Written by Charles T. Joyce
In the Spring of 2016, a fellow collector who knew of my interest in Gettysburg Casualties alerted me to a rather strange eBay auction listing. The son of a deceased New Jersey antique shop owner was trying to sell what he believed to be a “Surgeon’s Gettysburg Battle Journal.” He had an extremely high “Buy It Now” price on the piece—$11,000—and rather unusual terms: The item, a frayed pocket-sized memorandum book with a black cloth cover, had to be purchased with cash or a cashier’s check, and picked up personally at his local police station. He had only deciphered a fraction of the entries in the book and assumed it had been kept by a medical man.
Needless to say, the booklet sat on eBay for some time. I believed it was considerably overpriced, but it continued to intrigue me. Finally, in July, I contacted the seller and we reached an agreement. The journal sold for a far more reasonable sum and, although I still had to travel to New Brunswick to pick it up, I at least did not have to complete the transaction in the presence of law enforcement.
Once in my possession, I was able to accurately decipher enough of the writing to conclude that the owner—identified only as “A. Taggart”—was not a medical professional at all, but rather a volunteer at the 2d Corps, Third Division Hospital located a few miles southeast of Gettysburg. The booklet contained draft letters he composed on behalf of three wounded Confederate soldiers who were incapable of writing themselves, each following the same basic form. It also contained entries for approximately 60 federal soldiers and 6 confederates, listing their names, the nature of their wounds, and their home addresses. Of the federal soldiers, I confirmed almost all as wounded enlisted men and officers belonging to the Third Division. Poignantly, more than half of them would perish from their wounds either here or later, at Camp Letterman or other locales.
In trying to identify just who “A. Taggart” was, I found a tantalizing reference in the journal to a festival held in June 1866 at the “M. E. Midway Church.” I discovered a town of “Midway” in the western Pennsylvania county of Washington, just outside of Pittsburgh, which had, in the 1860s, a Methodist Episcopal Church. Using Ancestry, I also found an “Alexander Taggart” who attended college at Washington and Jefferson University, and worked as a school teacher in the county. I was pretty confident that I had correctly deduced that this young man had travelled across the state to arrive on the battlefield by mid-July where he “waited on the wounded” (as he puts it) at the 3rd Division hospital, and penned notes of his interactions with the wounded soldiers in this pocket memorandum. However, I was mistaken.
Recently, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of the creator of this website, who conducted his own research and convinced me that, while the author of “these few lines” was indeed named Alexander Taggart, he was not an unmarried school teacher from western Pennsylvania, but a middle class dry goods merchant from Coatesville, Pennsylvania—a tidy village in Chester County, some 40 miles west of Philadelphia. A history of the county revealed that there was once a hamlet named “Midway” adjacent to Coatesville that eventually merged with another small town to become the “Borough of Coatesville” in 1867.
Born in Maryland about 1818, Alexander C. Taggart married Emeline Clayton on 13 March 1844, and by 1862 they had 5 children—Clayton, Charles, Mary, Jesse, and Howard. In Taggart’s journal entry regarding the aforementioned 1866 Church Festival, he lists sums of money next to the names of his wife, Emeline, and 4 of his five children, Charles, Mary, Jesse, and Howard (see picture at right).
Any remaining doubts were conquered by a search of Philadelphia newspapers from the period. They disclosed that Alexander Taggart was a regular guest at the States Union Hotel in the City, located at 6th and Market Street, and advertised as being “in the very centre of business” making it “particularly desirable to persons visiting Philadelphia on business or pleasure.” Most likely Taggart frequented this lodging place while on buying trips, acquiring goods for his store. When he registered at the hotel, customarily he gave his residence as “Coatesville.” In 1865, however, he gave his residence as “Midway” leading me to conclude, without question, that he was the true owner of the journal.
Curiously, one such newspaper notice indicates that Taggart arrived at that hotel “before midnight” on the evening of July 21, 1863. It is entirely possible that the point of departure for this particular journey began in Gettysburg. We know from the journal that Taggart was still laboring on the battlefield as late as July 18th, when he knelt beside the gravesite of Confederate Brigadier General Barksdale and recorded the inscription prepared for that fallen Rebel officer.
So what prompted this middle class merchant from outside of Philadelphia to make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg in the aftermath of the battle? Might he have been a representative of the U.S. Christian Commission? Or might he have gone there with some other group, or perhaps on his own? There is evidence aplenty to support either conclusion.
The Christian Commission sent at least 100 of its Philadelphia “delegates” to tend to the spiritual and physical needs of the wounded at Gettysburg, and Taggart is, indeed listed as a “delegate” for the year 1863. Further, in several of the letters he wrote on behalf of wounded southern soldiers he referred to himself as “a kind Christian friend,” or “kind Christian brother,” perhaps signaling his affiliation with that organization. On the other hand, Christian Commission Delegates were strictly required to keep a journal supplied to them by the outfit, and to turn them into the Commission at the end of their ministrations. It seems a tad odd that Taggart would use two such memo books, turning one into his superiors and keeping one for himself.
There is also a mention in the reminiscences of Captain Azor H. Nickerson of the 8th Ohio—one of the wounded soldiers listed in Taggart’s journal—of a group of hospital aid workers “composed entirely of Quakers” from Chester county, whom Nickerson described as being “of the best and most reputable of that exceedingly reputable county.” Preliminary research indicates that several generations of Chester county Taggarts were, indeed, members of the Society of Friends. It is thus possible that Taggart came to the battlefield with this group, and that his experiences there led him to formally join the Christian Commission later that year. More digging into Taggart’s past may yet yield a definitive answer to this question. — CTJ
This website is a collaborative research project in progress and we have chosen to share the pages through this medium with the hope that readers will be able to provide us with additional information on Alexander Taggart, the 3d Division Hospital, or any of the soldiers listed in Taggart’s Memorandum Book who gave their “last full measure of devotion” at Gettysburg. We would be particularly delighted to hear from those who are related to these soldiers who might have letters or images of them to share. Please let us hear from you by using the contact link in the menu or the comment space provided at the bottom of this page. Any feedback is welcome. All rights reserved.
—Charles T. Joyce & William J. Griffing
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