Early Life: A Fresh Start for the Seymour Family Drawing of a starch factory in West Philadelphia. Large parts of West Philadelphia remained rural when the Seymour's arrived in the early 1840s, but waves of migration and booming industry ensured rapid development of the area. (Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016649106/)
Thomas R. Seymour was born around 1842 or 1843 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Thomas’s father, John Seymour, was a native Virginian who married a Pennsylvanian woman, Lydia Ann Seymour. The family lived in Hardy, Virginia up until a few years before Thomas’s birth. The county of Hardy is located in the mountainous region of what was then western Virginia (today the state of West Virginia), a rugged area mostly unsuitable for plantation agriculture. Despite this fact, farmers in the Appalachian region still tried their luck at farming and sometimes employed slaves in the process, but these Virginians were almost entirely poor yeoman farmers who were somewhat resentful of their domineering eastern Virginia counterparts. With few powerful, planter-class western-Virginians to represent their political and economic interests in the legislature, the people of Appalachia had long felt oppressed by their state and enjoyed far less economic success than their eastern neighbors. The Seymours were one such yeoman family, owning three female slaves themselves but reaping comparatively few benefits from the institution.
According to the 1830 census, children in the region worked the farms and few families owned slaves at all. The 1840 census reveals that little changed in the ten years between the two censuses, with much of the community (some of whom were free African Americans) almost entirely employed in agriculture, while most of the children were not enrolled in schools. Such was also the case for the Seymours. When the Panic of 1837 hit, many American families were devastated, prompting many to migrate in search of better opportunities outside of their home states. It is hard to know whether the lingering effects of this depression prompted the Seymours to move out to Philadelphia or not. However, around late 1840 or 1841, the Seymours sold their three slaves and crossed the Mason-Dixon line into the free state of Pennsylvania around 1841-1842.
Philadelphia’s population increased drastically in the 1840s, rising from 250,000 to 360,000 through massive waves of immigration and emigration. These newcomers consisted of runaway slaves, freed blacks, European immigrants, and rural migrants from parts of Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic states. The city of Philadelphia was a bustling industrial center at the time, offering a variety of employment opportunities and well-entrenched immigrant communities for newcomers. Thomas was born into this disparate population, the greatest portion of which lived in the city center and in the neighboring industrial areas. The Seymours, however, lived in the rural outskirts of West Philadelphia. In 1850, Thomas’s father and his two oldest siblings worked as drovers for a well-to-do rancher. Undoubtedly the younger boys and girls gave a helping hand wherever they could to support the massive family of thirteen. Thomas jostled for room amongst his ten other siblings, as well as an unrelated single-mother and her young daughter, who were packed into a tight abode. The family’s personal estate value is not listed in the 1850 census, suggesting that they had little to no money and were living as boarders, most likely living on their employer’s ranch. While they struggled to make ends meet during this early period, their living situation would improve as the boys grew old enough to begin providing financial support to the family.
The Seymour family would not stay long in Pennsylvania. At some point in the 1850’s they once again migrated to another state, settling in Baltimore, Maryland. The reasons for their move were likely economic. Baltimore had long possessed a sizable community of free African Americans who made up a large portion of the workforce within the city; but in the 1850s, newly arrived European immigrants and white migrants from surrounding states were quickly replacing free blacks in many jobs. The late antebellum years saw relations between free African Americans and whites grow increasingly tense as a result of this competition for labor. Additionally, the nation — and the state— were becoming more polarized over the broader political, social, and cultural issues surrounding the competing systems of slavery and free labor.
However, despite Baltimore’s major demographic increases of 60,000 individuals during the 1850s, Baltimore’s population still remained less than half of Philadelphia’s population, which soared to around 565,000 by 1860. Thus, Baltimore offered more opportunities and less competition for families such as the Seymours and possibly felt more culturally familiar to a family who had grown up largely in nearby Virginia. Thomas and one of his older brothers had found jobs by 1860; the former worked as a machinist and the latter as a driver. Their father, John, listed his occupation as “merchant,” with his personal estate valued at 6,000 dollars – a large sum of money at the time and a major improvement from his unlisted personal estate value in the 1850 census.
Thomas would not work long as a machinist. The increasing political polarization in the country likewise took hold in Baltimore. Many Baltimoreans sympathized with the Southern stand against what was, in their view, an increasingly tyrannical government overreaching into state and municipal issues–chief among which was the issue of slavery. Not long after Lincoln’s election in November of 1860, many Baltimoreans began flying a modified version of South Carolina’s palmetto flag in a show of support for the Southern state. One Baltimore firehouse raised this flag and held a meeting of “Southern volunteers” in order to discuss the “maintenance of Southern honor and equal rights of the states in the Union.” In the following months, state after state seceded from the Union. The atmosphere in Baltimore was incendiary, and on April 19th, 1861, a spark would set it off. As the 6th Massachusetts made their way through Baltimore on the way to defend the capital, rioters attacked them and chased them through the streets, leading to a dozen civilian deaths and four military deaths. For Unionists, the unwarranted attack on federal troops was an outrage, while secessionists were horrified by the killing of civilians.
Thomas likely felt torn; half his family were Virginians after all, and undoubtedly had connections to people living in the South. But Thomas had largely grown up in the North and could have held Unionist sentiments through his acquaintances. Having worked in both agriculture and industry, Thomas’s work experience championed an important foundation of the free labor ideology: That of an employee having the freedom to negotiate for labor, find alternative employment when dissatisfied with pay or working conditions, and not be constrained to thin labor markets. While his family had owned slaves themselves, they undoubtedly had little sympathy for the eastern Virginia planter class which dominated the political and social landscape of their home state.
