Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Holidays

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Perhaps it is a little early, but I've decided to take my annual Holiday Bloggers' Break nonetheless. 'Tis the season for wrapping presents, sending out Christmas cards, decorating, spending time with friends and family, and looking back at yet another year gone by. It has been a good year, generally speaking, with many ups and some downs.
2008 marked my third year at Antietam. Everyday I donned the Gray and Green, I could not help but be thankful for the great privilege it is to be a park ranger and to appreciate just how lucky I am to have realized a lifelong dream. The experience has been incredible, made even more so by my fellow rangers, who truly are some of the greatest people I have ever known.
I've kept myself busy this year writing. My introductory study of the Maryland Campaign and Battle of Antietam is finished and will hopefully hit the shelves of the Antietam Museum Store by the early Spring. I was able to complete yet another manuscript, one that I have worked on since 2005. It is currently under review, and I am hoping that 2009 will witness the publication of this work as well. . .stay tuned. My article on the forgotten life of Nicholas Biddle was published in America's Civil War this past year, and has also been picked up by Pennsylvania Heritage for publication in an upcoming issue. I have some projects slated for '09, and am hoping for a productive year. And, of course, I had a great time churning out posts on this blog. Thank you to all my readers for sticking with me and for all the comments and emails that have been (for the most part) very flattering. I truly do enjoy keeping this site updated, and am looking forward to another year, which will be my third year blogging.
This year has also witnessed the launching of my effort to restore the 48th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam by raising money to replace the missing sword from the statue of Brigadier General James Nagle. I could not be happier with the result thus far. As of today, just over $4,200.00 has been raised. Thanks to everyone who donated for your generosity. There is still a good ways to go, but I am confident we will reach our goal next year, hopefully early on.
With 2008 soon to become a memory, I look forward to 2009. Let me extend to you my warmest Holiday greetings. I wish for you good health and happiness, and everything you wish for yourself. "See" you next year. . .
Happy Holidays!

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig L. Symonds

Just as Abraham Lincoln admitted to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, I, too, "know but little about ships." But when asked if I would be willing to review Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig Symonds, I agreed, somewhat hestitantly since, admittedly, I am not too well versed in the historiography of Civil War navies or even naval operations. Nor was I very much familiar with the Union's admirals. Land battles and army commanders have always been my main focus.
I discovered almost from the outset, however, that one need not be a naval scholar to enjoy this book.
In Lincoln And His Admirals, historian and prize-winning author Craig Symonds, Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy, fills a surprising void in Civil War historiography: Lincoln's management, as commander in chief, of United States naval operations and his dealings with his naval commanders. Through a masterful narrative and lively prose, Symonds charts Lincoln's trials and triumphs and steady growth as commander-in-chief--from the days leading up to Sumter to the capture of Fort Fisher and beyond--as he came to oversee the largest fleet of U.S. warships until the outbreak of the First World War while gradually becoming a perceptive and effective military strategist. Symonds presents excellent accounts of how Lincoln responded to both domestic and international crises on the water--including the infamous Trent affair and the capture of the Confederate privateer Florida off the coast of Brazil--and how he formulated his decisions in decreeing naval strategies and operations. But Symonds's greatest contribution with this work is in presenting Lincoln's interractions with and management of his cabinet officials and his naval officers, some of which, notably Charles Wilkes and Samuel DuPont, presented their fair share of headaches for Lincoln and the administration.
With Lincoln And His Admirals, Symonds has given us an excellent, meticulously researched and well-written account of an understudied aspect of both Lincoln's presidency and of the Civil War and I do not hesitate in recommending this work to anyone with even a passing interest in either the Civil War or American naval history.
Click here for more on Lincoln And His Admirals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Raising Monuments, Writing the Regimental History, & Trying To Break Even

I was pleasantly surprised this afternoon when, after sorting through the mail, I found a stuffed manilla envelope sent from my buddy Stu .
Inside were copies of newspaper clippings from the Miners' Journal, most of which related to the 48th Pennsylvania, and all of them are entirely fascinating. (I will be posting on these at a later date).

