Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War


The Battle of Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862. From an early draft of
Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War:

Charlie Robbins [of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the “Fighting Bucktails”] ran harder than he ever had in his life and tried to spring over one of those ditches. It was too wide, and he thumped hard into the ditch. Stunned and bruised, he looked back and saw the enemy swarming toward him. Running was useless now. He hunkered in the ditch and awaited inevitable capture. Others had beaten him to this exposed hiding place and more leaped in. To his amazement, some of them were Rebels he assumed were trying to desert. Charlie braved another glance over the top of the ditch, and saw Angelo [Crapsey] running toward him. “He was completely done out,” Robbins recalled, “and could not run as the rest did to get away from the rebels.” Miraculously, Robbins escaped capture to report Angelo’s “wounding.” Angelo must have been wounded, Charlie assumed. Angelo would never give up no matter how stacked the odds against him.

But he had. The lad who vowed never to compromise threw up his hands and shouted, “I surrender!” A bullet would have been more merciful. At least then Angelo Crapsey would have died gloriously.


Source: Crapsey, Angelo. Photograph. C. 1863. Digital copy from the Faces of the Pennsylvania Reserves website [http://www.pareserves.com/PRVCGALLERY/details.php?image_id=559]. Original photograph’s whereabouts unknown. 2008.

Angelo M. CRAPSEY was the stepson of my 4th-great-grandmother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY. He was raised with Viola Gertrude (PECK) ROBBINS, my 3rd-great-grandmother, and served in Company I of the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry, later the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves with his childhood friend, Charles H. ROBBINS, who would become my 3rd-great-grandfather. Known as the “Fighting Bucktails” because of their reputation as sharpshooters, the 13th Reserves were often attached to other regiments in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gettysburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Angelo was interred in the infamous Libby Prison, and was released before the end of the war. His incarceration horribly affected him, and for the rest of his short life, he engaged in one suicide attempt after another, finally succeeding on 4 August 1864, at the age of 21.

While researching the the intriguing story of Angelo Crapsey, Dennis W. Brandt read the many letters Angelo wrote during his war days, along with educating himself about the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry/13th Pennsylvania Reserves and the Pennsylvania communities of Roulette, Potter County and Smethport, McKean County. I am indebted to him for his research on the Robbins, Peck, and Jackson families, which he generously shared with me. He is also the author of From Home Guards to Heroes: The 87th Pennsylvania And Its Civil War Community (2006, University of Missouri Press; the Shades of Blue and Gray Series).

Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War has been recently published by Lehigh University Press and is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A Civil War Soldier: Sgt. Angelo M. CRAPSEY (1842 – 1864)



Source: Crapsey, Angelo. Photograph. C. 1863. Digital copy from the Faces of the Pennsylvania Reserves website [http://www.pareserves.com/PRVCGALLERY/details.php?image_id=559]. Original photograph’s whereabouts unknown. 2008.


How Related:
Step-brother of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Viola Gertrude PECK; best friend and step-brother-in-law of my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles H. ROBBINS

Born: 9 Dec 1942, New York

Parents: only child of Rev. John CRAPSEY, Jr. (1816 – 1903) and Mercy Rhuama “Mary” (BARNUM) FRANTZ (c. 1822 – 1952); step-mother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY (1826 – bef. 1900)

Siblings: Older maternal half-sisters Catherine (b. 1833), Anna Maria (b. c. 1835), and Ann Orilla FRANTZ (b. c. 1838); younger paternal half-siblings Alice (b. 1855), William Merrick “Willie” (1858 – 1946), Harriet, a.k.a. Hattie/Suky (b. 1860), and George Bayard CRAPSEY (1863 – 1943); step-sister Viola Gertrude PECK (1848 – 1918)

Married: never

Children: none

Enlisted: 30 May 1861 at Port Allegany, McKean Co., Pennsylvania in Company I, 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry (a.k.a “The Bucktails”); private. Promoted to full corporal. Promoted to full sergeant.

Side Served: Union

History of Unit: See the history of the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry (also known as the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves), including battles and rosters, here and here.

Discharged: 15 October 1863

Source: Libby Prison, 1865. Photograph number B-119. Matthew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs. National Archives and Records Administration. Publication T252. Viewed at and downloaded from Footnote [http://www.footnote.com/] 16 Apr 2008.


