Friday, November 14, 2014

The 48th/150th: "Another Season of Quiet Fell On The Troops:" October-November 1864

There is surprisingly little written or known about the actions of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Fall of 1864 and Winter of 1864-1865, and perhaps this is because the regiment was largely inactive during this period. There were no great campaigns or sanguinary battles; instead, the war-weary and mud-covered soldiers remained hunkered down in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, doing their best to deflect the boredom and monotony, and doing their best to avoid the incoming shells and Confederate sharpshooters' bullets.
 
Harpers' Weekly Depiction of Life in the Petersburg Trenches
 
 
On the final day of September, 1864, the 48th participated in the Battle of Peebles's Farm and, for its efforts, lost 55 casualties. Most of these losses--a total of 43 men--were taken prisoner and were, by now, enduring the hell that was life in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Salisbury Prison. Sixteen would perish during the captivity. Their story was told in the previous post.
 
The men who made it safely through the action at Peebles's Farm returned to their place in the trenches and to the realities of this new kind of trench warfare. Most of October passed quietly, with the men strengthening their fortifications and keeping a leery eye on the Confederate troops just across that no-man's-land between the lines.  At the end of the month, the regiment participated in the demonstration against the Boynton Plank Road but only in a supporting capacity. Following this, "Another season of quiet fell on the troops," said Oliver Bosbyshell.
 
It was during this time that the regiment bid adieu to those officers and men who, earlier that year, chose not to re-up or re-enlist and with the expiration of their original three-year term of service, these men received their honorable discharges and headed home, their soldiering days were over. Those who remained in the service no doubt longed and wished for the day when they, too, would be making that long journey back to their families and friends in Schuylkill County. The big topic of debate was "when" this joyful day would arrive. On November 18, the regiment held a mock election. Ten days earlier, Lincoln had secured re-election, triumphing over Democratic challenger George McClellan. Lincoln would have won again if they counted the 48th's votes; Lincoln scored 200 votes; McClellan received 30. With Lincoln's victory, many on both sides were now fully convinced that it was only a matter of time before the Confederacy foundered and folded and threw down its arms. Deserters in ragged uniforms of gray and butternut continued to flock into Union lines and, as Joseph Gould, wrote, "They were a sad looking lot, their appearance indicated the hollow condition of the rebellion. They all expressed views that proved to the hopelessness of their cause and were glad to quit."
 
Yet there were also many boys in blue who sought escape from life in the army; several of those who were caught were paraded in front of the men, who had been drawn up in line, and publicly executed. On October 14, for example, Charles Merlin of the 2nd Maryland Infantry met his end at the hands of a firing squad. The soldiers of the 48th were ordered up to witness this sad spectacle, this tragic pageant. Gould remembered it vividly in his regimental history: "The division was formed in an open square and, at nine o'clock in the morning, the prisoner was brought from his place of confinement, accompanied by the Chaplain. A band led the procession, playing a funeral march. In the rear of the band was a file of guards, then the prisoner, then four men bearing his coffin, and after the coffin, another file of guards. The procession marched all around the inside of the square to the open end, where the grave had been dug. Here the band was dismissed, the coffin placed near the open grave, and the prisoner then listened to the charges, findings and sentence read to him by the provost marshal. He was then left with the Chaplain, who seated him upon his coffin, bandaged his eyes, prayed with him, shook him by the hand and walked to the head of the square. A detail of twelve men with eleven muskets, loaded with ball, and one with blank cartridge, were drawn up within twenty-five paces of the victim. . . .The muskets were loaded by a sergeant and distributed to the men. . . .At the word "fire" from the officer in charge of the squad, the poor fellow fell back upon his coffin, riddled with the bullets of his comrades. The division was then marched by the body, whilst it still lay upon the coffin, and it was a pitiful sight to witness."
 
