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PUBLISHED: 4:34 PM on Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Tribute to Union soldier, nation's veterans

This week's column honors our nation's veterans and their efforts to defend our Constitution.

One such veteran was William Olcott, who mustered into the Union Army at the age of 33 in the Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry. He quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant, then 1st Sergeant.

During that time he kept a diary of the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.

Olcott was my great-great grandfather. I'd like to share a few snippets of his journal he kept on the battlefields so that - regardless of our opinions on politics or war - we each will hold a greater appreciation for the unparalled duty of our veterans.

I have maintained his punctuation and grammar exactly as he recorded it; I believe each period must have meant another thought. Be warned: His accounts are graphic.

"It will be remembered and recollected that after the battle at Bull Run. We were assigned to the first Corps of the army. Under the command of Gen. Hooker. We Remained at halls hill several days...

"On Sunday morning the 14th, with drums beating and colors flying, we marched into the town of Fredrick from which the Rebels had been driven only the day before. Union flags were displayed from nearly all the houses; and manifestations of pleasure at our Presence, greeted us in every direction...

(Middletown) "It was now dark, and the firing soon ceased...we passed the night here on the ground where we had found.

Amid the Dead and dying. Awaking in the morning with a Shudder at the close proximity of the distorted countenance and mangled forms of the fast stiffening corpes around us...

"Directly in front of us was ploughed ground with a cornfield a little to the right. Across which the enemy's line must have extended.

And here lay the bodies of their dead in almost every possible position. In some places three or four of them together in one pile as if their ranks had been in confusion. And huddles together Where they had all fallen at once.

Col. Strange was one of those who fell nearest our lines, and upon his person were two canteens. One of whiskey and the other of water. Their haversacks were generally well filled with biscuits. Cold ham, etc....and some of our men I believe made a hearty breakfast off their contents.

Although the thought must seem revolting to any but hungry soldiers...

(Sharpsburg) "McClellan with his staff and a large cavalry escort came up... it seemed to me as if I never saw a man whose open smile. And sparkling eye.

"More clearly denoted the inward satisfaction he must have felt at this heartfelt Expression of unbounded confidence in and admiration for him...

"Private Soldiers. However little they may say, Effects the conduct of the war...military Editors, loquacious porter house politicians. And congressmen. Are nothing to them... the latter classes have better opportunities for thwarting the anxious Efforts of those competent only to judg of the best means for bringing this war to a speedy and successful termination and the restoration of the country to that state of peace...

"I mention with pleasure...the treatment of the wounded who fell in the hands of the enemy... noble and generous actions have been performed, that would do honor to the Soldiers of any country. I will relate...of a Soldier wounded. And left on the field at Cedar Mountain... He was under a Shelter of boughs Which the rebel Soldiers had made for him. and thrown an oil cloth blanket over the top.

"To protect him from the sun and rain. With a large cup of watter beside him. little Enough. You think for a wounded man; but It was all they could do for him...

"There has been cannonading nearly all day, in the direction of harpers ferry, but we cannot learn what it means yet...

And now a hope that this Imperfect Sketch of the campaign may prove interesting to those who take the trouble to read it.

"I Remain your sincere Friend, W.O."

William Olcott was captured by the Confederates near Petersburg, Virginia on August 19, 1864. He died of starvation on December 29 that year at Salisbury Prison. He is buried at Salisbury National Cemetery in an unknown trench among 12,036 soldiers - of whom only 203 were ever identified.

He not only left a young widow and child behind, but a personal account stained with the soil of war and self-sacrifice so that we might never forget the cost of freedom.

For his memory - and for the thousands of others who humbly served our nation, I say thanks.

Judy Halone is a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


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