A bigger story behind Grave #418

Posted on March 24, 2013 by


Feeling rather inclined to write something about the USV today, so…

As some folks may recall, just over three years ago, I went through records to add details to Find-a-Grave, for all the “Galvanized Yankees” buried (reburied, actually) in Custer National Cemetery. In recently flipping through my copy of Michele Tucker Butts’ Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri, I realized there are more details that might be worth adding. Take the example of Hospital Steward William H. Merriman.


Born ca. 1838, in Hawkins, Tennessee, Merriman began his Civil War military service with the 60th Tennessee Mounted Infantry, CSA. On May 17, 1863… just eight months after he enlisted… 4th Corporal Merriman was captured at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge, Mississippi. After this, he was cycled around a little, first to Ft. Delaware, Delaware; then to City Point, Va.; and finally to Pt. Lookout, Maryland (9/20/1863). On February 2, 1864, he took the opportunity to get out of Pt. Lookout by taking the oath of allegiance and joining the 1st United States Volunteer Infantry. He died at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, of scurvy, on March 5, 1865.

While I was going to add details provided in Butts’ book, I realized there is so much more… thanks to the site, Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee. It seems this project is much like the one in Virginia, where a mobile team goes about the state, calling upon locals who might want to contribute digital images of Civil War related documents in their possession. This particular site falls under the management of Tennessee Virtual Archive, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

Looking over the thirteen pieces relating to Merriman in this collection, I realized that what can be found repeats some of the information that Butts provided in her book… and then some.

For starters, there are letters from Merriman to his wife and father, telling of activities in Knoxville, and then later around Vicksburg. Sad to say, as we sift through Merriman’s letters, we learn that they seem to remain unanswered. In fact, by the time he writes his father, from Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, in January 1865, it appears he had not heard from his wife and father for about  two years. I have my doubts that he even heard from them anytime before his death on March 5.

William H. Merriman, from the

William H. Merriman, from the site Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

The letters following his death are quite interesting. Three comrades… Dr. George Henry Webster Herrick, Pvt. Peter G. Camp and Pvt. William D. Vencil all shed light on the impact Merriman had on the post at Fort Rice.

Among the first letters to arrive back home in Tennessee, telling of Merriman’s death, was that from Vencil, who took “the privlage [as] I live in the same county and I expect to be home before long and I then can tell you more about it as I was an intimate acquaintance of his.”

We are in one of the worst country in the world in the present time we have to fight Indians every few days we have been here … months and we have lost 78 or 79 men out of the Regt most died of disease we have only lost 4 or five killed by indians We have plenty of game Buffalo Elk Deer antelope wolves bear both black and grizzly

Later, after Merriman’s wife “Kate/Katie” (Catherine Eliza Beaty Merriman) had written letters to her husband’s comrades, there were a flurry of responses. Pvt. Peter Camp wrote on June 25:

I am glad to inform you I have received your favor which came You wished to know if I was nursing in the Hospital at the time that William died. I am glad to inform you that I was. He seemed to enjoy very good health until he came to this post. He was our Hospital Steward at the time of his death. He was beloved by all his comrades who new him and when he was sick received good attention both by the Hosptal attendants and Dr. Herrick of whom William was always a great favorite he was loved by the officers. He was more neatly buried than any other enlisted man of our Regiment. As for what is coming to him from the Government I am not able to say but rather think that Dr. Herrick can give more satisfaction than I can.

Dr. Herrick responded in July:

Yours of May the 15th was received a few days since and in reply I would state that my dear friend (he seemed like a brother to me) & hospital steward William H. Merriman had been declining with consumption during the winter & this spring he was attacked with scurvy a disease from which we lost a large number at this post. During his last days he was delirious & at length became stupid. He suffered but little pain. He was under my own immediate care during his entire sickness. The nurse who took care of him was T.W. Albritton. Peter Camp, with whom you are acquainted, was with him frequently & was nurse on the hospital. William was beloved by both officers & men of the command to which he was attached. He had always been my hospital steward & in that capacity he was my right-hand man. I was strongly attached to him & he often spoke to me of his wife & child whom he longed to see. He had written home several times but never received an answer.

The whole garrison here attended his funeral & the post flag was kept at half mast for several days. He is buried in our cemetery a few yards from the fort where are buried his comrades & one of his officers – the Lieutenant of his company.

While we mourn his loss here we can look with hope into eternity for I believe he now is happier than he could have been on earth. His life was unexceptionable moral, upright, honest & worthy the esteem in which he was held by his officers. I was by him much in his last sickness & did for him all I could for an our brother tho’ from the first I had but little hope of his recovery. It is sad indeed to be this deprived of a loving companion while far away and you have my truest sympathy in your bereavement. During the last fall my wife was torn from me by death & in a few weeks my only child followed her mother. They were hundreds of miles away in Massachusetts & I at this distant post. My child was of the same age – even to an hour of yours as I learned from William. Any information I can give in regard to your husband I should be happy to do.

