Sunday, February 25, 2007

Prisoners of War

It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine precise numbers of Civil War casualties, whether it be soldiers killed or wounded in battle, or the number of men taken prisoner and held in captivity. Anyone who has studied the Civil War in depth can attest to this.
Joseph Gould, in his regimental history of the 48th PA, wrote that throughout the four years of the Civil War, just 46 soldiers of the regiment were taken prisoner and held in captivity, while 28 of them died as a prisoner of war. A look at the company rosters, however, reveal that Gould's numbers, on both counts, were too low.
I have found that 98 soldiers from the 48th Pennsylvania were captured in battle and held for a time in Confederate prisoner-of-war camps. Of this number, 31 died while in captivity, or 32%. It should be noted that these men were all captured from late 1863 through April 1865. Prisoners taken previous to this time were either quickly paroled or exchanged, but by 1863, with the cessation of the prisoner exchange program, those unfortunate enough to be captured were forced to sit out the war in one of the many hellish prison camps.
Several soldiers were captured at the battle of Knoxville in November 1863, while eleven more were taken during the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In the many attacks against Petersburg, including the final one on April 2, 1865, 27 soldiers from the 48th were taken prisoner. Most of the regiment's prisoners, however, fell into captivity at the battle of Pegram's Farm on September 30, 1864. Here, at least 42 soldiers of the 48th were taken prisoner and all of these men were subsequently confined at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. The others were held at Andersonville Prison in Georgia, with the exception of one, who died in Libby Prison.
What follows is a list of those soldiers from the 48th who died as prisoners of war.

Andersonville Prison, Georgia
The following soldiers died at Andersonville:
Frank Boyer
Private, Co. E; 23 years old; laborer; Captured at Cold Harbor, VA, 6/12/1864; Died 8/17/1864 of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #5969
J. Braney
Private, Co. K; Died July 7, 1864 of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #3027
James Brennan
Corporal Co. E; 38 years old; coal miner; Died Date Unknown
Isaac Fetterman
Private, Co. H; 18 years old; laborer; Died September 8, 1864 of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #8175
Edward Gallagher
Private, Co. A; 2o years old; coal miner; Died on August 21, 1864, of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #6859
James McElrath
Private, Co. C; 21 years old; laborer; Captured at Knoxville, 11/1863; Died July 12, 1864, of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #3017
J. Meese
Private, Co. A; Died October 4, 1864, of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #10306
Daniel Root
Private, Co. B. 26 years old; boatman; Captured at Knoxville, 11/1863; Died September 14, 1864, of chronic diarrhea; Buried in Grave #8742

