McClellan, Gen. George B.

Uzal Trowbridge’s Fate, Part I

When I was researching Uzal Trowbridge, an uncle four generations back whose Civil War correspondence was mentioned in previous posts, I learned the very sad news that he was killed on June 27, 1862, during the Battle of Gaines’s Mill, which took place 149 years ago this month.

When talking about ones ancestors, particularly those of generations past, it seems to me that it is easy to say that “so and so” was killed or injured during the battle of “xyz,” without taking the time to grasp or ponder what that really meant—parents losing children, brothers and sisters losing a sibling, children losing fathers, wives and children left destitute, limbs lost, lives lived out in constant pain or paralysis. Behind each soldier in a list of the killed, missing, captured, or injured is a sea of friends, family, neighbors, and fellow townspeople. So, I wanted to know more about the events surrounding Uzal Trowbridge’s death, and the events of the war in general at that time. Having read his personal correspondence to his niece and nephews, I felt like I owed that to him as strange as that may sound. I’m sure those letters and his loss had an enormous impact on those children.

Some of the materials I read included the below books all of which I can highly recommend.

  • To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign by Stephen W. Sears
  • The Richmond Campaign of 1862: The Peninsula & the Seven Days edited by Gary W Gallagher
  • Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles by Brian K. Burton

In no way can I, a non-historian, speak as well or as exhaustively as these authors do about the events of that period. And I certainly can’t possibly summarize the content of their books in the space of this blog. I’ll do my best just to give a bit of a summary (recognizing it will be very simplistic) and recommend that those interested in further details refer to the appropriate resources.

The battle of Gaines’s Mill was part of the Seven Days Battles, a series of battles that took place at the end of June 1862. Ultimately, these battles marked a major turning point in the war. Up until then, the North had been hoping that the South would come to its senses and give up its ambitions to break with the northern states. The abolition of slavery had not yet been set as a condition of the Confederacy’s surrender.  The goal of the campaign in the peninsula to the south of Richmond, Virginia, was to take the city, the capitol of the Confederacy, and thus force the South to surrender and end the war.

General McClellan and Robert E. Lee were the big players during those engagements of June 1862. It was here that Lee’s heroics made him famous with his fellow southerners. General Fitz John Porter, who was commanding the Union army in the field at Gaines’s Mill on June 27, took the heat for McClellan while the latter executed details (and periodically gave misdirection) from the sidelines. As the Union position, which from the start was far from ideal, quickly unwound, McClellan was forced to withdraw the Union troops to the James River, away from their goal of Richmond.

In the weeks leading up to the Seven Days Battles, McClellan made a number of tactical mistakes. A cautious and vain man, who habitually deflected blame away from himself, McClellan failed to act upon key intelligence that he could have used to his army’s advantage.  His prolonged preparations, as if waiting for all the stars in the heavens to align properly, and his constant complaints to Washington that he did not have enough troops frustrated Washington (note: author Brian Burton estimates that the two armies were very close in effective strength—nearly 90,000 each; see pages 401-403 of his book, Extraordinary Circumstances). All of his delays gave the South time to amass a greater force and make more solid preparations.

In spite of the disastrous events of the Seven Days Battles, McClellan remained well-liked by his troops who believed he’d done his utmost for them. Only the officers and others closest to McClellan knew of some of the awful choices he’d made. The truth appears to be that had someone else been in charge of the Union troops at that time, someone much more decisive, Richmond may well have been taken, and the War might have ended then and there. While the cost in lives might have been even greater that June of 1862, in the long run far more many lives would have been spared—on both sides.

Lee made his mistakes, too, during the seven days but won the overall strategic campaign. Of the battles, Gaines’s Mill was the most successful for Lee. Some days were a draw and some a failure, but overall Lee managed to drive the Union troops away from Richmond and capture many men, supplies, and weapons, including a sizable amount of heavy Union artillery. Most significantly, Lee boosted the morale of the people and the army. Had not Stonewall Jackson made the missteps he made during that week, the Union army would have suffered even more at the hands of Lee’s army.

(continued in next post)

Categories: Civil War, Gaines's Mill, VA, McClellan, Gen. George B., Trowbridge, Woodruff | Leave a comment

Pvt. Uzal Trowbridge

General McClellan stationary letterhead

Among some old family papers, I recently came across 6-7 handwritten letters dating back to the Civil War. I’d seen these letters on one or two occasions growing up, but nobody ever seemed to know who the authors (Henry and Uzal Trowbridge) were, what their connection to our family was, nor for that matter to whom the letters were written (“Niece,” “Matt”, and “Will”).

Well, last summer I stumbled upon an old photo with the name Mary Jane Trowbridge written on the reverse. It was in a frame identical to one that surrounded another photo–that of my great great

grandfather, Francis Woodruff. I did a little research and confirmed for myself that Mary was indeed Francis’ wife. All of this led to my pursuit of information about the Trowbridge line, and I was amazed by all that I was able to find. Given that we recently marked the anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I’d like to devote this particular post to Uzal H. Trowbridge.

Of course, the first thing that struck me about Uzal was his very unusual name, a name shared with his grandfather, Uzel Trowbridge. The name Uzal has Biblical origins. According to Wikipedia, Uzal was mentioned in Genesis (10:26-27) as a descendant of someone named Joktan whose clan allegedly settled in Yemen and was believed to have founded an Arabian tribe.

