Wednesday, November 8, 2017

'"Dear Ma:" The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock' Now Available

I am very happy to announce that "Dear Ma:" The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock, First Defender and First Lieutenant, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry is now available.

This book was a long time in the making and a project that very nearly never came to fruition. The story of how it all came about can be found here.

You can order your copy either directly through the Sunbury Press website here or at or through Barnes and Noble 

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

Curtis Clay Pollock served bravely with the 48th Pennsylvania, one of the Civil War's most famous fighting regiments, from the regiment’s organization in September 1861 until his mortal wounding at the Battle of Petersburg in June 1864, participating in the regiment’s many campaigns in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee and seeing action at some of the war’s most sanguinary battles, including 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Knoxville. Prior to his service in the 48th, Pollock also served as a member of the Washington Artillery, a Pottsville-based militia company that marched off to war in response to President Lincoln’s first call-to-arms in April 1861 and a company that would have the distinction of being among the very first Northern volunteer units to arrive in Washington following the outbreak of war, reaching the capital on the evening of April 18, 1861, after coming under attack in the streets of Baltimore. In recognition of their timely response and prompt arrival in the capital, Pollock and the other members of the Washington Artillery, would be among those who earned the proud title of First Defender. 

All throughout his time in uniform—from the day after he first arrived in Washington with the First Defenders until a few days before receiving his fatal wound at Petersburg—Curtis Pollock wrote letters home. Many of these letters were written to his younger siblings, some were addressed to his father. Most, however, were written to his mother, Emily, whom he affectionately referred to as his “Dear Ma.” Fortunately, many of these letters survive and are held today in the archives of the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville. The letters of Curtis Pollock provide us with a window to view the history and experiences of one of the war’s most famous and most well-traveled regiments—the 48thPennsylvania—a regiment that served in many theaters of the war, under many different commanders, and in many of the war’s largest and bloodiest battles; a regiment that endured many battlefield defeats as well as many battlefield triumphs. More than this, though, Pollock’s letters home enable us to gain a further glimpse of the war from the inside. They chronicle and document the actions, the experiences, and the thoughts of a brave young man, who like so many others, volunteered his services and ultimately gave his life fighting in defense of his nation.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Stone For Captain Fisher. . .

When last in Pottsville, I took a quick drive through the Odd Fellows' Cemetery, where the remains of many 48th Pennsylvania soldiers were laid to rest. Near the plot of those who died or were killed in the Civil War, I was happy to see a new headstone, one for Peter Fisher, a First Defender and a Captain of Company D, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Born in Germany in 1839, Fisher died at the much too young age of 25 in December 1864. His remains were buried in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery but it seems he was never given a headstone. Enter Mr. Charles Achenbach, a descendant of Fisher's, who determined to get him one. Mr. Achenbach contacted me last year and provided me with much great information on Captain Fisher. He made it known then that he wished to place a headstone at or near Fisher's final resting place. . .and I am very happy to see that it has been placed. Thank you Mr. Achenbach for your efforts and your fine tribute. 

Click here or more on the life and death of Captain Peter Fisher. 

Captain Peter Fisher
Co. D 48th PA
(Courtesy of US Army Heritage and Education Center) 

Friday, July 28, 2017

"Dear Ma. . ." The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock To Be Published. . .

Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock
Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
{Hoptak Collection} 
As I have noted many, many times before in posts about the discovery of letters or documents or photographs or what-have-you pertaining to the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry as well as to the oftentimes peculiar timing of such discoveries, sometimes strange things happen; very strange things; things so strange that it is difficult to attribute them to pure and simple coincidence. And very early this year, another of those strange things happened, something that pertained to a young lieutenant who served in the 48th Pennsylvania and to the letters he wrote home while in uniform. . .

. . .his name was Curtis Clay Pollock and he just happened to be born on this date—July 28—175 years ago today, in 1842.

