Thursday, August 30, 2007

The 48th Pennsylvania & 2nd Bull Run: Part 4

The Officers of Company G, 48th Pennsylvania
(Seated: Captain Oliver Bosbyshell; Standing Left: Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock; Standing Right: Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson, Captured at 2nd Bull Run)
Captain Oliver C. Bosbyshell
Company G
Describes the Battle of 2nd Bull Run

Captain Oliver C. Bosbyshell wrote the following account of the 48th Pennsylvania's experience at 2nd Bull Run, August 29, 1862:

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Camp Forty-Eighth Regiment, P.V.,
Near Alexandria, Va., Sept. 3, 1862

A spare moment I devote to giving you a short account of the doings of the 48th in the late battles near Bull Run. I’ll not particularize about our long and tiresome march from Fredericksburg to Culpeper, &c, but suffice it to say, that we arrived on the Bull Run battlefield last Friday morning. Preparations were being made on every side for a fight, and we expected of course, to have a hand in it. We were not disappointed. Three o’clock Friday afternoon, Nagle’s Brigade drew up in line of battle—the 2nd Maryland on the right, next the 6th New Hampshire, and the 48th covering the latter regiment. Off we moved, over a clear field, to quite a dense wood, out of which we were to drive the rebels. The wood was skirted by a fence, which we had scarcely crossed—in fact, our regiment was just getting over it—when bang! bang! whiz! whiz! and the battle commenced. There was no use talking, however. Our Brigade went right in; walked steadily on, driving the rebels quickly before them, but losing men fast. A ditch or embankment, in which the rebels had shielded themselves, and from out of which the Brigade which entered the woods before ours failed to drive them, our Brigade assailed so fiercely, that it was soon cleared. The 48th had bayonets fixed. Some of the prisoners wanted to know who they were with fixed bayonets, and what troops we were. When informed, they said they thought we must belong to “Burnside’s fighting devils.”
The impetuosity of our men was great, and I believe we would have gone clear through the woods, without once halting, had not a strong flank movement been made by the rebels. They came around on our left, and opened a galling fire on our left flank and rear, which we did not return for some time, mistaking them for our own. When we discovered it, however, we answered lively, but they were too strong for us, with their raking cross-fire, and a retreat by the right flank was ordered. This we did in good order, returning fire for fire, and we got out in the clearing again, where the “rebs” dared not follow us.
It is difficult to note all the incidents of personal bravery. Colonel Nagle was everywhere, cheering on the men, and barely escaped capture. He was ordered to halt several times by the rebels, pursued and fired at, but escaped. Lieutenant John D. Bertolette, his acting assistant Adjutant General, our late adjutant, was wounded in the thigh, while ably attending his duties. His aides, Lt. Blake and Hinkle, were actively engaged throughout the entire fight. Upon entering the woods, Colonel Nagle and his staff left their horses at the fence, the woods being entirely too thick to ride through, and, in the flanking by the rebels, the horses were captured. The Brigade lost, in killed, wounded, and missing, some 530 men. The 48th behaved exceedingly well, and did considerable damage to the “Louisiana Tigers.” Lt. Col. Sigfried was in the thickest on the fray, encouraging the men by actions as well as words. He was ably seconded by Major Kauffman and Acting Adjutant Gowen. But I cannot particularize; all behaved well; no one shirked, neither officers or men.
Our loss is heavy, some 152 in killed, wounded and missing.
Nearly all the missing have been ascertained to be prisoners, and will be paroled and released shortly. Reno’s Division—our Brigade included, of course—was also in the action of Saturday protecting batteries, &c. Towards evening we were ordered into the woods, where we went, but the darkness ended the fight before we exchanged shots with the enemy. Our Division was exposed to the shells and shots of the enemy nearly all day Saturday—(none in the 48th hurt, two of Company H, taken prisoners)—and was the last Division to leave the field. We retired from the ground at 9 o’clock, and by five next morning were in Centreville. On Sunday we were picketed about two miles out of Centreville, and we met the 96th on our way out. Monday afternoon our Division started for Fairfax, and was the first Division engaged at the fight at Chantilly, where the gallant Kearney and Stevens fell. The Brigade lost a number killed and wounded again, but the 48th escaped with two men slightly wounded, merely grazed. We were posted in a wood on the right, to prevent any flank movement the enemy might make. We remained on the battlefield until 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, when we made for Fairfax, reaching it by sunrise. By 6 o’clock last night we reached our present quarters, almost fagged our with excessive marching and fatigue. The 50th, 96th, and 129th, are all near at hand.