If Thomas had harbored Confederate sympathies, he would have not had to look far to enroll in the Southern army. Confederates were actively recruiting in Baltimore, while the loyalty of the Baltimore militias was considered dubious at best by the federal government. But not only did Thomas refrain from enlisting in the Southern army; he actively sought out a regiment from a nearby Union state in which to enlist, indicating, perhaps, that it was strong Unionist leanings that caused him to have ended up in Wilmington, Delaware to join the 1st Delaware regiment on September 25, 1861. Alternately, better bounty rates could have been the ultimate factor for the 19-year-old Thomas to join up with the Union in Delaware (as opposed to Pennsylvania or any other state, Union or Confederate); though no Delaware recruitment advertisements appear in the popular Baltimore newspapers in the months leading up to the formation of the 1st Delaware, recruitment agents regularly worked outside their assigned states in search of men to fill state quotas (Georgian recruitment, for instance, is very subtly pre-advertised even in a February 1861 edition of the Baltimore National Exchange). A sizable bounty certainly would have been appealing to such a large and financially stretched family.
It is difficult to decipher how much personal finance reasons versus political ideology pushed Seymour into the Union ranks, and into a Delaware unit, specifically. Additionally, it is possible that Thomas may have moved to nearby Wilmington for work just after the 1860 census, and that when the war broke out he felt compelled to do what every other boy his age was doing and joined up to prove his manhood and to have his first taste of “virtuous” war. As was true for many soldiers, both northern and southern, there were likely myriad factors, economic, political, social, and cultural that shaped his decision to cast his lot with the 1st Delaware—a decision that would ultimately cost him his life just two years later.
A Rude Awakening: From Hampton Roads to Gettysburg Stereograph of Camp Hamilton, VA. (Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2009630936/)
Thomas would have little time to rest following his enlistment in late September. After a month of basic military training, the 1st Delaware regiment was on the move, marching to Newport (just south of Wilmington) on October 20, 1861, where they would be transported to Baltimore by train. From Baltimore, the regiment would be loaded onto the steamboat Louisiana, bound for Fortress Monroe, a crucial Union outpost located near the mouth of the James River in southeastern Virginia. Here, the 1st Delaware merged with other regiments to form General Mansfield’s Brigade and set up camp at nearby Camp Hamilton as they awaited orders.
According to the regiment’s chaplain, Thomas G. Murphey, the initial layout of the camp was disorderly. Tents were haphazardly set up in random places. No latrine pits had been dug; men walked a mere few meters outside of camp to relieve themselves. When Colonel Andrews arrived, he discovered that one group of men had furnished their tent with items from an abandoned Virginian house. The undisciplined nature of these men was not an attribute exclusive to the 1st Delaware. Every colonel leading a Civil War volunteer regiment met the same initial challenges as Andrews, challenges which required a strict approach to leadership, without alienating the democratic sensibilities of the men under their command. Colonel Andrews could not afford to be lenient in his attempt to institute the discipline of martial culture. The men were promptly court-martialed, and the disciplinarian Colonel Andrews set about reordering the 1st Delaware. Tents were set in neat military rows, latrine pits were finally dug, and the men were drilled daily to instill discipline. Fashion was of utmost importance to Andrews; he demanded that à la mode brass shoulder scales and white gloves be distributed to every man in the regiment. Before modern technology further necessitated the mass use of camouflaged uniforms, military uniforms in the nineteenth century could often be colorful and stylish, varying from regiment to regiment. Style allowed a regiment to distinguish itself and convey a particular “personality trait” amongst its soldiers; it also sought to inculcate respect from other regiments and further fomented pride among the soldiers in the unit. At the same time, it served to distinguish the regiment commander himself.
The daily drills and rigorous equipment inspections soon made the 1st Delaware the envy of other regiments. Their dress parade was purportedly a sight to behold. Abraham Lincoln himself would witness, first-hand, the disciplined nature of the 1st Delaware, visiting Fortress Monroe around February of 1862 in order to inspect the troops. As Drum Major Dooley marched the 1st Delaware back and forth through the fortress, Lincoln and his civilian delegation walked in the marching path of the parading soldiers. When he reached the towering Lincoln, Dooley stopped and stared him down until the President realized he was expected to move out of their way; Lincoln quickly acquiesced and made way for the disciplined soldiers. While this story sounds like a convenient anecdote for expressing the subordination of the civil branch to the military in enemy territory, it nonetheless illustrates the high esteem in which Colonel Andrews held the unit and the respect that he and the other officers felt that the unit so well deserved. Outside of the slick parade and dress, however, the average private was not necessarily a beacon of discipline during leisure time.
While the 1st Delaware was a rigorously disciplined group of soldiers, they were still human. Under the watch of Andrews and Lincoln, the regiment was stoic and subordinate; when free from oversight during their leisure time, many soldiers engaged in forbidden activities. Thomas was likely somewhat familiar with the top-down hierarchy of the military; after all, he had worked as a machinist in a Baltimore factory and was undoubtedly used to taking orders. Still, Thomas was only nineteen years old, and the military offered too many tempting opportunities for him to ignore. Additionally, while Thomas and his peers no doubt took pride in embodying the virtues of the “citizen soldier,” they likely still rankled at the loss of so many personal freedoms and independence they had once enjoyed as mere civilians. While the soldiers were kept busy for most of the day, they still found a few hours for much-needed leisure time. As night descended and the men mingled inside and outside their tents, dice and decks of cards suddenly materialized across the camp, often accompanied by a variety of alcohols. Wagers were made and soldiers hooted and hollered as they begged fortune to smile upon them. Some soldiers returned to their tents at the end of the night with hefty winnings; many more retired to bed dehydrated and in debt.
The soldiers of the 1st Delaware would not get to enjoy their drinking and gambling for long. Colonel Andrews had a sharp nose for disobedience and would not let his men engage in gambling and drinking, activities considered to be sinful in the 1860s. Regardless of his moral stance towards these activities, Colonel Andrews was leading the 1st Regiment into a war; drunk and insubordinate soldiers were a danger to themselves and their comrades, and threatened to undermine the integrity of the esteemed unit. When dice, decks of cards, and alcohol were found, they were quickly disposed of and their owners promptly court-martialed. Sometime in between January and February of 1862, Thomas himself met the fury of his superiors, forfeiting seven days of pay by sentence of court-martial. The reasoning behind his court-martial is not recorded, but it would not be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Thomas had been engaging in said forbidden leisure activities. The soldiers continued their drilling and parading throughout January and February of 1862 without any incident. In early March, this would change when the 1st Delaware witnessed one of the most famous naval battles in U.S. history.
