Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soldiers of the 48th: Lieutenant Joseph Edwards, Co. I, 48th PA

Lieutenant Joseph Edwards

(Pictured here as Sergeant)

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Today, a quick look at the life and service of Joseph Edwards of Company I. Edwards, a native of Schuylkill Haven, enrolled on August 15, 1861, and was mustered into service as 1st Sergeant of Company I. He was, by occupation, a tailor and at age 34 was among the older soldiers to enlist that summer of '61. He stood 5'4", with Light Hair, a Light Complexion, and Gray Eyes. Edwards served with usual distinction, advancing in rank in 2nd Lieutenant in September 1863 and finally to 1st Lieutenant on March 16, 1864.

While at the head of his company, Edwards fell wounded three months after his last promotion, on June 17, 1864, outside Petersburg. The regiment suffered heavily that day, losing several fine officers including, of course, Edwards. He was transported to Mt. Pleasant U.S. General Hospital where, on July 2, he succumbed to his wounds. He left behind a wife, Masura Edwards, of Orwigsburg and a young son. The remains of Lieutenant Joseph Edwards were brought back to his native Schuylkill Haven, where he was laid to rest in the Union Cemetery.

Lieutenant Edwards's Final Resting Place,
Union Cemetery, Schuylkill Haven, PA.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

New Blog~ "Fiery Ordeal" ~ Dan Vermilya

Please join me in welcoming to the Civil War blogosphere a dedicated young student of the great American conflagration, Dan Vermilya, who has launched a blog titled "Our Country's Fiery Ordeal," or "Fiery Ordeal" for short. It can be found here, or under my blogroll.

I first met Dan last year when he began work at Antietam as one of our summer visitor use assistants, but as far as I am concerned, Dan is a park ranger--and a good one, at that--for he proudly wears the gray and green and understands the importance and significance of what it is we are doing at Antietam.

More than this, Dan is passionate about the study of the Civil War and has recently completed his master's thesis, which focused on the experiences of Ohio troops during the Atlanta Campaign. He allowed me the pleasure of reading this manuscript, and it was excellent work. Dan provided an insightful soldiers' perspective during this 1864 campaign. I expect great things from him in the future.

While we may disagree about certain, non-Civil War topics, such as sports teams (he's a Cleveland Indians' fan, while I cheer for the Yankees), Dan is a good friend of mine. If possible, I see in him a younger version of myself. As you will read in his "Inaugural Post," his love for the study of the Civil War began at young, young age. . .as did mine. And it all started with a family trip to Gettysburg. . .as it did with me. Some of Dan's earliest and best childhood memories involve traveling to Civil War battlefields, including, of course, Antietam, where a photograph of him was snapped while he walked the Sunken Road. About ten years before this, a photograph of another young visitor was taken walking the very same ground. It's just a little funny that now, here we are, working together at Antietam, fulfilling our childhood dreams of one day wearing the gray and green of the National Park Service at one of America's most hallowed and most serene Battlefields.

Our newest Civil War blogger, Dan Vermilya, walking the Sunken Road, ca. 1996.

Yours Truly in the Sunken Road, ca. 1986.

Please make Dan feel welcome; head on over to his site, become a follower, offer your comments, and add his blog to your daily reading lists.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The First Defenders, Nicholas Biddle in the New York Times

I was very pleased last night when I discovered that the story of the First Defenders made its way into two excellent pieces that appeared yesterday on the New York Time's Opinionator page. I am hoping that given such attention, that these (long) neglected Pennsylvanians will resume their rightful in Civil War historiography as the first Union soldiers to arrive in Washington and the first to have shed blood when attacked in Baltimore on April 18, 1861.

Read Richard Tofel's piece on the "Battle of Baltimore," by clicking here.

Friend Ron Coddington, well-known for his Civil War Faces series, contributed a fine article specifically on the First Defenders and the story of Nicholas Biddle, which can be found here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

First Defenders!

First Defenders' Monument, Reading, Pennsylvania

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I could not let today pass without a brief mention of its significance.