Salisbury Prison, North Carolina
The following soldiers died at Salisbury, Prison:
Walter P. Aims
Corporal, Co. D; 21 years old; Captured at Cold Harbor, VA, 6/6/1864; Confined at Salisbury Prison, and died on August 12, 1865, from the effects of his imprisonment
Joseph Cobus
Private, Co. I; 19 years old; laborer; a native of Germany; Wounded and Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on October 4, 1864
Michael Condron
(Pictured Above)
Corporal, Co. C; 25 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died of starvation 11/30/1864
Patrick Crowe
Private, Co. I; 19 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, 9/30/1864; Died on November 19, 1864
Elijah DeFrehn
Private, Co. F; 31 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, 9/30/1864; Died December 30, 1864
Charles F. Dintinger
Private, Co. C; 18 years old; teamster; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died November 1864
Joseph Finley
Private, Co. F; 19 years old; laborer; a native of Ireland; Captured at Pegram's Farm, 930/1864; Died
January 22, 1865
William Fulton
Private, Co. F; 42 years old; coal miner; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died February 12, 1865
Henry C. Graeff
Sergeant, Co. D; 21 years old; student; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, and Confined at Salisbury Prison; Died at his home in Pottsville on March 29, 1865, from the effects of his imprisonment
Nicholas Gross
Private, Co. G; 37 years old; watchmaker; a native of Prussia; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864, and Confined at Salisbury, Prison; Died on March 12, 1865, of chronic diarrhea, in Annapolis, MD, the effect of his imprisonment
John Hammer
Private, Co. B; 36 years old; coal miner; a native of Germany; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on 11/12/1864
Philip Heffron
Private, Co. H; 19 years old; laborer; a native of Ireland; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on November 25, 1864 of starvation
William H. Kohler
Private, Co. F; 18 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died Date Unknown
Edward McGinnis
Private, Co. E; 18 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on November 17, 1864
David Miller
Private, Co. F; 22 years old; coal miner; a native of Scotland; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864, and Confined at Salisbury Prison; Died November 6, 1864, in Annapolis, MD, from the effects of his imprisonment
Joshua Reed
Private, Co. G; 29 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864, and Confined at Salisbury Prison; he died at his home in Barry Township from the effects of his imprisonment
Samuel Shollenberger
Private, Co. A; 18 years old; carpenter; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on January 16, 1865
Lewis Sterner
Private, Co. A; 21 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Confined at Salisbury Prison and Died on April 11, 1865, at Tamaqua from the effects of his imprisonment
George Welsh
Private, Co. B; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died February 6, 1865 of starvation
Michael Welsh
Private, Co. F; 19 years old; laborer; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died Date Unknown
Jacob Wigner
Private, Co. B; 18 years old; machinist; Captured at Pegram's Farm, VA, 9/30/1864; Died on January 1, 1865

George A. Livingston
Private, Co. A; 28 years old; boatman; Captured at Knoxville, 11/1863; Died in Libby Prison, Richmond, VA, on February 14, 1864

Friday, February 23, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain William Winlack, Company E

Born on September 9, 1826, in Londonberry, Ireland, William Winlack received very little formal education as a child, but was instead put to work at a young age on his family's farm. Seeking a better life for himself, Winlack, at age sixteen, set sail for America, arriving in New York City on August 30, 1843. He migrated to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, a short time later and was hired as a coal miner at the Black Heath mines. He paid close attention to mining operations and in time became an engineer, in charge of machinery at the mine. In 1854, and at just 28 years of age, Winlack became the superintendent of a colliery in Silver Creek, half-way between Pottsville and Tamaqua. While serving in this position, Winlack also formed a local militia unit, which he dubbed the Wynkoop Artillery. Serving as a lieutenant in this company was his good friend and coworker William Cullen.
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Winlack and Cullen were quick to offer the service of their company, which became part of the three-month 16th Pennsylvania Infantry. Upon the expiration of its three-month term of service, the Wynkoop Artillery re-enlisted, almost to a man, to serve for a three-year term, and was mustered once again into service, this time as Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Winlack commanded Company E for the next three years, seeing action in all of the regiment's battles during that time, including 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.
At Antietam on September 17, 1862, Winlack was leading his men forward when a Confederate artillery shell smashed through the ranks of Company E. Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G well remembered the effects of this one shot in his regimental history: "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 Seward's leg and left Sergeant 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."

Captain Winlack, center, with Lieutenants Thomas Bohannan (left) and Joseph Fisher (right)
During the siege of Petersburg in mid-July 1864, as the 48th tunneled under the Confederate lines, Colonel Henry Plesants was fearful that Confederate troops had gotten word of their operation and were engaging in counter-mining, trying to locate the 48th's tunnel. Thus, late on the night of July 17, with the main gallery completed at some 511 feet, Pleasants awoke Captain Winlack, himself a mining man, and with another soldier, the three crawled the length of the mine. "Lying down with every sense alert, in perfect darkness, and supreme quiet for a period of thirty minutes, until a low whistle, the intended signal, came from Pleasants, brought them together. . ." Pleasants whispered in Winlack's ear: "What do you think about any counterboring?" Winlack whispered back: "The rebels know no more of the tunnel being under them than the inhabitants of Africa." "That's just what I believe," answered Pleasants, and the three men crawled their way back out. Of course, some Confederates were aware of the tunnel, including General E.P. Alexander, who did indeed order a number of counter-mines dug. All of them, however, were too high to discover the 48th's mine.
Winlack was discharged from the army on August 21, 1864, his three year term of service coming to an end. He settled in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, after the war and served as postmaster for a number of years. He died on June 6, 1907, in Coaldale, at 80 years of age.
Postwar Image of Captain William Winlack

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Portrait of a Regiment: Ethnicity. . .

