Monday, January 29, 2018

Finding Michael Kistler. . .

Thanks to my friend Brian Downey--the owner/administrator of the Antietam On The Web website, a great and vast trove of information on that incredibly important battle and its participants--I got to see yet another face of the 48th Pennsylvania for the very first time, that of Michael Kistler, a lieutenant in Company I. 

Lt. Michael Kistler and wife Catherine
[Unknown Attribution,] 

For me, the discovery began just this past Friday, when I published a post seeking help in identifying the image of an unidentified lieutenant in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania. As noted in that post, there were seven officers who served at different times throughout the war in that rank and capacity in Company I. I have images of five of those seven, leaving only two--George Gressang and Michael Kistler--neither of whom I had ever before seen a photograph of. Gressang drowned in August 1862, with the sinking of the West Point. Kistler was badly wounded one month later, during the battle of Antietam. Because of this Antietam connection, Brian Downey, in his research for his website, had already done some prior work researching Kistler. Along the way, Downey happened upon a wartime image of Michael Kistler and his wife, Catherine, posted at There were other, post-war images of Kistler posted there as well. Unfortunately, that particular page had last been updated in 2012 and is no longer active, meaning Downey could not get the name nor the contact information of the individual who posted the images. But he did discover am engraving of Kistler, later in life, in the 1886 book History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania by Alfred Mathews. That engraving matches the images of Kistler that were posted on ancestry, thus verifying the identity. And now, because of Downey's research I finally got to see, or discover, another fact of the 48th. Also, because these images of Kistler have been located, by process of elimination and because the unidentified officer in the image I posted about last Friday more closely matches the physical description of George Gressang in the regimental muster rolls, there is a very good chance that that officer is, indeed, Gressang...though I still cannot state with 100% certainty.  At least one other respondent to that post thinks the unidentified officer is Francis Koch, another image of whom can be found in that same post. 

One thing that is for certain, however, is that, finally, after all these years of studying the regiment, I at last have seen an image of Lieutenant Kistler. Much more important than this though is that I have been to discover so much more about his life. I had known Kistler primarily because of the savage, grievous nature of the wound he received at Antietam. The wound was so serious that his recovery seemed impossible; it was quite remarkable that he did survive. So remarkable, in fact, that a story about it was published in a number of newspapers, including the Boston Herald, which, on March 16, 1864, told the story of Kistler's injury and his recovery in an article entitled Remarkable Tenacity of Life.

That story, is posted here in its entirety: 

Remarkable Tenacity of Life: Lieut. M.M. Kistler, formerly of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who still survives, and is commanding a company in the Invalid Corps, was pronounced by the surgeons who examined him after the battle [of Antietam], as he lay among the dead--himself almost as dead apparently as they--mortally wounded, and he was passed by at the time, and the attention of the surgeons was devoted to others, for whom it was thought there might be a chance of recovery. The fortunes of the day seemed to vacillate in the balance as the massive columns surged back and forth, and for a time the field was in possession of the rebels; again our brave fellows drove back the rebel columns, and took the ground where our wounded were lying, weltering in their gore, and in the evening the brave and undaunted Lieutenant was carried from the field by our own men, and laid down in an old barn without blanket or overcoat. His clothes on his right side, from his shoulder down to his boot, being saturated with blood from his wound, were cold and stiff. It was at Antietam he was wounded, by a ball entering his right shoulder in a way to carry his epaulatte into the wound, and part of it with the ball entered the right lobe of the lungs. The wound was probed by no less than eight or nine surgeons, three or four at a time. They exceeded in extracting from the wound the wire, four or five inches in length, belonging to the shoulder strap, and all agreed there were fractured pieces of bone necessary to be extracted, but they neither removed them nor dressed the wound, considering the case a hopeless one. The Lieutenant alone believed his recovery a possible case. Thus he laid suffering in his gore until the sixth day when he received a change of clothing, and on the seventh day, with the assistance of his servant, he started, both feeble and faint, and reached his home. On the thirteenth day after receiving the wound, it was for the first time thoroughly dressed, by Dr. J.C. Schirner, of Tamaqua, Penn. Suppuration had by this time taken place, and he spit up a portion of the shoulder strap with the body matter. The ball still remains in the lungs too heavy to be raised by the efforts made in coughing, where an abscess is formed by the wound in the lung, and suppuration takes place, as it frequently does. He now usually enjoys a reasonable degree of health, with the exception of a few days each time that these inward gatherings take place.

