An English Immigrant’s Dilemma "Center Part of Concord," 19th century engraving. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Born around 1828, Charles Appleton was a native of the county of Wiltshire, England. After a stint of service in the English army, including stations at the Mediterranean island of Corfu and in Nova Scotia, he migrated to the United States in 1854, eventually settling in Concord, Massachusetts. Early 19th-century Concord was largely agrarian, with an economy that focused on food production–mainly grapes–and specifically the Concord grape, which is still used for jellies and beverages, including wine. The town had about 2200 people living within its limits, a number that did not change much during the course of the war. Life in Concord was fairly comfortable for most residents, with opportunities for work during planting and harvest season and a stable community conducive to a growing family.
On the eve of the war, the 32 year-old Appleton worked as a farm laborer and was married with two children. Standing 5 feet seven inches tall, and boasting dark hair and dark eyes, Appleton and his wife, Hannah McGah (an Irish immigrant herself) had married in 1855 in Boston, and were parents to seven-year-old MaryAnn, and five-year-old Charles. Appleton’s main priority was likely supporting his family, and like many northerners, Appleton surely took pride in ensuring the financial independence of his small household. However, maintaining such self-sufficiency was not an easy task. As a laborer, Appleton likely worked long hours for relatively low wages. When Lincoln called for volunteers to sign up to defend the Union from the “southern slave power,” Appleton may well have seen enlistment as both an opportunity to increase his family’s paycheck and help preserve the system of free labor upon which rested his own family’s survival and sense of honor. Deciding whether to risk his life for his adopted country and a chance of financial gain, or to stay at home with his family and continue to eke out a modest living was a difficult choice, calling into question whether he could best serve his family’s long-term interests at home or on the battle front. His year-long delay to sign up may have been due to his personal dilemma over this split sense of duty and the time it took for Charles to make up his mind. It is also possible that he was not overly enthusiastic about fighting for his adopted country right away, as he still felt blood ties to his native England.
It is unknown how attached Appleton, as an English immigrant, was to the historic ideals of the United States, but the material realities of his small-town, agrarian life in Concord surely bound him closely to the Union’s commitment to democratic self-government. Concord prided itself in its distinguished Revolutionary War history as a hotbed of political activism; its 19th-century inhabitants were eager to continue that activism on the eve of civil war and quick to defend what they perceived as the endangered legacies of the American Revolution against southern “traitors” to the Union. As a result, the town boasted a lively political culture, with famed Transcendentalist authors and Concord residents, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne often ruminating on themes of anti-slavery and republicanism in their many writings and even serving as agents on the Underground Railroad. Thoreau had already published his essay, Civil Disobedience in 1849, which spoke out against letting the government perpetuate injustice, specifically through the institution of slavery. As lively as the literary circuit was in Concord, this essay, and other works like it, easily could have found a home in the Appleton household. Thus, local politics, combined with the material realities of life in rural Massachusetts may have inculcated in Appleton a strong sense of duty to the divided country he now called home by 1862. Irish immigrants had already joined the ranks en masse by 1862 (some, admittedly, through coercion); surely, many English immigrants felt, that they, too, had a unique responsibility to defend a nation whose government was, after all, rooted in Anglo traditions. On the other hand, fears of an eventual draft, about which rumors were already circulating in 1862, may have provided a stronger impetus to enlist than any sense of patriotic pride or monetary gain.
At 34 years of age in 1862, Appleton was above the average age for a soldier, which was about 26. Younger men often joined out of a longing for adventure, excitement and glory on the battlefield, or in response to familial or community pressures to enlist and prove their martial manhood. Military-trained men or politically connected individuals often joined due to their martial qualification or after receiving political appointments. Appleton’s personal background shows no evidence of prior military experience or political connection, though he likely felt the social pressure to defend his family’s livelihood and masculine reputation on the battlefield. Regardless of his original intent, the bonds he would form with fellow soldiers during the war itself would ensure that he ended up fighting for far more than just his personal wealth, reputation, or political ideologies over the course of the war.
Ultimately, it may have been a mix of social, political, and financial reasons that finally compelled Charles Appleton to enlist in Company G of the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry on June 21, 1862 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was no doubt an agonizing choice, and one that would ultimately seal his fate at Gettysburg in July of 1863.
Hurry Up and Wait: Soldiering With the 32nd Massachusetts Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1864. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.
