Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 48th/150th: Hatteras~Part Two

Union Soldiers Drill at Camp Winfield~Hatteras, North Carolina

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"Our first impressions of Hatteras were not favorable," wrote regimental historian Joseph Gould. "When we relieved the 20th Indiana Regiment, which had previously occupied the post, and saw their deplorable condition, heard their tales of woe and had some experience with the troops--of bugs and things they left to our care--we certainly felt despondent, and 'many a time and oft' wondered 'why we came for a soldier.' However, after spending some weeks on the sandy shores, the soldiers of the 48th, spending their first Christmas and New Year's Day in uniform, far from Schuylkill County, they grew to love Hatteras. Said Gould fondly, "we learned to love the old place in time, and often in our after experience we wished we were back. . . ."

While Company B, commanded by Captain James Wren, remained at Hatteras Inlet to garrison Forts Hatteras and Clark, the remaining nine companies enjoyed more comfortable wooden barracks quarters at Camp Winfield, a few miles further up the island, which was constructed by the men of the 48th shortly after their arrival. "A large earthwork had been erected by the regiment," said Gould, "and it was a very formidable looking structure. We never had any occassions to use it, and our idea at the time of its construction was that it was done to keep us employed."

Drills became more frequent as the days continued to pass on Hatteras. In charge of the area was General Thomas Williams, a career soldier, afterwards killed at the battles for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Williams was a tough, no-nonsense officer. He "came upon the scene," remembered Gould, "to make our lives miserable. . .by inaugurating five drills per day." But his work in transforming the volunteers into soldiers paid off. "Later we thought better of him as we grew older," admitted the regimental historian, "and as we learned that the extra drills and discipline he enforced upon us did us a great amount of good when we were called upon to assume the heavy work attending the life we had chosen." When the soldiers of the 48th learned of his death, there were "many expressions of sorrow."

Brigadier General Thomas Williams

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wallking In The Footsteps of the 48th. . .With Mr. Siegfried

One of the most memorable highlights of this past year at Antietam. . .my sixth, if you count my first year as a volunteer. . .was walking in the footsteps of the 48th Pennsylvania with Mr. David Siegfried, a direct descendant of the regiment's commander at Antietam, Lt. Col. Joshua K. Sigfried.

Brevet Brigadier General Joshua Sigfried

Born on July 4, 1832, in my own hometown of Orwigsburg, Joshua Sigfried attended school at the Pottsville Academy then found work with the coal business in neighboring Port Carbon. In the pre-war years, Sigfried organized the Marion Rifles, a militia company that would later serve under Colonel James Nagle in the three-month 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. With the expiration of this initial term of service in late July 1861, Sigfried helped in raising what would become the 48th Pennsylvania, recruiting many of the members of the Marion Rifles plus more volunteers from the Pottsville/Port Carbon area. When the 48th was organized in September/October 1861, Sigfried was the regiment's major but the resignation of Lt. Col. David Smith would soon elevate Sigfried to that rank, making him the regiment's second-in-command. When Colonel Nagle was elevated to brigade command in April 1862, Sigfried assumed command of the 48th, which he would lead until the spring of 1864, and at such places as 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and during the regiment's campaigns in Kentucky and Tennessee. In April 1864, Major General Ambrose Burnside, recognizing the leadership qualities of Sigfried, named him a commander of a brigade of United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.), a brigade he would subsequently lead during the Battle of the Crater.

With Mr. Siegfried at the 48th PA Monument

This fall, I had the distinct privilege of taking one of General Sigfried's descedants on a tour of the 48th's actions at Antietam. We spent three hours walking in the footsteps of the 48th, from their supporting operations during the attacks on the Burnside Bridge to their movement to the front late that afternoon to help stem the tide following A.P. Hill's flank assault. Meeting descendants of 48th PA soldiers is always, always a great thrill for me, and after spending years conversing by letter, it was great to finally Mr. David Siegfried and an honor to stomp the battlefield of Antietam with him and his wife. Just like meeting the Dentzer siblings last summer, whose ancestors fought and died as soldiers in Company K, 48th PA, this will rank among my most memorable experiences at Antietam.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Antietam's Memorial Illumination. . .Few Things Are More Profound

Tonight, a candle will burn on the Antietam National Battlefield in honor of George Dentzer, a twenty-five-year-old private in Company K, 48th Pennsylvania, and a one time railroad laborer from Cressona. On September 17, 1862, Dentzer was killed in action near the Burnside Bridge.

Private George Dentzer, Co. K, 48th PA

Another will burn in tribute to Private Alexander Prince, a nineteen-year-old laborer from St. Clair, just outside of the Schuylkill County seat of Pottsville. Prince survived the carnage on September 17, only to be struck down and killed the following day while trying to save the life of a wounded comrade. The soldiers of the 48th spent most of September 18 on the firing line, subjected to a sometimes heavy skirmish fire. In between shots the cries of the wounded rent the air. The pleas from one soldier were too much for Prince to bear. At 12:15, he crawled forward on his hands and knees despite the protests from his fellow soldiers in order to take water to a grievously wounded man. Prince delivered his canteen, turned around, and began to crawl his way back to the skirmish line when the wounded soldier begged to be carried back. Prince’s comrades on the skirmish line watched as the young soldier turned back and lifted the man on his back. Suddenly, a shot rang out and Prince fell dead. “Whilst humanely trying to give a wounded comrade just over the skirmish line some water for his parched lips,” recorded Bosbyshell, “a minie ball pierced his heart. His death cry as he leaped into the air, and fell to rise no more, is still heard in the ear of imagination.” Captain Wren concluded that “through his kindness [Prince] lost his own life.”
Prince’s comrades were stunned; most of them no doubt outraged that he had been shot down while trying to save a wounded man. As the hours passed that afternoon, Prince’s body lay just to their front. “We dare not go into to him as the enemy had range on that ground & we was very ancious to get his Body,” wrote Wren. Unable to stand looking at the young soldier’s corpse, some members of the regiment finally crawled forward and were able to bring it in. “I had [the body] taken down to the Bridge & had it Buried in the field near the Bridge,” said Wren, “whear we had the struggle for to get across.” The following morning, Captain Wren met with Alexander Prince’s brother, an artilleryman in the Ninth Corps. “He told me he saw his Brother before he was Buried & I was glad he had seen him, even if he was dead. I gave him his pocket book, which contained $1.30 Cents in money & 3 rings & 5 buttons which I gave to him & also the Bible, he showed me a few days ago & he got his Knapsack yesterday & he being his nearest friend, is entitled to it.”

That same day, Captain Wren also sent John Robinson’s knapsack to Robinson’s father in Pottsville, “Just as he had it packed when he was shot.” Like Prince, Private John Robinson, also just nineteen years of age, was shot on September 18. He suffered for a while but finally succumbed to his wounds in the weeks ahead.

