HANSON, Albert J., Captain &  the Battle of Spottsylvania Court House

Albert J. Hanson  enlisted 27 May 1861 at age 22 as a Private in Company H, 2nd Infantry.   He mustered in 5 Jun 1861, and was promoted to Full Sergeant on 1 Sep 1862.   He was severely wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on 2 July 1863.  Promoted to First Full Sergeant 19 Dec 1863, he later re-enlisted on 1 Jan 1864 and received his commissioned to Full 1st Lieutenant on 24 Jun 1864.   He was promoted to  Full Captain on 3 Nov 1864, and at the end of war he had been placed in charge of Spotsylvania Court House for six months.  He finally mustered out 19 Dec 1865 at City Point, VA.

 At the time of his enlistment in 1861 he gave a residency as Somersworth.  However the 1860 census lists him as living in Newmarket with his father & mother Robert & Lucy Hanson.  Photgraph captures stark reality of aftermath of the battleAfter the war he returned to Newmarket, then moved to Great Falls until the autumn of 1867 when he moved to Kansas City. There he married Mariah Sanford in 1870, and was employed in the wholesale food industry.  He died 22 years later on 8 Sep 1892 in Kansas City, Missouri and is buried at Elmwood cemetery in that city.

Taken from his Obituary in the Kansas City Journal September 1892:

“Captain Albert J. Hanson was an old and respected citizen of Kansas City.  He was born at Newmarket, NH on March 18, 1839, lived in his native state until the outbreaking of the war, when at the first call, on June 5, 1861, he enlisted for three years as a private in Company H of the Second New Hampshire regiment.  He was made corporal on August 1, 1861, and color sergeant on Sept 1, 1862.  He was severely wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, being shot in the side and in the leg, and having his arm broken.

“On December 19, 1854, he was made first sergeant.  He re-enlisted on Jan 1, 1864.  On June 24, 1864 he was made first lieutenant, and finally mustered out as a captain in December 1865.  At the close of the war he was put in charge of Spottsylvania Court House, VA., which position he held for six months.  He moved to Kansas City in the fall of 1867, and  has lived here ever since.  He was a member of George H. Thomas Post, G.A.R.

“Captain Hanson was a man of such unusual modesty and was so reticent about his military exploits that a casual acquaintance would never have suspected that he was one of the very bravest men New Hampshire sent to the war, but his comrades are unanimous in saying that such was the case.  “As a soldier and as an officer he did not appear to know what fear was.  But with all his bravery his conduct was characterized by such modesty and gentleness as greatly to endear him to those with whom he came in contact.  Despite the animosity and bitterness prevailing in Virginia during the time he was in charge of Spottsylvania Court House, he made many friends there.

“He was man whose death could not fail to be a loss to the community in which he lived and many friends will mourn him.  He left a widow and a grown daughter.


In 1863, the Confederate army turned the courthouse at Spottsylvania, Virginia into a stockade to hold Union prisoners captured during the Battle of Chancellorsville which disrupted the peace of the rural village. But it was the following year when this little town found itself under fire and caught in the middle of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war when the armies of Lee and Grant clashed during the march to Richmond.

(Courthouse, as photgraphed in 1864)

Fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, 1864.  After Grant’s army crossed the Rapidan and entered the Wilderness of Spottsylvania, it was attacked by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Although Lee was outnumbered, about 60,000 to 100,000, his men fought fiercely and the dense foliage provided a terrain advantage.  After two days of fighting, the results were inconclusive and neither army was able to obtain an advantage. Lee had stopped Grant, but had not turned him back, and Grant had not destroyed Lee’s army. Under similar circumstances, previous Union commanders had chosen to withdraw behind the Rappahannock, but Grant instead ordered Meade to move around Lee’s right flank and seize the important crossroads at Spottsylvania Court House to the southeast, hoping that by interposing his army between Lee and Richmond, he could lure the Confederates into another battle on a more favorable field.

Spottsylvania Court House was the costliest battle of the Overland Campaign and one of the top five battles of the Civil War. Lee’s tactics had inflicted severe casualties on Grant’s army.   Grant had lost about 36,000 men, and another 20,000 went home when their enlistments ended. In fact, Grant on May 19 had only 56,124 effectives. But Lee did not come out of these battles unscathed, either. At Spotsylvania, he lost another 10–13,000 men, about 23% of his army (versus 18% of Grant’s). While the Union had many men available to reinforce Grant, the Confederates were forced to pull men away from other fronts to reinforce Lee. Making matters worse, the army was taking heavy losses among its veteran units and its best officers.

           (Top & Bottom photgraphs of Union Troops in aftermath of the Battle)

Sources: National Park Service Battle description; and Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001.