This we regard as one of the most remarkable cases of recovery, from what would be regarded by all surgeons as a hopeless case, on record. When we contemplate a man with such a wound, lying for thirteen days without any efficient surgical or medical aid, and without any change of clothing for six days, and in the main cold and damp, without food or attention, we cannot but be struck with amazement at the wonderful recuperative powers of the system, in the case of the indomitable Lieut. Kistler. We would naturally suppose he must have suffered untold misery during those thirteen days, but he says he suffered but little, comparatively speaking. His sensibilities must have been instantly stunned. He is a living miracle to all who know his case. While a slight wound hurries many a strong man to an untimely grave, a strong constitution, a determined and indomitable spirit, and, may we not add, a kind Providence had lengthened out his days for further service in the cause of his country."

A strong constitution and a determined, indomitable spirit, indeed. 

I knew Kistler survived this horrific wound and that he later served in the Veterans Reserve Corps, or the so-called Invalid Corps. But that was it. I did not know anything further. I had assumed, quite naturally, that his life might have ended early, as a result of the Antietam wound but, as I just discovered, it turns out Kistler still had many, many years remaining after the Civil War. 

According to Mathews's History, Michael Kistler was born on April 14, 1833, though the year of his birth may be incorrectly stated here, since the regimental records note that he was 32 years of age when he enlisted in the summer of 1861, which would put the year of his birth at 1829. Year of birth aside, Kistler was born and raised in Lynn Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and was the son of Michael and Magdalena Brobst Kistler. He removed to Ringtown, Schuylkill County, in 1848 and at age 15 in order to learn the tanner's trade with his older brother, Joel. While at Ringtown, he met and fell in love with Catherine Rumbel and the two were later married. The couple had a number of children. By the outset of the Civil War, Michael was operating his own small tannery business in Ringtown, though left that life behind with the opening salvos at Fort Sumter. He enlisted on August 15, 1861, and at the time of his enlistment was 32 years of age. He stood among the tallest soldiers in the regiment at 5'11" and was described as having a light complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. Although a tanner, he recorded that he was also a farmer by occupation. Kistler served well as a lieutenant in Company I, 48th, accompanying the regiment in its journeys first from Harrisburg, PA, to Fortress Monroe, VA, and from there to Hatteras and New Bern, North Carolina, before returning to Virginia in the summer of 1862. At 2nd Bull Run, a bullet tore through Kistler's coat collar while another round struck his scabbard. He emerged from this fight unscathed, though was not nearly as fortunate three weeks later at Antietam. Of course, it was there where he was so severely wounded by that bullet which tore through his shoulder, through his right lung, before lodging in his back that he was essentially given up for dead. As related above, however, through his indomitable spirit, he survived. After a four month convalescence, Kistler returned to the 48th Pennsylvania, which, by that time was recovering from its assaults against Lee's position at Fredericksburg. Kistler traveled westward with the regiment to Lexington, Kentucky, in the spring of 1863. It was there and it was then, however, that Kistler resigned from the regiment upon the advice of the superintendent of hospitals in the Department of the Ohio. But Kistler would continue to serve his country. He became the commanding officer of the First Company, Second Battalion, in the Ohio Department of the Veteran Reserve Corps and remained in this position performing various administrative and military duties until June 1866, when he was mustered out of service.
Kistler returned home to his wife Catherine and his loving family. He later relocated to Monroe County, entering into various business ventures with his brother Stephen, first in Bartonsville and then in Tannersville. The Kistler Brothers manufactured shoe-pegs, clothes-pins, and chair stock for more than ten years before Stephen Kistler's death in 1880. At that time, Michael retired from active business pursuits to focus on his farm in Tunkhannock Township. It does appear, though, that he served for a time during his "retirement" as postmaster of East Stroudsburg. "Lieutenant Kistler's life has been an active one," noted Alfred Mathews in his History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania, "and withal his integrity of purpose in life's work, and his accumulation of a competency, his pride still lingers in the great honor of fighting for the preservation of the Union, and in his sacrifice for his country when in its greatest peril."

