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February 7-8, 2012, will mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Although a relatively small battle in terms of numbers engaged and lost and especially when compared to what was to follow, this battle represented the opening shots of Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina expedition. Burnside's men, supported by a flotilla of gunboats under the command of Flag Officer Louis M. Goldborough, emerged victorious and the Union would have control of Roanoke Island for the duration of the war. Almost immediately, escaped slaves found refuge there, fleeing to freedom from the brutal bonds that kept them enslaved. By war's end, more than 2,000 African-Americans--escaped slaves--resided on Roanoke Island.
Of the 10,000 men Burnside took into battle at Roanoke, 37 were killed in action, 214 fell wounded, and 13 were listed among the missing. Confederate casualties numbered 23 killed, 58 wounded, 62 missing, and over 2,500 captured.
The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry did not participate in the Battle of Roanoke; they instead remained on Hatteras Island while Burnside's forces sailed past. However, the services of the regiment's chief surgeon, David T. Minis, Jr.,were needed and he was ordered to attach himself to the 9th New Jersey and accompany this regiment to Roanoke. Sadly, while administering to the wounded, Minis contracted disease and he passed away on February 14, 1862, at the age of thirty. The 48th was not unaccustomed to the death of their comrades; several had already died of various diseases while stationed at either Fortress Monroe or on Hatteras. However, the death of Minis shocked and saddened the regiment.
Minis was not a native of Schuylkill County. He was, instead, born in Beaver County on December 7, 1831. He attended medical schools at both Jefferson College and the University of Pennsylvania, before returning home to establish a practice in his hometown. With the outbreak of civil war in April 1861, Minis offered his services and was later appointed as chief surgeon of the 48th Pennsylvania. The History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, states that "Dr. Minis never spared himself during the awful scenes of carnage and in the hospital hells which they created; and it was as the result of excessive labors and exposure in his ministry of comfort that he lost his life."
On February 22, Colonel James Nagle of the 48th Pennsylvania summoned the regiment's officers to his headquarters "for the purpose of taking some action in regard to the death of our late Surgeon, Dr. David Minis, Jr." At this meeting, Nagle read aloud General Orders No. 10, which was authored by Burnside two days earlier, and then adopted "warm resolutions of respect." Burnside's orders were as follows:
"The General commanding desires to render a tribute to the memory of Dr. Minis of the 48th Penn'a Volunteers. He was detached from his own Regiment and appointed to accompany the 9th New Jersey; then going into the field. He lost his life by disease, brought on by his untiring devotion to the wounded, during and after the action of the 8th. To the forgetfulness of self which kept him at his post at the Hospital, regardless of rest, the Department owes a debt of gratitude.
By Command of Brigadier General A.E. Burnside