Wednesday, March 8, 2017

5,507 Miles: The Civil War Experiences and Diaries of Captain Francis D. Koch, Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry

Captain Francis D. Koch and his wife Mattie
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm/Museum of Civil War Images)


Oliver Bosbyshell remembered quite vividly the moment when Francis Koch was shot. 

It was at the Battle of Fredericksburg, on December 13, 1862, and more than thirty years later, in his history of the 48th Pennsylvania, Bosbsyshell was sure to include a mention of it, so vivid an impression did it sear into his mind. In discussing the regiment's actions that Saturday at Fredericksburg Bosbyshell wrote of what he labeled as the "rather singular circumstance" of seeing Koch struck down. He recalled that as the fighting was winding down, he saw Koch and Captain Henry Pleasants standing next to one another, talking, when, in a flash, a minie ball struck Koch in the chest, "and came out his back passing through the rolled blanket he had slung over his shoulder." Serving all four years and rising to the rank of major himself, Bosbyshell saw many a man shot down on many a different field. But what made this one different, at least as Bosbyshell explained, was the fact that his eyes at that very moment had "just happened to rest upon the exact spot where the bullet made its egress from the blanket," and he remembered with perfect clarity seeing the "separation of fibers [of the blanket] as the bullet passed out," before he even knew or realized that Koch had been hit. It was a serious wound, for sure, though not a mortal one. 

"Fortunately," concluded Bosbyshell, "the bullet did not end Koch's life." 

That life had begun twenty years earlier, in the summer of 1842, near McKeansburg, Pennsylvania, in the rich agricultural districts of southeastern Schuylkill County. His early childhood was seemingly spent on the family farm, for in the spring of 1861, when he responded to his country's call and volunteered to fight, he listed his occupation as "Farmer," though by then his place of residence was Auburn, some ten miles south and west of McKeansburg. The United States had been rent asunder by civil war, and Koch, like so many others his age, decided to leave his home and family and take up arms in defense of the country. He served first in Company F, 5th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, having enlisted on April 20, 1861, less than a week after President Abraham Lincoln's first call-to-arms. The 5th was a three-month unit and in late July, it was mustered out of service. Koch, for his part, had entered as a private but was discharged as a sergeant. One month after returning home and just a few days before his nineteenth birthday, Francis Koch enlisted once more, this time signing up under Captain John Porter, whose company would soon become Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered in as a sergeant and, physically, was described as having a Light Complexion, Blue Eyes, and Brown Hair. At 5'10" in height, he stood among the tallest soldiers in the entire regiment. 

Koch served with Company I, 48th Pennsylvania, until the regiment's discharge in the summer of 1865. He remained a sergeant for most of that time, but on March 16, 1864, with the regiment being recruited back up to full strength and just prior to the outset of the bloody spring campaign in Virginia, he was promoted from Sergeant to Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant. Surviving the horrors that was the Wildnerness, and the hell that was Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, Koch was ultimately promoted to captain following the death of Benjamin B. Schuck in the trenches of Petersburg. 

On December 1 of that year, the soldiers of Company I presented Koch with a "very handsome sword, sash, and belt." A ceremony was held, and Private Charles Wagner, selected by the members of the company to formally present the gifts to the flattered captain, spoke  "Sir: I have been selected by the members of Co. I to present to you, in their behalf, this sword, sash and belt, and however I may feel my utter incompetency to fulfill the task assigned me I still know that perhaps no one feels more the deep responsibility resting upon me, in giving vent and free expressions of the entire sentiments of the company, which is honored by your commanding; yes, we are proud to say our commander, and we have long as we do now, looked on you with pride, knowing you by long experience, to be well tried and trustworthy. And when such a feeling exists you can feel well satisfied that whenever duty calls we will follow." 

Captain Koch was touched by the sentiments and responded that he was perfectly surprised by the occasion. "A sword as a token of your respect is far more than I ever expected; I am at a loss for words to express myself in a manner no doubt that you expect me to respond. I feel that I am incapable to delivering an oration at a time like this, on such an occasion being entirely unprepared; however, I hope that I may be prepared at a time more trying than this, when I may not lack the courage as your commander, to lead you forth in battle to brave every danger, be it ever so great, that you may achieve a glorious victory, in conquering your enemy, whereby we would connect that link so long broken. I trust that in studying to promote your honor, I may insure my own, and never bring the gray hairs of your doting parents with sorrow to their graves by a disgraceful or cowardly act of mine, which would give you a reason in after years to curse the hour you honored me with this sword, the esteem and respect of noblemen, tried and true soldiers. I am well pleased to learn from the expression of those who I have the honor of addressing, that you are satisfied with what you have done in presenting me with this gift, which I fully appreciate. My greatest pleasure is in knowing that its donors are safe and contended, and that I have done my duty as your commander, in caring for your welfare, and that of our country. For this honor you have bestowed upon me in presenting this sword, sash and belt, accept my fervent thanks with that only hope that I may never sheath it disgraced.” Following Koch's remarks, the company gave three cheers for its "noble commander." Captain Francis D. Koch remained in command of Company I through the duration of the war and on July 17, 1865, was mustered out of service. 


Francis Koch's Handmade 9th Corps Badge


Koch had taken ill in mid-September 1862 and was sent to Harwood Hospital to recover. While recuperating, it appears that he was able and well enough to serve as a nurse in the hospital, no doubt helping to relieve the sufferings of those who fell at Second Bull and at Antietam. By early December he had returned to the 48th only to be shot down and seriously wounded at Fredericksburg, as related by Bosbyshell. The bullet that wounded Koch, though, did not enter his chest as Bosbyshell assumed. Rather, it struck his left clavicle, fracturing it, then passed diagonally downward, exiting his back near the 2nd dorsal vertebra and grazing the spine. On its way out, the bullet tore through the blanket slung across his back, which Bosbyshell so vividly remembered. Taken first to a field hospital, Koch eventually found himself back in a D.C. hospital before going home to Auburn to better recuperate under the care of the family physician. 

After the war, Koch settled down to family life. On January 17, 1865, having taken leave from the army, he married Martha Jane Huff, whom he referred to lovingly at Mattie. The couple would have four children survive to adulthood: Allen, (b. 1868), Howard (b, 1873), Benjamin (b. 1875), and George (b. 1875). Sadly, the couple's only daughter, Minnie (b. 1870) died in childhood. Departing Schuylkill County for presumably better opportunity, the Koch family moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia, settling first in Manayunk and then finding a more permanent home in Conshohocken. It was there where Francis and Mattie celebrated their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary in 1915 and it was there, two years later, on December 5, 1917, where Francis Koch passed away at age 75. 




* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Diaries and Journals of Francis D. Koch 
(Hoptak Collection) 


A number of years ago, I was fortunate enough to come into possession of items that once belonged to Captain Koch, including his 9th Corps badge, the diaries he kept during the conflict, as well as other journals and papers he kept afterward. Included among the collection was a clipping from the Miners' Journal of December 14, 1864, which related the presentation of the sword he received from his company. Among his post-war items, is a small booklet--or journal--that he used to begin writing what seemed to be a history of the 48th Pennsylvania. He wrote a Preface, including an overview of the regiment's service record, as well as rosters of each of the ten companies. There was no real narrative, though, so I am not sure if Koch just never did get around to completing it. Nevertheless, in the back of this little journal are a number of pages that list nothing but the regiment's "Arrivals and Departures" and "Distances" traveled throughout his time in uniform. At the end, Koch tallied up that he and the regiment had covered no fewer that 5,507 miles. 

Below are a few pages of this journal: 

Departures and Arrivals--1861-1862
Distances Traveled (1863)

Total Miles Covered By 48th Pennsylvania 



The diaries Captain Koch during the war are also largely incomplete; the entries for many months, for example, are empty. When he did record his thoughts, they were rather short and to-the-point, which was common, especially since the diaries themselves were so small and did not permit for much text. His entries covering the Fredericksburg Campaign do include a rather abrupt mention of his injury:  

Thursday, December 11, 1862:
Today our men shelled and took Fredericksburg Virginia
Friday, December 12, 1862:
This morning we entered Fredericksburg we were under shell all day
Tonight we are in town
Saturday, December 13, 1862:
This morning we went into battle. I fired 45 rounds and then fell with a shot in the shoulder. 