Michael Kistler passed away on July 6, 1907, at either age 74 or 78, and presumably with that bullet received at Antietam still lodged somewhere beneath his shoulder blade. His remains were laid to rest in the Stroudsburg Cemetery and there they continue their silent repose, next to the remains of his wife Catherine, who passed away in 1915 at age 83. 

In all my years studying and researching the 48th Pennsylvania, there are few times more satisfying than discovering not only a new face but in learning more about the life of one of its soldiers. 

My thanks go out to Brian Downey for all his work in finding Michael Kistler. 

Michael Kistler as Postmaster, Stroudsburg, PA
[Unknown attribution,] 

Michael Kistler, with son Stephen and Grandson Kirstel, ca. 1902
[Unknown attribution,] 

Michael Kistler and Granddaughter Lillian Irene Kistler, ca. 1905
[Unknown attribution,] 

[Biographical information from Mathews, Alfred. History of Wayne, Pike, and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Company, 1886. Pgs. 1028-1030]

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Can You Help Identify This Unidentified 48th PA Image?

Our Unidentified Officer
Company I  48th Pennsylvania Infantry

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Of the more than 1,800 soldiers who served in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, whether for a few months or for all four years of the regiment's existence, and over the course of my twenty+ years of studying the regiment, I have only been able to locate images of approximately 200 of them, or just about 11%. And of this number, a good many of these images are unidentified by name, which is the source of so much frustration. Some of the unidentified CDV's simply have something to the effect of "48th PVI" or "48th PA" scribbled on the back; in others, we can see "48" written in the hat brass, including in a remarkable collection of tintypes that once belonged to a noted and respected collector which went up for auction a number of years ago and which were featured in a 2003 edition of Military Images magazine (see below). None of the forty-two soldiers in this collection are identified but all are seated next to a kepi with "G" "48" on the chinstrap. Similar images of a soldier--taken at the same time/setting and so seated--have also appeared over the years and one of them, owned by a private collector, I am happy to say I have been able to positively identify as a member of Company G. 

November/December Edition of Military Images

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I will be writing more about this collection of Company G tintypes sometime in the near future but, for now, I wanted to focus on an image of an unidentified officer who, presumably, served in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. 

Here is the image--and the officer--in question: 

This image is part of the collection of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County. It was taken by A.M. Allen, a noted Pottsville photographer and, clearly, one can see the "I" and the "48" and the infantry bugle on his kepi. The shoulder boards reveal that he was a commissioned officer and although difficult to make out with 100% certainty, it appears he was a lieutenant. There is no date when the image was taken. Throughout the course of the war, there were seven men who served at one time or the other as a lieutenant in Company I--two of them being ultimately promoted to the rank of captain.

Fortunately, I do have images of five of these seven and they are as follows:

Benjamin B. Schuck
(Courtesy of Patriotic Order Sons of America)
Oliver A.J. Davis
(Hoptak Collection)
Francis D. Koch 
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images) 

Joseph Edwards
(Hoptak Collection) 

Francis Allebach
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images) 

At first glance, then, I think we can eliminate Schuck, Davis, Edwards, and even Koch. The officer in question does, somewhat, resemble Allebach--and perhaps he is our man. On the other hand, the eyes look different. . .