Dentzer, Prince, and Robinson were three of the fifty-nine casualties suffered by the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry at the Battle of Antietam and tonight--December 3, 2011--at the twenty-second annual Memorial Luminaries, a candle will burn, lighting the darkness, for each of these fifty-nine soldiers either killed or mortally wounded.

Luminaries burn near the Maryland Monument at Antietam (NPS/Keith Snyder)

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More than 23,000 other luminaries will be lit, one for each of men, Union or Confederate, who fell either killed or wounded or went listed among the missing, during this costliest single-day battle of the American Civil War.

Tonight's event will be the seventh luminary I have had the pleasure to participate in, if only helping to park the vast procession of vehicles. Still, there are few more incredible sights to see than the night sky lit up over this hallowed ground by 23,110 candles. It is a number I say everyday at the battlefield, in my interpretation of the fight. It is an easy one to say, but an impossible number to imagine. Antietam's luminaries reveal just how tremendous a figure 23,110 actually is.

If you have not yet seen Antietam's luminaries for yourself, make it a point, one of these years, to do so.

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There were a total of fifty-nine casualties sustained by the 48th Pennsylvania at Antietam. Eleven of these men were killed or mortally wounded while the remaining forty-eight sustained non-fatal injuries. The names of these men follow:

Killed/Mortally Wounded :
Alexander Prince, Co. B
John Robinson, Co. B
Alva Jeffries, Co. D
John Sullivan, Co. D
Lt. William Cullen, Co. E
John Broadbent, Co. E
Charles Timmons, Co. G
Cpl. Lewis Focht, Co. I
Cpl. Daniel Moser, Co. K
George Dentzer, Co. K
Peter Boyer, Co. K

Company A:
Cpl. Henry H. Price
Charles Krieger
B.F. Dreibelbeis
George Betz
John Whitaker

Company B:
Matthew Hume
Frederick Knittle
Laurentus Moyer
John R. Simpson

Company C:
Sgt. William Clark
Sgt. Edward Monahan
Cpl. Samuel Wallace
Cpl. James Gribons
Robert Rodgers
James Horn
Henry Dersh
John Doughtery
John Shenk

Company D:
Cpl. Henry Rothenberger
George Artz
Walter Aimes
James Evans
George Stillwagon
Samuel Stichter
Franklin Hoch

Company E:
Sgt. John Seward
Sgt. William Trainer
Cpl. John McElrath

Company F:
Sgt. John Jenkins
Sgt. William Taylor

Company G:
Cpl. Charles F. Kuentzler
John Pugh
John Rodgers
Henry Nagle

Company H:
Richard Forney
Jacob Witman
Daniel Ohnmacht
William Davis
Samuel Fryberger

Company I:
Lt. Michael M. Kistler
Charles Millet
Peter Keller
Matthew Fireman

Company K:
David Fenstermaker
Edward Payne
Francis Simon
John Shaw
Sgt. Patrick Quinn

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Henry Rothenberger, Co. D

Daniel Ohnmacht, Co. I

Samuel Fryberger, Co. H

Henry H. Price, Co. A

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 48th/150th: Hatteras~Part One

150 years ago, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was encamped at Hatteras, North Carolina, after having spent several weeks garrisoned at Fortress Monroe. One can imagine the impact made on these Schuylkill County boys when setting sail down the coast and then arriving on the shore; for most, it was their first visit to the beach! It was not long, however, before the realities of camping on a sea shore became all too apparent.

[U.S. Soldiers Land at Hatteras]

Below are several letters, penned by soldiers of the 48th, describing the journey to Hatteras and their experiences trying to live on the storm-swept beaches. The first comes from Oliver Christian Bosbyshell to the editors of the Pottsville Miners' Journal; the second from Lieutenant George Gressang to his family in Pottsville; and the third from a soldier known as "G.W.H.," again to the Miners' Journal.

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1). Fort Clark, Near Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
18th November 1861

Messers. Editors:--Well, here we are—the 48th, I mean—at the famous Ft. Clark, made famous by the gallant manner in which it was captured from the secessionists. It is a rude structure, but very substantial, as it would take a ball a long time to pierce the breastworks, they being made of matted sod, and some twelve feet thick. In the centre is a large mound, made of some material, which is used for a magazine. But I am anticipating—I [?] we were here; now it’s a question of how we got here, and I will proceed therefore to state how.—Last Sunday, the 10th inst., Col. Nagle received orders from headquarters to march his command to Fort Hatteras, N.C. On Monday afternoon, about five o’clock, we broke camp near Fortress Monroe, and succeeded in getting ourselves stowed snugly away on the steamer “S.R. Spaulding,” and at seven o’clock we bade adieu to Fortress Monroe, and steamed pleasantly out of the Chesapeake Bay into the broad Atlantic. We had a most delightful trip down the ocean, which was remarkably smooth—not a case of sea sickness occurred on board.
—At 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, we dropped anchor off Ft. Hatteras, and successed, after considerable difficulty, in getting a plank attached to the bulk of an old wreck.—Down this plank, which had an elevation of at least 45 degrees, our Regiment landed—one man at a time. Having, at last, reached shore, we formed on the beach and took up our line of march for Fort Clark, about three quarters of a mile further up the beach. When we accomplished over half the distance, the Regiment halted to make preparations to wade a narrow inlet, separating us from Fort H. In ten minutes we were moving again, and such a looking set of men—some without breeches in their drawers—others sans drawers, breeches, or anything else. It was a laughable scene and the men enjoyed it hugely. We halted on the other side to rearrange our disordered clothing, after which we marched on, and stacked arms on the beach between the Fort and the ocean. We were obliged to make several trips back to the boat, before we got all our things here. Immediately after we arrived, three companies of the New York 92nd Regiment vacated this post, and joined their regiment, encamped at Camp “Wool” two miles further up. Col. Nagle is now the commander of Fort Clark, his being a separate command from that of Fort Hatteras. This military department is under Brigadier General Williams, U.S.A.
The two Forts are built of the same material. Fort Clark mounts some four 32-pounders and one Dahlgren gun; these have been placed in charge of Co. B, Capt. Jas. Wren, and every evening at sunset a gun is fired.—Outside of the Fort, in different places, earthworks have been thrown up, behind which the companies are drilled every morning, after reveille, at simulating a defence—practiced in firing, standing and kneeling, from behind these fortifications. The field pieces, of which there are a number here, Co. H., Capt. Jos. Gilmour, has been detailed to take charge of. They are placed behind breastworks, and, in case of an attack, would prove most effective. This morning a grand review of the New York 92nd came off on the beach. The New York 92nd occupied the right of the line, and the 48th the left. We were reviewed by Brigadier General Williams and staff, and it was almost impossible not to notice with what pleasure the General surveyed the brilliant display before him. Indeed, who could help being pleased; each company filing by looking their best and doing their best, and you may be assured, the 48th made a most creditable appearance.

