Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20, 1860 & The Reasons For South Carolina's Secession

South Carolina Ordinance of Secession
Passed December 20, 1860
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This date marks an important one in commemorating and reflecting upon the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. 150 years ago today, South Carolina declared it was no longer a part of the United States, a declaration made just six weeks after the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as the nation's Sixteenth President. Sitting President James Buchanan believed secession was illegal and unconstitutional, but also believed that same Constitution prohibited him from taking any action to bring the state back under the fold of the Union. Six more states followed South Carolina's lead even before Lincoln took the Oath of Office, on March 4, 1861. No president had thus inherited a more difficult task.

The secession of South Carolina was the culmination of decades' long sectional strife and tension, at the root of which was slavery. I have no patience for those who deny slavery as the principal cause of secession, since one need only examine all the national debates and tensions in the years leading up to South Carolina's departure from the Union. From the debate in the Philadelphia's Carpenter's Hall in the Summer of 1787 over the three-fifth clause, to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War & Wilmot Proviso, the admission of California into statehood in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, the Ostend Manifesto, Dred Scott, John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry, and finally the presidential election of 1860, it is clear the nation faced serious challenges in its first eighty years. And those challenges and all the national crises listed above had one thing in common. . .at the root of them all was the issue of slavery and its expansion. Neither do I have patience for those who claim slavery was a dying instituion; quite the contrary: in the 1840, there was just over two million enslaved persons in the United States; twenty years later, there was four million.

Considering all that transpired before the secession of South Carolina and claiming it had nothing to do with slavery is just plain wrong and essentially ignores the first eighty years of America's history.
Now, this is not to be confused over why a particular soldier--whether North or South--fought. Motivations behind an individual's enlistment should not be lumped into a discussion of why a state decided to leave the United States.

While the secession of South Carolina was the culmination of decades' long tensions over the issue of slavery and its expansion into new lands and territories, it was also the spark that lit the powder keg of the Civil War, a devastating war and one of the most tragic episodes in American history. For this reason, today we should by no means celebrate the secession of South Carolina. We should simply reflect upon what it meant to a nation and its peoples.

As the old saying goes, don't take my word for it. . .Four days after South Carolina adopted its Ordinance of Secession, it then explained why in its Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, which read in part:

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions.
[Slavery] The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions
[Slavery]; and have denied the rights of property [Slaves] established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property [Slaves] of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party
[Lincoln's Republican Party] has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the
Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
The guaranties of the
Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.
Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.
We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.
December 24, 1860

The bold-print and thoughts in brackets in the above are mine, but it cannot be stated any more clearly. The leaders of the South Carolina secession movement made it known the reasons for secession and it had everything to do with slavery.

And for this reason as well, this is not a day to celebrate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Update On The South Mountain Book. . .

I am pleased to report that on December 3, I submitted the completed first-draft manuscript of my South Mountain book to the History Press for publication as part of its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. Yesterday it went through the copyedit and received its ISBN. If things continue to roll along, then look for it to "hit the shelves" sometime in the spring of 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mexican War Volunteers--Civil War Generals

The Battle of Buena Vista (Library of Congress)
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 have long been fascinated with this somewhat overlooked war and several years back, I began compiling a list of all those Mexican American War volunteers who went on to become generals in the American Civil War, fourteen or so years later. These men were not the West Point-trained U.S. Regulars (such as Lee, McClellan, Bragg, and so on); rather, the following are those who fought as volunteers in Mexico and then later earned their stars in the nation's fratricidal conflict.
Preceding the list of these officers, are some introductory words. I once thought of turning this into an article but that never went anywhere. . .
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U.S. Forces Under Winfield Scott Land at Vera Cruz
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The Mexican-American War has often been referred to as a training ground for a host of young army officers who would go on to rank among the Civil War’s highest-ranking commanders. From the battles of Monterrey and Palo Alto to the capture of Mexico City, these young men received first-hand experience in the school of soldiering and learned key lessons in the art of war by the likes of Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Tales of daring exploits and of remarkable bravery exhibited by these young officers who would later gain much fame during America’s fratricidal conflict are legion and known well to most serious students of the Civil War. Familiar is the story of twenty-four-year-old Captain Ulysses S. Grant who, although serving as the regimental quartermaster of the 4th U.S. Infantry, repeatedly rode to the front, seeing action at Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto, and Monterrey, where he put his renowned horsemanship to good use by riding unscathed through a hail of bullets. Famous, too, is the story of Captain Robert E. Lee who, along with fellow engineer Lt. Pierre G.T. Beauregard, conducted a bold reconnaissance of Santa Anna’s left flank at Cerro Gordo and narrowly avoided detection and probable capture. We hear also of twenty-year-old Lieutenant George Brinton McClellan, another of Winfield Scott’s engineers, who had two horses shot from beneath him while scouting Mexican positions near Contreras and who was twice brevetted for gallantry. At the battle of La Hoya, we discover a young artillerist by the name of Thomas Jonathan Jackson who deployed his guns with great effect and stood steadfast, like a stonewall, amid a storm of shot and shell. Lieutenant Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana was severely wounded and left for dead on the heights of Cerro Gordo, while, not too far from where he fell, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Eggleston Johnston of the Voltigeurs, was also dangerously wounded. It was also at this same battle where Major Edwin Vose Sumner of the 2nd Dragoons was struck squarely in the forehead by a bullet, which, allegedly, simply bounced off earning him the sobriquet, “Old Bullhead.” While these officers survived their Cerro Gordo wounds, Lieutenant Thomas Ewell did not. He died hours after the fight with his brother Richard by his side. And finally, there is the oft-told tale of Lieutenant James Longstreet of the 8th U.S. Infantry who fell with a thigh wound while carrying the American flag in an attack against the walls of Chapultepac. Grabbing the flag from the wounded Longstreet, of course, was another young lieutenant who had graduated last in his West Point Class the previous year, George Edward Pickett. These and other such stories are seemingly endless and can truly fill volumes.

In addition to going on to earning great laurels or garnering much notoriety in the American Civil War, all of these men had another thing in common: they were all graduates of the United States Military Academy and were, thus, all regular army officers. Yet, of the nearly 100,000 men who served in Mexico, only about twenty-five to thirty percent—some 25,000-30,000 soldiers—were Regulars. The rest were volunteers.

