About the same time Amanda learned of her Uncle Almon’s death, Marshall appears to have learned that his older brother George, a Union soldier with the New Hampshire 7th was missing in action.
Let’s step back for a minute and get up to speed on Marshall and George.
Soldier, Cook, Ward Master, and Hospital Steward
Marshall P. Felch mustered into service in Brattleboro Vermont on September 21, 1861. This was about a hundred miles south along the Connecticut River from his home turf at Piermont New Hampshire. He most likely chose to join the Vermont infantry because he and his family worked on the Vermont side of the River and he must have felt a tighter bond there. His war records describe him as five feet, six and a half inches tall with a light complexion, blue eyes, dark hair and he was listed as a shoemaker.
The Vermont 4th Infantry headed south almost immediately; there was little time for training at Brattleboro. Union forces had already tasted defeat at the Battle of Bull Run and an army was being hastily assembled and training could be done after they arrived. They left Brattleboro on the 21st of September and arrived in the nation’s capitol two days later. They camped for a few days on Capitol Hill, marched through the city and across the Chain Bridge where they set up camp. The Vermont 4th Infantry regiment consisting of 1,048 men joined other Vermont regiments, including the Vermont 3rd Infantry.
Marshall was assigned to Company H and in addition to the daily training and marching, he found himself working as a cook in the field hospital. Marshall would spend the next four years working in a field hospital and at one time or another he would perform most of the jobs when we think about the Civil War. Transporting the wounded, cleaning and dressing wounds, assisting surgeons in their gruesome work, or helping bury the dead might come to mind. The less glamorous diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, measles, small pox, malaria, and pneumonia were more actually more pervasive.
Within a year, Marshall’s honesty, excellent organizational skills, and his proficiency in reading and writing resulted in his promotion to the position of ward master. In 1863 he was again promoted on a temporary basis to the position of hospital steward, the highest administrative authority at a field hospital. Hospital stewards were warrant officers, ranking above company first sergeants. On January 14, 1864 he obtained a permanent position as a hospital steward, a position that carried status and even its own special uniform.
—-National Archives, “Marshall P. Felch, CO H, 4th Vermont Infantry, 1861-1865
Duties of a Hospital Steward
A hospital steward in the Civil War was something akin to what a hospital administrator is today. One major difference was that a field hospital was on the move and it might be anything from a barn, a house, or a group of tents. In his role of hospital steward, Marshall would continually be seeking the best available supplies and equipment he could obtain for his field hospital, surgeon, and troops. He would document every saw, tourniquet, and bottle of quinine that came through the hospital. He worked directly with the surgeons and helped supervise ward masters, nurses, and other attendants. He also documented patient records and sometimes even read last rites to a dying soldier.
—-Woodward, The Hospital Steward’s Manual, 1863
In addition to being compared a hospital administrator, hospital stewards in the Civil War have been compared to a pharmacist. Common duties of seven hospital stewards included diagnosis, treatments, prescribing medications, administering vaccinations, performing minor surgery and suturing, and administering anesthesia. In today’s terms hospital stewards also had strong similarities to Advanced Practice Nurses, Nurse Practitioners,and Physician’s Assistants. Hospital stewards typically had a lot of autonomy and practiced independently.
—–William T. Campbell, Seven Hospital Stewards, 2014
Marshall’s three year service term was coming to an end in June of 1864. In that June would most certainly be the heat of battle, Marshall followed the lead of other soldiers and decided to re-enlist in early 1864. Marshall re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer on February 16, 1864 and continued his well earned position as hospital steward. At the time, he was in winter camp at Brandy Station, Virginia, which also happened to carry the legacy of having had the largest Calvary battle of the Civil War the previous June, just before Gettysburg.
—-National Archives, “Marshall P. Felch, CO H, 4th Vermont Infantry, 1861-1865
George and the New Hampshire 7th
George didn’t initially list back in 1861 when the initial call for troops occurred. a call went out for more troops after the New Hampshire 7th had suffered horrific losses at the Battle of Fort Wagner and from other battles and diseases. George responded to the call and on October 31, 1863 enlisted with the New Hampshire 7th.
—– Grenard, George Felch, 2017
About the same time Marshall was reenlisting, his older brother George was moving inland with the Union Army at a place in northern Florida called Olustee. In a disastrous Union defeat on the 20th of February, 209 members of the battle-hardened New Hampshire 7th, were either dead, injured, or missing. George was one of the missing.