Appleton joined the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry at the rank of Sergeant. Appleton may have received this rank due to his relative maturity when compared to the rest of the soldiering body, or due to innate leadership qualities such as efficiency, directness in communication, and charisma. Some men may have resented serving under the leadership of a non-native officer in their own country; some soldiers eyed cultural outsiders in leadership positions with suspicion, and even doubted their commitment to the country, ideals, and goals for which so many enlisted men put their lives on the line. However, the fact that Appleton shared many similar socio-economic and political interests with other small-town Massachusetts men may have resonated with his inferiors. At any rate, his age would have lent him at least a small measure of authority over his fellow soldiers, and they may have thought of him as a father figure in the field of combat with them. As a father himself, Appleton may also well have thought of his younger soldiers as surrogate sons.
The regiment itself had been organized by Major Francis Parker in November of 1861 as a collection of overflow troops from other regiments. Prior to June of 1862, the regiment had been relegated to outpost duty at Fort Warren, protecting Boston from any possible Confederate naval attacks. In June, the regiment moved from its lodgings near Boston to Washington, D.C., and then eventually on to Fortress Monroe that July following McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign. During its stay at Fort Monroe, the regiment suffered from outbreaks of malarial disease amongst the troops due to the change in climate from their previous post. Although there is no record of Appleton specifically contracting this affliction, it is likely that he, too, would have suffered at some point from malaria or one of the other diseases that ran rampant in Civil War camps where soldiers lived in such close proximity to each other. As a newcomer to the regiment in 1862, Appleton may have grappled with multiple new diseases to which his more veteran comrades were already accustomed, though his service record does not reveal any absences from service due to debilitating illness. Chronic illness was common as soldiers adjusted to their new reality. Many younger soldiers became demoralized as they realized that soldiering was not exactly the heroic picture of battle that they were expecting. Rather, the reality facing most Civil War soldiers was a regular bombardment by illness of all kinds against which they were not inoculated and which seemed to follow the regiments everywhere they went. Despite the continuous rounds of camp illnesses that surely kept him on edge, Appleton was most likely content enough–albeit uncomfortable–with his current situation in the D.C. trenches; money was decent, and not risking death in battle was even better. Even so, waiting around for the regiment’s much-anticipated baptism of fire while other units received chance after chance to prove themselves in battle would make anyone frustrated and anxious, especially a man who was tasked with keeping others disciplined, ready for battle, and, above all, alive.
During the summer of 1862, the regiment was assigned to the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. According to the regimental history, the monotony of camp life was broken up by a visit from President Lincoln to the Virginia Peninsula on the 8th of July. Soldiers from the regiment reported seeing a tall man on horseback with a stovepipe hat riding around their general area, and when he left, they were dismissed. They believed the unusual looking visitor to be the President, whose distinctive appearance was not easily mistaken for other men. Receiving an official review from the President would have made the hearts of the Massachusetts men swell with pride and an excited sense of renewed patriotic purpose; although, for many soldiers, this pride was likely overshadowed by embarrassment over their lack of actual combat experience. As a junior officer, Appleton himself may have received the presidential review with a renewed commitment to the Union cause and to leading these men honorably to victory.
Unfortunately–or fortunately, for the sake of the soldiers’ own survival–the presidential visit was the only “action” the regiment saw during a summer that remained monotonously quiet for the 32nd Massachusetts. The men had yet to be engaged with the enemy, and continued to while away their time in camp. Like his comrades, Appleton likely found the constant waiting for battle to be both anxiety-producing and agonizingly boring, not to mention frustrating. To pass the time, many soldiers spent most of their days telling stories or cleaning their uniforms of the scores of insects they constantly found making a home inside their clothing. Eventually, most soldiers would give up on this pursuit of cleanliness, as even boiling the uniforms would not prevent the return of their invading little enemies. Faced with death by boredom, most men would have eagerly accepted the chance to do battle if only to escape the monotonous camp routine of continuous drill and “hurry-up-and-wait.”