He was the first child born to William and Emily Pollock and he grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the seat of government for Schuylkill County. He came from a rather well-to-do family—his father owned and operated a lumber yard—and a rather large family, too, as his mother would give birth to six more children over the course of the eighteen years following Curtis's birth. Curtis was a young man with seemingly high ambitions but whatever hopes or dreams he may have held for his future were interrupted with the outbreak of civil war in April 1861. By then eighteen years of age, Curtis Pollock was among the very first to respond to Abraham Lincoln’s call-to-arms, coming in response to the firing upon Fort Sumter and the commencement of war. He volunteered to serve as a private in the Washington Artillery, a Pottsville militia company of long-standing, which, on the evening of April 18, arrived in the nation’s capital along with four other companies of Pennsylvania volunteers, some 475 men in all. These were the very first northern volunteers to reach Washington following the outbreak of war and for this, these soldiers would earn the proud distinction of being First Defenders.

Pollock and his fellow First Defenders would spend much of the entirety of their ninety-day term of service stationed at various posts around the capital, performing various duties. They would see no combat, however, yet, upon their discharge in late July 1861, nearly all of them would enlist to serve in any number of new regiments being recruited and organized, regiments that were being raised to serve for “three years or the course of the war,” whichever would come first. In early September 1861, Curtis Pollock, now nineteen, would sign up to serve in what became Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and with this regiment he would serve until his death in late June 1864.
An early war image of Pollock, likely taken in the spring of 1861
{Courtesy of Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images] 

Entering Company G, 48th PA, as a corporal, Pollock would pine and lobby for an officer’s commission. His efforts eventually paid off, for in the Spring of 1862, Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania commissioned him a lieutenant. His promotion over the heads of so many other non-commissioned officers, however, set off a great controversy within the regiment; one that nearly resulted in Pollock resigning. Yet he persisted and stubbornly clung to his new rank. Despite the controversy over his promotion, the men would come to respect Pollock—and he would prove, as Captain Oliver Bosbyshell later wrote, “absolutely fearless” in battle. With the 48th, Pollock campaigned and saw action in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Emerging unscathed from such sanguinary fights as 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Pollock was mortally wounded on June 17, 1864, during the regiment’s successful attack on Battery 15, a Confederate stronghold east of Petersburg. He passed away six days later, on June 23, and his remains were buried in Pottsville’s Charles Baber Cemetery.

The Officers of Company G, Spring 1863
Captain Bosybshell (seated)
Lt. Pollock (standing left); Lt. Henry C. Jackson
{Hoptak Collection} 

Curtis Pollock spent more than 1,100 days of his short life in the uniform of the United States, and during his time in service, he wrote many letters home--indeed, over 150 of them. Fortunately, these letters were later transcribed and copies were given to both the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville and to the United States Army’s Military History and Education Center in Carlisle. For more than two decades, and with such an interest in the First Defenders and especially the 48th Pennsylvania, I have repeatedly used the Pollock letters to help better understand the wartime histories of both of these units.   Pollock’s letters home—most of them written to his “Dear Ma,” Emily—represent one of the largest known collections of letters written by any single member of either of these units and the idea of "one day" editing and annotating his letters for publication was a thought that never strayed too far from my mind. And, in fact, over the past fifteen or so years, I had been chipping away at such an undertaking…editing and annotating the letters, here and there.
            And now, today, on the 175th Anniversary of Curtis Pollock’s birthday, I am happy to say that his letters home will soon be published. Sunbury Press, a local company, will be publishing it.

            So. . .what, then, is so strange about all of this you might ask?