The 48th Pennsylvania & 2nd Bull Run: Part 3

Captain Henry Pleasants
Company C
Describes the Battle of 2nd Bull Run

Henry Pleasants, who would garner much fame as the mastermind of the Petersburg Mine in June-July 1864, wrote the following account of the 48th's actions at 2nd Bull Run for the Miners' Journal, Pottsville's leading newspaper.
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Camp Near Alexandria {VA}
September 4, 1862
After leaving the left of Pope’s army, before the Rapidan, which position our Division (Reno’s) occupied, we marched to Kelly’s ford, across the Rappahannock. From this point we went to Rappahannock Station, thence along the northern side of the river to Sulphur Springs; thence to Warrenton and on to Warrenton Junction, where we rested for three-quarters of a day. From here we marched to Manassas Junction, and on to near Centreville, where we turned to the left and moved towards the Gap which leads to the Shenandoah Valley. This was on Friday morning. The action had already begun. We reached the battle-field at 1 P.M., and at 3 our Brigade, commanded by Colonel {James} Nagle, was ordered to attack the rebels in a thick woods. The 6th New Hampshire Regiment formed on the left, the 2nd Maryland on the right and the 48th Pennsylvania fifty paces in their rear. Hardly had the column entered the woods when the action began—brisk, fiery and bloody. Our regiment was marching on with the steadiness of regulars, when the battalions in front obliquing to the left and right, permitted us to advance quickly and occupy the intervening space, promptly opening a destructive fire on the rebels. We advanced firing for about a quarter of a mile, when Lieut. Col. {Joshua} Sigfried halted the regiment, and, after causing them to cease firing, ordered them to advance with the bayonet, which was done in gallant style—driving the enemy out of two ditches (one of them an old railroad cut,) and going on beyond them. We had, however, not gone far before we received a volley of musketry from behind. Thinking that we were fired on by some of our own troops, the regiment was ordered back to the nearest ditch, and our fire to the front resumed. From this time the fire poured on our and the New Hampshire regiment, was most terrific—from the front, left, and rear. The more our colors were raised and spread out to the view of our supposed friends behind, the hotter and bloodier were their discharges. At last the rebel regiments made their appearance on our rear, when Colonel Sigfried gave the order to retreat by the rightflank. The men stood this terrible fire without flinching, obeying the orders of their officers, and firing to the front where the enemy was supposed only to be. The regiments of the brigade were promptly reformed after leaving the woods, and soon after were relieved by the 2nd Brigade. The next day, Saturday, we were present at the battle, supporting batteries, and being continuously under artillery fire from 3 to 9 P.M. Our division was the last to leave the battlefield, which it did about ten o’clock that night. Next day, although without hardly any sleep, rest or food, we were drawn up in line of battle until night-time. On Monday, about 1 P.M., our division again marched from Centreville to Fairfax, protecting the train. When about three or four miles from where we started we met the rebels, in force, posted in the woods and corn-fields, and after fighting til dark, and being reinforced by General {Phil} Kearney, we gained a complete victory, driving them for nearly a mile. Our regiment was under heavy fire nearly the whole time, but supporting other troops in front, we could not return it. The loss of Saturday and Monday was very light, but that of Friday was terrible. The forest was converted into a slaughter-house. Some companies of the 6th New Hampshire were nearly exterminated. Some of ours lost about one-half their men. The regiment lost 152 men. The brigade, out of about 2,000, lost over 500.
{Henry Pleasants}

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The 48th Pennsylvania & 2nd Bull Run: Part 2