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

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

[Fort Hatteras]

2). Hatteras Inlet, N.C., 15th November 1861

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

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3). Fort Clark, Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
Wednesday, Nov. 18th 1861

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The 48th/150th: Setting Sail For Hatteras

The Steamer S.R. Spaulding Carried The 48th Pennsylvania To Hatteras, N.C.

150 years ago, and after spending more than six weeks near Fortress Monroe, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry set sail for Hatteras, North Carolina and the next chapter of the regiment's history was about to unfold.

The orders arrived on Sunday, November 10, 1861 and as regimental historian Joseph Gould remembered: "immediately all was bustle and excitement amid the packing and cooking of rations for the journey." The orders stated that the 48th was to relieve the 20th Indiana at Hatteras and, as Oliver Bosbyshell recalled, "it cannot be said that a very large degree of enthusiasm was manifested over this assignment."

The 48th set out the following morning--November 11, 1861--aboard the S.R. Spaulding, which Gould remembered as "a staunch, comfortable vessel." Bosbyshell described it as "a fine ship, only two years old, delightfully fitted with the best appliances and most comfortable conveniences." Bosbyshell also left a vivid account of the trip south:

"Very agreeable was her graceful motion as she steamed out of the Roads and into the broad bosom of the Atlantic. The unexpectedly warm and balmy atmosphere, combined with the bright radiance of the silvery moon, made the journey down the coast delightful in the extreme; few of the members of the regiment sought repose until long after midnight. Many had their first glimpse of a sunrise at sea on the morning of the twelfth and enjoyed its glories to the full, out of a cloudless sky."

It was a short journey and "a very pleasant" one; the regiment reached their destination anywhere between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on November 12. What they were about to experience on Hatteras, however, differed markedly from the generally "pleasant days" at Fortress Monroe.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The 48th/150th: A Field Glass For Colonel Nagle

In early October 1861, as the 48th Pennsylvania continued to occupy its camp near Fortress Monroe, a Sergeant Patterson arrived from Pottsville, bearing a gift for Colonel James Nagle. The gift was a "fine field glass" paid for by the former members of the 6th Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month organization, which was Nagle's first command (April--July 1861); a field glass, boasted the Pottsville Miners' Journal that enabled Nagle to see a sergeant's chevrons, at nighttime, from thirty yards.

Accompanying the gift was a letter addressed to the colonel, which was prepared and signed by a number of officers who had served under Nagle in the 6th. This letter speaks of the personal and military qualities and characteristics that endeared Nagle to his men and won the respect of his superior officers.

Col. James Nagle,
Dear Sir:- A number of your friends, officers, and privates of the late Sixth Regiment, P.V., commanded by you during the time it was in service, desire to present the accompanying field-glass, for your acceptance, in token of our high personal esteem, and the exalted opinion we entertain of your military knowledge and capacity.
Though your characteristic modesty may shrink from any public eulogy of your conduct and services, our gratitude and admiration will not permit us to pass them by, without this tribute of affection and respect.
For many years past the military spirit and organization of Schuylkill County have been chiefly sustained by your exertions. When the Nation’s honor was to be maintained on the plains of Mexico, you with a well disciplined corps under your command, sprang to arms and hastened to the field of conflict; in Cerro Gordo’s terrific fight you stood calm and unmoved amid the leaden storm of death which fell on every side, and by your presence of mind and courage saved many gallant men from the fearful carnage.
During the long season of peace which followed the closing of that war, in your own quiet and happy home, you faithfully discharged the duties of a husband, father, and citizen, endearing yourself both to your family and the community in which you dwelt.
But now the tocsin of war sounds through the land, and her valiant sons are called to defend her against foul rebellion’s deadly blows. Speedily a regiment of your fellow citizens take the field, and confer upon you the command. During the three months we served together, though inflexibly firm and persistently industrious in the performance and requirement of every camp and field duty, yet such was the kindness of your demeanor, and your tender regard for the health, safety, and comfort of your men, that we regarded you rather as a friend and father, than a mere military commander.
And now, that you have, at the head of a Schuylkill County Regiment—Pennsylvania’s 48th—again taken the field at your country’s call and may soon be in the thickest of the most eventful battle the world has ever witnessed, on the issue of which the destiny of human freedom and progress is suspended, we present you with the accompanying glass, as well in token of our esteem and admiration, as that your eye which never dimmed with fear as it gazed upon a foe, may more readily perceive his approach and prepare for victory.
Praying that God of Battles may preserve you in the midst of danger, and return you unharmed to your family and friends, when our glorious Union shall be firmly re-established, and covered with still more illustrious renown,
We remain, yours truly,
Capt. C. Tower,
Lt.Col. Jas. J. Seibert,
Maj. John E. Wynkoop,
Capt.H.J. Hendler,
Lieut. Theo. Miller,
Lieut. D.P. Brown,
And many others.

Upon receipt, Nagle penned the following reply:

Head Quarters 48th Regt., P.V., Camp Hamilton
Near Fortress Monroe, October 11th, 1861.

Gentlemen and Brother Officers, Soldiers, and Friends:-- Your favor of the 8th inst., came to hand yesterday, with the beautiful field glass you saw proper to forward for presentation, to me. I can assure you it affords me much pleasure and satisfaction to receive and accept this tribute of affection and respect, coming from those whom I had the honor to command in the three months’ service. I always tried to discharge my duties faithfully, to the best of my ability, and am led to believe that you were all satisfied with my conduct. I therefore, accept the token of respect you send me, with feelings of gratitude and thankfulness, and hope I may be able to gain the confidence of the 48th to the extent you, gentlemen of the 6th, have expressed in your letter, and manifested in your beautiful present. It is a source of great pleasure and gratification to me to know that my services have been appreciated by the officers and soldiers of the 6th Regiment. In conclusion, allow me agin to return you my most sincere thanks for this valuable gift, praying with you, that the God of Battles may preserve us in the midst of danger, and return us unharmed to our families and friends, after our glorious Union shalle have been firmly re-established, and the Stars and Stripes shall again be floating proudly over the whole of our country,
I remain, Gentlemen, Very Respectfully,
Your Obedient Servant,
James Nagle
Colonel commanding 48th Regt., P.V.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The 48th/150th: "Pleasant Days at Fort Monroe"

One hundred and fifty years ago, the volunteer soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania--just one month into their service with the United States army--were still getting accustomed to military life but enjoying their stay at Camp Hamilton, near Fortress Monroe, Virginia, nonetheless.

