Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The 48th/150th: Thirty Days' Veteran's Furlough. . .First Stop: Lexington!

150 years ago. . .

The 316 soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania who had decided to re-enlist for another three-year term of service were eagerly looking forward to a visit home. For most of these men, they had not seen their loved ones and their Schuylkill County homes since the late summer of 1861. More than two years had passed since then, and these miners, clerks, laborers, canal workers, and students had seen all the horrors the Civil War had to offer. Too many of their friends and comrades--and in some cases, fathers, sons, and brothers--had already given their lives, and now lay under the sandy soil of North Carolina, or in an unmarked pit near Manassas, Virginia, or near the bloody fields of battle at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Campbell's Station, and Knoxville. The men had tramped and steamed and rode the rails for thousands of miles already, and now those 316 soldiers were looking forward to yet another trip: first by foot, back toward Lexington, Kentucky, then by rail to Harrisburg and back, finally, to Pottsville. Their decision to re-enlist had earned them a thirty-day furlough. . .and, 150 years ago, they were setting off, eager to see their families once more.

"[T]here was great rejoicing amongst the veterans," said Oliver Bosbyshell when the orders arrived to head back home.  Their journey back to Schuylkill County began at 9:00 a.m. on January 13, 1864, when the soldiers "started on the long march back over the mountains to Lexington." Along the way, the regiment paused briefly at the headquarters of Brigadier General Robert Potter, their divisional commander, and were "greatly gratified at the speech" Potter made. With a spring in their step that had been missing for quite some time, the men covered 17 miles that day. Another 18 miles were covered the following day--January 14--with the soldiers arriving within a few miles of Cumberland Gap. Up and over the mountain they continued on January 15. On this date, the regiment was turned over to Major Joseph Gilmour while Colonel Joshua Sigfried, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pleasants, and Captain Oliver Bosbyshell rode on ahead, toward Lexington, with the intention of securing much needed supplies to be ready for when the regiment arrived. Bosbyshell, for example, made it all the way to Cincinnati where he was able to secure 160 new uniform coats to replace some of more tattered ones among the command.

Wartime Image of the Cumberland Gap
[From the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society]

Finally, on Saturday, January 23, the men arrived in Lexington, the city that had hosted them so kindly and so generously the year before when the 48th was detailed there as provost marshals. "The return to the 'old stamping ground' was like a homecoming, and very happy and enjoyable were the two days spent in renewing the friendships engendered by five months' provost duty." Joseph Gould recorded that when the regiment entered town, "the entire population turned out to meet us, as, with fife and drum, we marched out to our old camp-ground, where, before dismissing the regiment, Colonel Sigfried stated that he was going to place no restrictions on the men, trusting that every man would guard, as sacred, the good name we bore in Lexington. All he asked," concluded Gould, "was that enough men would remain in camp to guard the arms and regimental property."

The soldiers caught up with some old Kentucky friends and acquaintances and remained there until January 25, preparing for the next leg of their journey home. "That the people [of Lexington] enjoyed our coming goes without saying, as every evidence was given us of their delight, and that we were glad to be there was made manifest by the manner in which we enjoyed ourselves, especially as the 'freedom of the town' was extended to us," wrote regimental historian Gould.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Pottsville, the people rejoiced at the news that their husbands, sons, and brothers in the 48th PA were heading home. . .if only for 30 days. An elaborate ceremony was being prepared to welcome the boys back home.

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