Monday, July 4, 2016

“If I Fall On The Battlefield It Will Be For A Good Cause:” Private Thomas Major (ca. 1840-1862), Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry

Although I have not been posting as frequently as I once did and not even as much as I did during the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011-2015), I still maintain this site/blog and keep it active largely now as a resource for those hoping to discover more about the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and especially its soldiers. I still occasionally post stories pertaining to the regiment and I still regularly receive emails from descendants of soldiers who served in the regiment and who are hoping to discover more about their ancestor.  Of course, whenever this happens I share all I know and all I have gathered about that particular soldier over the years. It is rather rewarding to be able to tell these folks, interested in their family story genealogy, about their ancestor in the 48th and connect them, somewhat, to that soldier. On the other hand, and every once in a great while, it is I who is contacted by a descendant who generously and graciously shares information they have about their ancestor who served in the regiment. It doesn’t happen that often; indeed, only a handful of times since I first launched this blog nine years ago. But last month I awoke one Saturday morning to discover an email in my inbox from a Mr. Brett Adams of Minnesota who came across my blog while doing some research on his Civil War ancestor: Private Thomas Major, of Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. I was absolutely thrilled by the message he sent, for not only did he include some biographical and genealogical information about Major, but he also included a photograph. Whenever I get to see an image of a 48th PA soldier for the very first time, well, it just makes my day. Discovering images of 48th soldiers does not happen often, or at least not as often as one might think. Indeed, of the 1,860 men who served in the regiment, I have only ever seen photographs of about 200 of them—or just over 10%. That’s it. So when I, for the very first time, get to see the face of a soldier I have known only by a name, it makes me feel a much closer connection. I responded quickly to Mr. Adams and over the next few weeks, I was amazed with the information he so willingly and so kindly sent along to me about Thomas Major and his family. Included were a number of letters—previously unknown to me, of course—written by Thomas while in service and sent to his siblings back home in Schuylkill County. Mr. Adams also sent along images of Major’s brother, sister, and brother-in-law. 

Having studied the 48th for so long, it was—and is—always thrilling to me when I learn more about its soldiers, and I cannot thank Mr. Adams and his family enough for their kindness and generosity in sharing their photographs and letters with me and for allowing me the honor of telling Private Thomas Major’s story here. . . .


Thomas Major
Company E
48th Pennsylvania 


When Thomas Major enlisted in September 1861, he was 21 years of age. He stood 5’8 ½” in height, had a Dark Complexion, Brown Eyes, and Dark Hair. His occupation was listed as Teamster and his residence simply as Schuylkill County, though the Census Records place him and his family in Blythe Township, which is east of Pottsville and west of Tamaqua.  He was the son of 43-year-old James Major and 40-year-old Maria Major. His father had been born in England and by 1860 was a foreman at a coal mine. Thomas appears to have been their eldest child; the oldest of nine. When Thomas marched off to war in the late summer of 1861, he left behind four younger brothers and four younger sisters. And he would write home frequently to his younger siblings. Along with a letter he sent home on October 18, 1861, from near Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Thomas also included a piece of President John Tyler’s piano from Hampton. Tyler, the former President who had been elected to the Confederate Congress, was, said Major, “now in the Secession War.” As was the case with most soldiers, however, Thomas soon began to admonish his siblings for not writing more often. From Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, in May 1862, for example, Thomas wrote that he was “discontented” because a mail had arrived “and all the boys had letters to read and I got none.” He was quite convinced, said the brooding young soldier, “that the folks at home had forgot that there is a Thomas Major out on Hatteras.” Nevertheless, he recorded his thoughts on army life and wrote about his efforts at getting a furlough—all to no avail. He was also sure to keep his family updated on the doings of the army. “They have taken Fort Macon and I think they will run the vessels in down there at Beaufort,” said Major in a letter dated May 1, 1862 when the 48th formed part of Burnside’s Expedition in North Carolina. “They lost but one man and it was 10 hours fight. They took them all prisoners. They battered a hole through the walls that they could drive a team in, and they put 3 balls in the magazine. The gun boats could not get in to fight. Our forces planted mortars 3 miles from the fort and the Stars and Stripes are waving over it now.” It was not all battle-related, though. At the end of that same letter, Thomas mentioned that he and the boys in the mess “are opening oysters," which they intend to have with soup for dinner. "Don’t you wish you had a cup?” Thomas asked his brother. In another letter, this one dated May 4, Thomas recorded the elation he and his comrades felt over the fall of New Orleans—“Hip, hip, hooray, we heard of New Orleans being taken”—but that elation seemed to have been short-lived, since, said Thomas, the boys were now “getting down-hearted, afraid the war will soon be over and then they will have to go to work again.” (Not a few soldiers of the 48th wrote about how they would rather be in the army than in the coal mines). 