On September 28, 1861, having settled into camp life, Corporal Curtis C. Pollock of Company G recorded the following observations in a letter to his mother in Pottsville:

". . . got up in the morning and saw the sun rise out of the sea. We arrived here about 6:00 o’clock in the morning and saw any quantity of “contrabands” running around and some fishing for crabs others loafing around and looking at us. We waited about a half hour until Col. Nagle reported to Gen. Wool and then got off and were marched about a mile back and inspected the camp. He is a small man not much taller than Uncle Robert or Joseph and not near so stout. I have been appointed corporal. Capt. Nagle appointed some sargents and corporals over me who were never out before and are almost as dum as they can be. We have commenced drilling and have about six drills a day. I have just come in from a regimental drill and in about half an hour will have to go out on a company drill. We are kept busy pretty much all the time and have not much chance to run around."

Oliver Bosbyshell, also of Company G, remembered well these days at Camp Hamilton: "On the third of October, the regiment, having been flooded out the previous night, moved to higher ground, occupying a camp vacated by one of the regiments that had been ordered away. The ninth of October was made memorable by the arrival of Sutler Isaac Lippman, with a great, unwieldy tent, which the boys pitched in indefinite delight, although a heavy storm of wind and rain prevailed. On the eleventh, Shaw made himself famous by shooting in the leg a Massachusetts soldier, who attempted to pass his picket post--thought he was 'secesh.'"

While the war seemed distant to many of the troops at this time, Bosbyshell could not help but notice the preparations underway for an anticipated amphibious campaign further south. "Great interest was felt in the grand expedition fitting out here for the South Atlantic coast. Hampton Roads was crowded with vessels waiting to join the Armada, and a large force of troops was being gathered at this point."

Remembering the days spent at Fortress Monroe some forty years later, regimental historian Joseph Gould wrote: "We enjoyed every minute we spent at this place. We were pleasantly situated, having plenty of army rations and luxuries in lavish abundance. Fish, oysters, clams and crabs could be had with little effort, and despite a few rain-storms, accompanied by wind, which blew our tents down, and obliged some to sleep in a few inches of water, we were comfortable and happy." Like Bosbyshell, though, Gould was also impressed with the build-up of forces there. "Along about the 13th of October vessels began to arrive laden with troops destined for Port Royal, South Carolina, until about thirty-thousand were collected at this point, amongst them the 4th Rhode Island, 1st Delaware and 55th Pennsylvania Regiments."

It would not be long until the 48th itself received its 'marching orders.' On October 22, the regiment was at last equipped and armed; their weapons were the Harpers Ferry muskets, with the "buck and ball" cartridge. "Our first uniforms," wrote Gould, "were of very ordinary quality, and it took but a few weeks of service to develop the weak spots in their make-up."

On Sunday, November 10, 1861, the regiment received orders that it would be heading out. . . their destination: Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 48th/150th: Fortress Monroe & Jake Haines's Encounter With General Joseph K.F. Mansfield

Fortress Monroe, Virginia

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Having been mustered into state service, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania received orders to proceed to Washington, D.C. Departing Harrisburg on September 24, 1861, the regiment boarded the cars of the Northern Central Railway and headed south. Along the way, Colonel James Nagle received a telegram directing him to instead take his regiment to Fortress Monroe.

Within just a few miles from Baltimore, "a fiendish attempt" was made to throw the train from the track but, as Joseph Gould noted, "Only two of the cars were thrown off, and beyond a few bruises, none of the members of the Regiment were injured."

At last reaching Baltimore, many members of Companies B & G who had passed through the Charm City in mid-April on their way to Washington as members of the Washington Artillerists no doubt recalled those tense moments when their small band came under attack by a mob of Confederate-leaning Baltimoreans. There would be no repeat of hostilities this time; instead, the 48th marched through the city to the harbor where they boarded the steamer Georgia, which Oliver Bosbyshell described as "a precarious old craft, likely to fall to pieces." Bosbyshell further recalled the nerve-wracking trip down the Chesapeake: "The captain wisely crept along close in to shore, not knowing what moment the timbers of the old hulk would separate. He was all anxiety, and his constant call admonishing to 'trim ship' kept the boys moving. The night moved slowly away, the somnolent regiment unmindful of danger, although ever and anon through its weary hours the cry of 'trim ship' caused a shifting of position."

The Georgia landed at Fortress Monroe on the morning of September 26. The 48th disembarked, stretched their legs, and marched around the walls of the fortress and across the narrow land bridge that connected to Hampton. There, they settled in at Camp Hamilton. "Here we settled down into a soldier's life," wrote Joseph Gould, "as naturally and contentedly as though we were old veterans."

In command of Camp Hamilton and Fortress Monroe at this time was an "old veteran," General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield, fifty-years-old with four decades worth of service. The soldiers of the 48th came to appreciate Mansfield, a professional soldier's soldier. "His mild disposition and benevolent heart, that caused him to be ever on the lookout for the welfare of his soldiers, combined, however, with a firm, just discipline," said Oliver Bosbyshell, "endeared him to all with whom he came in contact."

General Joseph Mansfield

In an effort to demonstrate how easy it was to access the campsite of the 48th, Mansfield got into the habit of walking into the camp "night after night," each time dropping by Colonel Nagle's tent, letting him know that he was there. This surely embarrassed the colonel. "Day after day," said Gould, "while on regiment drill, Colonel Nagle formed the regiment in 'hollow square' and told of Mansfield's nocturnal visit to his quarters. He was greatly displeased at this seeming lack of vigilance on the part of the guards, and demanded greater care by officers and men; but the nightly invasions continued, though not so frequently."

During one of Mansfield's visits, he was able to slip past Private Jake Haines, who was on guard duty, without challenge. Mansfield instructed the officer of the guard to have Haines reprimanded, but Haines, as Bosbyshell described him, "was as deaf as a post," which most likely accounted for his lack of vigilance. Colonel Nagle understood and though he did reprimand Haines, he did so in a "low squeaking voice which the Colonel sometimes adopted." Nagle walked away and Haines turned to a comrade and asked, "What did he say?"

At last, Mansfield was stopped one night trying to get into the 48th's camp; a soldier named Rogers yelling to the aged warrior, "halt, or I'll prog ye!" Rogers, with bayonet forward, escorted Mansfield to the Officer of the Guard, who then walked with Mansfield to Nagle's quarters. There, Mansfield at last congratulated Nagle and his regiment. "This episode," summarized Gould, "occurring in the formative period of the regiment, the impression remained, and vigilance on camp and picket guard became a marked characteristic of the command. . . ."