Because volunteer Civil War regiments were typically recruited from the same geographic area, we learn that these regiments were an extension of their native communities. A look at the ethnic composition of the 48th Pennsylvania, helps to reinforce this notion.
Schuylkill County

Located in east-central Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County was home to the vast majority of soldiers who served in the 48th Pennsylvania. In 1860, the total population of the county numbered 89,510 men, women, and children. Almost 30% of this number, or some 26,267 persons, were foreign-born. Remarkably, in my sample study of the 48th Pennsylvania, I found that 29.1% of the regiment were foreign-born: almost an identical percentage. There are some variations, however, when we look at the percentages of each of the major ethnic groups in the county and in the regiment.

An estimated 35% of Schuylkill County's foreign born were German, while another 35% were either English or Welsh. Irish immigrants constituted 25% of the county's immigrant population. In the ranks of the 48th PA, throughout the four years of its existence, we find that of the foreign-born soldiers, 31.3% hailed originally from England & Wales, just slighlty below the county percentage. However, those in the regiment of German nativity comprised just 18% of the foreign-born soldiers, while the Irish constituted 36%, substantially higher than the county average. What accounts for this disparity in the percentage of German and Irish born soldiers?

It most certainly is due to the areas of enlistment. Five companies of the 48th PA were recruited from Pottsville, the county seat, while another was formed in Minersville. Company E was filled with soldiers from the Silver Creek/Middleport area. All of these areas were largely coal-mining communities, where the Irish were more inclined to settle. German immigrants to Schuylkill County tended to settle in the county's agricultural areas, where only two companies of the 48th drew most of its recruits. If one was to do a study of the ethnic composition of the 96th PA and 7th PA Cavalry, two units that were also Schuylkill County-based, they would probably find the percentage of German born soldiers to be higher, and the percentage of Irish soldiers to be lower, than in the 48th, for these regiments drew more heavily from the county's agricultural areas.

Five of the 48th's ten companies were recruited from Pottsville, the County Seat

While the percentage of foreign-born soldiers in the ranks almost equaled the percentage of foreign-born residents of Schuylkill County, it is clear that were was a much lower percentage of German-born soldiers in the 48th but a much higher percentage of Irish soldiers. The percentage of English/Welsh soldiers in the regiment (31.3%) was just slightly below the county-wide percentage (35%).

Now, let's take a closer look at these numbers and statistics. Remember:

-Schuylkill County's Foreign-Born population in 1860 was 30%; the percentage of foreign born soldiers in the 48th PA throughout the war was 29.1%

-35% of Schuylkill County's foreign born were English/Welsh; another 35% were German. 25% of the county's foreign born were Irish. In the 48th PA, 31.3% of the regiment's foreign-born were English/Welsh; 18% were German, and 36.1% were Irish.

1. The Volunteers of 1861 & the Enlistees of '64-'65:

-Of those who volunteered in the summer of 1861, 24% were of foreign-birth, some 5% lower than regimental average. 38.6% of them were English/Welsh, 34.1% were Irish, and 16% were German.

-35.6% of the soldiers who were mustered into service during the last two years of the war, 1864-1865, were foreign born, almost six percentage points higher than the regimental average. Most of these soldiers, nearly 40%, were Irish, while only 25.2% were English/Welsh. Why such a big difference? See below. . .

2. Substitute Soldiers and Conscripted Soldiers:

-The draft seemingly hit harder among Schuylkill County's foreign-born population. Indeed, of the soldiers who entered the regiment as conscripts, 54.5% of them were not born in the United States. In addition, of the soldiers who entered the ranks in place of someone else, i.e. substitute soldiers, 60% of them were foreign-born. Those hailing from Ireland represented the highest percentage of these foreign-born troops. These numbers certainly do tell a story.