Captain James Wren
Company B
Describes the Battle of 2nd Bull Run
August 29, 1862
James Wren, a machinist from Pottsville, kept a diary throughout his war time service. An immigrant from Wales, Wren was an active member of the Pottsville militia before the war, and would rise to the rank of major before resigning from the army in May 1863. His spelling was poor, but his diary is a great resource. His diary was edited by John Michael Priest, and published in 1991 by Berkeley Books.
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August 29th, 1862 On march to Centreville
At 3 o’clock this morning I got awake with the Coald & I got up. The battle was opened at 6 ½ o’clock A.M. Our artillery put on the right of the Line. Had a Compny roale Call this morning. Gen. Pope Just passed our line & he takes things quite Cool. He was smoking a Cigar when he passed. We marched to Centreville & when we arrived on the height, we flanked to the Left & moved on towards the Battle, which is going on. [We] supposed Jackson to be retreating & our troops in his rear. 11 o’clock A.M.—hear we passed the rebels that was taken prisoner. Thear was between 4 & 5 hundred of them. Thear was some of them fought against us in New Bern, North Carolina. Some of my men recognized them & they remarked that they would not fight anymore. Gen. Pope Just passed our Brigaid Line, the men being in the field resting, being very tired & hungry, but no time to attend to eating. At present, our Cavalry in the rear of Jackson’s lines. After our artillery had silenced the rebel guns, the infantry line taking position & now being in Position, the Battle then had to be decided by the infantry. At 25 minutes past 2 o’clock P.M., our Brigade entered the Battle line & before we advanced one hundred yards, we received a volley of Musketry into us, but we kept our line well dressed & we advanced & fired about 20 minutes Direct to the frunt but was not getting any further advanced, the rebels being in the old road Cut & we was ordered to Cease firing & then ordered to fix Baynet & we Charged the Cut & routed the enemy out of the Cut & we held the Cut & we were advancing beyond the Cut when a masked battrey opened and drove us Back into the Cut & while we war advancing beyond the Cut, our Left was unsupported & the enemy got around our left & got in our rear & we then had a fire to Contend against in frunt & rear. I went up on the Bank to see the movements of the enemy & I saw them, quite plain. Crossing the road on our left & in our rear & I told Gen. Nagle & he Could not believe it & the adjetent Bertolette, was at our left & I went up on the Bank the second time & while up, my men Called at the top of thear Voices to, “Come down or you will be Cut to pieces.” I felt the rim of my old hat quaver Like Leaf. The adjtent & myself went & we told Nagle the enemy was in our rear & we received a heavy volley from the rear. Nagle them flanked the Regt. by a right flank on Double Quick & retreated, Leaving orders for Captain Wren to protect the Left of the Cut until the Regiment got out. I saw through the move in a flash—better to Lose a Piece of the Loaf than to Lose a whole one & seeing that the regiment was out, I then flanked my Compny to the right & gave the Command, “Double quick, march!” & we passed through the rebels on Right & Left of us & within speaking distance of each other. On our retreating through theas lines, the rebels yelled out, “Stop, you Yankee sons of Bitches. You are our prisoners.” But we did not stop & after we had all got out, Gen. Phil Kearney was rallying his Brigaid & they all rallied to the 48th Coulers & they & the 48th went in again but was over powered & driven Back. During the rallying to the Colors, Gen. Phil Kearny, having but one arm & meeting some of his Brigaid said, with the Bridle rein between his teath & his sword in his hand, “Come on and go in again, you sons of Bitches & I’ll make Brigidear Genrels of every one of you.” Darkness Came on and the Battle ended for the day. During our retreating, I fell with my Breast striking a stump & I thought I was a prisoner sure when 2 of my men picked me up & helped me out & it made me very sick & we went a little to the side & they thought they would Cook a tin cup of Coffee for me & Just as we sat down, a solid shot buried itself right between us & Said, “Boys, let us get out of this.” We went up to whear thear was a group of Staff officers & I was relating our narrow escape when a solid shot Buried itself right between Gen. Pope & Gen. Reno, who was setting down together & they looked at each other in the face & said, “I guess we had better get away from hear” & they moved to the one side another Seat. All Hostility Ceased for the night, both forces holding thear positions. Pope waiting anxiously for the arrival of Gen. Fitz John Porter, who was to have bin hear today, but at night had not arrived yet. I felt quite proud of my own Compny as they behaved well during the whole Battle & obeyed the Commands & stood true to thear work. So did out Regt. An old artilleryman who had gone the Mexican War said during the time that Brigade was engaged, he never heard such a steady fire keep up for such a long time, of infantry, in his Life. From the time we went in, until we Came out, it was Just 1 ¾ hours. I looked at my watch as we went in and look at it when we Came out. We fought in a thick woods & the powder smoke hung & we war all most as Black as N--------, perticuly around the mouth & eyes, when we Came out. During the Battle, 5 of my men was surrounded by rebels but was relieved by our troops again, and, at another time, 8 of them war taken prisoners & 3 of them was relieved by our troops. Paul Scheck, my old Cook, was in the hands of the Rebels, but was relieved by some of our men. The 3rd sergeant of our Compny, Basler, had 2 plugs of tobacco in his Haversack & a Bullet went right through both of them & Private Bickert had a Ball go through his Cartridge Box. George Marsden, a rather slow soldier to move, saw a rebel up in a tree & he took aim on him & he fell to the ground like a log. The men said that act made up for all George’s lost motion, as a number of them saw the act. During the time we war advanced, one of our men, Nicolas Shiterhour, shot the Coler Bearer of the enemy’s Flag, but got wounded afterwards. He was shot in the thigh. The ball went right through but did not Break and Bones. The Rebel Troops that our Brigade drove out of the road Cut was the Lusiania Tigers, which we fought at New Bern, North Carolina, March 14th. As we advanced to the Cut, they said, “Them is Burnside’s troops. We know them by thear line & thear Charge.” We, at night, lay under arms on the field whear we war Driven back to & having unslung our Knapsacks & had thrown them in a pile before we went into battle. This ground became the Center of the 2 Armies & thearfore, we were deprived of all our Knapsacks & Blankets. We thought it hard to have no tents but hear we had neather tents nor Blankets, the enemy Capturing All.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 48th Pennsylvania & 2nd Bull Run: Part 1

