Monday, August 22, 2016

Remembering General James Nagle On The 150th Anniversary Of His Death

General James Nagle
Pictured Holding the Sword Presented
Upon His Return Home from the Mexican War
in 1848
(Library of Congress
150 years ago. . .sometime around 4:00 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, August 22, 1866 in his home in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and surrounded by his family. . General James Nagle died.

His name—and, indeed, his story—is not readily recognizable today, even among the more devoted students of the American Civil War.

But it should be.

James Nagle was the quintessential citizen-turned-soldier of America's past who responded repeatedly to his country’s call. He was a house and sign painter and wallpaper hanger by profession, and a family man who served on both the borough council and on the local school board. In times of war, though, James Nagle demonstrated fine leadership and total devotion to the United States and its cause. In 1840, at just eighteen years of age, he raised and organized a militia company dubbed the Pottsville Blues, which in 1842 became the Washington Artillery, and which, in 1846, marched off to war in Mexico, with a young Captain James Nagle at its helm. During the four years of America’s Civil War, Nagle helped to raise, organize, and recruit no fewer than four regiments of Pennsylvania volunteer infantry, including the famed 48th Pennsylvania which he led from the summer of 1861 until his promotion to brigade command in the spring of 1862. Promoted in rank to Brigadier General, Nagle seemed destined for higher and greater command but worsening health and particularly heart disease necessitated his resignation from the service in May 1863. Nevertheless, upon his return to home and family in Pottsville, Nagle raised and led a regiment of Emergency Militia during Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, and the following summer recruited yet another unit—the 100-Days’ 194th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Mustered out of service for the final time in November 1864, Nagle looked forward to happy, quiet, and peaceful days and to spending time with his wife, Elizabeth, and their six children. Another child, a daughter named Kate, would arrive in September 1865. Sadly, though, he did not have much time remaining. His health continued to deteriorate with his heart disease becoming increasingly worse as the months passed by. When he at last succumbed 150 years ago today, this man—this loving and devoted father, leading and estimable member of the community, wartime hero and dedicated soldier—was just forty-four years of age.

Word of his death spread quickly through Pottsville and a palpable sadness—a pall—fell upon the town. Flags were lowered, businesses closed. Soon official news of the General’s death was reported in the Miners’ Journal: “Sincere sorrow pervaded this community. . .when the fact of Gen. Nagle’s death became known,” recorded the Journal, “The sad event was not unexpected, for he had suffered for years from disease of the heart and liver, and during the past few weeks it was evident to his friends that he was succumbing to the attacks of adversaries too powerful for medicine to combat successfully. He died on Wednesday morning at 4 o’clock at his residence in this Borough. A brave soldier of two wars; a good citizen; an estimable man, has passed away. While the memory of his worth will remain green in the memories of this community in which so many years of his useful life were spent, his name will be inscribed with honor on the pages of his country’s history.”
Inscribed with honor, perhaps, but with the passage of 150 years the story of James Nagle and his service has certainly faded. And though he remains immortalized in bronze atop a monument at Antietam National Battlefield, James Nagle ranks today among the relatively unknown generals of the Civil War.
This is unfortunate. His story needs to be told and his service remembered. And today, 150 years after his death, seems a more than fitting and appropriate day to do so.   

Although he would make his home and find his final resting place in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, James Nagle was actually born in Reading, PA, on April 5, 1822, the first of eventually eight children born to and raised by Daniel and Mary (Rorig) Nagle. His ancestry in the United States can be traced back to the 1730s when his forebears arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany. James’s grandfather, Philip Nagle, had served in the Revolutionary War as a drummer with the 1st Pennsylvania Continental Line. The Nagle family moved around from point to point early in James’s life—to Wommelsdorf and thence to Pine Grove and finally by 1835 to Pottsville, the seat of government for Schuylkill County. As a young man, James learned the trade of his father, a cabinet maker, and also learned the trades of wallpaper hanger and housepainter. Young James Nagle also attended some years in public schools, though as an early biographical portrait described, much of his education was through the “school of experience and through continued self-effort,” going to school at night and working during the day. From an early age, James showed a strong interest in the military and, in 1840 and at just eighteen years of age, he organized a company of young Pottsville boys into a militia unit initially known as the Pottsville Blues, but which, two years later became the Washington Artillery. With the outbreak of war with Mexico, Nagle, now twenty-four, tendered the services of his company and on December 5, 1846, marched off to war. The Washington Artillery became Company B, 1st Regiment of Pennsylvania Infantry and Nagle mustered into service as its captain. Nagle and his company, forming part of General Winfield Scott’s force, took part in the siege of Vera Cruz, and at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Lahoya, Huamantla, Puebla, and Atlixco. Upon the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Nagle returned with his company to a hero’s ovation to Pottsville in the summer of 1848. In recognition of his service, the people of Pottsville presented Nagle with a beautiful sword, which was one of his most treasured possessions. He carried it even during the Civil War and, today, a bronze copy of that Mexican War presentation sword can be seen attached to the Nagle statue at Antietam.

Captain James Nagle
ca. 1848-1850
(Schuylkill County in the Civil War)

In 1852, James Nagle was elected Sheriff of Schuylkill County. He continued to remain active in the state militia system and soon was appointed Brigade Inspector of Pennsylvania, with the rank of Colonel. By his early thirties, James Nagle had become a leading and very much respected member of his community. He was also a devoted husband and loving father. On December 15, 1842, James married Elizabeth Kaercher and to their union nine children would be born, seven of whom lived to maturity. While in Mexico, James had also adopted an orphaned eight-year-old boy named Emerguildo Marquis, with whom he returned and raised in his household as one of his own. During his younger days, Nagle voted Whig but then became a Republican. He supported Lincoln and was opposed to slavery and its expansion.