April 18, 2011, marks the 150th Anniversary of the First Defenders' arrival in Washington. Overlooked, indeed, largely forgotten in the vast annals of Civil War historiography, the First Defenders were the first Northern volunteers to reach the nation's capital following the outbreak of civil war in April 1861. They numbered some 475 strong, composing the ranks of five militia companies, and all of them hailed from Pennsylvania. The Ringgold Light Artillery from Reading had been drilling since January 1861, in response to militia general William Keim's urging that they be prepared should sectional hostilities erupt. Those hostilities did erupt on April 12, when Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter. After a 36 hour-long bombardment, Major Robert Anderson ordered the white flag be raised, and the nation was thus plunged into fratricidal war. The day after the capitulation of Sumter, Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, to serve a three-month term of service. Among the first companies to respond were the five First Defender units. In fact, in 1866, former Secretary of War Simon Cameron stated that the very first unit to do so was the National Light Infantry, from Pottsville. On April 17, the National Light Infantry, under the command of Captain Edmund McDonald, left Pottsville, along with the city's other pre-war militia unit, the Washington Artillerists, formed in 1840 by the then eighteen-year-old James Nagle, who rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Civil War. When the two companies departed Pottsville on that "cold, raw, and disagreeable" day, Captain James Wren led the Washington Artillerists. He travelled along with his orderly, sixty-five-year-old Nicholas Biddle, a former slave who escaped bondage some forty years earlier via the Underground Railroad. The Pottsville units arrived in Harrisburg late on the evening of April 17, joining the Ringgold Light Artillery, under Captain James McKnight, which had arrived hours earlier. Later on, the Logan Rifles from Lewistown and the Allen Infantry from Allentown arrived in the Pennsylvania capital.

Early the following morning, April 18, the militia troops were mustered into Federal service by Captain Seneca Simmons, who, one year later, met his death on the fields of Gaines's Mill. After taking the oath, the volunteers boarded train cars and set out for Baltimore. Arriving in the secessionist-leaning Maryland city, the Pennsylvanians were greeted with insults and threats and then, as they marched through the city, to Camden Station, they were pelted with bricks, rocks, bottles, and just about everything else the mob of some 2,500 "hot-blooded secessionists" could get ahold of. Nicholas Biddle was among the first struck; so too would fall a number of the members of the Allen Infantry. These men, all of them painfully wounded, thus shed the first blood of the Civil War. After this rather harrowing ordeal, the men reached Washington around 8:00 p.m. on the night of April 18. They were greeted at the depot by Major Irvin McDowell, who escorted the troops to their quarters. . .in the U.S. Capitol building. Later that night they received their muskets and accoutrements. Their uniforms would be weeks in arriving. After their three month term of service, which they spent guarding the government buildings, the First Defenders were mustered out. Most of them reenlisted in three-year organizations, mainly the 48th, 49th, 50th, 53rd, and 96th Pennsylvania Infantry and the 7th PA Cavalry. Many of these men were destined to become listed among the 620,000+ war dead. The First Defenders remain forgotten; not even a footnote. Most accounts of the war have the famed 6th Massachusetts Infantry, which marched through Baltimore on April 19, suffering several fatalities from that same mob, as the first northern volunteers to reach the nation's capital upon the commencement of sectional hostilities. They were not the first, of course. There to greet them when they arrived were the 475 Pennsylvanians who arrived 24 hours earlier.

Civil War Soldiers' Monument, Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Two of the five First Defender Companies hailed from the Schuylkill County seat.

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Surviving First Defenders Gather At Their April 18, 1901 Reunion

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Antietam: September 17, 1862" Now Available

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I am taking a quick detour this morning from my focus on the First Defenders and the opening days of the American Civil War simply to announce that my Antietam: September 17, 1862 book is now available, hitting the shelves this past Wednesday, April 13.

Bob Casey, executive director of the Western Maryland Interpretative Association, approached me several years back, inquiring whether I would be interested in writing a short, succinct account of the Maryland Campaign and Battle of Antietam. I agreed to do so and, working along with friend and colleague Keith Snyder, I am very happy to say that the book has at last seen the light of day. I could not be happier with the finished product; Keith did a superb job with the layout, design, and in developing the maps.

The book is 82 pages in length, richly illustrated with several great maps. It is geared toward those who are simply hoping to gain an understanding of this important campaign and pivotal battle; those, perhaps, who plan on visiting Antietam for the first time, or for students and younger adults who have expressed in interest in history and wish to know more.

Of course, every day when I put on the 'gray and green' of the National Park Service, I do so with great pride, for I consider it quite a privilege and an honor to work at so fine a national battlefield park, alongside the best rangers the Park Service has to offer. Yet over the years, there have been some events/highlight moments that stick out: helping to lead the Battle Anniversary hikes each year is a great, great honor, and last year's restoration of the 48th Pennsylvania Monument and replacement of General Nagle's sword ranks among my proudest moments. The publication of Antietam: September 17, 1862, by the Western Maryland Interpretative Association, is another of these accomplishments that will stick with me.

