A Vermont Relic of Pickett’s Charge: Lt. John T. Sinnott’s Gettysburg Hardee Hat


 

“Boys, lie down or you’ll surely be hit!”

– John T. Sinnott, July 3rd, 1863

“John Sinnott, a schoolteacher from Rutland — raised up to caution the men to stay low and was himself mortally wounded, struck in the head by a shell fragment.”

Lt. John Sinnott’s Hardee Hat

Today’s post is centered around the highlight of an upcoming (March 25th, 2017) militaria and sporting goods auction from the collection of Vermont Civil War collector Marius Peladeau. I was able to check out some of the fantastic items that will be highlighted at the auction and was especially blown away by one item in particular. It’s a rare occasion to be able to tie a 150+ year old item to a particular soldier – it’s an even rarer occasion to tie that item and soldier to an exact moment during a historically significant battle that changed the course of American history. In this case, that soldier was Lt. John Sinnott, and the event was the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863.

Lt. Sinnott took a piece of Rebel shrapnel in the forehead shortly after telling his troops in his Irish brogue:

Boys, lie down or you’ll surely be hit!

This last utterance was noted by Heman W. Allen in the Pictorial History of the 13th Regiment of Vermont Volunteers, 1861-1865. This quote was spoken in the heated moments of the Confederate artillery bombardment preceding Pickett’s Charge. Close friend and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Captain John Lonergan said of the death of his close friend:

I lay by his side when wounded that terrible day…I tied his head with my kerchief and dropt a tear on his aching brow. He could not speak – he was senseless! His eyes were closed by the enemies’ guns. My eyes burned with tears for his relatives and friends… his father, mother, sisters, brothers, three thousand miles away the exile dies in a foreign land in defense of Ireland’s hope, the starry flag. For nearly a year we marched together, we fought together.

Sinnott apparently anticipated his fate and died shortly thereafter (July 6th) in a field hospital with a note in his pocket that bid farewell to his bethrothed as well as where to send his property in case he should die in battle. His shrapnel-ridden hat was sent back to Vermont along with his body. He was buried in Bridget’s Cemetery in West Rutland. His hat was kept and passed down in his family where it was later purchased by Vermont Civil War collector Marius Peladeau. Mr. Peladeau has consigned the hat along with hundreds of other items in his collection to the Duane Merrill and Company auction house in Williston, Vermont. 

The hat is estimated to sell for $8,000-$12,000 on March 25th, 2017. I will update this post with a final selling price at that time.

Want to bid on this item? Click the hat below!

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Want to know more about Vermont’s involvement at Gettysburg?

The following article was written by Liam McKone and appeared in the Burlington Free Press on July 4th, 2014

In early July of 1863, as tens of thousands of men in blue and gray clashed in battle, a Burlington resident distinguished himself with conspicuous gallantry in his only fight during the Civil War.

Midway through the war, two key victories for the federal army struggling to preserve the Union marked a turning point in the conflict. The audacious invasion of the north by Gen. Robert E. Lee that posed a threat to the nation’s capital was repulsed at Gettysburg on July 3. The next day Maj.r Gen. Ulysses S. Grant forced the surrender of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, which gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.

Lee’s defeat prevented a situation that might have ended the conflict with victory for the southern states. Public reaction to the capture of Washington by the rebels or yet another stunning defeat of Union forces — this time on their home territory — could have forced President Lincoln to come to terms with the Confederacy, allowing them to secede from the Union as they desired.

The crucial task of opposing Lee at Gettysburg fell to a new commander as Lincoln replaced “Fighting Joe” Hooker with Maj. Gen. George G. Meade on June 28. Hooker had constantly demanded that more soldiers be assigned to his Army of the Potomac. Before Lincoln ran out of patience with Hooker, the president had agreed to transfer major units from the defenses of Washington to augment the field troops pursuing Lee north.

One such unit was the Second Vermont Brigade composed of five regiments from the state, the 12th through the 16th, nearly 5,000 soldiers who had enlisted for nine months service the previous fall. Their enlistments had almost expired when the brigade was assigned to the First Corps, the lead element of Meade’s forces already well to the north. Guarding a quiet sector of Virginia along the Occoquan River with only an occasional skirmish against rebel cavalry, these Vermont units had never been tested in battle.