In the early morning hours of March 8, 1862, a nervous excitement spread across the camp. Soldiers of the 1st Delaware rushed down to the shore of the James River, clambering up onto any available rooftop or vantage point. Thomas was undoubtedly among these zealous soldiers, eagerly seeking his first view of warfare. Early that morning, a small Confederate fleet had been sighted making its way to the mouth of the James. By dawn, it became clear to the Union onlookers that this was no ordinary Confederate fleet. Accompanying the small gunboats was a strange black ship which laid low in the water, featuring a single large chimney that protruded from its center. Rumors about the Confederates’ resuscitation of the previously scuttled U.S.S. Merrimac had long ago reached the North, but few soldiers understood the significance of this Confederate project; nevertheless, its significance would be dramatically demonstrated on this day as Confederate gunboats sought to oust the Union navy from the crucial harbor of Hampton Roads, which guarded the James River.
The modified ship was rechristened as the C.S.S. Virginia, and its crew would be the first to feature armored protection, a major technological advancement which would influence naval warfare across the world. As the hulking ironclad came into range of the Union flotilla, the frigate U.S.S. Congress was the first to fire, unleashing a devastating broadside upon the C.S.S Virginia. The shots sailed across the water and made direct contact with the ironclad, bouncing off harmlessly and rolling down into the river. The Confederate experiment had paid off. The Virginia chugged past the Congress and set its sights on the frigate U.S.S Cumberland. After unleashing multiple deadly volleys upon the ship, the Virginia charged head-on at the Cumberland and rammed the frigate, partially lifting the multiple-ton ship into the air and punching a fatal seven-foot hole into the side of the ship. The ironclad would move on to quickly destroy the Congress and damage the Minnesota before retiring for the day. As the Confederates withdrew, Union onlookers stood aghast at the destruction before them. As the soldiers of the 1st Delaware climbed down from their vantage points, a gloomy atmosphere pervaded the camp; soldiers returned to their tents that night “depressed in spirit and woefully discouraged.” But a glimmer of hope existed in the rumor of a Union ship said to arrive the next day, a ship which could counter the Confederate ironclad.
The Confederate fleet returned early in the morning of March 9th, ready to finish off the damaged Minnesota and rid themselves of the Union flotilla. But as the fleet made its way down the James and towards the entrance of the Elizabeth River, Confederate and Union soldiers directed their attention towards a strange floating object making its way towards the Minnesota from the direction of Newport News. Confederate sailors thought it resembled “a barrel-head afloat with a cheese box on top of it.” Despite its less-than-menacing appearance, the U.S.S. Monitor would prove to be an equal match for the Virginia. Information regarding the identity of the ship had spread through the Union lines by this point; but having witnessed the destruction brought on by the Virginia on the previous day, anxiety persisted among the Union soldiers. Soon, this anxiety would be replaced with jubilation.
The Virginia fired the first shot, which hit the turret of the Monitor head on. The shell left a dent and must have made the Union gunners operating the turret jump; but it did not pierce the iron armor. The ships circled one another, exchanging volley after volley and filling the air with a thick smoke. When it became clear to the Confederates that the battle would continue in stalemate, they withdrew from the river, heading back towards the Chesapeake Bay. The soldiers of the 1st Delaware cheered at this development; Union forces had prevailed, and the Confederates’ confidence had been checked. Thomas was certainly among the cheering soldiers. His first view of warfare had ended in Union victory and seemed thrilling and marvelous from afar. The number of Union casualties in those two days painted a darker picture; 261 Union sailors were dead and 108 were wounded.
Across the river, the illusion of a sanitary and valorous war could still deceive the safely removed Thomas and the 1st Delaware. However, for those on board the Union ships during the first day’s battle, the reality of warfare was far more grim. The first volley to hit the U.S.S. Congress on the previous day had quickly broken this illusion for the sailors onboard. As shells exploded through the side of the ship, any soldiers close to the initial blast were blown to pieces. Only a fraction of a second later, splinters that could be as large as tree stumps flew at high speeds in every direction, eviscerating anything or anyone they came into contact with. Sailors not maimed or killed by the initial blast could be cut in two an instant later by these shards of wood. The surgeon on board remarked that seconds after the first volley, “blood and brains” literally “dripped down from the overhead beams.” In the age of ironclads and increasingly destructive artillery, killing had begun to become industrialized. Scores of men would suffer brutal injuries and deaths in the span of a few seconds. The Battle of Hampton Roads was a revolutionary moment for naval warfare. European onlookers quickly reported on the utility of these ironclad vessels to their governments. The first battle Thomas ever witnessed immediately made obsolete the wooden ships which had dominated the seas for centuries; but on a personal level, it had filled the young, green soldier with romantic and deceptive notions of what his wartime experience would likely be.
The 1st Delaware would remain at Camp Hamilton for only two more months. On May 9, 1862, the regiment received orders to take Norfolk, located only ten miles to the south of Fortress Monroe. The 1st Delaware crossed the James River early in the morning on May 10 and began their march to Norfolk. Colonel Andrews looked forward to leading his regiment into their first battle, but was fearful that their idle months at Camp Hamilton had degraded their organization and skill. Unfortunately for Colonel Andrews (and fortunately for the soldiers), the mayor awaited the regiment as they neared Norfolk and surrendered the city without a fight. The 1st Delaware slept well that night. Once more, young Thomas’s expectations of warfare were shaped by easy success. The men did experience a brief scare when the sound of a massive explosion awoke the entire city; but it was discovered that this far-off explosion was the scuttling of the C.S.S. Virginia, which had been deprived of the Norfolk harbor. This event served to only strengthen the mood of jubilation and confidence among the soldiers of the 1st Delaware.
To the dismay of Colonel Andrews, the 1st Delaware was assigned the duty of provost-guard in Norfolk and would enjoy the benefits of city life during their occupation. For two months, the soldiers were free from the rigorous drilling of camp life and mingled with the residents of the city, mainly those of the opposite sex. Drinking and gambling were undoubtedly more difficult to rein in within an urban environment, where soldiers were offered more clandestine meeting spots and could be invited into private residences to partake in various vices.