If it is not any of these five officers, that leaves two other possibilities. And while I do not have photographs of them, I do have their physical description as provided in the regimental muster and descriptive rolls.

They are:

George H. Gressang: 1st Lt.; Date of Enlistment: 8/23/1861; Age at Enlistment: 24; Height: 5'8; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Blue; Hair: Dark; Occupation: Machinist; Residence: Pottsville; Notes: Drowned 8/12/1862 by the sinking of the steamer West Point

Michael M. Kistler: 1st Lt.; Date of Enlistment: 8/15/1861; Age at Enlistment: 32; Height: 5'11; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Blue; Hair: Dark; Occupation: Farmer; Residence: Ringtown; Date of Discharge: 10/21/1862; Notes: Wounded severely at Antietam, 9/17/1862; Promoted from 2nd Lt. 10/20/62; Discharged due to wounds; 10/21/62; Transferred to Veterans Res. Corps.

So, there we have it. I would love to get your thoughts. Do you believe this to be another image of Allebach? Or of either Gressang or Kistler? And, if so, which would you say was more likely based off their physical description?

Or is there something I am missing entirely here?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

'"Dear Ma:" The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock' Now Available

I am very happy to announce that "Dear Ma:" The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock, First Defender and First Lieutenant, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry is now available.

This book was a long time in the making and a project that very nearly never came to fruition. The story of how it all came about can be found here.

You can order your copy either directly through the Sunbury Press website here or at or through Barnes and Noble 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Curtis Clay Pollock served bravely with the 48th Pennsylvania, one of the Civil War's most famous fighting regiments, from the regiment’s organization in September 1861 until his mortal wounding at the Battle of Petersburg in June 1864, participating in the regiment’s many campaigns in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee and seeing action at some of the war’s most sanguinary battles, including 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Knoxville. Prior to his service in the 48th, Pollock also served as a member of the Washington Artillery, a Pottsville-based militia company that marched off to war in response to President Lincoln’s first call-to-arms in April 1861 and a company that would have the distinction of being among the very first Northern volunteer units to arrive in Washington following the outbreak of war, reaching the capital on the evening of April 18, 1861, after coming under attack in the streets of Baltimore. In recognition of their timely response and prompt arrival in the capital, Pollock and the other members of the Washington Artillery, would be among those who earned the proud title of First Defender. 

All throughout his time in uniform—from the day after he first arrived in Washington with the First Defenders until a few days before receiving his fatal wound at Petersburg—Curtis Pollock wrote letters home. Many of these letters were written to his younger siblings, some were addressed to his father. Most, however, were written to his mother, Emily, whom he affectionately referred to as his “Dear Ma.” Fortunately, many of these letters survive and are held today in the archives of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville. The letters of Curtis Pollock provide us with a window to view the history and experiences of one of the war’s most famous and most well-traveled regiments—the 48thPennsylvania—a regiment that served in many theaters of the war, under many different commanders, and in many of the war’s largest and bloodiest battles; a regiment that endured many battlefield defeats as well as many battlefield triumphs. More than this, though, Pollock’s letters home enable us to gain a further glimpse of the war from the inside. They chronicle and document the actions, the experiences, and the thoughts of a brave young man, who like so many others, volunteered his services and ultimately gave his life fighting in defense of his nation.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Stone For Captain Fisher. . .

When last in Pottsville, I took a quick drive through the Odd Fellows' Cemetery, where the remains of many 48th Pennsylvania soldiers were laid to rest. Near the plot of those who died or were killed in the Civil War, I was happy to see a new headstone, one for Peter Fisher, a First Defender and a Captain of Company D, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Born in Germany in 1839, Fisher died at the much too young age of 25 in December 1864. His remains were buried in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery but it seems he was never given a headstone. Enter Mr. Charles Achenbach, a descendant of Fisher's, who determined to get him one. Mr. Achenbach contacted me last year and provided me with much great information on Captain Fisher. He made it known then that he wished to place a headstone at or near Fisher's final resting place. . .and I am very happy to see that it has been placed. Thank you Mr. Achenbach for your efforts and your fine tribute. 