Volunteer units hailed from twenty-four of the nation’s twenty-eight states as well as from the District of Columbia; Iowa and California, which at the outbreak of hostilities had yet to achieve statehood, also furnished troops. In all, between 70,000 and 75,000 volunteers, comprising the ranks of 76 regiments and several additional companies, enlisted during the war. Thousands of these men would later serve in both the blue and the gray during the Civil War. And because of their former military experiences in Mexico, most would enter America’s sectional conflict as commissioned officers primarily at the regimental level, being mustered in as lieutenants, majors, or colonels, and subsequently rising through the ranks. Take, for example, C. Roberdeau Wheat. Before organizing the famed Louisiana Tigers in 1861 and falling dead while leading his regiment at the battle of Gaines’s Mill in June 1862, the 6’4” Wheat served as captain of the Tennessee Company of Mounted Volunteers in Mexico. His is just one of countless examples of volunteer officers who served in both the Mexican and Civil Wars.

Of the thousands of Mexican-American War volunteers who would later serve in the Civil War, more than sixty would become general officers during the latter conflict. This number does not include West Point graduates who served in volunteer organizations in Mexico and as generals in the Civil War, men such as Jubal Early, Henry Naglee, Samuel R. Curtis, Lloyd Tilghman, Goode Bryan, and Humphrey Marshall. Instead, the Mexican War volunteers who later became Civil War generals, for the most part, lacked a formal military education, but exhibited an avid interest in martial endeavors and were typically members of a local militia company. And they were those who willingly left their civilian lives behind twice to serve in uniform.

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Mexican-American War Volunteers--Civil War Generals
[Note: Those names in blue became generals for the United States Army during the Civil War; those in red, for the Confederacy]
John Selden Roane, Colonel, Mounted Arkansas Volunteers
Albert Pike, Captain, Mounted Arkansas Volunteers
James Fleming Fagan, Arkansas Mounted Gunmen
Alfred Iverson, 2nd Lieutenant, Battalion of Georgia Volunteers
George Thomas Anderson, 2nd Lieutenant, Independent Co. of Georgia Volunteers
Edward Lloyd Thomas, 2nd Lieutenant, Independent Co. of Georgia Volunteers
Alfred Iverson
Robert H. Milroy, Captain, 1st Indiana Volunteers
Lewis Wallace, 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Indiana Volunteers
Nathan Kimball, Captain, 2nd Indiana Volunteers
Lovell Rousseau, Captain, 2nd Indiana Volunteers
James Lane, Colonel, 3rd Indiana Volunteers
Willis A. Gorman, Colonel, 4th Indiana Volunteers
Ebenezer Dumont, Lieutenant Colonel, 4th Indiana Volunteers
Thomas J. Lucas, 2nd Lieutenant, 4th Indiana Volunteers
Mahlon Manson, Captain, 5th Indiana Volunteers
Nathan Kimball
Thomas Leonidas Crittenden, Lieutenant Colonel, 3rd Kentucky Volunteers
Walter C. Whitaker, Lieutenant, 3rd Kentucky Volunteers
John Cabell Breckinridge, Major, 3rd Kentucky Volunteers
John Stuart Williams, Colonel, 4th Kentucky Volunteers
William Preston, Lieutenant Colonel, 4th Kentucky Volunteers
William Thomas Ward, Major, 4th Kentucky Volunteers
James Shackleford, 1st Lieutenant, 4th Kentucky Volunteers
Edward Hobson, 1st Lieutentnat, 4th Kentucky Volunteers
Cassius M. Clay
Green Clay Smith
Speen Smith Fry
Roger Weightman Hanson, 1st Lieutenant, Independent Kentucky Volunteers
Thomas James Churchill, 1st Kentucky Mounted Riflemen
William Thomas Ward
John "Black Jack" Logan, 2nd Lt. Illinois Volunteers
James D. Morgan
Michael Lawler
Richard Oglesby
Leonard Fulton Ross
Isham M. Haynie
Edward Baker, Colonel, 4th Illinois Volunteers
William H.C. Wallace, Private, 1st Illinois Volunteers
Benjamin Prentiss, Captain/Adjutant, 1st Illinois Volunteers
John Logan
John Kenley, Major, Maryland/D.C. Volunteers
Joseph R. West
Alpheus Starkey Williams, Lieutenant Colonel, Michigan Volunteers
Carnot Posey, 1st Lieutenant, 1st Mississippi Rifles
Thomas C. Hindman, 2nd Mississippi Infantry
Carnot Posey
Sterling Price, Colonel, 2nd Missouri Infantry
William Yarnell Slack, Captain, 2nd Missouri Infantry
Mosby Monroe Parsons, Captain, 1st Missouri Regiment of Mounted Volunteers
John Dunlap Stevenson, Captain, 1st Missouri Regiment of Mounted Volunteers
James Craig
Thomas T. Crittenden

William Yarnell Slack
Samuel Beatty, 1st Lieutenant, 3rd Ohio Volunteers
George F. McGinnis, Captain, 5th Ohio Volunteers
Robert B. Mitchell, 1st Lieutenant, 5th Ohio Volunteers
William H. Lytle, Captain, Independent Company, Ohio Volunteers
William H. Lytle
James Scott Negley, 1st Sergeant, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers
Thomas Algeo Rowley, 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers
James Nagle, Captain, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers
Thomas Welsh, Private, native of Pennsylvania, served with 2nd Kentucky Volunteers
John White Geary, Colonel, 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers
John White Geary
James Negley
South Carolina
Samuel McGowan, Quartermaster, Palmetto Regiment
William Brimmage Bate, 1st Lieutenant, 3rd Tennessee Volunteers
Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, Colonel, 3rd Tennessee Volunteers
William B. Campbell, Colonel, 3rd Tennessee Volunteers
Samuel Read Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, 3rd Tennessse Volunteers
William Brimmage Bate
Benjamin McCullough, Colonel, Mounted Company, Independent Texas Volunteers
Thomas Green, Captain, 1st Texas Mounted Rifles