In his letters, Thomas would plead with his family not to worry too much about him and in June 1862 told them that if it was his fate to "fall on the battlefield it will be for a good cause." Thomas also would do his best to still be the big brother of the family, even while hundreds of miles away from them, by urging his younger siblings to lead good, virtuous lives. In a June 9, 1862, letter from New Bern, he urged his brother “to leave thee off some of the bad habits you have—do, for a brother’s sake leave off drinking liquor, which I have seen too much of it already since I came out here.”  Apparently, drinking to excess was quite a problem in the army—at times—and Thomas saw what a ruinous habit it can be. Drinking lands men in the guard house, said Major to his brother, and in handcuffs. Thomas then quoted directly from “A Letter From A Father to His Son  on Inebrity,” that appeared in a book entitled “The Universal Letter Writer,” and published in 1811 and which surely made its way around the army camps. In part, this letter read that “Hard drinking is a vice that breaks a man’s rest, impairs his understanding, extinguishes the memory, inflames the passions, corrupts the will, lays the foundation of the worst and most dangerous distempers; prevents a person from pursuing his studies and from applying to his duties of his calling, be it what it will.”  

Certainly, Thomas was concerned about the well-being of his younger siblings and it is clear that he missed them. It seems his efforts at getting a furlough did not come to fruition and like most others, he longed for home. In a June 10, 1862, letter from New Bern, Thomas wrote that North Carolina was pretty country, but “I would like to see the old dirt banks [of Schuylkill County] again.” 

Sadly, he would not.



Thomas Major Letter From Camp Hamilton
Near Fortress Monroe
October 18, 1861



In July 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania—along with most of Burnside’s force in North Carolina—were ordered to Virginia. After spending a few weeks at Newport News, they were sent via steamer to Aquia Creek and from there, the soldiers of the 48th marched hard to catch up with General John Pope’s army then gathering in northern Virginia. They arrived in time to participate in the blood-letting that was Second Bull Run. On August 29, 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania—as part of Nagle’s Brigade and along with the 2nd Maryland and 6th New Hampshire Infantries—smashed through a section of Stonewall Jackson’s line along an unfinished railroad cut. Their success was not exploited, however, and with no supports marching to their assistance, it was not long before the Confederates recovered and rallied and soon had Nagle’s men pinned down, fired upon from three sides. A devastating flank attack drove the survivors from the cut and by the time the 48th rallied, more than 150 of its soldiers were among the killed, wounded, captured, or missing. As it turned out and in terms of numbers lost, 2nd Bull Run would be the 48th’s worst battle of the war.

Among the wounded was young Private Thomas Major of Company E. At some point during the battle, he was shot in the leg and remained on the field for two days before he was able to limp or crawl away to safety. He was taken to the Columbian College Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment. Hopes for his recovery were high and from his hospital bed, Thomas continued to write letters home. On October 11, some six weeks after his wounding, he wrote that he was “well and hearty although in bed.” “My leg is coming along nicely,” Thomas assured his sisters, or at least “as well as could be expected” and that the hospital was “about the best in Washington.” He described his experiences at 2nd Bull Run: “About the battle, I was shot on Friday the 29th. I laid in under the hottest of the fire for 2 days. The ball tore the ground all around me, and also my clothing was pierced a dozen times.” He also informed his sister that he had received a letter from brother George. By the fall of 1862, George Major, who was two years younger than Thomas had entered the army and was just then serving in the ranks of the nine-month 129th Pennsylvania Infantry. Thomas also passed along his regards for their neighbors back home in Blythe Township, the Gables, but ended his letter by saying he was tired. He told his sister earlier in that same letter that she should “not expect to get long letters from me while I am laying on the bed for it is very tiresome.”

There was nothing in that letter to indicate that Thomas was not recovering well; indeed, the thought was that he would soon be back home. It thus came as a shock when on October 31, Thomas Major died.

Included among the letters Mr. Adams sent along was one dated November 22, 1862, and written by a M.A. Wood, who was likely a nurse or hospital steward at Columbian College Hospital. Wood was responding to a letter he or she received from one of Thomas Major’s siblings.


Columbian College Hospital
14th Street, Washington, D.C.
November 22, 1862
Dear Friend,
It was with much pleasure that I received your kind letter. I was truly glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well, for I did not know but your brother's death might seriously affect your dear mother, but it was my prayer that the Lord would give you all strength to bear it. It must surely have been a cruel blow, more so on account of having all encouraging letters from him. It was very unexpected to me. I could not have felt worse to have had an own brother die. He had been here a long time and we all got very much attached to him. He was so patient and so good, not even a murmur through all his sufferings. I am very glad that it was my privilege to do what I could for him. I do not know of anything that he wanted but that he had.