The most thorough and most descriptive of all of Koch's diary entries pertain to the opening of the 1864 Overland Campaign, particularly May 1864, which was a devastatingly bloody month for the 48th. During this time, Koch served as the company's First Lieutenant and did his best to record his impressions and thoughts of this sanguinary month. But then, again abruptly, the entries stop on May 20, and are not resumed. 

Below are the transcribed entries for the spring of 1864 from Koch's diary, published here for the first time, and using Koch's own spelling. They recount the regiment's activities and actions from its camp at Annapolis, Maryland, through the Wilderness, to the blood-stained fields of Spotsylvania, Virginia.  



April 27th 1864
This morning we formed line at 10 A.M. and marched a ½ of a mile and rested but afterwards made a right start. Gen Burnside rode through the camp of the corps this morning and was cheered by thousands as he rode on. Lt. Helms’ Mess and ours formed one this morning. We arrived at Fairfax this evening at 6 P.M. and encamped for the night. I noticed the colored troops out drilling as we passed their camp. I nearly pittied them having to march all day and drill in the dark after they camp. In the evening Lt. Helms, Capt. Schuck and myself went to town to the sutlers, and returned to camp by abt. 11 P.M. There are 1500 troops stationed here under command of Brig Gen Tyler

Army of the Potomac
April 28, 1864
This morning we left camp at 6 A.M. Just before leaving Camp we received a mail which contained three letters for me, one from Sister Hattie, one from Kate M. Huff, her Cart de Visit enclosed, & one from My Dear Mattie.

April 29th 1864
This morning we struck tents at 7 A.M. formed line marched a few paces stacked arms, and rested. While we were resting I sat down along side of an empty Cracker box and on the top of it wrote a letter to Dear Mattie. I was relieved on Guard this morning by Lieut. Joseph Edwards.
We fooled around here for nearly all day and _____ succeeded in getting a camping ground in top of a high hill near Bristoe Station. The Reserve Corps was all moved to the front and we relieved them to guard the rail road from here to Exander [Alexandria?] Virginia. The Reserves were not pleased by the movement.

Bristoe Station VA
April 30th 1864
This morning I succeeded in sending away the letter to Mattie that I wrote yesterday. This morning Capt. went on Picket duty and every thing was left in my hands to fix up, I was as busy as a bee all day writing and making out our pay Rolls. We were mustered by Col. H.C. Pleasants at 3 P.M. every thing passed off very nicely. The weather has been very nice during the forenoon but in the afternoon it rained every now & then. Troops are passing here every day on the cars to the front. This evening I received a notice the Private Lewis Garber of our Company died in Div No. 2 U.S. General Hospital Annapolis MD on the 23rd past of typhoid fever.

Bristoe’s Station
May 1st, 1864
This has been a beautiful day. We had an inspection of company this morning and Services by the Chaplain at 2 P.M. at dress parade we had a prayer by the Chaplain.
In the evening Lt. Edwards, Capt. Bosbyshell, Doc Blackwood several others and myself met at Doc’s tent to organize a choir we sang several pieces very well and all passed the evening amusing ourselves very much. Trains have been passing all day with troops going to the front to reinforce Gen Grant.

May 2nd, 1864
Bristoe Station
This morning I received two letters, one from Brother Jerry and one from Cousin man Reed. I wrote a letter to Sister Hattie and one to the Miners’ Journal in regard to the deaths of two of our men. In the evening it began to rain and storm still continues. 9 P.M. I retire

May 3rd, 1864
B. Station
This morning we have clear but cold weather. I took the company out on drill this morning. When I came in the Capt handed me a letter from My Dear Mattie which could not well be more interesting than it was. I answered it immediately writing her a letter of 8 Pages.
This afternoon we had Company or rather Regimental drill by Col. Pleasants. I was in command of Co. K. I got along very well. This afternoon and evening we were busey all the time at packing up our things ready to leave. During the day we received marching orders to be ready to move if called on. The men received Six days’ Rations this afternoon. 3 Day to be coocked in haversack, and 3 in knapsacks.