 
Execution of A Civil War Soldier
from Frank Leslie's The Soldier in our Civil War (1893)



 
 
The Rest of The Army Reviews the Corpse
from Frank Leslie's The Solider in our Civil War (1893)
 
 
 
Pitiful, indeed, and intended to send a message to the rest of the men who may have been contemplating desertion. It did not seem to work, though, for as Gould recorded, three days later, six men of 6th New Hampshire deserted. One month later, in mid-December, the 48th was once again drawn up to witness more executions, this time, though, it was via hanging and not firing squad. Two soldiers from the 179th New York had been apprehended while attempting to desert and, once more, Gould described the macabre pageant: "A gallows had been erected near division headquarters, and the troops were all formed about it. The prisoners were marched past the division on to the gallows; one of the men coolly smoking a cigar. They were led on the trap; the findings and sentence read to them; black caps placed on their heads; and the drop fell. As the trap fell, on which they stood, their names, company and regiment, and the caused for which they were executed, were seen painted in bold letters, so that all could be plainly read. The execution was very artistically performed; and, after the division was marched past the suspended bodies, we were conducted to camp."
 
Such was life in this civil war . . . 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The 48th/150th: Captured At Peebles's Farm, Died In Salisbury Prison

Salisbury Prison, as depicted in this 1886 lithograph
(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


150 years ago today, the 48th Pennsylvania lost 55 men in the Battle of Peebles's Farm. Four of these men were either killed or mortally wounded; eight others were wounded. The remaining 43 fell into Confederate hands as prisoners-of-war. Two years earlier, at the Battle of Second Manassas, 57 members of the regiment were captured but these men were soon after paroled, exchanged, and permitted to rejoin the ranks of the 48th. By 1864, however, the system of prisoner exchanges had broken down and now, these captured soldiers would be marched under armed guard to the rear, then placed aboard train cars for the long journey to a prisoner-of-war camp.  Most would be taken to Salisbury Prison, in Rowan County, North Carolina, an abandoned textile mill that had been converted into a prison. Designed to hold but 2,500 men, in early October, some 10,000 prisoners were packed and crammed into its sixteen acres, including most of the 48th Pennsylvania soldiers who had been captured at Peebles's Farm.  And it would be there where sixteen of these men would perish, victims, said regimental historian Joseph Gould, of "the inhuman treatment experienced by all Union prisoners in rebel prisons."
 
 
Corporal Michael Condron, Co. C
Died in Salisbury Prison, 11/30/1864
(John D. Hoptak Collection)
Underfed, undernourished and subjected to the overcrowded and filthy conditions, it would not takeJacob Hammer would be among the first of the 48th to die. Hammer, a native of Germany and a coal miner by profession, had entered the ranks of Company B, 48th PA, in late April 1864. He died less than seven months later, on November 12.  Private Charles Dintinger of Company C also lost his life in November, 1864, while confined in Salisbury. He, too, had just entered the ranks of the 48th several months earlier, though he was much younger than Hammer; just eighteen years of age. Corporal Michael Condron had been serving with the 48th since the regiment was first organized in the late summer of 1861, when at age twenty-two he became a member of Co. C. He stood 5'10" in height, had a Light Complexion, Blue Eyes, and Light Brown Hair; his occupation was listed as Laborer; his place of residence, like most others, Schuylkill County. Corporal Condron's life expired in Salisbury on November 30, 1864. Patrick Crowe was a nineteen-year-old red-headed laborer when he volunteered to serve in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania in March 1864. His confinement in Salisbury lasted six weeks; it ended with his death on November 19. Company F, of the 48th, would lose most of the men who perished within the walls of Salisbury. William Fulton, a thirty-nine-year old coal miner from Pottsville, died on February 12, 1865; Joseph Finley, born in Ireland in 1845, took up arms in defense of his native land and gave his life while serving it in January 1865.  Also lost from the ranks of Company F was eighteen-year-old William H. Kohler--a 5'2" hazel-eyed laborer from Pottsville--Elijah DeFrehn --a thirty-one-year-old, hazel-eyed laborer from Pottsville--and Private Michael Welsh, aged nineteen, who perished on February 2, 1865. Many of those who served in the 48th were of foreign birth, including many who gave their lives fighting in defense of the United States; several have already been mentioned. But also included among this number was nineteen-year-old Philip Heffron, a private in Company H, who had been born in Ireland but who, in April 1864, entered the ranks of the 48th. He died of starvation in Salisbury Prison, on November 25, 1864.  Edward Maginnes of Company E passed away a week before Heffron, on November 17. Maginnes was eighteen years of age when he volunteered in the spring of 1864; just a few months later, this young, 5'5" blue-eyed laborer was dead.  At 5'0" inches in height, Private Samuel Shollenberger was among the shortest soldiers in the regiment; no matter, though, for in February 1864, this eighteen-year-old carpenter volunteered to serve in Company A; he never returned back home, dying on January 16, 1865. 
long for Salisbury to claim its first victims. Thirty-six-year-old

All of these men, listed above, as having died while confined in Salisbury Prison were all, more than likely buried there in any one of the eighteen trenches that had been dug just southeast of the prison walls, each 240-feet in length. The dead were collected and buried rather unceremoniously there, without coffins, stacked one next to the other.

The Location of the Eighteen Trenches Were the Dead from Salisbury Were Buried
Today within the Salisbury National Cemetery
(http://salisburyprison.rowancounty.info/)

But there were four other soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania--at least four other soldiers--who died from the effects of confinement shortly after their release. This included Privates Joshua Reed and Nicholas Gross of Company G. Reed had entered the regiment in February 1862 and since then had been wounded at 2nd Bull Run and at Petersburg in June 1864. Captured at Peebles's Farm and confined at Salisbury, this thirty-year-old laborer from Barry Township died at his home in the spring of 1865. Gross, a thirty-eight-year-old watchmaker from Prussia, succumbed to chronic diarrhea shortly after his release and was buried in the Annapolis National Cemetery. 1st Sergeant Henry Graeff was eighteen years old and a student when he volunteered to serve in Company D, 48th in the summer of 1861. Confined at Salisbury, Graeff died in his Pottsville home on March 29, 1865 and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery there. And, finally, there was Private Lewis Sterner, who, in May 1864, became a soldier in the ranks of Company A, 48th Pennsylvania. The 5'7 1/2", Light-Complexioned, Grey-Eyed, Brown-Haired laborer was released from confinement at Salisbury and returned to his Tamaqua home. He died there on April 11, 1865. Upon his tombstone it is recorded that young, twenty-two-year-old Sterner died "of the treatment received while in rebel prison."

The Possible Grave of Private Joshua Reed
Company G, 48th in Lavelle, Schuylkill County
(from findagrave.com)

* * * * * * * * * *


      
The Grave of Private Lewis Sterner
Odd Fellows' Cemetery, Tamaqua
(from findagrave.com)
 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The 48th/150th: Peebles's Farm: 9/30/1864

150 years ago. . .
The Battle of Peebles Farm: 9/30/1864
(nps)
 
. . .and after helping to secure the capture of Weldon Railroad in mid-August 1864, the war-weary, dirt-covered soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania settled in once more to the monotonous but still deadly life in the trenches at Petersburg. A relative calm and quiet descended over the lines over the course of the next six weeks, but, as regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell was quick to point out, although matters "remained quiet. . .so far as any movements of magnitude were concerned," "The never ceasing crack of the rifles of the men in the rifle pits, and occasional shower of mortar shells, with a flurry of shot and shell now and then, served to remind all hands that the war was [still] going on, dangerously near, and ready for death and destruction upon the slightest provocation." And if they needed a further reminder that the war was, indeed, still going on, it came 150 years ago on September 30, 1864.


Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant sought to strike both ends of Robert E. Lee's ever-lengthening and ever-thinning lines around Petersburg. While Benjamin Butler would strike the far Confederate right, just south of Richmond, Gouveneur Warren would lead his Fifth Corps against the opposite end of Lee's line, south of Petersburg. It was hoped that Lee would weaken his right in response to Butler's threat and that Warren would be able to exploit this and sever more Confederate supply lines that ran into Petersburg from the south.
 
Supported by a division of cavalry as well as General John Parke's Ninth Corps, Warren began his movement on Friday, September 30, leading his men along the Poplar Springs road toward Peebles's Farm. Lee had done exactly what Grant had hoped: he weakened his right by sending troops from A.P. Hill's corps to the north. A division of the Fifth Corps attacked Hill's thinned lines and routed them from a fortification known as Fort Archer. Because of this, however, Lee halted those men that had ordered away and sent them back to confront the threat on his right. In the meantime, Warren halted his own advance as soldiers from Parke's Ninth Corps shuffled further to the south and east, looking to effect a connection with Warren's left flank.
 
The Attack of 5th Corps Troops at Peebles Farm
(from Frank Leslie's Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War)
The 48th Pennsylvania, commanded still by Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, that mastermind of the Petersburg Mine, took up position in the rear of the Ninth Corps, in reserve, in a clearing near the Pegram House. As the fighting unfolded to their front, one must wonder what the veteran soldiers of the 48th were thinking, for, as it turned out, it was on that same date, back in 1861, that many of the companies were officially organized and mustered into service. Three years earlier, exactly, so many of these veteran troops had become soldiers, taking that oath to serve for "three years or the course of the war," whichever came first. For those men who did not re-enlist earlier in 1864, they would soon--very soon--be heading home. For those who did reenlist, the predominant thought must have been, why they had chosen to do so.
 
Suddenly, chaos. . .and a mob of retreating men! In front, Confederate General Harry Heth had orchestrated a counterattack that slammed head-on into the advanced units of the Ninth Corps. The units out in front line broke in disorder, the men fleeing as fast as they could to the rear. . .and directly through the ranks of the 48th. According to Bosbyshell, Colonel Pleasants "was greatly enraged at these fleeing soldiers as they dashed blindly to the rear, pushing and shoving their way between the ranks of the Forty-Eighth, and with drawn sword slashed to the right and left amongst them with the strength of an athlete, staying the flight effectually anywhere near his sweeping sabre." Bosbyshell joked about all the sore heads and bruised ribs that surely resulted among these fleeing Union soldiers, but as these men fled to the rear, the 48th formed quickly into line of battle and advanced toward the oncoming gray-and-butternut tide. A thick secondary growth of trees and bushes, along with a swamp, however, disrupted their formation. The regiment's line broke in half; to the right of this heavy undergrowth the men began digging in, quickly establishing entrenchments. On the left, however, the other half of the regiment advanced so close the advancing rebels that they were able to "distinguish their features." Several heavy volleys erupted and Major Bobsyshell, in command of this half of the regiment, ordered his men to fall back. They rejoined their comrades behind their new "well-defined line of works" and held on there. Order was restored and the next day a second Confederate attack was easily repulsed. Union reinforcements would arrive on the scene and by October 2, they would be able to claim Peebles's Farm as a victory. 
 
The 48th, however, had lost a good number of men--most of them captured. Joseph Gould intimated in his regimental history that the losses could easily have been much higher. "In the progress of the fight the line of the brigade was broken, which resulted very nearly in the capture of the entire regiment. By skillful maneuvering the command preserved its organization, although its lines were thrice broken by frightened troops pouring through them."  
 
Once things settled down and the ominous calm spread again through the lines, Pleasants compiled a list of the regiment's casualties at Peebles's Farm. It included 4 men killed or mortally wounded, 8 wounded, and a staggering 43 men captured or listed among the missing. For these captured men, the horrors of prison life at Salisbury Prison, North Carolina, awaited them. Tragically, at least 16 of these men died from the effects of prison confinement. . .disease, starvation, despair. . .never making it out, never making it back home.     
 
The casualties the 48th sustained 150 years on September 30 were as follows:
 
Killed/Mortally Wounded: (4)
John Darragh: Co. E
David Miller: Co. F (Mortally Wounded; Died in Annapolis 11/16/1864)
James Heiser: Co. I
Joseph Cobus: Co. I (Wounded and Captured; Died of Wounds 10/4/1864)
Wounded: (8)
Sergeant Major Henry C. Honsberger
Sgt. George Bowman: Co. D
William Ball: Co. F
Thomas Garland: Co. F
Patrick Galligan: Co. G
Cpl. Henry Fey: Co. H
Benjamin Williams: Co. I
Henry Goodman: Co. I
Captured/Missing: (43)  
Lewis Sterner: Co. A (Died 4/11/1865 in Tamaqua)
Franklin W. Simons: Co. A
Samuel Shollenberger: Co. A (Died 1/16/1865 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
John E. Bubeck: Co. B
Gardner Bell: Co. B
Jacob Hammer: Co. B (Died 11/12/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Thomas Griffiths: Co. B
William Stevenson: Co. B
Sgt. Samuel Wallace: Co. C
Cpl. Michael Condron: Co. C (Died 11/30/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Murt Brennan: Co. C
Charles Dintinger: Co. C (Died 11/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
William Larkin: Co. C
Sgt. Henry Graeff: Co. D (Died 3/29/1865 in Pottsville)
George H.W. Cooper: Co. D
William H. Williams: Co. D
Daniel Dietrich: Co. D
John Dooley: Co. E
Edward Magginnis: Co. E (Died 11/17/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Sgt. Robert Paden: Co. F
William Fulton: Co. F (Died 2/12/1865 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Joseph Finley: Co. F (Died 1/22/1865 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
William Moore: Co. F
Michael Welsh: Co. F (Died in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
William Koehler: Co. F (Died in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Elijah DeFrehn: Co. F (Died in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Patrick Grant: Co. G
Nicholas Gross: Co. G (Died in Annapolis, 3/12/1865)
Joshua Reed: Co. G (Died at his home from effects of prison confinement)
Henry Jones: Co. H
Joseph Moore: Co. H
John Halladay: Co. H
Phillip Heffron: Co. H (Died of starvation 11/25/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C)
1st Lt. Oliver A.J. Davis: Co. I
Patrick Crowe: Co. I (Died 11/19/1864 in Salisbury Prison, N.C.)
Lucien Monbeck: Co. I
Nathan Neifert: Co. I
Henry A. Neyman: Co. I
William Weiss: Co. I
George H. Gross: Co. K
Thomas Leonard: Co. K
John Patry: Co. K
Thomas Fogarty: Co. K
 