It would have seemed much better and pleasanter for you to had him with you if it could have been right, but the Lord doeth all things well and doubtless you feel to say with the Psalmist "It is the Lord. Let Him do what seemeth to Him good." You spoke of giving me his picture and your mother's. You do not know how much pleased I should be to have them and yours too. I will have mine taken and send you. 

Please remember me kindly to your father, mother, brothers and sisters. I hope your other brother may be spared to you.

Please write. I shall be very much pleased to hear from at any time.

The Chaplain has looked after your brother's grave.

Yours affectionately,
M.A. Wood

P.S.  Please excuse me for not writing  before for I have not had time. - M.A.W.

Columbian College Hospital
Washington, D.C.
(Library of Congress) 



Thomas Major answered his country’s call in the late summer of 1861, leaving behind his family in Blythe Township and marching off to war as a private in Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. The next summer, he received a wound from which he would never recover. He bore his wound bravely, stoically, all the while composing letters home to his beloved younger siblings. His remains never made it back to those “old dirt piles” of Schuylkill County; they were, instead, buried at U.S. Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.



The Worn Grave of Thomas Major
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery
Washington, D.C. 
(findagrave.com) 




Thomas Major's younger brother, George Major, served out his nine-month term with the 129th, seeing action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. In the years after the war, he became Chief Burgess of Mahonoy City. On March 30, 1874, a fire spread through a home in the center of the city. Responding to the call were two rival fire companies, one predominantly Welsh, the other predominantly Irish. As was so often the case in those days of ethnic division and strife, a street brawl broke out and Burgess Major attempted to restore order by stepping between the two gangs and drawing his pistol. A shot was fired from the crowd and George Major fell dead. His death—or murder—was soon blamed on Molly Maguirism.  



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



[My thanks, again, to Mr. Brett Adams and his brothers for their kindness and generosity in sending along the images and letters of Thomas Major and his family] 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Killed At Spotsylvania: Lt. Henry Clay Jackson: Teacher Turned Soldier Turned Martyr

Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm; Museum of Civil War Images) 
In 1861, twenty-four-year-old Henry Clay Jackson, from St. Clair, Pennsylvania, was looking forward to a career in the classroom. He was enrolled at the Millersville Normal School, studying to become a school teacher. But then the war came and Jackson--"From a sense of duty and not impulse"--decided to answer his country's call. He left his studies behind and entered the ranks of the Lafayette Rifles, a company recruited largely from St. Clair which soon became Company B, 14th Pennsylvania. Attached to General Robert Patterson's command, Jackson and the 14th saw no action during its three-month term of service. When his term of service with the 14th expired in late July, 1861, Jackson enlisted once more, this time to term a three-year term in the ranks of Company G, 48th Pennsylvania. 

It was not long before Jackson proved himself a natural leader and brave soldier. He was appointed as the company's Orderly Sergeant and in June 1862, was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, Jackson was among the scores of soldiers of the 48th to fall into enemy hands, having been cut off in an unfinished railroad embankment and caught up in a devastating Confederate counterattack. As a prisoner of war, Jackson was sent south and soon found himself confined in Richmond's Libby Prison where he remained a short time before being exchanged.  Returning to the regiment, Jackson only narrowly survived the struggle at Fredericksburg when a shell burst directly in front of him, so close that it covered his face and neck with powder. Captain Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G, who was very near to Jackson, remembered that it appeared as though the lieutenant was suffering from a case of "black small pox." At Knoxville, in late November 1863, Jackson was more badly wounded when a shell fragment tore into his thigh while he was in command of the regimental picket line. 

The Officers Of Company G in 1863
Captain Bobsyshell (seated),
 Lt. Curtis Pollock (standing, left),

and Jackson (Hoptak Collection) 
Captured then confined in Libby, surviving a close call at Fredericksburg and a more serious wound at Knoxville, Jackson's luck ultimately ran out during the slaughter that was Spotsylvania. While lying prone in the line of battle, Jackson was struck with a ball through the neck, just above the collar bone, with the bullet coming to a stop in his chest. A number of his fellow soldiers carried the stricken lieutenant from the field, among them Sgt. William Auman--who would one day ride with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War." Auman remembered that Jackson was lying next to him when he was hit. "When he was struck he fell against me," related Auman, "I asked him where he was hit; he whispered 'I don't know,' and then his head fell to one side and I saw that he was dying." Indeed, Jackson took his last breath while being carried to a hospital in the rear. Later buried near where he fell at Spotsylvania, the remains of Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson were reportedly reinterred after the war and laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, though there is no known grave marker for him there.  