Though the country was in the grips of a brutal war, the soldiers and the people of Norfolk coexisted in relative peace. Their rivalry was treated with emblematic pranks and heated discussion but it seemingly never led to the threat or implementation of violence. Chaplain Murphey details one daily prank some Delawarean soldiers pulled on the citizens of Norfolk in the town square. When the townsfolk walked by the soldiers billeted at the hotel, they made sure to give a wide birth to the overhanging Union flag, refusing to walk underneath it. The soldiers outside quickly took notice of this and began to keep the flag at half-mast. As townsfolk walked by, they quickly pulled on the flagpole rope and extended the flag to full mast, right over the heads of the dismayed Virginians. Without having yet experienced, first-hand, the destruction and violence of the Civil War, the 1st Delaware and the people of Norfolk engaged with one another in this harmless manner; in consequence, ideology drove the rivalry—ideology that was far removed from the blood and suffering of war. As the war dragged on, however, Union occupation was rarely marked by harmless fraternization and pranks. Rivalries grew into outright hatred, defiance, and even violence after succeeding bloody battles, and each year of war further magnified the cultural differences between North and South.
Both Chaplain Murphey and Captain Seville commented on the sympathy many of the Delawarean soldiers had for the Southerners. It is unsurprising that the Delawareans found some common ground with the citizens of Norfolk at this early stage in the war. While the number of slaves in Delaware was comparatively small, it remained a slave state, encircled by the free Northern states. Unlike with other Northerners, the cultural effects of slavery persisted among some Delawareans. By 1860, more free blacks lived in Delaware than enslaved blacks, but the few thousand slaves who remained were a constant reminder of their historic place in the racial hierarchy and of the historic role that the peculiar institution had played within the state’s political economy. This is not to say that people in other Northern states did not express sentiments of racial superiority, for many Northerners absolutely held pejorative views of African Americans; Delaware simply had a closer connection to the institution of slavery.
While Thomas had not personally partaken in the institution of slavery, his Virginian family had themselves owned slaves before his birth, making it highly likely that Thomas inherited even more deeply entrenched, pejorative views of black people than those held by many fellow northerners and felt less alienated from southern slaveholders than did other northern soldiers without familial ties to slavery. Therefore, Thomas and his comrades may have viewed the residents of occupied Norfolk through a slightly different cultural lens that lent itself to less antagonistic relationships with the residents. Still, at this point in the war (1862), the Union cause was predominantly anchored in the preservation of the Union, not in the abolition of slavery. Although Northern soldiers may have held similar views regarding black people, the Southerners were still rebels who threatened the future of the country—a fact which Thomas and his comrades certainly did not and could not forget amidst their interactions with the local population. Chaplain Murphey, having fraternized with many of the soldiers, summed up the sentiments of the regiment: “Though we loved the South, we loved the Union more.”
As his soldiers enjoyed their time in Norfolk, Colonel Andrews was in a dour mood. The disciplinarian was indignant at the 1st Delaware’s provost-guard assignment; he feared that his soldiers became more slovenly and undisciplined with each passing day in Norfolk (the soldiers mingling with the women of the city was one of his greatest moral concerns). Andrews consistently petitioned high command, begging to be sent to the field. In early July of 1862, Andrew’s petition was finally accepted, to the displeasure of the soldiers of the 1st Delaware. Daily drilling resumed as the regiment prepared to march to Suffolk, where they would await further orders. The 1st Delaware reached Suffolk sometime in late July. It was in Suffolk where news reached the regiment about Lincoln’s intent to warn the South of a federal commitment to emancipation if they did not surrender. The regiment was furious. The abolition-minded regiment chaplain, Thomas Murphey stated that “there was nothing more apparent than the opposition to emancipation and the enlistment of negroes on the part of the rank and file of our regiment.” Captain William P. Seville wrote that “some of the hotspurs became quite indignant, and indulged in a little intemperate language; but no acts of insubordination occurred.”
Emancipation was a hot-button issue among many Northern soldiers who were not eager to lay down their lives to end slavery. Many had signed up to defend the Union, while others had enlisted simply for the pay; these latter soldiers often came from poor immigrant groups, who saw labor competition with free blacks as a major threat which lurked behind the moral rhetoric of emancipation. Despite their wrath over Lincoln’s proposed move toward emancipation, public debates amongst the regiment’s officers reminded the soldiers of their commitments to the Union and restored some of their confidence. As these officers well knew, morale would need to be high, for by September 6, the regiment received orders to join the Army of the Potomac; the 1st Delaware would assist in repulsing General Lee’s invasion of the North.
On September 8th, the regiment was loaded onto the steamer State of Maine at Norfolk, which took them to Washington. From there, the 1st Delaware marched towards the outskirts of Sharpsburg to join up with the Army of the Potomac. On September 16, as the regiment neared their rendezvous with the Army of the Potomac, they neared South Mountain. Miles before reaching the mountain, the men were undoubtedly confronted with the repugnant smell of death. On September 14, the Battle of South Mountain had seen the Confederates driven back at a great cost for both sides. The 1st Delaware marched past men on burial duty, hastily digging temporary pits to hold the dead. Burial duty was one of the least envied jobs a soldier could be given. Aside from the horrific stench, viewing the mutilated bodies of their comrades was a traumatic sight. After only two days, corpses began to bloat; their eyes bulged out of their sockets, while blood-containing foam leaked from their orifices. Maggots left no body untouched and often made the corpses appear as if they were moving. Many soldiers of the 1st Delaware had likely seen death before, but never to such an extent.
The soldiers likely had conflicting feelings upon witnessing these fallen men. Did some of them have foreboding feelings of an imminent death? Did some of them understand the type of war they were marching into? Did others begin to wonder if all the violence and death were worth it? Did some lust for revenge? Although it is difficult to know what the now twenty-year-old Thomas was thinking, though without having experienced his own “baptism of fire,” it’s doubtful that he fully understood what awaited him and he likely held conflicting thoughts about his own future. Despite the somber field of death through which the men now marched, this post-battle scene still paled in comparison to the first-hand experience of a battle, something which the 1st Delaware had yet to see. This would soon change. The regiment arrived on the outskirts of Sharpsburg in the afternoon of September 16, on the eve of the Battle of Antietam. The 1st Delaware’s first battle would ultimately prove to be the bloodiest single day in American military history.