3. Commissioned Officers:

-Of the regiment's commissioned officers, 75.9% were born in America, while the other 24.1% were foreign-born, just 5 percentage points below the regimental average of foreign-born soldiers. Interestingly enough, 35% of the foreign-born commissioned officers hailed from England; another 35% from Ireland. From these numbers, one cannot say that an individual's nativity bore an influence on whether he served as an officer, at least not in the 48th.

4. Soldiers Who Died of Disease:

-As the percentages show, there was no correlation between a soldier's place of birth and his likelihood of succumbing to disease: 28.6% of those who died of disease were foreign-born, an insignificant .5% below the percentage of foreign-born soldiers in the regiment as a whole.

5. Deserters:

-Last category. . .Were foreign-born soldiers more likely to desert? Well, it's tough to say for certain, but the numbers indicate that they were. Indeed, 50% of the regiment's deserters were of foreign-birth, significantly higher than regimental percentage of foreign-born soldiers (29.1%). However, as mentioned in previous posts, desertion was probably more influenced by a soldier's age and whether or not he was married. Most desertions in the 48th took place in 1864-1865, when the regiment was increased with the addition of conscripts and substitutes, who were on average much older, more likely to be married, and, and stated above, largely foreign-born.

One last look. . .

So, what does all this mean? It is clear that the 48th was a diverse regiment, with nearly 30% of the regiment being foreign-born. Most of these soldiers were natives of either England, Wales, or Ireland, while not a small number hailed from Germany. Scots, too, comprised a large percentage. The higher percentage of Irish soldiers in the regiment, compared with the county-wide percentage, was due to the areas of highest recruitment: 7-8 companies of the regiment drew its members from the coal mining and more urbanized areas of Schuylkill County, where Irish settlers were more inclined to settle and find work in the antebellum years.

A higher percentage of the soldiers who entered the regiment in 1864-1865 were foreign-born, but, as the numbers show, this is due largely to the draft. More than half of the men who were hired as substitutes or who were conscripted were foreign-born, with the Irish being the largest percentage of these soldiers.

Place of birth may have played a role in whether or not a soldier deserted, with 50% of the regiment's deserters being of foreign-born. However, we must also look at age and marital status as well. Nativity was not the sole cause of desertion.

Finally, ethnicity seemingly played no role in the composition of the 48th's commissioned officers.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Lieutenant Jacob Douty, Co. K