The loss of Jackson was deeply felt in the regiment. In his regimental history, Joseph Gould wrote that Jackson was "a noble fellow," who was "idolized by his men." Bosbyshell related that Jackson was "an able and fearless officer," while after the war, Francis Wallace bestowed further praise upon on Jackson in his work, Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County:

"Thus fell Lieutenant Jackson, faithful to every duty, and though sensible to danger and peril, yet braving them with heroic disregard of self. He had determined if his life was spared to remain in the army till the last organized force of rebellion was overthrown. Gifted with a vigorous physical organization, considerable energy, a clear and active mind, ready utterance, strict integrity, and withal modest and affectionate, his friends had high hopes of his success in a civil profession, but he was reserved by Providence to be one of the numerous martyrs in behalf of the Union, and the honor and free institutions of our country."


[Notes: Francis Wallace. Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County (Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Benjamin Bannan Publisher, 1865): pg. 529; Joseph Gould. The Story of the Forty Eighth (Philadelphia: Alfred M. Slocum, Publisher, 1908), pg. 180; Oliver Bosbyshell. The 48th in the War (Philadelphia: Avil Printing Company, 1895), pgs. 97, 150.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Discovering Lt. Cullen. . .

Lieutenant William Cullen
Company E, 48th Pennsylvania
[Courtesy of  Catherine Siegel and Family] 

In all of my years studying the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, there are few moments more thrilling for me than when I see an image or a photograph of one of the regiment's soldiers for the very first time. After all the time I have spent poring over the rosters, studying the returns and rolls, examining the casualty lists, reading the letters and accounts, I cannot help but naturally wonder what these soldiers looked like and I am always thrilled, even elated, when a photograph surfaces or is discovered that allows me to, at last, put a face to the name. Unfortunately, it really does not happen that often, or at least less often than one might suppose. During the four years of the American Civil War, approximately 1,800 soldiers served in the ranks of the 48th, some for a few months, others for all four years. Yet of this number, I have only ever seen images of about 200, or just about 11% of the entire regiment. Of course, I do keep an eye out, regularly searching through the inventories of Civil War relics/antique dealers, historical auction sites, and checking frequently on ebay and other places where, over the years, some 48th CDVs have been put up for sale. And whenever I receive an email from a descendant of a 48th soldier, I always ask in return if they have or know of a photograph of their ancestor who served in the ranks. . .

Almost all of the time the answer, unfortunately, is no. 

That was the answer I got when, in late November 2015, I received an email from a descendant of Lieutenant William Cullen, of Company E, 48th PA. Having worked at Antietam for so many years and knowing well the actions of the regiment there, I have longed searched, or I should say, waited, to see an image of Cullen. Cullen was killed there, late on the afternoon of that bloody Wednesday in mid-September 1862 when a ramrod was propelled through his chest. The grisly and ghastly nature of his death wound was recorded specifically in the regimental history authored by Oliver Bosbyshell in 1896. Writing of the regiment's stand atop a ridge line east of Otto's farm lane and of the artillery bombardment they sustained while there, Bosbyshell wrote of one particularly deadly and destructive shot: "With a bang and a splutter along came that destructive old shell, which filled [Jacob] Douty's eyes with dirt, and bruised his shoulder, tore off Sergeant [John] Seward's leg and left Sergeant [William] Trainer minus one arm, as it drove the ramrod he was just replacing into poor Cullen's breast. Cullen jumped to his feet, tore open his shirt to show his captain the wound, and then dropped dead at Winlack's feet."  Yes, I knew Cullen's story fairly well. How, before the war, he was a coal miner from Silver Creek; married, with a number of small children, and rather tall; he stood nearly 6'2" in height. In April 1861, Cullen left home and family behind in answer to his country's call--he was a First Generation American. His parents, Thomas and Bridget Mary Burke Cullen, were natives of County Wexford in Ireland who had made the long journey across the Atlantic. William Cullen, their first of eventually twelve children, was born in Pennsylvania in 1829, which made him thirty-two-years of age when civil war erupted across the family's adopted land. Cullen answered his country's call, serving under Captain William Winlack as a sergeant in the Wynkoop Artillery, a militia company which became Company E, 16th Pennsylvania Infantry. The 16th was a three-month organization and upon the expiration of this term of service, Cullen assisted Winlack in recruiting a new company from around the Silver Creek area, a company that, in September 1861, became Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, a "three-years or the course of the war" regiment. Cullen was mustered into service as the company's 1st Lieutenant.  One month later, from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Cullen wrote to his mother, explaining why he felt it right and proper to offer his services: 