Biography or Information of Interest:
Angelo’s widowed father married my widowed 3rd-great-grandmother, and thus he was raised with my 2nd-great-grandmother as step-siblings. When the Civil War began, Angelo enlisted, followed not long after by his best friend, my 2nd-great-grandfather Charles Robbins, who after the war, would marry Angelo’s step-sister.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Angelo was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned in the infamous Libby Prison on Richmond, Virginia. The deplorable conditions combined with shell-shock caused Angelo to lose his mind. When he returned to his community and family in Port Allegany, McKean County and Roulette, Potter County, he was suicidal and had to be watched continuously. Tragically, his attempts eventually were successful when he managed to get a hold of a gun.

His father later applied for his veteran’s pension. The pension application is full of details pertinent to my families, as his father, step-mother, step-sister and several Robbins family members gave their testimonies to his war experiences.

Source: Civil War Pension Index Card of Angelo M. Crapsey. Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900. National Archives and Records Administration. Publication T289. Digital image purchased at Footnote [http://www.footnote.com/].

Angelo’s is one of many, many tragic stories of the Civil War, and a reminder that not all men who die as a result of war die in battle. The complete fascinating story waits to be told in the as-yet-unpublished historical novel by Dennis W. Brandt.

Died: 4 Aug 1864 (age 21), Roulette, Potter Co., Pennsylvania, due to self-inflicted gunshot

Buried: Lyman Cemetery, Roulette, Potter Co., Pennsylvania

A Civil War Soldier: Sgt. Angelo M. CRAPSEY (1842 – 1864)



Source: Crapsey, Angelo. Photograph. C. 1863. Digital copy from the Faces of the Pennsylvania Reserves website [http://www.pareserves.com/PRVCGALLERY/details.php?image_id=559]. Original photograph’s whereabouts unknown. 2008.


How Related:
Step-brother of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Viola Gertrude PECK; best friend and step-brother-in-law of my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles H. ROBBINS

Born: 9 Dec 1942, New York

Parents: only child of Rev. John CRAPSEY, Jr. (1816 – 1903) and Mercy Rhuama “Mary” (BARNUM) FRANTZ (c. 1822 – 1952); step-mother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY (1826 – bef. 1900)

Siblings: Older maternal half-sisters Catherine (b. 1833), Anna Maria (b. c. 1835), and Ann Orilla FRANTZ (b. c. 1838); younger paternal half-siblings Alice (b. 1855), William Merrick “Willie” (1858 – 1946), Harriet, a.k.a. Hattie/Suky (b. 1860), and George Bayard CRAPSEY (1863 – 1943); step-sister Viola Gertrude PECK (1848 – 1918)

Married: never

Children: none

Enlisted: 30 May 1861 at Port Allegany, McKean Co., Pennsylvania in Company I, 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry (a.k.a “The Bucktails”); private. Promoted to full corporal. Promoted to full sergeant.

Side Served: Union

History of Unit: See the history of the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry (also known as the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves), including battles and rosters, here and here.

Discharged: 15 October 1863

Source: Libby Prison, 1865. Photograph number B-119. Matthew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs. National Archives and Records Administration. Publication T252. Viewed at and downloaded from Footnote [http://www.footnote.com/] 16 Apr 2008.


Biography or Information of Interest:
Angelo’s widowed father married my widowed 3rd-great-grandmother, and thus he was raised with my 2nd-great-grandmother as step-siblings. When the Civil War began, Angelo enlisted, followed not long after by his best friend, my 2nd-great-grandfather Charles Robbins, who after the war, would marry Angelo’s step-sister.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Angelo was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned in the infamous Libby Prison on Richmond, Virginia. The deplorable conditions combined with shell-shock caused Angelo to lose his mind. When he returned to his community and family in Port Allegany, McKean County and Roulette, Potter County, he was suicidal and had to be watched continuously. Tragically, his attempts eventually were successful when he managed to get a hold of a gun.

His father later applied for his veteran’s pension. The pension application is full of details pertinent to my families, as his father, step-mother, step-sister and several Robbins family members gave their testimonies to his war experiences.

Source: Civil War Pension Index Card of Angelo M. Crapsey. Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900. National Archives and Records Administration. Publication T289. Digital image purchased at Footnote [http://www.footnote.com/].

Angelo’s is one of many, many tragic stories of the Civil War, and a reminder that not all men who die as a result of war die in battle. The complete fascinating story waits to be told in the as-yet-unpublished historical novel by Dennis W. Brandt.

Died: 4 Aug 1864 (age 21), Roulette, Potter Co., Pennsylvania, due to self-inflicted gunshot

Buried: Lyman Cemetery, Roulette, Potter Co., Pennsylvania

"Granddad is Back from the West"

In a letter dated 25 and 27 September 1918 to her son, William Bryan ROBBINS, stationed overseas in North Russia near the end of World War One, his mother, Mary May KIMBALL (a.k.a. Lula WEAVER) wrote “granddad is back from the west, but have not seen him.”

