Monday, March 26, 2007

Soliders of the 48th: Lt. Henry Clay Jackson, Company G

Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson
Company G
Civil War soldiers came from all walks of life and from all social backgrounds. In any given regiment, day laborers and farm workers stood shoulder to shoulder and shared camp with clerks, printers, and, in a few cases, lawyers. The majority of the soldiers who served in the 48th Pennsylvania were coal miners and mine laborers, canal workers and boatmen, but there was an assortment of white-collar professionals in the ranks. One such soldier was 1st Lt. Henry Clay Jackson, of Company G.
Jackson was a school teacher, learning the art at the Millersville Normal School. When civil war broke out, Jackson was teaching in St. Clair, just north of Pottsville, in Schuylkill County. Jackson was quick to enlist his services in response the President Lincoln's first call-to-arms in April 1861, and served for three-months in the Lafayette Rifles. When his term of service expired in late July, Jackson enlisted to serve in Company G, 48th PA. He served with distinction in the regiment and by the battle of 2nd Bull Run had been advanced to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. During this battle, however, Jackson was one of the many soldiers of the regiment to fall into Confederate hands. He was sent to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, but was not long imprisoned before being exchanged.
Aside from his capture, Jackson, the hard-fighting and courageous former teacher, had the dubious distinction of being wounded in almost every battle in which his regiment was engaged. He was struck at Fredericksburg in December 1862, and again in the fall of 1863 during the East Tennessee Campaign. Sadly, Jackson's luck in surviving battles, although wounded, expired on May 12, 1864, at the battle of Spotsylvania. While lying prone in the line of battle, Jackson, described as "an able and fearless officer," was struck with a ball through the neck, with the bullet finally coming to a stop in his chest. He died within twenty minutes. Henry Clay Jackson was buried where he fell on the field of battle, but was later reinterred and laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Francis Wallace bestowed great 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."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Port Clinton's Soldiers. . .A Case Study of Community Representation in Union Armies

The study of the American Civil War has been a lifelong passion of mine. Indeed, from a very young age I would read about the great leaders and the great battles and then reenact these battles, oftentimes alone, in the woods behind my Orwigsburg home. Over the years, I found myself increasingly interested not so much in the battles, but those who fought in them. Who were these soldiers? Why did they enlist? And what kept them in the ranks? Civil War soldier studies have flourished within the past several decades, beginning, of course, with Bell Wiley's seminal studies, and continuing with the works of James Robertson, James McPherson, and Reid Mitchell. All of these works went far in helping me better discover what the Civil War soldier went through in camp and in battle, what motivated them to enlist, and what factors sustained them through the four years of war.
When I entered the graduate program at Lehigh University in the fall of 2000, I knew that my master's thesis would somehow involve the volunteer Civil War soldier. As those who have read my blog regularly know, my thesis ultimately examined the influence bore by soldiers' socio-economic background on their war-time experiences. While I focused on the 48th Pennsylvania as a regimental case-study, my thesis also examined community representation in the ranks. To this end, I selected the community of Port Clinton, in southern Schuylkill County. Who served, and, equally as important, who did not serve in the Union armies from this small Pennsylvania town? And what does that tell us about the composition of Civil War regiments? Were they truly "mirrors" of their communities?
After six drafts, my thesis was approved in February 2003 and a master's degree earned. I consider myself fortunate to have attended Lehigh University; the history department there is top-notch, while my thesis advisor, Dr. Monica Najar, was outstanding in guiding me through the process and in helping me become a better historian.
Of course, I cannot post my entire thesis here, but I thought I would cut and paste the portion of it that deals with Port Clinton's soldiers. If interested, my thesis can be obtained through Lehigh (
Port Clinton, Pennsylvania