Less than one year later, on September 17, 1862, General Mansfield was struck down with a mortal wound while leading the Twelfth Corps at the Battle of Antietam.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 48th/150th: Becoming A Regiment & Receiving Its Flags

Soldiers Drill At Harrisburg's Camp Curtin

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One hundred and fifty years ago, the 48th Pennsylvania officially became a regiment.

Organized during the summer of 1861 from throughout Schuylkill County, the volunteers--1,010 of them--rendezvoused at Harrisburg's Camp Curtin where, on September 20, 1861, the regiment was mustered into state service (they would then become United States soldiers of October 1, 1861).

The soldiers of the 48th were presented two stands of colors on that same September 20. One flag was presented by Governor Andrew Curtin--Pennsylvania's "War Governor"--which he presented on behalf of the state. Curtin, said regimental historian Joseph Gould, "made a very eloquent speech to the boys, and was heartily cheered at its close." Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G agreed, writing that "the glowing words of his speech made a deep impression upon the command."

The second flag--the National flag--was presented by John T. Werner, a Pottsville attorney, described by Gould as "a grand old patriotic citizen--one of those men whom it was a pleasure to know and be associated with." Werner's eighteen-year-old son, J. Frank Werner, was at that time serving in the ranks of Company D. By war's end, the young Werner, a clerk before the war, was the company's commanding officer. Werner traveled to Harrisburg and presented the flag on behalf of the grateful people of Pottsville. It was a silk flag and upon its blue canton was a fitting inscription: In The Cause Of The Union, We Know No Such Word As Fail.

Later that evening, an appreciative Colonel James Nagle wrote a letter for publication in Pottsville's Miners' Journal:

"I desire to acknowledge through your valuable journal, the receipt of a beautiful flag, forwarded and presented to my regiment by our fellow townsman, John T. Werner, Esq. We feel very grateful to him, and return our most sincere thanks for the beautiful National Flag he saw fit to present to us-the flag we all swore to protect and defend, and I have every reason to believe that the 48th will do its duty, knowing our cause is just."

Oliver Bosbyshell later proudly wrote that throughout the conflict these flags "were gallantly defended, and although shattered and torn by bullet and shell, were safely returned to the State. . . ."

The 48th would receive new stands of colors in 1864 to replace these first ones, which were, as Bosbyshell attested, torn and shattered by war.

Being mustered into service, the regiment received orders to depart Harrisburg on September 24, 1861. They were on their way to war. . .

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The First Flags of the 48th!

This is all that remains of the 48th's first "state" flag, presented to the regiment on September 20, 1861, by Governor Andrew Curtin. Despite its condition, it is still in much better shape than the regiment's first "national colors," by presented by John T. Werner, on behalf of the people of Pottsville. . .

It is a real shame there is so little left of this. . .I would have loved to see that inscription:
In The Cause Of The Union, We Know No Such Word As Fail

Friday, September 9, 2011

“Here is a paper with which I will be bashed and vilified for for generations to come:” Some (generally rambling) Thoughts on Special Orders No. 191

A Clipping Of Special Orders No. 191. . .penned on September 9, 1862, and used to bash McClellan ever since.

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September 9 is an important date for students of the September 1862 Maryland Campaign, for it was the date on which General Lee dictated what became Special Orders No. 191, his plan of operations for the continuance of the campaign after first crossing the Potomac and moving north to Frederick. Following the instructions spelled out in 191, the Army of Northern Virginia began evacuating Frederick the following morning—September 10—then began spreading out across western Maryland and portions of northern Virginia (today West Virginia) in order to both continue with the movement northward and force the evacuation of the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Several days later, of course, and just hours after the final elements of Lee’s army left town, George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac arrived in Frederick and on the morning of September 13, Corporal Barton Mitchell of the 27th Indiana happened upon the famous—or infamous—lost copy of Special Orders No. 191. Making its way up the chain of command, 191 ultimately landed in the hands of George McClellan.

Ever since this document has been used as even more ammunition for generations of historians and "Monday moring quarterbacks" to further bash McClellan for his supposed failure not to immediately capitalize upon this “amazing” discovery and not to achieve a “decisive” win during the campaign.

But Special Orders No. 191 contained outdated and inaccurate information that may have hindered McClellan more than it helped him. And, 191 or not, the fact of the matter was that McClellan and his men did emerge victorious during this consequential campaign.

Less than two weeks earlier, McClellan had been called upon (again) to take the helm of the Federal forces gathering in Washington in what was perhaps the darkest days of the Union war effort. . .and for a general typically characterized as slow and cautious, he immediately went to work, consolidating and organizing a new Army of the Potomac, which now included John Pope’s Army of Virginia and Burnside’s Ninth Corps, and setting off north and west from Washington in pursuit of Lee’s invading columns. A master strategist, McClellan realized that Lee’s overriding purpose of the invasion was to draw the Army of the Potomac to battle, and not to capture Harrisburg or Baltimore nor to attack Washington, as so many of the nation’s leaders feared were Lee’s intentions. Satisfied that Lee was heading west from Frederick, McClellan moved quick. . .so quick, in fact, that he caught General Lee entirely off-guard and unaware, ultimately forcing Lee onto the defensive at South Mountain. Even before McClellan was handed 191, his plan was to continue pushing west from Frederick and across the South Mountain range. Portions of army, including his cavalry and the Ninth Army Corps, were already advanced west of Frederick, and inching their way toward South Mountain with orders to continue their way across the following day.

George McClellan's Triumphant Arrival in Frederick, MD, September 13, 1862

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Special Orders No. 191 placed Jackson’s command at Martinsburg, (West) Virginia, and Longstreet’s command at Boonsboro, Maryland, at the western base of South Mountain. There was nothing in the document that dictated that either Jackson move toward Harpers Ferry--which he did after the Federal garrison retreated there from Martinsburg--and Longstreet take his command to Hagerstown, which Lee directed on the morning of September 11. As far as McClellan was concerned, and as was spelled out in 191, Longstreet’s entire command was still at Boonsboro along with D.H. Hill’s Division, which is why he ordered the bulk of his army toward Turner’s Gap, which traversed South Mountain just east of Boonsboro.

Special Orders No. 191 also stated that Lee wished his entire operation to be concluded and his army reunited by the afternoon of September 12, the day before McClellan received 191. It was only necessary, then, that he determine whether or not the Army of Northern Virginia was still following this timetable, or whether they had fallen behind schedule. Finally, Special Orders No. 191, of course, made no mention as to Lee’s numbers; it only told McClellan that Lee had ordered the wide separation of his army across many miles of largely unfriendly territory, an order, believed McClellan, that only confirmed the reports he had been receiving that he was up against tremendous numbers.