Well, this book almost never happened. As noted, this work was a long time in the making. When I first happened upon and read through copies of Pollock's letters many, many years ago, I thought that they should "one day" be edited and annotated for publication. And so I worked on it, here and there, for quite a long time. I would work on the Pollock letters' project even while completing other books, such as my history of the First Defenders in 2004 or my histories of the Battles of South Mountain and Gettysburg, published by the History Press, respectively, in 2011 and 2012. After completing those projects, I would return periodically to the Pollock letters and, finally, in early 2014 (yes, three years ago), I wrapped things up, finishing this many years' long endeavor.  Yet when I submitted the manuscript to a number of publishing companies, it was repeatedly turned down. The market is already saturated with such works, I was told, and the interest in traditional soldier accounts and letters' collections is just not there anymore. It was picked up for publication as part of the “Voices of The Civil War Series,” published by the University of Tennessee Press, only to have it later pulled. Indeed, I had received so many rejections that I decided on New Year's Day, 2017, that I would simply put this manuscript to rest. . .and that I would move on to a new project.

But that was when that strange—and rather remarkable thing happened. . .

            It happened on January 2, 2017, the day after I decided to put the Pollock project to rest. When I checked my email that Monday morning, I discovered a message from a friend of mine named Nick Picerno. Nick is a fellow student of the Civil War and a collector of items pertaining to the 10th and 29th Maine Infantry Regiments. Knowing of my interest in the 48th Pennsylvania, Nick sent along a link to an auction listing he had happened upon, which included a portrait of and the Civil War sword belonging to an officer in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Nick's message was brief--simply, "This sword and image may be of interest"--but when I clicked on the link, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
            The sword up for auction was the sword carried by none other than Lieutenant Curtis Clay Pollock, and the portrait, beautifully framed, was of him as well. I sat there, shaking my head in utter disbelief. Of all the more than two million soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War, I thought, and of all of those who had served in the 48th Pennsylvania, here before me was a portrait of Pollock, previously unknown to me and the one pictured above, as well as the sword once held and wielded by the young lieutenant. Of course, I could interpret this in no way other than that of a sign that I needed to try, at least one more time, to get Pollock's letters published. How can I not? I also felt that, somehow, I needed to win that auction and am happy to report that I did. As I write, the sword and portrait adorn a wall in my home. I later came to discover that they had been passed down through the generations of Pollock family descendants and that the consignor of the items is a great-grandnephew of Curtis who was looking he said to "downsize." The portrait and sword, I assured him, had found a good new home. Incidentally, and as I found out, not only were the sword and portrait passed down through the Pollock descendants, but so was the name. The gentleman's name who consigned the items was Curtis.

And, so, I am now happy to say that the Pollock letters' project have found a publisher and that the book will (hopefully) hit the shelves within the next 6-12 months. Considering the sword and portrait that just so happened to come up for auction the day after I decided not to move forward with the manuscript, well, I would like to think that Lieutenant Pollock would be happy with this.

I hope so at least.

I will post updates about the manuscript as they develop.

A Portrait of Pollock and his service sword at his grave in Pottville

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A New Face of the Forty-Eighth: Private James Dempsey, Co. F, 48th PA Infantry

It doesn't happen as often as one might think, considering all the many thousands of Civil War photographs that were taken, but I always, always enjoy seeing a "new" face of the Forty-Eighth, a photograph of a soldier I have never seen before. Studying the regiment for the past, oh, I don't know. . .maybe twenty-five years. . .I have only seen photographs of about 200 or so soldiers of the 48th. That out of the more than 1,800 men who served in the regiment at one time or another, so just over 10%. I keep imagining that maybe someday a trove will be discovered; an album or a shoe box filled with them found. Until then, the faces pop up only occasionally, here and there, every now and then. . .

Just last week a friend of mine, Stu Richards, forwarded a photograph one of his friends posted to his facebook wall, a photograph of his Civil War ancestor, James Dempsey, who served in Company F, 48th Pennsylvania, and thus a new face of the regiment was revealed to me. . . 

