As mentioned in my previous post on the National Light Infantry, up until the Civil War's Sesquicentennial hits in mid-April, I am going to be focusing (almost exclusively) on Pennsylvania's First Defenders, the first five companies of Union volunteers to reach Washington upon the outbreak of hostilities. Over the next seven to eight weeks, most of the posts on this blog will be histories of these companies, biographies of many of the soldiers who composed their ranks, as well as photographs of the soldiers, newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, and other writings of these First Defenders during the war's first ninety days.
Being a native of Schuylkill County, home to two of these first five companies, I have long been interested in the story of the First Defenders and have sought to bring this story to light. Sadly, these Pennsylvanians are often overlooked when describing the Union response in the wake of Sumter. Other units, most notably the 6th Massachusetts, are often erroneously identified as the first to reach Washington, which is simply not the case. Indeed, when the bloodied 6th arrived on the night of April 19, Pennsylvania's First Defenders were there to greet them in their quarters of the U.S. Capitol Building. They had arrived twenty-four hours earlier. Nor was the 6th the first unit to shed blood at the beginning of the war, as is often related. It was, instead, Pennsylania's First Defenders, several of whom were bloodied while marching through Baltimore on April 18, one day ahead of the Massachusetts men.
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In my previous post, I looked at Pottsville's National Light Infantry, one of two First Defender companies to hail from the Schuylkill County seat. The other was the Washington Artillerists.
Eighteen-year-old James Nagle founded what would become the Washington Artillerists in 1840. Originally, they were called the "Pottsville Blues," but two years later, they switched their branch of service and adopted another name: the Washington Artillerists. Nagle regularly drilled his company, which was composed almost entirely of volunteers younger than twenty years of age.
Upon the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Captain Nagle tendered the services of his company to the United States. In December 1846, the company marched off to war, led by twenty-four-year-old James Nagle. His younger brother Daniel, at age eighteen, served as the company's drummer. Forming part of General Winfield Scott's army, the Washington Artillerists--officially designated as Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, saw action at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, and on several other fields of battle. The men returned home to a hero's welcome on July 28, 1848.
Captain James Nagle in 1848
The organization of the Washington Artillerists was maintained throughout the 1850s, and in January 1861, it participated in the inauguration ceremony of Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Curtin. By this time, however, the company was commanded by Captain James Wren. Nagle, in 1850, was promoted to the rank of colonel in the state militia system and Wren, an immigrant from Scotland, assumed command of the company.
The Washington Artillerists once more tendered its services to the nation following the outbreak of civil war in April 1861 and the offer was immediately accepted. The company departed Pottsville, along with the National Light Infantry, on the afternoon of April 17. While his former company was thus making its way to Harrisburg, so too was James Nagle, having been summoned to the state capital by Curtin. Nagle was put to work organizing the trainloads of volunteers expected to be arriving in the city. Curtin then commissioned Nagle as colonel of the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a three-month unit that would be mustered out of service in July 1861. However, authorized to raise a regiment of 'three-year' troops, Nagle returned to Pottsville and organized what became the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Many of the soldiers of this regiment, especially those who rose to officer's rank, were formerly members of the Washington Artillerists, which had also been mustered out of service in July following its three-month term of service. Among the officers in the 48th were James Wren and Daniel Nagle.
Daniel Nagle, pictured here as colonel of the 173rd Pennsylvania Infantry
The Washington Artillerists arrived in Harrisburg late on the evening of April 17, and the following morning were mustered into service by Captain Seneca Simmons of the 7th U.S. Infantry. Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, after which these men were United States soldiers, the Washington Artillerists boarded traincars and headed toward Washington. Forced to switch cars in Baltimore, some of the members of the Washington Artillerists were injured by the mob of Confederate supporters who were determined to prevent the Pennsylvanians from marching through their city. Notable among those injured was Nicholas Biddle, the sixty-five-year-old African-American orderly to Captain Wren. Some even argue that Biddle, a black man in uniform, was the very first casualty of the American Civil War.