With his experience in the state militia and his experience leading soldiers in combat, it was only natural that Governor Andrew Curtin would call upon Nagle soon after the commencement of the Civil War. Nagle traveled to Harrisburg and helped to organize and train the many companies of volunteer soldiers pouring daily into the capital city. Curtin then commissioned Nagle colonel of the 6th Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month unit that was raised primarily from Schuylkill and Carbon Counties. The 6th formed part of General George Thomas’s Brigade in General Robert Patterson’s Army of the Shenandoah. The regiment saw only limited action and by late July, their three-month term of service having expired, its soldiers were on their way back home. Nagle made a very favorable impression upon this command and particularly its officers. Indeed, in October 1861, the members of the 6th presented their former commander with a specially inscribed field glass, which, when delivered to Nagle was accompanied by a letter that spoke volumes to Nagle’s leadership and character:

Col. James Nagle,
Dear Sir:- A number of your friends, officers, and privates of the late Sixth Regiment, P.V., commanded by you during the time it was in service, desire to present the accompanying field-glass, for your acceptance, in token of our high personal esteem, and the exalted opinion we entertain of your military knowledge and capacity.
Though your characteristic modesty may shrink from any public eulogy of your conduct and services, our gratitude and admiration will not permit us to pass them by, without this tribute of affection and respect.
For many years past the military spirit and organization of Schuylkill County have been chiefly sustained by your exertions. When the Nation’s honor was to be maintained on the plains of Mexico, you with a well disciplined corps under your command, sprang to arms and hastened to the field of conflict; in Cerro Gordo’s terrific fight you stood calm and unmoved amid the leaden storm of death which fell on every side, and by your presence of mind and courage saved many gallant men from the fearful carnage.
During the long season of peace which followed the closing of that war, in your own quiet and happy home, you faithfully discharged the duties of a husband, father, and citizen, endearing yourself both to your family and the community in which you dwelt.
But now the tocsin of war sounds through the land, and her valiant sons are called to defend her against foul rebellion’s deadly blows. Speedily a regiment of your fellow citizens take the field, and confer upon you the command. During the three months we served together, though inflexibly firm and persistently industrious in the performance and requirement of every camp and field duty, yet such was the kindness of your demeanor, and your tender regard for the health, safety, and comfort of your men, that we regarded you rather as a friend and father, than a mere military commander.
And now, that you have, at the head of a Schuylkill County Regiment—Pennsylvania’s 48th—again taken the field at your country’s call and may soon be in the thickest of the most eventful battle the world has ever witnessed, on the issue of which the destiny of human freedom and progress is suspended, we present you with the accompanying glass, as well in token of our esteem and admiration, as that your eye which never dimmed with fear as it gazed upon a foe, may more readily perceive his approach and prepare for victory.
Praying that God of Battles may preserve you in the midst of danger, and return you unharmed to your family and friends, when our glorious Union shall be firmly re-established, and covered with still more illustrious renown,
We remain, yours truly,
Capt. C. Tower,
Lt.Col. Jas. J. Seibert,
Maj. John E. Wynkoop,
Capt.H.J. Hendler,
Lieut. Theo. Miller,
Lieut. D.P. Brown,
And many others. 

Nagle was no doubt touched by this kind and generous tribute and gift, but by the time he received it, he was once more in the field and in command of a new regiment, one he had raised almost entirely from Schuylkill County: the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. After being discharged as commander of the 6th Pennsylvania, Nagle was immediately commissioned by Governor Curtin to raise another regiment of volunteers, this one to serve for three years or the course of the war, whichever would come first. The regiment was raised during the months of August and September 1861 and after being formally mustered into service departed for the seat of war, being assigned first to Fortress Monroe and then to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. While in North Carolina in the spring of 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania was attached to Ambrose Burnside’s Coastal Expedition, which, in time, became the 9th Army Corps. When Burnside organized his forces, he made Major General Jesse Reno a divisional commander and Nagle a brigade commander in Reno’s division. Nagle would subsequently lead this brigade with great bravery and distinction at 2nd Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, taking a prominent part in each of these engagements. At 2nd Manassas, Nagle’s Brigade pierced Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate line along an unfinished railroad cut; at South Mountain his men helped to secure Fox’s Gap; three days later his brigade took a leading part in the attacks upon the Burnside Bridge at Antietam; while at Fredericksburg, Nagle led his brigade in an oftentimes forgotten assault upon Marye’s Heights. All the while Nagle continually showed himself a gifted, capable leader and brave soldier. He had been promoted to the rank of brigadier general in September 1862 upon the recommendation of Reno who, on September 7 and just one week before his death at South Mountain, wrote to Lincoln:

General James Nagle
(National Archives} 
To His Excellency, the President of the United States:
Sir:-I have the honor to recommend Col. James Nagle, 48th Regt. Pa. Vols., for promotion as Brigadier General. Col. Nagle has served with me with fidelity and ability as commander of a Brigade, since the Battle of Newbern, and in recent battles conducted himself with gallantry, and led his command with judgment and discretion.
I have the honor to be
Very Respectfully, Your obd’t servant,
J.L. Reno
Major-General com’dg

Throughout the fall of 1862 and during the early winter of 1863, Nagle several times assumed the temporary command of the division and it seemed as though advancement in rank and in command would have been his had it not been for his poor and failing health. During the winter of 1863, Nagle began to suffer from chest pains. He sought out doctors who informed him he was afflicted with angina pectoris and who urged him to resign and return home for better chances of recovery. Nagle remained in the army for several more months before the pain became too great and he, at last, took the doctors’ advice and reluctantly and tearfully bid farewell to his command and to the army. He resigned in May 1863. Division commander Samuel Sturgis expressed his regret at accepting the resignation of one so capable and responded by penning the following note:

Head-Quarters, 2nd Div., 9th Army Corps
Dear General:
I cannot better express the pain it gave me to forward your resignation, then by giving you a copy of my endorsement upon it, viz: ‘Respectfully forwarded and approved. But I must express my deep regret at the necessity for this forwarding it. By his intelligence, energy, zeal and courage, and quiet, unassuming deportment, withal, Gen. Nagle has endeared himself to this command, and will carry with him the love and respect not only of those gallant troops he had led so often to victory, but of all who have the good fortune to know him.’
S.D. Sturgis
Brig. Gen., com’dg

After what must have been seemed a long journey back home, Nagle was no doubt pleased to be back with his wife and family once more but, shortly after his return to Pottsville, General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania. In response to Curtin’s plea for action, Nagle once more answered the call. For the third time he would take command of a regiment of Pennsylvania Infantry, this time the 39th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia, being mustered into service once more as a colonel. Arriving in Harrisburg, Major General Darius Couch placed Nagle in brigade command but by then Lee had been turned back at Gettysburg and the 39th P.V.M. was mustered out and disbanded. Again, Nagle returned home and was encouraged by his doctors’ assessments that his health was improving. He felt well enough that in the summer of 1864 when the call went out seeking soldiers to serve a 100-Day term of service, he once more answered and took command of the 194th Pennsylvania Infantry. For the fourth time in three years, then, Nagle was commissioned colonel by Governor Curtin. Nagle led the 194th to Baltimore where they were assigned to the 8th Army Corps. There, Nagle was given command of the forces then occupying  Mankin’s Woods, and helped to guard the approaches to the city. On November 5, 1864, the 100 days having expired, James Nagle was mustered out of service, this time for the last time.

Few other soldiers, and certainly few other citizen-soldiers, did more for the United States than did James Nagle during the Civil War. Throughout his time in uniform, he had helped to raise and subsequently commander four regiments of infantry and several times held brigade command. In Mexico, he was a captain; during the Civil War, he was both a colonel and a brigadier general. And though he had no formal military training or education, James Nagle proved himself quite the capable leader and commander. He served his country well. . .and often. He also served his community well, not only as sheriff in the early 1850s but also as head of the Pottsville Borough Council and as a member of the local school board. Sadly, Nagle did not get to enjoy peace for long, once the Civil War was over. Indeed, it was not until August 20, 1866, that President Andrew Johnson declared all hostilities had ceased and the conflict officially concluded. Two days later, on his bed in Pottsville, surrounded by his wife Elizabeth and seven children—the eldest, Emma, aged 23 years and the youngest Kate, aged 11 months—General James Nagle drew his last breath and passed away at the much-too-young age of 44.

It was not a long life that he thus led but it was a full one, a useful one, and important one. Three days after his death, General James Nagle was laid to rest in Pottsville’s Presbyterian Cemetery. Thousands gathered to pay their respects and his funeral was covered in the pages of the Miners’ Journal:

The remains of Gen. Nagle were interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Saturday afternoon last [August 25] with military honors.
During the morning the Ringgold Band of Reading, which had volunteered to play on the occasion, the Ashland Veterans, Capt. McLaughlin, and the Cumbola Nagle Guards reached the borough to attend the funeral. At noon Capt. Binder of Philadelphia, a companion-in-arms of Gen. Nagle in the Mexican War, having been in the same Regiment, Gen. Albright of Carbon County, and Major Bertolette of Reading, also arrived to assist in playing the last sad honors to the remains of the dead soldier.
The body was viewed by hundreds before the hour of moving from the late residence of the deceased General. The corpse was attired in citizens’ dress, and rested in a coffin furnished by Mr. John Kalbach, Centre Street opposite the Union Hotel. It was made of walnut covered with black cloth, and the ornamentation was faultless, reflecting great credit on the taste of the maker. A silver plate on the lid bore the General’s name and age. The entire workmanship was the subject of much and just commendation. When the coffin was placed in the hearse it was covered with a silk national flag with a black rosette in each corner. On the top rested the sword which was presented to Gen. Nagle by the citizens of Schuylkill County, after his return from Mexico.
About 3 o’clock the cortege moved from the house in the following order, left in front:

Hydranlian Fire Company
American Hose Company
Humane Hose Company
Good Intent Fire Engine Company
Cumbola Nagle Guards
Washington Artillery Company
Ashland Veterans
Grant Zouaves, Pottsville
Ringgold Band, Reading
Soldiers Central League, Pottsville
Detachment of Soldiers in Mexican War
Who were in Gen. Nagle’s Company, bear-
Ing the old Company flag.
Officiating Clergy
Pall Bearers—Gen. Wm. W. Duffield, Gen. Geo. C.
Wynkoop, gen. H. Pleasants, Gen. Albright,
Gen. J.A. Hennessy, Col. J.M. Wetherill
Horse and Groom
Mounted Officers in Uniform
Gen. J.K. Sigfried and Staff

The cortege which contained about six hundred persons, moved over the following route: From house to Market Street; down market to Centre; down Centre to Mahantango; up Mahantango to Clay; down Clay to Howard Avenue; down Howard Avenue to the Cemetery.
All places of business were closed during the passage of the funeral train, and many houses along the route were clothed in mourning while flags were suspended at half mast and craped. The streets were filled with silent and mournful spectators. Minute guns were fired from Lawton’s Hill until the cortege reached the Cemetery.
The religious services at the grave were conducted by Rev. Mr. McCool, rev. Mr. Cook and Rev. Mr. Billheimer. Mr. McCool delivered an impressive discourse, in which he dwelt at length upon the life, character, and services of Gen. Nagle. It was listened to attentively by the large concourse of persons present, which must have numbered between two and three thousand.
The last military honors were paid by the Grant Zouaves who fired three vollies over the grave.
The military then returned to Centre Street, where the line was dismissed.
It was one of the largest and most imposing funerals ever seen here, the entire community evincing sincere sorrow at the loss of an estimable citizen, a brave soldier, a patriot, whose career will ever be referred to with pride by our citizens, and whose memory will be cherished while our hills endure. 

The Grave of General James Nagle
Pottsville, Presbyterian Cemetery
(Author Photo)

Tributes poured in, including from Governor Curtin and General John Hartranft and no doubt by many others who had served under Nagle’s command. In histories of Schuylkill County published during the late 19th Century, Nagle also received high praise. “General Nagle was pre-eminently a military man, and a patriot,” said one such account. “His life was permeated with a military spirit, and in this respect broadened him into a loyal and devoted citizen. . . .He is still remembered by a large number of his fellow-townsmen, and occupies a generous place in their hearts.” Another history declared that “General Nagle’s services in the Rebellion will ever be remembered with gratitude by not only the people of Schuylkill County, but by the nation at large, who owe the preservation of their liberties to the self-sacrificing devotion of men like him.’

Certainly those who served in the 48th never forgot the “father” of their regiment. Indeed, forty years later the regimental veteran’s association met to decide upon what kind of monument they would have placed at Antietam National Battlefield. It was decided that a slightly-larger-than-life figure of General James Nagle would stand atop its base. On September 17, 1904, thirty-six surviving veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry gathered at the Antietam Battlefield to attend the dedication and witness the unveiling of this monument. In addition to commemorating their wartime service and cherishing the memory of their fallen comrades, the aged veterans who traveled to Antietam that day were there also to honor the memory of the man who organized and first led the 48th Pennsylvania, Brigadier General James Nagle.

Oliver Bosbyshell, a veteran of the 48th, commenced the dedication ceremony at Antietam by delivering a few opening remarks. After expressing his gratitude to the state of Pennsylvania for procuring the funds necessary for the construction of the monument, Bosbyshell spoke of the late General Nagle: “The man the Forty-Eighth honors by placing his statue to mark the spot it maintained in the fight, honors the Forty-Eighth in turn. The organizer and disciplinarian who brought his command to the highest point of efficiency amongst the Ninth Corps organizations, the foremost soldier of old Schuylkill County, Brigadier General James Nagle, well deserves this meed of praise bestowed upon him.” Following Bosbyshell’s brief opening remarks, the regiment’s former surgeon, Dr. William R.D. Blackwood, delivered the dedication address. He spoke of the role the 48th played in the battle of Antietam and the appropriateness of the regimental monument on the battlefield before turning his attention to General Nagle:

At this time the merited and (for ourselves) the coveted promotion of Colonel Nagle eventuated—he won his star as a Brigadier General. Never did a soldier win the distinction through a harder road—for his whole time of service this more than brave gentleman and splendid soldier devoted his every energy to the cause for which he left his home and family, and supported by his gallant men, he won imperishable fame. . . .Today we celebrate the attainment of his glory—a glory to him and to us who can never forget his leadership—may the bronze and granite which we now dedicate to his memory remain till time shall be no more on this historical field where so many of our Pennsylvania heroes gave their all to the defenses of the land they loved, and the Flag they adored.

The monument still does stand—112 years later—as does the bronze statue of James Nagle, standing silently on top. Though with the passage of time, the memory of Nagle has faded. . .but today at least, 150 years after his death, he is being remembered. 

The 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam 
(Author Photo) 

-Gould, Joseph. The Story of the Forty-Eighth. Philadelphia: Alfred M. Slocum Printer, 1908.
-Wallace, Francis. Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County. Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Benjamin Bannan Publisher, 1865.

-Wiley, Samuel T. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Rush, West, and Company, 1893.

Monday, July 4, 2016

“If I Fall On The Battlefield It Will Be For A Good Cause:” Private Thomas Major (ca. 1840-1862), Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry

Although I have not been posting as frequently as I once did and not even as much as I did during the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011-2015), I still maintain this site/blog and keep it active largely now as a resource for those hoping to discover more about the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and especially its soldiers. I still occasionally post stories pertaining to the regiment and I still regularly receive emails from descendants of soldiers who served in the regiment and who are hoping to discover more about their ancestor.  Of course, whenever this happens I share all I know and all I have gathered about that particular soldier over the years. It is rather rewarding to be able to tell these folks, interested in their family story genealogy, about their ancestor in the 48th and connect them, somewhat, to that soldier. On the other hand, and every once in a great while, it is I who is contacted by a descendant who generously and graciously shares information they have about their ancestor who served in the regiment. It doesn’t happen that often; indeed, only a handful of times since I first launched this blog nine years ago. But last month I awoke one Saturday morning to discover an email in my inbox from a Mr. Brett Adams of Minnesota who came across my blog while doing some research on his Civil War ancestor: Private Thomas Major, of Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. I was absolutely thrilled by the message he sent, for not only did he include some biographical and genealogical information about Major, but he also included a photograph. Whenever I get to see an image of a 48th PA soldier for the very first time, well, it just makes my day. Discovering images of 48th soldiers does not happen often, or at least not as often as one might think. Indeed, of the 1,860 men who served in the regiment, I have only ever seen photographs of about 200 of them—or just over 10%. That’s it. So when I, for the very first time, get to see the face of a soldier I have known only by a name, it makes me feel a much closer connection. I responded quickly to Mr. Adams and over the next few weeks, I was amazed with the information he so willingly and so kindly sent along to me about Thomas Major and his family. Included were a number of letters—previously unknown to me, of course—written by Thomas while in service and sent to his siblings back home in Schuylkill County. Mr. Adams also sent along images of Major’s brother, sister, and brother-in-law. 

Having studied the 48th for so long, it was—and is—always thrilling to me when I learn more about its soldiers, and I cannot thank Mr. Adams and his family enough for their kindness and generosity in sharing their photographs and letters with me and for allowing me the honor of telling Private Thomas Major’s story here. . . .