The summer’s monotony was finally broken up in late August of 1862, when the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee confronted Union General John Pope’s forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run in an attempt to cut off their supply lines and communications. During the fighting, the men of 32nd, who had recently been transferred back up to northern Virginia, were held in reserve in their encampment outside of Washington D.C. and were able to hear the tantalizing sounds of battle on August 28th and 29th. Although frightened of the enemy, this seemed like the chance for the 32nd to finally see battle; they had been preparing all summer to meet their foe, and they were now close enough to hear the sounds of fighting just a few miles away. On August 30th, after a long summer of waiting and watching, the men were finally ordered into the fray. Full of conflicting emotions of fear, excitement, and proud notions of duty, the 32nd approached the field of battle. But by the time they arrived at the front, the Union Army was already retreating, and the 32nd was on the sidelines. This frustratingly anti-climactic end to their front-line debut once again crushed the Massachusetts’ men’s dreams of a glorious showing amidst the great struggle for the future of the United States.
However, much to their excitement, the regiment joined the Army of the Potomac that September as it embarked on the famed Maryland Campaign, otherwise known as the Antietam Campaign, which was Lee’s attempt to invade the North and capitalize on his successes from the Second Battle of Bull Run the prior month. The men of the 32nd were sure that this campaign would finally be their true chance to prove their worth as soldiers; better yet, the 32nd would have the opportunity to rout the enemy from northern soil, and in doing so, secure for themselves an immortal role in the nation’s history. But, once again, the 32nd was denied combat with the enemy after a tantalizingly close brush with the fighting. They had expected to join the rest of the 5th Corps, under Major General Fitz John Porter, north of the Gainesville-Manassas Road in the corps’ attack on the Confederate right flank, commanded by Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. The 32nd never joined this movement, however, due both to communication errors regarding the coordination of Union troops and to the Confederates’ quick repulse of the stunted attack. Although not engaged on the front lines, the stories from other battle participants of the drama and horror of combat, combined with the sight of the long winding trains of wounded snaking their way off the battlefield would have likely aroused a mix of emotions in the Massachusetts men: Relief at having been spared the trauma of an intense fight, yet shame and increased frustration in not having been able to contribute to their comrades’ victory in battle and prove their own martial mettle. As the fighting at Antietam was such a militarily and politically pivotal battle for the Union, the regiment’s denied participation in the action stung much more deeply. While Appleton may not have joined the army simply for the glory, he would have wanted to serve his country and execute his job as a leader under fire well. Thus far, he had been unable to do either.
Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which followed the Union’s successes at Antietam, likely reminded Appleton and his men of their huge missed opportunity to participate in such a war-changing engagement on the battlefield. However, it also may have produced conflicting attitudes about the political aims of the war for the men of the 32nd. While the proclamation rankled some northern soldiers who insisted that they were fighting strictly for the preservation of the Union, and not to free slaves who might then challenge or compete with their own socio-economic interests at home, others saw the proclamation as a welcome, pragmatic, military or even moral necessity in order to win the war. Having been born in Britain, where slavery had already been long-abolished, Appleton may have felt that the proclamation was well overdue for the United States, and taken great pride in serving in an army that was helping to create such immense socio-economic change. Appleton likely shared his views with his men during vibrant camp discussions that frequently took on a political focus, though his personal impact on his men’s evolving political ideologies cannot be known for certain.
The regiment’s first true call to action would occur during the Battle of Fredericksburg, in December of 1862, nearly a full six months after Appleton joined the army. In this battle, the 32nd Massachusetts was sent into the fray to rescue the besieged 62nd Pennsylvania infantry, a regiment with whom the 32nd had cultivated some strained relations. The 62nd, which had been engaged in battle many times, such as at Second Bull Run and Antietam, ridiculed the 32nd for not yet having “seen the elephant.” As a result, the men of the 32nd felt a deep sense of military inadequacy when around the jeering Pennsylvanians. However, after Fredericksburg, the nature of the two regiments’ relationship would quickly change. During the battle, the Pennsylvanians had been engaged alongside most of the 5th Corps near the Richmond-Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad on the far right of the Union flank, bordering Aquia Creek. After taking severe small-arms fire from the enemy, the 62nd was forced to give up its position and fall back. The 32nd assisted by laying down suppressive fire to cover the 62nd’s retreat. Thirty-five men of the 32nd were killed or wounded during the fighting.
