Saturday, March 15, 2014

The 48th/150th: Back To The Front. . .and Some "Troublesome Customers."

150 years ago. . .and after what must have seemed like a blink of an eye, the thirty-day furlough for the veteran soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania came to an end. Officially, their furlough ended on March 4, 1864, but when the regiment assembled next day in Pottsville, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that their furlough had been extended first to March 7, then another week, to March 14. There were, no doubt, many tears shed as the soldiers embraced their wives, their mothers, their children, before heading back to war. For hundreds of these volunteers departing with the 48th, this would be their first term of enlistment. While over 300 veterans of the regiment decided to re-enlist for another three-year term, hundreds more--perhaps those too young to enlist in 1861 or perhaps those who were drawn to serve because of the bounty--would be setting off for the front for the first time. On March 14, 1864, "amidst cheering shouts of friends," the train cars carrying the 48th pulled away from Pottsville and arrived in Harrisburg later that day "with full ranks."  For four days, the regiment remained at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, shaking off the rust and the dust and preparing once more for soldiering. Orders were received to proceed to Annapolis, Maryland, where the 9th Corps was just then rendezvousing. So, on March 18, the regiment bid farewell once more to Harrisburg and headed for Baltimore via Philadelphia.

It did not take long, however, for the regiment to cause trouble. Thanks to reader Vince at, I discovered something new about the 48th. Apparently, while passing through the city of Lancaster, the hard-drinking soldiers of the 48th cleaned the town out, as reported in the March 19, 1864, edition of the Lancaster Daily Evening Express:

TROUBLESOME CUSTOMERS: The 48th Regiment, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, passed through this city yesterday on their way to Philadelphia. A number of drinking houses on their route were visited by some twenty of these troops, and "cleaned out." In this city, Frank's beer saloon, and Mrs. Cox's and Captain Shue's taverns suffered considerably. They carried off whatever took their fancy. What a great contrast between those men and the excellent behavior of the 79th.
The 79th Pennsylvania was, by the way, a Lancaster-based regiment. Regardless, I would like to find out who specifically these twenty "troublesome customers" were. . .

Monday, March 3, 2014

The 48th/150th: The Murder of Private James Shields, Company E

150 years ago, the veteran soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, at home on furlough in Schuylkill County, were preparing to return once more to the front, with their thirty-day furlough set to expire on March 3, 1864.  As the soldiers prepared to bid farewell to their families and their friends, they were shocked to learn that one of their own had been murdered.

James Shields, a laborer from Silver Creek, was just nineteen-years-old when he was mustered into service as a private in Captain William Winlack's Company E, 48th Pennsylvania, in December 1861. He had served with the regiment since then, surviving the Battles of 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Campbell's Station, and Knoxville. Yet, on the night of February 26, 1864, young Private Shields was stabbed through the heart and killed while at the home of his sister-in-law in Silver Creek.

I am sorry to say that I do not have much more on this rather bizarre, tragic incident, except what was printed in Joseph Gould's regimental history The Story of the Forty-Eighth and taken, verbatim it seems, from the March 5, 1864, edition of the Miners' Journal. There is some speculation that the murder of Shields and of another man named John Stinson were somehow related to the Molly Maguires but, as of yet, I have found nothing to verify this.

From Gould/Miners' Journal:
"On Saturday night last a tragic affair at the house of Mrs. Hannah Shields in Silver Creek, this County, involving the death of a soldier of the 48th Regiment and also a resident, named John Stinson. The murders were committed about ten o'clock last night and information received here at about eleven o'clock, Constable Chrisman obtained a warrant for the arrest of the men charged with the crime.
"With a squad of the 1st N.Y. Artillery he went up and arrested four men, named Patrick Godley, Hugh or Peter Curren, Charles Ryan and Peter Hagans. The accused were brought to Pottsville, and had a hearing before Justice Rees at three o'clock Sunday afternoon. The men murdered were James Shields, a member of Captain Winlack's company, 48th P.V., and John Stinson. The principal witnesses examined at the hearing were Mrs. Shields, a sister-in-law of James, and David McAllister, of Co. E, of the same regiment. Shields was stabbed in the heart, and received several gashes in his abdomen.
"At the trial of the murderers, Curran got five years, and the rest were allowed their liberty."

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find anything else in the records regarding a motive but will keep on digging. . . .