Also included was a copy of the 1909 "Survivors' Roster of the 48th Reg., Pa. Vet. Vols." I have several of these little publications, each about 4" x 3," but never have I seen the 1909 version. These little Survivors' Rosters number less than 20 pages but each contains what I consider to be priceless information. Published annually, each contained not only the names of those veterans of the 48th yet living, but their addresses as well. (Many of the soldiers moved far, far away from Schuylkill County in the post-war years; a good number of them even listed their residences in San Francisco). In addition, a brief introduction reports the number of veterans who passed away in between publications.
The 1909 Survivors' Roster was the tenth published since the veterans of the 48th formed their "Survivors' Association." The Association was formed in 1899, wrote President Daniel Nagle, "mainly to keep alive the feeling of Comradeship engendered by service with each other on the March, the Camp and the Battlefield, and like ancient Comrades, [to] meet once a year to tell of the brave deeds by our Regiment when we were doing our share in the Great War for the preservation of the Union."

As was noted in the introduction to the 1909 roster, 130 veterans of the 48th died during the ten years since the Survivors' Association was formed. The achievements of the Association were also noted in the booklet's introduction. These achievements were important to the members of the Association, said Nagle, "so that when the next few years will pass and we, too, [will] be with the Grand Army on the other side, we will leave to coming generations a united country with monuments and history to tell of deeds well done in that time that tried men's souls."

The first of these achievements was the placing of the regimental monument at the Antietam Battlefield (1904); the second was the raising of nearly $6,000.00 from "the generosity of the good people of Schuylkill County, the School Children, and a few of the large-hearted Comrades of our Regiment," for a second regimental monument, this one at Petersburg (1907).



48th PA Monument at Petersburg


Finally, at the April 29, 1905 Association meeting, resolutions were passed that authorized Joseph Gould, a veteran of Company F, "to write the History of the 48th Regiment," with "one Comrade from each company to assist him in the work." (Gould's book, published in 1908 and titled The Story of the Forty-Eighth, was the "official" regimental history, but was actually the second to appear. Some 13 years earlier, in 1895, Oliver C. Bosbyshell took it upon himself to write his own "unauthorized" regimental). As was noted in the 1909 Survivors' Roster: "After much labor and at great expense Comrade Gould has given us a very complete History of our Regiment from its muster in until its muster out at the end of the Civil War."
Pleased though the Survivors' Association was at the completion of Gould's book, it apparently was not selling all too well.
Indeed, it seems as though Gould took a loss in the publishing and printing of this work. "It is sincerely hoped," wrote Nagle, "that as many of the Comrades as can afford to do so will purchase at least one copy of this book, as there are still a number unsold and the author has not as yet realized from its sale enough to cover the expense of printing."
Joseph Gould. . .I hope he was able to eventually break even, at least.

I suppose there is a lesson or two to be learned from this. . .100 years ago, with Civil War veterans still alive and very much active in commemorating and remembering their deeds on the fields of battle, regimental histories were a tough sell, even among the veterans of the regiment itself! (There is no record, however, on how well Bosbyshell's book did. . .perhaps many veterans of the 48th found the market already "flooded," if you will, and did not want to splurge on a "reinvention of the wheel").

Monday, December 1, 2008

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain Francis A. Stitzer, Co. K, 48th PA



Francis A. Stitzer, a native of the small town of Cressona in southern Schuylkill County, was twenty years old in the spring of 1861. On April 17, he was painting a minister's home in Pottsville, when word spread through the borough that its two militia companies--the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillery--would be setting off for Harrisburg the following morning. As a member of the Washington Artillery, Stitzer dropped his brush--leaving his job unifinished--traveled back home and early the next morning, boarded the train cars and headed off to the "seat of war."
Arriving in Washington late on April 18, Stitzer was among the first Northern volunteers to reach the capital following President Lincoln's April 15 call-to-arms. The Washington Artillerists were assigned to quarters in the Capitol, and he remembered that he and his comrades "set up barricades. . .using barrels of flour, and behind them we awaited our new rifles." The rifles arrived late that night and the following day, Lincoln himself arrived, along with Secretary of State William Seward, who each shook hands with every one of the 575 or so Pennsylvanians who comprised the First Defenders' companies.
After an uneventful three-months in uniform, Stitzer was mustered out only to reenlist as 1st Sergeant of Company K, 48th Pennsylvania. Mustered into service again on October 21, Stitzer rose through the ranks, eventually reaching the rank of captain, and emerging from the war largely unscathed.
After the war, Stitzer was active in the Pennsylvania National Guard before settling in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1887. He was named the state's first adjutant general four years later and from 1912 through 1916, served two terms as mayor of Laramie. The aging Stitzer then relocated to Florida where he became a newspaper publisher.
In 1938, the ninety-eight-year-old veteran attended the ceremonies commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg and, while in Pennsylvania, made a visit to Pottsville where he was serenaded by the fife and drum band.
Stitzer was the last surviving member of the five First Defender companies and wanted to make it to the century mark. In August 1939, he wrote to William A. Reid, secretary of the 48th Regiment Survivor's Association, and son of former Company G sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Robert A. Reid. "I have entered my one hundreth year," said Stitzer, "but have neither ache nor pain. Friends tell me I must reach the 100th mark and beat Father Time to the century."
But Stitzer did not live to celebrate his 100th birthday; he died on October 16, 1939 at his daughter's home in Denver, Colorado. Following his death, only one other member of the 48th Pennsylvania yet lived. . .Charles Washington Horn, Company I, who died in Bethelehem, PA, in 1941.

