|Private Francis M. Stidham|
Company A, 48th Pennsylvania
(John D. Hoptak Collection)
Tragedy hovered like an ever-present shadow over Mary Jane Stidham of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.
Born in 1823, Mary Jane was married at age eighteen and, soon after, she and her husband Jacob Stidham began raising a family. A son, Francis, was born first; another son, John, followed two years later, and then a baby girl, born in 1851. Sadly, the three Stidham children lost their father and Mary her husband when, in early 1853, Jacob, an engineer aboard the steamer Spray, died. The records vary; he may have been killed by an explosion aboard the steamer or he may have drowned after falling overboard. Either way, the death of Jacob Stidham left the Stidham family without a husband and a father and forced young Francis, who was either 13 or 14 years old at that time, to find work in order to help support the family. He went to work as a brakeman on the Catawissa Railroad and then earned money as a chair maker in Tamaqua.
But then the war began and in August 1861, Francis Stidham volunteered his services. He traveled to Port Clinton and signed up under Captain D.B. Kauffman. The following month, the 21-year-old chair maker who stood 6'0" in height, with a dark complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair, was mustered into service as a private in Company A, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Francis Stidham was unmarried and had no children of his own and he would continue to support his family while in uniform. To support his widowed mother as well as his younger sister, Francis sent home $8.00 each month. No doubt his younger brother John did so as well after volunteering to serve himself in August 1862. John Stidham entered the ranks of the 96th Pennsylvania and served well with that regiment until his death, which occurred on May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania. The 48th and 96th Pennsylvania Infantries were both heavily engaged in this sanguinary struggle, though they fought on opposite ends of the battlefield. As Francis Stidham and his comrades in the 48th assaulted the right flank of the Confederate line, John Stidham and the soldiers of the 96th were striking the left. At some point during the engagement, Francis's younger brother John was killed in action. Mary Jane Stidham lost a son. . .
She would lose the other just two months later.
On June 17, 1864, Francis Stidham was wounded severely while charging the Confederate lines outside Petersburg, Virginia. Carried from the field, he was conveyed back to Annapolis "suffering from a gunshot wound of right arm and breast." He arrived in Annapolis on June 20; three weeks later--on July 10--the wound "resulted in hemorrhage into [his] thoratic cavity," and Francis Stidham passed away. His remains were buried in the Annapolis National Cemetery where they continue to rest.
After losing her husband to an accidental death in 1853, Mary Jane Stidham lost both her sons to war eleven years later, in 1864. She was able to collect a small pension until her own death which occurred on May 30, 1878 in Tamaqua. Her cause of death was listed as breast cancer; she was fifty-five years of age.
|At the grave of Private Francis Stidham. . .Annapolis National Cemetery|