Monday, May 12, 2014

The 48th/150th: May 12, 1864: Springtime Slaughter at Spotsylvania.

The rain fell heavily on the night of May 11, 1864 as the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac moved about in the wet darkness, taking up their assigned positions and preparing themselves for the morning attack. Soldiers of Hancock’s 2nd Corps stood poised to assault the Confederate “Mule Shoe” salient; to their left went the soldiers of Burnside’s 9th Corps. They were to strike the east side of that Mule Shoe while Hancock struck it head-on.
May 12, 1864, was a Thursday.

The morning, said Oliver Bosbyshell of the 48th PA, was “an exceedingly foggy one.” The men were up early—very early. The regiments composing the Second Division of the 9th Corps were formed up in two lines of battle. In the front line were the regiments of the Second Brigade; behind them, constituting the second line, went the soldiers of the First Brigade, including those of the 48th Pennsylvania.
The men readied themselves as best they could for the attack; taking deep breaths, grabbing a quick bit to eat, wiping the dew from their muskets. . .and thinking of their loved ones back home in Schuylkill County. But no matter how well and how much they calmed their nerves and prepared for the attack, no one could have known just how deadly this day would become and just how many of those loved ones back home would, that day, lose a son, a husband, a brother, a father. . .
At 4:00 a.m., through the fog and through the trees, the soldiers of the Second Division stepped forward. Within half an hour they came under skirmish fire and by 5:00 a.m., said Bosbyshell, “the engagement became very hot.”
Kurz & Allison Depiction of the Battle of Spotsylvania
In front, soldiers of the 17th Vermont slugged it out with Confederate soldiers from Georgia and North Carolina. The Granite State men were holding a position on top the crest of a hill. In front of this hillside was an open field and a swamp, through which ran a creek. On the opposite side of this creek, the ground rose once more and on top this second hill was the main Confederate line, the gray-and-butternut-clad soldiers well-positioned in their earthworks. To the left extended a thick woods, which ran beyond the swamp and toward the Confederate lines.

The 48th Pennsylvania were in a reserve position on the second line, watching as the fighting continued to intensify to their front. Then the fateful orders came. Captain Gilbert McKibben of divisional commander Robert Potter’s staff galloped up to Colonel Henry Pleasants and personally directed the regiment forward, directing them to form up in line of battle. The Vermont men were running low on ammunition and soldiers were needed to relieve them on the front.

"The fog lifting," wrote Bosbyshell, "a party of rebels was discovered occupying the fork formed by the banks of the stream." Colonel John Curtin, commanding the brigade, ordered the 48th to advance and the men swept past the flank of the Vermonters and were able to cut off the Confederates' retreat. Several dozen men of the 13th Georgia fell into the Pennsylvanians' hands as prisoners of war. The rest of that regiment was "badly situated and fought desperately to resist the attack," admitted Bosbyshell, but the 48th "steadily maintained its position under a destructive fire of musketry and artillery."  Additional Confederate troops soon arrived and the morning fight in the lifting fog was growing "exceedingly lively." But the opposing fire would soon begin to slacken and one man of the 48th yelled out that the Confederates were trying to surrender. Pleasants responded by ordering his men to "Continue firing!" Then, in a wave, the Confederates threw down their arms and ran into the 48th's lines. The regiment captured 200 Confederate soldiers and had caused heavy loss, but their success of that morning would be tempered by heavy losses of their own later on that morning.

Bosbyshell did not write much about the late morning attack, noting only that the regiment "made another assault in the afternoon [it was around 11:00 a.m.], charging forward to the swamp, but being unsupported moved by the flank into the woods, around on to the crest of the hill occupying its former position." Regimental historian Joseph Gould also spoke but briefly on this struggle. However, It was during this second assault, which was made under "a most disastrous fire," that the regiment sustained its heaviest loss. When the smoke lifted and the shooting stopped, 128 soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were either dead or wounded.

May 12, 1864
Map by Hal Jespersen,

Among the slain was Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson of Company G. He was a school teacher from St. Clair who had earned the love and respect of every man in the company; "an able and fearless officer," wrote Bosbyshell. Jackson had been captured at 2nd Bull Run, wounded at Fredericksburg, and wounded again at Knoxville. But on May 12, a bullet tore into his neck and within a matter of minutes he drew his last, painful breath.