This week marks the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of 2nd Bull Run, or 2nd Manassas. Fought August 28-31, 1862, 2nd Bull Run was an incredibly fierce and bloody battle, which resulted in a decisive victory for Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. The four day battle resulted in well over 22,100 casualties, the highest number of casualties of the war up to that point. The battle was also of great military and political significance, but compared to other battles of the Civil War, 2nd Bull Run has been relatively overlooked. In Return to Bull Run, easily the best single volume study of the campaign and battle, author John Hennessy wrote that the battle has been neglected partly because it "has been greatly overshadowed by the event that preceded it--Robert E. Lee's repulse of George McClellan from the gates of Richmond--and that which followed it--the war's bloodiest day along Antietam Creek." (Hennessy, Return to Bull Run, xi).
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It was at 2nd Bull Run where the boys of the 48th Pennsylvania received their "baptism by fire." The regiment was organized the previous year, during the summer of 1861, but they had spent their first year in service on guard and garrison duty at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and along the North Carolina coast. True, the 48th Pennsylvania had been exposed to enemy fire at the battle of New Bern in March 1862, but they were held in reserve and spent most of the battle literally carrying ammunition to the front. At New Bern, the 48th suffered no casualties. The same certainly could not be said of their actions at 2nd Bull Run. At 2nd Bull Run, the 48th Pennsylvania did well in what was their first major action of the war, but they paid a heavy price. Casualties were high with 42 men being killed or mortally wounded, another 56 wounded, and 57 listed as captured or missing in action. 2nd Bull Run would, indeed, prove to be one of the worst battles the 48th Pennsylvania participated in, with casualties coming close to equalling those sustained during the war's worst month of fighting, May-June 1864, during the so-called Overland Campaign, which included the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor.
This week I will focus on the role of the 48th Pennsylvania at 2nd Bull Run. I will, of course, post the regimental casualties, but I will also be posting a number of first-hand accounts of the battle written by the soldiers themselves. I will including accounts authored by Joseph Gould, William Wells, Oliver C. Bosbyshell, Henry Pleasants, and James Wren.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