During this engagement, Appleton himself would have been tasked with keeping the men in his platoon focused on their task at hand, relaying orders from superiors to them, and steadying their nerves under their first taste of enemy fire in order to prevent them from over-eager advances or, alternately, from buckling and fleeing to the rear in panic. This first firefight likely produced a wide range of emotions and responses from the Massachusetts men, ranging from sheer bewilderment to frustration as each soldier took time to adjust to being under enemy fire. As for the rapport between the 32nd and their Pennsylvania comrades, their relationship improved as a direct result of the 32nd saving the 62nd from destruction during the Union’s disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg. The courage and devotion of the Massachusetts men to their comrades generated both pride among the ranks of the 32nd and a deep sense of respect among the Pennsylvanians for their rescuers. Even so, this first taste of combat would have been bitter-sweet for the 32nd, as they had lost more than one tenth of their total force in a single engagement. Experiencing the destruction of battle first-hand, and seeing close friends and comrades wounded, mangled, and killed would have been a sobering awakening to the true realities of war for these green soldiers. Appleton knew that his men looked to him to demonstrate the courage, confidence, and cool-headedness necessary to lead green troops effectively in battle. However, he likely struggled to fulfill such expectations while also trying to suppress his own fears, doubts, and confusion that surely gnawed away at him in the heat of this first military engagement.
After Fredericksburg, the 32nd again received a long reprieve from fighting until May of 1863. During this break, the 32nd had time to pause, reflect on, and process the full range of emotions and experiences they had endured in their first battle. In their minds, they replayed their performance in battle to assess what they had achieved and what had gone wrong. Over the course of General Burnside’s miserable, dreary “Mud March” that winter, they, like many other northern comrades, seethed with anger over the mismanagement of the battle that had resulted in such a huge loss of life and had won them nothing. The dire military and political situation of early 1863 challenged many northern soldiers’ faith in their commanders and their prospects for a positive Union outcome to the war. Junior officers such as Appleton likely struggled to balance their patriotic ideals and commitments with the harsh realities of the growing casualty lists in the wake of the battle, making them wonder what they, individually, might have or should have done differently to keep more of their comrades alive.
On May 2nd, the 32nd emerged from its winter depression to again see action at the battle of Chancellorsville. There, they were tasked with performing reconnaissance through a burnt section of woodland in between their position on Fairview Hill and the river of Poplar Run, checking for enemy troops that might still be lurking on the battle-charred ground. The 32nd had been ordered to immediately retreat if they encountered any enemy units. As they cautiously approached the wood line, they were met with small-arms fire that, luckily, went over most of the soldiers’ heads, but sent the men scurrying back to their former positions, where they remained unengaged for the rest of the battle. One soldier died and four more were wounded in the fighting. Although this action was much less intense than their prior engagement at Fredericksburg, the logistics of it were likely much more intimidating. The men’s advance took place over open terrain with essentially no cover, and culminated in a violent, surprise clash with a completely hidden regiment in the woods. The 32nd easily could have been decimated in this engagement; they had no idea the enemy was present, and although the regiment escaped relatively unharmed, one soldier paid the price for their failure, and the unexpected challenges of the assignment unsettled the men for some time.
After this engagement, Appleton was promoted to the rank of 1st Sergeant. While there is no single specific reason stated for his promotion, it may have been a reward for a full year of quality service or he may have replaced a deceased comrade from a prior engagement. Furthermore, Appleton may have played a critical role in recognizing the enemy’s presence in the wood line at Chancellorsville, or helped maintain his men’s composure through quick-thinking and courageous leadership that encouraged them to duck the incoming fire that mercifully went over their heads.
As the Chancellorsville Campaign mercifully came to a close, the 32nd received orders to move to Frederick, Maryland, about thirty-three miles from Gettysburg. This gave the regiment time once again to reflect upon their experience at Chancellorsville. The soldiers may have felt depressed that they had once again contributed so little to another battle yet had still lost a comrade in the process, and likely felt the heavy weight of yet another disastrous Union victory at the hands of Robert E. Lee. Though Appleton and his fellow officers were likely grateful that the battle had only cost their regiment one life, they no doubt anticipated their next engagement with increased anxiety.
