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    Description

    Wilmon W. Blackmar, Medal of Honor Recipient, Group of Letters Concerning the Remains of a Fellow Soldier, 1863-1864. Seven letters, averaging two to four pages in length, various sizes, with five written by Blackmar, from Chattanooga, Tennessee; dating from December 27, 1863 to February 15, 1864. All of the letters relate to some degree to the death of one of Blackmar's fellow officers, Corporal John P. Gemmill, and his communications with the dead soldier's family.
    The earliest letter written by Blackmar, dated December 27, 1863, is to his father. Stationed in Chattanooga, where he was serving as 1st Sergeant of Company K, which provided escort service for headquarters of the Union Army's Department of the Cumberland, Blackmar wrote weeks after the Union victory at the Battle of Lookout Mountain under General Joseph Hooker. Blackmar and several other troops visited the top of the mountain on Christmas morning: "we stopped on the way at the Field Hospt. for I had a letter for Corp. Gemmill of my Co. who had gone to the Hospt. one week previous. We found he had died the previous evening and saw him with 7 others in the dead house all having died within a few hours. We were much surprised not dreaming he was so sick. Dysentery is very deceiving, we blamed ourselves for not giving him more attention....I telegraphed to his Father on my return & wrote yesterday." Upon reaching the top of the mountain, Blackmar noted that "we all expressed our wonder that the Enemy should have allowed himself to have been driven from such a position....We went on towards the cliff and soon came to the Enemy's works. Our Flag was flying over them to which we doffed our hats. We could see everything in Chatt. & as far as the eye could reach. The Enemy could see our and his own lines at a glance ." Near the end of his letter, Blackmar mentions that his regiment "was in a fight with Reb. Indians near Knoxville," resulting in several officers being wounded. He was referring to a skirmish on December 10 near Gatlinberg, Tennessee, where the 15th Pennsylvania surprised a force of Confederate cavalry, many of whom were Cherokee.

    Blackmar received a response to his telegram to John Gemmill concerning his son's recent death. He wrote to Gemmill on December 30 from Chattanooga, informing him that he could not send the body home via an Express Company as requested because the company "will not receive a body this side of Bridge-port, and not then unless securely and properly prepared for the transportation....I have tried in vain to get an order from the Post Quartermaster for enough lumber to make a strong case for John. I offered to get it made up, if they would furnish lumber, and even tried to bribe some of the Govt. Carpenters to make me a box, but of no use. I had to get permission from the Post Commander to Exhume the body-which I shall do, and have him embalmed and kept until I can hear from you....Send some one for it immediately and let them bring an outside coffin from Bridgeport." Blackmar apologized for not being able to do more for the family, stating that "it pains me greatly to lacerate your feelings by speaking of the details of your dear boy's burial etc. etc. in this cool, business manner. I can feel for you in this deep affliction; please remember me in all kindness to the deceased [sic] mother, as assure her that for the sake of the dead, for her sake, my own, and every other dear mother's sake, I will see that John is carefully and respectfully handled. I hope before this reached you, the body will be on its way home." Blackmar received a letter from the dead soldier's brother, dated January 7, 1864, which is part of this group, thanking him for all that he was doing to help the family in their time of mourning.

    In a January 3, 1864 letter to his father, Blackmar mentioned his activities in getting the body of Gemmill ready to be picked up by the family. "Four of us went to the Soldiers Cemetery and got the body, put in a wagon and took it to the Embalmers. After it was embalmed I got a clean shirt & drawers...and put a collar and cravat of mine on, so he awaits his Father's arrival...looking clean and quite well." In a January 7 letter to his brother, Blackmar mentioned that Gemmill's father was expected the next day to retrieve the body of his dead son, which was "now embalmed and lying down in an old store. I ride down most every day and look at him to see that the rats or anything else does not trouble him." The seventh and final letter in the group is a copy, in Blackmar's hand, of a letter, dated February 15, 1864 that he sent to the late Corporal Gemmill's brother. In it, he thanks the Gemmill family for their kind words for all that he had done for them and their dead son and relays what he heard from the hospital staff concerning Gemmill's last hours. He ends the letter by extending best wishes to the Gemmill family: "Thank your good Mother for her invitation for me to come & see her. I shall certainly do so, if I ever visit that vicinity. I shall expect a Photograph to place among my others in my group of friends formed since the war began."

    Condition: The letters all have the usual folds but otherwise are in good condition.


    More Information: Wilmon W. Blackmar (1841-1905) was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. In August 1861, while attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he returned home to Pennsylvania and in August 1862 enlisted in the Anderson Troop, afterwards known as the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, participating in various engagements with Company H and later Company K in the Western Theater and with the Army of the Potomac, including the Battle of Antietam, and was subsequently promoted to corporal, sergeant, 1st sergeant, and then to first lieutenant in charge of Company H of the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, to which he had been transferred. For his heroism at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia on 1 April 1865, in which he formed a line and charged into Confederate forces, causing them to disperse, Blackmar was promoted to the rank of captain by General George Custer and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration bestowed for acts of valor in service of their country. He later served as Provost Marshal and Assistant Adjutant General to Colonel Henry Capehart of General Custer’s Third Division of General Phil Sheridan’s Cavalry before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Blackmar mustered out of the army at the conclusion of the war, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, studied law at the Harvard Law School, and married Helen Brewer in 1880, living in both Boston and Hingham, Massachusetts, until his death. He served as a lawyer and then, upon retirement, as judge advocate to several Massachusetts governors. Blackmar was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1904.
    The 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry was formed in the summer of 1862. For most of the war the cavalry was an independent unit reporting directly to the headquarters of the Union Army of the Cumberland, performing escort, scouting, courier and other details for the commanding general. Composed of selected men most of whom were qualified to receive commissions, it became the favorite unit of both Generals William S. Rosecrans and George H. Thomas. By the time these letters were written, the 15th Pennsylvania was stationed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, after having participated in the Chattanooga and Knoxville campaigns.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2018
    25th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
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