Post-War Image of Francis A. Stitzer

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Walk Through York's Prospect Hill Cemetery


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Basket business found me in dowtown York this snowy morning. My wife, Laura, is participating in a Food & Beverage show this weekend and I figured I would help her set up. The arena opened to vendors at noon, but I headed off to York early so I could spend some time tramping around the city's famed Prospect Hill Cemetery. At over 325 acres and more than 90,000 burials, Prospect Hill is an enormous "city of the dead." And being wholly fascinated by cemeteries of all shapes and sizes, I braved the elements--it was frigidly cold with snow flurries--and snapped well over 100 pictures of this truly impressive, yet at times eerie graveyard.
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Upon entering the cemetery through the main gates, one is met by a vast sea of American flags, each one representing a soldier killed in either Iraq. . .
. . .or Afghanistan.
Lining George Street, which runs parallel to Prospect Hill, are several banners paying tribute to those soldiers from York and its environs who have paid their last full measure of devotion while fighting for our nation and defending our freedoms.
Breathtaking.
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Up the hill and just several hundred yards from the main gates is this statue to a Civil War soldier, which was erected in honor and "In Memory of the Defenders of the Union: 1861-1865." Surrounding the soldier statue lie buried scores of fallen Union troops, many of them--in fact, most of them--buried here died while in the York General Hospital from wounds received at Gettysburg.
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There are hundreds of Civil War veterans buried throughout Prospect Hill's 325+ acres, including John Henry Denig, recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Mobile in August 1864. . .
and many more.
But perhaps Prospect Hill's most famous Civil War burial is Major General William Buel Franklin. Franklin, a premier civil engineer whose Civil War service left much to be desired (especially at the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862), died in March 1903. He was one of the longest living, high-ranking Federal officers of the war.
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Prospect Hill contains burials dating to the late 18th Century. . .
. . .and there are buried within the cemetery gates, veterans from all of America's wars.
Including the Revolution. . .
. . .and the War of 1812.
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Prospect Hill is even the final resting place of one of this nation's Founding Fathers: Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
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The statuary and tombstones of Prospect Hill are incredible. . .

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View from atop Prospect Hill, looking over the city of York. . .

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Letters Home: George Gowen Wants Out. . .