By 1866, Kate had applied for and began receiving a pension for her husband’s service. She received $8 per month, and an additional $2 per month for her son, William B. Merriman, until he attained the age of 16.

Merriman’s remains were later removed from Ft. Rice cemetery to Custer National Cemetery, on March 6, 1905.

I’ll be frank… though I have absolutely no connections with him, having “marked” the basic details of Merriman’s service in his Find-a-Grave page, after finding all of this additional information, it felt rather like an obligation… though a good one… to continue his story in this post. For that matter, curiosity drives me on finding out the rest of the story, regarding Herrick, Camp, and Vencil.

First, for Dr. Herrick, this is what I was fortunate enough to find…

OBITUARY. – George Henry Webster Herrick was born in New London, N.H., April 8, 1839. After graduating at the academy there, he studied medicine in Boston and Philadelphia, receiving the degree of M.D. from Jefferson College in 1861. He began practice in Enfield, N.H., but removed in a few weeks to Billerica, Mass., where he remained about three years, finally settling in Charlestown, where he acquired a very extensive and lucrative practice. Shortly after coming to Charlestown he went as an assistant surgeon to a military hospital at Norfolk, Va., from which he was appointed to the surgeoncy of the First U.S. Volunteers, composed of rebel prisoners, and sent to Dakota, where they had several engagements with the Indians. At the close of the war he returned to Charlestown where he became a prominent citizen, a freemason of high standing, and a member of the Loyal Legion. His genial and courteous manners, which in part secured him his success, will long be remembered. In early life he connected himself with the Protestant Episcopal Church, of which he was a vestryman at the time of his decease.

His extensive practice, which occupied most of his waking hours, led him to overlook the initial symptoms which, contracted while in the discharge of his professional duties as an accoucheur, finally assumed such a serious character last April as to necessitate leaving his practice and seeking relief by quietude at his native home, and later by a visit to Europe.

The disease had, however, made such advances as to cause a fatal termination, which took place at University College Hospital, London, July 21, 1877. He was as much a martyr as though while serving the government he had met his death-wound from the poisoned arrow of an Indian foe. His untimely death is universally lamented by his professional brethren of the district in which he lived and labored (source).

I’m not quite sure what to say about his being wounded by an arrow… because there is not one mention in it in his service record. I suppose someone thought it some romantic necessity to better explain the odd manner in which he met his death (brain tumor), on July 21, 1877. As earlier mentioned in Herrick’s letter, he did indeed lose his wife, Jennie, in October, 1864, and his daughter, Elema Florence, in December, 1864.

Peter G. Camp’s story might be the least complicated of the three who corresponded briefly with Kate. Born in Wythe County, Virginia, he was a resident of Tennessee at the opening of the war, where he enlisted (like Merriman) with the 60th Tennessee Mounted Infantry. Again, like Merriman, Camp was also among those captured at Big Black. His service with the 1st USV was mostly in the post hospital at Fort Rice… serving as a nurse from December 1864 to August 1865, and then as a “Hospital Attendant” in September 1865, and as a nurse and cook, in October 1865. Following his discharge, he returned to Tennessee and was documented in the 1870 census. Regretfully, after that date, I lose track of Camp. I also do not see him on the list of pensioners for the regiment.

Out of the three, and Merriman, William D. Vencil’s story is a bit different. Born in Tazewell County, Virginia, he previously served as a corporal in Co. H (“Wise Yankee Catchers”), 50th Virginia Infantry, and was captured in the Wilderness, on May 6, 1864. Once he was out in the Dakota Territory with the 1st USV, he was tasked with the duty of “herder” on Cannon Ball River, serving in that capacity between January and February 1865, and then detached on duty at Fort Benton, Montana Territory, from May – June, 1865. He finished-up his service detached on the wagon train to Fort Leavenworth, where he was mustered-out with the regiment, on November 27, 1865. Within a month of returning to his home in Lee County, Virginia, he married Malinda Roach, and then moved to Hancock County, Tennessee where he remained through 1880. At some point thereafter he relocated to Stonewall County, Texas (where he was first recorded in the census records in 1900). He died there on December 2, 1918. He also leaves no record of having received a pension for his services in the USV.

By the way, if it slipped past you… there is a fourth person who was named in Dr. Herrick’s letter… Thomas W. Albritton. Albritton was born in Newberry County, South Carolina, but had relocated to Orange County, Florida. A private in Co. E, 2nd Florida Infantry, he was wounded (right shoulder) at Seven Pines, and again at Gettysburg (left thigh, July 3). Records of the 1st USV confirm that Albritton was a hospital attendant. After his service in the 1st… unless I’m mistaken… he ended up in Iowa, where he married, and then at some point, moved to Washington State. He died in Six Prong, Klickitat County, Washington, in 1912. As with the others… no pension record.

And now we know the rest of (?) the story behind Grave #418.