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The fallen heroes

In so many ways, The Legal Genealogist is so fortunate.

Not one of my direct ancestors — not a single one that I know of — fell in battle. Or died of wounds. Or even, for whatever reason, just didn’t make it home.

MemDay2015In my own direct bloodline, we were not called on to make that ultimate sacrifice, to give what President Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”1

But others in my extended family were not so fortunate.

Others in my family knew, only too well, the pains of that kind of loss.

The first I know of who gave “the last full measure of devotion” was Richard Baker. He was just 23 years old when he died, on a cold December day. He was unmarried. He had no children. Yet he lives on in our memories as we honor him for laying down his life for American freedom.

He was born 23 December 1753, most likely in Culpeper County, Virginia.2 As far as we’ve been able to determine, he was the 10th of 13 children born to Thomas and Dorothy (Davenport) Baker of Virginia.3

He was serving with his older brother, my fourth great grandfather David Baker, in the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line when Washington crossed the Delaware just after dark on Christmas Day 1776. They were headed to what is known today as the Battle of Trenton.

One of Washington’s aides, believed to have been Col. John Fitzgerald, recorded the conditions faced by those troops that day:

It is fearfully cold and raw and a snowstorm setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet; others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain. They are ready to suffer any hardship and die rather than give up their liberty.4

Washington wanted to attack just after daybreak but the crossing took longer than expected. By 6:00 A.M., the storm not abating, the conditions were miserable. One commander sent word that the men’s muskets would not fire due to being exposed to the elements. Washington sent word back to rely on the bayonet: “I am resolved to take Trenton.”5

Washington and his troops succeeded in taking Trenton, and they did so at a small cost to his small force.

But part of that cost was paid by Richard.

There aren’t any details of his death. Just a poignant and quiet statement by his brother David many years later when David applied for a pension:

In a few days after we joined the main army the battle of White Plains was fought. We retreated & recrossed the Deleware The next Battle was at Trenton the 26th of Decemb – I was guarding the Baggage during the battle & had a Brother by the name of Richard killd in that action.6

Less than 100 years later, in that terrible fight between North and South called the Civil War, most of my mother’s family wore Confederate grey — but not all of them. Some of my Battles cousins from Cherokee County, Alabama, were loyal to the Union, and proudly donned Union blue, joining the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry in 1863.

Isaac Battles and his cousins James, Russell and William F. Battles went off to war. Only Russell came home. Isaac, James and William F. Battles all perished, not in the war itself, but in the explosion and sinking of the steamer the Sultana in April 1865, with some 1700 or more other Union soldiers just freed from Confederate prisoner of war camps.

Their compiled military service records tell the story

• Isaac, “Killed or drowned by the explosion of Str Sultana, April 24th 1865.”7

• James, “Perished by the Explosion of the Steamer Sultana.”8

• William F., “Perished by the Explosion of the Steamer ‘Sultana.’”9

Giving their last full measure of devotion.

Then in the 20th century the family paid the price again, in the person of my mother’s cousin, Philip Cottrell.

Born in South Dakota 16 April 1920,10 to John W. Cottrell, my grandfather’s brother, and Abigail Claymore, John’s second wife,11 Philip was Abigail’s only child.12

He was a South Dakota Golden Gloves boxing champion and the first in his family to go to college, first attending the South Dakota State College in 1939-40 and then receiving an appointment by Rep. Francis Case, in 1941, to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.13

By 1942, however, Philip — like many enrolled in the nation’s service academies — had opted out of the classroom and into active duty, resigning from the Naval Academy in May 1942 in favor of the Marine Corp air wing. He wanted to fly — and he earned both his wings and a second lieutenant’s commission at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1943.14

He was assigned to a training squadron at the Mojave Marine Corps Air Station — a station which saw four pilots killed in training accidents between the 13th of August and the 7th of September in 1943.15

And the first to die in those terrible weeks… Philip Cottrell.