Fort Monroe Headquarters
Department of V. A.
Camp Hamilton
October 23rd, 1861

Dear Mother
after a relapse of some time its with pleasing anticipation I address those lives you Brothers & Sisters hoping to find you all in good health and blessing. I enjoy myself at present dear Mother. After my return from the 3 months servise I remained at home for a few weeks but the way the Country was situated business of all descriptions. Suspended & seeing that my service to my adopted country was stile kneeded
[still needed] I procured a commission of first Leutenancy under same Captain that I served under in the 3 months & again immerged into it for during the war dear mother our position is not a dangerous one as we are at present camped under the protection of the fort that is described on the map. It is the largest fort belonging (to) the government it mounts 377 guns 2, 4000 men & cost 2 million 4 hundred thousand dollars to build it dear mother, brother & sisters. I hope that my conduct through this campain may be unstained that I may gain all the hounour & esteem & hounour due to my rank & station from them that is under my command & pray that I may survive to see the Glorious Stars & Stripes Float again from the shores of the Pacific to the St. Laurance then man can Enjoy again the blessings & privileges [?] that glorious Washington established if once overturned by rebble force could never be replaced. When that happy hour shale arive that the Trumpet of peace shale echo through the land while I returned to the fond affections of a loving Wife & Children & the Tender Embrace of an aged Mother, Brother & Sisters. Dear Mother their is none of the enemy to be seen at this point they are reported to be concentrating within 25 miles of here at a place called Yorktown where Washington took Lord Cornwallice & 15 hundred men prisoners at the time of the Revolutionary war. The(y) burned down a Town called Hampton 1 mile from here about 3 months ago and have not been seen here since. I cannot say how long we will be stationed here. We are the first Pennsylvania Troops ever landed at this point. We are the 48 Regt. of P.A. voluntiers commanded by Col. James Nayle [Nagle] of Potsville. He is of appinion that we will remain here some time. I wish you to answer this letter as soon as you possible can & let me know all particulars. I wont neglect writing to you & trust I shale receive the same from you in return. Send my best respects to Frances Coyle & Wife & send my love to James, Thomas, John & Davy, Mary, Elen, Catherine & James & Jane & serve [?] 

A Large portion for your selfe from
Your Affectionate Son
Wm. Cullin

Direct to Leiut. Wm. Cullin Co. E. 48th Regt. P.A. Fort Monroe, V.A.
To Mrs. Bridget Cullin Dushore, P.A.
Sullivan Co. P.A. United States


[Letter Credit to: Monique S. Derby and http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pasulliv/sullivancountyfolk/CullenCivilWarLetters/Cullen.htm]


Less than a year after writing this, Cullen gave his life upon the fields of Antietam to help ensure that the Stars & Stripes floated once again over a united land. He was a popular officer and his death was lamented within the ranks of his company and of his regiment. Indeed, a day after the fight, on September 18, a member of Company E--most likely Private David Hamilton--authored a poem, entitled:
"Ode to William Cullen"
Attention ye brave to this mournful story, 
That I am going to pen of a soldier so brave:
Who started to reap a rich harvest of glory,
But is now lying dead in his cold narrow grave.

His name was Bill Cullen as fearless of danger
As the shining steel sword he held in his hand:
He left his fond wife to the cold hearted strangers,
While he went to fight for his dear native land.

A lieutenant he was under brave Captain Winlock
In the 48th Regiment of Schuykill's brave sons;
He never was daunted by cannon or firelocks,
But like a true soldier stood firm by his guns.

He fought at Bull Run on the first of September,
Where Burnside so valiantly beat back the foe;
The day that the rebels will ever remember,
And the Northern men look to with wonder and woe.

It was there that he seemed like an angel
Of mercy sent down from a high;
As the wounded he carried away from the danger
And cared for the poor sufferers left there to die.

But alas I must tell you in heart rendering numbers,
His sad fate at the Battle of Antietam Creek;
'Twas there he fell in deaths slumbers.
Cut down in his prime not a word could he speak.

With his sword waving high in the battle, 
While cheering his men to the action once more;
A cursed rebel shell in death dealing rattle,
Striking brave Cullen laid him in his gore.

As next morning his comrades gathered around him,
Laid him down gently in his hallow bed;
Every one dropped a true soldiers tear o'er him,
Saying, Peace to the ashes of the gallant dead. 

William Cullen's remains were later taken back to Schuylkill County where they continue to rest in St. Stephen's Cemetery in Port Carbon. . . 


