Posted tagged ‘Richard Ambrose’

Portals to Hell

July 14, 2009

I recently purchased a wonderful book entitled Portals to Hell:  Military Prisons of the Civil War by Lonnie R. Speer.  At first, I had borrowed the book from the Monroe County, New York library system.  Since it was such a comprehensive look at life as a Civil War POW, I decided I had to have it and proceeded to order it through

As I have conducted my research on the Civil War soldiers of Monroe County, it has amazed me how many of these men spent time in military prisons as prisoners of war.  Besides Edward, Richard and Frederick Ambrose, other prison survivors include Charles Dwinnell, Alpheus Hodges and Kingsley Brownell.  We also remember George B. Wiltsie who became so weak at Salisbury Prison and ultimately died after his release from typhoid brought on by starvation.  Sadly, I’m sure the number of POWs I find will grow as I continue my Pittsford soldier research and begin the soldiers of Fairport and Perinton project.

Mr. Speer’s 410 page book gives so much detail about the various prisons.  Prior to reading this, I had slight knowledge of the Salisbury, Belle Isle and Libby Prisons.  This volume goes far beyond those, and discusses conditions at Point Lookout, Camp Morton and Alton Prison among many others.  Additional interesting topics such as prisoner exchanges and escapes are mentioned in detail.  The back of the book lists a handy reference guide to Union and Confederate prisons.

Having used Portals to Hell for much of my research into Richard Ambrose’s stint in the Dry Tortugas, as well as for information about prison conditions in general, I would highly recommend this title.  Additional information about this book is listed on my Great Resources page.

Band of Brothers – The Ambrose Boys in the Civil War

June 28, 2009
Edward, sister Elizabeth, Richard and Robert Ambrose

Edward, sister Elizabeth, Richard and Robert Ambrose

Richard Ambrose, of the 13th NY Volunteer Infantry, was the hero highlighted in my April 11th post.  We pick up Richard’s story after he was accused of being a mutineer and sent to the Dry Tortugas for hard labor.  After Richard’s six-month stint at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, he did his duty and returned to the 13th NY, continuing to fight for the Union until he was taken as a prisoner during the battle of Second Bull Run in August, 1862.  Richard was exchanged in December of that year and was eventually mustered out of the army in May of 1863.

Richard was just one of five Ambrose brothers, four of whom joined the Union army during the Civil War.  The others included oldest brother Robert and younger brothers Frederick and Edward.

Robert Ambrose, the eldest brother, enlisted in the 108th NY Infantry with younger brother Edward.  The two Ambrose boys fought side by side for nearly two years until Robert was wounded in May, 1864.  Robert succombed to his wounds four days after the battle.  Besides his parents and siblings, Robert left his wife Florence behind to mourn his loss.

Three months after Robert’s death, Edward was taken prisoner by the 1st Virginia Cavalry at the battle of Reams’ Station.   He was first imprisoned at Libby for several days, followed by Belle Isle and eventually ended up at Salisbury Prison.  Edward’s first escape attempt was unsuccessful, but his second escape allowed him to reach the safety of the Union lines.  In a short autobiography written by Edward, he mentioned entering the prison weighing 175 lbs.  By the time he left prison, Edward was reduced to a mere 90 lbs. 

Look for more information about the Ambrose boys in future posts.  We will tell the rest of Edward’s tale, and also that of brother Frederick, who joined the 25th Missouri Infantry on the side of the Union.

Pittsford Cemetery Civil War Tour

May 16, 2009
Sergeant John Buckley Bacon, 4th Wisconsin Cavalry

Sergeant John Buckley Bacon, 4th Wisconsin Cavalry

Thank you to everyone who attended our first Civil War Soldiers of Pittsford tour at Pittsford Cemetery this morning! It was an indescribable feeling for me to be able to illuminate the stories of these soldiers, many of which have never been told before.