"In the mid-nineteenth century, Port Clinton was a small but thriving community located on the southern boundary of anthracite-laden Schuylkill County and alongside the Schuylkill River. Because of its location, Port Clinton’s leading business enterprise was the shipment of coal, which was mined farther to the north from the rich beds surrounding Pottsville and Tamaqua. This enterprise, conducted chiefly by way of railroad and canal, proved the greatest amount of employment to the community’s male citizens but by 1860, a rolling mill and the “usual number of small mechanics’ shops” provided further vocational opportunity. In that year before the outbreak of sectional hostilities, there were also three stores, three schools, two hotels, two churches, and approximately eighty “good and many small dwellings” comprising the village.[1]
Like most northern communities, Port Clinton was dramatically affected by war and the lives of many of its citizens were forever altered. By the war’s end, nearly half of all males in the small community between the ages of 13 and 44 served for a time in federal forces.
[2] The examination of these men who did and those who did not serve from Port Clinton reveals that although there were a number of discrepancies, Civil War soldiers generally reflected the social structure of their community, and argues against the belief that the war was merely and primarily a poor man’s fight.
Not surprisingly, the greatest indicator of which men did or did not serve was age, and in Port Clinton, as was true elsewhere, the young were much more likely to enlist than the old.
[3] Indeed, twenty-eight of the sixty-one enlistees from Port Clinton, or 45.9% of all who served, ranged in age from 18 to 25 while men in this age bracket constituted only 29.9% of the community’s entire male population in 1860. Adversely, although 23.4% of Port Clinton’s white male population ranged in age from 36 to 44, such men comprised only 6.6% of the town’s soldiers.
The younger age of Port Clinton’s enlistees was more than likely responsible for the disproportionate number of bachelors that served. In 1860, eighty-one males of fighting age, or 59.1%, were married, but only 49.2% of Port Clinton’s enlistees claimed such a marital status at the time of their enlistment.
[4] Although the percentage of married soldiers who served from Port Clinton was disproportionate to that of married men from the community, it was substantially higher than the estimated thirty percent of married soldiers in all Union armies.[5] This discrepancy in the percentage of married soldiers may be due to the high rate of volunteerism among the eligible male population of Port Clinton at 44.5% as compared to the estimated thirty-five percent of all northern males of fighting age who served throughout the war.[6]
While the disparities in the rates of participation in terms of age and marital status were substantial, there were only minor differences in terms of place of birth, occupation, total wealth, but these differences were not substantial enough to declare that those from one segment of society disproportionately or unequally served. There is much debate among historians concerning the enlistment of foreign-born soldiers in the Union armies. In her standard account, Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, Ella Lonn found immigrants to be disproportionately represented in the ranks, while W.J. Rorabaugh and James McPherson found foreign-born soldiers to be underrepresented in federal forces.
[7] In Newburyport, Massachusetts, Maris Vinovskis found that although second-generation Americans were more likely to serve than the children of native-born parents, the immigrants themselves were much less likely to enlist than the native-born.[8] However, examination of the soldiers who served from Port Clinton reveals that foreign-born soldiers were proportionately represented in the ranks, and further confirms that Civil War soldiers generally reflected the social structures of their home communities. In 1860, 21.2% of Port Clinton’s male population of fighting age was born abroad, with the vast majority hailing from Ireland. Throughout the four years of America’s Civil War, fourteen of the sixty-one enlistees from Port Clinton, or 23%, were or foreign birth, a near identical percentage.
The debate about the nativity of enlistees is but one part of a larger historiographic discussion concerning the nature of war itself. Historians have long evaluated the charge that the Civil War was a rich man’s conflict but poor man’s fight, and in so doing have followed the concerns of many northerners during the 1860’s. With the passage of the Enrollment Act in 1863, which allowed a drafted man to either hire a substitute to serve in his stead or pay a $300 commutation fee, many contemporaries viewed the war as a poor man’s fight because members of society’s laboring or lower classes were unable to buy their way out of service.
[9] This belief persisted into the twentieth century and is still argued by historians such as Rorabaugh who found dramatic variations in rates of enlistment along socio-economic lines.[10] Other historians, however, increasingly challenge this notion. James McPherson, for example, argued that although the “poor man’s fight” thesis seems to be confirmed “at first glance,” analysis into the ages and occupations of Civil War soldiers reveals that the Union army was “quite representative” of the northern population. Moreover, Maris Vinovskis found that although there were some wealth and occupational differences in the rates of enlistment, soldiers from Newburyport “were not disproportionately recruited from the lower socio-economic groups.”[11] Analysis of the occupations and total wealth of Port Clinton’s enlistees reinforces the arguments posited by McPherson and Vinovskis, and indicates that the disparities in rates of service among those of different socio-economic background were not substantial enough to describe the Civil War as a poor man’s fight, demonstrating instead that men from diverse backgrounds proportionately served.
Occupation, a seemingly straightforward category, provides a central clue about the influence of wealth in enlistment. Because of Port Clinton’s location on the banks of the Schuylkill River and because of its importance in the shipping of coal, most males in Port Clinton found employment as laborers on the canal or railroad. Indeed, of the 137 males of fighting age in the town, 68, or nearly 50%, were so employed. A higher percentage of laborers, 57.4%, served in the war. Skilled labor, such as carpenter, blacksmith, and shoemaker comprised the second largest category of occupations among the male inhabitants of Port Clinton at 21.1% of the working male population. The percentage of skilled laborers who served equaled 23% of all enlistees, a difference of only 1.8%.
Since occupation was one of the greatest determiners of total wealth and because of the slightly higher percentage of unskilled laborers who served, it may be expected that those of little total wealth disproportionately enlisted, but this was not necessarily the case. In 1860, 17.5% of the male population either headed or resided with family members in homes valued between $0 and $100, while 35.8% constituted the $101 to $500 category. Twenty-seven males of fighting age, or 19.7%, headed or resided with family in homes with an estate valuation between $501 and $1,000, while another 21.2% fell into the $1,001 to $5,000 bracket. The remaining 5.8% of the male population of fighting age either headed or resided with relations in homes with a total valuation placed above $5,000.
As a factor, total wealth exerted little influence over rates of volunteerism and, although there were a few discrepancies, males from no one category disproportionately served. Of the sixty-one soldiers who served from Port Clinton, thirteen, or 21.3% came from estates valued between $0 and $100, just 3.8% higher than the percentage of all males of fighting age who fell within this monetary category. In Newburyport, Massachusetts, Vinovskis found that 29% of all enlistees fell into this monetary category. A slight difference also existed between the percentages of soldiers who either headed or resided with family having estates valued between $101 and $500 and Port Clinton’s male population of fighting age as a whole, 32.8% compared with 35.8% respectively. And although 13.1% of Port Clinton’s enlistees came from estates valuated between $501 and $1,000, or 6.6% below the percentage of the community’s population of eligible males as a whole, seventeen of the twenty-nine males of fighting age who either headed households or resided with family in estates valued between $1,001 and $5,000 volunteered, or 27.9% of all who served. This is 6.7% greater than those occupying estates so valued in the community as a whole. This percentage of the wealthiest soldiers in the ranks nearly mirrors that found by Vinovskis at twenty-four percent. These statistics thus reveal that soldiers came from all socio-economic backgrounds. And although there were some differences in the rates of enrollment, they were not substantial enough to categorize the war simply as a poor man’s fight.
As the examination of soldiers from Port Clinton suggests, there was widespread participation in the war effort among the eligible male population of fighting age. Although disproportionately young, soldiers generally reflected the social composition of their home communities with the foreign born, skilled and unskilled laborers, and wealthy and poor proportionately represented in the ranks. However, while social background bore very little influence in determining patterns of enlistment, it did play a significant role in how soldiers fought and experienced the war as revealed through the examination of the soldiers of Pennsylvania’s 48th Regiment of volunteer infantry."