The 1st Delaware would be fighting in Maj. Gen. Sumner’s Second Corps as one of three regiments making up the third Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Max Weber. Contemporaries of General Sumner were not fond of the old man. At the age of sixty-five, he was one of the oldest generals in the Civil War and was referred to as “bull-head” behind his back–his skull said to be so thick that bullets would bounce off. McClellan himself had reservations about Sumner and hoped to send him into action under General Joseph Hooker’s orders, but when the battle began early in the morning of September 17th, McClellan’s hand was forced; Hooker had been wounded and was taken off the battlefield. With no other options, McClellan gave Sumner the order to advance onto the battlefield with his Second Corps. Sumner would be sending the Second Corps into battle with a limited understanding of the Confederate positions he faced.
Along with the other soldiers in the Second Corps, the men of the 1st Delaware were ready to march at first light, but no orders were received for the first hour of the battle. That morning, the soldiers were each given eighty rounds, double the usual ammunition issue. The extra ammo was a foreboding sign of what was to come and certainly produced anxiety among some of the soldiers, which was further compounded by the distant sounds of musket and artillery fire. An imminent battle with Lee’s forces was now apparent to all. The anxiety of anticipation was terrible, but likely mixed with some nervous excitement. The whole of the Third Brigade was made up of greenhorn garrison troops, uncertain of what to expect, but undoubtedly eager to finally prove themselves in battle. The order to march towards the battle was given around 7:30 am, relieving some of the nervous anticipation through the action of disciplined marching. As the battlefield came into view, Thomas likely saw far-off blue and gray spots dotting the roads and the trampled cornfields. Clouds of gunpowder smoke hung in the air, while its pungent, metallic and slightly sulfuric smell assaulted his nostrils. As they neared the Confederate lines, the divisions and brigades of the Second Corps had assumed their positions in their respective battle lines. The 1st Delaware made up the right of Weber’s brigade, part of the Third Division commanded by Brig. Gen. William H. French. At 9:00 am, the order to advance was given, and Weber’s Brigade pushed forward towards the Confederate right flank. The Confederates on the right had occupied a well-trodden wagon shortcut which provided excellent cover in an otherwise wide-open battlefield over which the Federals would be forced to attack. The 1st Delaware would be among the brigades serving as the vanguard for French’s Third Division and would be the first to face this formidable defensive line.
As the 1st Delaware advanced through woods and cornfields towards the Confederate right, they were ordered to fix bayonets. With little cover to conceal them, superiors hoped that a charge could quickly dislodge the Confederates from their strong position. Throughout their advance, batteries fired down upon them. Artillery was not only physically destructive but psychologically taxing. Death or injury from shrapnel came suddenly; one could only cringe at the sound of cannon fire and hope that the shot would not hit its mark. The deafening sounds of exploding shells could rupture eardrums and cause the most stoic soldier to jump. Still, this artillery barrage was not as intense as the bombardment simultaneously faced by Sedgwick’s division near the West Woods. Under the hail of fire, men fought against their fight-or-flight instincts. Some motivated themselves through conscious reminders of the righteousness of their cause; others found strength marching side-by-side with their friends and comrades, whom they could not imagine deserting. Still others realized there were few other realistic options than proceeding into the firefight or being rounded up by an officer for insubordination or cowardice. The 1st Delaware marched forward with the 5th Maryland and 4th New York. When they came within seventy paces of the Confederate line, a deadly volley was unleashed upon Weber’s brigade. Men dropped in the hundreds; the first volley brought down 150 men of the 4th New York alone. The 1st Delaware had made it the closest to the Confederate lines but was forced to pull back under withering fire. After five minutes of battle, Weber’s brigade had already lost 450 men. To the men’s horror and panic, Thomas’s company commander, Captain Leonard, was killed in vicious hand-to-hand fighting before they were forced to withdraw.
Despite the terrible losses, another charge was ordered, which predictably failed to dislodge the entrenched Confederates. Unable to advance past the field before the Sunken Road, the 1st Delaware laid low and continued to return fire. Smoke filled the air and reduced the visibility on the battlefield. Arriving Union greenhorns from the Second Brigade began taking fire from the Sunken Road, and mistakenly began to shoot at the 1st Delaware, catching them in a deadly crossfire. Still, the 1st Delaware did not flee, and the remaining men managed to expend all of their ammunition. By the time sufficient Union support had arrived to allow the withdrawal of the 1st Delaware, nearly half of the regiment had fallen. Of the 708 men who had fought at the Sunken Road, 218 were either killed or wounded. Total casualties for the Third Brigade reached 582. The shortcut from which the Confederates had unleashed their deadly volleys had served as a simple convenience to the local farmers who had used it for generations, known to them as simply the Sunken Road. Now war had redefined its significance; the bloodshed experienced by the Union and Confederate forces here forever changed its meaning, and the road became henceforth known as Bloody Lane. Subsequent waves of Union soldiers eventually managed to dislodge the Confederates at the Bloody Lane. Elsewhere on the battlefield, Union forces would eventually prevail at now equally notorious locales, such as Burnside’s Bridge. Confederate forces came close to a rout, but were saved by the arrival of General Ambrose P. Hill, who organized a disciplined withdrawal. The Battle of Antietam would end as a strategic victory for the Union, something which the North desperately needed in 1862; but it came at the expense of the rank-and-file of the Army of the Potomac, which lost 12,410 men.
The Battle of Antietam was brutal for all participants, but even more devastating for the greenhorn regiments, which had made up nearly a quarter of the Army of the Potomac. The survivors of the 1st Delaware became veterans in a single day; all previous illusions of war were shattered, the destructive nature of the Civil War laid bare before them. The morale of the regiment was devastated. Friends made over months of fraternizing at Camp Hamilton and Norfolk were suddenly and violently killed. Others received permanent injuries which would leave them maimed or disabled, a label which heretofore carried a major stigma throughout the nineteenth century. The 1st Delaware’s first battle may have ended with a Union victory, but the state of their regiment gave no cause for celebration. Thomas may have been relieved to know that the Union forces had prevailed, but their short and violent foray into battle was undoubtedly disenchanting; the 1st Delaware had played the role of cannon-fodder. They failed to take any ground and even suffered major casualties at the hands of their own greenhorn forces. Antietam may have been a victory, but a third of their regiment was gone; only two more “victories” at the same cost and the 1st Delaware would be a brand-new regiment.
