Monday, December 31, 2007

Colonel Sigfried's New Years' Letter: 1863

Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried
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The son of a wheelwright, Joshua K. Sigfried was born in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, on Independence Day, 1832. He went to school in Pottsville, then found work as a coal shipper in Port Carbon. As a member of Port Carbon's Marion Rifles, Sigfried entered Civil War service as a captain in the 6th Pennsylvania, a three-month regiment recruited largely out of Schuylkill County. Commanding the 6th was Colonel James Nagle, and upon the expiration of the regiment's term of service, Nagle asked Sigfried to help him raise and recruit a three-years-or-the-war regiment, which ultimately became the 48th Pennsylvania. Sigfried was mustered into service as the Major of the 48th, but was quickly promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel following the November 1861 resignation of David A. Smith. And when Nagle was elevated to brigade command, Sigfried rose to regimental command, leading the 48th from April 1862 until April 1864, when he resigned to accept a commission as a brigade commander in Edward Ferrero's 4th Division, 9th Corps, U.S.C.T.

On New Years' Day, 1863, from the headquarters of the 48th Pennsylvania, Lt.Col. Sigfried wrote a lengthy letter to the Miners' Journal in Pottsville, which essentially recapped the regiment's first full year in service. This letter is quite lengthy, but follows in its entirety:

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Headquarters 48th Regiment P.V.

Near Fredericksburg, Va., Jan. 1, 1863

Editors Miners' Journal: This being the first day of the new year, I concluded to write a communication to the Journal. . . .The old year is numbered with the past. To us as a nation, it has been indeed an eventful one. Thousands of our brave sons and comrades in arms have yielded up their lives as willing sacrifices that the nation might be preserved.

We enter today upon the new year 1863. What shall be its history? May we hope ere its close to see peace restored to our now distracted country--a peace founded in justice, righteousness and universal liberty. May all the benign influences of good government enfold our nationality, and all the horrors cease. This day one year ago we were stationed on the isle of Hatteras, N.C. We then numbered in this regiment about eight hundred and fifty officers and soldiers. Today not half remain fit for duty. We were engaged in the following memorable battles, viz: Bull Run No. 2, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. It is due to both officers and men who remain, as well as to the memory of those who have fallen in battle and by disease, that I should state, I have been with the regiment upon all marched as well as in the different battles. In August last we arrived here from Newport News, remained a short time, then left for Bealton Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. We left here in the evening at dusk, marched all that night until about three o'clock a.m. At daylight we started again, marched all the day until dark, when we encamped for the night. Next morning we took up the march again, arrived at the station at eleven o'clock a.m., remained there several hours, when we took the cars for Culpeper. On arriving there, we were ordered to march south of the town (about two miles), where we encamped for that night and the next day. Thence we marched to Cedar Mountain, near the Rapidan River, where we remained for another day, but on the following day we received orders to move that evening at eleven o'clock. We took up the march at the hour named, marched all that night and next day until five o'clock in the afternoon without halting over an hour at any one time. We crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly's Ford where we remained two days, after we which we left for Rappahannock Station again--thence along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Manassas Junction, thence to Bull Run, and after the battle, on the night of 30th August, we left for Centreville, then to Chantilly, where we had the second engagement. Left there about two o'clock at night for Alexandria, where we encamped and remained for some four days when we went a short distance beyond Washington, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, a distance of some sixteen miles, where we again encamped and remained for several days. We started from here toward Frederick City, Md., South Mountain. Here the regiment was under fire from about ten o'clock a.m. until about the same hour in the evening. At nine o'clock the next morning we left for Antietam, where we arrived about the same hour that evening. Next day, September 16th, we remained in camp until two o'clock p.m., the shells of the enemy constantly passing over our heads, so you may judge the men did not rest much. Then we marched further to the left. Upon the 17th came the battle.

I have given you a random sketch of the marches, battles, etc, for a period of about six weeks. During the whole of this time we were on the march with the exception of about eight days, plodding through rain as well as sunshine, roads often very muddy, and it so happened that when the roads were in their worst conditions, we were often not only compelled to march by day, but all night. The greater portion of the time (we being constantly on the advance) we were short of rations, very seldom any meat, and if we did get it, had but scant time to cook it. We were often out of bread for nearly a whole day and sometimes longer. In justice to Lt. Keys, acting brigade commissary of subsistence, I must say, that he made every effort possible to have the men fully supplied; but it was impossible for him to succeed in doing so, owing to the long and rapid marches, and our advanced position, the supply train being in the rear. Water very often being very scarce. Repeatedly did I see men drink water from mud-puddles and stagnant pools by the side of the road. At the battle of Bull Run they lost their blankets and all their clothing except what they had on. Their shoes being worn out, some the men walked literally barefooted from Bull Run to Washington.