[1] W.W. Munsell, History of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, (New York: George McNamara, 1881): 366.
[2] Sixty-one of the 137 white males of fighting age from Port Clinton served for a time throughout the war years, or 44.5%. This percentage, although higher than the estimated 35% of all northern males aged 13 and 44 that served, is lower than the 57% of all Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, males of fighting age that served.
[3] In Newburyport, Massachusetts, Vinovskis found that approximately one-half of all male residents aged 16 to 17 and nearly four-tenths of those aged between 18 and 24 served for a time in Union forces, while only one-twentieth of those aged in their forties enlisted. Vinovskis, 46. In Concord, Massachusetts, Rorabaugh found a similar pattern of enlistment, with 57% of Concord’s enlistees aged between 16 and 29 and only 8% between 40 and 49. Rorabaugh, 696. See Appendix 1, Table 1, for a breakdown in age between the soldiers from Port Clinton and the male population of fighting age as a whole. The average age of soldiers from Port Clinton was 24.75 years, which was just one year younger than the average age among all Union soldiers at 25.8. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, viii.
[4] See Appendix 1, Table 4, for a breakdown in the marital status between Port Clinton’s enlistees and the male population of fighting age as a whole.
[5] Amy Holmes, “Widows and the Civil War Pension System,” in Maris Vinovskis, ed., Toward a Social History of the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 174.
[6] Vinovskis, 44.
[7] Ella Lonn, Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, (New York: The Greenwood Press, 1951), 441-444; Rorabaugh, 697; and McPherson, Ordeal by Fire, 356-357.
[8] Vinovskis, 46.
[9] Vinovskis, 47.
[10] Rorabaugh, 701.
[11] McPherson, Ordeal by Fire, 355; Vinovskis, 49-50.
[12] See Appendix 1, Table 6, for a breakdown in occupational categories.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Company C, 50th Pennsylvania. . .by Stu Richards

While on the subject of books. . .
John Stuart "Stu" Richards is a good friend of mine; indeed, as a native of Orwigsburg, who lives just a few short blocks from where I grew up, Stu has been there as my interest in the Civil War has grown over the years. He and I often gave Living History presentations dealing with Schuylkill County's Civil War history, and most recently were invited to be 'interpreters' at the opening of the Civil War Room at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County.
Stu is an authority on Schuylkill County's fighting men, and an expert on Company C, 50th PA Volunteers, recruited from Schuylkill Haven. Last year, Stu's book A History of Company C, 50th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry: From the Camp, The Battlefield, and the Prison Pen, 1861-1865 hit the shelves. This is an excellent work, and what makes it most valuable is that Stu approached this history in a manner different from most traditional regimental histories. Instead of the proverbial 'one damned thing after the other' presentation, Stu has utilized the letters, diaries, and other writings of the Company to tell their story, first-hand. This truly is their story.
Anyone interested in Pennsylvania volunteer regiments, and anyone with a special interest in Schuylkill County's Civil War history, would enjoy and benefit from Stu's work.
The History Press, a great little publisher, published the book, and it retails for $21.99.
Here is what the back cover says of A History of Company C, 50th P.V.V.I:
Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, sent to the Civil War one soldier for every seven inhabitants. Although this contribution of manpower was not uncommon in other counties, the company that was formed from Schuylkill Haven was as unique for its makeup as for its service. The men who formed Company C, 50th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment were primarily men who worked on or around the Schuylkill Canal, and from their ranks came two Medal of Honor recipients.
The men of Company C served in their capacity as far south as Beaufort, South Carolina, and participated in the battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania Court House and the siege of Petersburg. Author and Civil War historian John Richards has compiled a unique history of Company C, told through the personal letters, surviving narratives and official reports of the men during their service.
This compelling book offers a first-hand account--including descriptions of the prison at Andersonville--of life, toil and service during the Civil War. Richards calls upon a breadth of archival primary source material, and combines it with an informative narrative to provide an accessible and balanced study of the men from this unique company of soldiers."
Stu's Book can be purchased here:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Captain James Nagle's Mexican-American War Diary

In 1840, eighteen-year-old James Nagle raised the Pottsville Blues, a militia company that two years later would become the Washington Artillerists. With the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846, Nagle tendered the services of his company and in December it marched off to war as Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. As its captain, Nagle led his company during General Winfield Scott's campaign from the landing at Vera Cruz to the capture of Mexico City. In the Fall of 1848, Company B was mustered out of service and returned to Pottsville to a hero's welcome. Captain Nagle, pictured below, was presented with a beautfully inscribed sword from the citizens of Pottsville in recognition of his service. He carried this sword with him throughout the Civil War as Colonel of the 48th PA and as general of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps. This sword can be seen in the pictures of Nagle below, and is now held at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County. A few years ago, as can be seen by the picture below, I had the great honor of holding Nagle's sword.
Captain James Nagle, 1848
General James Nagle, 1862
Me, holding Nagle's Sword a number of years ago
(Forgive the Hair Style...)
A few months ago, while doing a google search for Nagle, I came upon his Mexican-American War Diary, digitized for all of us and available on-line through Brown University. Soldier diaries and letters from the Mexican-American War are somewhat rare, especially those composed by volunteer soldiers. In addition to providing day-by-day accounts of the travels, trials, and tribulations of Company B, 1st PA Volunteers, Nagle's Mexican War Diary also discloses some of his thoughts on the conflict and of Mexico. One entry describes Nagle's view of slavery. Traveling down the Mississippi River on his way to Vera Cruz via New Orleans, Nagle was exposed for the first time to slavery:
Sunday, [December] 27th, 1846
this morning we were again permitted to go on Shore whilst the boat was undergoing some repair & wooding[.] during our Stay we had an opportunity to witnessing Slavery and growing of sugar cane & cotton [.] the Planter owned about 80 slaves[.] perfect picture of Misery[.] this was in the Northern part of Louisiana[.] proceeded on
If you are interested in reading Nagle's Diary, click the link below:

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Sad, Dark Chapter. . .

