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Sites of Civil War Lost in Historic Triangle Development (w/ Video)


While driving down Route 60 near Riverside Doctors’ Hospital, it’s unlikely the area would be recognized as the site where seven Union Army soldiers fought in the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, which led to those men receiving Medals of Honor for their efforts.

“As the train and an ambulance go by and people pull into 7-Eleven, it’s lost,” said Drew Gruber, a local historian.

A few years ago, Gruber and Steve Barnes –another local historian—set about researching the Civil War. Their passion for researching the local war effort led to reading historical accounts along with wartime letters and diaries kept at The College of William and Mary’s Earl Gregg Swem Library.

“It’s there, it’s hidden somewhere—someone’s story—and it’s just waiting to be discovered,” Barnes said.

About a month ago, the two men discovered there were seven Medal of Honor recipients whose awards were for efforts during the Battle of Williamsburg, which broke out as Confederate forces attempted to defend the Union’s advances on Richmond. They explored the battleground, pinpointing the locations of the conflict that saw these men’s heroic efforts.

“It sort of puts a human touch on a lot of the history we read about … it brings out the humanity in it. It makes it seem more real,” Barnes said.

The Civil War battle sites are not widely promoted in the Historic Triangle. Gruber and Barnes say that’s likely because in a tourism-driven economy, it’s important to focus on one thing. Jamestown is well-known for being the first English settlement in America in the 17th century, Yorktown is well-known for the Revolutionary War battle fought there during the 18th century and Williamsburg is well-known for serving as the state’s capitol during the 18th century.

Lost in all that history is the 19th century.

“It’s great that [the area] is focused on the 17th and 18th centuries … but you can’t succinctly wrap up the 17th and 18th centuries without the 19th century,” Gruber said.

Whether there will ever be historical markers showing the sites of these Civil War soldiers’ efforts is unknown.

“From a community perspective, battlefield preservation is a fiscally and socially responsible thing to do,” Gruber explained.

Ultimately, Barnes and Gruber agree preservation boils down to a few things: a property owner having the knowledge of history and drive to put a historical marker on their property or a locality preserving an area for tourism.

In an area with such a large push on Colonial history, Barnes and Gruber are holding strong to their appreciation for the Civil War. They want the community to realize what happened, where it happened and to go out and experience it.

“I want, every single time it rains, for people to think about these seven guys,” Gruber said.

One hundred fifty-one years ago, on a rainy Monday, the Battle of Williamsburg began at dawn. Seven men, ranging in age from 19 to 35, went to battle, some for the first time.

The site where Sergeants John Coyne and John Haight performed heroic actions in battle. (Photo by Brittany Voll/WYDaily)

Sergeant John Coyne of the 70th New York Infantry captured the flag of a Virginia color guard just as the infantry was getting pushed back in battle. Inciting a group to aid in the capture, Coyne successfully slowed down the Confederates.

The site where Coyne captured the flag is on Route 60, between Car Quest and the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority. The property is cut with a gravel road and overgrown with weeds and poison ivy. A large water tower stands on the property, just as the land starts to slope upward into the woods. A ravine ran across the area, with Route 60 representing what was once its apex.

Nearby, Sergeant John Haight of the 72nd New York Infantry was dragging a wounded soldier off the battlegrounds. During his effort to save the wounded man, Haight was injured and taken prisoner by the Confederacy. Despite being severely wounded, he went into battle a few months later at Bristol Station and then, at Manassas, searched the woods for wounded soldiers.

Down Government Road, along what was Hampton Road during the Civil War, the York County Head Start building stands next to land where Private Michael Dillon of the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry exhibited bravery in battle by pushing back Confederate forces in an attempt to seize their guns.

On Merrimac Trail stands the Teamsters Local Union Number 95. The building stands on the site where three men– Sergeant Robert Boody of the 40th New York Infantry, Private Thomas Fallon and Sergeant Martin Conboy both of the 37th New York Infantry– performed actions leading to their Medals of Honor.

For more information

Colonial Williamsburg conducts Civil War walking tours

Swem Library has a special exhibit running through Oct. 16 called “Blockades, Books and Basinettes: Children playing, learning and surviving during the Civil War

Fallon was a 25-year-old Irish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1859.

“There’s something to say for immigrating here three years before and fighting to preserve the Union,” Gruber said.

Mike Brooks, the secretary and treasurer of Teamsters, had no idea the building he worked in stood on a former Civil War battle site.

As Gruber explained the historical significance of the site, Brooks became excited.

“I think that’s important; I think anything in our history is important,” Brooks said. He explained he could have easily believed “something from the Revolutionary War, but certainly not something in the Civil War” happened there.

Immigrants fought in the battle for workers’ rights, Gruber said, drawing a connection between Fallon in the Civil War and the purpose of today’s labor unions.

After Brooks understood the Civil War history represented by the site of the Teamsters building, he asked how to go about getting a historical marker for the site, saying he was going to look into it.