Philip’s roommate, Lieut. James Seay, told a local newspaper:

The squadron had gone up about 2:30 p.m. to get in a couple hours of target practice. Phil was piloting the tow plane. When he attempted to let out the long target sleeve, it became entangled and wouldn’t unfold. Having no target to shoot at, the squadron decided to go back to the base. Phil was to pull in the “sleeve” and follow them in. Apparently, the target was blown up against the side of the engine as Phil was hauling it toward the cockpit, and it became ignited. His plane afire, Lt. Cottrell had no choice but to jump. It is believed the fuselage of the plane struck him on the head as he leaped. He never pulled the ripcord.16

After ten hours of searching, his body was found “on the side of a mountain, several miles from his shattered plane.” His remains were returned to his South Dakota home, accompanied by Lt. Seay, and he was buried with military honors at the Greenwood cemetery in Mobridge.17

Three very different wars. In three very different times. And in three very different places.

But three stories with the same terrible ending: three terrible tales of members of my family giving their last full measure of devotion to the nation and for the freedom we all enjoy today.

I am so very grateful to them all, and honor them and all who died in the service of this country, here, on this Memorial Day 2015.


SOURCES

  1. Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,” 19 November 1863; Text at Abraham Lincoln Online (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/ : accessed 24 May 2015).
  2. John Scott Davenport, “Five-Generations Identified from the Pamunkey Family Patriarch, Namely Davis Davenport of King William County,” PDF, p. 27, in The Pamunkey Davenport Papers: The Saga of the Virginia Davenports Who Had Their Beginnings in or near Pamunkey Neck, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va.: Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009).
  3. Ibid.
  4. George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels & Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It (1957; reprint, New York : Da Capo Press, 1987), 211.
  5. Alan Axelrod, Profiles in Audacity: Great Decisions And How They Were Made (New York : Sterling Pub. Co., 2006), 218-219. See also Kevin Wright, “The Crossing and Battle at Trenton – 1776,” Bergen County Historical Society (http://www.bergencountyhistory.org : accessed 23 May 2014).
  6. Affidavit of Soldier, 26 September 1832; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, for service of David Baker (Corp., Capt. Thornton’s Co., 3rd Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, Fold3 (http://www.Fold3.com : accessed 28 Apr 2012), David Baker file, p. 4.
  7. Casualty Sheet, Compiled Military Service Record, Isaac Battles, Private, Company K, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, Civil War; Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Tennessee, microfilm publication M395, roll 22 (Washington, D.C. : National Archives & Records Services, 1963); Fold3 Isaac Battles file, p. 17.
  8. Ibid., James M. Battles, Private, Co. K, 3d Tenn. Cavalry; Fold 3 James M. Battles file, p. 20.
  9. Ibid., William F. Battles, Private, Co. K, 3d Tenn. Cavalry; Fold 3 William F. Battles file, p. 20.
  10. Crystal Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell,” South Dakota WWII Memorial (http://vetaffairs.sd.gov/sdwwiimemorial/default.htm : accessed 24 May 2015). Also, “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” entry for Philip Patrick Cottrell, 4 Aug 1943; database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 May 2012); citing California Death Index, 1940-1997, California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento.
  11. Walworth County, South Dakota, marriage certif. no. 4-44450, John Cottrell-Abigail Claymore, 9 Nov 1914; County Clerk’s Office, Mobridge.
  12. Sean Claymore, California, e-mail, to Judy G. Russell, New Jersey, 28 Jan 2005, “Abigail and Philip;” private held by Russell.
  13. Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell.”
  14. Ibid.
  15. “Accidents Occurring Between 1940 and Prior,” Aircraft Wrecks in Southern California (http://www.av.qnet.com/~carcomm/a.htm : accessed 24 May 2015).
  16. Bachman, “In Memory of Marine Lieutenant Philip Ellsworth Cottrell.”
  17. Ibid.
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