History always mentions this paranoia of McClellan’s—that he was outnumbered. Seldom is the tremendous pressure that was resting on McClellan’s shoulders discussed. Of course, we know the outcome of the war—that in the spring of 1865 the Union emerged triumphant. But in mid-September 1862 things were very much undecided and had Lee won another victory following a summer’s worth of success, who's to say but the Confederacy might have very well prevailed, especially with a victory fought on Union territory and with Great Britain at that point leaning very close to recognizing the Confederacy as a sovereign nation. It would have at least brought them one step closer to victory. . .

Still, despite the tremendous pressure he was under, the fact was, McClellan moved aggressively throughout the entirety of the Maryland Campaign and within two weeks—following a lamentable season of defeats—led the Union army to victory at both South Mountain and Antietam, drove Lee out of Maryland, wrestled the initiative from his opponent (who firmly held it since the Seven Days’ Battles in late June-early July), and kept Washington and Pennsylvania safe. As my friend and historian Tom Clemens often points out, from September 14-September 19, George McClellan planned and executed three offensive actions (South Mountain--Antietam--Shepherdstown), two of which resulting in victory.

This does not, by any means, sound like the actions of a timid general.

In terms of military consequences, the outcomes of the Maryland Campaign of September 1862 and the Gettysburg Campaign of July 1863 were very much similar: Lee's invasion repulsed with heavy loss, Lee holding his ground the day following the fight, Lee getting across the Potomac to fight another day. Yet, while history always declares Gettysburg a Union victory, too often Antietam is portrayed as a tactical "draw." Yet when we consider not only the military consequences of the two campaigns but also their social, diplomatic, and political ramifications, the Maryland Campaign--with the resultant Emancipation Proclamation--must emerge as far more consequential.

But it seems that history, for the most part, is simply not yet willing to credit McClellan with anything; thus, while Meade earned a win at Gettysburg, McClellan, at best, earned a "draw."

Perhaps we need to rethink this; perhaps it is time we more fully appreciate the thoughts of Lee himself who after the war claimed McClellan as his most feared opponent. Perhaps we need to wonder why it is McClellan earned a "draw" at Antietam. The argument goes that it is because he did not follow up his victory and attack Lee again. Following this logic, then, why is, say, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville not considered to be "draws." After all, Lee did not follow up these victories by assuming or re-assuming offensive actions. . .did he not also "allow" the Federals to escape across either the Rappahannock and Rapidan the same as McClellan and Meade "allowed" Lee to escape after Antietam and Gettysburg? Further, to say the war would have ended ignores the fact that there were still tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers still in Virginia and completely ignores the fact that this civil war extended far, far beyond the confines of its Eastern Theater.

Finally, perhaps it is time we rethink the value of Special Orders No. 191, examining it not by what we know now, but instead by what McClellan knew then. Doing so forces us to reexamine not only the Maryland Campaign of September 1862 but also the military career and legacy of George McClellan.

Just my (generally rambling) thoughts. . .

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Civil War Letters of John W. Derr. . .A New Blog With A Focus On The 48th!

John W. Derr was twenty-one years of age when he was mustered into service as a private in Company D, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, in late September 1861. A blacksmith by trade, Derr served throughout the entirety of the conflict, was wounded at 2nd Bull Run, and mustered out as a "Veteran" in July 1865.

Now, in commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, Private Derr's great-great grandson has launched a blog dedicated to his ancestor and his ancestor's service, titled "The Civil War Letters of John W. Derr." This is truly an excellent idea. . .In addition to posts on the history of the 48th Pennsylvania, the blog will feature, primarily, the many letters Derr penned home while in uniform. These letters will be posted over the next four years in chronological order, so that we can follow in those proverbial footsteps of Derr and his regiment as they fought their way through North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Derr's first letter home has recently gone up, written soon after his arrival at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, where the regiment rendezvoused and was officially organized. In the letter, dated September 3, 1861, Derr rather matter-of-factly notes that he "made up my mind to go and fight for our country. . . .And I wish you wouldn't think hard of me that I left Deep Creek for I was tired of it long ago. . . ."

What an excellent way to kick off this blog; this letter providing some insights into soldier motivations.

I am looking forward to following this blog and reading Derr's letters homes. I have added the site to my links on the right-hand panel, or you can find it by simply clicking here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 48th PA/150th: Raising The Regiment: Company A

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, volunteers from throughout Schuylkill County, both young and old, signed up to serve in what would become the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment organized under the direction of Colonel James Nagle. Nagle received authorization from Pennsylvania's governor, Andrew Curtin, to recruit a regiment of "three-year" volunteers, and Nagle immediately went to work, enlisting the services of a number of acquaintances who established recruiting offices in the towns and townships of Schuylkill County. It was Nagle's desire to have the regiment recruited entirely from the anthracite-rich county in east-central Pennsylvania.

Port Clinton, Pennsylvania

Daniel B. Kauffman, a twenty-nine-year-old dispatcher of the Schuylkill Canal from the village of Port Clinton, set to work, organizing what became Company A. Like Kauffman, many of his volunteers hailed from Port Clinton--indeed, a good number had already served in the uniform of the Port Clinton Artillerists, a three-month organization that had served in the Shenandoah Valley from May-July, 1861, but saw no combat. Other recruits hailed from Tamaqua and the areas between in southern Schuylkill County. Also like Kauffman, many of his volunteers earned their living laboring on the Schuylkill Canal, which cut directly through Port Clinton.

Tamaqua, Pennsylvania

After enlisting their services, Kauffman's volunteers were directed to rendezvous at Harrisburg's Camp Curtin where, on September 17, 1861, they were formally mustered into federal service as Company A, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

The 1861 roster of Company A, 48th PA was as follows:

Captain: Daniel B. Kauffman

1st Lieutenant: Abiel H. Jackson
2nd Lieutenant: Henry Boyer
Orderly Sergeant: Benjamin G. Otto
1st Sergeant: Lewis B. Eveland

2nd Sergeant: Albert C. Huckey
3rd Sergeant: William Taylor
4th Sergeant: Milton B. Nice
1st Corporal: John J. Huntzinger
2nd Corporal: Francis M. Stidham

3rd Corporal: Peter Zimmerman
4th Corporal: John Little
5th Corporal: John S. Bell
6th Corporal: John Taylor
7th Corporal: Joseph B. Carter


