Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The 48th/150th: Colonel Sigfried's New Year's Letter: 1/1/1863

1862 saw the 48th Pennsylvania encamped along the sandy shores of Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, where the regiment "saw the elephant"--or at least "heard the elephant"--during Burnside's expedition; the year also witnessed the regiment transfer back to Virginia and attached to John Pope's Army of Virginia, suffering terribly in its first true baptism-by-fire at 2nd Bull Run; falling back into Washington, the 48th and Burnside's 9th Corps became a part of George McClellan's Army of the Potomac; heading out into Maryland, the 48th next saw action at South Mountain then again at Antietam; Lee having been repulsed and Lincoln, impatient for military action to back up his Proclamation of Emancipation, replaced McClellan with Burnside, who then led the army to Fredericksburg, where the 48th again suffered heavily in its attack against Marye's Heights.  During that fateful and bloody year, scores of 48th soldiers gave their lives on these fields of battles, while hundreds more fell wounded; many others, stricken by illness, were discharged from the service. When the regiment was mustered in 1861, more than 1,000 stood in the ranks; by New Year's Day, 1863, roughly 300 remained.
On the first day of 1863--150 years ago today--Colonel Joshua Sigfried, commanding the regiment, penned a letter recapping and recounting 1862 and looking ahead to better fortunes in 1863.
Col. Joshua Sigfried
(Courtesy of Mr. David Sigfried)
The son of a wheelwright, Joshua K. Sigfried was born in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, on Independence Day, 1832. He went to school in Pottsville, then found work as a coal shipper in Port Carbon. As a member of Port Carbon's Marion Rifles, Sigfried entered Civil War service as a captain in the 6th Pennsylvania, a three-month regiment recruited largely out of Schuylkill County. Commanding the 6th was Colonel James Nagle, and upon the expiration of the regiment's term of service, Nagle asked Sigfried to help him raise and recruit a three-years-or-the-war regiment, which ultimately became the 48th Pennsylvania. Sigfried was mustered into service as the Major of the 48th, but was quickly promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel following the November 1861 resignation of David A. Smith. And when Nagle was elevated to brigade command, Sigfried rose to regimental command, leading the 48th from April 1862 until April 1864, when he resigned to accept a commission as a brigade commander in Edward Ferrero's 4th Division, 9th Corps, U.S.C.T.

On New Years' Day, 1863, from the headquarters of the 48th Pennsylvania, Lt.Col. Sigfried wrote a lengthy letter to the Miners' Journal in Pottsville, which essentially recapped the regiment's first full year in service. This letter is quite lengthy, but follows in its entirety:

* * * * * * * * * *

Headquarters 48th Regiment P.V.

Near Fredericksburg, Va., Jan. 1, 1863

Editors Miners' Journal: This being the first day of the new year, I concluded to write a communication to the Journal. . . .The old year is numbered with the past. To us as a nation, it has been indeed an eventful one. Thousands of our brave sons and comrades in arms have yielded up their lives as willing sacrifices that the nation might be preserved.

We enter today upon the new year 1863. What shall be its history? May we hope ere its close to see peace restored to our now distracted country--a peace founded in justice, righteousness and universal liberty. May all the benign influences of good government enfold our nationality, and all the horrors cease. This day one year ago we were stationed on the isle of Hatteras, N.C. We then numbered in this regiment about eight hundred and fifty officers and soldiers. Today not half remain fit for duty. We were engaged in the following memorable battles, viz: Bull Run No. 2, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. It is due to both officers and men who remain, as well as to the memory of those who have fallen in battle and by disease, that I should state, I have been with the regiment upon all marched as well as in the different battles. In August last we arrived here from Newport News, remained a short time, then left for Bealton Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. We left here in the evening at dusk, marched all that night until about three o'clock a.m. At daylight we started again, marched all the day until dark, when we encamped for the night. Next morning we took up the march again, arrived at the station at eleven o'clock a.m., remained there several hours, when we took the cars for Culpeper. On arriving there, we were ordered to march south of the town (about two miles), where we encamped for that night and the next day. Thence we marched to Cedar Mountain, near the Rapidan River, where we remained for another day, but on the following day we received orders to move that evening at eleven o'clock. We took up the march at the hour named, marched all that night and next day until five o'clock in the afternoon without halting over an hour at any one time. We crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly's Ford where we remained two days, after we which we left for Rappahannock Station again--thence along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Manassas Junction, thence to Bull Run, and after the battle, on the night of 30th August, we left for Centreville, then to Chantilly, where we had the second engagement. Left there about two o'clock at night for Alexandria, where we encamped and remained for some four days when we went a short distance beyond Washington, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, a distance of some sixteen miles, where we again encamped and remained for several days. We started from here toward Frederick City, Md., South Mountain. Here the regiment was under fire from about ten o'clock a.m. until about the same hour in the evening. At nine o'clock the next morning we left for Antietam, where we arrived about the same hour that evening. Next day, September 16th, we remained in camp until two o'clock p.m., the shells of the enemy constantly passing over our heads, so you may judge the men did not rest much. Then we marched further to the left. Upon the 17th came the battle.

I have given you a random sketch of the marches, battles, etc, for a period of about six weeks. During the whole of this time we were on the march with the exception of about eight days, plodding through rain as well as sunshine, roads often very muddy, and it so happened that when the roads were in their worst conditions, we were often not only compelled to march by day, but all night. The greater portion of the time (we being constantly on the advance) we were short of rations, very seldom any meat, and if we did get it, had but scant time to cook it. We were often out of bread for nearly a whole day and sometimes longer. In justice to Lt. Keys, acting brigade commissary of subsistence, I must say, that he made every effort possible to have the men fully supplied; but it was impossible for him to succeed in doing so, owing to the long and rapid marches, and our advanced position, the supply train being in the rear. Water very often being very scarce. Repeatedly did I see men drink water from mud-puddles and stagnant pools by the side of the road. At the battle of Bull Run they lost their blankets and all their clothing except what they had on. Their shoes being worn out, some the men walked literally barefooted from Bull Run to Washington.

Yet with all the severe marching, lying out without tents, short rations, want of clothing and bad roads, I am proud to say we had scarcely any stragglers. I have repeatedly seen both officers and soldiers really staggering from sheer exhaustion, yet they would keep up their companies, determined not to stay behind as long as it was possible for them to keep up. They were cheerful and ever ready to do their duties, and in the several engagements I must say, that they behaved most gallantly. At South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg, while advancing in line of battle from a quarter to a half mile under the most terrific fire of the enemy, I did not observe a single one that did not march steadily to the front, obey every command, fire deliberately when engaged, and when the ammunition was exhausted (which was in each case sixty rounds per man) and I was relieved, they retired in perfect order under the most severe fire from the enemy, when I could scarcely have expected them not to break. A large number who were not severely wounded, instead of going to and remaining in the hospitals, had their wounds dressed and at once entered the ranks again by the side of their comrades--I must say (and I do it not to flatter) I am proud that I have command of such soldiers; men who will not flinch in the hour of trial and danger.

H. Hardell, hospital steward, deserves great praise for his attention to his responsible duties. He is courteous, and always ready to attend to the wants of the suffering, and his long experience as hospital steward has made him very useful, indeed. Many in the regiment are willing to be treated by him when sick, having not only confidence in him as a steward, but as a surgeon. Dr. Morrison, our assistant surgeon, has not been with us for any length of time yet, but I think he will prove himself what I much hope for in the regiment--a good and efficient surgeon.

Quartermaster Sergeant J. Wagner and Commissary Sergeant Charles Schnerr both deserve great credit for their strict attention to their duties.

Quartermaster J. Ellis, having been sick for a long time, resigned, not wishing to occupy the office when he was unable to discharge the duties of the same. I was very loath to have him leave, but could not advise him to stay when I believed that for him to remain in the service would result in permanent disability.

Many thanks are due to Lieut.Col. H. Pleasants, Major James Wren and Lieut. D.D. McGinnis, adjutant, for their assistance upon the march and in camp, and for their noble conduct in the engagement at Fredericksburg. As to my line officers I cannot particularize, for all who have been in the various engagements have behaved bravely and with great credit, proving themselves fit and competent for the positions they occupy.

In conclusion, I would add that I should like to see some plan adopted by which all the old decimated regiments could be filled up. I would not be able, today, to take more than 300 men into an engagement. Other regiments are the same. It would take three of the old regiments now to make one. If they cannot be filled by new recruits, it strikes me that it would be a good plan to consolidate them. It would certainly be a great saving to the Government, and at the same time would prove more efficient.

I must not close without naming the fact that we have not been paid since the 30th of June, a period of six months. I am satisfied that many of the families at home are suffering in consequence. This should not be. It should be enough, when men are willing to sacrifice their business, leave their homes, families and friends, and, if need be, sacrifice their lives for their country's good, without having their families suffer by delay in payment.

To the friends of those who have died, or fallen in battle, I would say, you have my dearest condolence, and to those who have been wounded, or are sick, you have my sympathies in this, the hour of your suffering.

Entering upon the new year, as we do today, I wish you, and the many readers of the Journal, all a hearty and happy New Year.

I remain yours, with respect,

J.K. Sigfried, Col. commanding Regt

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