May 4th,1864
Camp In The Field
This morning we left camp at 9 A.M. and moved pretty briskly. We had a very hard march during the day. We marched 14 miles. The weather was beautiful it was pretty warm but a nice cool breeze continued to blow the whole day long. This morning Col. J.K. Sigfried bid the Regt. farewell. He made a short speech after which we gave him three Hearty cheers. We regret to part with such a noble commander as he has been. He takes command of colored Brigade in the 4th Division of our Corps (9th) Before leaving I received two letters from Brother Allen the other from My Dear Mattie. God bless her noble heart and make her a future a happy one. I wrote two letters to day. One to Brother Jerry to other to Cousin Man Reed. We sleep under the Guide off an Almighty Providence to night.
On the march during the day I made good use of my time by reading the Travels & Adventures of Capt. GrantSpeekes [?] which was indeed very interesting. The Army of the Potomac in front is said to have mooved at midnight last night across the Rapidan River. Success to Grant & his Command.

May 5th, 1864
This morning we left camp at 5 ½ A.M. and marched pretty fast during the day until 6 P.M.  We have marched over the Rappahannock and Rappidan Rivers and now encamp for the night in the woods on this side of the Rappidan River about 4 miles. We cross the River at Jamimaks [?] Bridge but on a pontoon we constructed and layed across. The enemy are not far from us this Evening when we stopped to encamp our artillery was engaged then pretty hot with the enemy. We came about 15 miles today.

May 6th, 1864
Camp in the Front
During the last night we were not allowed to make a bed but were obliged to lay down with out anything to lay on or cover us with. I did not get any sleep by the orders we had to obey. This morning we left at 3 O’clock marched about 2 miles and then found ourselves in the midst of ___ enemy but in their front. I was sent out on our right with 150 men to form a line of skirmishers to watch any flank moovements the enemy would undertake to make. I soon came in contact with the Picket line of the enemy I ordered my men to forward at once. They did so. The enemy charging on us at two different times but I repulsed them on bouth _________. We drove them about 4 hundred yards and kept then at bay from daylight this morning untill 3 P.M. when I was relieved by the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. I then marched over 2 miles ere I got to may Regt. I joined it while under a heavy fire of infantry. The fighting has been very hard on all sides and the loss very heavy. Our Regt. is now on Picket line on the left 9 P.M. We lost Gen. Wadsworth today. He was shot through the head. Thomas Yerks, Co. G, 51st N.Y.V. wounded today in both legs.


May 7th, 1864
Still on Picket on this Morning at a place called the Wilderness via 5 miles Chancellorsville & 15 miles from Fredericksburg. We remained on Picket till 4 P.M. when we were relieved by the 2nd Brig of the 2nd Division and then we marched out into the open field where we lay until 7 P.M. During the day we were skirmishing with the Enemy in front of us continually. Yesterday our Regt. charged the enemy in the two day fight we lost 4 men killed and 7 wounded. The loss in bouth armies was very heavey during the day we flanked the enemy on the left and in all it is supposed we beat them. The Enemy have been Retreating all day. In the forenoon they charged on Old Benjamins Battery which resulted in very heavey loss on their Side. Benjamin paid them the same compliment he did at Knoxville, Tennessee, November 29th 1863. I presume they will not be apt to forget him supported by the 9th Army Corps. The enemy’s force is said to have been 80,000 men on the 5th Inst. & Commanded by Generals A.P. Hill, Longstreet, Ewell, and the Great Gen. Lee. Today I read while at leizure the Life of Minnie the Child of the Wreck

May 8th, 1864
Camp at Chancellorsville
This morning we left the Wilderness and marched to this camp where we encamped once more for the night. The first time for the last three nights it was quiet. A curiosity to sleep in a tent once more. About 4 A.M. I was ordered (after we had marched 5 miles and stopped to Camp) to go two miles further on with a detail from each Company to draw 4 days rations and cook them which was all done very nicely and in the Evening brought up to the Regt. Col. Pleasants formed the Regt into a Square and told us that the Enemy were in full retreat towards Richmond as fast as they could travel and two corps of ours driving them like forty.

