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, October 5, 2011

Review: "Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year," by Charles Bracelen Flood

Grant's Final Victory
Charles Bracelen Flood
(Da Capo Books)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After leading the United States to victory during the Civil War and twice serving the nation as president, the greatest challenge faced by Ulysses S. Grant may have very well been the one he confronted during what proved to be his final year on earth. Shortly after losing his and his family's fortunes to unscrupulous Wall Street bankers in May 1884--to those he considered close family friends--Grant, at age sixty-two, was diagnosed with terminal throat and mouth cancer. With this as the backdrop, Grant then set about fighting the greatest battle of his life and, as author/historian Charles Bracelen Flood makes clear, here again the victor of Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Appomattox emerged triumphant. With the assistance of William Underwood Johnson of the Century Company as well as Grant's good friend Mark Twain, the dying warrior put the pen to paper and began recording his personal memoirs. The result was a work Twain--his publisher--and many others since have regarded as a true classic. As Twain later wrote, "General Grant's book is a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece. There is no higher literature than these modest, simple Memoirs. Their style is at least flawless, and no man can improve upon it."

In Grant's Final Victory, Charles Bracelen Flood, author of a number of other notables titles, including Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won The Civil War, 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, and Lee: The Last Years, has again written another excellent history; one that tells of Grant's heroic efforts to write his memoirs and rescue his family (and his reputation) from ruin. Flood tells the story masterfully; it is a story that is at once tragic and inspiring. In increasingly unbearable pain, Grant began recording his life with a focus on his wartime service. He wrote with simple honesty and produced a true American classic. Grant succeeded in completing his two-volume memoirs in less than one year, writing an average of 750 words "every painful day." Not only does Flood recount this herculean effort, but also demonstrates that when word spread of Grant's terminal illness, it served to further reunite the nation as people--both North and South, and even former Confederate soldiers--came together to offer their sympathy and support to a man who began the process of conciliation twenty years earlier with his magnanimous terms to Robert E. Lee and his vanquished Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

Grant--His Final Days--At Work On His Memoirs

Flood writes in such a clear and easy-to-read manner that it took but two sittings for me to read through this 250-page book. He does a masterful job in recounting those sad but inspirational last days, focusing on Grant, of course, but also examining his family and his close friendships with the likes of Twain, William Vanderbilt, and others who helped support the general and his family during those trying times. Flood's treatment of Grant's death and funeral were superb. In the end, even though he passed away, mercifully, just three days after setting down his pencil for the final time, Grant's Memoirs netted his family more than $600,000.

I have no doubts that this book will appeal to a wide audience, but especially those interested in the Civil War and one of its most legendary figures. Civil War enthusiasts will also find in here much discussion of other wartime figures as William T. Sherman--Grant's closest military friend, who wept openly and uncontrollably at Grant's funeral--Phillip Sheridan, Simon Bolivar Buckner--who was one of the last to see Grant alive--Winfield Scott Hancock--who made all the arrangements for and led Grant's funeral procession in New York City--and James Longstreet--cousin to Grant's wife Julia and the best man at their wedding. In hearing of Grant's death, Longstreet, after a few moment's to compose himself, said "He was the truest and bravest man who ever lived. . . .he was the highest type of manhood America has produced."

Grant's Final Victory is a book I truly enjoyed reading and one I highly recommend. This is more than just the story of Grant's final year; it is also a story of hope in the face of adversity, and inspiration in the face of tragedy.

For more information on this book, click here.

Grant's Funeral Procession--August 8, 1885--in New York City