They Fought Til the Very End

One unfortunate reality of war is that people lose their lives.   While the reason for enlistment in the war may vary from person to person, one thing they all have in common is that they all enter the war knowing that they might not be coming home.   The Civil War, in particular, saw over 600,000 people on both sides lose their lives. 

With numbers of deaths in that range, it’s easy to overlook that each of those people had a story.  Most had loved ones waiting for them to come home, anxiously reading the news, hoping for the war’s end and the return of their family member.

Because the death toll was so high, it’s not uncommon to run across soldier’s records and see that they died.  It’s easy to get numb to that and just accept it and move on.  One record I found recently, however, was especially striking. 

Among the records at the National Archives are casualty lists for the various regiments.  The casualty list from the 11th Wisconsin Infantry, a Union regiment, bore the names of dozens of men who were injured and killed.  What caught my attention, though, was the date on the list-- April 9, 1865.  These med died on the very same day that Lee surrendered his to Grant in Virginia, triggering the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

Many people may be surprised to realize that fighting didn’t immediately stop that day.  Soldiers didn’t just pack up and go home that day.  It took time for the word to get out, and it took time for all of the various commanders to surrender their particular armies.  However, April 9, 1865 is looked at by many as the key date in the end of the Civil War.

Rewind the clock one week before April 9, In Alabama.  Union forces began converging in the area of Mobile, with the goal of capturing a Confederate fort, Fort Blakely, and ultimately capturing the city of Mobile itself.  This endeavor led to a battle that took place there on April 9, just hours after Lee had surrendered his Confederate Army in Virginia.   This battle led to a Union victory, but also led to about 225 men losing their lives in this battle.

Among these men were several from the 11th Wisconsin Infantry.  These men, varying in age, backgrounds, and time served in the war, fought bravely for the Union Army, only to die mere hours after the Confederates surrendered.    They fought til the very end.

The men on the casualty list only represents a fraction of the men that were killed that day.  They include:

  • Private John Robinson, 21 years old
  • 2nd Lt. Richard Caddell, 30
  • Corporal George Allbaugh, 21
  • Corporal Joel Wheeler, 28
  • Private James McGowan, 36, a native of Canada
  • Corporal George Ingamills, 18, a native of England
  • Sgt. W. H. Phelps
  • Private Daniel McElhatten a 46 year old native of Ireland
  • Corporal Murty Shea, a 25 year old native of Ireland
  • Private Alex Shannon, 22
  • Private Alfred Welch, a 19 year old Canadian native
  • Private Andrew Beaman, 43
  • Private Frederick Mellenwig, 19
  • Private Reuben Amey, 32
  • Private John W. Kennedy, 41

Undoubtedly, this is a sad story.  I can’t help but wonder what reached their loved ones first—the news of the Confederate surrender, or the news of the loss of their son, husband, or father.  Did they get the news on the same day?  Was their excitement of the end of the war crushed by the eventual news that their family member wasn’t coming home?

War is terrible.  People lose their lives.  Families are left to mourn their loss.  All throughout American history, people have died in order to make our country what it is today.  Seeing a list of deaths from the very last day of the war is hard to see, but that’s what Memorial Day is all about—to honor those who fought til the very end and ultimately gave their lives in that effort. 


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