May 9th, 1864
Camp Near Fredericksburg
This morning we ran around untill 9 A.M. when we formed line & Stacked arms for about an hour. The order came then to march and we were Soon on the road. We marched back & forwards untill dark then pulled out at double quick for about 2 miles to catch up with the other troops. We marched untill 12 Oclock and then Camped for the night. The day has been a beautifull one. The 2nd & 5th Corps have been fighting all day near Spottilvania Court house. we Camped within 3 miles South East of Fredericksburg for the night. About 6 P.M. we passed the 2nd provisional Regt. of the 112th Pa. V. Artillery and Camped. I met 3 good Friends, David Blair, James Reed, & M. Huff all of Pottsgrove & vicinity. The latter is an Uncle to Mattie J. Huff. Gen. Sedgwick is reported to have been killed this morning by a ball from the Enemy.

May 10th, 1864
In the morning the Sun is very warm. We lay still in camp until 3 P.M. when we again packed up our things and soon formed line after which we received orders to forward and we did forward for about 6 miles and finnally found ourselves on the extreme left in line of Battle and under a very heavey fire of Shell from the Enemy. We are now laying on the advance on Picket line.

May 11th, 1864
Still in front throwing up intrenchments this morning right in front of the Enemy. We held this post untill dusk and then we fell back for about 1 ½ miles and at 8 P.M. we advanced forward again and lay in other intrenchments within about ½ miles of those we made. Col. Pleasants Send me out on the advance with a detail to find a line of Battle and Skirmishers of ours reported in front. I advanced a ¼ of a mile but could not find any thing. I then formed a line of Skirmishers or rather a Picket line which I held until 1 Oclock in the morning when I was relieved by a detail of the 14th N.Y. heavey artillary. I fell back to the Regt. 4 wounded in the Regt to day. Missing to day W.F. Scheerer.

May 12th, 1864
At 4 A.M. our whole division mooved forward and drove the Enemy about a mile. We lay in line of Battle fighting the Enemy untill 2 P.M. when our Regt. and the 17th Vermont charged the enemy but were repulsed with a heavey loss and were obliged to fall back about halfway where we Soon threw up Rifle Pits and Kept ___ position under a heavey fire, during the day our loss was 26 killed 88 wounded and 19 missing out of Regt. Lt. Jackson of Co. G was among the killed our Company had one Killed an 9 wounded and 5 missing. I got through very safe to day. I had my sword strap shot off. About 100 of the Enemy came in and gave themselves up. We whipped the Enemy pretty well during the day their loss is much heavier than ours. The 2nd Corps drove the Enemy on our Right capturing 8000 prisoners and 13 pieces of artillary. Among the Prisoners was Gens Steuart & Johnson. William Henn was wounded through the right breast very seriously afterward shot himself. Simon Hoffman wounded in Ankle. Henry Shultz wounded in right side and Arm, all from Auburn, All members of Co. K
Casualties of Co. I
Killed H.J. Ege
Wounded D. Klase, F. Boner, C. Lindemuth, J. Brown, C.W. Horn, Wm. Tyson, J. Ongstadt, M. Dooley, C. Delong, W. Knittle

May 13th, 1864
We are still laying in front this morning in our intrenchments and are determined to hold our ground. During last night the enemy tryed our line on the extreme left but were repulsed about about 1 Oclock. To day they charged on the 36th Mass Vol. but were repulsed with a very loss. We have been skirmishing with the enemy all day long. No regular engagement was brought on during the day. We had three men wounded in the Regt. to day. During to night the Rebs charged our left 4 times in Succession and were repulsed every time without severe loss.
Missing since the 6th
B. McArdle & W.F. Bierley

May 14th, 1864
Our Regt is still in the intrenchments in front keeping up a continual Skirmish fire with the Enemy all day. We lost no men to day. Lt. Schnerr returned to day from Washington. He reports Richmond in our possession. The 2nd Corps came from off the right to reinforce us to day. They are now laying in mass in our rear. This Evening Capt. Frank Leib came over to See us this evening. He belongs to the 116th PA V. Irish Brigade of the 2nd Corps. He reports the Orderly Sergt of Capt. Wellington Jones Company wounded. Kline is his name a school teacher from Auburn.
2nd Lt. Frank Sterner of the 51st Pa V. was killed on the 12th inst.