In all likelihood, this was Lula’s father-in-law, Charles H. ROBBINS, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife, Viola Gertrude PECK, that March. It was very likely that Charles had been visiting his brothers, Benson and Lee (sometimes spelled Lea), out West.

One of the first genealogical misconceptions I had–and later straighted out–was that Charles’ brother, Joseph Uzza Benson ROBBINS, who also was a Civil War veteran, lived in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The basis behind this was that I had come across the family history which stated “Benson was also a Civil War veteran who lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington.” For the life of me, I can’t remember just how I realized my mistake…possibly when a descendant of Benson’s step-daughter contacted me. Yes, he had lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington. But, to clarify, he had lived in Washington State and was buried in a cemetery in the city of Arlington, Washington! As a Washington resident, I’m so used to people mistaking my residence for D.C….it gets quite annoying. Yet I made the same error!

Benson wasn’t the only one who lived out West. Brother Benjamin Leader ROBBINS–“Lee” or “Lea”–also lived out here. In fact, he lived not far from my own present home, up in Stevens County, where he died in 1929.

I’m still researching Lee’s descendants, hoping to find some living ones. When we moved to the area, we noticed a “Robbins Resort” at one of the major lakes in the area, and joked that we were related. That’s not so far-fetched, as that lake is located in the same county as Lee’s final residence! Benson had step-children, so I haven’t pursued those generations too far. It’s kind of interesting thinking that my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles probably came through Spokane on a train headed to visit his brothers, although I don’t have their definite residences in 1918. Benson was living in Edgecombe Township, Snohomish County in 1910, and was in the Veterans Home in Retsil, Kitsap County in 1920. Lee was in Arlington, Snohomish County in 1910, and near Stengar Mountain in Stevens County in 1920. Either way, the main train routes for the state come through Spokane.

Among the scanned treasures that I received from my aunt was a photograph of Charles and Viola, either an original or a very good print made from the original. What I had before was 2nd- and 3rd-hand photocopies, which can be seen on Charles’ AnceStories page on my website here. Compare the quality to the photo below:

"Granddad is Back from the West"

In a letter dated 25 and 27 September 1918 to her son, William Bryan ROBBINS, stationed overseas in North Russia near the end of World War One, his mother, Mary May KIMBALL (a.k.a. Lula WEAVER) wrote “granddad is back from the west, but have not seen him.”

In all likelihood, this was Lula’s father-in-law, Charles H. ROBBINS, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife, Viola Gertrude PECK, that March. It was very likely that Charles had been visiting his brothers, Benson and Lee (sometimes spelled Lea), out West.

One of the first genealogical misconceptions I had–and later straighted out–was that Charles’ brother, Joseph Uzza Benson ROBBINS, who also was a Civil War veteran, lived in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The basis behind this was that I had come across the family history which stated “Benson was also a Civil War veteran who lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington.” For the life of me, I can’t remember just how I realized my mistake…possibly when a descendant of Benson’s step-daughter contacted me. Yes, he had lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington. But, to clarify, he had lived in Washington State and was buried in a cemetery in the city of Arlington, Washington! As a Washington resident, I’m so used to people mistaking my residence for D.C….it gets quite annoying. Yet I made the same error!

Benson wasn’t the only one who lived out West. Brother Benjamin Leader ROBBINS–“Lee” or “Lea”–also lived out here. In fact, he lived not far from my own present home, up in Stevens County, where he died in 1929.

I’m still researching Lee’s descendants, hoping to find some living ones. When we moved to the area, we noticed a “Robbins Resort” at one of the major lakes in the area, and joked that we were related. That’s not so far-fetched, as that lake is located in the same county as Lee’s final residence! Benson had step-children, so I haven’t pursued those generations too far. It’s kind of interesting thinking that my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles probably came through Spokane on a train headed to visit his brothers, although I don’t have their definite residences in 1918. Benson was living in Edgecombe Township, Snohomish County in 1910, and was in the Veterans Home in Retsil, Kitsap County in 1920. Lee was in Arlington, Snohomish County in 1910, and near Stengar Mountain in Stevens County in 1920. Either way, the main train routes for the state come through Spokane.