Thomas Major
Company E
48th Pennsylvania 

When Thomas Major enlisted in September 1861, he was 21 years of age. He stood 5’8 ½” in height, had a Dark Complexion, Brown Eyes, and Dark Hair. His occupation was listed as Teamster and his residence simply as Schuylkill County, though the Census Records place him and his family in Blythe Township, which is east of Pottsville and west of Tamaqua.  He was the son of 43-year-old James Major and 40-year-old Maria Major. His father had been born in England and by 1860 was a foreman at a coal mine. Thomas appears to have been their eldest child; the oldest of nine. When Thomas marched off to war in the late summer of 1861, he left behind four younger brothers and four younger sisters. And he would write home frequently to his younger siblings. Along with a letter he sent home on October 18, 1861, from near Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Thomas also included a piece of President John Tyler’s piano from Hampton. Tyler, the former President who had been elected to the Confederate Congress, was, said Major, “now in the Secession War.” As was the case with most soldiers, however, Thomas soon began to admonish his siblings for not writing more often. From Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, in May 1862, for example, Thomas wrote that he was “discontented” because a mail had arrived “and all the boys had letters to read and I got none.” He was quite convinced, said the brooding young soldier, “that the folks at home had forgot that there is a Thomas Major out on Hatteras.” Nevertheless, he recorded his thoughts on army life and wrote about his efforts at getting a furlough—all to no avail. He was also sure to keep his family updated on the doings of the army. “They have taken Fort Macon and I think they will run the vessels in down there at Beaufort,” said Major in a letter dated May 1, 1862 when the 48th formed part of Burnside’s Expedition in North Carolina. “They lost but one man and it was 10 hours fight. They took them all prisoners. They battered a hole through the walls that they could drive a team in, and they put 3 balls in the magazine. The gun boats could not get in to fight. Our forces planted mortars 3 miles from the fort and the Stars and Stripes are waving over it now.” It was not all battle-related, though. At the end of that same letter, Thomas mentioned that he and the boys in the mess “are opening oysters," which they intend to have with soup for dinner. "Don’t you wish you had a cup?” Thomas asked his brother. In another letter, this one dated May 4, Thomas recorded the elation he and his comrades felt over the fall of New Orleans—“Hip, hip, hooray, we heard of New Orleans being taken”—but that elation seemed to have been short-lived, since, said Thomas, the boys were now “getting down-hearted, afraid the war will soon be over and then they will have to go to work again.” (Not a few soldiers of the 48th wrote about how they would rather be in the army than in the coal mines). 

In his letters, Thomas would plead with his family not to worry too much about him and in June 1862 told them that if it was his fate to "fall on the battlefield it will be for a good cause." Thomas also would do his best to still be the big brother of the family, even while hundreds of miles away from them, by urging his younger siblings to lead good, virtuous lives. In a June 9, 1862, letter from New Bern, he urged his brother “to leave thee off some of the bad habits you have—do, for a brother’s sake leave off drinking liquor, which I have seen too much of it already since I came out here.”  Apparently, drinking to excess was quite a problem in the army—at times—and Thomas saw what a ruinous habit it can be. Drinking lands men in the guard house, said Major to his brother, and in handcuffs. Thomas then quoted directly from “A Letter From A Father to His Son  on Inebrity,” that appeared in a book entitled “The Universal Letter Writer,” and published in 1811 and which surely made its way around the army camps. In part, this letter read that “Hard drinking is a vice that breaks a man’s rest, impairs his understanding, extinguishes the memory, inflames the passions, corrupts the will, lays the foundation of the worst and most dangerous distempers; prevents a person from pursuing his studies and from applying to his duties of his calling, be it what it will.”  

Certainly, Thomas was concerned about the well-being of his younger siblings and it is clear that he missed them. It seems his efforts at getting a furlough did not come to fruition and like most others, he longed for home. In a June 10, 1862, letter from New Bern, Thomas wrote that North Carolina was pretty country, but “I would like to see the old dirt banks [of Schuylkill County] again.” 

Sadly, he would not.

Thomas Major Letter From Camp Hamilton
Near Fortress Monroe
October 18, 1861

In July 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania—along with most of Burnside’s force in North Carolina—were ordered to Virginia. After spending a few weeks at Newport News, they were sent via steamer to Aquia Creek and from there, the soldiers of the 48th marched hard to catch up with General John Pope’s army then gathering in northern Virginia. They arrived in time to participate in the blood-letting that was Second Bull Run. On August 29, 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania—as part of Nagle’s Brigade and along with the 2nd Maryland and 6th New Hampshire Infantries—smashed through a section of Stonewall Jackson’s line along an unfinished railroad cut. Their success was not exploited, however, and with no supports marching to their assistance, it was not long before the Confederates recovered and rallied and soon had Nagle’s men pinned down, fired upon from three sides. A devastating flank attack drove the survivors from the cut and by the time the 48th rallied, more than 150 of its soldiers were among the killed, wounded, captured, or missing. As it turned out and in terms of numbers lost, 2nd Bull Run would be the 48th’s worst battle of the war.

Among the wounded was young Private Thomas Major of Company E. At some point during the battle, he was shot in the leg and remained on the field for two days before he was able to limp or crawl away to safety. He was taken to the Columbian College Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment. Hopes for his recovery were high and from his hospital bed, Thomas continued to write letters home. On October 11, some six weeks after his wounding, he wrote that he was “well and hearty although in bed.” “My leg is coming along nicely,” Thomas assured his sisters, or at least “as well as could be expected” and that the hospital was “about the best in Washington.” He described his experiences at 2nd Bull Run: “About the battle, I was shot on Friday the 29th. I laid in under the hottest of the fire for 2 days. The ball tore the ground all around me, and also my clothing was pierced a dozen times.” He also informed his sister that he had received a letter from brother George. By the fall of 1862, George Major, who was two years younger than Thomas had entered the army and was just then serving in the ranks of the nine-month 129th Pennsylvania Infantry. Thomas also passed along his regards for their neighbors back home in Blythe Township, the Gables, but ended his letter by saying he was tired. He told his sister earlier in that same letter that she should “not expect to get long letters from me while I am laying on the bed for it is very tiresome.”