Despite worn-out shoes and the summer heat, the brigade marched 120 miles from Virginia to Pennsylvania in six days, each day rotating the less dusty place at the head of the column among the five regiments. Arriving at the First Corps camp on July 1, the 12th and 15th Vermont were assigned guard duty and the three remaining regiments rushed to join the Battle of Gettysburg lready underway.

Capt. John Lonergan’s Company A, 13th Vermont, was leading the column early that afternoon when they reached the crest of a hill and saw the battlefield awaiting them.

Lonergan had recruited Vermont’s only ethnic unit, mostly Irishmen from Burlington and Rutland, plus a dozen Yankees from Westford. His ultimate purpose was to provide trained soldiers for the Fenian Brotherhood dedicated to liberating Ireland from British rule. In 1861, Lonergan had supplied a company for the 2nd Vermont from his Emmet Guards militia unit in Burlington, but it was disbanded by Gov. Fairbanks for failing to assemble on time. for the regimental muster (perhaps some drink had been taken on the eve of departure for war.) The teetotaler Republican governor disliked Lonergan for being an immigrant, an Irishman, a Catholic, a Democrat and a drinker.

Lonergan received authorization in 1862 from Fairbanks’ successor to raise another company. Always brash, Lonergan claimed seniority in the 13th Vermont based on his earlier captaincy and was granted the designator “A” for his new company, even though official state records do not show him being commissioned for either post.

As senior company, his soldiers held the right flank of the battle line at Gettysburg, the traditional position of honor.

Brig. Gen. George J. Stanndard’s Second Vermont Brigade, three regiments near the authorized strength of a thousand men each, were welcome reinforcements to the Union troops on Cemetery Ridge south of Gettysburg. Although “green” troops not yet tested in battle, the Vermont units were used to plug gaps in the line. On the evening of July 2, five companies of the 13th Vermont held in reserve were ordered by Second Corp commander Maj. Gen. Winfried S. Hancock to retake four Union cannon captured at nearby Emmitsburg Road.

Longergan led his “Irish Company” as they shouted the ancient Gaelic battle cry “Faugh a ballagh!” warning the enemy to “Clear the way!” and reached the cannon first. Once the heavy weapons were safely on the way back to the Union lines, the captain turned his attention to a nearby farmhouse from which rebels were firing on the Vermonters.

Clearly Lonergan “had his Irish up.” He stationed his 50 men near the house, kicked in the door, and demanded that the rebels come out and surrender. More than 80 rebel soldiers and officers meekly complied, only to discover that they outnumbered their captors. On the triumphant return to Union lines in the gathering dusk, a veteran soldier on Cemetery Ridge who had watched the nearly suicidal tactics of Lonergan asked the returning “Irish Company” who they were. “We’re the Green Mountain Boys,” an Irishman proudly answered, whereupon the veteran commented drily, “Well, I knew you were green or you would never have charged down there.”

For this gallant action, Lonergan was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

Fitfully dozing among the dead rebels killed in the assault earlier that day, the 13th and 14th Vermont spent that night in the main Union line while the 16th Vermont deployed as skirmishers along Emmetsburg Road. Lonergan’s unit, the senior company in the senior regiment on the field of battle, crouched on the right flank of the Vermont brigade behind a low stone wall. A prolonged artillery duel began at 1 p.m. on July 3; even the greenest soldier knew this was preparation for another infantry attack. Capt. James Rorty’s New York battery next to Lonergan’s company took heavy losses and needed volunteers to help keep the cannon firing. Rorty, secretary of the Fenian Brotherhood for the Army of the Potomac, called on his fellow Fenians nearby and they left their shelter to join the cannon crew. (Rorty, stripped to the waist like an Irish warrior of old, was killed at his guns before the battle ended.)

To escape the fierce pounding of the Confederate artillery, the 13th and 14th Vermont moved forward a hundred yards into the slight protection afforded by the swale of Plum Run, now down to a trickle of water in the July heat. Behind hasty fortifications of fence rails, the men hugged the ground and waited for the rebel assault that was sure to come. As the artillery firing slackened, Lonergan’s second in command — John Sinnott, a schoolteacher from Rutland — raised up to caution the men to stay low and was himself mortally wounded, struck in the head by a shell fragment. When the bombardment ceased, the soldiers could see a Confederate battle line almost a mile wide forming across the valley on Seminary Ridge. The Vermonters were facing some 15,000 well-armed and hardened fighters, now reinforced by Pickett’s fresh division. Stannard brought the 16th Vermont back from its vulnerable position as skirmishers, reuniting the three regiments of his brigade in an isolated pocket in front of the Union line.

