Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Soldiers of the 48th: Private Daniel Barnett, Co. E

The older I get, the more I realize that most Civil War soldiers were mere boys, ranging in age from 18 to 25. Not that I'm an old-timer myself; indeed, I turned 29 just last month. But still, there is no denying that so many of these soldiers' lives were cut way too short during America's fratricidal war. The story of Private Daniel Barnett, of Company E, illustrates this point far too well.

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Like so many young boys, Daniel Barnett was eager to volunteer when the American Civil War broke out in April 1861. But at the outbreak of hostilities, Barnett was just fourteen years old. For someone like Barnett who was only too eager to enlist, the widespread belief that the war would be a short affair, decided after one strong show of force, may have been just a little frustrating and disconcerting. If this was true, then he would miss out on the great adventure of soldiering and on the honor of having served his country in its time of need.
But the war would certainly not be a short-lived conflict. It would drag on, through many long months and through many savage battles. By 1864, the notions that this war would a glorious affair were wiped clean from most minds. . .but not to Daniel Barnett. In February 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was actively seeking new recruits, and on the eighteenth, young Barnett, now seventeen years of age, finally volunteered. Outfitted with the Union blue and given the accoutrements and weapons of war, Barnett proudly posed for a photographer. He was a soldier now, and he was serving his country.
Barnett, a laborer who stood just 5'4" in height, survived the horrific combat at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and at Cold Harbor. He also made it unscathed through the opening attacks at Petersburg, and survived Pegram's Farm. By the beginning of 1865, Barnett, now eighteen years old, was nonetheless a veteran of at least a half dozen major battles. And for the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, there would be but one more major battle before the war finally came to a close, although no one could have known this when the spring of 1865 dawned.
On April 2, General Ulysses Grant ordered an all-out, frontal assault on the thin Confederate lines surrounding Petersburg. It was, by all accounts, a glorious battle, with the veterans of so many hard-fought battles rushing forward, bayonets glistening, and their proud banners, torn by shot and shell, flying high above their heads. But for all this romanticism, this was still war, with all its terrible and horrific realities. Hundreds died, thousands more received ghastly, disfiguring wounds.
The loss of life in the 48th Pennsylvania was high. The regiment's commander, Colonel George Washington Gowen, was killed instantly when an artillery shell tore away half his head. The regimental flag was splattered by his blood and brains. Included among the killed, too, was Private Daniel Barnett. Sometime during the charge, the eager young soldier was shot through the temple and, in an instant, his life came to an end.
Exactly one week later, hostilities in Virginia ceased when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. There would be celebrations throughout the army, but not as jubilant as those that occurred throughout the cities, town, and townships of the north. However, there would certainly be no great celebration among the members of Daniel Barnett's family. Instead, there would be just mourning. They would have their memories and they would cherish his photograph, where he is standing proud in his uniform of the United States, so full of life and youthful vigor.
While the survivors of the war began to make their way back to their homes and loved ones looking forward to continuing to live their lives in peace, the body of young Daniel Barnett would remain buried deep in the ground, where, after 142 years, it still remains.

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