Friday, March 14, 2008

Letters Home: The 48th PA at Hatteras: Part 1

Stu Richards, a good buddy of mine from Orwigsburg and the owner of, recently sent me photocopies of 48th PA related material that appeared in the Miner's Journal, Schuylkill County's leading newpaper during the Civil War. The articles are a treasure trove of information, especially regarding the 48th's assignment to the sandy beaches of North Carolina, where they stayed from November 1861 until July 1862. I am posting three letters sent home from soldiers in the regiment upon the 48th's arrival at Hatteras. The first, penned by Oliver C. Bosbyshell, presents a narrative of the regiment's trip from Fortress Monroe to North Carolina, and, when compared to the other two, paints a rather rosy portrait of life on Hatteras. The others are more honest about their situation. . .
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[Captain Oliver C. Bosbyshell, center, with Lieutenants C.C. Pollock and H.C. Jackson]

Fort Clark, Near Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
18th November 1861
Messers. Editors:--Well, here we are—the 48th, I mean—at the famous Ft. Clark, made famous by the gallant manner in which it was captured from the secessionists. It is a rude structure, but very substantial, as it would take a ball a long time to pierce the breastworks, they being made of matted sod, and some twelve feet thick. In the centre is a large mound, made of some material, which is used for a magazine. But I am anticipating—I [?] we were here; now it’s a question of how we got here, and I will proceed therefore to state how.—Last Sunday, the 10th inst., Col. Nagle received orders from headquarters to march his command to Fort Hatteras, N.C. On Monday afternoon, about five o’clock, we broke camp near Fortress Monroe, and succeeded in getting ourselves stowed snugly away on the steamer “S.R. Spaulding,” and at seven o’clock we bade adieu to Fortress Monroe, and steamed pleasantly out of the Chesapeake Bay into the broad Atlantic. We had a most delightful trip down the ocean, which was remarkably smooth—not a case of sea sickness occurred on board.

[The Steamer S.R. Spaulding]

—At 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, we dropped anchor off Ft. Hatteras, and successed, after considerable difficulty, in getting a plank attached to the bulk of an old wreck.—Down this plank, which had an elevation of at least 45 degrees, our Regiment landed—one man at a time. Having, at last, reached shore, we formed on the beach and took up our line of march for Fort Clark, about three quarters of a mile further up the beach. When we accomplished over half the distance, the Regiment halted to make preparations to wade a narrow inlet, separating us from Fort H. In ten minutes we were moving again, and such a looking set of men—some without breeches in their drawers—others sans drawers, breeches, or anything else. It was a laughable scene and the men enjoyed it hugely. We halted on the other side to rearrange our disordered clothing, after which we marched on, and stacked arms on the beach between the Fort and the ocean. We were obliged to make several trips back to the boat, before we got all our things here. Immediately after we arrived, three companies of the New York 92nd Regiment vacated this post, and joined their regiment, encamped at Camp “Wool” two miles further up. Col. Nagle is now the commander of Fort Clark, his being a separate command from that of Fort Hatteras. This military department is under Brigadier General Williams, U.S.A.

[Union troops landing at Hatteras, N.C.]

The two Forts are built of the same material. Fort Clark mounts some four 32-pounders and one Dahlgren gun; these have been placed in charge of Co. B, Capt. Jas. Wren, and every evening at sunset a gun is fired.—Outside of the Fort, in different places, earthworks have been thrown up, behind which the companies are drilled every morning, after reveille, at simulating a defence—practiced in firing, standing and kneeling, from behind these fortifications. The field pieces, of which there are a number here, Co. H., Capt. Jos. Gilmour, has been detailed to take charge of. They are placed behind breastworks, and, in case of an attack, would prove most effective. This morning a grand review of the New York 92nd came off on the beach. The New York 92nd occupied the right of the line, and the 48th the left. We were reviewed by Brigadier General Williams and staff, and it was almost impossible not to notice with what pleasure the General surveyed the brilliant display before him. Indeed, who could help being pleased; each company filing by looking their best and doing their best, and you may be assured, the 48th made a most creditable appearance.

[Fort Hatteras, N.C.]

Last Thursday a rebel steamer made its appearance away off in Pamlico Sound, and approached this way with an evident intention of making observations, but one of the Federal steamers stationed here gave chase to it, exchanging several shots, and it is said three took effect—anyhow, the rebel vessel made tracks and had not been seen since. Yesterday our first mail on this lonely isle arrived, brining many letters to many anxious recipients. But few Journals were received—those that did reach here were eagerly sought after, and here and there could be seen large crowds of men gathered around some one who was fortunate enough to procure one, and who was obliged to read the news aloud.