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It is evident, then, that the Mexican-American War was training ground not just for the West Pont-trained, career army men who would later reach highest echelon of command in the Civil War. It was also a training ground for the thousands of citizens-turned-soldiers who twice volunteered their services, first in 1846-47 and again in 1861, either as commissioned officers at the regimental level or as general officers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Soldiers of the 48th: Major Jacob Wagner, 48th Pennsylvania

It has been quite some time since I last posted a Profiles piece on a 48th Pennsylvania soldier, so today I thought I'd focus in on Jacob Wagner, who served creditably throughout the entirety of the war, rising through the regimental ranks.
Jacob F. Wagner was twenty-one years of age when, in September 1861, he was mustered into service as a private in Company H, 48th Pennsylvania. He stood 5'6 1/2" in height, had a dark complexion, dark eyes, and black hair. His occupation was listed as painter and his residence was Pottsville, home to most of the men in Company H. Only two and a half weeks later, however, Wagner was named as the regiment's Quartermaster Sergeant, a position he held until December 1862, when he was promoted once more, this time to lieutenant and given then position of full Quartermaster.
The regimental history of the 48th penned by Oliver Bosbyshell refers many times to Wagner and his great efforts in keeping the soldiers well fed and comforted. One such example was on the night of September 17, 1862, when near the Burnside Bridge, the famished soldiers of the 48th were greatly relieved to see Wagner "with a fine lot of boiled beef and fresh coffee, which he had prepared by the cooks. . . .What a relish that midnight repast had!" Other references to Wagner in Bosbyshell's work hint that the quartermaster was much respected by the soldiers and throughout the war always performed his important duties with credit.
Jacob Wagner served as the 48th's Quartermaster throughout most of the conflict, but on June 21, 1865, was promoted one final time, to major. He held this rank for less than one month, being mustered out of volunteer service with the regiment on July 17, 1865 and holding the distinguished title of "Veteran." Yet Wagner's time in uniform was not finished. Apparently taking a liking to military life, Wagner returned not to Pottsville and his pre-war vocation as painter, but instead entered the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant in the 29th Infantry. In July 1867, he was serving at Norfolk where he held the triple duties of Post Adjutant, Acting Assistant Quartermaster, and Assistant Comissary of Subsistence.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More On The Dentzer Boys. . .

Last week, I posted on the great fortune it was to meet Bill Denzter and his sister Ardith, and spend the afternoon with them at Antietam. Their great-great uncles both served in the 48th PA, and both paid their last full measure of devotion to the United States.
Bill Dentzer is a blogger of note and has just recently posted his thoughts on the visit as well as some more photographs and some video clips of yours truly explaining the role of the 48th at Antietam.
Click here to read Bill Dentzer's post.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Extraordinary Day. . .George & John Dentzer, 48th PA

Today, I was brought to tears.

My lifelong fascination with the 48th Pennsylvania is certainly no secret; indeed, for as long as I can remember, I have studied this regiment. As a lifelong student of the Civil War and a native of Schuylkill County, I early on developed a strong and sometimes indescribable connection with this particular regiment and the guys who served therein. All throughout high school, when I was in college, and continuing until this day, I have enjoyed wandering about Schuylkill County cemeteries and paying my respects to those served in the 48th. I am at the point now where I think I know just about where every 48th veteran in Schuylkill County lay buried.

For many years, I have been drawn, for whatever reason, to the graves of George and John Dentzer, who served in the 48th's Company K, recruited from southern Schuylkill County. The brothers both lost their lives in the war, and today lie buried side-by-side in Cressona. I remember standing at their graves, wondering what their deaths meant to their family and wondering, more personally, what these fellows looked like, thinking I would never know. . .
The snow-covered graves of John & George Dentzer in Cressona

Today, around 2:00 p.m., my colleague Ranger Schmidt found me in the Visitor Center office, and told me I needed to come immediately to the desk. As I approached, I saw our volunteer Brad talking with a couple of visitors, looking over a piece a paper, upon which I noticed copies of Civil War soldier photographs.
As I came up to have a closer look myself and saw the names under the photos, my jaw dropped wide open, and I could not help my eyes from instantly swelling up, for there, for the first time, I saw the Dentzer Brothers--George and John.

It took a few seconds before I was able to compose myself and find the right words. The couple was a brother and sister, direct descendants of George & John's older brother, Henry. The photographs of the soldiers remained in the family for generations, and they were kind enough to provide me with the copies and had no objection to my posting them here.

I stole away with the Dentzer siblings to the Burnside Bridge, and together we hiked the ground over which the 48th fought, me trying my best to describe the action, while at the same time being so caught up in the moment. We hiked a little along the Final Attack Trail and came to the Otto Farm. I pointed out the area where the 48th fought back A.P. Hill's Confederates that deadly afternoon, and to the best of my ability point out the general area where Private George Dentzer would have fallen, killed in action. He was one of eight soldiers of the 48th killed that Wednesday afternoon.

Private George Dentzer, Company K, 48th Pennsylvania
Killed in Action at Antietam

George, as well as his brother John, was a first-generation American, born sometime around 1836-1837. The same year, by the way, the Burnside Bridge was constructed. His parents emigrated from Germany to America and settled first in Pottsville, where George's older brother Henry would later serve as chief brewmaster at the Yuengling Brewery. In October 1861, George enlisted as a private in Company K, 48th Pennsylvania. He stood 5'8 1/2", had a dark complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair. He listed his occupation as Railroader and his hometown as Cressona, just a few short miles south of Pottsville. On the fields of Antietam, George met his demise. I learned today that his mother, along with older brother Henry, traveled to the battlefield in the weeks that followed to retrieve his body. He was buried in Cressona after a fitting memorial service during which Psalm 55:18 was read. . .He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.