George Airgood
George Albright
George Betz

William Betz
Elias Britton

Israel Britton
George Briegel
Thomas B. Boyer

Charles Brandenburg
William A. Berger
John Cochran

John Cochley
Benjamin F. Cummings
James Day
Patrick Dailey
Henry Davis

Jacob Dietrich
William Dreibelbeis
Benjamin Dreibelbeis
James S. Eveland
William Eddinger
Samuel Eckroth
Franklin Frederici
Charles Goodman
Abram Greenawald
John Gallagher
Charles Krueger
John Hummel
William F. Heiser
Henry C. Honsberger
Jacob S. Honsberger
William Jacob Hein
John Heck
Jordan C. Haas
Lewis Hessinger
William K. Jones
Newry Kuret
Willis L. Kerst
William H. Koch
Coleman Jacob Kramer
Benjamin Keller
Franklin Koenig
George Liviston
Daniel Leiser
John H. Leiser
William Miller
William Meck
Bernhard McGuire
Levi Morganroth
John McLain
James Meck
Samuel B. Moyer
Joel Marshall
George Miller
William Neeley
Andrew Neeley
Simon Nelson
Isaac Otto
John Pugh
Henry H. Price

Richard B. Perry
George Ramer
Lewis M. Reese
John Ruff
Frank W. Simon
Augustus Shickram
John Springer
Morgan Simon
Henry Schreyer
John V. Spreese
Nelson Simon
David Steel
Jesse Springer
Abraham F. Seltzer
John Shenk
Henry Simpson
John Stahlnecker
Obediah Stahlnecker
Bernard West
Franklin Wentzell
John Weibels
John Whitaker
Samuel Weiser
Oliver Williams
John F. Youser

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sam Schwalm's Letters: A New Book on the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry

The 50th Pennsylvania Monument at Antietam at Daybreak

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Just a brief interruption of my look at the 150th anniversary of the formation of the 48th Pennsylvania to announce the publication of a new book, The Civil War Letters and Experiences of Samuel Schwalm of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which includes an introduction written by Yours Truly. Published by the Pennsylvania-based Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, the book contains dozens of letters written by Samuel Schwalm, who enlisted in the summer of 1861 into what would become Company A, 50th Pennsylvania Infantry, a company recruited largely from northern and northwestern Schuylkill County. I was familiar with some of Schwalm's letters; copies of several are held at the Antietam Battlefield Library, which I used in my 2009 book Our Boys Did Nobly: Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Soldiers at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.

It was a great thrill and a great honor for me to have been asked to write the introduction for this new book. Several months back, Dr. Michael Gabriel of Kutztown University asked if I would be interested in penning the introduction. Because of my familiarity with the 50th, and because I was familiar with some of the Schwalm letters--and, of course, because the 50th fought in the Ninth Army Corps--I gladly accepted. My contribution to this book is a concise overview of the war service of the 50th Pennsylvania, which I titled "With Stripes Unmarred and Stars Undimmed," the words Colonel Benjamin Christ used to describe the promised condition of the regiment's flags upon their return from war.

More information on this book, including ordering information, can be found here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The 48th PA/150th: Raising the Regiment

Record Banner of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry

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This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the recruitment of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, and to help commemorate this, I will be devoting the next several weeks worth of posts to the origins of the regiment as well as its recruitment from the anthracite-laden coal fields and lush agricultural countryside of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

In late July 1861, with the three-months' terms of service of the war's first volunteers about to expire and with no end to the Southern rebellion in sight, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 men to serve for "three years or the course of the war," whichever should come first. Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania immediately went to work, seeking to fill the quota established for his state. On August 14, he commissioned Colonel James Nagle, of Pottsville, to raise a regiment. Nagle was an experienced officer, whom Curtin could rely upon to raise and then lead a regiment of three-year men. In 1840, and at just eighteen years of age, Nagle organized the Washington Artillerists, a company of militiamen he would lead in Mexico, when it was mustered into Federal service as Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers. Nagle, who served a term as sheriff of Schuylkill County, had just recently been mustered out of service as colonel of the Sixth Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month organization that served under General Robert Patterson in the lower Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from April-July 1861. Receiving his authorization to raise a regiment of three-year volunteer soldiers, Nagle determined to raise it almost entirely from his own Schuylkill County.

James Nagle raised the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry in the late summer of 1861

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To assist in his efforts, Nagle recruited the services of several friends and associates who proceeded to set up enlistment offices throughout the county. Nagle was well aware of the military capabilities of these men, they for the most part having served either under him in the 6th PA, or in other three-month organizations. Daniel B. Kauffman raised what would become Company A in and around the towns of Port Clinton and Tamaqua. James Wren, Joseph Gilmour, Henry Pleasants, and two of James Nagle's brothers--Daniel and Philip--set up recruiting stations in Pottsville, the county seat, drawing men from there and nearby St. Clair. Most of the men in Wren's company had served with the Washington Artillerists during the war's first three months and were among the very first Northern volunteer soldiers to reach Washington, D.C. following the outbreak of hostilities. William Winlack found volunteers from the coal fields surrounding Port Carbon, New Philadelphia, and Silver Creek, while Joseph Hoskings raised his company from Minersville and its surrounding areas. John R. Porter sought out recruits from Middleport and Schuylkill Valley, while Henry A.M. Filbert, a native of neighboring Berks County, drew his volunteers from Schuylkill Haven and Cressona in southern Schuylkill County.

An 1850 Map of Schuylkill County; the 48th Pennsylvania was raised almost entirely from Schuylkill County during the months of August-September 1861

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Oliver Bosbyshell, who served with the Washington Artillerists and who was mustered into what would soon become Company G, 48th Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1861, remembered the enlistment process. "As rapidly as men were secured the were forwarded to Camp Curtin, in Harrisburg, where the regiment rendezvoused. The medical examinations having been successfully passed, the recruits were equipped and assigned to their respective companies. Drills were instituted by the squad and company, and twice during its stay at Camp Curtin regimental drills were had. For the majority this was their first taste of military duty; however, there were many who had served in the Three Months' Service, in the Sixth, Fourteenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-Fifth, and other organizations. A number of those who first entered Washington City, and who are now known as the "First Defenders," re-entered the service in the Forty-Eighth Regiment, nearly all attaining the rank of commissioned officers."

Within just two months, 1,010 men volunteered to serve in what became the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

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In the weeks ahead--as we continue to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War--I will be posting biographical information on each of the above-mentioned men who recruited companies for the 48th, as well as the original field and staff officers. I will also be describing further their enlistment into Federal service and their first few weeks in uniform. Full rosters of each of the companies, with descriptions of each soldier, will also be provided.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"110 Degrees And I Just Got Chills:" Some Thoughts On The Manassas Sesquicentennial Commemoration

The Stonewall Jackson Statue Atop Henry House Hill On The Morning Of July 21, 2011

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At one point early yesterday afternoon, I overheard the superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park tell one of the park's living history volunteers, clad in wool, that the National Weather Service stated that the past two days [July 21-22] were the two hottest consecutive days on the east coast since the 1920s.