There was nothing in that letter to indicate that Thomas was not recovering well; indeed, the thought was that he would soon be back home. It thus came as a shock when on October 31, Thomas Major died.

Included among the letters Mr. Adams sent along was one dated November 22, 1862, and written by a M.A. Wood, who was likely a nurse or hospital steward at Columbian College Hospital. Wood was responding to a letter he or she received from one of Thomas Major’s siblings.

Columbian College Hospital
14th Street, Washington, D.C.
November 22, 1862
Dear Friend,
It was with much pleasure that I received your kind letter. I was truly glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well, for I did not know but your brother's death might seriously affect your dear mother, but it was my prayer that the Lord would give you all strength to bear it. It must surely have been a cruel blow, more so on account of having all encouraging letters from him. It was very unexpected to me. I could not have felt worse to have had an own brother die. He had been here a long time and we all got very much attached to him. He was so patient and so good, not even a murmur through all his sufferings. I am very glad that it was my privilege to do what I could for him. I do not know of anything that he wanted but that he had.

It would have seemed much better and pleasanter for you to had him with you if it could have been right, but the Lord doeth all things well and doubtless you feel to say with the Psalmist "It is the Lord. Let Him do what seemeth to Him good." You spoke of giving me his picture and your mother's. You do not know how much pleased I should be to have them and yours too. I will have mine taken and send you. 

Please remember me kindly to your father, mother, brothers and sisters. I hope your other brother may be spared to you.

Please write. I shall be very much pleased to hear from at any time.

The Chaplain has looked after your brother's grave.

Yours affectionately,
M.A. Wood

P.S.  Please excuse me for not writing  before for I have not had time. - M.A.W.

Columbian College Hospital
Washington, D.C.
(Library of Congress) 

Thomas Major answered his country’s call in the late summer of 1861, leaving behind his family in Blythe Township and marching off to war as a private in Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. The next summer, he received a wound from which he would never recover. He bore his wound bravely, stoically, all the while composing letters home to his beloved younger siblings. His remains never made it back to those “old dirt piles” of Schuylkill County; they were, instead, buried at U.S. Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The Worn Grave of Thomas Major
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery
Washington, D.C. 

Thomas Major's younger brother, George Major, served out his nine-month term with the 129th, seeing action at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. In the years after the war, he became Chief Burgess of Mahonoy City. On March 30, 1874, a fire spread through a home in the center of the city. Responding to the call were two rival fire companies, one predominantly Welsh, the other predominantly Irish. As was so often the case in those days of ethnic division and strife, a street brawl broke out and Burgess Major attempted to restore order by stepping between the two gangs and drawing his pistol. A shot was fired from the crowd and George Major fell dead. His death—or murder—was soon blamed on Molly Maguirism.  

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

[My thanks, again, to Mr. Brett Adams and his brothers for their kindness and generosity in sending along the images and letters of Thomas Major and his family] 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Killed At Spotsylvania: Lt. Henry Clay Jackson: Teacher Turned Soldier Turned Martyr

Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm; Museum of Civil War Images) 
In 1861, twenty-four-year-old Henry Clay Jackson, from St. Clair, Pennsylvania, was looking forward to a career in the classroom. He was enrolled at the Millersville Normal School, studying to become a school teacher. But then the war came and Jackson--"From a sense of duty and not impulse"--decided to answer his country's call. He left his studies behind and entered the ranks of the Lafayette Rifles, a company recruited largely from St. Clair which soon became Company B, 14th Pennsylvania. Attached to General Robert Patterson's command, Jackson and the 14th saw no action during its three-month term of service. When his term of service with the 14th expired in late July, 1861, Jackson enlisted once more, this time to term a three-year term in the ranks of Company G, 48th Pennsylvania. 

It was not long before Jackson proved himself a natural leader and brave soldier. He was appointed as the company's Orderly Sergeant and in June 1862, was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, Jackson was among the scores of soldiers of the 48th to fall into enemy hands, having been cut off in an unfinished railroad embankment and caught up in a devastating Confederate counterattack. As a prisoner of war, Jackson was sent south and soon found himself confined in Richmond's Libby Prison where he remained a short time before being exchanged.  Returning to the regiment, Jackson only narrowly survived the struggle at Fredericksburg when a shell burst directly in front of him, so close that it covered his face and neck with powder. Captain Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G, who was very near to Jackson, remembered that it appeared as though the lieutenant was suffering from a case of "black small pox." At Knoxville, in late November 1863, Jackson was more badly wounded when a shell fragment tore into his thigh while he was in command of the regimental picket line. 

The Officers Of Company G in 1863
Captain Bobsyshell (seated),
 Lt. Curtis Pollock (standing, left),

and Jackson (Hoptak Collection) 
Captured then confined in Libby, surviving a close call at Fredericksburg and a more serious wound at Knoxville, Jackson's luck ultimately ran out during the slaughter that was Spotsylvania. While lying prone in the line of battle, Jackson was struck with a ball through the neck, just above the collar bone, with the bullet coming to a stop in his chest. A number of his fellow soldiers carried the stricken lieutenant from the field, among them Sgt. William Auman--who would one day ride with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War." Auman remembered that Jackson was lying next to him when he was hit. "When he was struck he fell against me," related Auman, "I asked him where he was hit; he whispered 'I don't know,' and then his head fell to one side and I saw that he was dying." Indeed, Jackson took his last breath while being carried to a hospital in the rear. Later buried near where he fell at Spotsylvania, the remains of Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson were reportedly reinterred after the war and laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, though there is no known grave marker for him there.  