Four months later, in January 1863, George's younger brother John entered the 48th, enlisting as a private in Company K. He twice before tried to sign up, but was turned away both times on account of his age, he simply too young to fight. Regardless, he succeeded in his third attempt and his age listed on the muster roll was given as 27, no doubt a fabrication. John, who was shorter than his brother, stood 5'4" in height and labored along the Schuylkill Canal, which passed through Cressona. He served with the 48th throughout some of the war's toughest fights, at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania in May 1864, through Cold Harbor, where he fell wounded. He proved an admirable soldier, for he was advanced to the rank of corporal. Along with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, the 48th settled in during the siege of Petersburg, almost winning the war with their tunneling of the Petersburg Mine.
On December 28, 1864, just a few days after Christmas, young John was sitting in his tent in Fort Sedgwick, which the troops dubbed Fort Hell. The regiment had long become accustomed to Confederate shells exploding within the network of trenches and traverses that comprised the fort, but on that day, a shell struck John Dentzer's tent, and he was killed instantly. For the Dentzer family, they had lost another son. Like his brother George, who had already laid at rest for more than two years, John's body was brought home to Cressona, where he was buried.
Corporal John Dentzer, Co. K, 48th Pennsylvania
Killed in Action at Petersburg, December 28, 1864

It was an extraordinary day. . .another extraordinary day. Just a few weeks back, I posted on Sergeant Hugh Koch, whose descendant very generously provided me with a copy of Koch's photograph after one of my battlefield tours, which I then uploaded here. I remember then saying how incredible it was, not knowing that just a few weeks later, I would be walking over the same ground as George Dentzer, to the spot where he fell at Antietam, with his descendants. I cannot thank the Dentzer siblings enough, for so generously sharing their stories. As I told them, today is a day I will long remember at Antietam.

There will be more to follow on this. . .

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sgt. Hugh Koch, Co. I, 48th PA; Or, Just Another Reason Why I Love My Job

I was reminded today of yet another reason why I love my job. . .
While doing my battlefield tours, and while I wait for the crowd to gather, I always try to make a little small talk. One of my tricks is to simply ask folks as they're arriving where they are traveling from, and whenever I hear Pennsylvania, I ask what parts, usually following this up by saying that I am originally from Schuylkill County. Today, again, I did this same routine while waiting for what was a rather large 70+ size crowd to gather at the Cornfield. Fast forward an hour and a half, and at the conclusion of the tour, a gentleman approached and asked: "Did I hear you say you were from Schuylkill County?" "Yes," I said. He then proceeded to tell me that his ancestors were from Schuylkill County, and that his Great-Great Grandfather fought in the Civil War. "Really?" I asked, "Do you what regiment?" And, of course, his reply: "48th Pennsylvania. Company I."
Now, I've been at Antietam for five years and this is only the third of fourth time this has happened. But what made today so much more remarkable was that the visitor actually had a photograph of his ancestor. Excitedly, yet still trying to maintain a degree of professionalism while in uniform, I eagerly asked to have a look. . .
Better than this, the visitor provided me with a copy. The original daguerreotype has been in his family's possession for the past 150 years and has never before been seen, except by the family.
Aside from the photograph being of not one, but two soldiers of Co. I, 48th, it is, without a doubt, one of the coolest Civil War photographs I have ever seen. Have a close look at how they modified their uniforms to give a unique look. The seated fella even has a pistol tucked under his belt, and is wearing an officer's buckle. The man standing, Sergeant Hugh Koch, made some kind of fancy lapels out of his sack coat. Even their sergeant's stripes are modified.
Have a close look. . .

Sergeant Hugh Koch is standing. I have yet to identify the seated soldier, but I am investigating. Because of the 'veteran's stripe' on their trousers, I'm betting that this picture was taken in early 1864, after the regiment re-enlisted and went home on a thirty-day furlough.
Born on December 18, 1826, Hugh Koch enlisted in Company I, 48th PA, on August 15, 1861. He was 34 at the time of his enlistment, stood 5'6" in height, had a Light Complexion, Brown Hair, and Brown Eyes. He was, by occupation, a Butcher from Ringtown. Koch served throughout the four years of the war, re-enlisting in late 1863, and mustered out as a "Veteran" on July 17, 1865. He died on August 26, 1885, at the age of 59, and was buried in McKeansburg, just a few miles outside my home town of Orwigsburg.
The gentleman's willingness to share this photograph really made my day. It also has my wondering how many more of these photographs, still in family collections, are still out there. . .

Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Photos of May 29 48th PA Monument Rededication

As I have mentioned many times before, I could not be happier with the results of the 48th Pennsylvania Monument restoration project. From the very start, I have been both proud and humbled by the support given and pleased by the generous contributions that arrived from all parts of the country. The Rededication Ceremony, held on Saturday, May 29, could not have gone any better. The weather was perfect and the turn-out was outstanding. All in all, it was a very good day. Below are various photographs taken at the event by several attendees, including my colleagues Rangers Mannie Gentile and Brian Baracz.

I am hoping to soon have a video of the event posted, so stay tuned.

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1904 Photograph of the Dedication of the 48th PA Monument at Antietam

Civil War Historian Tom Clemens, an expert on the Maryland Campaign, exchanges handshakes with Artist Mike Kraus
A large crowd of about seventy turned out to attend the rededication. It commenced with an invocation delivered by Reverend John Schildt, a lifelong student of the Maryland Campaign.
Antietam Battlefield Superintendent Presents Artist/Scultor Mike Kraus with a National Park Service Arrowhead in Recognition of his fine work and artistry in sculpting the replacement sword.
I Delivered The Dedication Address while Antietam Park Volunteer and Civil War Living Historian Dave Maher Kept Old Glory Flying
The Unveiling

The Sword Returned/The Monument Restored

Friday, June 11, 2010

SHAF Tour of the Maryland Campaign: Part I

From Harry Smeltzer and SHAF:

On Saturday, July 31, 2010, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) will sponsor a tour of “Phase I” of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862. The tour will be led by SHAF board members Dennis Frye, National Park Service Historian at Harper’s Ferry, and Dr. Thomas Clemens, editor of Ezra Carman’s “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, Volume I: South Mountain”.

The tour will begin at 8:30 AM at the parking lot of the Monocacy National Battlefield Visitor’s Center in Frederick Maryland, where the guides will cover the action up to the discovery of General Robert E. Lee’s “Lost Order” by Union forces. Then the tour will proceed to Harper’s Ferry, covering the fighting and siege operations and capture of that place, as well as the escape of Union cavalry.

