The Union Army struggled to eliminate its Confederate enemies on August 13, 1862, when the residents of Winchester – responding to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more troops – gathered at Town Hall to form a company for what became the 14th NH Infantry Regiment.
Francis H. Buffum, a Winchester resident who enlisted and chronicled the reunion, as well as the subsequent exploits of the 14th Regiment, described “martial enthusiasm” among the crowd that afternoon, despite the dangers they faced when enlisting. The Buffum affair depicted came straight out of the “Dead Poets Society”.
“The scene in the old town hall, when man after man jumped on the benches and signified he was ready to be part of the town’s quota, was one of the most exciting ever in this community. “he wrote in an account belonging to the Cheshire County Historical Society.
Among the first to enlist was a 20-year-old factory worker named Francis Roark.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Irish immigrants who later moved the family to Winchester, Roark joined nearly 1,000 men – many from the Monadnock area – in the front ranks of the 14th Regiment. Barely the zealous patriots who had volunteered to crush the “Great Rebellion” a year earlier, those who enlisted in 1862 were farmers, blacksmiths, shoemakers and sailors attracted by the generous cash bonuses of the army, which could total several hundred dollars, according to Buffum.
Yet, he writes, the 14th Regiment was also motivated to prevent the South from fracturing the country: “There was a terrible majesty in the cold devotion and the deliberate uprising of the volunteers in 1862.”
After commissioning at Concord, Roark and the 14th Regiment headed south by train on October 18, arriving in Washington, DC, two days later. There, the Granite Staters participated in war drills at out-of-town camps before settling for the winter in Poolesville, Md., Buffum wrote.
Intended to deter Confederate soldiers from crossing the Potomac River in Maryland, the Poolesville camp that year housed 5,000 soldiers, including regiments from Massachusetts and Vermont, according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
Recent events suggest that in Poolesville, Roark, who is barely mentioned in Buffum’s tome, lost a small identification tag bearing his name and regiment.
For more than a century and a half, the tag, like its owner, has been a victim of history. Until last February.
It was then that a Civil War relic hunter, nicknamed “JP” for safety reasons related to his day job, found the tag during an expedition to Poolesville.
In the months that followed, JP, who lives in neighboring Frederick County, was on a mission to find out who Roark was and honor his military service. Those efforts will culminate next month in a ceremony at Keene Cemetery where Roark is buried.
JP said he initially believed the round, golden object, which had largely turned green due to its patina, was an old coin or a soldier’s uniform button. But when he noticed an eagle, part of the Great Seal of the United States, and a “War of 1861” badge on one side, he immediately recognized it as an identification tag.
“This is a relic hunter’s dream,” he recently told The Sentinel. ” There are not a lot. They’re there, but even in the state of Maryland, there haven’t been many.
Explaining that his father, Michael, was passionate about Civil War history, JP said he became interested in the subject as an adult.
He bought a metal detector several years ago and joined two other relic hunters in the area to form a group called the Mason Dixon Diggers. After finding his first Civil War bullet in 2017, JP said he was hooked.
âIt’s a passion that’s hard to walk away from once you have the itch,â he said. âEspecially when you find impressive relics and preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations. This is what it comes down to. “
The relic hunt begins with a lot of research: JP scours the soldiers’ old books and letters for clues as to where they spent time and may have left items behind.
Activity is not permitted on public lands, including many famous battlefields, so he knocks on nearby doors – often where there may have been a source of water for the troops – to explain his quest and obtain permission to dig on their property.
âYou certainly find a lot more garbage than treasure,â he said with a laugh. ââ¦ But it’s a lot of fun. You find a lot of interesting things, and you find a lot of things that you don’t know until you research them and find out what they are.
Like Roark’s ID tag.
The federal government didn’t start issuing identity tags until after the Civil War, so soldiers – fearing their bodies would be otherwise identified if they died in combat – bought theirs from merchants. civilians, known as “sutlers”, who followed the troops.
Like many of them, Roark probably wore the metal tag around his neck, according to JP. Since the small hole in the record is not broken, JP guesses that the chain or string around the Winchester resident’s neck has snapped, causing it to fall.
âFor him losing this was definitely very troubling for him,â he said.
Two men separated by 158 years, JP left Poolesville celebrating a triumphant visit, while Roark left the small town – current population: 5,742 – with fame not yet assured.
From Poolesville, the 14th Regiment spent much of the following year guarding Union Army posts and prisons in Washington and later a short period on patrol in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, wrote Buffum.
In the spring of 1864, the Granite Staters joined the Red River campaign in Louisiana, although they arrived too late to join the fighting and instead “enjoyed a rare sport” by shooting alligators.
Later that year, however, the 14th Regiment fought on the front lines in Virginia, according to Buffum. In the Battle of Opequon (also known as the Third Battle of Winchester), the regiment suffered heavy losses – 53 soldiers, including seven from Roark’s company – but helped secure a key victory.
After fighting in two other battles, the 14th Regiment was stationed in Georgia until the end of the war. At the end of July 1865, Buffum reported that the soldiers had returned home.
“The Fourteenth passed in the history which it helped to make and to glorify, and its constituent elements simply became citizens of this Republic which they had fully contributed to make safe and free”, he writes.
Roark, whose military records show he was released to Hilton Head, SC, then moved to Templeton, Mass.
On July 12, 1874, he married Mary Ann Doggett, a native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, 10 years his junior. The couple had a daughter, Elizabeth, the following year.
Roark, who was listed in the 1880 U.S. Census as working in a woolen mill, had returned to Ashuelot in 1882, according to military records published that year. He died of tuberculosis three years later at the age of 42.
Elizabeth died of the same illness in 1895, at the age of 20, according to records, appearing to leave the family without direct descendants. (Doggett lived until 1939, according to his gravestone.)
This disappointed JP, who said he had chills when he saw Roark’s name and regiment on the ID tag.
âI knew I had to find out who this soldier was,â he said, adding that he hoped to get in touch with someone from the Roark family lineage.
JP used military and other public records, most of which were posted on the Ancestry.com genealogy website, to find out what Roark did for a living and where his regiment served during the war. With the help of Keene city staff, who unearthed a burial map for the Roark family, JP also identified a piece of land at St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Route 12 where Roark and many relatives, including his wife, are buried. .
A gravestone on the site lists all of their names – with one glaring absence.
âI was really upset and disturbed that his family plot did not recognize that he was a Civil War soldier,â he said. “… It really bothered me because I had a personal connection to this ID disc that I found.”
Earlier this year, JP asked the US Department of Veterans Affairs to order a gravestone for Roark, providing his regimental records as proof of his service.
The stone will be placed on the family land during a ceremony at 10 a.m. on November 6 that JP has organized. The event will feature a 21-gun salute by a Civil War reenactment group in New Hampshire and a performance of “Taps,” he said, in the presence of members of the NH Sons of Union Veterans.
JP and his father, now 71, will also be in attendance, which will make the ceremony particularly meaningful, he said. Still, he turned his attention to Roark.
“It’s not about me or anyone other than him and getting him recognized for something he should have been recognized over 150 years ago.”