Yet with all the severe marching, lying out without tents, short rations, want of clothing and bad roads, I am proud to say we had scarcely any stragglers. I have repeatedly seen both officers and soldiers really staggering from sheer exhaustion, yet they would keep up their companies, determined not to stay behind as long as it was possible for them to keep up. They were cheerful and ever ready to do their duties, and in the several engagements I must say, that they behaved most gallantly. At South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg, while advancing in line of battle from a quarter to a half mile under the most terrific fire of the enemy, I did not observe a single one that did not march steadily to the front, obey every command, fire deliberately when engaged, and when the ammunition was exhausted (which was in each case sixty rounds per man) and I was relieved, they retired in perfect order under the most severe fire from the enemy, when I could scarcely have expected them not to break. A large number who were not severely wounded, instead of going to and remaining in the hospitals, had their wounds dressed and at once entered the ranks again by the side of their comrades--I must say (and I do it not to flatter) I am proud that I have command of such soldiers; men who will not flinch in the hour of trial and danger.

H. Hardell, hospital steward, deserves great praise for his attention to his responsible duties. He is courteous, and always ready to attend to the wants of the suffering, and his long experience as hospital steward has made him very useful, indeed. Many in the regiment are willing to be treated by him when sick, having not only confidence in him as a steward, but as a surgeon. Dr. Morrison, our assistant surgeon, has not been with us for any length of time yet, but I think he will prove himself what I much hope for in the regiment--a good and efficient surgeon.

Quartermaster Sergeant J. Wagner and Commissary Sergeant Charles Schnerr both deserve great credit for their strict attention to their duties.

Quartermaster J. Ellis, having been sick for a long time, resigned, not wishing to occupy the office when he was unable to discharge the duties of the same. I was very loath to have him leave, but could not advise him to stay when I believed that for him to remain in the service would result in permanent disability.

Many thanks are due to Lieut.Col. H. Pleasants, Major James Wren and Lieut. D.D. McGinnis, adjutant, for their assistance upon the march and in camp, and for their noble conduct in the engagement at Fredericksburg. As to my line officers I cannot particularize, for all who have been in the various engagements have behaved bravely and with great credit, proving themselves fit and competent for the positions they occupy.

In conclusion, I would add that I should like to see some plan adopted by which all the old decimated regiments could be filled up. I would not be able, today, to take more than 300 men into an engagement. Other regiments are the same. It would take three of the old regiments now to make one. If they cannot be filled by new recruits, it strikes me that it would be a good plan to consolidate them. It would certainly be a great saving to the Government, and at the same time would prove more efficient.

I must not close without naming the fact that we have not been paid since the 30th of June, a period of six months. I am satisfied that many of the families at home are suffering in consequence. This should not be. It should be enough, when men are willing to sacrifice their business, leave their homes, families and friends, and, if need be, sacrifice their lives for their country's good, without having their families suffer by delay in payment.

To the friends of those who have died, or fallen in battle, I would say, you have my dearest condolence, and to those who have been wounded, or are sick, you have my sympathies in this, the hour of your suffering.

Entering upon the new year, as we do today, I wish you, and the many readers of the Journal, all a hearty and happy New Year.

I remain yours, with respect,

J.K. Sigfried, Col. commanding Regt.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A look at. . .Brigadier General Thomas Welsh

It is really no big secret that I have an especially strong interest in the 9th Corps. And it's not just because the 48th Pennsylvania served in the corps from start to finish. The 9th Corps was seemingly everywhere throughout the war. . .from the shores of the Carolinas, to Virginia, to Maryland, to Kentucky, to Tennessee, Mississippi, and back to Virginia. Everywhere that is, except Gettysburg. It is remembered by many as the "wandering corps," and its' soldiers took pride in the fact that the dead of the 9th Corps lay buried in no less than seven states. I also enjoy studying the 9th Corps because I am a fan of the underdog. It seems as if the 9th Corps gets little respect in popular memory, its image tarnished because of its association with Ambrose Burnside. . .and because the corps did not fight at Gettysburg, it seems as if it is not as highly regarded as, say, the 2nd Corps, the "glory" boys of the Army of the Potomac who could do no wrong.

Oh, and the 9th Corps had the coolest of all corps badges:

9th Corps Badge


I also enjoy studying the lives of the Civil War's lesser-known figures, so today I thought I would combine the two and upload a brief biographical sketch of Brigadier General Thomas Welsh, an overlooked soldier in an overlooked/underappreciated corps. . .Special emphasis is placed on Welsh's role at Antietam.