Lunch will be served at The Anvil Restaurant in Harper’s Ferry. Choices of a wrap, cheeseburger, or Reuben sandwich, each with French fries and drink.

From there, participants will travel to and discuss the importance of the sites of the Battles for South Mountain, including Burkittsville, Gathland, and Crampton’s, Fox’s, and Turner’s Gaps.
This is a “caravan” tour. Car pooling is strongly encouraged. Participation is limited to 30 individuals. Fees, including lunch, are $30 for SHAF members. Non-member fee is $50, which will include a one year membership to SHAF. Members receive a quarterly newsletter and member rates for SHAF sponsored events. Also, copies of Dr. Clemens’ edition of Ezra Carman’s “The Maryland Campaign of September, 1862, Volume I: South Mountain” will be made available at a $5 discount the day of the tour.
A firm number of participants is required by July 21, 2010. Make your reservations by sending an email with the names of those who will attend to You will receive instructions on where to send payment.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to tour the sites of the Maryland Campaign of September, 1862 with recognized experts Dr. Thomas Clemens and Dennis Frye.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

48th Pennsylvania/James Nagle Monument Rededication Address

After a two-year-long, nationwide effort, at last, the 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam has been restored. Today, May 29, 2010, witnessed the rededication ceremony. I could not be more pleased with the event; indeed, everything went perfectly. The ceremony lasted a little over half an hour, and an estimated 60-70 persons were in attendance.

I will post photographs (and videos) of today's event in the days ahead, but I thought I would begin by posting the Dedication Address, which I delivered this morning. I had several requests for copies, and figured this would be a good way for all those interested to have a copy.

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Dedication Address
John David Hoptak
May 29, 2010

48th Pennsylvania Monument
Antietam National Battlefield

Superintendent Howard, Reverend Schildt, Mr. Kraus, Ladies and Gentlemen: All Honored Guests: It is a great privilege to be here with you this morning as we celebrate the completion of a rewarding effort: at last, the general and his sword are reunited.

I am both humbled by and proud of the support given to this endeavor since first launched in April 2008 and I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank those who have lent their support and provided their encouragement. First, I would like to thank Bob Casey and the Western Maryland Interpretative Association for its generous pledge to match all donations. Thanks also to Superintendent Howard, Jane Custer, Antietam’s Chief of Cultural Resources, Pete Warren, monument restoration specialist, and my colleagues in the interpretation division, including Ranger Brian Baracz, for all of their assistance every step of the way. Thanks also to Reverend John Schildt, Dave Maher, and Mike Pasquerette for their participation today. No words of appreciation can truly measure the incredible artistry of Mike Kraus in sculpting the sword, an exact replica of the one presented to Captain James Nagle upon his return from Mexico in 1848, the same one he proudly carried throughout America’s Civil War, and the same one that was replicated in bronze to adorn the side of his statue behind me when this monument was first unveiled 106 years ago. I am confident you will soon agree with me, Mike Kraus did outstanding work. I am confident that even the general himself, no doubt watching from above as we gather here this morning, would be very proud himself. Last, but no means least, I must thank each of you, for without your generous donations, without your great contributions and support, none of this would have been possible. Donations arrived from throughout the United States, from California to Idaho, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and from right here in Maryland to Florida. Many of the donors are either direct or lateral descendants of General Nagle; many others are descended from soldiers who served under Nagle’s command especially in the 48th Pennsylvania. But regardless of our backgrounds or our ancestry, all of us here gathered are committed to noble cause of preserving our history and honoring the memory of those who served. It is a commitment displayed by your journeying here today and a commitment displayed by your donations to restore this monument.

This monument is a “magnificent tribute to the valor of the Forty-Eighth. . . .It emphasizes the fact that notwithstanding the years that have passed the deeds of these citizen-soldiers are intensified in the minds and hearts of the people. . . .It tells the present generations of the loyalty here displayed, and teaches future generations that we do not forget the sacrifices made by its sons in defending its interests unto death—a lesson to strengthen patriotic love of State and country—an outward and visible sign of great and glorious principles vindicated by the deeds here performed by the men of Pennsylvania in the shedding of their blood.” The man here honored, honors the 48th in turn. Brigadier General James Nagle, “the foremost soldier of old Schuylkill County” who “well deserves this meed of praise bestowed upon him.”

These exact words were spoken here more than a century ago by Colonel Oliver C. Bosbyshell, a veteran of the 48th Pennsylvania, on what was known as “Pennsylvania Day,” when this and twelve other monuments to Pennsylvania units were unveiled and dedicated.

On September 17, 1904—some thirty-six aging and graying veterans of the 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, in company with a host of dignitaries and other attendees, gathered here, on this very same ground, to partake in this dedication and witness the unveiling of their regimental monument.

For many of these veterans, that day witnessed their first return visit to these fields since the battle of Antietam, fought forty-two years to the day earlier.

On that Wednesday, the seventeenth of September 1862—on what was otherwise a beautiful late summer day—the once peaceful and tranquil farming fields surrounding us were transformed into vast, horrific killing fields. In a little more than twelve hours of savage conflict, along the banks of the meandering Antietam Creek, across the narrow farm lanes and country roads, and through standing fields of corn, more than 23,000 Americans, whether in blue or in gray, fell either killed, wounded, or went listed among the missing in action. It was, and remains, the bloodiest single-day battle in all of American history.

Best remembered for this unimaginable loss, Antietam’s greatest legacy was born five days after the guns fell silent here. With Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north repulsed and with his once seemingly invincible Army of Northern Virginia in retreat following the Union victory here, President Abraham Lincoln gained his long-awaited foundation, or platform, for announcing a proclamation of emancipation.

It was, in words of Horace Greeley, “the beginning of the end of the rebellion, and the beginning of a new life for the nation,” or, to borrow a more famous phrase, it was here that the nation truly witnessed its “new birth of freedom.” At last, the promises and ideals of this American nation, so prevalent at its founding, would apply to all; it was a first step, from this point on, all would be free to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, all of the blessings of this nation, all of the freedoms we have long enjoyed and which we continue to enjoy, have been secured through the bravery and sacrifice of those who have fought and those who have died on the field of battle. And on this particular field of battle, so many thousands fought, and so many thousands died.

