Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Park Ranger Gerald Ford: 1913-2006

In the summer of 1936, twenty-three-year-old Gerald R. Ford found employment as a Park Ranger at Yellowstone National Park, making him the only U.S. President to be employed as a ranger with the National Park Service. He referred to his summer of rangering as one of the greatest summers of his life, and although he said the position was "very challenging," he also stated that it was one of the greatest jobs he ever held. Of course, Ford would hold many more jobs, including that of President of the United States. On August 9, 1974, he was sworn in as the nation's 38th President, assuming the office after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon. During Ford's two and a half years in office, 18 new areas were added to the National Park Service, including the Monocacy Battlefield, near Frederick, Maryland, the Clara Barton National Historic Site, the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site at Kinderhook, New York, and the Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Gerald Ford died yesterday evening at the age of 93. As we honor and remember the life of President Ford, most will think of his tenure as U.S. President. But as a park ranger myself, I will remember him also as a ranger for the National Park Service.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain Benjamin B. Schuck, Company I: "A Good Officer and Above All a Brave Soldier"

Captain Benjamin B. Schuck
Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
[Courtesy of Mr. Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images] 

Benjamin B. Schuck was born and raised in Milton, Pennsylvania, but moved to Middleport in Schuylkill County sometime prior to the outbreak of civil war in 1861. On August 15 of that year, Schuck, a twenty-seven-year-old tinsmith, enlisted into Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry as the company's first sergeant. He proved to be a very able soldier and a good leader. He advanced steadily through the ranks, being promoted to 1st lieutenant in October 1862, and then to captain of Company I on August 28, 1863. Surviving the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania, Schuck was wounded on the evening of June 25, 1864, outside of Petersburg, Virginia, most likely by a Confederate sharpshooter. This was the same day the soldiers of the 48th first put pick and spade to earth in their ultimately successful effort to mine the Confederate works at Elliot's Salient. 

Schuck lingered for one month and two days later. Sadly, on July 27, 1864, Schuck succumbed to his wound at the Seminary Hospital in Georgetown. The body of the slain officer was sent back home to Schuylkill County and was laid to rest in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery in Pottsville. Several days after his death, Francis D. Koch, who had served alongside Schuck in Company I since the summer of 1861 and who assumed command of the company following Schuck's mortal wound, wrote to the Pottsville Miners' Journal, expressing the sympathy of the company and eulogizing the deceased captain: "In losing the Captain," said Koch, "we lost from our midst a good officer and above all a brave soldier. He was never wanting in time of battle but always at the head of his men leading them forth to engage the enemy in deadly strife. He has been in the following engagements to wit:--Newbern, Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Burnside's Campaign in East Tennessee, and the present campaign of Gen. Grant, and has participated in every engagement with the enemy during this campaign, up to the 25th of June. . . . .During his stay with the Company and Regiment, he won the esteem and admiration of all who knew him, for no one knew him but to honor and praise him for his manly actions and the noble service he has rendered in the defense of our country's cause. Peace to his ashes." 

The Grave of Captain Benjamin B. Schuck
Odd Fellows' Cemetery, Pottsville, PA 
Captain Benjamin B. Schuck
(United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Incidents & Anecdotes: 1862 New Year's Day Flag

In December 1861, the citizens of Schuylkill County sent an American flag, measuring 20 feet long by 10 feet wide, to Company B, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which was then encamped at Fort Clark, on Hatteras Island, North Carolina. The soldiers of Company B raised the flag over the fort on New Year's Day, 1862, and sent the following letter of acknowledgement and thanks:

Fort Clark, Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
January 1st, 1862
To The Citizens of Schuylkill County: Co. B, of the 48th Regt. P.V., being the recipients of a handsome flag, furnished them by your generosity, set apart New Year's day to the hoisting it upon Fort Clark, which pleasing ceremony was performed in the presence of Col. [James] Nagle, Major [Daniel] Nagle, and the Chaplain, and Co. B, amid a multitude of cheers and cries of "long may it wave." After the flag had been flung to the breeze, Col. Nagle and our worthy Captain [James Wren] made a few appropriate remarks, which were eagerly listened to, after which the Chaplain offered up a patriotic prayer. The committee on resolutions then withdrew, and adopted the following, on behalf of the Company:
Resolved, That we, officers and members of Co. B, do offer our sincere thanks to the citizens of Schuylkill County, for their extreme kindness, in bestowing upon us such a beautiful emblem of the free.
Resolved, That the members of Co. B, in their infinite gratitude to the kind donors, do hereby re-pledge their word of honor, that they shall ever be true to the noble flag of our country, which has so ruthlessly been trampled upon by rebellious feet, in defense of which they will shed their life's blood, if necessary.
Resolved, That the members of Co. B, shall make this flag the special object of their pride and care so long as it shall remain in their power.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the Miner's Journal, for publication, through which medium our friends may be made acquainted with our doings, &c.
Serg't Jno. George Bassler,
Serg't Wm. H. Humes,
Committee on Resolutions, in behalf of Co. B, 48th Pa. Regt.