Among the scanned treasures that I received from my aunt was a photograph of Charles and Viola, either an original or a very good print made from the original. What I had before was 2nd- and 3rd-hand photocopies, which can be seen on Charles’ AnceStories page on my website here. Compare the quality to the photo below:

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day

Three years ago, my husband, children and I traveled across the state of Washington to spend Memorial Day weekend with my in-laws in Vancouver, Washington, which lies just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. I always enjoy this cross-state visit, as the longest leg of it–driving along the Columbia River on the Oregon side–follows both the Lewis and Clark trail and the Oregon Trail. I enjoy imaging the explorers and pioneers traveling the same route, and seeing Mt. Hood towering in the distance.

While in Vancouver, we went with Norm’s parents and sister to Park Hill Cemetery in Vancouver, to visit and photograph the MIDKIFF, TOLLIVER, DAVES (step-ancestor), LUKE, and CHAPLIN graves. The following year, 2005, we made the same trip, and I insisted that we were going to travel down to the Willamette Valley to visit and photograph the grave of one of Norm’s great-great-grandmothers, Rebecca Catherine (SNOOK) WESTABY, buried in Salem, as well as the graves of my great-great-grandparents, Charles Frisbe STRONG and his wife, Mary Lucy WRIGHT. Charles and Mary are two of only four of my ancestors buried west of the Mississippi River, and the other two are nowhere near my home! My paternal grandfather, Robert Lewis ROBBINS is buried at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, and a 4th-great-grandmother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY, is apparently buried in St. Paul, Minnesota. So to actually be able to be within a few hours of an ancestor’s grave is a big deal to me, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

When we arrived at Belle Passi Cemetery in Woodburn, Marion Co., Oregon, where Charles and Mary are buried, we found that the graves had already been cleaned and decorated. They were surrounded by other graves, obviously of the family of their daughter, Ethel Melissa (STRONG) HASTIE, who is buried there along with her husband, the Rev. Ezbon Roy HASTIE. I remember visiting the widowed Aunt Ethel in 1979, when we first moved to Washington State, and remembered meeting her son.

We were rather rushed on that visit, and so I didn’t have time to try to find out how to contact the family. But on the way home, I had a couple of ideas that could work for you to help you connect with cousins on Memorial Day. Obviously, I could have looked up the Hastie family in the phone book in Woodburn, or on Dex Knows when I got home. But what if you are looking for descendants of an ancestor, yet you don’t know your cousins’ surnames?

First off, you need to know where your ancestor is buried. If their grave is in your hometown or nearby, you’re in luck. If you are like myself and live far from your ancestral cemeteries, it’s important to obtain death certificates and/or obituaries of your ancestors to determine their final resting places. I use Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness quite frequently to get obituaries of ancestors. They’re easier and less expensive to access than death certificates. Once I have the name of a cemetery in hand, I use Find A Grave, Interment.net, Dex Knows, or Cemetery Junction to find an address and telephone number (check out Cyndi’s List of Cemeteries as well).

My next step is to cold call the cemetery office during local business hours. I have had so much luck with this! You would be amazed at how helpful cemetery employees are! From phone interviews I have discovered the names of other ancestors and relatives buried in the same cemetery, the names of the funeral homes that provided services (I’ll post more about this in the future), the names and addresses of the lot owners (which may be obsolete, but may provide relatives’ names). I always try to obtain the lot number of the grave(s) I am interested in, and sometimes the employee will mail me a cemetery map. I ask the cemetery employee if it’s okay to send them an info packet that they could place on my ancestor’s grave (see following paragraph). In fact, I have been so successful in this type of research, that I’ve created a form that I use to help me remember all the questions I want to ask when I call.

The fourth step is to write a letter explaining that I am a descendant of the ancestor buried in that cemetery, and that I am doing genealogical research on the family. I leave contact information: a phone number, mailing address and e-mail address. This letter is folded and sealed in a zip-lock bag and then placed in an envelope which is addressed either to the cemetery office or to a volunteer in the area that I’ve contacted through the local genealogical society or Random Acts. The cemetery employee or the volunteer can then place the info packet (my letter in a zip-lock bag) on the grave, hopefully weighted with a small rock or wedged into a crevice of the headstone, so it won’t blow away. If this is done about a week before Memorial Day weekend, there’s a chance that I could connect with another descendant of that ancestor who has come to the cemetery to clean and decorate the grave! If the cemetery doesn’t allow an info packet left on the grave itself, ask if your letter could be placed in your ancestor’s file at the office.

So what’s the purpose of this? To hopefully connect with other relatives of a common ancestor and exchange information…photos, documents, stories, etc. It’s likely that the two of you have missing information that the other may be seeking. Perhaps you’ll break down a brick wall! Memorial Day weekend is only two weeks away, so I hope you’ll take advantage of this tip. Good luck to you!