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Brigadier General Thomas Welsh


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A leading citizen of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Thomas Welsh twice left civilian life behind to tender his services to the United States in its times of need, first in its war with Mexico, and then in its war with itself. Personally brave, Welsh proved himself to be a hard fighter and competent officer in both of these wars, who survived a grievous wound at the 1847 battle of Buena Vista only to succumb to malaria during the Civil War. Born and raised in Columbia, Welsh found work as a canal boat operator and then entered the lumber business before volunteering as a private in the 2nd Kentucky Infantry upon the outbreak of war with Mexico. Quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant, Welsh survived his wound at Buena Vista and was later commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 11th United States Infantry. After being mustered out of the service in August 1848, Welsh returned to Columbia where he entered upon a lucrative career as a merchant. In the years before the Civil War, he also served his community as a justice of the peace.
When civil war erupted with the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Welsh quickly organized a company of three-month volunteers. Entering the service as captain of this company, which was attached to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Welsh was made lieutenant-colonel of the regiment, no doubt owing to his service in the war with Mexico and his standing in the community. After the expiration of his three-month term of service, during which time he had served under General Robert Patterson in that officer’s ill-fated campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, Welsh helped raise the 45th Pennsylvania, a three-year regiment. Reentering service as colonel of this regiment in October 1861, Welsh and his men were initially attached to Horatio Wright’s division and assigned to duty along the South Carolina coast before being transferred to Virginia in the summer of 1862. On August 3, Colonel Welsh was made commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 9th Corps’s First Division, commanded during the Maryland Campaign by Orlando Willcox.
During the late morning hours of September 17, 1862, while Sam Sturgis’s brigades battled their way across the Lower Bridge, Welsh and his men were held in reserve. After the bridge was finally carried, Welsh’s Brigade—consisting of the 45th & 100th Pennsylvania, the 8th Michigan, and the 46th New York—crossed the Antietam with Willcox’s other brigade under the command of Benjamin Christ. Welsh’s Brigade formed into line on the left of Christ’s Brigade, with its own left loosely aligned with the right flank of Harrison Fairchild’s Brigade of Rodman’s Division. Some two hours passed before the Ninth Corps line, stretching one mile in length, was finally ready to advance. Welsh’s men pushed slowly but steadily forward, over undulating ground and in the face of Confederate sharpshooters positioned behind haystacks and the outbuildings on the Otto Farm. Heavy cannon fire, raking Welsh’s men from the heights to their front and left, also hindered their advance. Citing lack of support of both his flanks, Welsh ordered his men to halt. Confederate troops to Welsh’s front were by this time streaming through the streets of Sharpsburg. For a few moments it seemed as if one more united and determined push by Willcox’s Division might break the tenuous Confederate line and block Lee’s only line of retreat. A.P. Hill’s attack against Rodman’s exposed left flank, however, put an end to any possibility of such an attack. With the collapse of Ninth Corps’s left, Welsh and his men were ordered to fall back to a position near the bridge, and here they stayed until relieved the following morning by George Morell’s Fifth Corps troops. For their efforts, Welsh’s Brigade lost 94 men killed, wounded, or missing.
Two and a half months after the battle of Antietam, on November 29, 1862, Welsh was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. With the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac before the Fredericksburg Campaign, however, Welsh found himself back in command of the 45th Pennsylvania, his rank notwithstanding. Following the Union debacle at Fredericksburg, Welsh was transferred west with General Burnside and was again placed in brigade command. Just a few weeks later, Welsh assumed command of the Ninth Corps’s First Division, which he led during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sadly, Welsh did not have long to live after the surrender of that city. On August 6, 1863, he fell seriously ill with chills and a high fever. Taken by steamer to Cairo, Illinois, Welsh remained on board until a suitable railroad car could be found to transfer him to Cincinnati. Finally arriving there some eight days later, Welsh was taken to a private residence where he died the same day. The thirty-nine-year-old citizen-soldier was the victim of malarial fever. Disease, the number one killer of Civil War soldiers, knew no rank. Welsh’s remains were transported back to his hometown of Columbia, Pennsylvania, for burial in the Mount Bethel Cemetery.

Monday, December 3, 2007

"The Last Sad Honors:" The Funeral of General James Nagle

Brigadier General James Nagle

James Nagle was a remarkable man. He organized a milita company at the age of 18, fought in the Mexican-American War as a captain of infantry, and, during the Civil War, raised, organized, and commanded no less than four regiments of Pennsylvania volunteers. A brigadier general, he also led a brigade at the battles of 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Had it not been for the heart disease that forced his resignation from the army in May 1863, he no doubt would have risen to division command, and, perhaps to major general.

He never attended West Point, or received any type of formal military training, but in camp and on the battlefield, he was, nontheless, a more than competent officer.