 
Cpl. Michael Condron, Co. C
Captured at Peebles Farm; Died in Salisbury Prison
(John D. Hoptak Collection)
1st Lt. Oliver A.J. Davis
Captured at Peebles Farm and Survivor of Salisbury Prison
(John D. Hoptak Collection)




Benjamin Williams, Co. I
Captured a Peebles Farm; Survivor of Salisbury Prison
(John D. Hoptak Collection)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Soldiers of the 48th: Private Francis Stidham, Company A

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

At the grave of Private Francis Stidham. . .Annapolis National Cemetery
 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alonzo Cushing, Harry Reese and the Issue over Medals of Honor. . .

Lt. Alonzo Cushing
News broke last night that Lt. Alonzo Cushing will receive a Medal of Honor and the reaction from those in the Civil War community has thus far been overwhelmingly positive. "At long last," "finally," "it's about time". . .these are just some of the common statements I have seen from bloggers and facebookers. But there are some who are expressing hesitancy and even outright disagreement with this decision to recognize Cushing's valor 151 years after the fact, out of concern for the precedent this will set.
 
My own feelings about this are mixed; while a great story I can also agree with those who now fear that slippery slope. This is certainly not meant to diminish Cushing's bravery and his heroic actions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. Yet there were countless other soldiers who performed equally heroic actions--at Gettysburg and on just about every battlefield of the war--whose valor has gone unrecognized by the Medal of Honor. And as was the case with Cushing, there are no doubt many other Union soldiers who were nominated for the Medal but whose nominations were never acted upon.

Sgt. Henry Reese
This includes Sergeant and later Lieutenant Henry Reese of Company F, 48th Pennsylvania, who was, indeed, nominated for a Medal of Honor for his bravery immediately prior to the Battle of the Crater. It was Reese, of course, who volunteered to crawl back into the 48th's mine at Petersburg to discover why there had been no blast. He discovered the fuse had gone out and, with the assistance of another officer, he re-spliced and re-lit it. . .then crawled back out as quickly as possible.
 
While the resulting battle was a complete disaster for the Union, the mine itself was a great success and in February 1865, Major General John Parke, who assumed command of the Ninth Army Corps following Burnside's departure, sought to have Reese's "conspicuous act of gallantry recognized with a Medal of Honor. In Reese's service records at the National Archives is Parke's recommendation, which reads, in part:  

Major General John Parke
"In the undermining and destruction of the Rebel Fort No. 5 in front of Petersburg, Va., the fuse leading to the magazine had been spliced about 15 feet from the fuse of the mine, when the fuse was first lighted, it burned to the splice when the fire went out, and, after the time set for the explosion had elapsed, Sgt. Henry Reese volunteered to enter the mine and relight the fuse at the splice, which he successfully accomplished, and returned in safety to the mouth of the mine, and in one minute after the explosion took place."
 
For whatever reason, or reasons, Parke's recommendation was not acted upon, and Reese was not issued the Medal of Honor. But there are some still today who would like to see the Welsh-born sergeant receive his medal. . .posthumously, of course, 150+ years later. . .just like Alonzo Cushing.
 

Entrance to the 48th's Mine at Petersburg