Private James Dempsey
Co. F, 48th PA Infantry
[Courtesy of Mr. Thomas Dempsey] 

It is a compelling image; of a young man, standing proudly with his rifle--bayonet fixed--in front of a camp-scene backdrop. It shows James Dempsey, who entered the regiment in January 1865, enlisting in Pottsville. He was born in Ireland and one must wonder how recently he had arrived in the United States before donning the uniform of his adopted country. He was twenty-one years of age at the time of his enlistment, stood 5'7" in height, with a Light Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Sandy colored hair. By occupation, he was a laborer. Less than two-and-a-half months after joining the regiment, Dempsey was among the 90 casualties the 48th sustained charging Fort Mahone on that fateful April 2, 1865, at Petersburg. He was wounded in the right thigh, and injury described as "severe." He would recover, however, and on June 7, 1865, by order of the War Department, he was discharged from the service. Dempsey passed away on December 19, 1905, at age 65. 

I wish I knew more about Dempsey in order to paint a more complete portrait of this soldier, but I am happy that I have now become acquainted with another face of the 48th. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Civil War Sacrifice of the Brobst Family: Simon and Salome & John and Sarah

This Memorial Day, as we pause to honor the nation's fallen and pay tribute to those who gave their lives so that this country may live, it is only appropriate, I think, that we also pause to consider the families of those honored dead, who also paid so dear a price upon that altar of freedom. Consider for a moment all the millions of mothers and fathers who, over the years, lost sons and daughters in our nation's conflicts, and also the men and women who may have lost a spouse, as well as the far too many children who lost their father or mother. 

Consider the story and the sacrifice of the Brobst family, and specifically people like Salome Brobst who, within just three weeks in the late summer of 1862, lost both her husband and a son during the American Civil War, and that of Salome's daughter-in-law Sarah and her children, who lost their husband and their father. 

The Grave of Salome Kunkle Brobst (1816-1869)
Jerusalem Salem Cemetery, Stony Run, PA 

Salome Kunkle was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, on March 5, 1816, In the summer of 1837, Salome married Simon Brobst, who was four years her junior at just seventeen years of age. The next year, Salome gave birth to the couple's first child, a son they named John.   

John Brobst was born on June 17, 1838. He went to work at a young age--indeed, by the age of 12, he was a laborer--and, just like his father, he married while still quite young. He was, in fact, just nineteen years of age when he wed twenty-one-year-old Sarah Fink in 1857. The couple soon were raising children of their own: a daughter, Ellen, was born in February 1858, a son Benjamin in March 1860, and another son, whom Sarah named John, was born on April 18, 1862. By then, however, John Brobst, the father, was out serving his country and was just then hundreds of miles away from home. 

Upon the outbreak of civil war in the spring of 1861, John Brobst was a twenty-three-year-old farmer, residing with his family in Upper Bern Township, Berks County. The census of 1860 reveals that he was doing reasonably well, with the family's real estate valued at $400.00 and personal property at $50.00. Despite this, and despite the young children at home, John felt an obligation to serve his country, and when the call went out for volunteers, he was quick to respond.  On August 9, 1861, he journeyed to nearby Port Clinton, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, to enlist his services. He enrolled under Captain Daniel Kaufman to serve in what would become Company A, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the next month, was mustered into service as a Corporal. He stood 5'9" in height, had a Dark Complexion, Dark Hair, and Grey Eyes. Bidding farewell to his children and his wife, Sarah, by now pregnant with the couple's third child, John Brobst set off for war. 

Captain Daniel B. Kaufman
Company A, 48th PA Infantry
(Hoptak Collection) 

John's father, Simon, would also soon depart for war. In October 1861, forty-one-year-old Simon Brobst said farewell to his wife Salome as well to his children. He had also volunteered to fight though he would enlist into Company G, 96th Pennsylvania Infantry. While his son John soon found himself stationed first at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and then Hatteras, North Carolina, with the 48th, Simon would be on his way to Washington, D.C., where the 96th would ultimately be attached to the hard-fighting Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac. 