But the military was not his whole story. He was also a faithful husband and the devoted father of seven. When not in the army, he worked for his housepainting and wallpaper-hanging business, and served a term as sheriff of Schuylkill County. He was also on the Pottsville School Board, and was a member and then president of the borough council.

Despite all of this, Nagle remains a forgotten figure. For all the tens of thousands of books published on the American Civil War, it seems strange that there are those who still dwell in the vast halls of historical obscurity. And James Nagle, regrettably, is one of them.

During his short life, he was able to accomplish much, and in Schuylkill County he was an esteemed and respected figure. Testament to the high regard in which he was held was his funeral, held on Saturday, August 25, 1866. He died the previous Wednesday, August 22, at 4:00 a.m., in his Pottsville home, surrounded by his family. He was only 44 years old when he died.

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The Miners' Journal, Schuylkill County's leading newspaper, described at length the funeral of Brigadier General James Nagle. It is reprinted below:

General James Nagle.-Sincere sorrow pervaded this community on Wednesday morning last, when the fact of Gen. Nagle’s death became known. The sad event was not unexpected, for he had suffered for years from disease of the heart and liver, and during the past few weeks it was evident to his friends that he was succumbing to the attacks of adversaries too powerful for medicine to combat successfully. He died on Wednesday morning at 4 o’clock at his residence in this Borough. A brave soldier of two wars; a good citizen; an estimable man, has passed away. While the memory of his worth will remain green in the memories of this community in which so many years of his useful life were spent, his name will be inscribed with honor on the pages of his country’s history.

The Funeral of Gen. James Nagle. The remains of Gen. Nagle were interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Saturday afternoon last with military honors.
During the morning the Ringgold Band of Reading, which had volunteered to play on the occasion, the Ashland Veterans, Capt. McLaughlin, and the Cumbola Nagle Guards reached the borough to attend the funeral. At noon Capt. Binder of Philadelphia, a companion-in-arms of Gen. Nagle in the Mexican War, having been in the same Regiment, Gen. Albright of Carbon County, and Major Bertolette of Reading, also arrived to assist in playing the last sad honors to the remains of the dead soldier.
The body was viewed by hundreds before the hour of moving from the late residence of the deceased General. The corpse was attired in citizens’ dress, and rested in a coffin furnished by Mr. John Kalbach, Centre Street opposite the Union Hotel. It was made of walnut covered with black cloth, and the ornamentation was faultless, reflecting great credit on the taste of the maker. A silver plate on the lid bore the General’s name and age. The entire workmanship was the subject of much and just commendation. When the coffin was placed in the hearse it was covered with a silk national flag with a black rosette in each corner. On the top rested the sword which was presented to Gen. Nagle by the citizens of Schuylkill County, after his return from Mexico.
About 3 o’clock the cortege moved from the house in the following order, left in front:

Hydranlian Fire Company
American Hose Company
Humane Hose Company
Good Intent Fire Engine Company
Cumbola Nagle Guards
Washington Artillery Company
Ashland Veterans
Grant Zouaves, Pottsville
Ringgold Band, Reading
Soldiers Central League, Pottsville
Detachment of Soldiers in Mexican War
Who were in Gen. Nagle’s Company, bear-
Ing the old Company flag.
Officiating Clergy
Pall Bearers—Gen. Wm. W. Duffield, Gen. Geo. C.
Wynkoop, gen. H. Pleasants, Gen. Albright,
Gen. J.A. Hennessy, Col. J.M. Wetherill
Horse and Groom
Mounted Officers in Uniform
Gen. J.K. Sigfried and Staff

The cortege which contained about six hundred persons, moved over the following route: From house to Market Street; down market to Centre; down Centre to Mahantango; up Mahantango to Clay; down Clay to Howard Avenue; down Howard Avenue to the Cemetery.
All places of business were closed during the passage of the funeral train, and many houses along the route were clothed in mourning while flags were suspended at half mast and craped. The streets were filled with silent and mournful spectators. Minute guns were fired from Lawton’s Hill until the cortege reached the Cemetery.
The religious services at the grave were conducted by Rev. Mr. McCool, rev. Mr. Cook and Rev. Mr. Billheimer. Mr. McCool delivered an impressive discourse, in which he dwelt at length upon the life, character, and services of Gen. Nagle. It was listened to attentively by the large concourse of persons present, which must have numbered between two and three thousand.
The last military honors were paid by the Grant Zouaves who fired three vollies over the grave.
The military then returned to Centre Street, where the line was dismissed.
It was one of the largest and most imposing funerals ever seen here, the entire community evincing sincere sorrow at the loss of an estimable citizen, a brave soldier, a patriot, whose career will ever be referred to with pride by our citizens, and whose memory will be cherished while our hills endure.