The loss of Jackson was deeply felt in the regiment. In his regimental history, Joseph Gould wrote that Jackson was "a noble fellow," who was "idolized by his men." Bosbyshell related that Jackson was "an able and fearless officer," while after the war, Francis Wallace bestowed further praise upon on Jackson in his work, Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County:

"Thus fell Lieutenant Jackson, faithful to every duty, and though sensible to danger and peril, yet braving them with heroic disregard of self. He had determined if his life was spared to remain in the army till the last organized force of rebellion was overthrown. Gifted with a vigorous physical organization, considerable energy, a clear and active mind, ready utterance, strict integrity, and withal modest and affectionate, his friends had high hopes of his success in a civil profession, but he was reserved by Providence to be one of the numerous martyrs in behalf of the Union, and the honor and free institutions of our country."

[Notes: Francis Wallace. Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County (Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Benjamin Bannan Publisher, 1865): pg. 529; Joseph Gould. The Story of the Forty Eighth (Philadelphia: Alfred M. Slocum, Publisher, 1908), pg. 180; Oliver Bosbyshell. The 48th in the War (Philadelphia: Avil Printing Company, 1895), pgs. 97, 150.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Discovering Lt. Cullen. . .

Lieutenant William Cullen
Company E, 48th Pennsylvania
[Courtesy of  Catherine Siegel and Family] 

In all of my years studying the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, there are few moments more thrilling for me than when I see an image or a photograph of one of the regiment's soldiers for the very first time. After all the time I have spent poring over the rosters, studying the returns and rolls, examining the casualty lists, reading the letters and accounts, I cannot help but naturally wonder what these soldiers looked like and I am always thrilled, even elated, when a photograph surfaces or is discovered that allows me to, at last, put a face to the name. Unfortunately, it really does not happen that often, or at least less often than one might suppose. During the four years of the American Civil War, approximately 1,800 soldiers served in the ranks of the 48th, some for a few months, others for all four years. Yet of this number, I have only ever seen images of about 200, or just about 11% of the entire regiment. Of course, I do keep an eye out, regularly searching through the inventories of Civil War relics/antique dealers, historical auction sites, and checking frequently on ebay and other places where, over the years, some 48th CDVs have been put up for sale. And whenever I receive an email from a descendant of a 48th soldier, I always ask in return if they have or know of a photograph of their ancestor who served in the ranks. . .

Almost all of the time the answer, unfortunately, is no. 

That was the answer I got when, in late November 2015, I received an email from a descendant of Lieutenant William Cullen, of Company E, 48th PA. Having worked at Antietam for so many years and knowing well the actions of the regiment there, I have longed searched, or I should say, waited, to see an image of Cullen. Cullen was killed there, late on the afternoon of that bloody Wednesday in mid-September 1862 when a ramrod was propelled through his chest. The grisly and ghastly nature of his death wound was recorded specifically in the regimental history authored by Oliver Bosbyshell in 1896. Writing of the regiment's stand atop a ridge line east of Otto's farm lane and of the artillery bombardment they sustained while there, Bosbyshell wrote of one particularly deadly and destructive shot: "With a bang and a splutter along came that destructive old shell, which filled [Jacob] Douty's eyes with dirt, and bruised his shoulder, tore off Sergeant [John] Seward's leg and left Sergeant [William] Trainer minus one arm, as it drove the ramrod he was just replacing into poor Cullen's breast. Cullen jumped to his feet, tore open his shirt to show his captain the wound, and then dropped dead at Winlack's feet."  Yes, I knew Cullen's story fairly well. How, before the war, he was a coal miner from Silver Creek; married, with a number of small children, and rather tall; he stood nearly 6'2" in height. In April 1861, Cullen left home and family behind in answer to his country's call--he was a First Generation American. His parents, Thomas and Bridget Mary Burke Cullen, were natives of County Wexford in Ireland who had made the long journey across the Atlantic. William Cullen, their first of eventually twelve children, was born in Pennsylvania in 1829, which made him thirty-two-years of age when civil war erupted across the family's adopted land. Cullen answered his country's call, serving under Captain William Winlack as a sergeant in the Wynkoop Artillery, a militia company which became Company E, 16th Pennsylvania Infantry. The 16th was a three-month organization and upon the expiration of this term of service, Cullen assisted Winlack in recruiting a new company from around the Silver Creek area, a company that, in September 1861, became Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, a "three-years or the course of the war" regiment. Cullen was mustered into service as the company's 1st Lieutenant.  One month later, from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, Cullen wrote to his mother, explaining why he felt it right and proper to offer his services: 

Fort Monroe Headquarters
Department of V. A.
Camp Hamilton
October 23rd, 1861

Dear Mother
after a relapse of some time its with pleasing anticipation I address those lives you Brothers & Sisters hoping to find you all in good health and blessing. I enjoy myself at present dear Mother. After my return from the 3 months servise I remained at home for a few weeks but the way the Country was situated business of all descriptions. Suspended & seeing that my service to my adopted country was stile kneeded
[still needed] I procured a commission of first Leutenancy under same Captain that I served under in the 3 months & again immerged into it for during the war dear mother our position is not a dangerous one as we are at present camped under the protection of the fort that is described on the map. It is the largest fort belonging (to) the government it mounts 377 guns 2, 4000 men & cost 2 million 4 hundred thousand dollars to build it dear mother, brother & sisters. I hope that my conduct through this campain may be unstained that I may gain all the hounour & esteem & hounour due to my rank & station from them that is under my command & pray that I may survive to see the Glorious Stars & Stripes Float again from the shores of the Pacific to the St. Laurance then man can Enjoy again the blessings & privileges [?] that glorious Washington established if once overturned by rebble force could never be replaced. When that happy hour shale arive that the Trumpet of peace shale echo through the land while I returned to the fond affections of a loving Wife & Children & the Tender Embrace of an aged Mother, Brother & Sisters. Dear Mother their is none of the enemy to be seen at this point they are reported to be concentrating within 25 miles of here at a place called Yorktown where Washington took Lord Cornwallice & 15 hundred men prisoners at the time of the Revolutionary war. The(y) burned down a Town called Hampton 1 mile from here about 3 months ago and have not been seen here since. I cannot say how long we will be stationed here. We are the first Pennsylvania Troops ever landed at this point. We are the 48 Regt. of P.A. voluntiers commanded by Col. James Nayle [Nagle] of Potsville. He is of appinion that we will remain here some time. I wish you to answer this letter as soon as you possible can & let me know all particulars. I wont neglect writing to you & trust I shale receive the same from you in return. Send my best respects to Frances Coyle & Wife & send my love to James, Thomas, John & Davy, Mary, Elen, Catherine & James & Jane & serve [?] 