From Camp Hamilton, near Fortress Monroe, in October 1861, Corporal John Brobst would write to Sarah, to let her know that he liked "this playing soldier very well so far," even though lying on the sometimes wet and soft ground took some getting used to. He would also write of the soldiers of the 48th tearing down some of the homes in nearby Hampton in order to secure fire wood for camp, and of the looting that was done to some of the property belonging to former U.S. President-turned-secessionist John Tyler. A pianoforte once belonging to Tyler, said Brobst, valued at some $800.00 was "smashed all to pieces." 

November 27, 1861 Letter From John Brobst to Sarah Brobst
(Courtesy of Linda Moyer) 

John would write regularly to Sarah while he was away at war. First from Fortress Monroe and then from what he labeled "This Sandy Island," Hatteras, North Carolina. Like so many others, he sent money home to help support his family, though he would caution Sarah not to spend any more than what was necessary. And like so many others, he complained that she did not write to him nearly enough. He oftentimes requested that Sarah send along some boots, gloves, and some tobacco, since what they had at Hatteras was "so bad that we cant chew it and so dear that we can hardly afford to buy it." Of course, there was a war going on, and John wrote to discuss Burnside's very successful expedition against Roanoke Island and Newbern. John's company--Company A--was among the six companies of the 48th sent from Hatteras to participate in the battle against Newbern but because their steamer, the George Peabody, got stuck on a sandbar, they arrived too late. But the scenes of the battlefield left a vivid impression on John. "Dear Wife you cannot imagine the scene of the battle ground," he wrote, "at one place you could see an arm at another a leg and at another a head severed from the body I saw eleven dead rebels lying side by side all shot in the head or breast. . . ."  

In May, 1862, some very good news arrived. John learned that "God had given" him and Sarah "the gift of a little son." Sarah had presumably written and requested that John bestow a name upon the baby boy. But John demurred; names, he said, are "not that important." He left it to her and she would name the boy John, after his father.

In his letters home, John wrote about his desire to visit home and we can only imagine how much more he wanted to get there to see his newborn son. 

Sadly, he would never get the chance. 

On August 29, 1862, Corporal John Brobst was shot through the right breast at the Second Battle of Bull Run, becoming one of the more than 150 soldiers of the 48th who became a casualty of war that terrible day. In the chaos and confusion of battle, John was left behind upon the battlefield and captured by Confederate soldiers. Likely because of the severity of his wound, however, John Brobst was immediately discharged. He was soon taken to the Georgetown Hospital where, on September 12, 1862, he drew his last breath. His final thoughts, no doubt, on his wife Sarah and his three young children. 

While the news of John's death must have been a staggering blow to Sarah and her children, we can also imagine the heartache felt by his mother, Salome, who, at the time of John's death, was still grieving the loss of her husband, Simon. 

It is not known whether John was ever aware of it, but his father Simon Brobst, who was serving in the 96th Pennsylvania, had died of disease in a hospital in Philadelphia, on August 24, 1862, less than a week before John's mortal wounding at Second Bull Run. Simon's remains were interred at the Philadelphia National Cemetery, while John's were laid to rest, most likely, at the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen's National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. 

Although Inscribed Jno. Brobert, this is the likely final
resting place of John Brobst at the 
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's National Cemetery,
Washington, D.C. 

Within just three weeks in the late summer of 1862, then, forty-six-year-old Salome Kunkel Brobst lost both her husband Simon and her son, John. The loss may have been too heavy to bear, for she was dead just seven years later, passing away at age fifty-three in May 1869. 

Sarah Brobst, John's widow, also passed away quite young; she died at age forty-nine on September 21, 1885, Her remains were laid to rest in the Port Clinton Cemetery. 

This Memorial Day it is, of course, our duty--our obligation--to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers. But let us also remember all those they left behind and reflect upon the sacrifices they paid as well so that this nation might live. 

[My thanks go to Mr. Steven Lamm and Ms. Linda Moyer. Linda, a descendant of John Brobst, very generously shared John's letters with me as well as some biographical information. John Brobst's transcribed letters can be located here.