First in Defense of the Union

Hey All. . .
I've heard from a number of people that copies of my First Defenders book are no longer available on-line. . .or at least not at a reasonable price (I found out that a seller on has it for $45.00!) If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, head on over to my new blogpage/website:


Saturday, August 11, 2007

What About George. . .? [Sykes, That Is]

General George Sykes. . .Overlooked? Maybe. . .

I've always felt a little bad for General George Sykes. Despite serving as a high-ranking officer in division and corps command with the Army of the Potomac, he seems to have gotten the proverbial short shrift in historical memory. For example, it is a common anecdote heard here in Gettysburg that General Daniel Sickles, commander of the Army of the Potomac's Third Corps, is the only Union corps commander to NOT have a monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield. This does make a good--and ironic--story since it was largely due to Sickles's efforts after the war to preserve Gettysburg as a National Battlefield. But it is simply not true. However, I have seldom, if ever, heard someone ask: "But What About George Sykes?" A bronze statue of Sykes, commander of the 5th Corps at Gettysburg, cannot be found anywhere on the battlefield. . .
In an effort to thus bring Sykes's life and service into focus, I am posting this evening a short biographical piece I wrote about "Tardy George." There is an emphasis placed below on the role (limited though it was) Sykes's Division played at the battle of Antietam. . .no special reason for this; it's simply because I wrote this for my colleagues at the Antietam National Battlefield.

