CAMP AX OF ALBERT H. HILL - 4th RHODE ISLAND, 7th RHODE ISLAND, DETACHED SERVICE WITH BATTERY A 1st PA ARTILLERY

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Camp axes were privately purchased by soldiers for common chores like chopping firewood when in winter camps or even barracks. This one nicely carved on the handle by the soldier with his name, likely as a commemorative piece for display on the wall with other service mementos since his name is not only carved very artistically, but with the addition of a woman holding up a baby. This is hardly appropriate for a camp ax or hatchet, but nicely evokes the common Civil War motif, shown often in sentimental engravings, of the soldier in camp dreaming about his home and family. It also fits in with the Victorian notion that even such mundane things when displayed in the home should also be decorative- hence the flowers painted on everything from whiskey flasks to cap pouches. In this case the puffed sleeves on dress of the woman and child suggest a date around 1890 or so, just when the twenty-fifth anniversary of the war brought it back to the forefront of public awareness.

The veteran nicely carved his name in slanting block letters, “ALBERT H. HILL.” We find him with service in two Rhode Island regiments and a brief detached service with a Pennsylvania artillery battery. He was a resident of Scituate, RI, who enrolled July 1, 1862, mustering in the same day as a private in Co. C of the 4th Rhode Island Infantry, and serving with it until they mustered out in October 1864, when he transferred to Pennsylvania artillery battery until December, when he went into the 7th Rhode Island to the end of the war.

The 4th Rhode Island had organized in Fall 1861 and had seen action, and taken losses, with Burnside on the North Carolina coast. Hill joined them as Burnside took the 9th Corps to join McClellan in Virginia, and was with during the time they fought at South Mountain and Antietam, losing 102 killed and wounded, and 7 captured, and then fought again at Fredericksburg. and in February went to Fortress Monroe and Newport News and in March was involved in operations around Suffolk and in June in demonstrations against Richmond to take advantage of Lee’s absence on the Gettysburg campaign. From July 1863 to March 1864, they were stationed near Portsmouth, VA, perhaps marking Hill’s acquisition of the camp ax since they occupied winter quarters described as “log and slab houses.” In July they were back with the 9th Corps at Petersburg, taking part in the Battle of the Crater, losing 94 officers and men.

 

Hill had signed up for three years service when he enlisted so he was retained in service when they mustered out in October 1864, and he was placed “on detached service in Battery A, 1st PA. Art., and so borne until Dec., 1864.” He was officially transferred to Co. D, 7th Rhode Island by an order dated October 21, 1864, but does get picked up in their records until Feb. 1, 1865. Other records, however, state he went into the artillery battery on October 15 and into the 7th Rhode Island on December 16. In any case he would have seen service in the trenches at Richmond and Petersburg. The Pennsylvania battery was serving in the Army of the James and the 7th Rhode Island was in the 9th Corps and from December onward garrisoned Fort Sedgwick, which gained the nickname “Fort Hell,” being on constant alert, standing “at the breast works the latter part of every night,” and under continuing fire from enemy pickets, close enough to “carry on conversation in an ordinary tone of voice.” They witnessed the fighting at Fort Steadman in late March and were not in the front lines of the final assault in April, but nevertheless lost 3 officers and 11 men killed or wounded supporting the assault. They were posted briefly at Farmville after the surrender, took part in the Grand Review in May, and mustered out on June 9.

Hill seems to have been born in Windham County, CT, 9 June 1841, but living in Scituate when the war started. An 1865 census of Scituate lists him as 23 years old and born in Connecticut.  By 1870 he was back in Connecticut and listed as a brick mason. He applied for an invalid pension in 1895 and died in September 1901. His wife applied for a widow’s pension and lived until 1920. A cursory search shows seven children, one of whom lived until 1959. His cemetery listing online mistakenly attributes his military service to Co. D 7th Connecticut.

This is nice example of a soldier’s personal gear.  [sr][ph:L]

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