Among them were fifty-one members of the 48th Pennsylvania. This monument stands as a silent tribute to those men, and to the hundreds of others who fought in the 48th and who fell on such sanguinary fields as Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Knoxville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and elsewhere throughout its four- year organization. This was the first monument established by the regiment’s survivors—another came several years later at Petersburg, to commemorate their services there, particularly in their famed tunneling under the Confederate defensive line. Because this was their first, it was only fitting that they chose to honor the soldier who organized and first led the regiment: James Nagle.

Born in 1822, James Nagle never received any formal military training, but from an early age developed an interest in martial endeavors. Perhaps it was the legacy of his own grandfather, Philip Nagle, who served in the Pennsylvania Continental Line under Washington during the Revolution, that inspired him, or perhaps it was his inherent sense of duty to serve his nation. Regardless of the motivation, in 1840, and at just eighteen years of age, he organized the Pottsville Blues, a militia company that in two years changed its branch of service and became the Washington Artillerists. Twenty years later, this company, under a different commander, would march to great fame as one of the first five Northern volunteer companies to reach the United States capital upon the outbreak of sectional hostilities in 1861, arriving in Washington on the night of April 18. Because of this noteworthy feat, the Washington Artillerists, along with four other Pennsylvania companies, became collectively known as the First Defenders, and it was James Nagle who founded this unit.

In 1846, Nagle led the Washington Artillerists off to war in Mexico, where they became Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served with great merit, such as at Cerro Gordo, where, according to one of his soldiers, he stood “calm and unmoved amid the leaden storm of death,” and on other fields where he earned distinction. With the conclusion of the war, Nagle returned to Pottsville to a hero’s welcome. The grateful citizenry presented him with a beautifully inscribed sword, a sword he would treasure for the rest of his life.

Nagle returned to more peaceful pursuits, raising children and pursuing his vocation as a house and sign painter, and then in 1852 as sheriff of Schuylkill County. All along, however, he maintained his interest and involvement in the Pennsylvania State Militia, rising through the ranks until, just prior to the outbreak of civil war, he was a colonel and brigade inspector.

Such a position, in addition to his reputation, caught the attention of Governor Andrew Curtin, who summoned Nagle to Harrisburg, where he helped to organize the trainloads of volunteers that were then pouring into the state capital. It then led to his appointment of the three-month 6th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which he led in the Shenandoah Valley. With the expiration of this three-month term of service, Nagle returned to Pottsville with authorization to raise a three-year regiment, which he resolved to do from his own Schuylkill County. From the anthracite-laden mine fields in the north to the fertile farming fields in the south, hundreds of volunteers came forth and by the end of summer, these volunteers were organized and were mustered into service as the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Nagle led the 48th until the spring of 1862, when he was elevated to brigade command in what became General Jesse Reno’s division of the Ninth Army Corps. His first true test as brigade commander came at 2nd Bull Run. Following this fight, General Reno wrote directly to Abraham Lincoln, recommending Nagle’s promotion to brigadier general. Lincoln endorsed the application with a handwritten note: “Let the appointment be made.”

It was here at Antietam, two days after the battle, the James Nagle’s commission arrived and where he first learned of his promotion to brigadier general.

Nagle went on to lead his brigade Fredericksburg, where he continued to earn the praise of his superiors and the admiration of his subordinates. As testimony to the esteem in which he was held, one of Nagle’s men later wrote that “though inflexibly firm and persistently industrious in the performance and requirement of every camp and field duty, yet such was the kindness of his demeanor, and the tender regard for the health, safety, and comfort of his men, that we considered him rather as a friend and father, than a mere military commander.”

Sadly, failing health, brought on by heart disease, forced his resignation in the spring of 1863 and cut short what was a promising career. Upon accepting his resignation, division commander Sam Sturgis wrote, “By his intelligence, energy, zeal and courage, and quiet, unassuming deportment, General Nagle has endeared himself to this command, and will carry with him the love and respect not only of those gallant troops he had led so often to victory, but of all who have the good fortune to know him.”

Nagle returned to his family in Pottsville, but did not stay idle for long. That same month General Lee embarked upon another northern campaign, this one reaching deep within his native Pennsylvania. He once again sprang into action, organizing the 39th Pennsylvania Militia. The following year, in the summer of 1864, elements of Lee’s army under the command of Jubal Early were once more heading north, passing through this area on their way toward Washington. With Early’s columns threatening, Nagle, for the fourth time in four years, raised and led yet another regiment, this time it was the 194th Pennsylvania, a 100-day unit. At last, in November 1864, Nagle was mustered out of service for the final time. He returned to his home and sought a return to more peaceful endeavors. Sadly, by the summer of 1866, his health had taken a turn for the worse and on August 22, surrounded by his family, General Nagle passed away at only 44 years of age, leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, the youngest of whom was just eleven months old.

But General Nagle also left behind an inspiring legacy. His commitment and dedication went unsurpassed. More than one century ago, when this monument was first dedicated, William Blackwood, the regimental surgeon and Medal of Honor recipient, spoke of this legacy when reflecting upon Nagle’s promotion to general: “At this time,” said Blackwood, “the merited and (for ourselves), the coveted promotion of Colonel Nagle eventuated—he won his star as brigadier general. Never did a soldier win the distinction through a harder road—for his whole time of service this more than brave gentleman and splendid soldier devoted his every energy to the cause for which he left his home and family, and supported by his gallant men, he won imperishable fame.”

Your contributions have helped restore this monument. This monument, and all monuments, serves to remind us, and to teach all the future generations, who will travel here long after we’re gone, to reflect upon the meaning of such a sanguinary battle, that those who fought and those who died on this now hallowed ground, that their service and sacrifice was not in vain. The reuniting of the general and his sword also helps honor and preserve the memory of one so brave and one so dedicated as Brigadier General James Nagle.

