- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

The National Archives on Constitution Avenue in Washington holds the service records of most soldiers and sailors, including thanks to the diligence of Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper those of Confederates.
Applying for photocopies of a record is a simple matter, accomplished in just a few hours. For example, the record of Albert Bartlett of Fredonia, N.Y., shows that he was a 21-year-old farmer with a wife and daughter and that he enlisted in the 49th New York Regiment of Volunteers, Company A, in September 1861. He was the maternal great-grandfather of Herndon resident Diana Jeanne Beck.
Formation and mustering-in of New York regiments followed not only President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers in response to the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, but the shattering Union defeat at Manassas in July that demonstrated it would be a long war.
The 49th's colonel, Daniel Davidson Bidwell, was a well-known and well-liked military man from Buffalo, and most of his soldiers hailed from there so the unit was called the 2nd Buffalo. Local ladies presented the citizen-soldiers with a U.S. flag bearing this identifying legend, which they carried into battle.
Arriving in the spring of 1862 on the Virginia Peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers, the 49th experienced its baptism of fire, and during that winter, it fought through the disastrous Union assault at Fredericksburg. In 1864, it found itself heavily engaged during Grant's Overland Campaign, suffering severe casualties in the Wilderness and especially at Spotsylvania (where a handsome, prominent monument still visible was erected to their service near the Bloody Angle).
In the summer of 1864, the 49th defended Fort Stevens during Confederate Gen. Jubal Early's attack on the Washington defenses. That fall, Col. Bidwell was killed during action at Cedar Creek against Early's retreating army and was breveted brigadier general for heroism. The siege of Petersburg followed, and several of the Confederates' attempted breakouts rounded out the 49th's Civil War service.
The remnants marched in the Grand Review down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in May 1865. The 49th briefly provided military order in war-torn Virginia (Military District No. 1), then answered the last muster roll on June 17, 1865, and returned home to New York state. Fewer than 300 remained of the original 1,000.
Ms. Beck's ancestor, however, met his soldier's moment of personal sacrifice early near the Dunker Church at Antietam on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, as his unit was ordered to stop the Confederates advancing from the West Woods. A piece of shell tore into his left forearm, mangling the limb. He was carried to the rear and subjected to amputation.
Eight months of recovery followed his amputation was stubbornly resistant to healing, as his service record shows at Carver Hospital in Washington (out 16th Street) until his discharge for disability in April 1863. (He may have been visited in the hospital by poet-nurse Walt Whitman.)
After the war, Bartlett moved briefly to Pennsylvania and then to Ohio, where he operated a sawmill on shares, then helped found Akron Paint and Varnish Co. He was active in the Grand Army of the Republic, the primary Union veterans organization. Bartlett retired to Weirsdale, Fla., raised citrus and died in the fall of 1919, after which his daughter wrote to the Pension Office to discontinue the stipend he had received from a grateful nation for more than half a century.
The family retains two swords, one an officer's sword Bartlett picked up on the battlefield of his own wounding, the other a ceremonial sword for veterans' commemorative events. There also are a few pieces of family correspondence and an anecdote or two about him. For instance, grandson William M. Beck, Ms. Beck's father, recalled helping his one-armed grandfather wash himself.
There is no available photograph, but an Akron business directory contains an engraving a profile of a man with a handlebar mustache in a business suit with ribbon tie. Ms. Beck and I put a photocopy of this on the plaque at the site in the Antietam Battlefield, where Bartlett's unit charged the oncoming Confederates that fateful September day. I told her as much about the battle as I knew from my extensive reading and from research into her ancestor's experience. It was an affecting moment during a beautiful day on that magnificent field.
The one extant regimental history of the 49th New York (1916) proved to be rare, and I printed it from microfilm at the Library of Congress for Ms. Beck. Then I typeset it and researched and wrote an introductory essay. Ms. Beck and her family have been moved by learning of their ancestor's participation in the Civil War, and I have been privileged to facilitate this discovery. We wanted to share this historical journey with others.

Cliff Johns is a writer in Alexandria.

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