George Sykes and Staff

A no-nonsense, career army man, George Sykes was an able, though not inspiring commander who could be relied upon to carry out his orders but who also displayed little initiative in adapting to changing battlefield circumstances. Cautious, methodical and sometimes slow to move, Sykes was known in some quarters as either “Tardy George” or “Slow Trot.” His loyalty to and love for the Union, and his bravery and calm demeanor on the field of battle, however, were never questioned. He was born on October 9, 1822, in Dover, Delaware, the grandson of a one-time governor of the state. After receiving an education in the local schools, Sykes received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating thirty-ninth out of fifty-six cadets in the illustrious Class of 1842. Among Sykes’s classmates were John Newton, Abner Doubleday, William S. Rosecrans, John Pope, N.J.T. Dana, Lafayette McLaws, Richard H. Anderson, and James Longstreet. The irascible future Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill was Sykes’s roommate for a time at the Military Academy.
Sykes saw substantial service in the pre-war army. Upon graduation from West Point, he was brevetted a 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry and was sent to Florida where he fought in what came to be known as the Second Seminole War. Stationed at various frontier posts, Sykes later served with distinction in the Mexican-American War. Participating in General Winfield Scott’s drive from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, Sykes earned a captain’s brevet for gallantry at the battle of Cerro Gordo. Following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the war with Mexico, Sykes saw further service against the Apache in 1854 and against the Navajo in 1859. In 1855, he was promoted to captain.
When the American Civil War erupted in the spring of 1861, Sykes was appointed major of the 14th U.S. Infantry. He distinguished himself early in the war, at the First Battle of Bull Run, where he commanded a battalion of Regulars. Amidst the rout of the Union forces from the field that day, Sykes and his men covered the flight of the volunteers, slowed the Confederate pursuit, and turned in what was perhaps the best performance of any Union unit that day. Following the battle, Sykes was placed in command of the Regular Infantry Brigade which was stationed in the defenses of the Washington. Promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in September 1861, he commanded first a brigade and then a division in Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps during the Peninsula Campaign and the fighting around Richmond the following spring. For his actions at the battle of Gaines’s Mill on June 27, 1862, Sykes was rewarded with a regular army brevet to the rank of colonel. His command consisted primarily of Regular Army troops; in fact, only two of the eleven regiments that were in his division were volunteers. After suffering heavy losses at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862, Sykes’s men were only lightly engaged at the battle of Antietam a few weeks later.
At the battle of Antietam, Sykes displayed his characteristic trait of following a literal interpretation of orders even in the face of a potentially tremendous opportunity. His division was held initially in reserve on the east bank of Antietam Creek, but shortly before noon General McClellan ordered Pleasonton’s cavalry troopers and several batteries across the creek by way of the Middle Bridge. Sykes was ordered to supply infantry support for these cannon, although he personally opposed what he considered to be a hazardous move. Roughly 1,500 of Sykes’s men crossed the Middle Bridge. Throughout the afternoon, these Regulars traded shots with Confederate skirmishers, and slowly made their way toward the streets of Sharpsburg along the Boonsboro Pike. Late in the day, Sykes’s men supported the advance of Colonel Benjamin Christ’s 9th Corps Brigade. Pushing steadily forward, the Regulars had little organized opposition to their front. Word was sent back to Sykes about the thin and wavering gray line, along with a request by one of Sykes’s subordinate for a full-scale attack. Sykes denied this request and ordered his men back to within supporting distance of the artillery, which was their order he no doubt reminded them. By the end of the fighting that day, Sykes’s Division had suffered 95 casualties.
George Sykes was promoted to major general two months after Antietam, and he continued to lead his division of Fifth Corps troops through the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville campaigns. On June 28, 1863, just three days before the battle of Gettysburg, Sykes was appointed to command of the Fifth Corps following the promotion of General George Gordon Meade to army command. At Gettysburg, Sykes and his men turned in a stellar performance in the savage fighting in the Wheatfield, Plum Run, and on Little Round Top, and for his service here, Sykes was brevetted brigadier general in the regular army. While the case can be made that Gettysburg was Sykes’s finest hour in the war, especially considering that he was brand new to corps command, trouble developed soon thereafter. In a possible attempt to deflect criticism for not aggressively pursuing Lee’s retreating Army of Northern Virginia after the battle, General Meade blamed Sykes for not following orders to keep close on Lee’s rear. Sykes maintained that he never received such an order. In the fall of 1863, Sykes was criticized again for being too slow and too cautious during the Mine Run Campaign. When General Ulysses Grant came east in March 1864, Meade no doubt expressed his reservations about Sykes to the new commander, and when the army was reorganized before the start of the Overland Campaign, Sykes was relieved of his command.
Sent west, George Sykes finished the war as the Commander of the District of South Kansas, a minor post. He remained in the army following the war, rising eventually to the rank of colonel. On February 8, 1880, George Sykes succumbed to cancer at the age of 57 while in command of the post at Fort Brown, Texas. Following Sykes’s death, the United States Congress appropriated $1,000 for the transfer of his remains from Texas for burial at West Point and for the erection of his tombstone, an act initiated by former Army of the Potomac commander Ambrose Burnside who was then serving in the Senate.

The Grave of General George Sykes at West Point

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Little-Known Civil War: The Story of the Enchantress and How Fourteen Captured Union Officers Escaped Execution

I came across the fascinating, but little known, story of the Enchantress while researching the life of 9th Corps officer Orlando B. Willcox in preparation for my hike on the Final Union Attack at Antietam. The story further confirmed to me that in addition to the great campaigns and battles, there remain thousands of interesting and truly fascinating incidents of the Civil War that merit our attention.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Capture of the Enchantress by the US Albatross

On Monday, July 22, 1861, just one day following the Union debacle at Bull Run, the USS Albatross captured the merchant schooner Enchantress on the rough seas off the coast of Hatteras, North Carolina. This was not the first time the Enchantress was captured. Indeed, just two weeks earlier, on July 6, the schooner, originally a US ship from Newburyport, Massachusetts, was captured by the Confederate privateer Jeff Davis and was immediately put into use by the Confederacy. After the Enchantress was re-captured by the Union navy on July 22, the fourteen Confederate privateers on board were sent to prison and were charged by the Federal government with piracy. Three months later, on October 22, 1862, four of the Confederate crewman from the Enchantress, plus another ten from the captured Confederate privateer Petrel, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged.

