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Henry F. Clapp c.1870

Henry Fidelio Clapp

Civil War Veteran

The Story of his Escape from the Confederate Prisons

written by
Vivian Karen Bush



Henry Clapp was born 30 Mar 1836 to Agile L. and Julia Ann Francisco Clapp.   When three years old, the Clapp family moved to the town of Friendship, where Henry and his brothers and sister grew up helping on the family farm and attending the local school.

When war broke out, Henry, along with other young men of Friendship, including George M. Brown, Newell McElheney, George W. Kelly, Harvey McElheney and Michael Collins, joined the army forming Co. F of the 85th New York Volunteers Infantry under the Seneca Allen, a young Doctor from Allegany County.

The 85th saw action at the Siege of Yorktown, battles of Seven Pines, Fair Oaks, the Seven Day's Battle in Virginia, the expedition to Goldsboro, and many others.

On 12 April 1862, Henry was promoted to Colonel.   While stationed at Plymouth, North Carolina, he and his fellow soldiers were discharged and re-enlisted as Veteran Volunteers on January 1, 1863.   The battle of Plymouth, North Carolina was fought April 17-20, 1864.

Henry Clapp, though ill at the time, witnessed the battle of the ironclads. He tells the story in his own words:

“I was sick at the time with the diarrhea and did not take part in the battle, but along towards evening I went down to the privy near the river and while there one of our gun boats came up the river.   The rebels were shelling us and I stood near a tree watching the shells when the gun boat fired one of its heaviest guns and it seemed as if the shell came within a few feet of my head.   I was right close to the boat and the concussion was so great that I was thrown to the ground and partially stunned.”

His comrade and tent-mate, George M. Brown later remembered that he had seen Clapp watching the gunboats and fell when the shell shot over his head.   Thinking he had been hit, he ran to Clapp's aid, reaching him as he staggered to his feet.   He yelled, “Are you all right?” but hurried on without waiting for an answer.   He did not know that Henry could not hear him because of the roaring sound in his ears.   In fact, Henry could not hear anything for several days.   Henry joined his comrades at the brest-works, but the battle had been lost.   Most of the 85th, including all of Company F was captured.

The men were marched to Andersonville, where Henry spent the next ten months.   He suffered greatly while there.   Besides now being almost completely deaf, he had chronic rheumatism, stomach trouble and his eyes had become extremely sensitive to sunlight.   Many of the men, including, Henry became quickly mal-nourished and came down with scurvy.   Newel McElheney said, “Our sufferings were terrible while confined in Andersonville, Florence and the wonder is that we got home alive.   We were reduced to mere skeletons at the time we were exchanged.”

The officers were separated from the enlisted men and sent to Charleston. Later they were moved to Florence.   Henry's memory of that place was “where I suffered untold agonies, in the winter of 1864 and 1865.”   When shipped from Florence to Goldsborough in cattle cars, Henry with his comrade, Clark C. Knowlton of the 5th N.Y. Cavalry escaped.   In Henry's words, “I could not walk without the help of a cane, we were ten days getting through, we could only travel nights and hide daytimes, and five days and nights we were wet continually, on account of the big flood that was raging at that time.”   They approached a cabin inhabited by a black family and asked for food.   The people were fearful, but one of the men said he would go with them and guide them to the northern line.   They would have died without his help.   Henry did not know it, but at that time he was coming down with typhoid fever.   He later recalled, “The last night out I staggered and fell several times and finally gave out before daylight, and crawled into the woods and laid down to die.”

Their guide kept watch during the next day and saw some soldiers pass by.   He went back and told Henry and Clark.   Henry said, “We asked him, how they were dressed, and we knew by his description they were our Cavalry.   We told him to watch and if they came back, to tell them that were in the woods.”

“We were awakened about four o'clock in the afternoon, and to our great joy found ourselves surrounded by nine of the 12th N.Y. Cavalry.   For the space of ten minutes, seemingly, they stood speechless, gazing at the two horrible looking objects that we were.   After getting to my feet, which required the greatest effort, I was helped to the road where the rest of the Company were waiting.”

Henry and Clark were helped onto horses, but only able to ride a short distance in their weak state.   A cart was found and the men laid in it to finish the journey.   Henry fell into unconsciousness.   Evening was falling as they reached the outposts of Newberne.   The next morning they were placed in a buggy and taken to the hospital at Newberne.   The next sixteen days, Henry lay at death's door.   At the end of March 1865, all sick and wounded soldiers were ordered to be sent to their respective states.   They day he was to be shipped out, Henry came down with diphtheria.   The doctors were against sending him, fearing him to be too ill and weak to make it home alive.   Henry begged to go until they consented.   The only memory Henry has of the trip home was being given a drink of whiskey by the Captain of the boat.   He was taken to David's Island, New York, where he had a relapse.   It was quite some time before he was sent on to the hospital at Elmira.   As soon as he had recovered enough to get around, he was granted a furlough home to Friendship.   He was discharged on July 21st, 1875.

Henry never completely regained his health.   It was a year before he was able to do any work at all.   He would be laid up for weeks with chronic rheumatism, barely able to move.   He continued in his occupation of farming, but had to have a hired man for the heavier work.

In June of 1865, he went with his friend, Herman Searle to visit Searle's parents, William and Mary Ann Currier at Cuba, New York.   In 1870 he married Henry's sister, Lucy Ola Searle.   They had three daughters, Ella, Daisy and Cecil.   Henry became an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic attending meetings and conventions.   Henry Clapp died 3 February 1920 and is buried in the Black Creek Cemetery.


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Last updated on July 10, 2006
© copyright Vivian Karen Bush
This page is part of the Allegany County, New York GenWeb Site and is not affiliated with any other society or organization.