- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

One of the thousands of Civil War soldiers buried in our national cemeteries is Cpl. Elmer Errickson of Company B, 10th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry.

His final resting place is in the Alexandria National Cemetery off U.S. Route 1 in southern Alexandria.

Errickson enlisted as a private on Oct. 20, 1861, and was mustered in at Hiserville N.J., on Oct. 22 for three years. His muster-in description is not in his service records (available from the National Archives).

As is common with soldiers’ early service, he is not shown as present until June 3, 1862, when he is noted as “rejoined Company.” There is no information in his service records on where he may have been. His status is “not stated.”

During this period, the 10th New Jersey spent most of its time in the vicinity of Washington. “The Union Army,” an eight-volume set of books that provides short histories of Union regiments and batteries, published in 1908, states that the 10th arrived in Washington on Dec 26, 1861, and went into camp “on the Bladensburg turnpike, a mile from Washington.”

The 10th was assigned to provost (guard) duty, and Pvt. Errickson later bought the ID tag shown in the photographs. It was probably bought before the summer of 1863, since he was promoted that summer and the tag does not show his new rank.

It is typical of ID tags bought by Union soldiers to provide identification if they were killed or wounded. The government did not supply these tags; the soldiers bought them from the sutlers attached to the regiments.

Many of these tags were acquired in the summer and fall of 1862. The tag is brass with an image of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan on one side and on the other side is stamped “ELMER R. ERICKSON, CO. B. 10th. REG N.J.V. ERVINGS NECK, N.J.” (Note that his last name is misspelled with only one “r.”)

The ID tag that Pvt. Errickson bought was probably designed by Frederick B. Smith, who is listed as an “Engraver and diesinker” based in New York City. He was working at 122 Fulton St. during the war. According to “A Directory of American Military Goods Dealers & Makers 1785-1915” by Bruce S. Bazelon & William F. McGuinn, Smith signed some insignia.

The regiment remained in Washington until April 12, 1863, when it was detached and proceeded to Suffolk, Va., for its first action. Eventually the unit was assigned to the First Division of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Errickson was shown as “present” from January-February 1863 until June 1864. Sometime in July or August 1863, Errickson was promoted to corporal. On the roll of Feb. 24, 1864, he is shown as “re-enlisting” and that he was due $19.86 for his clothing allowance.

On June 1, 1864, Cpl. Errickson was wounded in action. Between May 22 and June 1, 1864, the 10th suffered five wounded enlisted men, according to “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies” (Washington: Government Printing Office 1880-1901), Series 1, Vol. 36, part 1, page 159.

On June 1, the 10th was a part of Col. William H. Penrose’s first brigade of Brig. Gen. David A. Russell’s first division. In Gordon Rhea’s book “The Battle of Cold Harbor,” the engagement is described in some detail.

The 6th Corps advanced south to the crossroads of Old Cold Harbor. The soldiers were exhausted from the march and found the Confederates already in defensive positions and of unknown strength.

Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright decided to await the arrival of support, and in the afternoon Union Maj. Gen. William F. Smith’s 18th Corps marched in on the right (north) flank of the 6th Corps.

Both sides proceeded to build entrenchments. At about 6:30 p.m., Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered an attack. The assault was not successful except in one location where Col. William S. Truex’s brigade found a gap between Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford’s Georgia Brigade on his right and Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman’s North Carolina Brigade on his left. The Union troops advanced through the gap but were not supported and had to withdraw.

Col. Penrose’s brigade, including the 10th New Jersey, was opposed by Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt’s Georgia Brigade. They were not able to advance, and the shooting continued until darkness fell.

Sometime during the day, Cpl. Errickson was wounded. According to his records, he was sent to a field hospital. The medical reports from the hospital where he was taken state that he suffered a “compound fracture of the anterior part of the right parietal bone” of the skull, along with a flesh gunshot wound to the left hand. The ball was extracted from his hand.

On June 6, he arrived in Alexandria from a field hospital. It should be noted that when he arrived at the Alexandria facility, his first name is shown as “Almer.” On June 8, 1864, he died in the hospital, probably the First Division General Hospital.

Cpl. Errickson was buried on June 9, 1864, in plot No. 2070 in the Alexandria National Cemetery. The photograph of his marker is No. 2071, not No. 2070 as noted in his service records. Also, his first name is spelled Almer, not Elmer, as was shown on the hospital record.

On the final report from his company commander, Cpl. Errickson was described as age 22, 5 feet 71/2 inches tall, light complexion, gray eyes and light hair. His occupation is shown as “farmer.” He had been born in Cumberland, N.J.

Since Errickson was single, his father was sent his effects. According to the records, his father received a box on June 21, 1864, that contained the following items: one rubber blanket, one uniform coat, one pair trousers, one vest, one pocket book, one photo album, one shirt, one pair drawers, one pair bootees, one pair stockings and one silver watch.

Thus Elmer Errickson lies today in southern Alexandria in a grave at a national cemetery. When the author visited the grave, he placed the ID tag on top of the tombstone. It was the ID that brought about this story of a corporal in the 10th New Jersey Infantry, one of the thousands of such stories that lie in our national cemeteries.

Joseph Stahl lives in Fairfax.

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