I will conclude with a passage from Surgeon Blackwood, spoke here on this very spot on a similar occasion: “Today we celebrate the attainment of General Nagle’s glory—a glory to him and to those who can never forget his leadership—may the bronze and granite which we now dedicate to his memory remain till time shall be no more on this historical field where so many of our Pennsylvania heroes gave their all to the defense of the land they loved—and the flag they adored.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Projects: Completed & Commenced

Busy does not even begin to describe it. Hectic is more like it, but crazy would do just fine. This is how the past six weeks have gone. But it seems as if the dust is (finally) starting to settle, and things are getting back to normal. Over the past month and a half, and in addition to losing a co-worker and my grandmother, and besides closing in on a new house, I have been keeping busy at work helping to develop a new Civil War Intelligence program for children along with my colleagues Ranger Christie and Ranger Mannie. Titled "Become A Civil War Scout," the program will soon become an activity for visiting school groups and consists of a series of activities designed to help teach students the various ways in which Civil War armies gathered information on the enemy. Mannie put his craftmanship to good use, creating a Civil War toy-soldier "army" as part of my activity titled "Count The Flags." 

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On another note, I am most pleased to announce that after a many decades-long absence and thanks to the generous contributions of donors from all across the United States, the missing sword has been replaced on the statue of Brigadier General James Nagle on the 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam. The sword went up on Thursday, May 13, at 12:45 p.m., this time for good. I could not be happier with sculptor Mike Kraus's incredible work in creating this sword, an exact replica of the one presented to Nagle upon his return from Mexico in 1848 by the grateful people of Pottsville.

A rededication ceremony is planned for Saturday, May 29, 2010, at 11:00a.m. The event will be recorded, so, hopefully, I will be able to post it. Antietam scholar John Schildt will provide the invocation, followed by a welcoming address by Superintendent John Howard, and then Mike Kraus will discuss his efforts. I will conclude the ceremony by delivering the dedication address and then comes the unveiling. To all those who have helped bring this project to fruition, please accept my thanks and my appreciation. I began this undertaking on April 5, 2008, and estimated it would take two years. Sure enough, here we are in the spring of 2010, and the monument is restored.

I will be posting more about this following the May 29 Rededication.

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Also keeping me very busy is something to which I alluded in my previous post. . .and that is a new book project. Some of you guessed it correctly. Last Fall, my friend and fellow Civil War blogger/historian Eric Wittenberg put me in touch with Doug Bostick, editor of the History Press's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. After some discussion about possible topics, Doug and I agreed on a South Mountain battle narrative. I completed the proposal, the History Press accepted it, and am happy to say that on March 13, I signed the contract. Since this time, I have been busy writin' and researchin', for I must have the manuscript submitted by December 15. The Crampton's Gap chapter is complete, and I am now buried deep in the Fox's Gap fight. I envision the book to run about 200 pages of text with a series of appendices, and well illustrated with photographs and maps. If all goes well, look for it around this time next year.

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Last, but in no ways least, several weeks back, I was asked to teach HIST406: The Civil War & Reconstruction at American Military University, another great honor to which I eagerly look forward. First class begins June 7!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Turning A Page . . .Moving Ahead

Moving forward on a number of projects, trying to keep myself busy.
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Had a great day at Antietam today, meeting with artist/sculptor Mike Kraus, who showed up with the bronze sword that will soon be replaced on the 48th PA Monument. Mike did a truly outstanding, superb job with this, and I could not be more pleased. We met up at the monument this afternoon in order for him to take some final measurements before returning in several weeks to physically attach it. . .this time permanently. The sword will be covered until the re-dedication ceremony, scheduled for Saturday, May 29, 2010, at 11:00a.m.
What a great thrill being able to hold Kraus's masterful work. . .it is, quite simply, an exact replica of Nagle's original Mexican-American War presentation sword.

Mike Kraus taking some final measurements before putting the final touches on this project.
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I am also pleased with the progress of my Antietam: September 17, 1862 book, which is still set for publication either late this Spring or at some point during the Summer. The text is completed and the book is almost entirely laid out. My colleague Keith Snyder is currently working on the maps and the layout, so stay tuned. . .This book covers the entirety of the Maryland Campaign, and while focusing on Antietam, also includes battle actions at South Mountain and Shepherdstown. It is geared toward both the beginner and the enthusiast.
Cover of Antietam: September 17, 1862

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Finally, I am excited to announce that I have begun work on a new book project. A contract has been signed and this new book will be out next year. That's all I wish to say for now, but the sketch below offers a hint as to the focus of this newest project. There will be much, much more to follow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Farewell To My Baba. . .Anna Mitsock, 1926-2010.

On Monday, April 12, 2010, my grandmother, Anna Mitsock, was called back to heaven, passing away peacefully at the age of eighty-four. Baba Mitsock was the only grandparent I ever really knew; my dad's mom, Baba Hoptak, died in the Spring of 1986 when I was just seven years of age, so, sadly, I never really got a chance to know her all that well. Both my grandfathers had passed away before I was born.
But Baba Mitsock was there for all thirty-one years of my life, and although I am very saddened--and a little shaken--by her loss, I do thank God for all the time that we had together. I will always remember the Holidays we shared together, the vacations we took, the big life moments, such as graduations and weddings, we were all a part of. . .she was there, always. I will also remember the everyday moments; such as when returning from school, and seeing Baba sitting on my parents' swing on the back porch. . .the little things that will nevertheless remain with me for the rest of my life.
Baba was a loving and fun person to be around. She was also very practical.
Once, when trying to learn more about my family's ancestry and background, I asked her: "Baba, how did your parents get here to America?" "Well, on a boat, Johnnie." "Yes, I know," I said, "but, what was it that brought them here?" Her response: "They came on a big boat, Johnnie. They didn't have planes or anything like that back then." I just let it go at that.
Baba was a first-generation American, born on July 29, 1926, in Crow Hollow, a mining town in the Heckschersville Valley in Schuylkill County. Her dad, Frank Lagola, was a native of Prague, who escaped conscription in the German Army at the outset of World War I and sailed to the states. . ."on a big boat." Settling in the coal regions of Schuylkill County, he met my great-grandmother, Julia Yascovitch, who, as a teenager, fled Revolutionary Russia and, too, settled in Schuylkill County. They were married and started a large family of twelve children; with Baba's death this past Monday, only two of Frank and Julia's children remain.
My great-grandparents Julia & Frank shortly after their arrival in the United States, and a few years before the birth of my grandmother, Anna.
Sadly, Baba's life was marred by hardship and tragedy. Her husband--my grandfather--Nicholas Mitsock was only thirty years old when he was killed in a coal mine collapse in May 1957, leaving my Baba, herself only thirty at the time, to raise five children on her own. In 1994 and 2000, she had to bear the unimaginable burden of burying two of her children, my uncles Butchy and Muzzy. Growing up in the coallands, Baba also suffered from emphysema, a lifelong affliction from which she is finally relieved.
When I learned of her death and tried to come to terms with it, I asked my wife why someone would have to endure such a tough life. I remembered, though, at that moment of something I said years back, "Baba's place has long been reserved in heaven." Late Monday morning, she at last arrived. I learned a number of important life lessons from Baba; the most important one, though, was that no matter what may come our way, no matter the curves life may throw at us, we need to persevere and move ahead. Despite all the hardships and tragedies Baba was forced to deal with, what I will remember most, is that she was seemingly always smiling. I will always remember that smile and her little laugh, usually under her breath.
We will lay Baba to rest on Friday. It is certainly going to be difficult saying farewell and even more difficult imagining life ahead without Baba. She was always there in the past, watching as my sister and I grew, and even playing along. . .
. . . but I do know that although she will no longer be with us in body, she will be there in spirit.