Blood in the Wheatfield: Appleton at Gettysburg "View in Wheatfield Opposite our Extreme Left," ca. July 3, 1863. By Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
On the 29th of June 1863, the 32nd, now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Prescott, was ordered to Gettysburg, where they finally arrived on July 2nd after a three-day march. Despite the long trek, the unit felt fairly rested, as marching eleven miles a day was a relaxing stroll compared to the thirty miles that many regiments were often forced to travel on a forced march. As they approached Gettysburg, the 32nd would have heard panicked rumors about Lee’s latest breech into Union territory, and then heard the distant echo of cannon, followed by the solemn reports about the first day of battle. July 1st had been extremely challenging for the Union. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Confederates, the Union army had taken a severe blow on the ridges west of town and had been pushed completely out of Gettysburg and onto the hills south of the borough. Hearing the news of the costly July 1st fight, the Massachusetts men would have felt the high stakes of the impending day’s battle and the significance that any role they might play in it would carry: Should Lee secure a major victory on northern soil, northern morale and political support for the war would surely plummet. Furthermore, if Lee were able to break through the Union lines at Gettysburg, there was no other Union army to block a potential Confederate march on Washington. Appleton and his comrades understood that they may be joining the only force that stood a chance of stopping Lee’s army from marching straight to the northern capital, and the 32nd needed to be ready to help halt them at all costs.
On July 2nd, Lee sought to attack the Union’s left flank, anchored at Little Round Top, simultaneously with an attack on the Union right flank, on Culp’s Hill. From there, he hoped to roll up the Union line and oust the Federals from their commanding defensive position atop Cemetery Hill. Just prior to the attack on Little Round Top, General Daniel Sickles had, without orders, decided to advance his 3rd Corps from its original position atop Little Round Top out onto what he considered the more easily defensible (yet far more exposed) ridgeline along the now famed Peach Orchard. In doing so, he had stretched his lines so thin that he created a gap in the Union left flank. Confederates under General James Longstreet threatened to exploit this gap and punch through the Union line. As one of the more rested Union regiments, the 32nd, along with the rest of Lt. Col. Jacob Sweitzer’s brigade of Barnes’s division, was called upon to plug that critical hole in the Union left along a “stony ridge” bordering George Rose’s Wheatfield around three o’clock in the afternoon. Accompanying them was none other than their old rivals-turned-friends, the 62nd Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvanians’ familiar presence likely provided comfort and a needed morale boost to the 32nd as they faced off in what would be some of the most brutal fighting of the day. As the Confederates began their attack late that afternoon, the 32nd advanced into the Wheatfield, where they received a staggering blow from the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th South Carolina regiments under Major General Joseph Kershaw, which felled large chunks of the 32nd’s line within mere minutes. However, not long after this first blow, the Union line to the right of the 32nd, made up of the 62nd Pennsylvania and the 4th Michigan, began to crumble and retreat. Fearing that they would be cut off from the main Union line if they did not retreat from the overwhelming Confederate tide, these soldiers felt they had no choice. However, their retreat left the 32nd essentially abandoned by its fellow comrades. Panicked and pressured by the heavy small-arms fire of Kershaw’s approaching forces, the 32nd began to turn and fall back. According to the regimental logs, an unnamed Lieutenant Colonel saw the 32nd starting to flee and ordered the men to stand their ground. An officer’s orders had to be followed: Disobeying could result in public shaming and a court martial, or punishments ranging from a brand on clothing to execution, in rare cases. Despite the charging column of Confederates closing in in the lone Massachusetts men, the regiment dutifully reformed and marched back into the bloodied Wheatfield to counter the Confederate attack.
The unsupported Massachusetts men suffered their heaviest casualties of the war in the four hours of fighting in the Wheatfield. The blood of friends and foe spattered across the wheat, now flattened by repeated advances and retreats from both sides. Bodies of friends and comrades co-mingled together, littering the ground around the regiment, and the pitiful cries of the wounded were only drowned out by the incessant rifle fire and roar of the cannon as the Wheatfield changed hands six times during the battle. At 8 o’clock that evening, the 32nd mercifully received an official order by General Sykes to retreat behind Little Round Top. As the bloodied Massachusetts men caught their breath and began to account for friends and comrades, they discovered a shocking 81 men killed, wounded, or missing–more than a third of the regiment’s 227 men with whom they entered into the battle.