This past Tuesday, March 13, was the 145th anniversary of one of the saddest and darkest chapters, or pages, in the history of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. It was not a battlefield defeat, nor did it involve the capture of the regiment's flag or a large number of its soldiers. It was instead a very ugly incident, the type of incident that is seldom remembered in Civil War historiography. In remembering the Civil War, we sometimes have a tendency to gloss over such events, but they must be told and remembered. Seldom do the regimental histories, written by veterans, include such events, but in The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers in the War, published some three decades after the war, Oliver Bosbyshell made it a point to include this story, regrettable though it was to the history of the regiment.

On March 11, 1862, Colonel James Nagle was ordered to send a detachment of six companies to reinforce Ambrose Burnside's force in its planned attack against New Bern, North Carolina. He selected Companies A, B, C, D, H & I, and the following day, these six companies left camp and proceeded to the wharf at Hatteras Inlet where they were to board the steamer George Peabody. When they reached the wharf, however, they discovered the Peabody had run aground and were thus unable to board. Ordered to establish a bivouac on the beach, the men of the 48th soon found themselves inundated with whiskey dealers who were "abounding on the water craft crowding the inlet." Throughout that day and night, "many small boats containing the vendors made frequent trips to the shore and a brisk business was opened along the coast." Many soldiers got drunk and soon fighting broke out among some in the regiment. Officers had a difficult time controlling their men. Captain James Wren of Company B recorded: "The men by some means or other got Liquor and Consequently got drunk & they got fighting amongst themselves. . . .fighting was the order of the day. Daniel Root of my Company got in a fight and I put him in the guard house until night."
Things got much worse from here. Around midnight, some of the men from Company C broke into the so-called "Hotel de Afrique" and savagely attacked the escaped slaves who were there seeking shelter and protection. On the morning of March 13, James Wren wrote in his diary: "Slept Very little last night on account of the men who ware drunk bawling around the shelter like a lot of mad men. About 12 o'clock, Midnight, a lot of drunken men, mostly of Compny C, got into a building occupied by Conterbands [contrabands] and abused them most shamefully, using bayonets and Knives, Cutting severel very severely. Old Gallaway, [Colonel Nagle's] Coulered servent, having bin in for the night, received a Cut in the stomach which will undoubtedly prove fatal. A Contarband had a finger Cut off, the sinew of his left hand Cut."

The Hotel de Afrique on Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Escaped slaves sought refuge here but on the night of March 12-13, some soldiers of the 48th broke in and attacked the defenseless occupants. {From Harper's Weekly, February 15, 1862, and Courtesy of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill}

Galloway did, indeed, die of his wounds. Nagle was infuriated with his regiment and deeply saddened. Before departing Hatteras early on the morning of the 13th, he assembled the regiment and reprimanded the soldiers for their actions and his officers for failing to control their men. He scolded them, saying, in effect, that the only way the men could get back in his good graces was if they were to remain sober. It is unclear and probably unlikely, however, that the murderer or murderers were identified. With the Peabody now ready to transport the 48th to Newbern, the soldiers boarded the vessel and sailed up the coast, leaving behind this terrible and ugly event.

In 1895, Bosbyshell wrote that "The horrible scenes enacted in the 'Hotel d'Afrique,' in the midst of which poor, inoffensive old Galloway. . .lost his life, is a sad page of the regiment's history."

{Note: James Wren diary entries from John Priest, ed., From New Bern to Fredericksburg: Captain James Wren's Civil War Diary, Berkeley Books, 1990, pg. 9}

