the Union. His fame and glory, however, were paid at a dear price. It was paid by many families in America. It was paid, mostly in the blood of common men. A generals victory has, so often in history, peen paid with the blood of farmers.
June 17, 1997
This story is submitted at the request of Randy Starkey, by Jennings D. Starkey in the hopes it can be used to further the reserch of the Starkey family.