. . .it certainly felt like it. The scorching temperatures and high humidity were the constant; the thread that ran through my two-and-a-half-day assignment at Manassas. Even at night there was no let-up. Leaving our shift on Thursday afternoon, Mannie noticed the temp was at a balmy 103 degrees, though the heat indices over the past two days climbed to near 120. It got so hot yesterday afternoon, that all afternoon outside programs were cancelled. I cannot even estimate how many gallons, yes, gallons of water and gatorade I drank, or how many times I soaked my handkerchief with cold water and placed it under my ranger hat. Within a matter of minutes each morning, sweat began to pour, and it continued to pour for the duration of our shifts. . .eleven hours Thursday, eight hours on Friday.

Still, despite all this. . .despite the heat, the humidity, and the sweat-soaked uniforms. . .I could think of nowhere else I would have rather been than on top of Henry House Hill on the 150th Anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. It was a memorable experience and already ranks among the most rewarding of my short Park Service career.

Having left Bendersville around 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, my first stop was to pick up my colleague Mannie in Boonsboro. An hour and a half later, we arrived at Sudley Road. "It won't be long now," we thought, "we made some good time." Just a few miles south on Sudley Road, however, we ran into some traffic. . .and there we sat, twenty minutes to travel the final two miles. No bother. We knew it would be busy. Arriving about an hour before the staff briefing, we took some time to wander the fields surrounding the visitor center and to snap some photographs. I could not help but to think, "I am here, working for the park service on the 150th." It was a thought that stuck with me constantly over the next two days. Twenty-five years ago, had you told the seven-year-old me that I would be doing that, while I sat there reading the TimeLife Civil War series books or watching the Classic Images Production of the Manassas 125th Anniversary Reenactment, he never would have believed you.

After a forty-five minute meeting that lasted an hour and a half, we checked-in to our hotel then stepped out for a late bite to eat, which proved to be a bad idea for me, since it kept me awake until after midnight.

Four-and-a-half hours of sleep then it was up at 5:00; to my chagrin, the hotel's continental breakfast did not begin until 6:30. So it was off to the Manassas maintenance yard, where we reported for duty at 6:00 and where we received a ten-minute briefing, led by our friend and colleague Keith Snyder who was in charge of the Roving Interpretation for the event. I cannot thank Keith enough for assigning me to this duty; to be able to spend two days on Henry House Hill, roving between four interpretative stops, talking about the battle and its significance on the battle anniversary itself is something I will never forget.

The heat was already unbearable that early in the morning, but we stepped off and prepared for what promised to be a long, hot, but enjoyable and memorable day.

Rangers Keith and Mannie in the foreground and Ranger Brian in the back (a part of the Antietam contingent) are all smiles as the day began Thursday, July 21, 2011.

A photo of "Jackson's Line" at 6:30 a.m. 7/21/11. . .the temps were already in the low nineties

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Already the ground was alive with activity as the Park readied for the Commemoration Ceremony. Here, a camera man angles for the best shot.

Our first assignment was to greet visitors as they arrived and to direct them to their seats for the 9:00 a.m. ceremony. Many hundreds arrived, though I am sure the number would have been much, much higher had not the forecasted heat indices been in the triple-digits.

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Following the ceremony, most of the attendees returned to their vehicles, though the hardy remained. The afternoon walking tour program had nearly 300 in attendance, a remarkable number considering the heat. However, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event and, like me, those folks, dedicated students of the Civil War, would not have missed it.

For the duration of the day on Thursday and for eight hours on Friday, I had the great privilege of presenting informal interpretation to a number of park visitors. Strangely enough, even though it was hotter on Friday, there were actually more visitors and I made many more visitor contacts than on Thursday, the anniversary itself. I got to see some friendly faces, friends and fellow Civil War historians/enthusiasts. Robert Moore was there, as was Jared Frederick. I got a few minutes of conversation with John Hennessy from Fredericksburg, as well as Rob Schenk and Nicholas Redding from the Civil War Trust. I also had the great honor to work this event alongside some of the best the National Park Service has to offer including, of course, my interpretative colleagues at Antietam...Mannie, Keith Snyder, Brian Baracz, as well as Christie Stanczak and Christy Tew of Antietam's Education division, who did incredible work in preparing a Family/Youth Services tent with a myriad of excellent programs designed for children. I am sure that because of their efforts, many children walked away from this event with an increased interest in Civil War history. Who knows, but maybe a lifelong passion for some or many of these youngsters was triggered here.

In addition to Antietam, staff was brought in from throughout the region, and I had a great thrill to be able to work alongside the likes of Frank O'Reilly and Greg Mertz from Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania, and Matt and Angie Atkinson from Gettysburg, all superb interpreters. It was further an honor to work, if just for a few days, along Manassas' outstanding staff.

Gettysburg's Matt Atkinson providing some "informal" interpretation to a group on the Henry House Hill Overlook. Mannie and I stood there, captivated, by Matt's great interpretative skills.

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Our assignment came to an end Friday afternoon at 2:00p.m. Ninety minutes later, we were back on the road, heading home after an incredible two-and-a-half days at Manassas. I will long remember the privilege I had to work at Manassas for part of its Sesquicentennial Commemoration, but a few things will stick out above the rest. I'll remember turning away from the Ceremony for a few moments with Keith to gaze toward Matthews' Hill around 10:30 a.m., both of us visualizing that it was there, on that hilltop, 150 years ago to the hour that the first major land battle of the Civil War commenced. I'll remember looking around and seeing dedicated visitors, braving the heat, to help commemorate the battle's anniversary and honor the battle's dead. But perhaps most of all, I will remember the comment a visitor made to me late Friday morning. Having begun the day at 8:00 a.m. and doing some roving interp over the next three and a half hours at the Robinson House site, the Henry House Overlook, and Jackson's Line, I was making my way to the lunch tent. But as I strode next to the Jackson Statue at the top of Henry House Hill, I was approached by two visitors who had a few questions. They were from Alabama and this was their second time to Manassas; they having traveled all that way specifically for the 150th. One gentleman asked me if I could point out where the 33rd Virginia was before their charge. I was glad to be able to answer him, pointing toward their position, and briefly describing their attack. Continuing, I talked about the terrible and terrific struggle that consumed Henry House Hill that Sunday afternoon, 150 years ago, and what it meant for the nation and how this struggle on this otherwise nondescript hilltop in northeastern Virginia would usher in four devastating, bloody years and help trigger a second revolution in the United States. "And all of it," I finished, "happened right here, on this very ground, 150 years ago."

One of the gentleman then turned to me and said, "It's 110 degrees, and I just got chills."

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Me, Matt Atkinson, and Mannie Gentile on Henry House Hill, 7/22/2011