Outraged by the whole affair, and especially by the verdicts, the Confederate government responded by selecting an equal number of captured high-ranking Union officers and threatened to execute these prisoners of war should the United States carry out the sentences of the condemned privateers. The fourteen US officers chosen were as follows: Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th New York, Colonel Orlando B. Willcox, 1st Michigan, Colonel William Lee and Major Paul J. Revere, 20th Massachusetts, Colonel Milton Cogswell, 42nd New York, Colonel Alfred Wood, 14th New York, Colonel William Woodruff and Lieutenant Colonel George Neff, 2nd Kentucky, Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Bowman, 8th Pennsylvania, Major James Potter and Captain Hugh McQuaide, 38th New York, Major Israel Vodges and Captain James Ricketts, 1st U.S. Artillery, and Captain George Rockwood, 15th Massachusetts. However, because two of these officers--Ricketts and McQuade-- were suffering from terrible wounds, they were replaced by Captain Henry Bowman, 15th Massachusetts, and Captain Francis Keiffer, 71st Pennsylvania. These officers had been captured earlier that year, the majority of them at the 1st Battle of Bull Run in July and at Ball's Bluff in October.

Having made their selections, the Confederate government waited to see if and how the U.S. would respond. A tense showdown ensued between the two governments, and the lives of 28 men--14 Union and 14 Confederate--hung in the balance. . .

Finally, during the winter of 1861-1862, the U.S. Government reconsidered the case and decided, ultimately, to treat the captured Confederate privateers not as pirates, but as prisoners of war. Their sentences of execution were thus voided, and everyone breathed a little easier.

Eventually, all the prisoners were released with the exception of two men, one a Confederate and the other Captain Hugh McQuade, who died while being held as a prisoners of war.
* * * * * * * * * *

Michael Corcoran

Colonel of the 69th New York

* * * * * * * * * *

Orlando Willcox

Captured at 1st Bull Run and threatened with execution. Following his exchange from a Confederate prison, Willcox rose to the rank of major general and commanded a division in the 9th Corps for most of the war.

* * * * * * * * * *

James B. Ricketts

His wounds at 1st Bull Run removed him from the list of Union officers chosen for execution over the Enchantress Affair. He survived his wounds and would go on to a stellar war record chiefly as a Union division commander in the 1st and 6th Corps.

* * * * * * * * * *

Milton Cogswell

Colonel of the 42nd New York
* * * * * * * * * *

William Lee

Colonel of the 20th Massachusetts
* * * * * * * * * *

Paul Joseph Revere

Major of the 20th Massachusetts

Grandson of Revolutionary War Hero and Midnight Rider Paul Revere; survived the tense days following the capture of the Enchantress only to be mortally wounded on July 2, 1863, at the battle of Gettysburg.

{Source: Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler, New York: W.W. Norton, 2000}

Monday, August 6, 2007

Colonel Benjamin Christ & His Brigade at Antietam

I'm taking a step away from the 48th Pennsylvania this week to focus on the life of Colonel Benjamin Christ, with special focus on the role of his brigade at the battle of Antietam. Several weeks ago, I conducted an in-depth hike of the Final Union Attack at Antietam and spent most of this hike following in the footsteps of Christ's men as they made their way from the Burnside Bridge to the spires of Sharpsburg. I decided to focus on Christ during this hike for several reasons, but primarily because Christ is an overlooked and somewhat forgotten officer, and because the attack of his brigade has been overshadowed by the ill-fated attack of General Isaac Rodman's fellow 9th Corps troops on that September 17, 1862, afternoon.
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Born on September 12, 1822, Benjamin Christ was a native of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and took up his residence in the town of Minersville. During the antebellum years, Christ served as sheriff of Schuylkill County and was also a hotel proprietor and coal merchant. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Christ enlisted as a private in the 5th Pennsylvania Infantry but due to his standing in the community, he was soon elected as the regiment's lieutenant-colonel. After the 5th Pennsylvania's term of service expired in July 1861, Christ helped raise and organize the 50th Pennsylvania, a "three-year or the course of the war" regiment and was mustered into service as this regiment's colonel. Christ commanded the 50th PA during the expedition that led to the capture of Port Royal, and in the winter of 1861 nearly lost his life in a shipwreck off the South Carolina coast. When the 50th was transferred to Virginia in the summer of 1862, Christ was elevated to brigade command in the Union 9th Corps. He would command this brigade for most of his remaining time in the army but despite this, he never advanced beyond the rank of colonel. He was, however, brevetted a brigadier general of volunteers late in 1864, following his resignation, for distinguished and meritorious service at the battles of Ny River and Petersburg.

