Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 48th/150th: The Death of Surgeon David T. Minis

Currier & Ives~The Battle of Roanoke Island

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February 7-8, 2012, will mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Although a relatively small battle in terms of numbers engaged and lost and especially when compared to what was to follow, this battle represented the opening shots of Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina expedition. Burnside's men, supported by a flotilla of gunboats under the command of Flag Officer Louis M. Goldborough, emerged victorious and the Union would have control of Roanoke Island for the duration of the war. Almost immediately, escaped slaves found refuge there, fleeing to freedom from the brutal bonds that kept them enslaved. By war's end, more than 2,000 African-Americans--escaped slaves--resided on Roanoke Island.

Of the 10,000 men Burnside took into battle at Roanoke, 37 were killed in action, 214 fell wounded, and 13 were listed among the missing. Confederate casualties numbered 23 killed, 58 wounded, 62 missing, and over 2,500 captured.

The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry did not participate in the Battle of Roanoke; they instead remained on Hatteras Island while Burnside's forces sailed past. However, the services of the regiment's chief surgeon, David T. Minis, Jr.,were needed and he was ordered to attach himself to the 9th New Jersey and accompany this regiment to Roanoke. Sadly, while administering to the wounded, Minis contracted disease and he passed away on February 14, 1862, at the age of thirty. The 48th was not unaccustomed to the death of their comrades; several had already died of various diseases while stationed at either Fortress Monroe or on Hatteras. However, the death of Minis shocked and saddened the regiment.

Minis was not a native of Schuylkill County. He was, instead, born in Beaver County on December 7, 1831. He attended medical schools at both Jefferson College and the University of Pennsylvania, before returning home to establish a practice in his hometown. With the outbreak of civil war in April 1861, Minis offered his services and was later appointed as chief surgeon of the 48th Pennsylvania. The History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania, states that "Dr. Minis never spared himself during the awful scenes of carnage and in the hospital hells which they created; and it was as the result of excessive labors and exposure in his ministry of comfort that he lost his life."

On February 22, Colonel James Nagle of the 48th Pennsylvania summoned the regiment's officers to his headquarters "for the purpose of taking some action in regard to the death of our late Surgeon, Dr. David Minis, Jr." At this meeting, Nagle read aloud General Orders No. 10, which was authored by Burnside two days earlier, and then adopted "warm resolutions of respect." Burnside's orders were as follows:

"The General commanding desires to render a tribute to the memory of Dr. Minis of the 48th Penn'a Volunteers. He was detached from his own Regiment and appointed to accompany the 9th New Jersey; then going into the field. He lost his life by disease, brought on by his untiring devotion to the wounded, during and after the action of the 8th. To the forgetfulness of self which kept him at his post at the Hospital, regardless of rest, the Department owes a debt of gratitude.

By Command of Brigadier General A.E. Burnside

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 48th/150th: Burnside Arrives!

Burnside's Fleet Arrives From Fortress Monroe

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"On or about the 12th of January, 1862," said regimental historian Joseph Gould, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, stationed at Camp Winfield, Hatteras Island, North Carolina, "were surprised, on answering the Reveille Call, to see, far out upon the broad Atlantic, first one ship, then another and another, until the ocean seemed full of ships."

What the men of the 48th were seeing was the vast fleet carrying troops assembled by Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside to invade North Carolina by sea, and secure its coastline for the Union. Federal troops had already been stationed at Hatteras since August 1861, including the 48th Pennsylvania, which had helped secure the island since November. In late 1861, General-in-Chief George McClellan persuaded Lincoln to launch an amphibious effort to capture key Confederate forts on Roanoke Island and venture inland toward New Bern and he selected to lead the operation his good friend Ambrose Everett Burnside, who immediately began recruiting regiments for the undertaking. He focused on regiments from New England, and on men familiar with life at sea. In all, Burnside pieced together a force consisting of three brigades, led by Generals John Foster, Jesse Reno, and John Parke. This force was the genesis of what would in the summer of 1862 become the Ninth Army Corps, to which the 48th Pennsylvania would also be attached.

Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside

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In January 1862, the vast fleet carrying Burnside's force set sail from Fortress Monroe, heading south toward the Carolina coastline, where they were to land at Hatteras Inlet. Joseph Gould describe the fleet as it arrived:

"The coast of Hatteras at the best is stormy, dangerous and treacherous, even in fair weather; but, when this fleet arrived, the ocean was unusually stormy and anchorage was difficult, hence the individual ships were tossed about like toys, frequently dragging their cables, and, for safety, 'running before the gale.' With what interest, from our safety on shore, did we, from the roof of the barracks, watch the appearing and disappearing vessels and feel for the safety of the troops we knew to be on board. With the abatement of the storm, with what joy and pleasure did we watch their reassembling in something like naval order. At night, this large aggregation of ships, lit 'from stern to stern' with varied colored lights, resembled a large city in the midst of the ocean, the lights dancing with the rise and fall of the ships, reminding the beholder of so many 'Jack-O-Lanterns' or 'Will-O-The-Wisps.' Between the ocean and the Pamlico Sound a strong, shallow, and constantly shifting sand-bar exists, making it difficult and exceedingly dangerous for vessels to attempt to enter the sound, even at full tide, but impossible for ships of large draft at low tide.

"Many of the vessels grounded on the bar during the attempt. Thus, this beautiful sight lasted for nearly a week, gradually diminishing as ship after ship essayed the passage. At last, all had disappeared and the 48th saw the fleet pass up the sound to Roanoke Island, some of the regiments that had, with the 48th, garrisoned Hatters, accompanying the expedition. In a few days, the roar of the heavy guns was heard, as the gunboats bombarded the rebel forts, and soon the glad news reached us that 'Roanoke Island was captured.' The 48th had no individual share in this glory, except that the capture was effected by troops with whom our future lot was cast for four strenuous years."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The 48th/150th: Thoughts on General Thomas Williams. . .

Brigadier General Thomas Williams

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During first winter of the American Civil War, the 48th Pennsylvania found themselves encamped at either Fort Clark or Fort Hatteras on Hatteras Island, North Carolina. For these Pennsylvanians, this winter must have been much different than those they were accustomed to in Schuylkill County. At Hatteras, the volunteers learned the trade of the soldier, and overseeing the post was a non-nonsense U.S. Regular, Brigadier General Thomas Williams.

Williams was born on January 16, 1815, in Albany, New York, though his family soon moved to Michigan. His father, General John Williams, served for a time as mayor of Detroit. Following in his father's footsteps, young Thomas took an interest in military affairs and even served as a private in the Black Hawk War. He next entered West Point, graduating twelfth in a class of fifty, and alongside such future Civil War notables as Braxton Bragg, Jubal Early, William French, John Sedgwick, John Pemberton, and Joseph Hooker. Williams fought creditably in Mexico, earning several brevet promotions for gallantry in action, and after the war, advanced steadily to the rank of captain.

With the outbreak of civil war, Williams was made Major of the 5th U.S. Artillery then given the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. In that capacity, he was sent to Hatteras where he was named post commander. Afterward, he fought alongside Federal land and naval forces in the capture of New Orleans. On August 5, 1862, during the siege of Baton Rouge, Williams was shot through the chest at killed. His remains were taken back to Detroit, where they were laid to rest in Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery.

Williams's Final Resting Place

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Williams certainly left an impression on the soldiers of the 48th during his tenure in command of Hatteras. Joseph Gould recorded his thoughts in his regimental history: "General Thomas Williams. . .came upon the scene to make our lives miserable, as we believed, by inaugurating five drills per day. Later we thought better of him as we grew older, and as we learned that the extra drills and discipline he enforced upon us did a great amount of good when we were called upon to assume the heavy work attending the life we had chosen, many were the expressions of sorrow from the boys of the regiment when news came of his death."

Oliver Bosbyshell had more to say about Williams, and recorded some memorable moments:

"The post was commanded by the veteran, Brigadier General Thomas Williams, U.S.A., and those who had the experience of serving under him, well remember his severe discipline. There probably was no one man ever more heartily hated than this same General Williams by the members of the Forty-eighth. He was abused roundly every day for his tyrannical orders, rigid discipline, frequent calls for duty, severe guard regulations, excessive drills, thorough inspections, and the like. He issued an order depriving the regiment of the every day use of its flags. This seemed so harsh and uncalled for that all the denunciatory terms in the dictionary were poured upon his head. When least expected he would turn up, and woe betide the soldier found derelict. It is easy to remember the constant vigilance of the old General as he paced the front of his quarters, one hand supporting his coat-tail, the other twirling his stiff, wiry moustache, whilst his watchful eyes would detect a slouchy sentinel, and then, 'Orderly, send the officer of the guard to me.'