To learn more, or to order a copy, please click here .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Union's First Defenders: The Ringgold Light Artillery

Yesterday, April 12, 2011, marked the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War's opening shots at Fort Sumter. What followed were four of the most brutal and devastating years in America's young history. In terms of numbers of alone, more than 620,000 soldiers--Union and Confederate--perished in the great American conflagration, or 2% of the entire population. Today, 2% of our population would exceed six million. Yet that 620,000 number is far too low, for they stopped counting the war's casualties in the Spring of 1865. But what of those whose wartime wounds cut short their lives in the late 1860s and 1870s? Those young men, carrying the scars of the conflict and perishing in their thirties and early forties?

For the past several months, my focus on this blog had been on the First Defenders of the Union, those very first volunteer troops who arrived in Washington upon the outbreak of civil war and in response to President Lincoln's April 15, 1861, call-to-arms. They were Pennsylvanians from the counties of Schuylkill, Mifflin, Lehigh, and Berks, some 475 strong who entered the nation's capital on the evening of April 18, 1861. Thus far in our examination of these largely overlooked early volunteers, we have looked at the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillerists of Pottsville, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, and the Allen Infantry of Allentown.

Today, we will focus on the last of the five companies of First Defenders, the Ringgold Light Artillery from Reading, in Berks County.

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The Ringgold Light Artillery was a militia company formed in Reading, Pennsylvania, in August 1850. From that point until the outbreak of civil war, it was commanded by Captain James McKnight who, after serving his first ninety-day enlistment with the First Defenders, would go on to serve as major of the 5th United States Artillery.

McKnight kept up his company with regular training and parade reviews. In the winter of 1860-1861, in the midst of the secession crisis, McKnight called together his company more frequently, preparing them for what he prophesied would be armed conflict with the rebellious Southern states. On April 15, just three days after the war's inaugural shots at Sumter, the Ringgold Light Artillery was drilling, with full ranks and fully equipped, at their parade ground near Reading when a telegraph arrived announcing Lincoln's call for 75,000 men to serve a three-month term of service.

Immediately, a telegraph was fired off to Governor Curtin's office in Harrisburg: "The Ringgold Light Artillery are parading this morning with their guns for practice; have ninety men on parade, every one of them expecting to be ordered on duty for the U.S. service before they leave their guns."

A short time later, a response came from Eli Slifer, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: "Captain James McKnight: Bring your command to Harrisburg by first train. If any of your men need equipments, they will be provided by the general Government. Lose no time."

And with that, the Ringgold Light Artillery marched off to war. . .and into the history books as one of the first volunteer companies to reach Washington after the start of hostilities. They, along the with National Light Infantry, Washington Artillerists, Logan Guards, and Allen Infantry, were the nation's First Defenders.

April 21, 1861, Photograph of the Ringgold Light Artillery at the Washington Navy Yard

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The Ringgold Light Artillery
Reading, Pennsylvania

Captain James McKnight

Lieutenant George W. Durell

Lieutenant William Graeff
Lieutenant Henry Nagle
Sergeant Daniel Kreishner

Sergeant Henry Rush

Sergeant Jeremiah Seiders
Sergeant Amos Drenkel
Sergeant James Fox

Corporal Levi Homan
Corporal Frederick Folkman
Corporal Jacob Womert
Corporal Horatio Leader
Corporal John Hook


Anthony Ammon
Charles B. Ansart
James Anthony
Aaron Bechtel
David Bechtel
Augustus Berger
George S. Bickley
Charles A. Bitting
Harrison G. Bouse
William W. Bowers
Reuben Burkhart
William Christ
Henry Coleman
Daniel M. Dickinson
William C. Eben
Edward G. Ebling
George B. Eckert
Henry E. Eisenbeis
Robert Eltz
Benjamin F. Ermentrout
Samuel Evans
Adam Faust
William W. Fix
Henry Fleck
Harrison T. Fox
Christian Frantz
Adam Frees
John Frees, Jr.
Daniel Frey
Charles Gebhart (Gerhart)
Henry Geiger
James H. Gentzler
Addison Gery (Gehry)
George Green
Lemuel Gries
William Haberocker
Samuel Hamilton
Andrew S. Helms
Jacob Hessler
Nathaniel B. Hill
Franklin Housel
Amos Huyett
John L. Kennedy
George W. Knabb
John D. Koch
Peter Lantz
George Lauman
George D. Leaf
Daniel Leeds
Isaac Leeds
Jacob Leeds
Aaron Levan
Charles Levan
Daniel J. Levan
Christopher Loeser
Harrison Lutz
Daniel Maltzberger
James L. Mast
Howard McIlvaine
Joseph H. McKnight
John H. McLenegan
William Miller
William P. Mock
Charles P. Muhlenberg
Henry Neifert (Neihart)
Edward P. Pearson
Frederick Peck
James Pfleiger
Frederick Phillipi
Francis Rambo
Isaiah Rambo
William Rapp, Jr.
George Rhoads
Charles Rick
Ferdinand Ritter
Henry Rush
William Sauerbier
Franklin Schaeffer
Franklin Schmeck
Edward Scull
Albert H. Seybert
Jonathan Shearer
Jackson Sherman
Albert Shiery
George W. Silvis
Edmund L. Smith
William H. Smith
Charles Spangler
Henry Whiteside
Daniel Whitman
Samuel Whitner
Frederick Yeager
Daniel Yohn
John L. Yohn

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Union's First Defenders: The Allen Infantry

The first Northern volunteers to arrive in Washington in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s first call-to-arms in April 1861 were Pennsylvanians from Schuylkill, Berks, Mifflin, and Lehigh Counties, organized into five companies. Over the past few weeks, we have examined three of these companies: The Washington Artillerists, National Light Infantry, and Logan Guards. Today, in continuing with our look at the Union’s First Defenders in commemoration of the approaching Sesquicentennial, we will examine the youngest of the five First Defenders companies, the Allen Infantry, from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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The Allen Infantry was organized in 1859 and was commanded by Captain Thomas Yeager, who, by most accounts, was a good officer though a strict disciplinarian. As the company’s historian, James Schaadt, wrote, Yeager regularly drilled his company, which, by the outbreak of war, “had arrived at a fair stage of efficiency in Scott’s Tactics.” The uniform worn by the Allen Infantry was gray, with gold trimmings. In February 1861, Yeager and his men paraded with President-Elect Lincoln through the streets of Philadelphia, and accompanied the soon to be sworn in president on his journey to Harrisburg. Two months later, when Lincoln issued his call for 75,000 volunteers to serve a three-month term of enlistment, the soldiers of the Allen Infantry were quick to respond.

As soon as word arrived of the firing upon Fort Sumter, Thomas Yeager boarded a train car and headed for Harrisburg to personally offer the services of his company to Governor Andrew Curtin. The governor issued him a captain’s commission, certainly one of the first issued during the war, and Yeager returned to Allentown to call up his men. “Men, especially young men,” said Schaadt, “left furrow and workshop and office in obedience to the call,” and it was not long before the muster-rolls were full. The citizens of Allentown prepared a farewell dinner for Yeager and his men, placing a five-dollar bill under each of the plates for the men to use on their journey. No matter how kind and thoughtful the gesture, these five-dollar bills were issued by local banks and could not be used anywhere other than Lehigh County.

After dinner, the soldiers of the Allen Infantry departed their homes and families, setting off by rail to Harrisburg. April 17 was a cold day and a layer of snow still covered the ground, even at that late spring date; still, this did not prevent the people of Allentown from turning out in large numbers to bid farewell to their gallant company of volunteers. As the train sped away from East Penn Junction, “Most of the volunteers then regarded the journey as a pleasant change from daily occupation, a picnic and agreeable visit to the National Capital; a very few, more serious, realized it was the beginning of war, with its horrors, cruelties, and privations,” wrote James Schaadt.

Crowds turned out at various stations along the route to Harrisburg, cheering the volunteer soldiers along the way. They arrived in the state capital that evening, where they joined up the Logan Guard, Ringgold Light Artillery, Washington Artillerists, and National Light Infantry. Unfortunately for Captain Yeager, he did not get much sleep that night. Around 1:00 a.m. on the morning of April 18, a loud knock came on the captain’s door. It was militia General William Keim, telling Yeager that he and his men were to head immediately to Washington with their muskets loaded. Yeager, still groggy, replied that his men’s weapons were useless, having no locks and no flints. Keim responded by telling Yeager that they could be used as clubs. Clearly, there were some who anticipated trouble during their journey to Washington.