We began the tour with LaFayette Congdon, then discussed Major Harvey E. Light and his brother-in-law  Theodore Shepard.  After moving down the hill, the Ambrose boys – Robert, Richard, Frederick and Edward – were next, the highlight being Richard’s stint in the Dry Tortugas.  Heading back up the incline, we stopped by the grave of Matthew P. Ewing, founder of the Vacuum Oil Company which many years later morphed into Exxon-Mobil.  James R. Chamberlin, owner of Chamberlin Rubber Company, was our next soldier, followed by John B. Bacon of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry.  From JB Bacon, we headed east to Nathan and William Cook to discuss their heartbreaking stories.  George B. Wiltsie was mentioned after the Cook boys.  Charles Tillotson and his death at Antietam came next.  From there, we continued heading east, past the grave of Matthias L. Lord, assistant surgeon of the 140th NY, and on to Kingsley Brownell.  Our tour concluded with John H. Thurmon, the Confederate soldier from Missouri.  Sadly, we were not able to visit the graves of Frank D. Tibbitts or Jeffrey N. Birdsall, as planned, due to the rain.

I really appreciate the fact that so many of you stayed out in the rain to hear the stories of these men’s lives.  Your questions and comments made the experience fun for the entire group.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated!  Please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at

Check back here in the future for information about upcoming cemetery tours and presentations highlighting more of Pittsford’s hometown heroes!

During the tour we briefly discussed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was sentenced to imprisonment at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas for his alleged part in the Lincoln conspiracy.  The name of the movie starring Dennis Weaver is The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd, which was a TV movie from 1980.  The DVD is not available through Blockbuster or through the Monroe County library system, but it is listed for sale on

Hero Highlight – Richard Ambrose, Co. E, 13th NY Volunteer Infantry

April 11, 2009
Richard Ambrose

Richard Ambrose

Full of patriotic fervor, Richard Ambrose became one of the first men in Rochester, New York to join the Union army when he enlisted on April 23, 1861, less than two weeks after Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter.  After enlisting in the 13th New York Volunteer Infantry, Richard no doubt felt his military career would be short and sweet, as the Union army intended to whip some Rebel backsides in a matter of months.  It didn’t quite work out that way.

Richard was born in New York state circa 1838 to Robert and Caroline Ambrose.  He was the third child and second son in a family that would grow to include eight children.  Four out of the five Ambrose brothers would go to war for the Union.  All four would return home to Rochester, but one brother made his return in a coffin.

After his three month stint was up, Richard and 80 of his comrades in the 13th New York wanted to go home.  Army life wasn’t as glorious as it had been portrayed in the newspapers.  General William Tecumseh Sherman decided that wasn’t going to happen.  Yes, General Sherman said.  The men had signed up for 90 days.  What they seemed to forget was that they also signed up to serve New York state for two years, and New York state had turned them back over to the Feds to continue their service to their country.  He gave them a choice…step back in line and do your duty or head off to the Gulf of Mexico to do hard labor at Fort Jefferson.  Many of the men decided it wouldn’t be so bad to stay with the 13th New York after all.  Richard was one of 31 men who decided to take his chances in the tropics of the Dry Tortugas. 

No record has been found which describes Richard’s six months at Fort Jefferson.  We can only assume that it was not the happiest time in his life, unless he enjoyed hard labor, extreme heat and bugs.  The Dry Tortugas had been discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon.  The island was named after the multitudes of turtles (“tortugas”) found there, and it was called dry due to the lack of fresh water available.  After the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas was the prison to which he was condemned to spend his remaining days.  Lucky for Dr. Mudd, President Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1869 and Mudd promptly returned to the more temperate climate of Maryland.  Lucky for Richard Ambrose, he spent only six months at Fort Jefferson before returning to the 13th New York in March, 1862.  Unluckily, the 13th New York Volunteer Infantry was about to participate in some of the biggest battles of the War.

Richard’s story is not yet over.   Tune in next time to hear more about Richard and his brothers. 

The Ambrose boys will be highlighted on my May 16th tour at Pittsford Cemetery.  For more information about the tour, please check out the Town of Pittsford website at  The tour is mentioned on page 17 of the Spring program.

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