Captain James Wren, Company B 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

(Photo: United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, RG98S-CWP 196.54)

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The 48th Pennsylvania Day-By-Day: From Fortress Monroe, Virginia, to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina: November 11-12, 1861

On November 11, 1861, after spending the past six weeks at Fortress Monroe, the 48th Pennsylvania boarded the steamer S.R. Spaulding and set sail for Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Their orders were to relieve the 20th Indiana Volunteers, which had been stationed there as the garrison force. Lieutenant Oliver Bosbyshell, in his regimental history, recorded the voyage: “The unexpectedly warm and balmy atmosphere, combined with the bright radiance of the silvery moon, made the journey down the coast delightful in the extreme; few of the members of the regiment sought repose until long after midnight. Many had their first glimpse of a sunrise at sea on the morning of the twelfth and enjoyed its glories to the full, out of a cloudless sky.” (Bosbyshell, 21)

The Steamer S.R. Spaulding

(From Samuel Ward Stanton, American Steam Vessels , New York: Smith & Stanton, 1895, page 154)
(Online at: Maritime History of the Great Lakes:

At 8:00 a.m. on the morning of November 12, 1861, the Spaulding dropped anchor at Hatteras. After some difficulty, a wooden plank was secured from the wreckage of another vessel and down this plank, which was elevated at a 45 degree angle from the Spaulding, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania disembarked, one man at a time. By 10:00 a.m., the last man was ashore. As the Schuylkill County volunteers disembarked, they surveyed the beach, which would be their new homes. "Our first impressions of Hatteras were not very favorable," wrote Sergeant Joseph Gould, while Oliver Bosbyshell remembered that as the soldiers of the 48th made their way down the plank, many of them “missed the lovely wooded hills and grassy valleys of their charming mountain homes. No trees here, no bushes to relieve the dull monotony, not a spear of the sickliest looking shrub even, no green grass to gladden the eye, naught save sand and sea.” (Gould, 42; Bosbyshell, 23). "No one," concluded Bosbyshell, "would choose Hatteras Island at the inlet as a cheerful place to live; not even for a seaside resort." (Bosbyshell, 23).

Once the regiment was ashore, they formed into line and marched toward Forts Hatteras and Clarke, two earthen works that guarded the inlet. Forts Hatteras and Clarke were constructed by Confederate soldiers, or, rather, by slave labor, during the early days of the war to help protect blockade running ships. In late August 1861, these forts were captured by Union forces in a joint land-sea operation under the command of General Benjamin Butler and Commodore Silas Stringham. Fort Hatteras was about a half mile from where the 48th disembarked and no one in the regiment would forget the march they had to endure. "When we accomplished one-half the distance," wrote Gould, "the regiment halted to make preparations to wade an inlet separating us from the fort. In ten minutes we were moving again, and such a looking set of men--some without breeches, in their drawers, and many without either, and it was a laughable, enjoyable sight and furnished much amusement to the men" (Gould, 40).

Finally, the 48th Pennsylvania reached the fort and set up camp. "When we relieved the 20th Indiana Regiment. . .and saw their deplorable condition, [and] heard their tales of woe. . .we certainly felt despondent," wrote Gould (42). While most members of the regiment set up their tents, others occupied the wooden barracks erected by the 20th. Some of the officers took up quarters in the crude huts that dotted the beach where some local inhabitants resided. It was not long before the 48th dubbed their new homes "Camp Louse." “Our first night on this bleak island was dreary indeed. The coffee we cooked for supper was utterly unfit to drink; the water was brackish and salty, and we were obliged to excavate new wells on the following day to procure water which could be used for cooking and drinking.” (Gould 41).

Fort Hatteras, North Carolina, with Fort Clarke in the distance.

(Harper's Weekly, February 15, 1862, p. 101)

While settling into their new quarters and getting acquainted with their new surroundings, some members of the regiment gathered sea shells to send to their loved ones in Schuylkill County. This photograph is of a box of seashells collected by Colonel James Nagle, which he sent home to his children in Pottsville.

Photograph Courtesy of Mr. John R. Nagle, of North Carolina, a direct descendant of James Nagle.

