- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

Upton Hill in Falls Church has changed a lot from how it looked in the fall of 1862, when the 17th Maine Infantry was camped there.

The 17th was among the many regiments that garrisoned Falls Church during the war. A water tower occupies the ground where Fort Ramsay stood. The unit camped on the high ground in what today is Upton Hill Regional Park, much of which is covered by trees. It was open ground during the Civil War, allowing much better viewing of the country around the hill.

The 17th had been recruited in four counties in Maine in the late summer of 1862 to serve for three years. According to Vol. I of “The Union Army” (Federal Publishing Co., 1908), the regiment left Maine on Aug. 21, 1862, for Washington.

The 17th moved to Upton Hill in early October 1862 and joined the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division of the 3rd Corps. Later, the 3rd Corps was moved to Fredericksburg, Va., where it saw its first combat in the famous battle there in December 1862.

One of the soldiers mustered in on July 25, 1862, was Pvt. Samuel R. Bishop. In his service records at the National Archives, Bishop is described as 5 feet 5 inches tall, with black eyes, black hair and having a dark complexion.

He mustered in at Portland, Maine, for three years and gave his age as 19. He agreed to serve as a private in Company B. Bishop stated that he had worked as a clerk before enlisting. He received a bounty of $25.

His records do not include any information for July and August of 1862. Pvt. Bishop is listed as present from Sept 3, 1862, to April 1863. Probably after this period, he bought an ID tag. It is a pewter style. On the reverse is the inscription “War of 1861.” There is no maker’s mark on this style of ID tag. However, it is similar to another style that has a small nub with a hole in it that is believed to have been made by Joseph H. Merriam, who was a known maker of ID tags.

Joseph Merriam is listed in Boston directories starting in 1854 and is shown as moving in 1857 to 18 Brattle Square, Boston. On some business cards dated 1863, the address is listed as 19 instead of 18, but examples also exist with 18. His cards call him a “Die Sinker” and advertise “Medals struck in gold, silver, copper, or tin,” according to “Medallic Portraits of Washington,” second edition (Krause Publications, 1999), by Russell Rulau and George Fuld.

On the front of the tag is stamped “S.R. Bishop Co. B 17th Reg Me Vol Portland. Me.” Because this style of ID tag is blank on the reverse, soldiers sometimes had the battles in which they participated stamped on that side.

Bishop appears to have had “Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville” on his tag. This implies that he may have bought it after those two battles and before he was promoted to corporal in July 1864.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 17th Maine was among the supporting troops on the Union left flank. It was in support of Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Division of the 1st Corps.

Brig. Gen. David Birney, the division commander, wrote in his after-battle report that “Seventeen Maine, Colonel [Thomas A.] Roberts, under command of Brigadier General [Hiram G.] Berry [commanding the brigade], met the brunt of the attack and poured a withering fire into [Confederate] lines.”

Gen. Berry wrote, “At 2 p.m. it was evident that our forces were being driven in. I extended my left by moving the Seventeen Maine to my extreme left. At this time a charge took place on the batteries in my front.”

Later in the report, Berry said, “the Seventeen Maine poured a withering fire into their ranks, which sent them to the right-about, they having met with a bloody repulse. This ended the infantry fight, as far as my brigade was concerned.”

In this fighting, the regiment lost one soldier killed and 19 wounded. Bishop was not one of them, but he was with the regiment and participated in the fighting.

The 17th next fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 and suffered heavy casualties.

Lt. Col. Charles B. Merrill, commanding the regiment, wrote in his after-battle report: “On Sunday morning, May 3, this regiment rejoined its brigade, and, while forming into line of battle, the enemy opened the fight, which lasted through the day. We were ordered to support of the batteries in the field, and remained at that duty until they were withdrawn, exposed to a heavy cross-fire of artillery and musketry, from which we suffered severely.”

The regiment reported losses of 10 killed, 65 wounded and 38 missing for a total of 113, the second-largest total for the brigade.

The next entry in Bishop’s records notes that he was “Sent to Hospital June 10, 1863.” The hospital is identified as the Mansion House Alexandria Hospital, where he remained until February 1864. What caused him to be sent to the hospital is not stated.

In March 1864, Bishop returned to the regiment and is shown as present until June 1865. During this period, several events are reported in his records. The first is that his pay was reduced in March 1864 by $11.23 for transportation. This probably was to pay for his return to the regiment in the field from Alexandria.

The 17th was assigned to the 2nd Corps for the rest of the war, when the 3rd Corps was consolidated into the 2nd. The regiment would participate in the Wilderness campaign, Spotsylvania Court House, Bloody Angle, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

Bishop was promoted to corporal on July 1, 1864. In July and August 1864, he was charged 62 cents for lost ordnance. This is followed by a charge of $23.76 for transportation in January and February 1865. The details are not given.

The next item in his service records notes that he was promoted to sergeant on Jan. 31, 1865.

Sgt. Bishop was with the regiment for the final campaign to Appomattox Court House. He was mustered out on June 4, 1865, near Washington. He was owed $75 (probably a re-enlistment bounty), but he still had not paid the government the $23.76 for transportation.

After his mustering out, he returned to Maine and on Jan. 1, 1875, married Elizabeth M. Parkinson in Boston. It was his second marriage.

In 1889, Bishop received a pension of $4 per month for rheumatism. By the date of his death on Jan. 8, 1901, he was receiving $10 per month. Elizabeth survived him and died on May 1, 1916.

Bishop had seen some of the major events in the Eastern theater of the war and survived them to die at home as an old soldier 35 years later.

Joseph Stahl is a longtime collector of Civil War memorabilia. He lives in Fairfax, Va.

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