The site where Aide-de-camp George Washington Mindil pushed the Confederate forces back.

A little ways down Merrimac Trail, just past Tequila Rose, in the parking lot of Iglesia Casa de Pan at the intersection of Adams Road, is the site where German-born Aide-de-camp George Washington Mindil of the 61stPennsylvania Infantry worked to push the Confederate forces back.

“They’re not any different than we are and you make that connection,” Barnes said, explaining the men met the ultimate test in battle of whether they should retreat to save themselves, but they all chose to fight. “I just can’t imagine doing that. I’d be so scared,” he said.

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Posted by on May 3, 2013. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

9 Responses to Sites of Civil War Lost in Historic Triangle Development (w/ Video)

  1. Jason Spellman Reply

    May 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Excellent article that covered many different aspects of our history. It’s very American to want to memorialize and remember the past, I think. Future generations (whether they know it, or not) are going to be most affected by what we presently do regarding important historic sites. It’s up to our generation to decide what becomes of them; is a 7-11 more viable than a facility of learning? I think it probably depends. But, having worked for a renovated historic site, I know that kids get more than a snack from such a place. Thanks again.

  2. Kerri Baker Reply

    May 7, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Having family in Williamsburg, I’m there a LOT.

    It wasn’t until recent years that my father discovered that his Great Grandfather, my Grt Grt Grandfather Elisha Baker was positioned at the newly renovated Redoubt over off 199 behind the Harris Teeter. It was a very cool find I must say.

    But, he was a Confederate from North Carolina. He was in ever major battle that we can tell from Williamsburg to Gettysburg and back and also ended up a POW at Point Lookout, Maryland for the last 3 months of the war in 1865.

    I enjoyed this well written article, but I have to say, I’m a bit partial to the Confederates and would LOVE the opportunity to learn more about what their role was in Williamsburg.

  3. William J. Bechmann III Reply

    May 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I was just in Williamsburg, Virginia at the beginning of April. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites on US 60 which sits on “The Bloody Ravine.” I photographed the Battle of Williamsburg 1862 sites. I sent them to my friend in Oklahoma and he placed them on his website

    William J. Bechmann III
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  4. Rob Orrison Reply

    May 5, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Great article and great work by these local historians to tell this important story. The more people know the more likely they will be compelled to either preserve or interpret this event in history.

  5. Terence Reply

    May 4, 2013 at 8:52 am

    If you can’t hear audio, right click on video and select ‘mute/unmute’.

  6. Drew Gruber Reply

    May 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for your comment. It is entirely possible he was not captured. The citation may not be the most authentic record of Haight’s story. However, it is obvious that Haight was still apparently “severely disabled” by August. Please see the excerpts I have posted below which should help fill in his incredible narrative a bit more for you and the other readers.

    History of the Third Regiment, Excelsior Brigade, 72nd New York Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865
    Compiled by Henri Brown, Sergeant Company B- 1901

    Page 142:
    In compliance with the foregoing Acts of Congress the following named members of the regiment have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The remarks following the names are from the records of the War Department :

    “Voluntarily carried a severely wounded comrade off the field in the face of s large force of the enemy, and in so doing was himself severely wounded.”
    Williamsburg, Va., May 5th, 1862. MEDAL OF HONOR.

    “Went into the fight, although severely disabled.”
    Bristoe Station, Va., August 27th) 1862.

    “Volunteered to search the woods for the wounded.”
    Manassas, Va., August 29th and 30th) 1562.

    Page 75:
    September 30th, 1862.
    I would respectfully recommend the promotion of Corporal John H. Haight of Co. “G” to be a Sergeant. His promotion to date from July 23rd, 1862. I recommend him for gallant conduct on the battlefield of Williamsburg, where he was wounded, and for his bravery in the engagement of August 27th, at Bristoe Station, and also for like conduct in the actions of August 29th and 30th at Manassas
    or Bull Run.
    Very respectfully,
    H. J. BLISS,
    Captain Commanding Co-

  7. fred Reply

    May 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Please explain how SGT. John Haight was severely wounded and taken prisoner by the confederacy but then was in 2 battles 2 months later. How did he fight in battles if he was severely wounded and a prisoner of war?

  8. Great story! Reply

    May 3, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I certainly knew about the battle, but wasn’t aware of the Medals of Honor that were earned here. It was doubly interesting to note the exact location where these events took place. I’ll look at that landscape much differently now that I know.

  9. Amy Schindler Reply

    May 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Folks may also be interested in another exhibit in Swem Library through August, “Under the Shield: The Federal Occupation of the Historic Triangle.” More information about the exhibit is available at: . All of the letters, diaries, ledgers, and other documents in Swem Library’s Special Collections from the period 1861-1865, including material related to the Battle of Williamsburg, are being digitized and made available for the public to search and transcribe online. Learn more at . Feel free to contact Special Collections if you have questions or come in to visit when we’re open. Learn more: Enjoy!

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