[New York Soldiers at Camp Wool]

We also had a very interesting religious service yesterday afternoon. Our Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Holman, delivered a very good and appropriate sermon, and the men listened to it with marked attention. The general health of the men is good—very little sickness, and none of a serious nature prevails. Of course, we have some hardships to encounter, and have no delicacies in the shape of food, being obliged to go it on army fare alone. Some are quartered in wooden shanties, while the greater majority prefer the tents, which are floored nicely.
We are getting along very well, considering the nature of our abiding place, of which a better description can not be given than by citing an extract from one of the men’s letters home, as follows: “A great deal of sand and a great deal of water, and if I have anything more to add, it is a little more sand and a little more water.”
Very Respectfully,

Letters Home: The 48th PA at Hatteras: Part 2

Lieutenant George H. Gressang, Company I, 48th Pennsylvania, penned this letter to his father in Pottsville upon the regiment's arrival on Hatteras Island, N.C. It was reprinted in the Miners' Journal.

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Hatteras Inlet, N.C., 15th November 1861
Dear Father:--As you no doubt will be very anxious to hear from me and to have a slight description of this place, I will endeavor to give you an outline of it. We left Fortress Monroe on Monday evening, the 12th, and after a sail of some 13 hours in the fine steamer S.S. Spaulding, we arrived here. We had already heard of the place from the Indiana boys and we found that the assertions they made to us were but too true. If Columbus had first landed here when he discovered America, he would have went back in disgust. The heavy storm they had here last week washed away part of the Fort; but I will first describe the place to you. As we arrived here on board the boat, we were wondering how we were to land, as the vessel could not get near the shore and our only way was to wade over in water up to our waist; but we watched the movements of the Colonel, who had to land first, and the way he proceeded was to go part way in a small boat, and the balance of the way, we saw him mounted on the back of a contraband darkey, amid the shouts of the boys. . . . . After we had orders to land from Gen. Williams, we had a kind of bridge made from the boat to the schooner, and from there we waded to land. We then marched past Fort Hatteras to Fort Clark, where, by the way, we had to wade water again almost up to our neck, and we are now in camp. The boys call it Camp Misery, and well they may, for it is a miserable place. When the tide is up, we have about ¼ of a mile of Island, and when it is down we have about 3 miles. We cannot eat anything without there is sand in it; in fact we have sand in our mouths, sand in our teeth, in our eyes and hair, on our floors, and sand, nothing but sand everywhere else. Water is very bad here. We can’t drink it unless we hold our noses shut, for it smells bad enough to knock one down. I would rather give 25 cents for a glass of water out of the Schuylkill than drink this [?], and it had already given the diarrhea to a great many. Fish and Sea Shells are plenty here, and that is about it. We have to live on crackers, bacon and coffee here, and we can’t go to bed at night with the hope of getting up dry in the morning, as the sea rises very high here. Sometimes it is known to be two feet high all over the shore, and we can’t make the tents stand, for there is always a high wind, and the stakes will not hold in the sand. We are, however, quartered in some small wooden sheds which the rebels had erected for their accommodations, but which have got plenty of holes in from the shells of our fleet the time they captured the place. The way pieces of shell lay about here looks as if they came down like hail. Drilling goes very hard here, as we are always up to our knees in sand, and Gen. Williams is not liked at all, as he is entirely too hard on the men. He has them up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and in bed at 8 o’clock P.M., and then has drills every hour in the day. The guard must stand under arms from 6 A.M. to broad daylight, and the strictest observances must be held here, as the enemy are continually annoying us. They send the steamer Fanny which they captured up here in Pamlico Sound, to watch our movements, but she takes care not to come within gun range. I saw the fleet exchange shots with the enemy yesterday afternoon. Two of our gun boats had up the Chickamimico yesterday morning to scout, and in the afternoon the rebel steamer Cerlew came up, no doubt thinking the place was abandoned, and when about three miles off the Fort they fired a shell at us, but it was quickly responded to by a 32 pounder from the Fort. They exchanged shots several times, but they all fell short. The Rebels are in a bad way, as we have them entirely closed up, and the Inlet is entirely is our possession. But for all this I think 4 good gun boats could hold the place, and that the Government ought not to keep two regiments in such a miserable place. Men who are here and have been for the regular service say that this is the worst spot that exists, and if we stay here two months and they send us to the next worse place it will be a perfect Paradise. So if we once get used to this we will be able to stand any hardships whatever. What you read and hear about Hatteras Inlet, you can put down for true, as they can’t make the place worse than it is. Our health so far is pretty good, but I am afraid it will not last long with such water and living. Gen. Wool says he will not keep us here longer than six weeks or two months, and I hope he will keep his word. We don’t know whether we will go back to Fortress Monroe, or further South. The weather here in the daytime is as hot as it is on the 4th of July in Pottsville, but the nights are rather chilly. People that live here are fishermen, and the men and women are a long, lanky, dirty looking set. They say they are all Union, but they do that to keep from starving. We have not received the Journal for last Saturday, the 9th, yet, and a steamer only enters here once in ten days, so when the news comes it will be old. In fact we get no papers of any kind, and we would be very thankful to our friends if they would send them to us even if they were old, if it would be inconvenient.
Geo. H. Gressang

