The Search for Charles Bush

by Michael A. Ryan, Brockport, NY

I started looking for Charles Bush, who, according to a local history of the Cortland County Town of Taylor, enlisted with the 76th New York Volunteers. According to that history he was related to Mildred Bush Ryan, our paternal grandmother.

Records from the National Archives put Charles as 21 years old when he enlisted with Co. B, 76th NYS Volunteers on October 12, 1861 at Cortland, NY. Born in Truxton, NY, he was described on state rolls as a farmer, 5’ 8" tall, of light complexion and having blue eyes and brown hair.

The regimental history by A.P. Smith, published in 1866, listed him as wounded in action at Gettysburg, captured, and died in the hands of the enemy at Andersonville. The local history all but admits to using this as its source as well.Charles Bush’s military records contradict this history.

Charles was not wounded or captured at Gettysburg. Indeed, he was not with the regiment at all on July 1, 1863. The 76th NY participated at Gettysburg during all three days of the battle, but hospital muster rolls show Charles in the Lincoln USA General Hospital in Washington, DC.

Charles was hospitalized on numerous occasions during his enlistment, including the occasion when his regiment fought at South Mountain preceding the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Antietam itself, and Fredericksburg in December of that year.

Muster rolls show him present with the regiment in August 1862 during the days leading up to Second Bull Run. He was apparently present during the regiment's participation at Gainesville, VA where the Cortland County men distinguished themselves as a part of the Army of the Potomac in a bloody encounter near the Brawner Farm where they fought alongside the famed Iron Brigade.

On August 28th the 76th NY was again in action, this time in a toe-to-toe slugfest against Stonewall Jackson in the fight near Groveton. The 76th NY and 56th PA were ordered forward and came up in time to plug a gap between the 6th and 7th WI.

In this particular engagement Stonewall's Confederates were not able to drive the Federals from the field and at least one source credits the timely movement and tenacity of the 76th NY and 56th PA with saving the Iron Brigade itself. It was a confusing fight that lasted into darkness and after which many of the men, including Charles, were listed as missing in action.

He would reappear, however, in the hospital, and ultimately return to the regiment to be present during the battle of Chancellorsville. The 76th was but lightly engaged in that battle and the next major conflict Charles would see would be the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864. It would be the last record of him to date.

On May 4, 1864, Charles Bush, Co. B, 76th NY Volunteers was listed as missing in action in the Wilderness. No further record of him has so far been found. The 76th NY lost in killed, mortally wounded, wounded, and missing 282 men during the Wilderness engagement. Of those, many undoubtedly suffered the terrible fate of so many troops left on the field. Portions of the Wilderness set ablaze by musket fire became raging infernos from which none escaped.

It's possible that Charles availed himself of the opportunity to go home without the formality of his discharge -he being at the time only a few months away from the expiration of his enlistment -or perhaps more tragically he was truly lost in the fire and smoke.

He was transferred on paper to the 147th NY Co. A when the 76th was mustered out, and he is listed as absent at parole camp at Annapolis, MD when the 147th mustered out.

At the end of the war Charles had been paid $25.00 of his enlistment bounty. He was still owed $75.00. There is no record to date of any survivors filing for a pension as was common after the war.

I had always harbored the suspicion and the hope that no such request was ever filed because Charles didn't die. Even if he deserted - and his records never bore that entry - I hoped that, somehow, he survived and made it home.

A list from the Assessors Roll for the year 1866 for the Town of Taylor included the name of Bush on three entries. Though none was Charles, he might not have owned land himself so soon after returning. He might never have owned land if he wished to avoid taxes and avoid notice in the event he was never properly discharged. An 1890 list of pensioners in the Town of Taylor also does not include Charles.

- From the January 1999 issue of the Guidon, newsletter of the Major Grover Civil War Roundtable. 
For more information, contact editor
Mike Brown

Letter from Charles Bush, private in Co. B, 76th NY Volunteer Infantry to his sister. 

Charles, age 21, enlisted on October 12, 1861, at Cortland, to serve three years. He was mustered on October 17, 1861 and was captured in action August 29, 1862, near Bull Run, Va. and again on May 5, 1864 at the Wilderness, Va. Charles died in Florence Prison Stockade, Florence, SC in or about October 1864 as reported by a man of the regiment. Charles' letter gives a glimpse of how he felt after two years in the army. He liked it all right, but he was getting tired of it and wanted to get out at the end of his enlistment which would have been October 1864. It is sad that he never lived to make it. Charles refers to being at Davids Island, New York Harbor. I believe that he had been sick and was being treated at De Camp General Hospital. At this time I cannot prove this theory for certain. This letter is in the collection of B. Conrad Bush. Charles was not a good speller and his letter had only one comma for punctuation.

Sunday the 24 (January)
Camp Near Culpeper 1864

Dear Sister it is with much plashare that i rite you a few lines to let you no that i am well at presant and enjoying myself as well as can be expected under the presant circombstances our rigment is doing picket duty mostly this winter i have bin out on picket 3 times since i have bin back to the rigment i am as fat as a bair this winter Soldiren agrees with me first rate at presant i weigh 167 pounds i was weighed last Thursday, we have got good winter quarters hear i have got a log house and 4 in family, but our rations is rather slim the most of the boys that com out when i did is re inlisted but i haint and that hait (sic) all i shant for unckle Sam haint got money enough to hire me again i will be glad when fall comes and if i live till that time i am agoing to se you all i roat you a letter when i was on davids island, but i never resived any answer and i dident no whether you got mine or not i don’t think of any more at presant rite to me as soon as you git this if you pleas and oblige me. Charles Bush

To Mrs Mary E. Cross

Direct thus Charles Bush
Co. B. 76 Regt NYSV
Washington DC

- Letter transcribed and information compiled by B. Conrad Bush.

Note: According to the affidavit of William Jarvis Crozier, Charles Bush died while a prisoner of war in Florence, S.C.

Additional information received June 18, 2013
from website reader George F. Snell III

I read your article on Charles Bush of the 76th called "The Search for Charles Bush." I have my great great grandfather's Civil War diary. He was a corporal in the Third Maine Regiment and was captured at Wilderness.

He was assigned to a squad with Charles Bush and other members of the 76th while at Florence.  At the end of his diary, he tallies the fate of the men in his Florence squad and lists Bush as being dead.

So you know have additional evidence that Bush was at Florence and died there.

Very Best,

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- Last Updated March 17, 2002