Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Battlefield Tour

This summer will mark my third at Antietam National Battlefield, although it still seems like just yesterday when I first came on board. With the weather at last realizing that we are, indeed, in the midst of spring, the park's visitation has increased and it is safe to say that we are back in the full "swing of things." This past weekend was an especially busy one at the park. It was, of course, Memorial Day Weekend, and the weather was perfect. There was a full schedule of programs and presentations, including the season's first ranger-led, two and a half hour long, battlefield tours. This is easily my favorite program to give and, as we are fond of saying, it is the best way to see the field and learn about the battle. Last summer, I provided an even sixty of such programs, with the most memorable on September 17, the battle's 145th Anniversary.
When I arrived at work on Saturday, I discovered that I would leading the battlefield tour on Monday, Memorial Day. Because it has been many months since I last presented the battlefield tour, I feared that I would be a little bit rusty. I thus spent the ensuing two days getting reacquainted with the themes, the anecdotal stories, and the necessary preliminaries, i.e. making sure the park's van had plenty of gas. Monday arrived and found the park buzzing with visitors. By 10:00 a.m., the overflow parking lot was already filling up. I knew I would have a large group. Then, around 1:25 p.m., I made the first announcement: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Antietam National Battlefield. This is just a reminder that coming up in a few minutes we will begin our two-hour long, ranger-led tour of the battlefield. To learn more about the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam, please make your way to the Observation Room for this two-hour long battlefield tour." After another such announcement, I grabbed my photographs of Lee, McClellan, and A.P. Hill and headed on upstairs. The observation room was crowded, and although I've delivered hundreds of presentations to groups both large and small over the past three years, I could not help but get a little nervous. But after the customary "Good afternoon" and "I'd like to welcome you once again to the park. . .," I was right back in full tour mode.
There were about 80, maybe 85, visitors on the tour, following behind me in about 30 vehicles, as I made my way to the Cornfield, Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge. Now, over the years I have had my share of inspiring and truly memorable moments. . .last summer's tour on the battle's anniversary for one. But yesterday witnessed another. There was a reflective, even somber mood among the group, as those in attendance realized they were at the Antietam National Battlefield--the scene of America's most sanguinary and bloodiest single-day battle--on Memorial Day. Then, at 3:00 p.m., just as my group settled in the Sunken Road, the time had arrived to observe the nation-wide moment of silence. "Ladies and Gentleman, this being Memorial Day, the National Park Service asks that we join together in a moment of silent remembrance as we reflect upon the service of those men and women of the American armed forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms while serving in the line of duty."
It was a profound moment. . .unlike any I have ever before felt at the battlefield.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

". . .that regiment of coal miners. . ."

Is there any other Civil War regiment--North or South--so closely associated with an occupation than the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry?
Whenever the 48th is brought up in discussion or mentioned in books, invariably comes the phrase: "that regiment of coal miners." The regiment was recruited almost exclusively out of Schuylkill County, in east-central Pennsylvania. During the three decades preceding the Civil War, Schuylkill alone provided one-half the entire nation's total tonnage of anthracite coal so it only makes sense that a good number of soldiers in the 48th eked out a living underground. However, the 48th was not the only unit recruited out of Schuylkill County. During the four-year conflict, thousands of county men donned the Union blue, with only 20-25% of these serving in the 48th. There were other companies and other regiments as well, such as 96th Pennsylvania and the 129th and the 7th PA Cavalry and so on. The ranks of these units also contained a good number of coal miners, but I have yet to read a description of these regiments as "that regiment of coal miners." But then again, these regiments did not tunnel under the Confederate lines at Petersburg. That was the 48th PA, and the 48th PA alone. Hence the description. . .
Schuylkill County Map
I was organizing some of my files yesterday and came across a breakdown of the soldiers' occupations, and thought I'd share.
So, the question is this: Exactly how many soldiers in the 48th were actually coal miners?
After examining the muster & descriptive rolls, I counted. . .are you ready?. . .a total of 244 soldiers whose occupation was listed as miner. Yep, just 244. Out of the 1,860 men who served in the regiment during the war, this number represented just 13% of the regiment. "Laborers" constituted the highest percentage of any one occupation in the regiment at 35%, while "Students" was next at 14%.
This low number--and low percentage--of miners is surprising at first glance, but it must be remembered that a good number of those listed as "Laborers" no doubt labored at coal mines. . not underground, but above it, in a host of various coal-related positions. There was also a good number of Mine Superintendents and especially Mining Engineers in the ranks. . .take Colonels Henry Pleasants (the mastermind of the Petersburg Mine) and George W. Gowen, for instance. So, in the end, it is impossible to state with certainty how many soldiers of the regiment were actually employed at the mines, but it is still interesting to note that only 244, 13%, were miners.
There were a number of soldiers with rather unusual vocations in the regiment as well. James Nagle, the man who organized the regiment, for example, was a wallpaper hanger and house painter, while Private John Hoover was an umbrella maker. There was also a jeweller, several tobacconists, watchmakers, a horse jockey, and one fellow who listed his job as "Ragman." Surprisingly, in a regiment in which five of the ten companies were recruited out of Pottsville--the home of Yuengling beer since 1829--I found only one brewer and one bartender. 