Had the Union attack at the Crater been successful, Jacob Douty's name would be much more recognized than it is today. . .And I've always held that if the Army of the Potomac had proved triumphant on that late July day in 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry would be praised as the heroes of the Union. But this is all counterfactual and speculative, and Jacob Douty's name has slipped into the vast realms of historical obscurity. Jacob Douty was twenty-eight years old when, on October 1, 1861, he was mustered into service as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company K, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The boilermaker from Cressona was listed as standing 5'9" in height, with a dark complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair. Douty served with the regiment for the next three years, seeing action at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and throughout the 1864 Overland Campaign. By the summer of 1864, Douty had been promoted to 1st Lt.
After failing to break through the Confederate defenses of Petersburg in mid-June, the Army of the Potomac would settle in for a siege of that city that ultimately lasted nine months. However, in late June, the men of the 48th Pennsylvania sought to bring an end to the siege, and perhaps even an end to the war itself, by tunelling under the Confederate lines and exploding tons of black powder.
It is beyond the scope of this particular blog to explain at length the digging of the mine; it is familiar to most students of the war. In the face of severe handicaps, ranging from the total lack of the support the project got from the army's brass (save Burnside), to the unavailability of proper tunelling equipment, the 48th prevailed and in just about one month's time achieved an incredibly remarkable feat: They had tunelled some 510 feet into the earth and packed two extended galleries at the end of the tunnel with 8,000 pounds of powder. Colonel Henry Pleasants, mastermind of the project, ran a fuse, ninety-eight feet in length, and at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of July 30, lit it.
The explosion was supposed to occur at 3:30, but that time soon came and passed. The regiment, indeed, the whole army, waited nervously in anticipation. Sergeant Harry "Snapper" Resse and Lieutenant Jacob Douty, who had assisted Pleasants throughout the digging of the tunnel, volunteered to enter the mine and see what had happened. Pleasants refused; it was far too dangerous. Soon, questions came from headquarters: where is the explosion? Finally, firmly convinced that the problem lay with the fuse, Pleasants relented to Reese's and Douty's requests, and at 4:15 a.m. the two soldiers crawled in. . .
With a lantern to guide them, Reese and Douty followed the length of the fuse until, at last, at around 4:30, they discovered the problem: the fuse had, indeed, extinguished roughly one-half the distance to the powder rooms. Douty pulled out a jackknife, cut the extinquished fuse, and then relit it. After determining the fire was once again well-underway, both Reese and Douty crawled as fast as their knees and hands (the tunnel was only three-foot high, and tapered at the top) could carry them and back out the entrance of the mine where they informed a nervous Pleasants of the problem. The explosion would occur, they said, in fifteen minutes. And so it did. . .
The resulting explosion and its impact on the Confederate line is well-noted. So too is the resultant distastrous Union attack.
I often try to imagine what Pleasants, Reese, Douty, and all the other men of the 48th were thinking when they witnessed the catastrophe that followed their hard work...It had all come to naught, and the war would continue for another nine months.
Jacob Douty left the army in September 1864, his three-year term of service coming to an end. He settled in Philadelphia after the war, and died there on April 13, 1895. He was 62 years of age.
It is unfortunate that Douty has been largely forgotten in Civil War history and memory. His bravery at Petersburg was remarkable. Perhaps Captain Oliver Bosbyshell, writing soon after Douty's death, said it best: "The Medal of Honor should have decorated his breast. . ."

I wonder if any attempt has been made to honor him posthumously with such a medal?

I'll certainly write more about the 48th's struggles, triumphs, and tribulations in digging the Petersburg Mine in blogs to come. . .

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Portrait of a Regiment: Marital Status

A week or so ago, I introduced a new feature on my blog entitled "Portrait of a Regiment." My first post on this new feature detailed the ages of the soldiers who served in the 48th PA. Today I will examine the the soldiers' marital status. As I mentioned in my blog about ages, this information came about as the result of my thesis research at Lehigh University. I was unable to locate the census information for the entire regiment, but was able to link with certainty 657 of the soldiers to the information contained in the 8th US Census (1860), believing this number to be a fair sample of the regiment as a whole.

Captain Francis D. Koch, Company I, and Wife

(From the Collection of Ronn Palm, Museum of Civil War Images, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)


From the census records, it is clear that the 48th Pennsylvania was largely a regiment of bachelors. Overall, of the 657 soldiers I was able to locate in the census records, 479, or 72.9%, were not married in 1860. 178, or 27.1% of the regiment, were husbands when they marched off to war in 1861, and 90% of the married men who served in the regiment were fathers as well.

Let's look at how these numbers break down into the various categories.

1. The Volunteers of 1861. . .

The volunteers who enlisted in the summer of 1861 were somewhat younger in age than the regimental average, it is thus no surprise that just one-quarter of them, an even 25% of these soldiers, were married at the time of their enlistment. This is just slightly lower than the regimental average overall. However, the greatest difference lies among the regiment's first commissioned officers. An astonishing 77.8% of the regiment's officers in 1861 were married, a more than fifty percent increase from the regimental average. This too is most certainly due to the older age of these men.

2. The Enlistees of 1864-1865. . .

Nearly 30% of the soldiers who were mustered into service during the final two years of the war were married in 1860. Seventy percent were thus single, at least they were in 1860.