When the rebel troops came within range, Stannard’s men opened fire with great effect and seemed to drive the attacking soldiers aside, rather than charging right over the Vermonters. In reality, Pickett’s units were marching deliberately to their left in order to achieve the shock effect of a column and punch a hole in the Union line at the copse of trees used as a landmark for the maneuver. As they passed by on the right of the Vermont line, the rebels were masked from the Vermonters’ muskets, except for a few in Lonergan’s company.

To rectify this situation, the order was given — both Hancock and Stannard later claimed credit—for the 13th and 16th Vermont to move forward by the right flank. This placed Lonergan in the lead of the two regiments as they displaced in a column to march within “half pistol shot” distance from the flank of the rebel mass now charging up Cemetery Ridge.

Lonergan placed his orderly sergeant James Scully, also from Burlington, to mark the pivot point and ordered his men to “change front forward” to form a double row of muskets leveled at Pickett’s soldiers. In turn, each company of the 13th and then the 16th Vermont performed the same action to connect up with the “Irish Company,” first moving in a column of fours and then forming a battle line extending almost to Emmitsburg Road. A ripple of volleys smashed into the mass of rebels; then each Vermonter loaded and fired as rapidly as he could, hardly necessary to take aim at such a large and essentially defenseless target.

Met with concentrated small arms fire to their front — some smoothbore muskets left by rebels on July 2 were now turned on them with deadly double loads of buckshot — and canister from cannon now acting as giant shotguns, the rebel charge stalled and hung in the balance. Then Pickett’s men on the right flank also began suffering devastating casualties as Vermonters poured .58 caliber rifle slugs into them at short range.

Some Vermonters fired a dozen and more times, particularly the first men to arrive on the new battle line. Those few Confederates on the edge of the attacking column who could bring their weapons to bear began to return fire and soldiers in the Vermont units also fell dead or wounded. Lonergan lost four men killed and six wounded as they were exposed the longest to this exchange of lead from musket and pistol, yet he was himself unharmed. Finally the rebels broke, streaming back down the hill and leaving hundreds of dead, wounded, and prisoners behind.

The Second Vermont Brigade joined in the pursuit of Lee on his retreat to Virginia. As their enlistments expired, the regiments were pulled out to return for discharge. The 13th Vermont left on July 10 and was mustered out at Brattleboro on July 20. Lonergan’s company took a train back to Burlington, dropping off the contingent from Rutland en route. The next day the remaining members were greeted as heroes in ceremonies at City Hall Park in Burlington and the “Irish Company” faded away into the mists of history.

Crosspost: Valor is Timeless – Caleb Cushing and the Congressional Medal of Honor


Crosspost from http://www.militarytrader.com/jagfile/valor-is-timeless

 

“Our line of battle stretched along the ridge overlooking the valley between it and the southern armies…The thunder of artillery was like a continuous roar…Among the first to receive a serious wound that fateful afternoon was Cushing himself. Both thighs were torn open by a fragment of shell—under which ill fortune, said General Webb in his report, “He fought for an hour and half, cool, brave, competent.”

First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, Battery A, 4th US Artillery, challenged the admiration of all who saw him in action at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. In fact, his brigade commander, Colonel Hall, reported about Cushing on the final day of the battle, “Three of his limbers were blown up and changed with caisson limbers, under fire. Several wheels were shot off his guns and replaced, till at last, severely wounded himself, his officers all killed or wounded, and with but cannoneers enough to man a section, he pushed his gun to the fence in front an was killed while serving his last canister into the ranks of the advancing enemy.”

Others reported how he simply laughed when a bullet that hit him in the shoulder, calling to his division commander, “I’ll give them one more shot—Good-Bye!” As he served up that last round, another bullet struck him in the mouth, passing through the base of his brain. He fell forward, lifeless, into the arms of his orderly sergeant, Frederick Fuger.