Colonel Andrews may have been a strict disciplinarian, but he was not blind to the state of his regiment; rest and recuperation would be necessary. For the remainder of September and nearly the whole of October, the regiment would stay in Harpers Ferry, where they replenished stores, recruited new men, and continued their drilling. Thomas had been with the 1st Delaware for a year by late September. Surviving the Battle of Antietam had required luck, but also a degree of competence. For many men who sought to make sense out of the seemingly non-sensical bloodshed, their survival amidst the deaths of so many friends and comrades surely had to have been an act of God. While Thomas’s morale was undoubtedly damaged, along with that of the rest of his comrades, surviving a battle like Antietam was a major accomplishment. As macabre as the idea of “baptism of fire” was, it remains true that only real battle experience can prepare a soldier for war. Still, one can only wonder what Thomas thought of being ordered to foolhardily charge an entrenched line of muskets. Some soldiers couldn’t help but feel that the Battle of Antietam was just a large-scale training exercise in which they were just thrown at the enemy. Were such immense losses truly necessary?
On September 22, only five days after the battle, Lincoln officially announced his Emancipation Proclamation, an act which certainly further enraged the troops of the 1st Delaware. However, despite their resistance to the reframing of the war’s ideological purpose, the soldiers remained loyally committed to the Union cause, and took pride in having repulsed Lee’s army from northern soil. Violent battles not only had the effect of making veterans of soldiers, but could also serve as greater motivators for their survivors. Some developed a hatred for the enemy who had taken away the lives of close friends, while others largely kept on fighting to ensure that these friends did not die in vain. Regardless of their personal feelings towards Lincoln and slavery, bonds of fraternity and a sense of duty ensured that the soldiers of the 1st Delaware would find their own motivations to keep fighting—particularly after what had been officially labeled a Union victory.
Camp was broken on October 26, 1862, and the 1st Delaware began marching once more with the Army of the Potomac, following Lee’s forces as they withdrew southwards back into Virginia. Briefly stopping in Warrenton, just north of Fredericksburg, Virginia, McClellan was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac, and replaced by General Ambrose B. Burnside on November 7th. Under new leadership, the Army of the Potomac would attempt to retake the initiative and race to the Confederate capital of Richmond before Lee’s forces could stop them. Burnside, hoping to cross the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg by mid-November, sought to quickly acquire the pontoon bridges necessary for this feat; but bureaucratic delays left the Army of the Potomac camping idly at Falmouth while the Confederates received reinforcements and built formidable entrenchments across the river, both in and around Fredericksburg. This delay would have major consequences for the Union forces when the inevitable battle began.
On the morning of December 11, 1862, the Army of the Potomac began to mass in the valley and woods bordering the Rappahannock. Movement was slow, and the building of the pontoon bridges was not to begin until that night. Engineers working on the bridges were further delayed by Confederate sharpshooters in Fredericksburg, taking fire from windows and rooftops within the city. The Union response to these pot-shots was to bombard the sharpshooters with destructive artillery, and they sent soldiers into the city to clear out any remaining holdouts. These actions began the first major urban battle of the Civil War. Urban fighting represented a plethora of new challenges. The Union soldiers could be thrown into the narrow streets to try to dislodge the Confederates, but at a high and sinister cost, which is why Burnside resorted to a preliminary full-scale artillery barrage. This strategy worked, but came at the expense of Fredericksburg itself; shells frequently missed their intended targets and destroyed a vast portion of the city. The use of artillery to overcome the obstacles of urban street fighting set a deadly precedent for the rest of the Civil War and foreshadowed the destructive capabilities of modern industrialized conflict; but for many soldiers on the ground, the choice to use artillery was met with a sigh of relief. Many saw the collateral damage as a necessary sacrifice, something which had preserved their own lives. Still, the majority of the Confederate army was firmly entrenched in the hills outside the city; the taking of one such formidable hill, Marye’s Heights, would ultimately be led by the 1st Delaware.
The city was occupied by Union forces on December 12, and the men were told to stand ready for an expected counterattack. This attack did not come, and Burnside decided to take the initiative and go on the attack. The 1st Delaware was to deploy as skirmishers on the right flank, assigned as one of a few regiments to lead the advance up Marye’s Heights. Confederates fired down upon the advancing Union soldiers from the protection of trenches at the top of the hill. By dark, the Union troops were forced to pull back, unable to dislodge the hill’s defenders. The next day, they would play the role of skirmishers once more, driving away enemy skirmishers in advance of Kimball’s brigade. The 1st Delaware succeeded in holding off more enemy skirmishers until their ammunition was expended and support arrived to relieve them. The regiment had suffered fewer losses here than at Antietam, but casualties were still significant: Twenty-two killed, seventy-nine wounded, and nine missing. The Battle of Fredericksburg would ultimately end in defeat for the Union. The enormous number of casualties–12,653 casualties, over twice as many as suffered by the Army of Northern Virginia—after wave upon wave of tenacious attacks against the entrenched enemy would deliver the most significant blow to Union morale yet. The men had been thrown upon Confederate forces who had benefited enormously in their organization and defensive planning from the frustrating bureaucratic delays of the Union; furthermore, the Union troops had been sent into slaughter by yet another brand-new Union general who was not well-known and consequently not trusted. Soon, the unpopular Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect, further demoralizing the many men who disdained fighting for the anti-slavery cause, leaving them questioning what exactly they were fighting for after the needless, and to many, reckless losses at Fredericksburg.
Thomas would catch a break for about a month, the army having returned to camp at Falmouth as the cold weather set in. The arrival of the cold was not usually met with excitement, but in military context it brought great joy to the men of the 1st Delaware. Captain William Seville reported that “we comforted ourselves with the reflection that no more movements could be made until the return of Spring.” Burnside made initial attempts toward a new campaign in early January, but heavy rains prevented this move. The 1st Delaware would get to remain in Falmouth until late April, enjoying a welcomed return to the relative quiet of camp life.
