Monday, May 23, 2016

A Civil War Soldier Remembered

William Laughlin (at right) with brothers Samuel and Alexander

On July 15, 2013, we published an article on our blog entitled “Civil War Artifacts of George C. Hall.”  The article focused on a small collection of items relating to the Civil War contained in a leather wallet inscribed with the name of George C. Hall, a private in Company C of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Although the company was raised in Zanesville, Ohio, where John Glessner was living at the time, it was unknown what connection existed between Hall and Glessner.  A notation in Frances Glessner’s journal has solved this mystery, as well as revealing the identity of “William” mentioned in a penciled note by “Margaret” which was also contained in the wallet. 

On October 28, 1881, John and Frances Glessner arrived in Zanesville, Ohio, for the annual reunion of the Glessner family.  (Their children, George and Fanny, were left in Chicago under the care of Isaac Scott).  

Margaret (Laughlin) Blocksom

One of John Glessner’s favorite relatives in Zanesville was his Aunt Margaret (Laughlin) Blocksom, a younger sister of his mother.  On October 31, Frances Glessner noted, “John and I went over to see Aunt M. who gave John a number of things that had belonged to her brother William, and that were all keepsakes from the war of the rebellion.” 

The Laughlin family; William and Mary (Drake) Laughlin stand at upper left

William M. Laughlin was born in 1822 in Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia) to John and Nancy (Lyle) Laughlin, making him just two years younger than his sister Margaret.  In 1851 he married Mary Drake, and two years later, their only child, John Lyle Laughlin was born.  Mary Drake Laughlin died on November 17, 1861, just four days after William enlisted for three years of service in Company C of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as a wagoner. 

William Laughlin was appointed Sergeant on May 1, 1862; 1st Sergeant on April 30, 1863; and 2nd Lieutenant on November 29, 1862, but not mustered.  His company fought in the following battles:
Shiloh, Tennessee (April 6-7, 1862)
Bolivar, Tennessee (August 30, 1862)
Raymond, Mississippi (May 12, 1863)
Champion Hills, Mississippi (May 16, 1863)
Vicksburg, Mississippi (May 18-July 4, 1863)
Canton, Mississippi (February 26, 1864)
Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia (June 9-30, 1864)
Battle of Atlanta (July 22, 1864)

Battle of Atlanta, by Kurz and Allison

The Battle of Atlanta was part of the effort led by General William T. Sherman to seize the important city of Atlanta, which served as a rail and supply hub of the Confederacy.  Atlanta fell on September 2nd and was followed by Sherman’s famous March to the Sea.  It was during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd that William Laughlin lost his life.  His body was not recovered.  Presumably, Private George C. Hall gathered together William’s  personal items in his wallet and presented them to Margaret Blocksom when he returned to Zanesville at the close of the war. 

The most interesting item turned over to John Glessner was a cardboard pin box containing a small fragment of wood with a note written by his Aunt Margaret:

“A piece of the tree under which Gen. Pemberton surrendered Vixburgh, it was cut by William, and he took it out of his pocket book and gave it to me the last time he was home.  Who ever may get this do treasure it for his sake and mine too.  Margaret.”

Pemberton's surrender to Grant at Vicksburg, note tree at left

As noted in the earlier article about George C. Hall, Pemberton’s surrender at Vicksburg is well documented, as is the tree from which William cut the fragment.  On July 3, 1863 Pemberton sent a note to General Ulysses S. Grant, who demanded unconditional surrender.  The surrender was finalized on July 4, Independence Day, a day Pemberton had hoped would bring more sympathetic terms from the United States.  Surrender was formalized by an old oak tree “made historical by the event.”  In his Personal Memoirs, Grant described the fate of this luckless tree:

“It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies.  Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the ‘True Cross’.”

Marker commemorating the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Vicksburg

A cenotaph was erected to the memory of William M. Laughlin in Greenwood Cemetery, located in Wheeling, West Virginia.  Wheeling, which sits on the border with Ohio, served as the first capital of West Virginia after it seceded from Virginia and was admitted to the Union in 1863.  

Laughlin family marker (Peace4Me,

William Laughlin's cenotaph (Peace4Me,

The marker, which is worn from time, appears to read:

“To the memory of Lieut. Wm. M. Laughlin, 78th Reg. of Ohio V. Inf., who fell in battle in front of Atlanta, Ga. July 22, 1864, while charging the enemy, his body was not recovered.”

William and Mary Laughlin’s son John was raised by William’s younger brother Samuel and his wife Sydney.  John married in 1884 and had two children, Mary and James.   He died in 1903 and was buried in the Laughlin plot at Greenwood Cemetery. 

We are pleased to, at long last, be able to identify the William identified in his sister Margaret’s note.  In so doing, we can treasure his memory and the Civil War artifact he left behind, as she requested.

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