The Grave of William Cullen 



Ruth, the great-great-grand niece of Cullen who had contacted back in November 2015, wrote to ask if I would be willing to lead her and a number of her relatives on a tour of the battlefield of Antietam, with a particular focus on the actions of the 48th there. Of course, I responded, It would be--and was, indeed--a great honor. 
We met up at the Visitor Center at Antietam on December 27. I remember that at the outset of the tour, one of the kind gentlemen in the group named Frank told me that they had something special for me once we got to the fields where the 48th fought. And while we covered the whole battleground--from the North Woods and Cornfield to the West Woods and the Sunken Road--I was especially looking forward to leading the descendants of Lt. Cullen on a tour of where the regiment fought and where he lost his life. We parked at the Burnside Bridge and I described the actions of the 48th, who were positioned on the opposite bluff, firing at those pesky and determined Georgians holding the bridge. "And when at last the bridge was carried, the 48th," I explained, "proceeded in this direction . . ." We walked from the parking lot, along a portion of the Final Attack Trail, to a rise of ground immediately east of the Otto Farm Lane. From there, we could see Burnside's objective--the high ground, 3/4 of a mile ahead. I described the attack of Willcox's and Rodman's divisions and how, when A.P. Hill's Confederates arrived and smashed into Burnside's left flank, causing it to cave, the 48th was called forward to this point of ground to help stem the gray-and-butternut tide. It was at this spot, I explained, where the regiment suffered its highest loss. And it was there, somewhere very nearby, where that particularly "destructive old shell" came along with a bang and a splutter, tearing off legs and arms and driving Sgt. Trainer's ramrod straight through Cullen's chest. It was somewhere near here, I said, where the lieutenant--their ancestor--sprang to his feet, tore open his shirt, and fell dead at Captain Winlack's feet. After I finished, the group gathered closer to me and Frank placed an arm around me, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out. . .

. . .an image of Lieutenant William Cullen!

I could hardly believe what I was seeing and still, today, I have a hard time attributing how this all came about to pure coincidence. As it turned out, just one week before Ruth and her family journeyed to Antietam for the tour, they found an image of Cullen on an online genealogy site, an image posted there by a relative they did not know they had. It was truly quite remarkable that just a week before they walked the ground where Cullen fell they, for the first time, saw his face. And, for me, it was an absolutely incredible moment--one I will not soon forget, when I was presented with a copy of Cullen's image by his descendants very near the spot where he gave his life while serving in the ranks of the 48th. 

Since that time, I have learned much more about Cullen from his descendants and have been in contact with that branch of the family who has the photograph, hanging on the wall of their home. For their kindness and generosity, I would like to thank Ruth, Jean, and Frank Sando, Ms. Catherine Siegel, and their families for allowing me to share this story and that amazing moment when I first discovered Lieutenant William Cullen. . . 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The 48th/150th: The End

The Remnants of the First State Flag Presented to the 48th Pennsylvania
in September 1861
(pacivilwarflags.org)

 
150 years ago today. . .on July 22, 1865, the 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry would cease to any longer exist. The regiment was disbanded, its soldiers and officers mustered out of service, its veterans returning to their homes. Having been first organized in the late summer of 1861, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry served throughout nearly all four years of the conflict, campaigning in various theaters of the war, and seeing action in dozens of engagements and major battles. By foot, by rail, and on the water, the regiment traversed thousands of miles. . .through Virginia and North Carolina, in Maryland, and across Pennsylvania, through Ohio and across Kentucky and deep into eastern Tennessee, before returning once more to Virginia for the final twelve months of the fratricidal slaughter. Throughout the four years of the regiment's existence, more than 1,800 soldiers had served in the ranks of the 48th for varying lengths of time. . .some for a few weeks, others for all four years. Most had entered voluntarily, though there were also present in all ten of its companies a number of drafted men. At least 329 soldiers of the 48th had given their lives in the contest while hundreds of others sustained non-fatal wounds or were wracked with illness and disease. The regiment's dead were buried in no fewer than seven different states, a testament to the miles traveled and the wide extent of their service. Of course, the 48th had inscribed its name forever in the war's history by its remarkably successful tunneling operation in the summer of 1864 south and east of Petersburg, when the regiment, with little in the way of help and assistance, dug a tunnel and exploded a mine under a portion of the Confederate defensive position known as Elliot's Salient. This action had made the 48th Pennsylvania famous and still today there remains few other single regimental actions of the war that garners as much attention as the 48th's tunneling of the Petersburg Mine. 150 years ago many of the regiment's veterans no doubt still harbored disbelief and a little resentment that the higher ups had failed so miserably to capitalize on their great success. Still, though, that was in the past; a part of history. The regiment itself would soon become part of history when, 150 years ago this day, the men returned home to a hero's ovation.
 