Among those wounded was Charles Appleton himself, who fell with a bullet wound to the thigh—the first man wounded in Company G, according to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bowers. The wound likely caused slow internal bleeding that ultimately took his life about one and a half days later. During the melee in the Wheatfield, Lt. Col. Bowers ordered Appleton’s comrades to carry his maimed body to a makeshift field hospital, and eventually to a nearby farm where he would lie in agony before passing away on the fourth of July. As he lay in his hospital bed he would have heard the excited reports that the Union lines had ultimately held on July 2nd, which likely provided some comfort and a higher purpose for his suffering. News of the Union’s great victory after Pickett’s Charge the following day also certainly consoled Appleton and his suffering comrades, if they were conscious enough to process such news. After waiting so long to prove himself in battle, Appleton surely felt pride in his personal contribution to such an important victory, and must have felt gratified by his subordinates’ displays of courage under such challenging circumstances. However, Appleton also likely knew that his own death was imminent, and was overcome by a slew of memories and conflicting emotions regarding his family, his home, and his comrades. More than anything, like most soldiers, he probably longed for a way to convey to his family that he had served his country honorably and dutifully. Filled with patriotic pride, yet enveloped in personal sadness, his death would be its own battle–a war between his emotions as he wrestled with thoughts of his family’s and country’s future. His final thoughts would have drifted back home to his wife and children in Concord, and possibly to his original home in England, as well as the long journey from Wiltshire to Gettysburg.
It is unknown as to whether Appleton lived long enough to hear of Lee’s retreat to Virginia on July 4th before he passed away. However, Appleton’s sacrifice and those of his 80 fallen peers did not go unrecognized. Each and every surviving soldier in the regiment quickly came to understand the enormous significance of the Union victory at Gettysburg and the critical role that they themselves had played in securing it. The men doubtless mourned their fallen comrades, and their faithful leaders, such as Appleton, who had laid down their own lives in trying to lead their subordinates to safety and victory. However, despite their heavy losses the spirit of the surviving members of the 32nd Massachusetts remained high. As Captain Joseph C. Fuller wrote to his wife: “I am in hopes that this will about cripple the rebs[,] and if the authorities in Washington are wide awake, Lee’s army will be all to pieces before he can get it back to old Virginia.”
Fuller’s letter reveals the growing confidence of the Union army after their victory at Gettysburg, as well as the higher meaning that they ascribed to the suffering and sacrifice of men such as Appleton. Fuller knew that his regiment, like so many others, had suffered grievously, but the final outcome proved to the survivors that such suffering had been worth it. While nothing was certain yet, the Union soldiers knew they had won a great battle, and the Massachusetts men in particular could take great pride and comfort in their contributions to that victory. Bloodied and weary as they were, the battle recharged their spirits in immeasurable ways to go on and keep fighting for nearly two more years. In the end, Gettysburg did not prove as militarily decisive as Captain Fuller had hoped in his letter, but for an army–and a nation–without many major recent victories, the impact on morale was incalculable.
A Family Soldiers On: The Legacy of Charles Appleton "Father's Grave," Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Charles Appleton died a married man with two children. Likely buried adjacent to the field hospital in which he died, he now rests in an unknown plot in Soldiers’ National Cemetery. While it is unknown whether it was days, weeks, or months later that news of Charles’s death finally reached the anxious Appleton homestead, Charles’s family would have been heartbroken to learn of his death, and the $8 dollar-per-month payment from Hannah’s widow’s pension (plus $4 dollar-per-month extra allotment for her children) would not have provided her much solace for losing the man she loved, as well as the household’s primary breadwinner. Appleton’s children were still very young at the time; Mary Ann was no older than eight and Charles no older than six when their father died. They would grow up without a father–a protector, and a model of honorable manhood for young Charles. Yet they would grow up with at least a few childhood memories of their father and stories of the man who journeyed all the way from England to make his life anew in America—a man who had then laid down his life for his adopted country, way of life, and the long-term betterment not only of his family but of thousands of families across the nation. The young Charles would proudly bear his father’s name into adulthood.
Life would be difficult for the small family as they struggled to make ends meet in the wake of Charles’s death. According to census records, Hannah did not remarry and remained a widow all her life. The entry for her 1870 occupation reads “keeping house,” which seems to imply that, unlike some other war widows from the laboring class, Hannah did not feel compelled to seek refuge or financial stability through a whirlwind new marriage or employment outside the home, the latter of which threatened the domestic respectability and aspirations of many 19th-century women. However, the 1870 census indicates a meager $140.00 in personal and real estate value for the Appleton household. The 1860 census does not provide a value in its record, so it is difficult to know whether the family was doing better or worse since Charles’s service and death, but it is difficult to imagine that finances improved for the family after the war. The paltry sum in household value is unsurprising, given the family’s immigration ancestry and working class background, but it paints a picture of an impoverished, struggling, yet staunchly independent family determined to get by solely on a widow’s pension and a hard-scrabble living (and perhaps through the unofficial financial assistance of empathetic neighbors within the greater Concord community).Hannah is not present in the 1880 census, but according to a Lowell directory, by 1880 she had moved to Lowell, Massachusetts to live on her own. Perhaps her move was necessitated by her financial situation, and she may have received aid from the G.A.R or even partial employment in a mill or boarding house in industrial Lowell; alternately, she may have lived out her final days with the financial support of her now-grown children whose whereabouts are also uncertain in the 1880 census. Pension records from 1890 show that she was still receiving Charles’s pension in Lowell, where she would pass away two years later, on February 9th. She was sixty-two years old.