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day

Three years ago, my husband, children and I traveled across the state of Washington to spend Memorial Day weekend with my in-laws in Vancouver, Washington, which lies just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. I always enjoy this cross-state visit, as the longest leg of it–driving along the Columbia River on the Oregon side–follows both the Lewis and Clark trail and the Oregon Trail. I enjoy imaging the explorers and pioneers traveling the same route, and seeing Mt. Hood towering in the distance.

While in Vancouver, we went with Norm’s parents and sister to Park Hill Cemetery in Vancouver, to visit and photograph the MIDKIFF, TOLLIVER, DAVES (step-ancestor), LUKE, and CHAPLIN graves. The following year, 2005, we made the same trip, and I insisted that we were going to travel down to the Willamette Valley to visit and photograph the grave of one of Norm’s great-great-grandmothers, Rebecca Catherine (SNOOK) WESTABY, buried in Salem, as well as the graves of my great-great-grandparents, Charles Frisbe STRONG and his wife, Mary Lucy WRIGHT. Charles and Mary are two of only four of my ancestors buried west of the Mississippi River, and the other two are nowhere near my home! My paternal grandfather, Robert Lewis ROBBINS is buried at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, and a 4th-great-grandmother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY, is apparently buried in St. Paul, Minnesota. So to actually be able to be within a few hours of an ancestor’s grave is a big deal to me, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

When we arrived at Belle Passi Cemetery in Woodburn, Marion Co., Oregon, where Charles and Mary are buried, we found that the graves had already been cleaned and decorated. They were surrounded by other graves, obviously of the family of their daughter, Ethel Melissa (STRONG) HASTIE, who is buried there along with her husband, the Rev. Ezbon Roy HASTIE. I remember visiting the widowed Aunt Ethel in 1979, when we first moved to Washington State, and remembered meeting her son.

We were rather rushed on that visit, and so I didn’t have time to try to find out how to contact the family. But on the way home, I had a couple of ideas that could work for you to help you connect with cousins on Memorial Day. Obviously, I could have looked up the Hastie family in the phone book in Woodburn, or on Dex Knows when I got home. But what if you are looking for descendants of an ancestor, yet you don’t know your cousins’ surnames?

First off, you need to know where your ancestor is buried. If their grave is in your hometown or nearby, you’re in luck. If you are like myself and live far from your ancestral cemeteries, it’s important to obtain death certificates and/or obituaries of your ancestors to determine their final resting places. I use Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness quite frequently to get obituaries of ancestors. They’re easier and less expensive to access than death certificates. Once I have the name of a cemetery in hand, I use Find A Grave, Interment.net, Dex Knows, or Cemetery Junction to find an address and telephone number (check out Cyndi’s List of Cemeteries as well).

My next step is to cold call the cemetery office during local business hours. I have had so much luck with this! You would be amazed at how helpful cemetery employees are! From phone interviews I have discovered the names of other ancestors and relatives buried in the same cemetery, the names of the funeral homes that provided services (I’ll post more about this in the future), the names and addresses of the lot owners (which may be obsolete, but may provide relatives’ names). I always try to obtain the lot number of the grave(s) I am interested in, and sometimes the employee will mail me a cemetery map. I ask the cemetery employee if it’s okay to send them an info packet that they could place on my ancestor’s grave (see following paragraph). In fact, I have been so successful in this type of research, that I’ve created a form that I use to help me remember all the questions I want to ask when I call.

The fourth step is to write a letter explaining that I am a descendant of the ancestor buried in that cemetery, and that I am doing genealogical research on the family. I leave contact information: a phone number, mailing address and e-mail address. This letter is folded and sealed in a zip-lock bag and then placed in an envelope which is addressed either to the cemetery office or to a volunteer in the area that I’ve contacted through the local genealogical society or Random Acts. The cemetery employee or the volunteer can then place the info packet (my letter in a zip-lock bag) on the grave, hopefully weighted with a small rock or wedged into a crevice of the headstone, so it won’t blow away. If this is done about a week before Memorial Day weekend, there’s a chance that I could connect with another descendant of that ancestor who has come to the cemetery to clean and decorate the grave! If the cemetery doesn’t allow an info packet left on the grave itself, ask if your letter could be placed in your ancestor’s file at the office.

So what’s the purpose of this? To hopefully connect with other relatives of a common ancestor and exchange information…photos, documents, stories, etc. It’s likely that the two of you have missing information that the other may be seeking. Perhaps you’ll break down a brick wall! Memorial Day weekend is only two weeks away, so I hope you’ll take advantage of this tip. Good luck to you!