Marshall, who had never had a furlough in three years requested one now, and received a 35-day furlough on February the 24th. The only logical reason for this decision would have been in response to news that George was reported as missing at this battle.
It would be unfeasible for Marshall to go looking for him. The only logical assumption is that either Marshall, or his family would get notification of Georges status. Either way he would make the trip home for the first time since he enlisted at Bradford, Vermont.
Before enlisting in 1863, George was working as a shoemaker at Alvah Bean’s shoe shop in West Fairlee Vermont and had recently celebrated a ten year anniversary with his wife, Almira. George and Almira had a young son, George Parker, who was nine years old now.
Making shoes was a rather common job for young New England men at the time and he was not alone in the shoe making business. His younger brother Marshall, their father Parker, and at least two sisters had all worked in Alvah Bean’s West Fairlee shoe shop. Most of the younger men started out as “shoe peggers” that “tap tap tapped” pegs into the sole of the shoe.
Pictures on the right taken in 2012 at a shoe shop in the historic Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts.
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Marshall would have had a chance to see his father Parker and his mother Hannah at the old farm east of Piermont, New Hampshire by going home. They would have been joined by his siblings in order of birth: Sarah, Jane, Elvira, William Howard, Ida, Henry Harry, and little Charles. George was the eldest and the one missing.
Marshall also would have had a chance to see his daughter Carrie for the first time, since mustering in at Brattleboro. You see Marshall was actually a widower. Carrie was almost four years old now and apparently living with her mother’s parents, whom Marshall considered good friends. Marshall and Carrie’s mother Caroline had been married on the 27th of January 1860 in West Fairlee Vermont. A week after Carrie was born on April 20, 1860, Caroline sadly passed away most likely from complications during the delivery. In addition to family, Marshall would have also had a chance to visit his good friend and former employer Alvah Bean at the shoe shop in West Fairlee, a building that was still there as late as 2013.
—-Grenard, Marshall Felch – West Fairlee Vermont, 2013
The focus of this family get-together was most certainly George, his wife Almira, and little George. They knew he was missing but they didn’t know anything more; in fact they may have not learned about his ultimate fate for many months after the end of the war.
What actually happened to George
Due to both some questionable command decisions and a lack of functional weapons on the 20th of February, the New Hampshire 7th found themselves in disarray and retreat at the Battle of Olustee Florida. George was actually captured that day and therefore listed as missing; in other words no one knew what had happened to him. A month after being captured on the 22nd of March 1864, George walked through the gates of a new prisoner camp called Andersonville in Georgia. He must have gazed in disbelief at the hell hole he had entered and like thousands of others would not survive its horrors.
Eight months later, George died and was buried as prisoner number 12440 in a nearby cemetery on January the 12th, 1865. All the bodies of the Union Soldiers were laid out side by side in a four feet deep trench.
—-Grenard, Marshall Felch – West Fairlee Vermont, 2017
We may not have ever known what had happened to all the soldiers at Andersonville if it were not for Dorence Atwater. Atwater managed as a Union soldier to assemble a duplicate record of all those who died at Andersonville. The records included names, their units, date and cause of death, and where they were buried. In early 1866 with assistance from Clara Barton and Horace Greeley, Atwater went a step further and these records were printed in the New York tribune. This must have provided great relief to thousands of relatives including George’s who wondered what had happened to their son. The story of Dorence Atwater is, well, a story itself.
—-Atwater and Barton, A List of the Union Soldiers Buried at Andersonville.
After the furlough
Marshall returned to his position in Brandy Station on the 29th of March. General Grant had taken command of the Union Army in Virginia and the Overland Campaign was about to be unleashed. Amanda’s role in the war will change dramatically and Marshall will experience a life changing injury.
Birds Nest: City Point Virginia
All women including Amanda were ordered off the battle front at the beginning of May in 1864, just before the Overland Campaign began. Amanda reports to Dorthea Dix and immediately goes to work at Fredericksburg, the “City of Hospitals”. Later Amanda transfers to the White House on the Pamunkey and City Point where she takes on an important but very different new role. Marshall continues as hospital steward throughout the six weeks of death and carnage of the Overland Campaign and beyond.