Lewis Woods of Company F was also among those mortally wounded on May 12. Joseph Gould remembered paying a visit to a field hospital in the wake of the battle and there he was pained to discover Woods, whom he described as "a big, noble-hearted fellow," laying there in a cow stable "with his brains oozing from a ghastly bullet hole in his head." "As I took the gallant fellow's hand and asked him if he recognized me, his only reply was a smile," said Gould. It was at that moment that Gould's mind raced back to the previous year when the regiment was traveling via steamer from Newport News to Baltimore. Woods had fallen asleep on the deck and Gould, "in a moment of boyish deviltry," clipped off half of his mustache. Now, Gould watched as Woods's life ended in that bloody cow stable near Spotsylvania Court House.

Sergeant William Wells, also of Company F, remembered that just prior to the charge across the swampy ground, John Morrisey approached him and bade him goodbye. Asked why he said that, Morrisey replied that "I shall be killed today." "I chided him, and tried to cheer him up," said Wells, "then suggested that he remain out of the fight. . . .He indignantly refused, and said, 'I have never yet shirked my duty, and will not do it now. After I am dead, write to my sister, Mary, and tell her I died facing the enemy.'" Wells remembered that as soon as the assault began he saw Morrisey shot through the forehead and instantly killed. Later, Wells and a few comrades "dug a hole with the bayonet; wrapped [Morrisey] in his blanket and buried him. Then, upon a piece of cracker-box, we wrote, with a charred stick, his name, company and regiment." One year later, Wells was himself wounded outside Petersburg and was taken to a hospital in Chestnut Hill, PA. As a post-script and as a strange coincidence, while there Wells was visited by Mary Morrisey who was presumably a nurse at that hospital. "[F]inding my name among the new arrivals," said Wells, Mary "visited me, and I delivered [her brother's] dying message to her. She was a poor servant girl in the City of Philadelphia," related Wells, "but I shall never forget her distress."

From just these few examples above, it is clear that the fight at Spotsylvania and its terrible toll left indelible impressions upon the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania. It would prove one their worst battles of the war, at least in terms of numbers lost. The 48th sustained a higher number of casualties at 2nd Bull Run, but many of the 152 soldiers the regiment lost there on August 29, 1862, were either missing-in-action or captured and they would soon return to the regiment. At Spotsylvania, the regiment's casualties totaled 128 soldiers killed, wounded, and missing.

That night, the survivors did their best to recover from the savage contest. They built entrenchments and there, settled in for the night, mourning those lost. They would remain in these works for the next five days.

A listing of the regiment's casualties, sustained 150 years ago today, follows. . . .

Killed & Mortally Wounded: (25) 

--Louis M. Robinhold, Company A
--Isaac Otto, Company A
--John J. Huntzinger, Company A
--Charles A.T. St. Clair, Company A
--Sgt. William Kissinger, Company B
--Cpl. David Davis, Company B
--Matthew Hume, Company B
--Frederick Knittle, Company B
--Laurentus C. Moyer, Company B
--Daniel Wary, Company B
--John Deitz, Company B
--Michael Mohan, Company C (Died 5/20/1864)
--Cpl. John Powell, Company F (Died 5/26/1864)
--John Morrisey, Company F
--Lewis Woods, Company F
--Richard Williams, Company F
--Andrew Wessman, Company F
--Lt. Henry Clay Jackson, Company G
--James Spencer, Company G (Died 5/31/1864)
--John Armstrong, Company G 9Died 7/1/1864)
--William Williams, Company G
--Abraham Benscoter, Company H
--Joseph Chester, Company H (Died 5/24/1864)
--Henry J. Ege, Company I
--John W. Henn, Company K

Wounded: (92)