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The 48th Pennsylvania at The Wilderness & Spotsylvania: Part 1

The Battle of Spotsylvania
This week marks the 144th anniversary of the commencement of the so-called Overland Campaign. . .six weeks of unprecedented and unrelenting combat that began with the confused and chaotic fighting in the Wilderness, continued with the savage blood-letting at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and concluded with the fierce combat at Petersburg. I've long considered this month and a half to be the darkest, so to speak, of the entire war. . .at least in the East. The casualty count for both sides was unimaginable.
On May 3, 1864, the Army of the Potomac began the campaign when its advance elements crossed the Rapidan River in a campaign that initially sought the capture of Richmond, but quickly turned to the destruction of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
All my posts this week will focus on the role played the 48th Pennsylvania during the first week and a half of May 1864. The following posts provide soldier accounts of the battle as well as letters home, with the final post being a list of the regiment's casualties sustained at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Throughout these engagements, the regiment was attached to the First Brigade/Second Division/Ninth Army Corps.

The 48th Pennsylvania at The Wilderness & Spotsylvania: Part 2: Accounts of Battle. . .

The following accounts of the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania were authored by soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(1). Captain Joseph Hoskings, Company F:

After crossing the Rapidan, a detail of 200 men was made and put under my command; Lieut. Pollock, of C, and Lieut. Eveland, of A; Sergeant Al Huckey, of Company A, with a full complement of non-commissioned officers. The names of all but a few have escaped my memory. I recall Bob Reid and Clay Evans, Sandy Govan, David Thiel and Adam Hendley. We left the regiment and moved to our right, and in a very short time came into contact with a line of the enemy’s skirmishers; they gave us a volley and their peculiar yell, expecting to start us on the back track; but, instead, we advanced and drove them out of the woods; and, on reaching the open field, we came to a halt. The enemy fell back to a rail fence, some fifty yards to our front, and there we held them until relieved by a Michigan regiment. We then moved to the rear and buried David Thiel, who had been killed in the advance. We then joined the main body of the regiment. Heavy firing was in progress all day, and on the 6th, the 9th Corps, to which we belonged, was engaged almost the entire day in the Wilderness fight, under infantry fire, losing heavily.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(2). Sergeant Robert A. Reid, Company G:

It was a very foggy morning when Captain McKibben of General Potter’s staff ordered Col. Pleasants to follow him with the 48th, and it will be remembered that McKibben rode a very dilapidated plug of a horse that day, but he rode right to the front, leaning forward on his horse, as he led us up the hill, until he had us under fire, when we formed line of battle behind the brow of the hill, directly in our front, and our position did not suit our Colonel. We moved forward past the right of the advanced regiment until we got about half way between it and the enemy, which proved to be the 13th Georgia. Before we commenced firing about twenty of the rebel troops came in and surrendered. When within about seventy-five yards of the enemy we were ordered to halt, and commence firing, when for a short time the engagement was very lively. The enemy were at a decided disadvantage, they being down the slope of the hill, we at the top. About the time we opened fire another, or part of a rebel regiment, came to their support. We hammered away at them until some one from the center of the regiment called out that they wanted to surrender, but Col. Pleasants ordered us to continue firing, which we did until the rebels threw down their arms and came in a body. We captured fully two hundred prisoners. They left one colonel, three line officers and seventy-five men killed, and a large number of wounded on the field. . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(3). Sergeant Joseph Gould, Company F:

Our position was on the top of a hill, in front of us was an open field and swamp, through which ran a small creek, and, beyond, another hill, where the rebels had erected a strong line of rifle-pits. On our left was a thick wood extending beyond the swamp to the line of the enemy. As the fog rose, a regiment of rebels was discovered occupying a pit formed by the banks of the creek. The left of the brigade was thrown forward into the woods, cutting off their retreat, except by the open field up the hill in front of our works, which, if attempted, would be certain destruction. A desperate effort was made to drive us out of our position, but it was steadily maintained under a destructive fire of musketry and artillery. During the attempt the regiment captured two hundred prisoners of Gordon’s division. Along in the afternoon the troops made another assault on the rebel line. The regiment charged forward to the swamp, but discovered it was unsupported. It moved then by the left flank into the woods under a galling fire; and, later, reached its former position. . . .

Our regiment suffered very severely in this fight, and the writer paid a visit to the field hospital to look after some friends, and , while there, came across some of his own company, one, named Lewis Woods, a great, big, noble-hearted fellow, from the northern part of the State, who now lay in a cow stable with his brains oozing from a ghastly bullet hole in his head. As I took the gallant fellow’s hand and asked him if he recognized me, his only reply was a smile, and my mind went back to the trip on the steamer from Newport News to Baltimore, when, as he lay asleep on the deck, in a moment of boyish deviltry, I clipped one-half his mustache completely off. What I would have given at that moment if I had never been guilty of this mischievous act! I had heard of people being shot to pieces, but never saw it until at this hospital. Just outside the fence surrounding the house a battery of artillery was stationed, and one of the artillerymen lay there torn from limb to limb, and the sight was a sickening one to those passing by.

The 48th Pennsylvania at The Wilderness & Spotsylvania: Part 3: Letters Home. . .

The following are letters written by members of the 48th Pennsylvania following the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(1). William G. Auman, of Company G, wrote this letter to Pottsville's Miners' Journal on May 15, while still in the trenches near Spotsylvania:

This is the tenth day of the fighting, and from present appearances it will last for some days yet. The 48th has been under fire for seven days, and were severely engaged twice. At the Battle of the Wilderness, we were engaged and lost three killed and twelve wounded. On the 12th, we had a hard fight on the ground we now occupy. Our regiment was in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily. Lieut. Henry Jackson was killed beside me. He was struck in the neck by a rifle ball. I helped to carry him out. He died while we were carrying him to the hospital. When he was struck he fell against me. I asked him where he was hit; he whispered, “I don’t know,” and then his head fell to one side, and I saw that he was dying. He never spoke again. The loss in the regiment was one hundred and thirty-seven killed, wounded, and missing.
We drove the enemy a mile, when we met the 13th Georgia Regiment. We completely annihilated that regiment, taking many prisoners and killing and wounding nearly all the rest. We then charged on the rebel works, but not being supported by the regiment on our right, and being exposed to a terrible cross fire from the lines of rifle pits and a battery, and were compelled to retire to the left into a wood. Here the left of the regiment was run close to the enemy’s earthworks, and a number of our men were shot. We fell back, formed line, and took position on the same ground we were on before we charged. Here we put up breastworks and have been fighting ever since. While I am writing, the bullets are whistling over my head, but as long as we do not expose ourselves, we are quite safe.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(2). Lieutenant Curtis Clay Pollock, Company G, wrote this letter to his mother Emily in Pottsville on May 16, 1864:

In the Rifle Pits near
Spottsylvania CH
May 16th 1864

My Dear Ma

We have just been told that a mail would leave today, and though I have written but yesterday I will write you a few lines to day for fear that the letter should not reach you. Lt. Jackson was killed on the 12th he was lieing quite near me when he was shot and was hit in the neck just above the collar bone he did not live more than 15 minutes after being hit. I had him carried out immediately and he was afterwards buried by Wm. Atkinson who took all his things. We are lieing here holding our position. I would like to know what Grant is going to do. It has been raining for the last five days and the roads are in a very bad condition. perhaps that has something to do with our being here so quietly. On the 12th the 2nd Corps captured 8000 prisoners and 40 pieces of Artillery and 39 stands of Colors. They surprised the Rebels before they were awake and walked right over them. I saw Capt. Mintzer from Pottstown on Saturday he came around to see me but had no news. Everything that is going on is kept very quiet. We have heard the rumor of the capture of Richmond but do not know whether to believe it. We have also heard of Shermans success in Georgia. We have been lieing in the same position for the last five days although the positions of some of the other troops have been changed. I will write you every opportunity.
With much love I remain
Your affect Son