May 15th, 1864
We are still laying in the intrenchments in front. During the forenoon the 2nd Corps moved to the front on our right and intrenched themselves. It still continues to rain. This is now the 5th day that it has been raining bouth day & night, during which time we have been exposed to it all times and as wet as drowned cats, laying in the mud without any blankets or shelter of any kind untill this evening we built up a barricade (The Captain and I) and by good luck favoring us we got hold of several gum blankets and one piece of tent with which we made a shelter and a bed for the night. About noon to day the enemy fired several shells into and over us without effect. Our Artillary soon answered them and in short all was quiet accept an occasional Shot from the intrenchments. One man of Co. H was wounded through the neck this Afternoon. I sent a short note to my Dear Mattie this afternoon.

May 16th, 1864
This morning Gen Burnside had all the troops wakened in the Rifle Pitts at 3 ½ Oclock, to be prepared for an attack from the Enemy. Lt. Col. Pleasants reduced Theodore Pletz to the Ranks this morning for absenting himself from the Battlefield without Authority. Corp. James McReynolds was promoted in his place to the Rank of 5th Sergt. This forenoon I sent a word or about 15 words to Mattie and in the Afternoon I wrote a pretty long letter to Hattie and one to Father. During the afternoon Lt. Col. Pleasants read orders from Gen Grant or rather official dispatches viz. that 24700 reinforcements were on they way to join us from Washington City by way of Aquia Creek, further that Gen Butler has taken the outer works of Fort Darling and our Cavalry force under Gen Scheridan has taken the outer works of Richmond whipped Steuart cavalry and cut the communication off from Lee’s Army from Linchburg western Virginia. Gen Thomas has whipped the enemy and drove them beyond Dalton which is in Georgia.

May 17th, 1864
We are still in our old place. Things have been pretty quiet all day. The re-enforcements came up today. Two regiments were engaged on our right for a short time this evening.  Sgt. Allebach wounded slightly in head to day.

May 18th, 1864
This morning at 2 A.M. we were relieved by the 58th Mass Vol. and our Regt moved further ahead and held a line there until 2 P.M. when we received orders to fall back relieve the 58th Regt and take our old position. We did so in good order. One division of the 2nd Corps mooved forward and attacked the enemy. They drove the Enemy and took their front line of intrenchments but could not go and further it being too hot in front of the Enemy’s batterys for us. They are very strongly fortified. Our forces Captured 500 Prisoners, but fell back to their former positions. John Huntzinger from Auburn died yesterday of a wound received on the 12th. Christian Seward wounded slightly in the head to day. Sergt. McReynolds with his Pioneirs buried in front of our Pitts (43) Rebels they have been laying dead Since the 12th inst. and have turned perfectly black. A Colonel was among them.
Lt. Col. Pleasants threatened to send Lt. Sticter to the rear under Guard for Allowing a man near him to ___ ship within 15 yards of the Rifle Pitts this Afternoon.

May 19th, 1864
I received three letters to day. One of the 8th inst. from Mattie and one from the 12th Inst from Mattie the other was dated the 3rd inst and from Cousin M.C. Deibert. This mail I received about 4 P.M. and at 6 P.M. I received three more. One dated the 1st one the 3rd inst. bouth from My Dear Friend Mattie the third I opened was dated 1st Also and was from Mary Conrad ____ ____ She had inclosed which I think a very good Copy of the original.
This morning at One Oclock our Corps left our Rifle Pitts and marched untill 3 Oclock toward the left during which time we marched about 4 miles and then layed down in a clear field and slept untill 6 in the morning when we fell in and stacked arms until 9 A.M. when we again moved off to the left a mile or more and rested there until 6 P.M. when we the right wing were sent out on Picket Guard we relieved the 14th Delaware Regt. and the 170th New York. Bouth Regts belong to the 2nd Corps, 3rd division.
Our position is rather a critical one the line runs about 3 miles west of the corps to the Ny River and we had no reserve to fall back on. In the early part of the evening Gen Eual tryed to capture our wagon train with his corps but we happened to be on hand with three Brigades of the 5th Corps under Gen Birney who fought Johnny for a short time and gave them a complete whipping and drove them off again.

May 20, 1864
Camp on the

[Here the Diary ends]