And just as on Monday, when Baba was reunited with her husband for the first time in fifty-three years, her two sons, nine siblings, and countless friends, so, too will we who are left to mourn her loss be one day reunited with her.

Farewell, Baba. We will miss you.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Soldiers of the 48th: Lieutenant Henry Rothenberger, Co. D, 48th PA

It is remarkable how much I have discovered about the 48th Pennylvania since first launching this blog in November 2006. Over the past three years and some months, I have received numerous photographs, obituaries, letters, diaries, et cetera, sent in by generous individuals from throughout the country and all relating to the soldiers and veterans of the 48th. Since the war, these items had remained with the families or in private hands and were thus previously unknown to me.
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Last week, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in Georgia. Turns out he had recently purchased an old book in a thrift store and inside was a CDV photograph identified as "Sergeant Henry Rothenberger, Co. D, 48th P.V.V.I." (Yes, I know, how cool is that?) The gentleman was kind enough to scan the image and send it along to me, and for this, I cannot thank him enough.
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Henry Rothenberger was only eighteen years of age when he enlisted into the ranks of Company D, 48th PA, on September 23, 1861. Unlike most of the men who served in the regiment, Rothenberger hailed not from Schuylkill County, but from Hamburg in neighboring Berks County. He stood 5'6" in height, had a Dark Complexion, Dark Hair, and Dark Eyes. He was a brickmaker by trade. Rothenberger was one of those rare individuals who served throughout the war (he re-enlisted in March 1864) and emerged without a stratch. He rose through the ranks, eventually being mustered out as a 'Veteran' in July 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Now On The Newsstands. . .

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Be sure to pick up the latest (Spring 2010) issue of Pennsylvania Heritage on newsstands now, or order through their website. The issue features an article of mine on Nicholas Biddle, "A Forgotten Hero of the Civil War."
Click here for more. . .

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Letters Home: "our Regament is diging a mind for to Blow up the rebels:" Pvt. Albin Day, Co. K, 48th PA

Albin Day's July 10, 1864, letter to his brother, Henry Day, written on US Christian Commission paper

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On October 1, 1861, the Day Brothers of Orwigsburg were mustered into service as privates in Company K, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. The oldest, at age twenty-five, was James Day, Jr. Next came Frederick H. Day at twenty-three; Albin Day was the youngest at age eighteen. All three listed their occupations at 'Boatman.' A fourth Day Brother, Henry, did not serve with the 48th, but remained at home, no doubt to care for his widowed mother and his young wife and family. As the war dragged on, both Frederick and James Day were discharged for disability. Albin suffered a wound at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, when he was struck "on the head with a butt of a musket." Albin returned to the regiment, was promoted to corporal, and once more fell wounded, this time at Petersburg in July 1864 when a shell fragment struck his shoulder while he was helping dig the mine. After recuperating from this injury, Albin once more returned to the 48th and served out the war, being discharged in July 1865. Despite his injuries, Albin outlived all his brothers and was one of the last surviviors of the regiment. He died in Orwigsburg at the age of 88 on July 30, 1930, coincidentally enough, the 66th Anniversary of the Explosion of the Petersburg Mine and the Battle of the Crater.

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Several days after his July 1864 wounding at Petersburg, and from a hospital bed in the rear of the lines, Albin penned a letter to his brother Henry in Orwigsburg. It is a rather interesting account of his wound and the fact that he mentions the digging of the Mine makes this a rather unique letter.

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Camp Battel of pettersBurg, virginia

July 10 1864

Dear Brother

I now sit Down to write A Few lines to let you know that I am well At present and hope to find you the same. I am in the hospital Back in the rear. I have got A sore arm and the Doctors Dont what it is[.] my arm was swollen as big as my leg and the Doctors wanted to take my arm off and I would not let him for I said to him I would rather Die than lose my arm but my arm is getting better fast. I Cand use it a littel but the pain is Drawing in my right shoulder but I think it will be all wright in A few Weeks. Dear Brother I have not received a letter from you in two months and I wrote three and to day the Chaplain Came around and gave me A sheet of paper and A envelope and so I thought I would write another letter to you and if I would not get an answer and then it would be the last one[.] we have no news here just now. A littel picket firing now and then[.] our Regament is diging A mind for to Blow up the rebels for we are going to have A regullar siege here[.] we have some eighty pound guns[.] so no more at present from your Brother Albin Day give my best respect to mother and your wife and my love to my wife and also to Charley and Willey and all inquiring friends
from Albin Day to his Brother Henry Day

write soon. please excuse me for bad writing for my arm is to[o] sore to wright good.
Henry Day & Wife
Henry is pictured here in the uniform of the Orwigsburg Guards