06 May 2010

The Death of Henry Martin Walker, Sr. (1929-1865)

In January of 1865, in Springfield, Illinois, Henry Martin Walker enlisted in Company A, 33rd Regimental Infantry, Illinois Volunteers, Union Army.  He was dead six weeks later due to a tragic accident.

Henry probably enlisted at the behest of his brother-in-law Harvey Dutton who was the Captain in charge of this particular company.  The consensus at the time was the war was winding down, and this was a chance for Henry to come in at the end of the fight and qualify for benefits.

In those early months of 1865, the 33rd Illinois was stationed along the Opelousas Railroad outside of New Orleans to prevent guerrilla attacks and keep supply lines open.  This was all swamp, and illness took its toll on the men.  By the end of the war, all totaled the regiment suffered many more deaths by disease than they did by battle, and that includes the siege of Vicksburg of which they were a part.  But that is not how my g-g-grandfather died.  Here is the account taken from HISTORY of the Thirty-Third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry IN THE CIVIL WAR: 22nd AUGUST, 1861. to 7th DECEMBER, 1865 by GENERAL ISAAC H. ELLIOTT, published in 1902. --
After staying at Brashear and along the railroad for
nine months and thirteen days, we received the wel-
come order to join the expedition to operate against
Mobile, and on the morning of Thursday, March 2nd,
1865, the companies were picked up at the several sta-
tions, beginning at Bayou Boeuf. I was in command of
the regiment, Col. Lippincott being absent. The train
was a mixed one of flat and box ears, carrying all our bag-
gage and horses. Many of the men were on top of the
box ears. After Company B had been taken on at La-
Fourche and Des Allemandes there was only left Com-
pany H at Boutee, some seven or eight miles distant.
We were now considerably behind time, and the train
from New Orleans was nearly due at Boutee. I in-
quired of the conductor if he could make that station
before the other train was due to leave it. He replied
that he could, and we went ahead at quite a high rate
of speed. I had some anxiety about meeting the train
from New Orleans, and was leaning from the door of
the baggage car near the rear of the train looking for-
ward. Suddenly I saw a horse running close alongside
the track, and then dart in front of the engine. In-
stantly the second car from the tender left the track
and was thrown broadside around, and those behind it
crashed into it and each other cars were crushed to
fragments, and the rails of the track torn up and
driven through them. The whole train, except a few
cars at the rear, filled and covered with men, was a
horrible wreck.

The men had been in a very gale of joy, singing and
shouting at the happy release from the pestilential
swamps. Now they were to see a more active life and
be able to do something to bring the war to an end and
go home. In an instant the happy shouting was
changed to cries and shrieks for help from beneath the
shattered cars. Every effort was made to release the
wounded and imprisoned men, each company working
frantically to help its own members; and how they did
work! Perhaps not always to the best advantage, but
with a frenzy that told of the affection they had for
their suffering comrades.

It was a horrible scene, worse than any battle, and
with none of its honors. Company A, being near the
head of the train, suffered the most. Brave, splendid
1st Sergeant Spillman F. Willis, who carried the flag at
Vicksburg, and who was loved not only by his com-
pany, but the entire regiment, was ground to dust;
Howell, Greening, Walker and Wolf, of A, were killed.
Melvin, Walden and Webster, of H, and Barkley of G,
were killed; seventy-two of the regiment were wounded,
some of them soon died. One young soldier of Co. D
had both feet cut off, and I believe is still living at
Springfield, Illinois.

There was one spectacle in all this terrible scene that
could not but be admired. I know that all members of -
the 33rd will remember my own horse with a white
mane and tail. No finer styled horse ever wore a
bridle. The flat ear he was on was shoved up on the
one in front of it, and he stood there quietly and un-
hurt, high above the wreck. No finer equestrian statue
was ever looked at.

It was a forlorn and badly broken up regiment that
went into Algiers that night. The wounded were taken
to the hospitals in New Orleans, and the regiment
across the river and quartered in a cotton press. . . .
Here is a second accounting, same source, but this time the author is Harvey Dutton, Henry's brother-in-law --
The winter of 1864-65 passed with no other incidents
of special moment that I remember, except the acces-
sion to the company of the following recruits: Charles
Greening, Alphonso K. Smith, Henry W. Smith, Hen-
ry M. Walker, Jerome Wolf, Hans Erickson and Wil-
liam J. Hester. All but the last two were from Meta-
mora, I11., my home. H. M. Walker was my brother-
in-law, the others acquaintances. They had enlisted
January 10th, '65, for one year, and had chosen Com-
pany A because I was Captain. February 23, 1865,
Lieut. Fyffe was sent to Thibodeaux, La., division
headquarters, on detached service as Judge Advocate.

Then came the railroad disaster of March 2nd, 1865.
As we loaded our effects into that box car, and our-
selves into and on top of it, that pleasant spring morn-
ing, there was some grumbling about the gorgeous ac-
commodations "Uncle Sam" saw fit to furnish us; still
the boys were in good spirits, believing we were to
take part in the closing campaign of the war. The
make-up of the train brought Company A near the en-
gine, the place of greatest danger in case of accident.
They were in the third car; the first was an empty, the
second was occupied by B Company. For fear of repe-
tition (as the whole regiment except Company H was
concerned in this horrible affair) I will only insert
here remarks from the first "muster roll" of Company
A made after the occurrence: "March 2nd, 1865,
started at 8:80 a.m. by railroad for Algiers, La. ; near
Boutee Station met with serious disaster ; train thrown
from the track by running over a horse; five of the
company killed ; twenty-one wounded seriously, were
sent to the hospital ; several others were more or less in-
jured ; lost a large quantity of camp and garrison equip-
age and ordinance stores; arrived at Algiers about
seven in the evening; crossed the river at New Orleans
and camped in the Anchor Cotton Press. The killed
were: 1st Sergt. Spillman F. Willis, Vet.; Private
Chas. G. Howell, Vet.; Private Chas. Greening, Pri-
vate H. M. Walker, and Private Jerome Wolf."

A peculiarly distressing feature of this affair to me
was not only that Company A had lost its noble, brave
and efficient Orderly Sergeant, and another veteran of
three and a half years of faithful service, but that of the
five new men from my home, as before mentioned, three
of them, one my brother-in-law, now lay dead. Upon
me devolved the painful duty of sending the unwel-
come tidings to loved ones so sadly bereft. Those ser-
iously injured and discharged on account of such in-
juries were Sergt. S. W. Durrlinger, and Privates W.
H. Foster, Harvey D. Garrett and David Shaw. . . .
The post will come when we will have to examine in full the effect that Henry, Sr.'s death had on his family.  Census rolls show the family was completely broken up, his wife and his three children each went to live with a different relative.  Henry, Sr.'s widow married again but to a drunk and physically abusive man whom she quickly divorced nine months later.  She would marry again.  Henry, Jr. was less than a year old when his father died, and we know already of some of the trouble he got into (shooting his wife three times and going to prison).  His older sister Letta married a man almost thirty years her senior!  I do not know yet what life was like for the other sibling Samuel.  But all in all a case study for how broken homes can lead to broken lives.

 © 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Kevin, I'll look forard to what else you write about Henry's family.

    Thanks for being part of the Challenge!