Like most soldiers who fought and died at Gettysburg, Charles Appleton does not have an individual statue to commemorate his service, but his sacrifice is remembered collectively through a single regimental monument commemorating the 32nd Massachusetts in the Wheatfield. For a First Sergeant whose sole job was to stand by his troops’ side in battle and to inspire and lead them as a cohesive fighting unit, bound by bravery and a singular purpose, such a monument is fitting for Appleton and his fallen comrades.
The monument itself is slightly unique in that it does not feature a depiction of a soldier in battle, weaponry, or overly patriotic iconography such as a flag or eagle, as do so many other monuments at Gettysburg. Dedicated by the state of Massachusetts on October 8th, 1895, its army camp tent shape portrays a solemn picture of eternal rest for the regiment’s fallen atop the bloodied, but now silent, battleground. The monument lies just west of the Wheatfield on Sickles Avenue, near the famed Irish Brigade monument, a vital regiment with a critical story, tucked quietly away in a corner of a battlefield otherwise bedecked with thousands of elaborately sculpted and ornate-looking monuments. A fitting testament to the regiment’s rather humble early-war identity and understated contributions to the great Union victory at Gettysburg, its inscription simply reads:
Here the 32nd Massachusetts Infy.
2nd Brig. 1st. Div. 5th A.C.
withstood an attack of the enemy
about 5 o’clock p.m. July 2, 1863.
Withdrawn from here, it fought again in the Wheatfield.
Lost in both actions killed and wounded
79 out of 227 officers and men
Back in Appleton’s adopted hometown of Concord, the memory of Appleton and his fellow comrades who gave the last full measure at Gettysburg, and beyond, lives on today in the form of a simple obelisk dedicated to the town’s Civil War dead in 1867. Erected on April 19th of that year (non-coincidentally the 92nd anniversary of the famed Revolutionary War battle of Concord), the monument bears nearly the exact same form as the 1836 memorial commemorating the 1775 fighting at Concord’s North Bridge and bears the proud inscription, “The Town of Concord builds this monument in honor of The Brave Men whose names it bears: And records with grateful pride that they found here A Birthplace, Home or Grave.” Though ironically an immigrant from the very country whom Concord’s colonists fought against on April 19, 1775, Charles Appleton had indeed found a home in Concord worth fighting and dying for. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who delivered the dedicatory address in 1867, acknowledged the lingering grief of the Concordians in attendance, yet sought to comfort them by appealing to sentimental ideals of noble sacrifice for a higher, sacred cause: “Yet it is tinged with light from heaven. A duty so severe has been discharged, and with such immense results of good, lifting private sacrifice to the sublime, that, though the cannon volleys have the sound of funeral echoes, they can yet hear through them the benedictions of their country and mankind.” In Emerson’s eyes, and the eyes of his fellow 19th-century Concordians, Appleton and his peers had proudly carried on the revolutionary legacies of their forefathers, defending to their deaths the same lofty principles for which the much-revered Massachusetts colonists had gone to battle in their own town, 92 years ago to that day. Whether his original intentions may have been when he enlisted, Appleton’s actions in one farmer’s wheatfield several hundred miles from his adopted hometown had earned him an eternal place within the ranks of Concord’s proud patriots.
Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934, National Archives, Washington D. C.
Fuller, Josiah C. Josiah C. Charles to his wife, July 4, 1863.
Head Quarters 13th Regiment Rifles, Massachusetts Volunteers. “Massachusetts Plot Marker: Gettysburg National Cemetery.” Accessed April 26, 2019.
Holbrook, Jay and Delene. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Holbrook Research Institute: Provo, UT.
Library of Congress. “Father’s Grave.” Accessed April 22, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/resource/pga.03276/
Library of Congress. “Sally port, Fort Monroe, Va.” Accessed April 22, 2019.
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Narrative and map by Gavin Maziarz, Gettysburg College.