Since April 28, 1865, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania had been encamped at Fort Lyon in Alexandria, Virginia. The war was all but officially over and the weary veterans looked forward to returning back to their families in Schuylkill County. Some had not seen home or their loved ones for well over a year. Camp life at Alexandria was dull, the monotony broken only on May 23 when the regiment paraded down the streets of Washington, D.C., in that majestic Grand Review. Following the memorable event, the 48th returned to Fort Lyon and awaited their discharge. That moment finally arrived on July 17, 1865. It was on that day--a Monday--that the soldiers who remained in the ranks of the 48th were officially mustered out of service. Just a short time later the men started for home. They traveled, most likely by rail, back to Harrisburg, the place where its ten companies were first organized in the late summer of 1861, for what must have seemed like an eternity earlier for those grizzled and tried veteran warriors who were there when the 48th was born and for when it was forever disbanded. At Harrisburg the soldiers would have to wait until all the paperwork was completed, for all of the regimental reports and muster sheets to be filled out, for the regimental officers to prepare their final reports. . .and. . .for the paymaster to arrive with their final draw of army pay. Finally, on Saturday, July 22, the soldiers boarded train cars and began the final journey home. After all the marching and all the campaigning. . .all the trips via steamer and after all the marching. . .this would be the final leg of the regiment's wartime record. Oliver Bobsyshell, formerly a lieutenant then the captain of Company G before becoming the regiment's major, beautifully described that last fifty-five-mile-long journey home in his regimental history, published more than three decades later: "Finally, on the twenty-second, every detail having been completed, the regiment started from Harrisburg for home. Oh how sweet the word to the brave fellows who had been spared through so many and great dangers. Home, blessed name, so soon to be realized! How the hearts of the men on that train throbbed as each mile carried them nearer and nearer to that sacred place! Many could have hugged the trainman when 'Reading' was shouted into the cars! And then the welcome towns of Hamburg, Port Clinton, Auburn, and Schuylkill Haven flew by--then every man on his feet ready to spring to the ground when Pottsville was reached, where great crowds roared, cheered and cried such a hearty welcome, all knew it was HOME!"
 
And, indeed, did the people of Pottsville turn out to welcome home these veteran soldiers! They were there by the many hundreds, nay, many thousands. The city and its people had been preparing for the return home of the 48th for the past week, having held special meetings and appointing delegates to officially welcome the boys back home. Banners of red, white, and blue decorated the facades of homes and businesses all throughout the city; flags were raised and a festive atmosphere permeated the streets of Schuylkill County's largest town and seat of government. Then, at last, with the crowd now thronged at the train station and gathered along the city streets, the train carrying the veteran soldiers of the 48th arrived, sometime around 3:00 p.m. They were met there by the welcoming home committee and then escorted up Centre Street amid the thunderous applause, the singing of songs, and even the firing of cannons. The first stop for these men, once they arrived in Pottsville, was the Union Hotel, where speeches were made. The veterans appreciated the kind and thoughtful words, but were no doubt straining their necks, looking about for the faces of their loved ones--their mothers, fathers, wives, children--gathered there, somewhere in the vast crowd. Finally, after a few spontaneous words, and after a few toasts to Nagle, to Sigfried, and to Pleasants, the men dispersed. Bosbyshell captured the scene: "The meetings of the wives and children, with their husbands and fathers, were in many instances touching, in all joyful. When the men reached the corner of Centre and Market, a wife or sweetheart of one of the soldiers in the ranks saw him. His eye caught hers at the same moment. Impulsively they flew with open arms toward each other, and the next moment were locked in a fond embrace. Neither, from emotion, could speak; but tears of joy trickled down their cheeks. It was a scene the sacredness of which the publicity could not destroy."
 
And so the soldiers of the 48th were back at home after so grueling and so heartbreaking an absence. The regiment itself no longer existed; it was the end of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. And no matter how thankful they were and how happy these weary soldiers now civilians once more were to be home, it must have been a very bittersweet moment. Not there to welcome them home were the widows of those who had fallen, or the mothers and fathers who had already buried a son, or whose child now lay buried hundreds of miles away from home, in Virginia, in North Carolina, in east Tennessee, or even outside of Andersonville, Georgia. Many were the women in black dress; many were the children who would never again see their father. Indeed, many was the child who would never  meet his father. So many of the 48th's fallen had long been in the ground in nearby cemeteries, some in Pottsville, where their silent graves lay less than a mile from the triumphant scene. Many of these graves were no doubt visited that day. And all throughout the rest of Schuylkill County were other graves, the final resting places of those who succumbed to disease or who fell at such places as Antietam, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and on and on and on. What were the feelings, the thoughts, the emotions of the families of these soldiers when they learned the war was over and that the surviving veterans of the 48th were once more back home? And what were the thoughts and feelings of those surviving veteran soldiers, now once more civilians, upon returning home and seeing the graves of departed comrades and friends, and upon seeing the widows and the mothers and the children whose husband, son, father gave his life while serving in the war?
 
And what now? Now that the war was over and the men were back at home, at last, in Schuylkill County. . .How long was it before they returned to work, on the farms, in the office, or in the coal mines? How long was it before the illness and scars and wounds they sustained in the war came back to haunt them? For how many would their lives be cut short because these wartime injuries and wounds? How long was it before these civilian volunteer soldiers turned civilian once more tried to bury and suppress the scenes of carnage, the memories of the hell of war? The whole of the rest of their lives now lay before them, their soldier days were done. And the 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry was now but a reminiscence, a memory. . .part of history.
 
Record Banner of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
(pacivilwarflags.org)
 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 48th/150th: Off To Mexico?

150 years ago. . .the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania remained encamped at Alexandria, Virginia. Lee, Johnston, and a number of other Confederate leaders had long since surrendered their forces; Richmond had long since fallen; and Lincoln long since dead. Even the Grand Review of May 23, in which the 48th had proudly marched, seemed like a distant memory. The war was all but officially over. And so the officers and soldiers of the 48th bided their time as best they could, waiting to be discharged, the regiment mustered out, and simply longing to return home. 
 
Yet 150 years ago, there were a good number of soldiers in the regiment who were convinced that they would be retained in the service and sent off to a new, developing theater of operations: Mexico!
 
In 1862, with the United States deeply mired in its own civil war, French forces arrived in Mexico and drove Benito Juarez from power. Soon enough Maximilian I of Austria arrived and proclaimed himself Emperor. In Washington, Lincoln and the administration had spoken out loudly against this action, but with their own war to wage and to win, little was done. However, now that the Civil War was drawing to an end, some50,000 U.S. soldiers, headed by General Philip Sheridan, were assembled in Texas, in the hopes that such a strong show of strength would convince the French to leave. Ultimately the French would leave but not until the following year.
 
 
Mexico and Texas


 
With this developing situation and with the 48th remaining essentially inactive in their camps at Alexandria, it was not long before a rumor began to spread that they had been designated to be sent south and attached to Sheridan's force in Texas. Not only that, but the rumor also was that several officers of the 48th had actually petitioned the War Department to select the 48th to take part of this pending action. Soon, this rumor grew its proverbial legs and raced all throughout the camp. The enlisted men, waiting to go home, were outraged and very adamantly opposed to any such notion. So convinced were the men of the validity of this rumor that they, too, drew up a petition, one that was very quickly signed by the sergeants of each of the companies, stating that they represented the wishes of all the men. They did not want to go to Mexico. Period. They just wanted to go home. With the senior officers of the regiment entirely unaware, this petition was sent off to Harrisburg, to the attention of Governor Curtin. Not quite sure what he was supposed to do with this document, Curtin forwarded it to Headquarters, Army of the Potomac. From there, it traveled down the chain of command: to 9th Corps Headquarters, to Second Division, 9th Corps Headquarters, to brigade headquarters. . .and finally, to the attention of Colonel Isaac Brannan, the commanding officer of the 48th. Brannan had assumed command of the regiment in early April, following the death of Colonel George Gowen at Petersburg. And now, surprised, embarrassed, and angry, Brannan attempted to find out who among his soldiers was to blame for first spreading this rumor and for writing up this petition. After interviewing several of the men, it was somehow determined that it was Corporal John Cruikshank, of Company H, who was the principal culprit. For his part, Cruikshank--nicknamed "Crooky,"a 25-year-old machinist from Pottsville--neither admitted nor denied that he was. So Brannan had him arrested and, in an effort to get the truth out of him, ordered Cruikshank to be strung up by the thumbs. . .a most painful punishment. Brannan continued to press but Cruikshank remained obdurate; he would not say anything. Frustrated and embarrassed by the whole situation, Brannan ordered him released.
 
Cruikshank returned to his quarters, the culprit never positively identified, and the 48th never ordered off to Mexico. . .
 
 
Illustration of Being Tied Up By Thumbs



 
 


The Grave of Corporal John Cruikshank
Shamokin Cemetery
Whether or not he was the main culprit in the spreading of the rumor that the 48th's officers wanted the regiment to go off to Mexico, Cruikshank would never admit. The old soldier died in Shamokin in 1915 at age 75.