3. Commissioned Officers. . .

As mentioned above, 77.8% of the regiment's first commissioned officers were married at the outbreak of civil war in April 1861. And most of these men, some 86%, had children as well. However, it is interesting to note that as the war dragged on and as the 48th's original field officers were replaced with those from the ranks, we see a vast decrease in the number of married men holding commissioned rank. Indeed, only 40% of the regiment's officers as a whole were husbands.

4. Soldiers who Died of Disease. . .

31.4% of the soldiers who died of disease were married, a figure just slightly above the overall regimental average. If there is a link between marital status and whether or not a soldier succumbed to disease, I cannot think of it. There is probably no connection, whatsoever.

5. Substitute and Conscripted Soldiers. . .

As I mentioned two weeks ago, the soldiers who entered the regiment in the place of another or as a drafted soldier were typically older than those who voluntarily joined. So again we see another correlation with their marital status. Some 35% of substitute soldiers were married, while 63.6% of conscripted men left behind a wife when they were forced into service.

6. Deserters. . .

Finally, let's take a look at deserters. Of the soldiers who fled the regiment, 35% were married, which is 8% higher than the regimental average. 93% of the desertes were fathers as well.

In summation, it is clear that, at least in 1861, the vast majority of the 48th's commissioned officers were married. This is most likely due to their higher average age. Most of the men they commanded were single, which continued to be the case throughout the four years of the regiment's existence. It is also clear from this data that a higher percentage of soldiers who entered the regiment as substitutes or as conscripts were husbands, while 35% of the men who deserted went home to their wife, and, for most of them, their children as well.

Perhaps these numbers can help us further examine the motivations behind a soldier's enlistment and his reasons for desertion.

My next entry for "Portrait of a Regiment" will analyze the ethnic composition of the regiment.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Nicholas Biddle: A Forgotten Hero of the Civil War

Nicholas Biddle in the Uniform of the Washington Artillerists
[Hoptak Collection]

Sometime around 7:00 p.m. on the evening of April 18, 1861, some 475 Pennsylvanians, organized into five companies of volunteer militia, arrived in Washington, D.C. They were the first organized volunteer soldiers to reach the capital after the commencement of the Civil War. Fort Sumter had been fired upon less than one week earlier and it had been but three days since President Lincoln issued his first call-to-arms, seeking 75,000 men to serve for ninety days. The arrival of these Pennsylvanians help set many in Washington at ease, including President Lincoln himself. In fact, so thankful was the recently inaugurated president that he paid these five companies a personal visit and insisted on shaking the hands of all of the nearly 500 volunteers from the Keystone State. The companies were quartered in the halls and chambers of the U.S. Capitol building, and Lincoln slowly made his way around to each of the five units, thanking each member for their service and their prompt arrival.

But the journey of these Pennsylvania volunteers to Washington was not an easy one. Earlier in the day, while marching through Baltimore, they had come under the attack of a vehement mob of Southern sympathizers. Initially, the Pennsylvanians were simply insulted, yelled at, and cursed at, but the crowd soon swelled to more than 2,000 strong, and one can imagine the anxiety felt by the unarmed volunteers as they made their way through the city. The men of the five companies were at first escorted by a small detachment of U.S. army soldiers, under the command of fellow-Pennsylvanian John Pemberton, who would soon resign his commission and cast his lot with the Confederacy. When Pemberton's command, ordered to Fort McHenry, filed away from the Keystone Staters, all that was left to ensure the safe passage of these men through the city was the police force, many members of which soon joining in the chorus of anti-Union and anti-Lincoln sentiment. When the companies finally reached Camden Station and began boarding train cars, violence erupted.

Some in the crowd rushed toward the Pennsylvanians with knifes and pistols, only to be stopped by the increasingly overwhelmed police force. Gunpowder was sprinkled on the floors of one of the cars, hoping a match would be struck by one of the Pennsylvanians on their way to the capital. An attempt to hijack the train was made, but was quickly averted when the engineer drew his sidearm and threatened to kill those making the attempt. Then a shower of bricks, stones, bottles, and other projectiles fell among the Pennsylvanians, injuring a number of them.