--Sgt. Albert C. Huckey, Co. A, Arm
--Cpl. Charles Brandenburg, Co. A, Knee
--Cpl. Jacob Honsberger, Co. A, Head (slight)
--Morgan Leiser, Co. A, Arm
--Benjamin F.C. Dreibelbeis, Co. A, Arm (slight)
--Charles Hillegas, Co. A, Back
--Sgt. Thomas Williams, Co. B, Concussion by Shell
--Gottleib Shauffler, Co. B, Wrist
--David Deitz, Co. B, Foot
--John Brown, Co. B, Head
--Henry Shoppell
--William Neeley, Co. C, Left Leg
--William J. Haines, Co. C, Side
--Murt Brennan, Co. C
--James Coakley, Co. C
--2nd Lt. Henry Stichter, Co. D, Back
--Sgt. Henry Rothenberger, Co. D, Shoulder
--Cpl. Edward Lenhart, Co. D, Arm
--James Deitrick, Co. D, Thigh and Hand (severe)
--Botto Otto, Co. D, Leg, Arm, and Toe
--Perry L. Strausser, Co. D, Right Hand
--George S. Beisel, Co. D, Leg
--William F. Moyer, Co. D, Shoulder
--John Kohler, Co. D, Chin
--Jonas Miller, Co. D, Arm
--Joseph Zeigler, Co. D, Shoulder
--Patrick Cooligan, Co. D, Head (slight)
--Andrew Knittle, Co. D, Leg
--Gustavus H. Miller, Co. D, Leg
--Henry Moyer, Co. D, Side
--Sgt. John McElrath, Co. E, Head
--Cpl. William J. Morgan, Co. E
--James McLaughlin, Co. E, Right Arm
--George W. Schaeffer, Co. E
--David Williams, Co. E, Foot (slight)
--W. Simmons, Co. E, Arm
--George W. James, Co. E, Leg
--W.C. James, Co. E, Arm
--James Meighan, Co. E, Thumb
--Robert Penman, Co. E, Arm
--Sgt. Richard Hopkins, Co. F, Hand (slight)
--William E. Taylor, Co. F, Hand
--Anthony Carroll, Co. F, Leg
--William S. Wright, Co. F
--James Brennan, Co. F, Abdomen
--Henry Holsey, Co. F, Leg
--William H. Kohler, Co. F, Back
--John Eddy, Co. F, Head
--Jno. T. Reese, Co. F, Arm
--John Crawford, Co. F, Head
--Augustus H. Whitman, Co. F, Leg
--Sgt. Richard M. Jones, Co. G, Head (slight)
--Cpl. George Farne, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Cunningham, Co. G,
--M. Berger, Co. G, Left Arm
--Clay W. Evans, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Grant, Co. G, Arm
--William Maurer, Co. G, Shoulder
--John Kautter, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Savage, Co. G, Arm
--William Huber, Co. H, Arm
--Benjamin Koller, Co. H, Arm (slight)
--John Klineginna, Co. H, Eye
--Daniel Ohnmacht, Co. H, Arm (slight)
--Albert Davis, Co. H, Thigh
--John Stevenson, Co. H, Groin
--Michael Melarkee, Co. H, Right Shoulder
--Daniel Cooke, Co. H, Foot
--John Cruikshank, Co. H, Hand
--Michael O'Brien, Co. H
--Charles Focht, Co. H
--John Olewine, Co. H, Hand
--Joseph Edwards, Co. H, Finger
--Thomas Palmer, Co. H, Leg
--Sgt. Luke Swain, Co. I, Concussion of Shell, Arms and Legs
--Sgt. Jacob Ongstadt, Co. I, Head (slight)
--Cpl. Daniel Klase, Co. I, Thigh
--Cpl. Wesley Knittle, Co. I, Hip
--Charles Lindenmuth, Co. I, Face
--Francis Boner, Co. I, Leg
--Charles W. Horn, Co. I, Both Legs and Hand
--M. Dooley, Co. I, Both Legs
--W. Tyson, Co. I, Concussion, Head
--Charles DeLong, Co. I, Hip
--Cpl. George Weaver, Co. K, Breast
--David R. Dress, Co. K
--Elias Fenstermaker, Co. K, Finger
--Thomas Fogarty, Co. K, Finger
--Henry Schulze, Co. K, Body
--Franklin Ely, Co. K, Foot
--Simon Hoffman, Co. K, Foot
--Andrew Webber, Co. K, Breast

Missing In Action: (11)

--George Seibert, Co. C
--Edward Ebert, Co. D
--John D. Weikel, Co. D
--William Gottschall, Co. E
--George Kramer, Co. F
--Harrison Bright, Co. H--Returned 6/6/1864
--Michael Scott, Co. H
--Lewis Aurand, Co. H--Returned 6/6/1864
--James Wentzell, Co. H
--W.B. Beyerle, Co. I
--W.B. Shearer, Co. I


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