Co. G lost 2 killed and 9 wounded in the fight of the 12 and on the 6th we had 2 wounded, and on the 11th one was wounded by a chance shot. Capt. B[osbyshell] is with Col Sigfried in the Negro Brigade. Col. is commanding the Brigade and Capt. is Asst. Adjt. Gen. Wm. Williams was the other man killed. None of the men you know are hurt. John Hodgson is all right and I do not know of any in the Regt. being hurt that you know. Dick Jones was grazed with a ball but not of much account. He has gone to Washington. We are very strongly entrenched here and so are the Rebs. and when a break is made some one will have to suffer. Our rations have been rather short to day on account of the roads. The wagons not being able to get up.
I believe there is nothing more to tell you
Your affec Son
There were 136 killed and 1 wounded in the Regt. since fight began.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(3). In response to her son's letter, Emily Pollock wrote the following:

May 21 1864

My Dear Son,

We were very much pleased yesterday to receive a letter from you giving an account of your later movements and losses. We all regretted to hear Jackson’s death but are very thankful that you sustained no injury. After every battle always try and let us know who are killed and wounded. It is a great satisfaction to the friends here. Capt. B[osbyshell] always did it, and Mrs. Hutten came up to us and wanted to know if we had heard particulars from you. I am sorry you have lost Capt B and if I was him I would not fancy being in the Negro Brigade. I expect you will have some severe fighting yet—but somewhere there is an over-ruling Providence who can protect you as well on the Battlefield as at home. Trust in Him always and may you be ever enabled to do your duty as a soldiers and a Christian. Do not be rash, however. I trust you may never fall into their hands a prisoner. It seems to me, the vengeance of Heaven will surely overtake and fall heavily upon those wretched for their treatment of our poor prisoners. No savages could be more brutal than they have been, for what can be worse than a slow death by starvation.

I remain your Affec Mother


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(4). Colonel Henry Pleasants, commanding the 48th Pennsylvania, wrote this letter to the Miners' Journal on May 15, 1864:

“. . . .In the Battle of the Wilderness the regiment was hotly engaged on the 6th, and skirmished in the front on the 7th. On the 6th, 350 men, including nearly all the veterans, skirmished all day on the right, and the rest of the regiment moved with the main portion of the 9th Corps, and were hotly engaged in the center. The rebel army having fallen back, the 9th Corps was moved to Chancellorsville on the 8th. The 48th was not again engaged until the 12th, when our division advanced toward Spotsylvania on the evening of the 11th, but the battle was not begun until the morning of the 12th. We fought all day, and our regiment having caught three Georgia regiments in a little hollow, with rising ground behind them, which prevented them from retreating, completely annihilated them. We took over two hundred prisoners. One squad of them, which I sent to the rear under Lieut. Owen, amounted to forty-eight. Afterwards all the troops of the division were ordered to charge, and the 48th advanced in excellent style through an open, marshy ground under heavy fire, but the troops on both flanks giving way, the regiment was moved by the left flank into a ravine in the woods and shielded from the destructive fire of the enemy. Our loss has been heavy, but the 48th has behaved well, and in the action of the 12th, owing to our position on the brow of the hill, five reels were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner for every man lost by us. Since the 12th, a few men have been wounded by sharpshooters and we still remain on the front line. We have to mourn the loss of many brave men, and one of the best and bravest of officers is Lieutenant Henry Jackson.”

The 48th Pennsylvania at The Wilderness & Spotsylvania: Part 4: A Premonition of Death. . .

Sergeant William J. Wells, of Company F, wrote of the following incident that occurred before the regiment went into action at Spotsylvania:

* * * * * * * * * * *

“In this fight I was one of the Color Guard of the regiment. Comrade John Morrisey, of my company, came to me just before our charge across the swamp and bade me ‘good-bye.’ I chided him, and tried to cheer him; then suggested that he remain out of the fight, which we all felt to be at hand. He indignantly refused, and said: 'I have never yet shirked my duty, and will not do it now. After I’m dead, write to my sister, Mary, and tell her I died facing the enemy.' Just then the bugle sounded the advance. He ran to his company, and, immediately fell, shot through the forehead. After returning to our position, subsequent to the charge, we dug a hole with the bayonet; wrapped him in his blanket and buried him. Then, upon a piece of cracker-box, we wrote, with a charred stick, his name, company and regiment. While lying in the hospital at Chestnut Hill, Pa., his sister, finding my name among the new arrivals, visited me, and I delivered his dying message to her. She was a poor servant girl in the City of Philadelphia, but I shall never forget her distress.”

The 48th Pennsylvania at the Wilderness & Spotsylvania: Part 5: The Casualties

The 48th Pennsylvania suffered severe losses at the Wilderness and especially at Spotsylvania, with 18 killed in action, 101 wounded, and 12 listed among the missing in action. Dozens of those wounded would succumb to their wounds, while several of the "missing" were , in fact, killed. Below are the regiment's casualties:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Cpl. David J. Davis, Company B
Matthew Hume, Company B
Frederick Knittle, Company B
Laurentus C. Moyer, Company B
Daniel Wary, Company B
John Deitz, Company B
Daniel Brown, Company C
Jonathan Kauffman, Company D
Lawrence Farrell, Company E
David F. Thiel, Company F
John Morrissey, Company F
Lewis Woods, Company F
Richard Williams, Company F

1st Lieutenant Henry C. Jackson (standing, right) Killed in Action

1st Lieutenant Henry C. Jackson, Company G
William Williams, Company G
Abraham Benscoter, Company H

Private Henry J. Ege, Killed In Action

Henry J. Ege, Company I
John W. Henn, Company K


Company B:
Sgt. Thomas B. Williams
Sgt. William Kissinger
Gottleib Shauffler
David Deitz
John Brown
Henry Shoppell
Company C:
2nd Lt. William Clark
Sgt. Jonas Geiger
Michael Mohan
William Neely
William J. Haines
Murt Brennan
James Coakly

Company D:
2nd Lieutenant H.E. Stichter
Sgt. Henry Rothenberger
Cpl. Edward Lenhart
James Deitrick
Botto Otto
Perry L. Strausser
George S. Beisel
William F. Moyer
John Kohler
Jonas Miller
Joseph Zeigler
Patrick Cooligan
Andrew Knittle
Gustavus H. Miller
Henry D. Moyer
Company E:
Sgt. John McElrath
Cpl. Samuel Clemens
Cpl. William J. Morgan
James McLaughlin
George W. Schaeffer
David Williams
W. Simmons
G.W. James
W.C. James
James Meighan
Robert Penman
Company F:
Sgt. Richard Hopkins
Cpl. John Powell
William E, Taylor
Israel Manning
Anthony Carroll
William S. Wright
James Brennan
Andrew Wessman
Henry Holsey
William H. Kohler
John Eddy
Jno. T. Reese
John Crawford
A.H. Whitman
Company G:
Sgt. R.M. Jones

Corporal George Farne, Wounded

Cpl. George Farne
Patrick Cunningham
John Becker
Adam Hendley
James Spencer
M. Berger
John Armstrong
Clay W. Evans
Patrick Grant
William Maurer
John Kautter
Patrick Savage
Company H:
Samuel Fryberger
William Donnelly
William Huber
Benjamin Koller
John Klineginna

Private Daniel Ohmacht, Wounded

Daniel Ohmacht

Albert Davis

John Stevenson

Michael Melarkee

Daniel Cooke
John Cruikshank
Michael O’Brien
Charles Focht
John Olewine
Joseph Edwards
Thomas Palmer
Joseph Chester
Company I:
Sgt. Luke Swain
Sgt. Jacob Ongstadt
Cpl. D. Klase
Cpl. Wesley Knittle
Charles Lindenmuth
Francis Boner
Charles Washington Horn
M. Dooley
W. Tyson

Charles DeLong

Company K:
Cpl. J. Weaver
David R. Dress
Elias Fenstermaker
Thomas Fogarty
Henry Schulze
Franklin Ely
Simon Hoffman
Andrew Webber

Missing In Action

George Seibert, Company C
Edward Ebert, Company D
John D. Weikel, Company D
William Gottschall, Company E
George Kramer, Company F
Harrison Bright, Company H
Michael Scott, Company H
Lewis Aurand, Company H
James Wentzell, Company H
W.B. Beyerle, Company I
Benjamin McArdel, Company I
W.B. Shearer, Company I