Letters Home: The 48th PA at Hatteras: Part 3

This letter was written by a soldier in the 48th with the intials G.H.W. on 11/18/1861 to the editors of the Miners' Journal. . . .

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Fort Clark, Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
Wednesday, Nov. 18th 1861
Messers. Editors:--E’re this reaches you, you will no doubt have been informed of our destination. We arrived here safe about half past eight yesterday morning. We landed at Fort Hatteras about a mile and a half from here. They threw a plank from the steamer to a wreck, and then landed us one at a time, and after laying on shore a couple of hours, we took up our march to this place. We were obliged to ford a channel that was washed by the recent freshet here. Some went in clothes and all; others took off their shoes, etc. Well, we have come to the conclusion that we will be satisfied wherever we are sent after this, for this is pronounced by sailors, and by us to be the worst place on the face of the globe. One to see us here would say we were shipwrecked. We could not have been sent to a worse place if the Government had tried. Where we are is nothing but a sand bar.—The fort here is nothing but sand banks. There are 4 guns mounted here. Fort Hatteras is built the same way. They have 9 guns mounted, and there are regulars quartered there. Both Forts and guns and everything else are liable to be washed away at any time by the sea, which has already washed part of both Forts away. The sand is about six inches deep, and in the moonlight night looks like snow. You can form an idea how it is here if you ever had snow to blow in your face off of the houses in winter. The boys say we have got to the jumping off place at last. We have just done breakfast, and everything is literally covered with sand. We trust we are not to remain here long, as I believe a letter came here to the Lieut. Col. of the New York Ninth Regt., which is encamped about three miles from here, stating that they were going to abandon this place. If such is the case, I suppose we will take another sea trip. We are not afraid of anybody troubling us here, for we see nothing but water all around us. The Band is quartered in a one story shanty. We made bunks and the whole party sleep together. It is about 50 feet long, and was built by the secessionists. The bunks that were in the shanties were about 4 feet from the floor, for when there is a heavy gale blowing, it washes all over the whole place. We expect to wake up some morning and find ourselves floating around in our bunks.
We had a delightful trip down here. The sea was rather calm. We did not see much, as it was nearly dark when we left Fort Monroe; but we all enjoyed the trip. The steamer we came in was the S.R. Spaulding. The men were packed in pretty close between decks, but they seemed to enjoy it. We were quartered on deck. Just before leaving Camp Hamilton one of Capt. Pleasants’ men died. His was name was Richards, and I believe he lived in Hamburg.
[Daniel Reighard, Co. C, died 11/11/1861, 25 yrs. old, died at Fortress Monroe].
We will get no regular mail here, and of course, will miss our newspapers, but we hope you will endeavor to keep us posted up. The men are now busy carrying the boxes and other things from the vessel. She returns this afternoon, and this letter goes with her. There are some quantities of shells here, and quite handsome ones. Some of the men have gathered quite a number already. There is nothing however, but shells and sand here. One important thing we are deprived of here, and that is good water. The water is very offensive. Some of the boys have headed their letters Camp Misery, Sandy Bottom, etc., as yet we have not received our pay. All however, seem in as good spirits as can be expected. Hoping to have something more pleasing in my next,
I remain yours, respectively,

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mystery. . .