 

Caleb Cushing Studio Portrait

Caleb Cushing Studio Portrait

A WISCONSIN NATIVE

Alonzo was the second youngest of five Cushing brothers. Born in 1841 in what is now the city of Delafield, Wisconsin, Cushing grew up in Fredonia, New York. In all, three of the brothers grew up and served the Union during the American Civil War. His younger brother, William, became a Union Navy officer. One of his older brothers, Howard, served in the 1st Illinois Artillery before taking a commission in his brother’s unit, the 4th Artillery in November 1863. After the war, Howard served in the 3rd U.S. Cavalry until he was killed in action fighting the Chiricahua of Arizona, in 1871.

Cushing entered the United States Military Academy in 1857 and graduated with the the class of June 1861, when he received commissions as second and first lieutenant on the same day. He was brevetted major following the Battle of Chancellorsville. The 22-year-old Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg.

Battery A was at the key point called “the angle” in a stone wall facing the brunt of the charge by Confederate troops under Maj. Gen. George Pickett on July 3, 1863. Historians have called this spot the “high-water mark of the Confederacy.” Commanding a section of guns only a hundred yards in front of the Confederates  converged at the wall, Cushing fell from a third, fatal wound. Contemporaries described his actions before he was killed as nothing less than heroic.

His body was returned to his family and then interred in the West Point Cemetery in Section 26, Row A, Grave 7. His headstone bears, at the behest of his mother, the inscription “Faithful unto Death.” Cushing was posthumously cited for gallantry with a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel.

History did not forget Alonzo, however. In fact, more than four decades later, Morris Schaff would remind the American public of the young man’s gallantry when he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “On the field of Gettysburg more than once I stood where the brave Cushing gave up his life, right at the peak of Pickett’s daring charge. Oh that day and that hour! History will not let that smiling, splendid boy die in vain; her dew will glisten forever over his record as the early morning dew glistens in the fields. Fame loves the gentleman and the true-hearted, but her sweetheart is gallant youth.”

 

Civil War Medal of Honor

Civil War Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor

Federal law requires the Medal of Honor to be awarded within three years of the event unless Congress waives the requirement. Though the Civil War has generated more medals than any other American war, Cushing’s case was complicated by the fact that so few of them — 29 out of 1,522 — were awarded posthumously.

In the 150 years since, debates have raged inside the War Department (now the Department of Defense) about the propriety of posthumous medals. Cushing was nominated for a belated award of the Medal of Honor, beginning with a letter campaign in the late 1980s by constituents of Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin. The measure has been also been advocated by Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district. In 2002, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin nominated Cushing for the Medal of Honor, and, following a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Army approved the nomination in February 2010.

It was announced on May 20, 2010, that Cushing would receive the Medal of Honor, 147 years after his death.  The provision granting Cushing the Medal of Honor was removed from a defense spending bill by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia in December of 2012, however.

Finally, in December of 2013, the Senate passed a defense bill that included a provision which granted Cushing the Medal of Honor. The nomination was sent for review by the Defense Department, before being approved by President Barack Obama.

Finally, on August 26, 2014, the White House announced Cushing would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. In its announcement, the White House said Cushing “distinguished himself during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863… “Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire in the face of the enemy.” The White House said. “With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault.”

Yet to be resolved is who will receive Cushing’s medal. The Army will accept the award on Cushing’s behalf, since he had no direct descendants. The city of Delafield — a town of about 6,000 people 30 miles west of Milwaukee — would like to display the medal at City Hall, said David Krueger, who serves as the mayor’s representative on the Cushing Medal of Honor Committee.  A date has not been set for the actual award of the medal, though it is likely to occur at a Medal of Honor at a ceremony scheduled for Sept. 15 at the White House. At that ceremony, President Obama with decorate Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, an Army Special Forces or his actions in Camp A Shau, Vietnam, over three days in 1966; and Spc. Donald P. Sloat, a machine gunner who distinguished himself during combat near Hawk Hill Fire Base, Vietnam, in 1970. Adkins will attend the ceremony. Sloat’s award, like Cushing’s, will be posthumous.

Valor is, indeed, timeless.

Preserve the memory,

John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

– See more at: http://www.militarytrader.com/jagfile/valor-is-timeless#sthash.SKLCh7lS.dpuf