And now, as Lincoln made his way from man to man in the Capitol Building, he saw firsthand some of the injuries. Ignatz Gresser, a member of the Allen Infantry who would later earn a Medal of Honor for heroics at Antietam as a corporal in the 128th PA, was debilitated by an ankle injury, while Private David Jacobs, of the same company, lost a number of teeth and sustained a broken wrist when he was struck by bricks. Then, however, President Lincoln stood face-to-face with Nicholas Biddle, suffering from what was perhaps the worst injury sustained during the day's attack.

With his head wrapped in blood soaked bandages, Nicholas Biddle was wearing the uniform of the Washington Artillerists although he was not officially a soldier. He was not allowed to be, for he was a black man. As Biddle made his way through Baltimore as the orderly, or aide, to Captain James Wren, the sight of a black man in uniform especially enraged many in the crowd. Shouts of "Nigger in Uniform!" were raised, and as Wren later wrote, "poor Nick had to take it." He was soon felled; struck on the head with a brick, which reportedly left a wound deep enough to expose bone.

As some of Biddle's blood fell upon the floor of the Capitol, Lincoln took him by the hand and recommended he seek medical treatment for his injury. But Biddle refused, preferring instead to stay with his company.

Many contemporaries, and even some students of the war today, recognize Nick Biddle as the Union's first war-time casualty. At least the first to have been wounded by hostile foes. While it is impossible to verify this, it is interesting that Biddle has been largely overlooked, even forgotten, in American history. 

Yet his story is an important one and needs to be told.

So, who was Nicholas Biddle?

The man has remained a mystery. Purportedly born a slave in Delaware in 1796, Biddle made his way to freedom and may have first settled in Philadelphia. His real name is unknown. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, it is alleged the escaped slave was employed as a servant to the wealthy financier Nicholas Biddle. When Biddle, the financier, took a business trip to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1840, his servant, for whatever reason, remained in the Schuylkill County seat, and was known from that point forward as Nick Biddle, after his employer.

1840 was also the same year that young, eighteen-year-old James Nagle organized the Pottsville Blues, a militia company that would soon become the Washington Artillerists, upon changing its branch of service. Once in Pottsville, Biddle became friends with the members of this unit and was attached to it for the next twenty years. He practiced with it and paraded with it regularly through the city. 

When civil war erupted in April 1861, Biddle, described as "a gently aging man of sixty-five," departed Pottsville with the Washington Artillerists, as an aide, or orderly, of the company's then commander, Captain James Wren. Making their way first to Harrisburg and then to Washington via Baltimore, the Washington Artillerists, along with the National Light Infantry, also of Pottsville, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, and the Allen Infantry of Allentown, were the first organized troops of Northern volunteers to reach the nation's capital after the start of the Civil War and thus went down in history as the "First Defenders."

The "First Defenders" were 90 Day enlistees, and would spend their term of service in the defenses of Washington. When their enlistment expired in late July, the vast majority of these troops reenlisted to serve in three-year organizations. The Washington Artillerists formed the nucleus of Company B, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Nick Biddle, suffering from his painful wound, remained in Pottsville as his comrades in the Artillerists reenlisted throughout the summer of 1861. He found work performing odd jobs for the citizens, but later in life, he was destitute. Throughout the late 1860s and into the 1870s, Biddle, with his head still deeply scarred, was seen walking around Pottsville carrying a piece of paper, seeking donations. The Miner's Journal reported: "If poor old Nick Biddle calls on you with a document, as he calls it, don't say you are in a hurry and turn him off, but ornament the paper with your signature and plant a good round sum opposite your name. Nick has been a good soldier and now that he is getting old and feeble, he deserves the support of our citizens."

