Sunday, October 2, 2016

Monocacy learns more about fallen Rebel soldier and the Bible that took a bullet

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

Park rangers at Monocacy National Battlefield have had seen success and setbacks in their bid to learn more about the life and death of a Confederate soldier wounded when a bullet passed through his Bible and went through his chest.

Pvt. Thomas Cox, a member of the Red House Volunteers, Company A, 21st Virginia Infantry, was wounded and captured on July 9, 1864, at the battlefield near Frederick, Md. The 33-year-old farmer from Carroll County died on Aug. 15, 1864, at a Baltimore hospital.

A park intern conducting research this past summer learned that Baltimore hospital records had been damaged or destroyed, possibly in a fire, curator Tracy Evans told the Picket.

What is known about Cox’ final weeks was that he asked a fellow prisoner at the squalid West Building’s Hospital to inscribe a message in his battered Bible.

“The ball that struck this book entered my left brest (sic) and came out of right – it saved instant death & will be the means of saving my soul. Thomas Cox,” reads the penciled writing on the margins of a few pages. On succeeding pages is written: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.”

In 2015, the park purchased the New Testament for $12,500 for brokers in Petersburg, Va.

The park intern learned that Cox and his wife had two children before the war and one on the way when he enlisted in 1861. The soldier was able to return to his farm several times during the war and fathered two more children. He recuperated from two illnesses at home while on medical leave.

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

The 21st Virginia had seen considerable action, including at Gettysburg, before the fight at Monocacy.

“After the men forded the Monocacy River, they formed up in battle line and assaulted the Union line. 5 According to Sgt. John Worsham, the men in the 21st tore down a fence railing and with the years of hardened experience behind them, rushed forward in a charge against Union positions without orders from their officers. Somewhere in this rush and exchanging volleys of fire, Private Cox was struck by a bullet,” intern Chris Sniezek and ranger Kelly Henderson wrote.

Cox died five weeks later of infection and was buried in Baltimore, where he remains buried.

Evans said the research led to emails to potential descendants, but officials have not heard back. They did learn from research of a relative in the Confederate unit that Cox’ widow remarried and was believed to have additional children.

The bullet-struck Bible is remarkable in its own way. There’s a gaping hole in the center of the book. “We are thinking it must have gone in sideways,” said Evans, adding that is perhaps the reason Cox was not killed outright.

Officials want to display the Bible next year, but they know it likely can hold up only to certain lighting conditions, and perhaps for brief periods of exposure. They are looking for more information on Cox and other soldiers whose names and information were written on the Bible’s pages. There is no known photo of the soldier.

The Bible itself has been given an initial condition assessment and will likely go for light preservation next year with recommendations on how it should be put on display and for how long,” said Evans. “We would also like to have a better analysis done of possible blood on the Bible.” She cautioned there is no evidence of blood, but officials are curious as to whether small traces remain on the pages.

(Perry Adams Antiques)

Conservation experts at the National Park Service’s Harpers Ferry Center also will give advice on mounting of the Bible and whether it should be displayed opened or closed.

In an article prepared for an upcoming issue of Civil War News, the park researchers also delved into the story of the Bible’s publication. This one was published in 1862 by Wood, Hanletter, Rice and Company of Atlanta.

“Prior to the Civil War, Bibles were mostly printed and distributed by the American Bible Society based in New York. When the war broke out, the American Bible Society decided to continue distributing Bibles to Confederate soldiers, but a Union blockade soon left the South in a severe shortage. Faced with this shortage, the Confederate States Bible Society was established to print and distribute new Confederate Bibles.”

The dying Cox got the writing assistance from Pvt. H.S. Shepherd, a Confederate who was captured at Gettysburg in July 1863 and assisted sick comrades while serving as a ward master at the Baltimore hospital.

“I was with Thos. Cox when he died,” Shepherd wrote in the Bible. “He was willing … & appear ready to leave this world for a better one to come."

Another inscription indicates Cox asked that his ring be sent to his widow, Frances.

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