Friday, June 6, 2014

The 48th/150th: "He was engaged in a just and holy Cause. . .:" The Death of Alexander Govan

Corporal Alexander Govan
Company G, 48th PA
150 years ago. . .The roads south from Spotsylvania were stained red with the blood of soldiers, both Union and Confederate. Among the tens of thousands who shed their life's blood on these crimson fields were many sons of Schuylkill County from the 48th Pennsylvania regiment. From May 22 until June 4--along the banks of the North Anna River and Totopotomoy Creek and on the plains of Cold Harbor--at least 90 of its soldiers fell either dead or wounded, most of them on June 3 at Cold Harbor. Thus, in just four weeks, since first crossing the Rapidan on May 4, the regiment had been thinned by at least 229 soldiers, including those who first fell during the campaign at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania.
But it must be always remembered that these soldiers were not just mere numbers. . .they were human beings, each with their own story to tell, caught up in this most tragic time in American history.

Alexander Govan, for example, was a newlywed. He had just been married on March 20, 1864, just before the regiment departed Schuylkill County once more for the front. Sadly, however, just over two months later, Corporal Govan was shot through the forehead and killed instantly at Cold Harbor, leaving his newlywed bride Sarah a twenty-one-year-old widow who would receive an $8.00/month pension until her own untimely death, which occurred on Christmas Eve, 1879, when she was but 36 years of age. Alex Govan had served with Company G from the outset, having enlisted at the age of eighteen in 1861. By occupation, he was an engineer from Palo Alto. Born in Nova Scotia, Alex was the first of eleven children born to Alexander and Jane Govan. Settling in Pottsville, Alexander, Sr., practiced law. On June 9, 1864, Joshua Sigfried, who had commanded the 48th for so long before accepting a commission in the U.S.C.T., wrote a heartfelt letter to Alex Govan's father in Pottsville:

"Dear Sir--
      In accordance with promise, I am called upon to perform a painful duty; yesterday I learned with sorrow of the death of your son Alexander. He was shot t
hrough the head and instantly killed on the 3rd inst. about five miles south of this place, while in battle with the enemy; his body was carefully buried by the members of his Company. I heartily sympathize with you and your family in this sad affliction, allow me to say, while you have lost an affectionate and dutiful son and Mrs. Govan, your daughter-in-law, an endearing husband, the company has lost one of its bravest and best soldiers--one who was ever ready to perform his duty, and who was ever found at his post, whether in camp, upon the march, or in battle--through his ---- good and noble conduct, he had endeared himself to all, both officers and soldiers, and his loss is mourned throughout the command; but let me add while you mourn his loss do not forget that he was engaged in a just and holy Cause and when he fell he fell patriotically at his post, manfully defending the flag-the liberty of our Country. I trust that he rests in that [ineligible] where conflicts never reach."
J.K. Sigfried
The Grave of Corporal Govan
Richmond National Cemetery

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