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Brothers' War

America’s Civil War is sometimes referred to as the Brothers’ War, although rare were the occasions when brother literally battled brother.
There are a number of famous examples of siblings choosing to fight on opposite sides. US Senator John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, had one son, Thomas, become a major general in the Union Army, while another, George, attained the same rank in the Confederate army. Union General William Terrill was killed in action at the battle of Perryville in October 1862, while his brother, James, wearing the Confederate gray, was slain at Bethesda Church in May 1864. And, of course, there was Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the US president and First Lady of the United States, who had one brother, three half-brothers, and three brothers-in-law fight for the Confederacy.
Rather than brother fighting brother it was much more often the case of brother fighting alongside brother. In any given Civil War regiment, North or South, one is bound to find many cases of two, three, four, and sometimes even more brothers serving side-by-side, and the 48th Pennsylvania was certainly no exception. Scores of brothers served together in the 48th, and although it is well beyond the scope of this post to identify every pair or more of siblings, I thought I would make mention of a few.
There were, for example, the Huckey brothers: Albert and Samuel. Albert, a machinist from Port Clinton, enlisted in 1861 at the age of 22, and rose to become captain of Company A, while his younger brother Samuel, a laborer, enlisted in February 1864 at the age of 18. Although Albert received a wound at Spotsylvania, both made it back home alive. The same could not be said of the Dentzer brothers.
Twenty-four-year-old George Dentzer enlisted in October 1861. He was killed less than one year later, along the banks of the Antietam Creek in western Maryland. George’s death did not deter his older brother John from enlisting into the 48th. He did so in January 1863, and throughout the next two years survived some of the war’s most savage fighting at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor only to be killed by a ten inch Confederate mortar shell on December 28, 1864, while sitting in his "bombproof" in the trenches of Petersburg. The remains of the two Dentzer brothers were buried side-by-side in their native Cressona.
The remains of George and John Dentzer were buried side-by-side in their native Cressona
The 48th Pennsylvania was raised and organized by James Nagle, and for the first year and a half of its existence, could have very well been referred to as the Nagle Regiment. James’s younger brother Daniel served as the regiment’s major, while younger brother Philip captained Company G. Two more Nagle’s, Levi & Abraham, musicians both, served in the regimental band. All five Nagle’s survived the war.
Even more remarkable is the story of the Christian brothers. Daniel Christian, a native of Pottsville, served in the War of 1812. When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, all seven, yes seven, of his sons volunteered their services. Daniel, Jr., John, and Benjamin Christian all served together in the 67th Pennsylvania, while Charles fought with the 6th PA and saw some service in the US Navy. William Christian served in the ranks of the 173rd PA, while George and Henry F. fought shoulder-to-shoulder in Company H, 48th PA. Amazingly, all seven survived the war unscathed.
The same was not true, however, for the Allison brothers of Port Carbon. Agnes Allison has been called the “Lydia Bixby” of Schuylkill County. Students of the Civil War, or anyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan for that matter, are familiar with the story of Lydia Bixby. . .how she allegedly lost all five of her sons in combat, and how President Lincoln, hearing of this tragedy, wrote Bixby a letter in which he attempted to “assuage the anguish” of her bereavement. Whether or not Bixby did indeed lose all five of her sons to Confederate fire (records reveal that two were killed, two others deserted, while the fifth was honorably mustered out of service), and whether or not it was actually Lincoln who wrote the letter (some maintain it was Lincoln’s secretary John Hay), the story is still touching and tragic.
Mrs. Agnes Allison received no letter from Lincoln but did “lay so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom” when all four of her sons were killed in action. Twenty-three-year-old John Allison of the 96th Pennsylvania was killed in the fighting near the Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign on May 3, 1863. Mortally wounded that day was John’s older brother, Lieutenant Alexander Allison. He died two days later. The following year, on May 23, 1864, George Allison, the oldest of the brothers at thirty-three, died of wounds received at Spotsylvania while serving in the 56th PA. Scarcely had George been laid to rest when Agnes received word that her fourth son, Private James Allison of the 48th Pennsylvania, had been killed in action at the battle of Cold Harbor in early June. Forty three years after Agnes Allison lost her last son in battle, a memorial was erected in Port Carbon’s Presbyterian Cemetery in tribute to her and to her sacrifice.

Agnes Allison lost all four of her sons in combat during the Civil War. The Allison brothers are seen here surrounding the monument erected in honor of Agnes Allison's sacrifice.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Digging the Petersburg Mine. . .One Soldier's Diary

