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Civil War began a little too early for one soldier

By Kenton Robinson

Publication: The Day

Published April 10. 2011 4:00AM   Updated April 27. 2011 11:37AM
Courtesy the New London County Historical Society
Undated photo of Capt. Daniel Loosley of New London who served in the military during the Civil War that now is part of the New London County Historical Society.
New London's Sgt. Loosley saw a lot of action and had the foresight to write it all down

He had done battle with the Flathead and Chinook Indians.

He had stood guard over Chief Leschi, the "head devil of them all."

He had "fought" in the so-called "Pig War" between the United States and his native nation over who owned San Juan Island in Puget Sound.

But at dawn on Jan. 9, 1861, Sgt. Daniel Rogers Loosley was on board the steamer Star of the West as it strove to bring supplies and 200 men to Fort Sumter.

It was not to be.

Held by a small cadre of Union soldiers, Fort Sumter was surrounded by rebels, and as the Star of the West approached Charleston Harbor, the commanding officer of the vessel turned to Loosley and said, "We'll be fired on, sure, Loosley. What's your idea of what we should do?"

(Or so runs the account Loosley gave "The Tattler," a column in The Day in 1912.)

"Well, sir, I'd chase these men all below and keep them there," Loosley replied.

The decks were cleared, leaving Loosley and a Sgt. Cavanaugh to watch the ship's approach to the fort.

As they entered the mouth of the harbor, Cavanaugh shouted, "Look there!" grabbing Loosley's arm and turning him to face Morris Island. There they saw a puff of smoke, followed by the boom of cannon. They were under fire.

Or as Loosley wrote in his diary: "Rebel Batteries opened on the Ship from Morris Island and James' Islands. had a real lively time for about an hour: during which time nineteen shots were fired at the Ship, three of which Struck but did no damage.

"They however caused the Ship to put back for New York, where we arrived on the 12th inst: a most bitter cold day, having had quite a nice kind of a pleasure trip, but not having relieved Fort Sumter ... so that I had the honor of seeing the first shot fired in the Rebellion."

Historians say the Civil War began April 12, 1861, 150 years ago this Tuesday, when the Confederacy mounted an all-out assault on Fort Sumter. But it was on that day in January that the first shots were fired.

Loosley would remain stationed on Governors Island, N.Y., until "when at the request of Capt. (David Bell) McKibbin I was transferred to the 14th U.S. Inf: (Infantry) one of the New Regiments authorized by Congress: I reported to the Commanding officer of the Regiment at Fort Trumbull Conn: on the 12th Sept. 1861."

Loosley was but one of more than 55,000 Connecticut men who fought in the war, and he was also one who left behind a diary recounting his experiences.

In 1864, he would marry Nettie Crandall, and they would make their home at 35 Brainard St.; at war's end, he would go on to fight Apaches in Arizona for two years before returning to New London to run a "news depot" at 52 State St., now the home of the Pinc! boutique.

Go West, young man

Before the war, Loosley had other adventures.

He recounted, in heavy pencil, his adventures in the West in a crumbling brown notebook, measuring roughly 6 by 8 inches, that is in the vaults of the New London County Historical Society at the Shaw Mansion on Blinman Street.

"Well I had my wish," he wrote. "I wanted to see the country and was one of a detachment of Recruits ordered to the Pacific Coast ... "

Loosley was an Englishman, born Jan. 11, 1833, in Risborough, Buckinghamshire, but he came to this country at the age of 18 and got a job in a dry goods store in Providence.

Soon bored with that life, he enlisted in 1855 and found himself on a steamer to Panama, where he took a train across the isthmus, then another ship up to California and from there a revenue cutter to Washington Territory to a place called Steilacoom, "a City of some dozen buildings - One Hotel two general Stores. Murray's and McCall & Co." Loosley wrote but then crossed out "I fancy both depended on their liquer trade more than any thing else."