Many members of the regiment also began writing letters home. This letter was written by Corporal Curtis C. Pollock, of Company G, on November 15, 1861. It describes not only the regiment's departure from Fortress Monroe, but also the young soldier's impressions of Hatteras Inlet:

Dear Ma

Here we are away down on the coast of North Carolina in the most dreary place in the world. We received orders to get ready to march for Hatteras Inlet on Sunday evening [November 10] and about two o’clock and on Monday afternoon we got into line ready to march for the boat and after waiting about half an hour, we started for the wharf, as we passed Mansfield’s house each company gave him three cheers. After we got to the boat we had to wait until dark before we started. We got off at last and had quite a pleasant ride, about 9 o’clock I began to feel a little sick so I went and laid down and went to sleep and slept it off and when I got awake I felt as well as ever. We arrived here all safe and sound about 10 o’clock and it took about two hours for us all to get off the boat.
When we all got landed we were formed into line and were marched up to Fort Clark, about half way between the two forts there is a small channel washed by the sea waist deep which we had to wade. After we get up we take off our things and go down and carry up all our baggage which took us until evening and the tide having risen the channel was nearly up to our necks. Some of the men are in small wooden barracks which were built by the rebels and the others are in their tents. I am in one of the houses with ten others and we are fixed very comfortably. We have been eating hard crackers since we have been here but they do very well .
It is awful hard place here nothing but sand though there are some very pretty shells to be found on the beach. I suppose you received that shall I sent you in the letter I gave to Capt. [Philip] Nagle We have but two drills a day and dress parade in the evening. Two of the companies here are drilling on the guns in Fort Clark and they are getting along very well.
Nov. 16th
It is quite cold here this morning. the wind is from the north and the waves are very high. It is quite comfortable in the houses but the men that were in the tents say it was very cold. I do not think much of General Williams he seems to think we ought to be drilling all the time in the sand up to our ankles
The sand here is much like snow at home and you sink quite as deep into either. The water is very bad, some of it so salty that you can hardly drink it though in some places you can get some that is pretty good. The mail is very irregular, only coming when a boat happens to come down from Fortress Monroe so you will not hear from me so often, but I will write you a letter once a week and hope you will do the same.

The 48th Pennsylvania would remain in North Carolina until the summer of 1862. . .

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain Ulysses A. Bast, Company B

In April 1861, twenty-two-year-old Ulysses A. Bast, a machinist from Schuylkill Haven, marched off to war as the First Sergeant in the Scott Artillery, a militia company that served its three-month term of service in the 5th Pennsylvania Infantry. Discharged in July 1861, Bast helped recruit Company B, 48th Pennsylvania, and on September 19, was mustered into service as the company's first lieutenant. Two days later, the young lieutenant received "a beautiful sword, sash, and belt" presented by "the ladies of Schuylkill Haven, in consideration of [his] high personal character and unalloyed patriotism." Bast, who stood five feet, three inches, with a light complexion, dark hair, and brown eyes, served as the regimental quartermaster from March until September 1862, when he was promoted to the captaincy of Company B, to fill the vacancy created by the elevation of James Wren to major. While encamped in Pleasant Valley in October 1862, Wren "impressed on the minds of the men [of Company B] to obey thear New Captain as I believed Captain Bast to be a good and efficient officer."1
Captain Bast led Company B at the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, throughout 1863, during the Overland Campaign of 1864, and at Petersburg. On September 30, 1864, Captain Bast was honorably discharged, his three-year enlistment coming to an end.
{1. Captain James Wren's Civil War Diary: From New Bern to Fredericksburg, edited by John Michael Priest, New York: Berkley Books, 1991: Page 101}.
{Photograph from Hoptak Collection}

Sunday, December 3, 2006

INCIDENTS & ANECDOTES: "The Ragged 48th"

Last week, I posted "Song for the 48th P.V.V.," which was authored by Private David Hamilton of Company E while the regiment was encamped on Hatteras Island, North Carolina. The following is another of Hamilton's works, a poem titled "The Ragged 48th."

The Ragged 48th
By Private David Hamilton

What men are those now rushing past
With double quick and musket grasp
And white shirt tails about half mast
The ragged 48th

And are those the men who came to fight
For stars and stripes and country's right
Allowed to go in such a plight
Poor ragged 48th

To fight the rebels those men came
From Pennsylvania State of fame
To gain that mean inglorious name
The ragged 48th

Oh, Pennsylvania if you know
How mean and ragged we all go
Why do you not some pity show
On the ragged 48th

For they are men who will not flinch
Though cold and hunger both should pinch
They never will retreat an inch
The ragged 48th

Our colonel he does try and try
To get our quarters warm and dry
But Sam's agents plays it on the sly
On the ragged 48th

And when we have the rebels licked
I suppose we'll get ourselves kicked
And on some desolate island sticked
Poor ragged 48th

But never mind they'll see the day
They'll want us again at this same play
And when they ask us we'll say nay
We're the ragged 48th

But the Union is our motto still
And fight for it we ever will
And never forget Old Bunker Hill
Hurrah for the ragged 48th

(Private Hamilton's works can be found at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania)