Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain James K. Helms, Co. D

James Kellerson Helms, the son of Peter & Lucy Helms, was born on June 11, 1841, in Myerstown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Philadelphia, where James was educated at the public schools. Then, in 1857, the family settled in Schuylkill Haven, in southern Schuylkill County. Here James found work as a teacher. He was two months shy of his twentieth birthday when the American Civil War began in April 1861. Like many of the young men from Schuylkill Haven, Helms volunteered his services, and shortly after the commencement of hostilities, he was mustered in as a private in the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The 6th PA was a three-month unit that spent its time in the Shenandoah Valley, under the command of General Robert Patterson. After Helms's three-month enlistment expired in late July, he signed up to serve in Company D, 48th Pennsylvania. Mustered in as a sergeant, Helms proved to be a very good soldier. He stood 5'7" in height, had a fair complexion, dark eyes, and light hair. Helms fought bravely at 2nd Bull, South Mountain, and Antietam in the late summer of 1862. During the latter battle, Helms was informed that his younger brother, Jeremiah Helms, the drummer for Company C, 50th PA, had fallen seriously wounded. James made his way to the Sherrick House where his brother was being cared for. There was nothing to be done, however, and young Jeremiah passed away on September 24, 1862, at the age of 16, one of the youngest casualties at Antietam. Jeremiah enlisted against his parents' wishes, and despite being mustered in as the company drummer, he was known to set his drum down, pick up a musket, and march along with the advanced ranks. James's father, Peter Helms, traveled to the Antietam battlefield to retrieve the body of his son, Jeremiah.
Peter Helms
Father of Capt. James K. Helms, 48th PA & Pvt. Jeremiah Helms, 50th PA

The Miners' Journal, Schuylkill County's leading newspaper, recounted the sad events in its October 12, 1862, issue:
On last Tuesday a week, Jeremiah Helms, the youngest son of Mr. Peter Helms of Schuylkill Haven, and a member of Company C, 50th regiment, P.V. was interred at Myerstown, Lebanon County, his former residence, in the presence of a large concourse of mourners and friends. . . .His father brought the Corpse home from the late battlefield of Antietam, where he was mortally wounded on the 17th ult. while nobly battling with the enemy in defense of those dear rights which every freeman should enjoy. He was shot through the head with a Minie ball in line of the eyes. He was perfectly sensible for the first seven days of his suffering, and able to walk about. Thus he lingered, with out a murmur, bearing his pain like a true soldier, with Christian fortitude, until the morning of the 27th, only the day previous to his father's arrival, when he breathed his last and became another victim of this cursed Rebellion and sacrifices at the star of his country's choicest blessing, liberty & freedom. He fell a noble hero martyr to the cause he so much loved to defend. His comrades bear testimony of his soldierly conduct, always cheerful and prompt in performance of his duty. He fought well at the battles of Pocataligo, S.C., Bull Run, Chantilly, Va., and South Mountain and Antietam, Md. He prevailed for some time upon his parents to go to war: they could not at first consent to his going on account of his youth, but seeing that he was fired a zeal of patriotism that was pure and noble, permission was given. . . .He is the youngest of three brothers, all of whom have enlisted in defense of the Union, at the respective ages of 16, 18, and 20 years. After the battle of Bull Run he was heard in earnest prayer, upon bended knees in his tent. In his last letter, which was after the battle of South Mountain, he wrote his parents not to feel uneasy about him, that he was fighting for the Lord, as well as for the protection of the Star and Stripes. . . .His brother James, who is a member of the 48th P.V. visited him during his suffering, when he told him that [James] should return to his regiment and do valiant service, that he was beyond recovery. He also told his nurse the same, Morgan Pugh of Minersville, and that by his kind and unceasing attentions towards him he (Pugh) only prolonged his suffering, as he could not recover. He seems to have been resigned to his fate, and satisfied to die as a proud defender of his insulted country.
After the death of his brother, James did indeed return to his regiment. He fought at Fredericksburg, and throughout the 1863 campaigns in Kentucky and Tennessee. Throughout his time in the 48th, Helms advanced through the ranks, being promoted to 2nd lieutenant, and the to 1st lieutenant. Surviving the slaughter at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, James Helms was seriously wounded in the leg in June 1864 at Petersburg. He was sent home to recover. It would prove to be a long convalescence and the wound would never completely heal. He was discharged on a surgeon's certificate on October 19, 1864. On July 22, 1864, during his recovery, Helms was promoted to the rank Captain, in recognition of his gallantry and good service.
James Helms spent the remaining years of his life in Schuylkill Haven. He married Amanda Kantner and soon began a family. A photograph of three of Helms's children follows:
He was elected as a Justice of the Peace, and held this position until his death. He served on the borough council and was a member of the local school board. Helms also remained active in veteran's affairs, and on February 8, 1867, founded the Jere K. Helms Post 26 of the Grand Army of the Republic, in honor of his younger brother, who was mortally wounded five years earlier at Antietam. He also served as the National and State President of the Patriotic Orders Sons of America.
James K. Helms died on July 23, 1893, at just fifty-two years of age. He was buried in Schuylkill Haven's Union Cemetery.

Several years ago, The Patriotic Order, Sons of America, published Captain James Helms's Civil War Diaries. Copies can be obtained by contacting the P.O.S. of America, Research & Service Center, Valley Forge, PA 19481.
{The Miners' Journal article on the death and burial ofJeremiah Helms is found in Stu Richards's great book on Company C, 50th Pennsylvania Infantry}

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