Nicholas Biddle, in the uniform of the Washington Artillerists
After serving three-months about Washington, the Artillerists were mustered out and began the long journey back to Pottsville. Most of them would re-enlist into the ranks of Schuylkill County's "three-year" regiments, including the 48th Pennsylvania, 96th Pennsylvania, and 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. One of its privates, William Auman, would fight with Company G, 48th Pennsylvania throughout the Civil War, then remain in the army. . .working his way all the way up to the rank of Brigadier General. In the Spanish-American War, General Auman fought alongside Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill.
The following is the roster of the Washington Artillerists when mustered into Federal service on the morning of April 18, 1861. These men, along with those of the other four First Defender companies, were among the very first volunteers for the United States during the Civil War.
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Captain James Wren
James Wren, Commander of the Washington Artillerists
First Lieutenant David A. Smith
2nd Lieutenant Francis B. Wallace
3rd Lieutenant Philip Nagle
Philip Nagle, another of James's brothers, would go on to serve for a brief period of Captain, Co. G, 48th Pennsylvania
1st Sergeant Henry C. Russel
2nd Sergeant Joseph Gilmour
Joseph Gilmour would go on to serve as Major of the 48th PA Infantry. In late May 1864, near Cold Harbor, Virginia, Gilmour was struck down by a Confederate sharpshooter and mortally wounded. His uncle, James Wren, paid for his funeral and for his tombstone.
3rd Sergeant Cyrus Sheetz
Cyrus Sheetz would serve as Captain, Co. G, 48th Pennsylvania
4th Sergeant William McQuade
Quartermaster Sergeant George Gressang
Corporal Delaplain J. Ridgway
Corporal Samuel Russel
Corporal Charles Hinkle
Corporal Reuben Snyder
G. Wilson Bratton
Joel H. Betz
Charles E. Beck
Beck would go on to serve as 1st Lieutenant, Co. C, 15th PA Cavalry
David B. Brown
J. Frank Barth
Alexander S. Bowen
Bosbyshell, seated, would go on to serve as Major of the 48th PA Infantry. Standing on the left (behind the right shoulder of Bosbyshell) is another First Defender, Curtis C. Pollock. As 1st Lt., Co. G, 48th PA, Pollock would fall mortally wounded at Petersburg in June 1864.
William W. Clemens
Corby would turn to the Navy after serving as a First Defender. He was on the U.S. Steamship Hatteras when it was sunk by Rafael Semmes's Alabama off Galveston, Texas, on January 11, 1863. He was rescued from the waters and held a captive on the Alabama until later released on parole at Port Royal, Jamaica.
Benjamin C. Christian
Francis P. Dewees
Henry K. Downing
Evans later served as a Sergeant in Co. G, 48th PA
Peter H. Frailey
William J. Feger
Charles A. Glenn
George H. Hill
James R. Hetherington
William H. Hardell
Charles A. Hesser
Benjamin F. Heffner
George H. Hartman
Thomas F.B. Hammer
Henry H. Hill
Richard M. Hodgson
John J. Hetherington
Benjamin F. Jones
Charles P. Loeser
Edward J. Leib
Leib would go on to serve as Brevet Major of the 5th U.S. Cavalry; he was wounded at Five Forks, VA, on April 2, 1865
Nelson T. Major
William F. Maize
As a 2nd Lieutenant in command of Co. I, 151st PA, Potts would be captured on July 1, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg. He would be held a prisoner of war until March 1865, one month before the end of the war, being confined at Libby Prison for a portion of his captivity.
Thomas Petherick, Jr.
Robert F. Potter
William Ramsey Potts
Theodore H. Patterson
Curtis C. Pollock
William E. Riley
Samuel E. Shoener
James S. Silliman
Frank A. Stitzer
Stitzer would go on to command Co. K, 48th PA. He was the last surviving veteran of the First Defenders.
Slingluff later served in the 48th PA
Thomas Severn (Fifer)
Edward L. Severn
Edwin J. Shippen
Stevenson later served as 1st Lieutenant, Co. C, 96th PA
Lewis T. Snyder
Heber S. Thompson
Thompson later served as Captain, Co. I, 7th PA Cavalry. He was taken prisoner of war at Atlanta on April 20, 1864, and released on parole at Charleston, SC, on December 20, 1864. He would later pen the first history of the First Defenders.
Alba C. Thompson
Ambrose H. Titus
Charles Van Horn
John C. Weaver
Albert G. Whitfield
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