07 Jun 2021

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Gentle Annie

Annie Etheridge

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of leading a tour of Capitol Hill looking at the houses of and telling the stories some of the people who not only were unhappy with the status quo of their day, but actively worked to change it. Some of the stops on the tour were well-known to me, others were entirely new. The one I was most intrigued with was the story of Gentle Annie, a young Michigander who joined a regiment from that state early in the Civil War and accompanied them through some of the thickest fighting, assisting the soldiers by ensuring they were fed and had clean clothes, but also acting as a battlefield medic. While her time on the Hill was quiet, her life in the 15 years before moving here more than make up for it, and deserve looking into over the next few weeks.

Her story has been told many times, starting during the war; however, along the way much of the story was forgotten, embellished or otherwise changed. I have tried to dig through the (notoriously inaccurate) records of the time to find the truth of this amazing woman.

Lorinda Anna Blair was born on May 3, 1839 in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, John H. Blair, was a blacksmith. Accounts from the Civil War era indicate that the elder Blair either died when his daughter was young, or that he suffered some financial setback in the 1850s, but records of the time do not substantiate this.

Blair married young— on her seventeenth birthday, to be exact. Her groom was David S. Kellogg who was also quite young, having been born in 1837 in Vermont. He and his family had moved a few years earlier to Ohio, but the marriage took place in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin.

Almost exactly five years later, Lorinda Kellogg was back in Detroit, where the Second Michigan Volunteer Regiment was being mustered under the command of Colonel Israel Richardson. Ms. Kellogg joined up, though her husband did not. While two of his brothers did serve in the Union army, he eventually moved to Iowa.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Michigan was moved to the Washington area to protect it from attacks from Virginia. At first they decamped in D.C. proper, then moved to Fairfax and the forts protecting the capital. While they were not directly involved in the Battle of Bull Run, which took place less than two months after their being mustered, the 2nd Michigan helped ensure the retreat of the Union army back towards Washington.

For the next year, they were involved only in a few skirmishes, but in March of 1862, they were ordered south and to the Virginia Peninsula. A few days before they moved out, Annie Kellogg married again. This time the groom was James Etheridge, who, like both Kelloggs, had been born in 1837. In contrast to them, though, he was born in New York. He, too, had been mustered into the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Regiment on May 25t, 1861. She would later claim that she thought that her first husband had died, allowing her to remarry.

Image from 1867 book showing Etheridge surrounded by troops. (Archive.org)

The next six months proved to be active for the regiment, as they participated in ten battles, including the Second Battle of Bull Run. In this time, Annie Etheridge showed her true character, finding herself in the midst of battle, taking care of wounded soldiers even as horses were shot out from under her, and bullets pierced her skirts. At times, she even rallied and led troops back into battle. Shortly after Second Bull Run, the regiment returned to Washington and took up the defense of the city again. It was while they were here that James Etheridge was mustered out of the army due to disability.

Annie Etheridge remained with the men who had taken her in. In this time, her fame began to spread, and she was not only commissioned a sergeant, but was given an award by her Corps commander, Philip Kearny. While she was never paid as the former, she did receive a medal attesting to the latter, which she would wear proudly for the rest of her life.


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