"The senior captain of the Forty-eighth, making his report as officer of the day, with his arms folded majestically across his breast, broke down in the middle of his narration by General Williams' peremptory order, 'Put down your hands, sir!' Down they dropped, little fingers on the seams of the trousers. Seven days after arriving at Hatteras, whilst enjoying the ills of the island to its full extent, at Fort Clarke, a review of the regiment was ordered. As the maneuvering had to be made in sand ankle deep, it was a rather laborious undertaking, especially as the General required the review to be in heavy marching order. The eighth corporal of 'G' was a stout little fellow, noted for carrying the largest and fullest knapsack in the regiment. He bore the marching in review at common time, and then at quick time with some equanimity, but when the order came to 'Pass in review, double quick time,' his patience was exhausted, and as he trotted with gun at a 'right-shoulder-shift,' his left arm supporting his great knapsack, he gave vent to his feelings at every step, by hissing through his closed teeth, 'White-livered-son-of-a-_____,' 'White-livered-son-of-a______.'

"The General had few friends those early days on Hatteras, but as the weeks went by each day developed the fact that beneath the rough exterior and austere demeanor, beat a heart of true devotion to the old flag, a heart overflowing with love and regard for his soldiers. His strict discipline made the regiment a body of well-trained soldiers. Revering the flag with a feeling akin to holy awe, he sought to inculcate the same reverential feeling in the men, and whenever the standard was brought out the ceremonies attending its reception were of the most dignified and lofty character.

"When he received his orders to proceed to Ship Island, the writer happened to be standing beside him on the ramparts of Fort Hatters. 'What,' he exclaimed, 'am I to go there and leave all these noble boys? What shall I do without them?' He was a true man and thorough soldier, and died where such a veteran would wish to die--on the field--at the battle of Baton Rouge. As the colonel of the Twenty-first Indiana was being borne severely wounded, from the front, General Williams rode up to that regiment and said: 'Boys, your field officers are all gone; I will lead you.' Almost immediately afterward a rifle bullet pierced his chest, and he fell a corpse.

"The War of the Rebellion brought so many men into prominence through great deeds, grandly accomplished, that there is danger of forgetting the patient, earnest, loyal soldiery of the regular army, whose trained officers did so much as schoolmasters in bringing the raw material, gathered from all over the North, into shape for such stern work as war.
"General Williams was one of these, and deserves a place upon the same plane with the most honored heroes of the great struggle."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The 48th/150th: A New Year's Flag For Company B

New Year's Day, 1862, found the 48th Pennsylvania encamped along the sandy shores of North Carolina. The men had been soldiers for just over three months and had yet to experience any combat; however, the year ahead--1862--would witness some of the hardest action of the war for these Schuylkill County volunteers, beginning with a supporting role at New Berne, but continuing at 2nd Bull Run (which proved the costliest battle of the war for the 48th), Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. For scores of 48th Pennsylvania soldiers who welcomed in the New Year at either Fort Clark or Fort Hatteras in North Carolina, 1862 would be their last year; hundreds more would fall wounded or be debilitated by diseases in the months ahead.

The soldiers of Company B, commanded by Captain James Wren, welcomed in the New Year in ceremonial fashion; having received a flag as a gift from the citizens of Schuylkill County, they gathered to raise it over the ramparts of Fort Clark. The ceremony was recorded in the Miners' Journal for the people of the county:

"Company B of the 48th Regiment, Penna. Volunteers, being the recipients of a handsome flag, furnished them by your generosity, set apart New year's day to the hoisting of it upon Fort Clark, which pleasing ceremony was performed in the presence of Col. James Nagle, Major Daniel Nagle, the Chaplain of the Regiment, and the members of Company D amid a multitude of cheers and cries of 'long may it wave.' After the flag had been spread to the breeze, Col. Nagle and our worthy Captain made some appropriate remarks, which were attentively listened to, after which the Chaplain led in a patriotic prayer. The committee on resolutions then withdrew and formulated the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

Resolved: That we, officers and men of Company 'B,' to offer our sincere thanks to the citizens of Schuylkill County for their extreme kindness in bestowing upon us such a beautiful emblem of our country.

Resolved: That the members of Co. 'B' in gratitude to the donors, do hereby repledge their word of honor, that they will ever be true to the Flag of Our Country, which has so ruthlessly been trampled upon by rebellious feet, in defense of which they will shed their lifeblood if necessary.

Resolved: That the members of Co. 'B' will make this flag the special object of their pride and care, so long as it shall remain in their power.

Resolved: That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the Miners' Journal for publication, through which medium our friends may be made acquainted with our doings, etc.

Serg't Jno. Geo. Bossler

" Wm. Humes

Committee on Resolutions

[Photo: Captain James Wren, Company B, USAMHI]