Company B, 48th Pennsylvania, entered service on September 19, 1861, with James Wren mustered in as the company's captain. Most of the soldiers--including Wren--hailed from Pottsville, but there were also a number of volunteers from neighboring St. Clair. With 111 men, Company B was the largest company in the regiment.
James Wren, Captain, Company B
David W. Molsen and John W. Williams were among those mustered in. Like all the soldiers, these two men passed a physical examination before taking the oath. There is nothing extraordinary about the information contained in the regiment's original muster records concerning these two soldiers. Both were privates. Molsen, at age 38 was a laborer. He stood 5'8" in height, had a dark complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair. Williams was ten years younger. He, too, was a laborer, listed as 5'4", with a dark complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes. Both served in the regiment for 8 months, until May 1862, when they were both discharged from service. The regimental records for both men state simply: "Discharged at New Bern, North Carolina, 5/12/1862." No reason is given, at least not in the regimental history. However, Captain James Wren, who kept a detailed diary of his time in service, explained why. In his entry for May 12, while stationed at Fort Totten, North Carolina, Wren wrote simply: "I had two of our men discharged. [John W.] Williams & [David W.] Molsen, being Mulattoes and sent them north by steamer."
That's it. Nothing further can be found in any other records. From Wren's brief diary entry, it seems as if he was not the one responsible for their discharge, that he was, perhaps, simply following orders. The real mystery is how these two soldiers could have passed the physical examination and served for eight months before being discharged on the basis of their skin color. Of course, at this point in the war, blacks, and mulattoes, were forbidden from service. But for eight months at least, the 48th Pennsylvania was an integrated regiment. I'll keep searching for more information , and if I stumble across anything, I will be sure to post.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Regiment's Raw Data. . .

Three Unidentified 48th PA Soldiers
So just who were the soldiers that served in the 48th Pennsylvania?
I was organizing my files this afternoon and came across a number of old notebooks I used while compiling statistics for my master's thesis, which examined the influence of a Union soldiers' socio-economic background during the Civil War. Dusting off the covers, I started to page through and thought I would share some of the raw data.
Unidentified Lieutenant, 48th Pennsylvania

I analyzed the regiment's muster rolls and searched--page by page--through the 1860 Census Records, trying to link a soldier's muster roll information with their census records. Of the 1,861 soldiers who served for a time in the 48th, I was able to link, with absolute certainty, 657 soldiers. I was a little disappointed the number was so low, but still I believe it to be a good, representative sample.
Here are some of the things I discovered. . .

*The average age of the soldier in the 48th Pennsylvania was 24.95 years. The regiment's officers, when the 48th was first mustered, averaged 29.2 years of age.

Corporal John Humble, Co. G, 48th PA

*27.5% of the 48th's soldiers were listed as Heads of Households in the 1860 Census Records; 16.4% were boarders, residing with non-relatives, while the majority, 56.1%, lived with their parents or other relatives of the same surname.

*27.1% of the regiment was married in 1860, which is nearly identical to the percentage of heads of households; 72.9%, as far as I was able to determine, was single, or not married. 89% of the married men were also fathers. Of the 48th's deserters, 35% were married.

Captain Charles W. Schnerr, 48th Pennsylvania

*70.9% of the regiment was born in the United States, while the remaining 29.1% were foreign-born. Of those foreign-born, 36.1% were born in Ireland; 31.4% were born in England and Wales; 17.9% were born in Germany; while 7.9% were born in Scotland. Here's an interesting stat: of those soldiers who served as substitutes, 59.4% were immigrants, while 50% of those men who were drafted/conscripted into the regiment were of foreign-birth.

*69.5% of the regiment's soldiers hailed from the coal mining towns and townships of Schuylkill County; the remaining 30.5% resided in the county's agricultural areas. It is interesting to note that of those soldiers who died of disease throughout the war, 40% hailed from these more rural, farming districts.

*The average total wealth of the soldiers, which includes both real estate and personal property valuations, was $916.95. The officers' average wealth was substantially higher, at $3,166.85. On the other hand, the average total wealth of those soldiers of the regiment who deserted was $408.77.

*Going hand-in-hand with wealth was a soldier's pre-war occupation. In the 48th, 32.1% of the soldiers were unskilled laborers (including coal miners, coal laborers, and day laborers). 22.5% of the regiment were skilled laborers (carpenters, tinsmiths, wheelwrights, printers, tanners, cabinetmakers, shoemakers, etc). Farmers constituted 15.8% of the regiment, while 13.5% were students. 10.8% of the regiment held "Professional," or white-collar positions (i.e. engineers, attorneys, teachers, clerks, etc).

Lieutenant Thomas Bohannon/Captain William Winlack/Lieutenant Joseph Fisher

Co. E, 48th Pennsylvania

Some interesting numbers that help us further discover a little bit more about the Civil War soldier. . .