A Large portion for your selfe from
Your Affectionate Son
Wm. Cullin

Direct to Leiut. Wm. Cullin Co. E. 48th Regt. P.A. Fort Monroe, V.A.
To Mrs. Bridget Cullin Dushore, P.A.
Sullivan Co. P.A. United States

[Letter Credit to: Monique S. Derby and]

Less than a year after writing this, Cullen gave his life upon the fields of Antietam to help ensure that the Stars & Stripes floated once again over a united land. He was a popular officer and his death was lamented within the ranks of his company and of his regiment. Indeed, a day after the fight, on September 18, a member of Company E--most likely Private David Hamilton--authored a poem, entitled:
"Ode to William Cullen"
Attention ye brave to this mournful story, 
That I am going to pen of a soldier so brave:
Who started to reap a rich harvest of glory,
But is now lying dead in his cold narrow grave.

His name was Bill Cullen as fearless of danger
As the shining steel sword he held in his hand:
He left his fond wife to the cold hearted strangers,
While he went to fight for his dear native land.

A lieutenant he was under brave Captain Winlock
In the 48th Regiment of Schuykill's brave sons;
He never was daunted by cannon or firelocks,
But like a true soldier stood firm by his guns.

He fought at Bull Run on the first of September,
Where Burnside so valiantly beat back the foe;
The day that the rebels will ever remember,
And the Northern men look to with wonder and woe.

It was there that he seemed like an angel
Of mercy sent down from a high;
As the wounded he carried away from the danger
And cared for the poor sufferers left there to die.

But alas I must tell you in heart rendering numbers,
His sad fate at the Battle of Antietam Creek;
'Twas there he fell in deaths slumbers.
Cut down in his prime not a word could he speak.

With his sword waving high in the battle, 
While cheering his men to the action once more;
A cursed rebel shell in death dealing rattle,
Striking brave Cullen laid him in his gore.

As next morning his comrades gathered around him,
Laid him down gently in his hallow bed;
Every one dropped a true soldiers tear o'er him,
Saying, Peace to the ashes of the gallant dead. 

William Cullen's remains were later taken back to Schuylkill County where they continue to rest in St. Stephen's Cemetery in Port Carbon. . . 

The Grave of William Cullen 

Ruth, the great-great-grand niece of Cullen who had contacted back in November 2015, wrote to ask if I would be willing to lead her and a number of her relatives on a tour of the battlefield of Antietam, with a particular focus on the actions of the 48th there. Of course, I responded, It would be--and was, indeed--a great honor. 
We met up at the Visitor Center at Antietam on December 27. I remember that at the outset of the tour, one of the kind gentlemen in the group named Frank told me that they had something special for me once we got to the fields where the 48th fought. And while we covered the whole battleground--from the North Woods and Cornfield to the West Woods and the Sunken Road--I was especially looking forward to leading the descendants of Lt. Cullen on a tour of where the regiment fought and where he lost his life. We parked at the Burnside Bridge and I described the actions of the 48th, who were positioned on the opposite bluff, firing at those pesky and determined Georgians holding the bridge. "And when at last the bridge was carried, the 48th," I explained, "proceeded in this direction . . ." We walked from the parking lot, along a portion of the Final Attack Trail, to a rise of ground immediately east of the Otto Farm Lane. From there, we could see Burnside's objective--the high ground, 3/4 of a mile ahead. I described the attack of Willcox's and Rodman's divisions and how, when A.P. Hill's Confederates arrived and smashed into Burnside's left flank, causing it to cave, the 48th was called forward to this point of ground to help stem the gray-and-butternut tide. It was at this spot, I explained, where the regiment suffered its highest loss. And it was there, somewhere very nearby, where that particularly "destructive old shell" came along with a bang and a splutter, tearing off legs and arms and driving Sgt. Trainer's ramrod straight through Cullen's chest. It was somewhere near here, I said, where the lieutenant--their ancestor--sprang to his feet, tore open his shirt, and fell dead at Captain Winlack's feet. After I finished, the group gathered closer to me and Frank placed an arm around me, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out. . .

. . .an image of Lieutenant William Cullen!

I could hardly believe what I was seeing and still, today, I have a hard time attributing how this all came about to pure coincidence. As it turned out, just one week before Ruth and her family journeyed to Antietam for the tour, they found an image of Cullen on an online genealogy site, an image posted there by a relative they did not know they had. It was truly quite remarkable that just a week before they walked the ground where Cullen fell they, for the first time, saw his face. And, for me, it was an absolutely incredible moment--one I will not soon forget, when I was presented with a copy of Cullen's image by his descendants very near the spot where he gave his life while serving in the ranks of the 48th. 

Since that time, I have learned much more about Cullen from his descendants and have been in contact with that branch of the family who has the photograph, hanging on the wall of their home. For their kindness and generosity, I would like to thank Ruth, Jean, and Frank Sando, Ms. Catherine Siegel, and their families for allowing me to share this story and that amazing moment when I first discovered Lieutenant William Cullen. . .