160 years ago: Just some guys from Mass

Members of Mess 3, Co. C, 13th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry taken at Williamsport, Maryland, on a cool fall morning of November 21st, 1861. Note their mix of kepis and Hardee hats, as well as a personal toboggan cap and what looks like a fez with a tassel. Two are wearing their cartridge pouches but only one is armed, with what looks like a Springfield 1855 rifle, or similar.

Organized at Fort Independence June 16, 1861, at the time of the above image the 13th Mass was part of Abercrombie’s Brigade, Banks’ Division, Army of the Potomac. Before they were mustered out on August 1, 1864, they would fight at Hancock, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg.

The Center for Civil War Photography’s Craig Heberton IV has the following breakdown of the men shown in the above photo, captured in time and place. 

This high-quality reproduction print of a very well-focused and executed early war photograph of nine members of Company “C” of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, taken at Williamsport, Maryland, does just that. It also reveals that these guys all “messed” together. And what a variety of headwear! It is unlikely that these men, as of November 21, 1861, had any inkling of what lay in store for themselves and their mates at unusually bloody large-scale battles in which they later would be actively engaged, such as Second Manassas and Gettysburg, where their unit suffered around 200 casualties at each.

Randomly picking one of the men, Garry Adelman notes that soldier #5, Albert Sheafe, “was a 21-year-old carver from Boston [who was] wounded at Antietam on the north end of the field, [constituting] one of [the] 130+ casualties [of the 13th Mass.] at that battle. He served till August 1864 and later lived in Roxbury, Mass.”

Expanding thereupon, Tom Boyce writes that: “Albert A. Sheafe was born in Lynn, Mass. in 1840… [In the 1860 Federal Census,] Albert Sheafe is listed as a [carver’s apprentice, living with many other unrelated people in the residence of 50-year-old] Anne M. Cushing [and her two children] in [Boston’s 4th Ward]. He enlisted as a private in Company “C” of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, 16 Jul 1861. Quickly, he attained the rank of Corporal, although curiously his rank was back-dated to 01 June 1861. He was severely wounded during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), 17 Sep. 1862… He attained the rank of Sergeant during the first day’s Battle of Gettysburg. His rank was, again, upgraded during the 2nd day’s battle of Gettysburg, where the 13th Massachusetts suffered many casualties. He was mustered out of service, 01 Aug 1864 and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 25 Mar. 1916.”

I decided to dig a little deeper to learn that on Jan. 5, 1865, Albert A. Scheafe married Clara A. Rand in Portsmouth, N.H. By May 1, 1865, Albert and Clara lived in Newburyport, Mass. in the the home of George F. Smith (aged 25, an engineer) & Frank M. Smith (aged 24). I’d bet a dollar that “George F. Smith” is the same fellow as soldier #6, “Geo. H. Smith,” seen in the Nov. 21, 1861 photograph. Scheafe’s occupation, then, was described as “cabinet maker.”

By 1870, the Sheafes were the parents of a 4-year-old daughter and living in South Boston, Mass. Albert still “work[ed] as a carver.” The family lived in the home of his wife’s uncle (a 49-year-old Canadian-born policeman named Emery Dresser) and aunt Mary Francis R. Dresser.

It appears that the Sheafes lost their daughter before 1880, at which time they and Albert’s mother, Rhoda (a nurse), apparently rented space in the residence of Abram Wolfsen (a dealer in watchmaker’s tools) on Sharon St. in Boston. Albert’s occupation remained a “carver” as of 1880.

Skipping ahead to 1910, the Scheafes are found living in Portsmouth, N.H., where they would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. At the age of 69, Albert (or his wife) told the census taker that he still engaged in furniture cabinetry work. From 1907 until his death on March 25, 1916, Albert received a military pension. He was buried in Portsmouth’s South Street Cemetery. After her husband died, Clara received an army widow’s pension up until 1924. She lived to the age of 98 or 99, dying in 1941. Clara A. Rand Scheafe is buried in the same plot with her husband.

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