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.

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