Uzal Hand Trowbridge was the son of John Trowbridge (1798 – 1881) and Clarissa Hand (1799 – 1883). The couple had ten children. Mary Jane was the oldest, born in 1821, and Uzal, born in 1839, was the youngest. Mary married in 1845 when Uzal would have been just six years old. It seems plausible to assume that Mary and Uzal would have had a very close relationship–given she was so much older, she probably played an integral role in his upbringing.

Mary Jane Trowbridge Woodruff, mother of Emma, William, Matthias, and Phebe

Mary Jane Trowbridge Woodruff, mother of Emma, William, Matthias, and Phebe

Francis Woodruff

Francis Woodruff

From census records, I learned that Mary Jane and her husband Francis Woodruff had three children in addition to my great grandfather William Woodruff (b. 1848)—Emma (b. 1846), Matt (b. 1851), and Phoebe (b. 1855). At that point I knew to whom the Civil War letters were addressed (“Matt,” “Will,” and “Niece”).

Uzal enlisted in the Union Army on 16 May 1861, at 22, for a three-year tour of duty. He enlisted in Company A, 1st New Jersey Infantry, on 21 May 1861. His nephews and nieces by sister Mary would have been roughly 7 to 15 years in age when Uzal’s service began.

The first letter I have of Uzal’s is dated August 29th 1861 and it was sent from Camp St. John’s. Note: the spelling and punctuation are his.

Willie Matt


Well boy’s I suppose you would like to know something of the Soldiers life. I suppose you are having a fine time going possuming [?] and crabing, we are having some pretty nice times too a scouting around When we are out from the camp we build houses of pine branches to lay in at night and keep of the heavy dews and rain and if there is a barn near where we stop we tear of the boards and make huts of them nearly to Bailies Cross roads [Here, I believe he is referring to Bailey’s Crossroads, VA, the site of a massive review of troops by President Abraham Lincoln on November 20, 1861] the huts are thick as can be, where we stayed three nights Watching the enemies movements, William Ousted is very down hearted and says Enoch nor Enos do not answer his letters every time I get a letter he wants to know if there is anything in it about him and says you have forgot ale about him entirely he saw the Doctors and they ale told him that they could not keep him if he wanted to go home on account of his not talking very plain but he sais he will not leave until I do if it is not in three years time. he is still in the hospital waiting on the sick ones of our company. At the Generals headquarters they are building two large bake ovens and will bake bread for the whole brigade, instead of carting it from Alexandria and Washington city every day, we have the best bread fresh every day now of which every man has one loaf daily, they have also put up a slaughter house for killing the beef. Alfonso Nickols is butcher out of our company if you see a song about town about the fancy volunteer I wish you would send one to me it is a rig upon Alfonso Nickols got up by Sargeant Martin while he was in the hospital it metions the names of all the boys in Washington tent company A. Ask Henry [Uzal’s older brother, b. 1835] if he has got the letter from Mose Ogden that I sent by him when he left our camp on wednesday last and if he has not to get it and answer it as soon as possible. I believe this will be ale this time Write soon and tele Will Grummon William Ousted want him to write him once in a while and his father too

Good Bye Boys

I remain your affectionate uncle Uzal H Trowbridge

Comp. A.

The next letter I have was written by Uzal to his niece, probably the eldest Emma, from Camp Seminary, Virginia, on September 26th, 1861.

Dear Neice,

I received your letter of the 21st in at this evening and was very glad to hear from you I received a letter from you on Sunday last and answered it immediately I knew you had not had time for my letter with the note in to reach Elizabeth [New Jersey] before you wrote I received your last papers on Sunday last and also received a Journal and Vanity Fair which I supposed you sent but I was mistaken somebody from town must have sent them as you would not send two papers of the same date the reason I thought you sent them was the directions was so much like your writing I could not tele the difference. Tele Henry [Uzal’s older brother] he sent the right song It mentions all the names that put up in Washington tent company A. the other of it is in Elizabeth yet he having went home with the remains of Daniel H. Brower drummer of our company, Mayor Hatfield is a getting better pretty fast Together with the rest of the sick belonging to the regt. today we had another review by General McClellan and his staff it was a fine sight to see ale the regiments belonging to Kearneys Brigade and that of Franklins which consists of the 15th, 17th, 18th, and 32nd New York state Volunteer regts. The two brigades were drawn up in a line. the same as though they were a going to have a battle and marched around the field with the Cavalry and Artilery belonging to each brigade. As I was rambling through the camps of the 18th regiment of NY the other day I came across several fellows from Elizabeth John Joe Meeker who belongs to the fifth NJ regiment was up from their camp near Alexandria to see us the other day to gather with others from your place they all said they liked liked soldiering very well indeed I do not see any troops that can beat or any that can compete with those of New Jersey either in uniforms or any other man, there is a very large army of federal troops lying in camp betwen the Fairfax Seminary and the chain bridge at Georgetown the fields are white with the tents, and as the dress parade of the whole army comes of at the same hour in the evening the bands are all playing at the same time and consequently make just one of the biggest concerts that you ever heard. [Here the letter may continue; if that is the case, unfortunately, I do not have the additional page(s)].

(post to be continued)

Categories: Census Records, Civil War, Elizabeth, Union Co., McClellan, Gen. George B., Trowbridge, Woodruff | 2 Comments

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