On April 27 1863, General Joseph Hooker, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac, gave the order to march. Around April 30, the 1st Delaware, which had served as rear guard, neared Chancellorsville. The Battle of Chancellorsville had already begun, but the 1st Delaware would not engage until the next morning. On May 1, they entered the fray, mainly acting in a supporting role, catching the routed 132nd Pennsylvania regiment on the various roads around the battlefield and helping to reorganize them. On May 2, they would serve in a supporting role on the right flank of the army, taking heavy artillery fire in the process. On May 3, they were sent to support the Third Corps near the front and were subjected to the heaviest fighting of the battle they had seen yet. The battle ended in Union defeat, but the 1st Delaware saw fewer casualties than it had at Fredericksburg: They “only” suffered nine killed, thirty-nine wounded, and ten missing. The Union defeat at Chancellorsville gave many soldiers an even more damning opinion of the Union war effort. After months of inactivity following their defeat at Fredericksburg and the subsequent aborted campaign, they had once again failed to deliver the Union a victory which would hasten the war to a conclusion; furthermore, Lee’s forces were outnumbered two to one and they had still delivered another crushing defeat to the Union. However, the Confederates had suffered significant casualties themselves, losing manpower which they could not replace. This fact influenced Lee’s strategy significantly, convincing him that the war needed to be concluded soon before the Confederacy’s war effort collapsed; bringing the war out of the ravaged Virginia landscape and into the bountiful Pennsylvania countryside was also a necessity If Confederate forces could achieve a major victory on northern soil, the blow to northern politicians and home front morale would be devastating. The stage was set for Lee’s invasion into the North.
For the rest of May, the 1st Delaware would remain camped near Chancellorsville. By early June, rumors of Lee’s advance to the North began to spread. On June 13, 1863, the marching order was given; the Army of the Potomac would head north in order to check Lee’s advance and to help defend the capital. The rest of June would be spent marching for miles every day as the army raced north to keep up with Lee. On Monday the 29th of May, the 1st Delaware marched 32 miles in one day, their commanders desperate to reach Uniontown, Maryland, by night. While the soldiers were headed to an inevitable battle, many rejoiced as they left Virginia behind them.
Back on Northern Soil: The Battle of Gettysburg View from the 1st Delaware's position on the right of Cemetery Ridge, looking towards Emmitsburg Road.
As they made their way through Maryland and crossed into Pennsylvania, their surroundings changed drastically. Rolling hills and family-owned farmsteads replaced the swamps and plantations of Virginia. For many, rural Pennsylvania was the quintessential representation of the North, not its crowded industrial cities. Pennsylvania’s many free-labor farmsteads and ranches stood in stark contrast to the plantations of Virginia. It was at one of these ranches where Thomas and his family had been employed at before the war, having provided them with enough money to move into Philadelphia and pursue new opportunities. This mobility in employment was exactly what free labor stood for. As Thomas exhaustedly marched forward, the familiar surroundings likely reminded him of his childhood and the plight of his family– native Virginians who had fled the socioeconomic and political disadvantages of smallholder farmers in a slave state.
The regiment made up the back of the army during this march, serving as the rear guard. Because of their positioning, the 1st Delaware would not arrive at Gettysburg until the evening of July 1st, after the battle had already begun. The familiar metallic and sulfuric scent of gunpowder would have been immediately noticeable as they marched into town. By evening, the cannon and musket fire had lulled, replaced by the deafening chirps of hopeful cicadas seeking mates. July 1st had ended in a Union defeat, forcing the Army of the Potomac into defensive positions in the outskirts of Gettysburg. The news would have been disheartening to the men of the 1st Delaware, whose last victory had come at Antietam nearly a year prior. However, while the Union forces were pushed back on the first day, they could now be on the defensive– a silver lining for the 1st Delaware, which had consistently acted as the vanguard marching against an entrenched enemy.
Early in the morning of July 2, the regiment assumed their position on the left of Cemetery Hill, acting as a defensive skirmish line facing Emmitsburg Road. During the day, the Confederates attacked the flanks of the Cemetery Ridge line, leaving the 1st Delaware with little action in the center. While Lee was unable to dislodge the Union forces, they still inflicted significant Union casualties; despite their defensive positions, the Army of the Potomac suffered 8,750 casualties to the Army of Northern Virginia’s 6,500. In the center of the Cemetery Ridge line, the explosive sounds of cannons and muskets surrounded Thomas and the 1st Delaware for three straight hours. A detachment of the regiment was sent to clear out a barn full of Confederate skirmishers, while a majority of the 1st Delaware remained in their defensive line throughout the day. Those who remained in the line would have likely been eager for action; inspired by a patriotic sense of duty or not, inactivity in the midst of a massive battle was nerve-racking.
The Delawareans remained adjacent to Cemetery Hill into the following day, the booming of artillery resuming at 9:00 am. As abruptly as it had begun, the firing stopped at 10:00 am, and once again the sounds of cicadas pervaded across Union and Confederate lines. This uncomfortable silence lasted until half past one, when Confederate artillery began bombarding the Union center at Cemetery Hill and along adjacent Cemetery Ridge for an entire two hours, suggesting an imminent attack. At around 3:00 pm, Longstreet’s assault began, as nearly 15,000 Confederate troops pushed, en echelon, towards the Union center in what would eventually become known as the Pickett-Pettigrew assault. As thousands of Confederate troops marched across the fields towards them, Thomas could have not helped but feel an overwhelming, anxious anticipation. He was a veteran soldier at this point, having proved his bravery and dedication from Antietam to Chancellorsville; yet military experience does not rid a soldier of fear, but rather teaches him how better to manage it. Like any veteran soldier, he would have tried to counter that anxiety by reminding himself of his purpose on the battlefield. Side by side with his veteran comrades, he may have felt bound to stay by their sides, intimately linked through their common purpose and hardships. Recalling the suffering his regiment experienced as the vanguard at both Antietam and Fredericksburg, Thomas could have also been motivated by revenge; now it was the Union’s turn to lay fire down upon the advancing enemy and avenge their fallen comrades.