While doing a bit of organizing this evening, I came across an interesting letter penned by George W. Gowen in early October 1862, just a few weeks after Antietam. At the time of this letter, Gowen, a civil mining engineer before the war, was serving as a lieutenant in Company C. He would soon be promoted to captain, and near the end of the war was the commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania. On April 2, 1865, one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Gowen was struck in the face by a Confederate shell and killed instantly during the Army of the Potomac's final assaults on Petersburg. Gowen's body was taken to his native Germantown, Pennsylvania, for burial. It is interesting to note that one of George Washington Gowen's brothers was none other than Benjamin Franklin Gowen, the lead prosecuting attorney of the Molly Maguires.
Gowen led a fascinating life, and established a stellar wartime service record and in future posts I will focus more on Gowen's life and career(s). But for now, here is the contents of the early October, post-Antietam letter, in which he does not have too kind words for his fellow soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania.
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Camp Near Anteitam Creek, Md
October 2nd 1862
Dear John!
I have been intending to write to you every day for a week, but ever since we have been in Camp, I have felt so miserably that I could not get up energy enough to do it. The lime stone water of this region does not agree with the troops and there is a great deal of sickness in Camp. The greater portion of the Army is on this side of the Potomac, yet I do not think it will be very long before a general move across the river will be made.
I passed through the late engagements at South Mountain and Antietam Creek safely--at the latter place our Division carried the stone bridge. Genl. Sturgis is our Division sommander now. We lost Jesse Reno at South Mountain--he was a gallant officer. Wherever the fray was thickest there was Reno to be found. He was always with us on the battle field. The soldiers became very much attached to him. When he fell he was just in rear of our Regiment. I am getting along pretty well, and expect to be made a Captain within a short time. Yet I often feel that I could be situated more pleasantly and have regretted a thousand times that I did not get a position in the Regular Army a year ago. You cannot imagine the difference between the two branches of the service--the four months I spent with Co "C" 1st [U.S.] Artillery were by far the pleasantest of the campaign--there are two or three very fine fellows in my Regiment, but when that is said, all is said. A position on a Staff is my ambition, as it is of most young officers. I notice by the papers that General Cadwalader has been made a Major General and is at present a member of the Court Martial about to convene at Washington. He has not yet been given a command--do you think there could be any prospect of my getting a position on his Staff? . . .
With much love to all
I remain your Affectionate Brother
George

Monday, November 3, 2008

The 48th On Election Day 1864

On November 8, 1864, while in the trenches of Petersburg, the veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry cast their votes for President of the United States.
The result, at least as far as the regiment was concerned, was easy to project.
When the vote was tallied, 200 soldiers cast their ballot for the incumbent president, Abraham Lincoln, or 87% of those who voted. George McClellan received 30 votes from the ranks of the 48th PA. That year, Abraham Lincoln received nearly 80% of the total soldiers' vote.
Interetingly, in Schuylkill County, where most of the 48th PA was recruited, Lincoln received 7,166 votes as compared to McClellan's 9,244.
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Tuesday, November 4, is Election Day. . .
VOTE!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Great Fields, Something Does Stay. . .

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The past several days have been overcast with gray skies, biting winds, cold rain and even some snow flurries here in Gettysburg, but the clouds finally lifted overnight. And this morning the sun was shining brightly, welcoming a beautiful Fall day. I was not going to let this morning pass by while cooped up inside, thinking about work and bills and the thousands of other distractions that all too often define our days. So I set out, hoping to recapture a little of the magic that is Gettysburg.

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I spent the morning on the southern portion of the battlefield, around the Wheatfield and Stony Top. Everything was quiet; no school buses, no scout groups, in fact, no one. I had the field all to myself.
As the sun rose over Little Round Top to the east, the Fall colors were illuminated . . .


. . .and the monuments brilliantly shined.

As I wandered about, I couldn't help but think about Joshua Chamberlain's famous passage from a speech he delivered in Gettysburg in October 1888 at the dedication of the Maine monuments. "In great deeds, something abides," said the aging warrior, and "On great fields, something stays."
I couldn't agree more. . . "Forms change and pass; bodies disappear," said Chamberlain, "but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."
When I was younger, when I traveled to Gettysburg with my family, there was this certain, indescribable but undeniable magic about these consecrated grounds; an unspoken aura, if you will, that surrounded me. The spirits Chamberlain referred to seemed more real to me then. The fields were, indeed, deathless. I could see the struggles; ghostly silhouettes of soldiers in blue and gray forming into lines of battle, charging across the open ground. I got lost as I scanned the peaceful landscapes, thinking to myself, this is where the soldiers fought, this is where so many died. I wasn't yet caught up in the detailed, tactical maneuverings of certain units, or in the controversial decisions of certain generals that continue to generate heated arguments. No, I was simply overwhelmed by the thought that it was on these fields and on these hills where history was made. I was there to "ponder and dream."
Yet, as the years passed and I got older, I grew increasingly more cynical; more concerned with the debates and discussions that define modern Civil War historiography. I suppose it was inevitable. You get wrapped up in the controversies and soon history becomes almost scientific. The battlefields' hallowed grounds all-too often simply become chessboards on which you place and move regiments, brigades, divisions, all in keeping with the chronology of the battle. You struggle to memorize orders of battle, to determine with precise accuracy the range of muskets and cannon. Official reports and the arguments posited by historians assume more importance than the fields themselves. The soldiers who fought and died appear less as they were: living, breathing human beings with hopes, dreams, and fears; they become automatons, no longer young men in our mind's eye, but mere statistics.
Throughout it all, the magic of these fields somehow becomes lost.
But every now and then, I am able to recapture a little of that magic that was so prevalent when I was a kid. I can wander the fields without thinking of the timeline, the precise troop locations, the motivations behind enlistments, the controversies. . .
This morning, I was reminded that in great deeds, something does abide, and on great fields, something does, indeed, stay.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shedding Some Light on Thomas Welsh. . .

