Artifact Corner: Frank Hall’s Saddle

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at Frank Hall’s Civil War saddle. Frank Hall was married to Fannie Delord Webb Hall in May of 1856. The young couple took a long honeymoon in Europe and then settled in Luzerne, NY. Frank had studied theology at Princeton University, and was offered a pulpit in Luzerne. But, in May of 1861 the Civil War broke out. The 16th NY Volunteer Regiment was one of the first to be mustered in New York State. When the war began, they were one of the first regiments to be shipped out. For every 100 soldiers, there was supposed to be a chaplain, although this was not always possible. By the Fall of 1862 the 16th NY’s chaplain had resigned due to illness. Frank Hall was nominated by the men to be their new chaplain, and the invitation was sent to Frank. He mulled this decision over and decided he needed to serve his country. By the end of 1862, Frank was headed to war.

Normally at this point I would be discussing something about the history of saddles or talking about some of the battles Frank was witness to, but, for this Artifact Corner, I thought we’d let Frank speak for himself. He wrote home to Fannie, and we have so many letters from Frank during this period. His writing was very matter of fact, and often he was writing on horseback while battles were happening. Some of his sentences feel disjointed, but are almost like stage direction. So, here is what Frank saw from his saddle while serving the men of the 16th NY.

Dec. 12th, 1862
Waiting to cross the Rappahannock writing on horseback right by the side of the Major.

The musketry at the upper pontoon bridge has just commenced and the heavy batteries have just boomed and oh what a scene. Over this vast plain the multitude are spread and waiting to cross artillery, cavalry & infantry everywhere. Oh how those guns sound. We are crossing under the cover of a mist but the sun shining brightly all the while.
Oh How beautiful it was, but night, beautiful, no! Wartime. We came down in heavy columns from the woods to cross and several regiments were thrown across followed by the thundering wheels of the artillery regiments. But in the first regiments their pickets they came suddenly upon the enemy. Live of battle – we are starting – we are waiting on the bridge – just over Gen. Franklin just past – we are forming in line of battle & oh what a scene in this waste plain………

Fredericksburg in flames and wild confusion of whirling platoons and heavy cannon………it was perfect uproar, but my splendid horse Zollicoffer, it seems as if I could put anywhere. He is perfectly trained. Oh, if you had seen the signal fire from hill top to hill top last night. The whirling half circles of light & the return from the signal corps past over. Oh it was beyond description…… Our skirmishers are out in front of us. Now we move. There, just over there, a shell has burst, a beautiful little cloud of smoke against the blue sky.

The old chaplain of the fifth Maine regiment has just ridden up to me and handed me an unexploded shell. I have just ridden over & am standing by the side of a dead rebel, his head is all torn open. Poor man, he has paid the penalty. Now I am standing by the body of another, fuse burned up – & there is a dead horse – now I am by another dead body, who they say is an officer – work will commence soon – ………

We marched down to White Oak Church & then to the banks of the Rappahannock. We halted some time at White Oak Church – The old Chaplain of the 5th Maine has just come up to me with the fly leaves of a bible taken from the knapsack of one of the dead rebels to the right & he has read to us 3 verses of the 26th chap of Deut. From the blood stained leaves.

A squadron of cavalry has just past & my man Edo Winslow has just moments ago picked up a sword bayonet. Our Colonel has just cried out “Premiers to the front.” There, way off to the left go an immense body of our cavalry – There is a fellow looking through his glass, resting it on the back of a fellow soldier. The soldiers are all laying down or sitting, & the skirmishers are going steadily forward, cautiously.

The cannons booming most fearfully, up here where they were then laying the bridge. The colonel and I had ridden up together (now the skirmishers are firing briskly. Now we are not sure whether we are going to have another Antietam or whether the rebels have already, or are going to skedaddle).

Frank’s time in the Civil War, albeit brief (he only served a little over six months), really stayed with him. When he left the 16th NY volunteers he brought home all of his gear, including his horse and saddle. During the Civil War only two chaplains received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during the war. Frank Hall was one of them, for his work bringing injured soldiers off the front lines. This saddle has seen better days. The leather is deteriorating, but that will happen after almost 160 years. It is a reminder of the invaluable service that non-combatants offered during the American Civil War. If you’d like to learn more about Frank’s time in the Civil War and read all of his journals and letters, we have them compiled in a book that is available for purchase on our website. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,