Artillery fired back and forth while the Confederate infantry continued its advance, but the 1st Delaware held their position behind a small stone wall on Cemetery Hill, facing the center of Pettigrew’s assault on the Union center-right. The devastating losses inflicted on the Confederates within minutes of them crossing the Emmitsburg Road gave the men a massive morale boost. Still, Delawareans along the line were taking bullets. One color bearer was wounded, and the regimental colors fell with him, landing near Thomas. Regimental colors were not only essential for unit organization in the heat of battle, but were also highly symbolic. They represented the honor of the regiment, commemorated their participation in the war, and reminded the men what they were fighting for; furthermore, as items that were often lovingly produced by women from local communities associated with the regiment, they were a tangible reminder of home. When a color bearer was injured or killed, a soldier was immediately ordered to pick up the flag and take his place. It was a dangerous job, making one easily visible to enemy forces. When the flag dropped, Lieutenant John Brady ordered Thomas to pick up and hold the colors. As Brady instructed Thomas to kneel down and take cover, a twelve-pound ball struck Thomas directly in the chest, cutting him in two.
"Effects Lost in Battle": The Memory of Thomas Seymour and the Memorialization of Delaware's Contribution in the Civil War Photo of Soldiers' National Cemetery. (Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.56182/)
Thomas’s military service record indicates that his “effects were lost in battle.” If he had been carrying any money, letters, or pictures, they could have likely been destroyed by the cannonball which ripped through him. Those most immediately affected by Thomas’s loss would have been his fellow soldiers in the 1st Delaware, especially the veterans who had been with him from the start. While the death of any soldier was tragic, veterans were particularly affected by the deaths of fellow veterans. Men who had intimately bonded through shared trauma in battle knew that only those who were there could fully grasp their experience. With every friend that died, another link was lost, leaving the remaining survivors with a feeling of increasing isolation. Thomas’s gruesome demise was undoubtedly a horrifying and shocking moment which they would never, and could never forget. As the battle came to a close, shock gave way to the realization of the significant implications their victory had; unlike Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg had brought a stunning military and political victory for the Union army, dashing Confederate hopes of an imminent end to the war and southern independence. While the men of the 1st Delaware pursued Lee’s army back into Virginia as he retreated from Gettysburg, they certainly mourned their fallen comrades, but found solace in the fact that their sacrifices on Northern soil were not in vain.
Thomas was unmarried, and his family could have filed for a pension, but there are no records which indicate that they did so. They were certainly devastated by his loss, but at the same time, the Seymour family had lost children before. Throughout the censuses, Seymour children’s names disappear, and new ones take their place. Thomas’s father, John Seymour, consistently recorded the respective ages of his children incorrectly, under- or overestimating by five to six years for some of them. This is not to infer that John Seymour had no love for Thomas, but his constant mistakes in estimating their age indicates how he may have not known his children well at the individual level. By 1870, Thomas’s family had moved to the outskirts of Baltimore. John Seymour had gone back to working as a farmer, listing his personal estate value at $1000 and the real estate value of his wife, Lydia, at $5000 (it is uncertain how this property was acquired, as it is not listed in any previous census; it was likely some type of inheritance, as Lydia still listed her occupation as “keeping house”). The family was not in dire economic straits, but they were by no means wealthy and could have greatly benefited from a pension. The Federal government placed many hurdles in the way of acquiring pensions, wary of people abusing the system to acquire “handouts.” The Seymour family was well-off enough by themselves without depending on any income from Thomas’s soldier salary and were luckily able to get by without receiving a pension; however, many families who were denied pensions were actually in dire need of assistance, but simply unable to produce the necessary paperwork to unequivocally prove their case.
The main monument to the 1st Delaware regiment was commemorated in 1885, paid for by the state of Delaware. A diamond on the front of the monument refers to Delaware’s nickname as the “Diamond State.” Underneath, an inscription reads “Erected by the State of Delaware to Commemorate the Gallantry of her Sons.” Veterans of the 1st Delaware attended the commemoration. It is unclear as to how many soldiers who had fought alongside Thomas would have remained by 1885. Twenty years after the conclusion of the war, many more veterans would have perished, their lives cut short by the serious wounds they had received in battles.
By 1895, Gettysburg became a National Military Park and has since become one of the most iconic historic sites in the United States. The Pickett-Pettigrew charge has become infamous for the stunning loss of life sustained in the span of less than an hour and has further become emblematic of the seemingly suicidal bravery of men marching into a hailstorm of fire. The gallantry of the Northern soldiers who had held out for three days of brutal fighting has come to represent a microcosm of the victory of democracy, freedom, and Union over secession and the Slave Power. The Union’s victory at Gettysburg is lauded in the popular imagination as the quintessential turning point of the war; yet in reality the war was far from over, and many more subsequent battles were equally as crucial. Nonetheless, with their victory at Gettysburg, Thomas’s surviving comrades could finally imagine an end in sight. Their victory was significant; even though the war was still far from over, Thomas Seymour, and each and every individual Union soldier who had fallen at Gettysburg, had not died in vain.
Few people think of the role that Delaware or Delawarean soldiers played in the Civil War, let alone at Gettysburg. As such a small state with a conflicted “border identity”—part of the Union but still a slaveholding state—Delaware represents the political, socio-economic, and cultural complexities at play in the Civil War era. Furthermore, that Delaware drew from so many surrounding states to help fill its state soldier quota during the war reveals the mix of reasons, ideologies, and necessities that drove soldiers such as Seymour into the ranks. Dedicated in 2000, the Delaware state monument sits tucked away behind a tree line bordering a parking lot along Taneytown Road. It depicts the 1st and 2nd Delaware counterattacking Confederates during the famed Pickett-Pettigrew attack, with a simple roster of both units imprinted on its back. Although the monument is either overlooked by most visitors, or merely provokes a quizzical pause as visitors are reminded of Delaware’s mere presence on the battlefield, for men like Thomas Seymour, the monument represents one of the most pivotal moments in their lives; for Seymour and his comrades, their brutal firefight just west of the monument was “the” Battle of Gettysburg.
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Narrative and map by Cole Froehlich, Gettysburg College