Brigadier General Thomas Welsh
I had the great privilege today to participate in a symposium commemorating the life and forgotten services of Columbia, Pennsylvania's "favorite son," Brigadier General Thomas Welsh. I have a great interest in those Civil War figures who have never fully received their due, including Welsh. What particular draws me to General Welsh is the similarities between him and Brigadier General James Nagle, who I have championed on this blog for the past two years. Welsh and Nagle were natives of Pennsylvania, both served as volunteers in the Mexican-American War (Nagle as a captain, Welsh as a sergeant and then lieutenant), both became leading members of the respective communities, Nagle of Pottsville and Welsh of Columbia, and both answered the nation's call again in 1861. Nagle organized the 48th Pennsylvania, Welsh, the 45th Pennsylvania. Both units served in the 9th Corps, and both Welsh and Nagle would rise to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. And, sadly, both died way too young. Welsh succumbed to malaria in August 1863 at the age of thirty-nine; Nagle died of heart disease almost exactly three years later, in August 1866, at the age of forty-four. Because of my interest in both Welsh and the 9th Corps, an interest that dates a long ways back, when I was asked earlier this year if I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the chance. I am very glad that I did so.
Mr. Rick Wiggin, a descendant of General Welsh, organized this symposium event, the second annual. In addition to my presentation, the were three others that addressed Welsh's service in the Mexican War (where he fell seriously wounded at Buena Vista, a musket ball shattering his leg), the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge on June 28, 1863, and the reaction of the people of Columbia to the memorable, if sometimes overstated event, including that of Welsh's wife, Annie, and, finally, Welsh's legacy to his community and his country.
The symposium started at 1:00 p.m., but I arrived in Columbia an hour or so ahead of schedule so I figured I'd pay my respects to the general, buried in the Mount Bethel Cemetery.
As I searched the graveyard, I, of course, snapped some pictures of other Civil War burials. One grave that caught my attention was that of Major Edward Kelsey, of the 45th PA, mortally wounded at Cold Harbor. Note the very distinctive 9th Corps badge on the stone:


As I continued walking through the cemetery, I came across another interesting grave, that of George W. Derrick, a 43-year-old private in Company B, 45th, who was killed in action at the Crater in July 1864.


At last, I came upon General Welsh's burial site. Welsh survived bullets in two wars, only to fall victim to malaria during the final days of the Vicksburg campaign in the summer of 1863.

After wandering through the cemetery, I made my way to the Columbia Public Library, which sponsored the symposium. It was a great pleasure to meet Mr. Wiggin, and the other presenters. I spoke of Welsh's role at the battle of Antietam, and argued that not only was the battle one of missed opportunities for the Army of the Potomac, but it was also one of missed opportunities for Thomas Welsh as well. He and his men stood on the precipice of greater laurels during the 9th Corps's afternoon attack against Lee's critical right flank, only to have that opportunity vanish when orders were received to fall back just as Welsh's men were reaching the very streets of Sharpsburg itself and just on the verge of a decided victory. Judging from the feedback I received, the talk went over very well with both my fellow presenters and the audience, which numbered well over fifty people. Seeing the great turnout and appreciating Mr. Wiggin's efforts in helping to shed light on Welsh's forgotten service, I am somewhat tempted to organize a similar symposium-type event commemorating General Nagle. Stay tuned.
In addition to the great pleasure it was to participate, I had the opportunity to view many of Thomas Welsh's personal effects, generously displayed by Mr. Rick Abel, an avid collector of Welsh artifacts and memorabilia.

Welsh's epaulettes. . .note the circular "45's" and the eagles, plus the star on the epaulette, each indicating rank.
Welsh's personal trunk. This trunk was sent home following Welsh's death, containing the general's personal items.
Last, but certainly not least, I had the honor of holding Welsh's Civil War combat sword. . .a sword he very well may have wielded during the heavy action at South Mountain and Antietam.