Click here or more on the life and death of Captain Peter Fisher. 

Captain Peter Fisher
Co. D 48th PA
(Courtesy of US Army Heritage and Education Center) 

Friday, July 28, 2017

"Dear Ma. . ." The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock To Be Published. . .

Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock
Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
{Hoptak Collection} 
As I have noted many, many times before in posts about the discovery of letters or documents or photographs or what-have-you pertaining to the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry as well as to the oftentimes peculiar timing of such discoveries, sometimes strange things happen; very strange things; things so strange that it is difficult to attribute them to pure and simple coincidence. And very early this year, another of those strange things happened, something that pertained to a young lieutenant who served in the 48th Pennsylvania and to the letters he wrote home while in uniform. . .

. . .his name was Curtis Clay Pollock and he just happened to be born on this date—July 28—175 years ago today, in 1842.

He was the first child born to William and Emily Pollock and he grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the seat of government for Schuylkill County. He came from a rather well-to-do family—his father owned and operated a lumber yard—and a rather large family, too, as his mother would give birth to six more children over the course of the eighteen years following Curtis's birth. Curtis was a young man with seemingly high ambitions but whatever hopes or dreams he may have held for his future were interrupted with the outbreak of civil war in April 1861. By then eighteen years of age, Curtis Pollock was among the very first to respond to Abraham Lincoln’s call-to-arms, coming in response to the firing upon Fort Sumter and the commencement of war. He volunteered to serve as a private in the Washington Artillery, a Pottsville militia company of long-standing, which, on the evening of April 18, arrived in the nation’s capital along with four other companies of Pennsylvania volunteers, some 475 men in all. These were the very first northern volunteers to reach Washington following the outbreak of war and for this, these soldiers would earn the proud distinction of being First Defenders.

Pollock and his fellow First Defenders would spend much of the entirety of their ninety-day term of service stationed at various posts around the capital, performing various duties. They would see no combat, however, yet, upon their discharge in late July 1861, nearly all of them would enlist to serve in any number of new regiments being recruited and organized, regiments that were being raised to serve for “three years or the course of the war,” whichever would come first. In early September 1861, Curtis Pollock, now nineteen, would sign up to serve in what became Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and with this regiment he would serve until his death in late June 1864.
An early war image of Pollock, likely taken in the spring of 1861
{Courtesy of Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images] 

Entering Company G, 48th PA, as a corporal, Pollock would pine and lobby for an officer’s commission. His efforts eventually paid off, for in the Spring of 1862, Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania commissioned him a lieutenant. His promotion over the heads of so many other non-commissioned officers, however, set off a great controversy within the regiment; one that nearly resulted in Pollock resigning. Yet he persisted and stubbornly clung to his new rank. Despite the controversy over his promotion, the men would come to respect Pollock—and he would prove, as Captain Oliver Bosbyshell later wrote, “absolutely fearless” in battle. With the 48th, Pollock campaigned and saw action in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Emerging unscathed from such sanguinary fights as 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Pollock was mortally wounded on June 17, 1864, during the regiment’s successful attack on Battery 15, a Confederate stronghold east of Petersburg. He passed away six days later, on June 23, and his remains were buried in Pottsville’s Charles Baber Cemetery.

The Officers of Company G, Spring 1863
Captain Bosybshell (seated)
Lt. Pollock (standing left); Lt. Henry C. Jackson
{Hoptak Collection} 

Curtis Pollock spent more than 1,100 days of his short life in the uniform of the United States, and during his time in service, he wrote many letters home--indeed, over 150 of them. Fortunately, these letters were later transcribed and copies were given to both the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville and to the United States Army’s Military History and Education Center in Carlisle. For more than two decades, and with such an interest in the First Defenders and especially the 48th Pennsylvania, I have repeatedly used the Pollock letters to help better understand the wartime histories of both of these units.   Pollock’s letters home—most of them written to his “Dear Ma,” Emily—represent one of the largest known collections of letters written by any single member of either of these units and the idea of "one day" editing and annotating his letters for publication was a thought that never strayed too far from my mind. And, in fact, over the past fifteen or so years, I had been chipping away at such an undertaking…editing and annotating the letters, here and there.
            And now, today, on the 175th Anniversary of Curtis Pollock’s birthday, I am happy to say that his letters home will soon be published. Sunbury Press, a local company, will be publishing it.

            So. . .what, then, is so strange about all of this you might ask?

Well, this book almost never happened. As noted, this work was a long time in the making. When I first happened upon and read through copies of Pollock's letters many, many years ago, I thought that they should "one day" be edited and annotated for publication. And so I worked on it, here and there, for quite a long time. I would work on the Pollock letters' project even while completing other books, such as my history of the First Defenders in 2004 or my histories of the Battles of South Mountain and Gettysburg, published by the History Press, respectively, in 2011 and 2012. After completing those projects, I would return periodically to the Pollock letters and, finally, in early 2014 (yes, three years ago), I wrapped things up, finishing this many years' long endeavor.  Yet when I submitted the manuscript to a number of publishing companies, it was repeatedly turned down. The market is already saturated with such works, I was told, and the interest in traditional soldier accounts and letters' collections is just not there anymore. It was picked up for publication as part of the “Voices of The Civil War Series,” published by the University of Tennessee Press, only to have it later pulled. Indeed, I had received so many rejections that I decided on New Year's Day, 2017, that I would simply put this manuscript to rest. . .and that I would move on to a new project.

But that was when that strange—and rather remarkable thing happened. . .

            It happened on January 2, 2017, the day after I decided to put the Pollock project to rest. When I checked my email that Monday morning, I discovered a message from a friend of mine named Nick Picerno. Nick is a fellow student of the Civil War and a collector of items pertaining to the 10th and 29th Maine Infantry Regiments. Knowing of my interest in the 48th Pennsylvania, Nick sent along a link to an auction listing he had happened upon, which included a portrait of and the Civil War sword belonging to an officer in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Nick's message was brief--simply, "This sword and image may be of interest"--but when I clicked on the link, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
            The sword up for auction was the sword carried by none other than Lieutenant Curtis Clay Pollock, and the portrait, beautifully framed, was of him as well. I sat there, shaking my head in utter disbelief. Of all the more than two million soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War, I thought, and of all of those who had served in the 48th Pennsylvania, here before me was a portrait of Pollock, previously unknown to me and the one pictured above, as well as the sword once held and wielded by the young lieutenant. Of course, I could interpret this in no way other than that of a sign that I needed to try, at least one more time, to get Pollock's letters published. How can I not? I also felt that, somehow, I needed to win that auction and am happy to report that I did. As I write, the sword and portrait adorn a wall in my home. I later came to discover that they had been passed down through the generations of Pollock family descendants and that the consignor of the items is a great-grandnephew of Curtis who was looking he said to "downsize." The portrait and sword, I assured him, had found a good new home. Incidentally, and as I found out, not only were the sword and portrait passed down through the Pollock descendants, but so was the name. The gentleman's name who consigned the items was Curtis.

And, so, I am now happy to say that the Pollock letters' project have found a publisher and that the book will (hopefully) hit the shelves within the next 6-12 months. Considering the sword and portrait that just so happened to come up for auction the day after I decided not to move forward with the manuscript, well, I would like to think that Lieutenant Pollock would be happy with this.

I hope so at least.

I will post updates about the manuscript as they develop.

A Portrait of Pollock and his service sword at his grave in Pottville