"Murrays had a fine little back room where one day I saw four men around a table with the biggest pile of money I had ever seen, each man had his Revolver at hand. the game had been playing for more than 36 hours. (crossed out: and not a word spoken) and Murray finally took the pile. And one of the men shot himself same day."

In December 1855, Loosley went out on his first scouting expedition, determined to hunt down Leschi, the last chief of the Nisqually people. Loosley and his party got lost and, as they slept, the Indians drove off their mules. Then their Indian guide deserted them. They wandered until they found two small log houses, apparently deserted, in a clearing in the woods.

"We had no rations with us and were wondering where our Xmas dinner was coming from and next day was Xmas," Loosley wrote.

"during the day while getting water t'was noticed that it had a queer taste and by getting a long pole and stirring it up we found the dead body of a woman and child. the woman had been scalped and her body horribly mutilated and the childs brains had been dashed out - we drank no more water that day."

Indians attacked them that evening, and the troop's leader, Lt. William A. Slaughter, was killed. Two weeks after the battle, Loosley's party got orders to go to Seattle, where they "were received by the entire City which consisted of five men."

Betrayed and captured by his own nephew, Sluggia, in January 1856, Leschi was turned over to Fort Steilacoom for safekeeping.

"he was quite a curiosity for a few days. he was Kept in Irons always. A 10 lb Ball & Chain 6 feet long riveted to his left leg," Loosley wrote.

"I asked Laschi (sic) once when I had charge of the Guard about Killing the Brennan family. he owned to the Killing and was sorry there were not more of them. the Man was killed and scalped and left in the woods the Woman was scalped & baby Killed and their bodies put in the well.

"He also owned to killing Lieut Slaughter & wished he had killed the whole party. When he learned that I was of that party he said if he got a chance he would cause me a lot of trouble. he certainly was troublesome but I got him so that he knew there was no use trying his tricks on me."

Leschi was hanged Feb. 19, 1858.

The 'Pig War'

On June 15, 1859, on San Juan Island, an American farmer shot a pig that was eating his potatoes. The pig, as it happened, belonged to an Englishman employed by the Hudson's Bay Co.

This incident brought to a head a simmering dispute between the United States and Great Britain over ownership of the island. When the British moved to arrest the American, the matter escalated to a military standoff.

"San Juan Island was the trouble," Loosley wrote. "Gt. Britain & US both laid claim to it ... in the Summer of 59 Capt. (George E.) Pickett abandoned his post at Bellingham Bay & occupied San Juan Island: a few days after he got there 3 British War Ships ... found Capt. Picket with 60 men on the Island & made terrible threats what they would do if he was not off in 24 hours - the Captain invited them to dinner & staid there."

Loosely and some 240 men were sent to secure the island, "building earth works & putting things in order in case something should happen. finally the British had a camp of Marines & Sailors on the other end of the Island and both sides seemed satisfied as it was."

The dispute would not be resolved until 1872, with the island finally falling into American hands, but in the end there were no casualties, unless one counted the pig.

Meanwhile, on March 31, 1860, Loosley's term of enlistment was up. Of his adventures in the West, he wrote, "I had seen a good deal of the world, and now can look back 50 years with a great deal of satisfaction & I don't know of anything very much better for a young man than a Schooling in Uncle Sams Army. He will find the service exactly as he makes it himself."

He didn't stay a civilian long.

His Civil War diary begins: "December 1860

"After having served for five years in the U.S. Army: and having participated in several severe engagements with Indians in Washington Territory; and having been in the San Juan Island affair in 1859 and 1860, I determined to try another term of enlistment, on the third day of the present month I went to New York and enlisted, went over to Governors Island same day, was assigned to the Permanent Party, and appointed Lance Corporal to drill recruits."

Loosley would go on to rise to the rank of captain in the Civil War, fighting in the battles of Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

This was just the beginning of his story.

k.robinson@theday.com

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