Allison-Antrim Museum

George W. Shook - Part 2

 

After George Shook’s Soldier’s Story was published in the Echo Pilot’s August 25 issue, George’s great-nephew, Les Edwards, Spring Grove Avenue, Greencastle, called me with regimental information that is not available online. In 1993 and 1995, Les requested George Shook’s military records from the National Archives and what he received opened the door to finding out exactly what happened to George Shook, at the end of his life.

 

 George’s headstone says that he died on December 18, 1862 but the regimental muster rolls specifically state that he was mustered out and died on December 13, during the bloodiest day of battle at Fredericksburg. George was mortally wounded on December 13, and left on the battlefield. After the battle, when the Union Army retreated across the Rappahannock River, the Confederates, went onto the battlefield of dead and dying men and took, as prisoners the Union soldiers, who were still living. George W. Shook became a prisoner of war, at that time. On Monday, December 15 or Tuesday, December 16, communication between the opposing armies was opened by Maj-Gen John Longstreet.

 

 There is almost nothing on the Internet regarding what happened at Fredericksburg on the date of December 17, 1862. After a very long, online search, the Web site at ebooks.library.cornell.edu provided a searchable copy of The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 2 – Volume 5, Prisoners of War and State, ETC. On pages 115 to 117, under Correspondence, ETC. – Union, are the transcripts of messages exchanged between Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet, Maj-Gen. John G. Parke, and Maj. G. M. Sorrel. The transcripts follow.

 

 Page 115. Headquarters, Near Fredericksburg, December 16, 1862.

 General Commanding U.S. Forces, Opposite Fredericksburg.

 Sir: I am authorized by General R. E. Lee, commanding Confederate forces, to express his desire that you send over to the late battlegrounds and collect the bodies of such officers and soldiers as may be left there. He also desires me to express his willingness to parole and return to you the prisoners taken since your passage of the Rappahannock.

 I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant, James Longstreet, Lieutenant-General Commanding.

 

 Page 116. Headquarters Army of the Potomac, Before Fredericksburg, December 16, 1862.

 Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet, Commanding Confederate Forces near Fredericksburg.

 Sir: I am directed by the general commanding this army to acknowledge the receipt of your note of this morning delivered under flag of truce by Major Sorrel and to say that he will in accordance with the first proposition send over a party of a field officer and 100 officers and soldiers on our right at the position of the upper pontoon bridge to remove the dead and wounded of our troops who may remain on the field above the town. He proposes also to send a party of a field officer and 100 men on our left at the position of the lower bridges to remove those of our dead and wounded who may be there. The parties as it is now late in the day may be compelled to remain on the field possibly all night and perhaps for a short time in the morning in order to fully accomplish their mission. The parties will be detailed and sent on as soon as possible after the delivery of this reply to the officer of your staff who receives it. The general commanding further desires me to say that he will be glad to receive at any hour General Lee may designate at some place in front of the town the prisoners belonging to our troops now in your possession. The prisoners of your troops now in our hands have been sent to the rear. Communication will be had with rear at once, and if practicable the prisoners sent there will be returned without delay within your lines at the point most convenient for their delivery.

 I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, John G. Parke, Major-General and Chief of Staff.

 

 Headquarters, Near Fredericksburg, December 16, 1862.

 General Commanding U.S. Forces, Opposite Fredericksburg.

 Sir: By direction of Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication of this date. I am directed to inform you that such prisoners of your army as remain in our possession since your passage of the Rappahannock will be delivered to you to-morrow across the river at some convenient point near the city about the hour of noon.

 I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant, G. M. Sorrel, Major and Assistant Adjutant-General, C. S. Army

 

 Headquarters Army of the Potomac, December 17, 1862

 General Commanding Confederate Forces, Near Fredericksburg.

 Sir: Your note by Major Sorrel, assistant-adjutant general, of yesterday has been received. Preparations will be made to receive the prisoners to be delivered at noon near Fredericksburg. The prisoners of your troops who remain in our possession since the passage of the Rappahannock will be delivered to you at the same place at or before…

Page 117. the same hour. The foregoing is communicated by direction of the general commanding. (A portion of the prisoners have been sent to Fortress Monroe.)

 I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, John G. Parke, Major-General and Chief of Staff.

 

 The only other bit of information I found, regarding the parole of Fredericksburg prisoners, was about a young Confederate soldier, Pvt. Berrien Burch, Co. K, 61st Georgia Regiment, from Montgomery County. The regiment was nicknamed the “Montgomery Sharpshooters.” On December 13, Burch became a prisoner of the Union forces near Fredericksburg, just as a 19 year old George W. Shook had become a prisoner of the Confederate Army.

 

 Finally, after more than 24 hours of communications back and forth between the respective camps, about noon on Wednesday, December 17, in “front of the town” of Fredericksburg, the exchange of prisoners took place. George W. Shook was among the prisoners handed over to the Federal troops, at the same time Pvt. Berrien Burch was given back to the Confederates. Private Burch survived the war and one mother got her 19-year old son back. George was taken to Chatham Manor, otherwise known as the James Horace Lacy house. The Lacy house was used as Union headquarters for about 13 months, beginning in the spring of 1862. After the battle at Fredericksburg, wounded soldiers were taken to the Lacy House where a surgery had been set up. Surgeons, doctors, and nurses tended the soldiers’ dire needs. Walt Whitman traveled to Fredericksburg looking for his brother who had been wounded in the battle. He ended up staying as a volunteer, because of the great needs of the wounded and the needs of the surgeons. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was also at the Lacy House. Perhaps Barton and or Whitman may have cared for George Shook. When 19-year old George died of his unspecified wounds on Thursday, December 18, I’d like to believe that he was not alone and that someone was holding his hand.

 

 After Les received George’s military records, he, his mother Thelma, and his sister Jody drove to the Fredericksburg National Park, where Les was able to speak to one of the historians. The historian shared that the telegraph, the quickest means of communication at that time, was used to notify families about their sons. Most likely, that’s how Walt Whitman got to Fredericksburg so quickly after the battle. Embalming was fairly new at the time of the Civil War. According to the historian, undertakers frequented the camps near battlefields. They would do their best to preserve the bodies and then “warehouse” them, because they knew family members would most likely be coming to retrieve their son.

 

 David Ziegler Shook was six years younger than his brother George. David, about 13 years old, accompanied his father Jacob to Fredericksburg to retrieve the George’s body. Les believes that George was buried in the Presbyterian graveyard at Moss Spring. The date has not yet been found. Sometime after Cedar Hill Cemetery opened in 1870, George’s body was reinterred at Cedar Hill. It could possibly have taken place around the time Jacob and Anna’s youngest son Charles died, also at the age of 19, in January 1879. George’s and Charles’ headstones match.

 

 But for the person at the National Archives, and the very fine job she/he did of ferreting out the accompanying “Memorandum from Prisoner of War Records,” George’s family would never have known that he had been held as a prisoner of war for four days, after being mortally wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg. The value of one piece of paper is incalculable.

 

 

 

 

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