The 48th Pennsylvania is without question best remembered for their digging of the Petersburg Mine in June-July 1864. It is a shame that the resulting disaster at the battle of the Crater has overshadowed, even tarnished, this remarkable feat accomplished by the 48th.
Samuel Beddall, a sergeant in Company E, served with the regiment from start to finish; from August 1861, when he enlisted at the age of 17, until July 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of service. Like many Civil War soldiers, Beddall kept a diary throughout the war. This diary is now held at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Beddall's diary is important because it provides a history of the war "from the bottom up." Especially important to the student of the Petersburg Campaign and the battle of Crater, Beddall's diary give us a look at the digging at the Petersburg Mine by one of the soldiers burrowing deep under the Virginia soil. I know of no other account or diary that details the digging of the mine.
My post today transcribes Beddall's daily diary entries from June 25, 1864, to August 1, 1864, two days after the explosion of the mine. At first, Beddall was not involved in the digging, but as the weeks passed by, he too was in the mine daily, his chief duty was carrying out the clay and dirt. As you read through his diary, notice how Beddall recorded his work in the mine and how he continued to write about receiving letters from home, which was always of great importance to any Civil War soldier.
Note: Any spelling or grammatical corrections on my part with be placed inside brackets: [__] I tried to transcribe Beddall's diary with his exact spelling and grammar.
Samuel Beddall, Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
At just 17, Sam Beddall, a blacksmith from Middleport, was one of the youngest members of the 48th Pennsylvania. He served with the regiment throughout the four years of the war, and, despite his young age, he was fearless in battle. In fact, in October 1864, Beddall was honored when he was selected to carry the regimental flag, which he did for the duration of the war. Joseph Gould, in his regimental history of the 48th, wrote of Beddall: "He was in every engagement that the regiment participated in and was never sick a day while in the army or incapacitated in any manner from doing duty; was struck by a shell at the battle of Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 13th 1862, but not injured sufficiently to be sent to the hospital."
Beddall's Diary from June 25-August 1, 1864 follows:
Saturday, June 25, 1864: the weather is verry warm this last 2 two days. Everything is quiet in front. the 48th to day started to under mine the Rebel fortifications

Sunday, June 26, 1864: our Regt is purty much all out on detail at the drift; they average about 5 feat every two hours. Near Petersburg Virginia

Monday, June 27, 1864: the Rebels anoyed us greatly with their mortars. Pat Grant and John Watson was both wounded in the leg to day; it is found that Grant will lost the leg

Tuesday, June 28, 1864: Yesterday I received a letter from home to day I Answered it. We draw whiskey regular at the commissary; we still lay in front of Petersburg. all quiet only the mortars

Wednesday, June 29, 1864: our Regiment is on Special duty at driving a tunnel; they are in up to this Evning about 60 yards. the regt is excused from picket duty on that account. Near Petersburg, Va

Thursday, June 30, 1864: to day we moved back to the Rear and entrenched our selves. heavey fighting on the right of our Division this Evning don’t know the result

Friday, July 1, 1864: to day the weather is fair the heavey firing yesterday was caused by an assault on the rebels army on the right of our corps & the left of the 5th corps; the rebs were surprised

Saturday, July 2, 1864: to day the wether is fair but verry warm. nothing of importance transpired. Wm McElrath sick. P. Rodgers detailed as cook. received Inteligence of the deaths of Wm Evans, J. Regan, Wm Reasons, all of Co. E 48

Sunday, July 3, 1864: the day was passed in silence; the working men keep coming and going all day and all night. the duty is purty heavy. purty much all the Regiment are on that detail. Petersburg Va

Monday, July 4, 1864: as this day is allways most highly celebrated by the Civil & Millitary honors it was passed to day with our anny thing transpiring unusually it passed off verry quiet talking of . . . was the most of . . . . . .

Tuesday, July 5, 1864: to day was very fair; the firing of mortar & sharpshooters was about the only thing practiced. I wrote a letter home to day in answer to one Recd July 1st. to day one of Co. D 48th was killed by minny ball

Wednesday, July 6, 1864: wether fair; Nothing unusually transpired to day. the Lt. Col. of the 48th felt the . . . of the Commisary best tunnel . . . . . . All are a going to have a turn at it

Thursday, July 7, 1864: wether fair; Gen A E Burnside went to review the front line of picket & to visit the tunnel in wich our regt is working at it . . . All quiet in front

Friday, July 8, 1864: yesterday the news arrived of the capture of the . . .Alabama. The rebels this afternoon attacked our Right but were unsuccessfull; it ensued by a furious cannonading

Saturday, July 9, 1864: we are situated as usual nothing of importance transpired; P Rodgers returned to the Company after duty as only one Cook is alowed for each Company

Sunday, July 10, 1864: this morning while taking a knap I was wakened by the arival of a letter in wich I got . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, July 11, 1864: was detailed to work in the tunnel; Gen Burnside & Governor Sprague & Governor Tod came to visit the tunnel to day while I was there. they said we were bound to get whiskey

Entrance to the Petersburg Mine

Tuesday, July 12, 1864: went to work in the tunnel at 12 oclock and worked two hours & a half; came in to camp and wrote home for money. To day we got a good rations of whiskey to drink (all quiet)

Wednesday, July 13, 1864: yesterday the Captain recd Official accounts of Sergeants Thomas Toshs deth; he was wounded through the left breast by a ball on June 3rd 1864; the mortars are as active as ever . . . . . . .