Christ's Brigade--consisting of the 50th Pennsylvania, 28th Massachusetts, 79th New York, and 17th Michigan--saw considerable action and suffered significant casualties at the battles of 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. On the morning of September 17, Christ and his men were held in reserve east of Antietam Creek, and remained in this position until 2:00 p.m. when they, along with the rest of General Orlando Willcox’s 9th Corps Division, were ordered across the Lower, or Rohrbach Bridge. Taking up position on the right of the 9th Corps line, Christ’s men advanced northward toward the town of Sharpsburg and toward the thinly held Confederate right flank. Steadily the brigade pushed forward but their advance was ultimately checked by Confederate artillery which dominated the heights of Cemetery Hill. Without support to his immediate left, Christ ordered his men to hold their ground amidst a barrage of shell, grape, and canister fire. Late in the afternoon, and with Colonel Thomas Welsh’s Brigade now moving up to his left, Christ ordered his men forward once more, forcing the retreat of several Confederate guns. However, any success to Christ’s front was thwarted by the arrival of A.P. Hill’s Light Division from Harper’s Ferry, and their attack on the 9th Corps’s exposed left flank. Withdrawn to a position near the bridge, Christ’s men remained here until the following morning, when they were relieved by General George Morell’s 5th Corps Division. Casualties in Christ’s Brigade at the Battle of Antietam numbered 245 men killed, wounded, and missing, with the heaviest loss occurring in the ranks of the 17th Michigan.

Benjamin Christ continued to lead his brigade for another two years following the battle of Antietam. Throughout this time, he saw action at Vicksburg, Knoxville, and at the bloody battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg during the 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia. In all of these engagements, Christ commanded a brigade of troops. He received three wounds during the war, most severely at Petersburg on June 17, 1864. Perhaps it was because of this wound, or because of his lack of promotion, or a combination of the two, that Christ tendered his resignation from the service on September 30, 1864. He died less than five years later, on March 27, 1869, at the age of 46. His remains were buried in Minersville's Methodist Cemetery.

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On September 17, 1904, on the 42nd Anniversary of the battle of Antietam, surviving veterans of the 50th Pennsylvania gathered on the battlefield to attend the dedication and witness the unveiling of their regimental monument. Standing atop is a bronze statue of Colonel Christ. . .

The 50th PA Monument at Antietam featuring the bronze statue of Benjamin Christ

Benjamin Christ was a native of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, as were the soldiers who comprised the ranks of Companies A & C of the 50th PA Infantry. The 48th Pennsylvania was recruited solely out of Schuylkill County by James Nagle. It is very interesting (at least to me, being a native of Schuylkill County) that the only two monuments on the entire Antietam Battlefield that feature bronze statues of higher ranking Union officers are dedicated to the 48th and 50th PA Regiments. Those statues are, of course, Benjamin Christ and James Nagle. The monuments to these regiments are separated by only a few hundred yards on the southern part of the battlefield. Christ and Nagle, both one-time sheriffs of Schuylkill County, lived only a few miles away from one another, and today lie buried less than five miles apart.

The 48th PA Monument at Antietam featuring the bronze statue of James Nagle
(Monument photographs from Steve Recker's Virtual Antietam Website: