Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Union's First Defenders: The Ringgold Light Artillery

Yesterday, April 12, 2011, marked the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War's opening shots at Fort Sumter. What followed were four of the most brutal and devastating years in America's young history. In terms of numbers of alone, more than 620,000 soldiers--Union and Confederate--perished in the great American conflagration, or 2% of the entire population. Today, 2% of our population would exceed six million. Yet that 620,000 number is far too low, for they stopped counting the war's casualties in the Spring of 1865. But what of those whose wartime wounds cut short their lives in the late 1860s and 1870s? Those young men, carrying the scars of the conflict and perishing in their thirties and early forties?

For the past several months, my focus on this blog had been on the First Defenders of the Union, those very first volunteer troops who arrived in Washington upon the outbreak of civil war and in response to President Lincoln's April 15, 1861, call-to-arms. They were Pennsylvanians from the counties of Schuylkill, Mifflin, Lehigh, and Berks, some 475 strong who entered the nation's capital on the evening of April 18, 1861. Thus far in our examination of these largely overlooked early volunteers, we have looked at the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillerists of Pottsville, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, and the Allen Infantry of Allentown.

Today, we will focus on the last of the five companies of First Defenders, the Ringgold Light Artillery from Reading, in Berks County.

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The Ringgold Light Artillery was a militia company formed in Reading, Pennsylvania, in August 1850. From that point until the outbreak of civil war, it was commanded by Captain James McKnight who, after serving his first ninety-day enlistment with the First Defenders, would go on to serve as major of the 5th United States Artillery.

McKnight kept up his company with regular training and parade reviews. In the winter of 1860-1861, in the midst of the secession crisis, McKnight called together his company more frequently, preparing them for what he prophesied would be armed conflict with the rebellious Southern states. On April 15, just three days after the war's inaugural shots at Sumter, the Ringgold Light Artillery was drilling, with full ranks and fully equipped, at their parade ground near Reading when a telegraph arrived announcing Lincoln's call for 75,000 men to serve a three-month term of service.

Immediately, a telegraph was fired off to Governor Curtin's office in Harrisburg: "The Ringgold Light Artillery are parading this morning with their guns for practice; have ninety men on parade, every one of them expecting to be ordered on duty for the U.S. service before they leave their guns."

A short time later, a response came from Eli Slifer, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: "Captain James McKnight: Bring your command to Harrisburg by first train. If any of your men need equipments, they will be provided by the general Government. Lose no time."

And with that, the Ringgold Light Artillery marched off to war. . .and into the history books as one of the first volunteer companies to reach Washington after the start of hostilities. They, along the with National Light Infantry, Washington Artillerists, Logan Guards, and Allen Infantry, were the nation's First Defenders.

April 21, 1861, Photograph of the Ringgold Light Artillery at the Washington Navy Yard

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The Ringgold Light Artillery
Reading, Pennsylvania

Captain James McKnight

Lieutenant George W. Durell

Lieutenant William Graeff
Lieutenant Henry Nagle
Sergeant Daniel Kreishner

Sergeant Henry Rush

Sergeant Jeremiah Seiders
Sergeant Amos Drenkel
Sergeant James Fox

Corporal Levi Homan
Corporal Frederick Folkman
Corporal Jacob Womert
Corporal Horatio Leader
Corporal John Hook


Anthony Ammon
Charles B. Ansart
James Anthony
Aaron Bechtel
David Bechtel
Augustus Berger
George S. Bickley
Charles A. Bitting
Harrison G. Bouse
William W. Bowers
Reuben Burkhart
William Christ
Henry Coleman
Daniel M. Dickinson
William C. Eben
Edward G. Ebling
George B. Eckert
Henry E. Eisenbeis
Robert Eltz
Benjamin F. Ermentrout
Samuel Evans
Adam Faust
William W. Fix
Henry Fleck
Harrison T. Fox
Christian Frantz
Adam Frees
John Frees, Jr.
Daniel Frey
Charles Gebhart (Gerhart)
Henry Geiger
James H. Gentzler
Addison Gery (Gehry)
George Green
Lemuel Gries
William Haberocker
Samuel Hamilton
Andrew S. Helms
Jacob Hessler
Nathaniel B. Hill
Franklin Housel
Amos Huyett
John L. Kennedy
George W. Knabb
John D. Koch
Peter Lantz
George Lauman
George D. Leaf
Daniel Leeds
Isaac Leeds
Jacob Leeds
Aaron Levan
Charles Levan
Daniel J. Levan
Christopher Loeser
Harrison Lutz
Daniel Maltzberger
James L. Mast
Howard McIlvaine
Joseph H. McKnight
John H. McLenegan
William Miller
William P. Mock
Charles P. Muhlenberg
Henry Neifert (Neihart)
Edward P. Pearson
Frederick Peck
James Pfleiger
Frederick Phillipi
Francis Rambo
Isaiah Rambo
William Rapp, Jr.
George Rhoads
Charles Rick
Ferdinand Ritter
Henry Rush
William Sauerbier
Franklin Schaeffer
Franklin Schmeck
Edward Scull
Albert H. Seybert
Jonathan Shearer
Jackson Sherman
Albert Shiery
George W. Silvis
Edmund L. Smith
William H. Smith
Charles Spangler
Henry Whiteside
Daniel Whitman
Samuel Whitner
Frederick Yeager
Daniel Yohn
John L. Yohn


Anonymous said...

Great information. I am starting to do some research on a canteen I purchased many years ago.
It's a militia style canteen with the following inscribed on it...
George W. Green
Ringgolds Artillery
Washington, DC.
May 11th, 1861

I can't remember the exact day in May but I think it was the 11th.
With the information provided here I think I am on the right track. Thanks again....

Anonymous said...

My Great Great Grand Father was William Miller of the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading Pennsylvania. I am looking for a picture of him. Any suggestions where I should look?

B. K. Henritze said...

A Reading Eagle newspaper article about a reunion of the Ringgold Light Artillery First Defenders appears: