Friday, September 19, 2008

The Death of Sergeant Alexander Prince, Co. B, 48th Pennsylvania

At Antietam, the 48th Pennsylvania suffered a loss of 8 men killed and 51 wounded. But not all the regiment's casualties fell on September 17. Indeed, the following day, several companies of the 48th remained on the advanced picket line on the southern portion of the field and at least two soldiers, nineteen-year-old Private John Robinson, a laborer from Pottsville, and nineteen-year-old Sergeant Alexander Prince, a laborer from St. Clair, both of Company B, were killed on that otherwise quiet Thursday.

Twelve years later, on September 18, 1874, Oliver Christian Bosbyshell, former major of the 48th, penned the following account of Prince's death, which appeared in Pottsville's Miners' Journal:

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(Position held by the 48th PA skirmishers at Antietam on September 18, 1862. . .Fence lines the Otto Farm Lane, looking west toward Branch Avenue, where Confederate pickets from A.P. Hill's and D.R. Jones's divisions exchanged shots with the 48th's skirmishers. The monument on the far left is the 48th's.)

The Story of Alexander Prince, Company B, 48th Pennsylvania

Miners' Journal, September 18, 1874

By Oliver C. Bosbyshell

"Who of the old members of the 48th regiment can ever forget Alex Prince, that noble Sergeant of Company B? He was a grand soldier and the embodiment of all the virtues that go to make up the true man. Handsome in person, tall, well built; a compact rounded figure straight as an arrow, a fine, clean, honest continence with large light lustrous, frank eyes. Foremost in the manner of the duty, strict in the discharge, but kind without fault, a soldier to be proud of, a friend to cherish and his nature to emulate. We read of a being who came to earth and took upon himself the nature of man, who lives a pure, spotless life and died ignominious of death for what that and through the sacrifice of humanity could gain eternal life. He gave his life a ransom with a reverence be it said. Prince gave his life a ransom, but let me recall the incident.

The work of the bloody 17 September 1862 at Antietam closed only with the dark shadows of night. The bridge so tenaciously held and so staunchly assailed, that we wrested from the enemy. A whole afternoon was spent in stubborn fighting on the summit of a shallow hill, yes I write to the boys of the 48th, remember the spot? The 48th under [Lt. Col. Joshua] Sigfried with the 51st under [Col. John] Hartranft determined to hold the line with cold steel before yielding. We picketed the same ground all that night and in the morning of the 18th found us still on the same line. During the day we shifted our position further to the left. The main body of the regiment covered by a corn field. This corn field and the clearing to the left was occupied by our skirmish line. Constant firing was kept up through the whole day and between the opposing skirmishers. Prince occupied a small rifle pit burrowed in the ground in a clearing to the left of the corn field. The regular sharp crack of his rifle evidenced his alertness. The ground between the lines fought over the previous day was strewn with dead men, and here and there a badly wounded soldier lay unable to crawl into either line. Relief could not be extended for so close were the contestants, that the least exposure of the person would result in instant injury.

A wounded soldier lay near Prince's position and his piteous cries for water touched to the heart of our gallant comrade. 'Water! Water! For the love of God water!,' begged the crippled man. Prince's warm nature could not rest at the call for help, this wounded probably dying comrade might be saved, if not whether he wore blue or gray, a fellow being suffering within sight and hearing prompted action and Alex, despite the risk, determined to aid him. He knew full well his own danger in the attempt; his strong buoyant spirit could not bear to remain quiet witness to such suffering; relieve him he must. Removing his canteen from his shoulder and fastening the strap clearly to the point of the bayonet, he pushed it out over the top of the pit to the full extent of his arm. Too short his reach, the sufferer could not be aided without a greater effort. Realizing his task and nobly determined to take it, the prize, the saving of a life. He threw himself over the side of the rifle pit, hug close to the ground, the object of his great love eagerly watching the long forth draft, his very eagerness elegantly urging Prince on. He had almost reached with the life saving water, his nearing grasp when bang, whiz, and the death bearing lead sinks deep into the heart of the poor Alex. A wild spring in the air, an earthly shriek that rises above the din of the battle, and Prince falls. A sacrifice. He died to save his fellow man, can anything be more sublime? Prince by name, a very prince by nature.

When the monument rises to commemorate the men of the 48th and give bright and dearing praises to [Col. George] Gowen [killed in action at Petersburg on April 2, 1865], think in the fullest of Alex Prince who gave a ransom. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."

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Sergeant Prince's body was later recovered by his compatriots in the 48th PA and buried in an open field near the Burnside Bridge. Whether Prince's body was later reinterred and where is unknown.

(Note: Thanks go out to my good friend and fellow Schuylkill County Civil War buff Stu Richards for sending me Bosbyshell's account of Prince's death).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sad, brutal actions during war .. Pvt Sam Watkins of Co H, 1st Tennessee Infantry describes the same scene at his position at Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. Only then it was a gallant confederate soldier murdered by Northern troops while trying to get water to Northern wounded in his front. I hope a good and great God took such men to a glorious reward for such sacrifive for their fellow man no matter what army they found themselves in!