Despite his early wake-up call, Yeager and the soldiers of the Allen Infantry would not depart Harrisburg until 8:10 a.m. on the morning of April 18, having just been sworn into Federal service. Two trains of the Northern Central Railroad, each pulling twenty-one cars, departed Harrisburg and headed south toward Baltimore, where they arrived at 2:00 p.m. Of course, a mob of nearly 2,500 Baltimoreans had gathered, determined to prevent the Yankee troops from passing through their city. Mayor George Brown and Marshal George Kane arrived with the city police force, which was to escort the largely unarmed Pennsylvanians through the city to Camden Station, where they were to board another train for Washington. The men marched nervously through the city, subjected to the jeers and insults of an increasingly angry mob. “Roughs and toughs, longshoremen, gamblers, floaters, idlers, red-hot secessionists, as well as men ordinarily sober ad steady,” described Schaadt, “crowded upon, pushed and hustled the little band and made every effort to break the thin line. Some, mounted upon horses, were prevented with difficulty by the policemen from riding down the volunteers. The mob heaped insults upon the men, taunted them, cursed them, called to them, ‘Let the police go and we will lick you,’ ‘You will never get back to Pennsylvania,’ ‘Abolitionists! Convicts! Stone them, kill them,’ . . . ‘Hurrah for Jeff Davis,’ ‘Hurrah for South Carolina.’” As Schaadt concluded, “It was a severe trial for the volunteers with not a charge of ball or powder in their pockets. . . .”

At last, the Pennsylvanians reached Camden Station, but this is where the mob’s anger turned to violence. Bricks, bottles, stones, and anything else the mob could get their hands on, were hurled at the Pennsylvanians, causing a number of painful injuries, particularly in the ranks of the Allen Infantry. Privates Edwin Hittle and Ignatz Gresser were struck down; Private David Jacobs was hit in the mouth by a brick, which knocked out his front teeth before he fell unconscious to the ground. Private Henry Wilson Derr was struck in the ear, which caused him to lose his hearing.

“Fortunately, the cars into which the infantry clambered were box or freight cars not furnished with seats,” said Schaadt, “but whose wooden roof and sides protected the volunteers from the shower of cobbles and bricks now rained upon them by the rioters, more than ever infuriated at seeing their prey escape.” At long last, having made their way through this harrowing ordeal in the streets of Baltimore, the First Defenders arrived in Washington and were assigned quarters. The Allen Infantry was assigned to the Vice President’s Office in the Capitol Building.

The First Defenders remained in the defenses of Washington for the entirety of their three-month term of service before being mustered out in late July 1861. Returning to Allentown, the soldiers of the Allen Infantry were quick to reenlist in other organizations, especially the 47th, 53rd, and 128th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Many of them would give their lives during the course of the conflict, including Thomas Yeager who, as Major of the 53rd Pennsylvania, was killed in action at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on June 1, 1862. His remains were returned to Allentown where they were interred in the Union Cemetery.

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The Allen Infantry

Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Captain Thomas Yeager

1st Lieutenant James M. Wilson

1st Sergeant Joseph T. Wilt

2nd Sergeant Solomon Goebel

Sergeant John Winne

Sergeant Henry Sawyer

Sergeant George Junker

Sergeant Charles W. Abbott

Corporal William Wolf

Corporal John E. Webster

Corporal Ignatz Gresser

Corporal Daniel Kramer


Theodore Anderson

Francis Bach

Henry Cake

Norman H. Cole

Ephraim Dare

Charles Dietrich

Wilson H. Derr

Milton Dunlap

William Early

William G. Frame

Charles C. Frayer

Gideon Frederick

Matthew Fuller

Samuel Garner

James Geidner

Otto Greippe

Edwin Gross

George F. Henry

Joseph Hetinger

Nathaniel Hillagoss

Edwin M. Hittle

John F. Hoffman

John Houck

Joseph Houser

George Hoxworth

David Jacobs

George W. Keiper

Alexander Kercher

William Kress

Maxmillian Lakemeyer

Isaac Lapp

Paul Leiberman

Martin Leisenring

Franklin Leh

Edwin Miller

Thomas McAllister

Henry McNulty

Theodore Mink

Charles Orbann

Charles A. Pfeffer

Jonathan W. Reber

George W. Rhoads

William Rhue

John Romig

Ernest Rothman

Charles A. Schiffert

Samuel Schneck

Stephen Schwartz

Lewis G. Seip

Adolph Sheidler

Enville Sheidler

Marcus H. Sigman

Charles Spring

Adolph Stehfast

Henry Storch

John Uhler

Martin Veith

William Wagner

John Weber

Benneville Weigandt

Darius Weiss

Joseph Weiss

Allen Wetherhold

Frederick Zuck

James Schaadt, Company Historian