Thursday, July 14, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock this morning and worked 3 hours in the tunnel carrying out clay; Colonel Harry Pleasant came to us and spoke to the whole Regt on very friendly terms about the tunnel

Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants: Mastermind of the Petersburg Mine

Friday, July 15, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock and worked 3 hours; the boys are verry anxious to hear from home and to hear the newspapers acount of the rebels on a raid into Maryland & Penn [Beddall is referring here to General Jubal Early's Raid on Washington]

Saturday, July 16, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock this morning and worked 3 hours in the tunnel carrying out clay to day; we received the news that the Rebels where driven out of Pennsylvania & Maryland across the Potomac again; shelling hear brisk

Sunday, July 17, 1864: went to work this morning the same as yesterday and worked the same length of time; the firing last evening is not yet been ascertained; to day I recd a letter from home of July the 8th from Lilley Beddall [Samuel's sister].

Monday, July 18, 1864: worked 3 hours at the tunnel to day; Recd a letter from Sister Lilley also one from Jack McElrath who is at present at Philadelphia in Hospital; he was wounded in the head

Tuesday, July 19, 1864: went to work to day at 6 oclock worked 3 hours in the tunnel; wether wet (Rainey) . wrote a large letter home yesterday filling one fools cap sheet of paper; all quiet

Wednesday, July 20, 1864: went to work as usually at the tunnel; we are driving to the right & left and now are under the Rebels fortifications [Beddall is referring to the digging of two lateral galleries at the end of the tunnel].

Thursday, July 21, 1864: went to work at usually at the tunnel but was shoveling at the Right branch; all quiet with the exeptions of shelling which is verry common now

Friday, July 22, 1864: went to work at 6 came in at 9 oclock; Recd a letter from home to day, answered to day; wrote to Ephraim B. this evening; the Rebels fired …volleys the firing was purty heavy

Saturday, July 23, 1864: went to work as usually; Received a letter from Miss Daniles answered it to day; All quiet the tunnel is almost ready they are cleaning it up to the face

Sunday, July 24, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock and worked untill 9 oclock carrying clay; They are putting boxes in to day to fill powder in

Monday, July 25, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock worked 3 hours carrying out dirt from the tunnel; Received a letter from Thos. H. Hall, a member of Co. E 48th Regt answered it to day; All quiet

Tuesday, July 26, 1864: the tunnel is finished & is far enough in so they are placing the powder boxes in; to day I visited the Fortifications; there is one fort that has 6 thirty . . .lbs & 8 light pieces all quiet

Wednesday, July 27, 1864: to day I received a note from Miss Agnes Gillespie, it was answered to day; this afternoon one hundred and fifty men was detailed to put the tamping in the tunnel

Thursday, July 28, 1864: to day I worked six hours in the tunnel filling up for tamping the powder; it is thought that it will be compleated this Evning

Lt. Col. Pleasants and Soldiers of the 48th Placing Powder in the Mine

Friday, July 29, 1864: Received a letter from T.H. Hall and one from S.A. etc demanding a photograph, answered; the tunnel is ready they are massing the troops hear in front of our line preparing for a charge

Saturday, July 30, 1864: this morning about 4 oclock the explosion took place; it was terrable, it shook the earth for two miles around. Then the booming of artillery and the charge of infantry they take the second line the collard troops breaks & run the whole line fell back again

Sunday, July 31, 1864: all quiet today with the exeptions of sharpshooting; our men are laying in front of the Rebel fort killed & wounded; they refuse a flag of truce to day. This evening they rais a flag of truce on both sides the Rebel loss is heavy

Monday, August 1, 1864: this morning the flag of truce is granted from 6 oclock untill 9 to burry the dead & remove the wounded all quiet to day the picket make a bargain not to fire untill night comes

The Union Attack at the Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864