Biddle would always insist that he had large amounts of money saved up in the bank, but when the died on August 2, 1876, at the age of 82, it was discovered that he died penniless. Having no money to cover funeral expenses, the survivors of the Washington Artillerists and the National Light Infantry assumed the burden. They also arranged for his funeral. With the Pottsville Drum Corps in the lead, the members of the two First Defender units led a lenghty funeral procession through Pottsville, from the home of Biddle to his final resting in the "colored burial ground" behind the Bethel 
A.M.E. Church. Rev. Samuel Barnes, the pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church, delivered the sermon, and read extensively from the Book of Job. Each of the surviving members of the two militia organizations also donated one dollar a piece to pay for a humble tombstone, upon which they had inscribed: "In Memory of Nicholas Biddle, Died August 2, 1876. His was the Proud Distinction of Shedding the First Blood in the Late War for the Union, Being Wounded while Marching through Baltimore with the First Volunteers from Schuylkill County. 18 April 1861. Erected by his Friends in Pottsville." Sadly, this stone fell into disrepair and was later broken and toppled. Recently, however, a new marker was placed at the final resting place of Nicholas Biddle, upon which is inscribed "First to Shed Blood in the Civil War." 

Nick Biddle's First Headstone, Erected by the First Defenders, Had Toppled Over and Broke Apart
[From Schuylkill County in the Civil War]

A New Head Stone Marks Nicholas Biddle's Final Resting Place
[Hoptak Photograph] 

"The Grave of Nick Biddle"

In my previous post, I focused on the life of Nicholas Biddle, seen by many as the first casualty of the Civil War. Despite this, it is interesting that he has remained almost forgotten in the vast annals of Civil War historiography.
Upon Biddle's death in 1876, Chaplain James M. Guthrie composed a poem entitled "The Grave of Nick Biddle," an absolutely fascinating piece. Guthrie, in his poem on the life of Biddle, explored also the true meaning of the Civil War, and I think captured it perfectly, certainly far better than I can ever hope.
Please take a few moments to read this poem and think about its meaning. It still bears much relevance. . .

The Grave of Nick Biddle:
By Chaplain James M. Guthrie

The grave of Nick Biddle a Mecca should be
To Pilgrims, who seek in this land of the free
The tombs of the lowly as well as the great
Who struggled for freedom in war of debate;
For there lies a brave man distinguished from all
In that his veins furnished the first blood to fall
In War for the Union, when traitors assailed
Its brave “First Defenders,” whose hearts never quailed.

The eighteenth of April, eighteen-sixty-one,
Was the day Nick Biddle his great honor won
In Baltimore City, where riot ran high,
He stood by our banner to do or to die;
And onward, responsive to liberty’s call
The capital city to reach ere its fall,
Brave Biddle, with others as true and as brave,
Marched through with wildest tempest, the Nation to save.

Their pathway is fearful, surrounded by foes,
Who strive in fierce Madness their course to oppose;
Who hurl threats and curses, defiant of law,
And think by such methods they might overawe
The gallant defenders, who, nevertheless,
Hold back their resentment as forward they press,
And conscious of noble endeavor, despise
The flashing of weapons and traitorous eyes

Behold now the crisis—the mob thirsts for blood:-
It strikes down Nick Biddle and opens the flood—
The torrents of crimson from hearts that are true—
That shall deepen and widen, shall cleanse and renew
The land of our fathers by slavery cursed;
The blood of Nick Biddle, yes, it is the first,
The spatter of blood-drops presaging the storm
That will rage and destroy till Nation reform.

How strange, too, it seems, that the Capitol floor,
Where slaveholders sat in the Congress of yore,
And forged for his kindred chains heavy to bear
To bind down the black man in endless despair,
Should be stained with his blood and thus sanctified;
Made sacred to freedom; through time to abide
A temple of justice, with every right
For all the nation, black, redman, and white

The grave of Nick Biddle, though humble it be,
Is nobler by far in the sight of the free
Than tombs of those chieftains, whose sinful crusade
Brought long years of mourning and countless graves made
In striving to fetter their black fellowmen,
And make of the Southland a vast prison pen;
Their cause was unholy but Biddle’s was just,
And hosts of pure spirits watch over his dust.

Very well said, indeed. . .