Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The 48th/150th: Killed At Spotsylvania

The war had changed. Instead of a battle fought once every few weeks, now it was every single day. . .and the casualties attested to this new, relentless form of combat.
Numbers vary but approximately 30,000 men fell dead, wounded, or went listed as missing-in-action during the two-week struggle at Spotsylvania. The deadliest day, however, was May 12.

May 12 was an especially destructive day in the ranks of the 48th Pennsylvania as 129 of its soldiers became casualties that Thursday. Twenty-five of them were either killed outright or struck down, fatally injured. Instead of these men remaining just a number--a mere statistic--in the history books, I thought today I would try and tell a little bit more about each of them in an effort to present a portrait--no matter how brief--of who these soldiers were. . .

Private Charles A.T. St. Clair
(Hoptak Collection)
Louis M. Robinhold was 30-years-old when he enlisted as a private in the ranks of Company A, 48th PA, in February 1864. He was a blacksmith by trade, had a Dark Complexion, Hazel Eyes, and Dark Hair. At 6'3" in height, Robinhold was among the tallest men in the regiment, while at 4'11", Private Charles Abel T. St. Clair was, perhaps, the shortest man in the entire regiment. He, too, enlisted into the ranks of Company A in February 1864 at age 19. St. Clair listed his occupation as "Laborer." On May 12, Robinhold and St. Clair were both killed-in-action. So, too, was Private Isaac Otto of Company A. He was a boatman from Port Clinton and, as opposed to Robinhold and St. Clair, Otto had been serving in the 48th since the summer of '61, when he enlisted as a private at the age of 20. John Huntzinger, a 23-year-old carpenter from Auburn was also with the regiment throughout its first three years. He stood 5'10", and was described as having a Dark Complexion, Dark Hair, and Dark Eyes. (Some accounts have Huntzinger being killed in action on May 16, and his body taken back home to Schuylkill County for burial in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, Pottsville).  William Kissinger was a painter from Schuylkill Haven who stood 5'4" in height, with a Dark Complexion, Dark Eyes, and Dark Hair. He was 21 years of age when he volunteered to serve in the summer of 1861 and by the time the regiment arrived at Spotsylvania, he was a sergeant in Company B. Kissinger received a fatal wound on May 12, though he lingered for nearly two more weeks before succumbing to the injury on May 24. Kissinger's remains today rest at Grave 2191 at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Sgt. William Kissinger's Headstone, Fredericksburg National Cemetery
One of the more colorful soldiers in the regiment was Corporal David J. Davis, of Company B. He was known as "Dye" Davis and according to Major James Wren, Dye Davis was frequently confined to the regimental guard house for various infractions. At Antietam, after the regiment had crossed the Burnside Bridge, Davis was scolded for pilfering the haversacks of dead Confederate soldiers, looking for a bite to eat. When asked if he plans to eat the food of a dead man, Davis replied, "Damn 'em, man. The rebel is dead, but his Johnny Cakes are not dead!" Davis was a coal miner from St. Clair who was among the older soldiers in the regiment, having enlisted at the age of 34 in 1861. He stood 5'3", had a Light Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Light Hair. Dye Davis was killed in action on May 12. Like Davis, Matthew Hume  was also a coal miner from St. Clair, Pennsylvania. And, like Davis, Matthew Hume was among the oldest soldiers in the regiment. Indeed, when he volunteered in the summer of '61, Hume was 44 years of age. He had a Light Complexion, Blue Eyes, and Dark Hair. Hume was killed also on May 12, 1864.
Spotsylvania was especially rough on Company B, 48th PA, for, in addition to Kissinger, Davis, and Hume, the Company also lost Frederick Knittle--a laborer from Schuylkill Haven, who had enlisted in 1861 at age 24. Knittle had been wounded at Antietam in September 1862 but he returned to the regiment, only to fall at Spotsylvania on May 12. Included also among the killed in Company B were Laurentus C. Moyer, Daniel Wary, and John Deitz. Moyer, like Knittle, was a Laborer from Schuylkill Haven and when the war began, the 18-year-old Moyer decided to enlist. In the winter of 1863-1864, Laurentus Moyer re-enlisted, committed to serving another three-year term or until the war was finished, whichever came first. On May 12, Moyer was killed in action. Privates Wary and Deitz had just entered the ranks of the 48th Pennsylvania in the late winter of 1864 and had only been in the uniform of the 48th a few weeks before their deaths at Spotsylvania. Daniel Wary was a 20-year-old shoemaker from North Manheim Township who stood 5'6 1/2" in height with a Light Complexion, Hazel Eyes, and Brown Hair. John Deitz was 22 years of age when he enlisted in March 1864. Deitz had been born in Germany but was now trying to carve out a life for himself as a Laborer in Pottsville. At Spotsylvania, Deitz died while fighting in defense of his adopted country.

Private Michael Mohan's Final Resting PlaceArlington National Cemetery
So, too, did Private Michael Mohan of Company C. Mohan was 23-years-old when he enlisted into the ranks of the 48th Pennsylvania on  March 9, 1864. He stood 5'4 1/2" in height, had a Fair Complexion, Blue Eyes, and Brown Hair. Like so many in Company C, Mohan was a coal miner and a native of Ireland. Struck down and wounded on May 12 at Spotsylvania, the Irish-born Private Mohan died eight days later, on May 20, 1864. Mohan today lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 27, Site 199.

Like Company B, Company F--recruited principally from Minersville and its surrounding townships, also suffered heavily in terms of numbers lost at Spotsylvania. Corporal John Powell was from Minersville and was a coal miner by occupation. He had enlisted in the summer of '61 and the age of 21. He stood 5'6" in height and had a Light Complexion, "Bluish" Eyes, and Light Hair. Powell had fallen wounded at 2nd Bull Run on August 29, 1862, but decided to re-enlist in the winter of 1864. He was wounded again at Spotsylvania on May 12; this time, however, he would not recover. He died on May 26. John Morrissey had a premonition of his death and had let it be known to William Wells just prior to the 48th's attack on May 12. Wells noticed that Private Morrissey was among the first killed that foggy May morning, shot through the forehead. Morrissey was a Laborer from Minersville who volunteered in the summer of 1861 at the age of 22; he stood just 5'2" in height, with a Light Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Dark Hair. Richard Williams was also from Minersville and, like Powell and so many others in the regiment, he was a coal miner.  Williams enlisted in August 1861 at the age of 26; he stood 5'9 1/2" in height, and had a Light Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Sandy Hair. He was killed in action on May 12.

Regimental historian Joseph Gould described Lewis Woods as a "big, noble-hearted fellow." Woods was 27-years-old when he enlisted in August 1861 and he did stand at 6'0" in height. He was a farmer from Crawford County who, somehow, ended up in the ranks of Company F, 48th PA. His eyes were grey, his complexion "light" and hair sandy. He sported a mustache, for, the previous year Gould, in a moment of "boyish deviltry" had cut off half of it while Woods was fast asleep. Gould wrote that he regretted doing this as he watched as Woods's brains "oozed out" and as his life slipped away while lying in a cow stable in an ad hoc field hospital.

Company F also lost Private Andrew Wessman, who had volunteered just five weeks earlier, in early April, 1864. The Pottsville native was only 18 years old when he signed up to fight and die, if necessary, in defense of the nation.

Lt. Henry Clay Jackson, Co. G
(Hoptak Collection)
"Lieut. Jackson was a noble fellow, and idolized by his men," wrote Joseph Gould, "his loss was deeply felt." Robert Reid of Company G echoed Gould's sentiment when he wrote of the death of Henry Clay Jackson. "Among the many killed" at Spotsylvania, said Reid, "none was more deeply regretted than Lieut. Henry Jackson." In his own regimental history, Oliver Bosbyshell, who had served alongside Jackson from the very start, wrote that the lieutenant was an "able and fearless officer, much liked in the regiment." Jackson was a school-teacher from St. Clair. He was 24-years old when the war began and stood 5'7 1/2" in height. He rose steadily in rank and, along the way, happened to find himself among the casualties at most of the regiment's battles. He was captured (and later exchanged) at 2nd Bull Run, wounded at Fredericksburg, and wounded again at Knoxville. On May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania, Lieutenant Jackson was advancing next to Sgt. William Auman of Company G. "He was struck in the neck by a rifle ball," related Auman. "I helped to carry him out. He died while we were carrying him to the hospital. When he was struck he fell against me. I asked him where he was hit; he whispered, 'I don't know,' and then his head fell to one side, and I saw that he was dying. He never spoke again." In the 1865 publication Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County, the editors included biographical sketches of many of the county's prominent Civil War soldiers. Among those highlighted was Lt. Jackson and in speaking of his death, it was written: "Thus fell Lieutenant Jackson, faithful to every duty, and though sensible of danger and perils, yet braving them with heroic disregard of self. He had determined if life were spared to remain in the army till the last organized force of the rebellion was overthrown. Gifted with a vigorous physical organization, considerable energy, a clear and active mind, ready utterance, strict integrity, and withal modest and affectionate, his friends had high hopes of his success in a civil profession, but he was reserved by Providence to be one of the numerous martyrs in behalf of the preservation of the Union, and the honor and free institutions of our country." Lt. Jackson's final resting place remains in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Private John Armstrong's Grave
Arlington National Cemetery, Section 13, Site 6611
Among those who served under Jackson in Company were Privates John Armstrong, James Spencer, and William Williams. And like their 2nd Lieutenant, each was fated to lose his life at Spotsylvania. Armstrong was a 29-year-old private who had entered Company G in early March 1864. Though born in California, Armstrong was, at the outbreak of war, a coal miner from Pottsville who stood 5'5 1/2" in height and who had a "Medium" Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Brown Hair. Wounded on May 12, Armstrong struggled to hold onto life before passing away in a Washington, D.C. hospital on July 1. Like fellow 48th soldier Michael Mohan, Armstrong's remains were laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery. James Spencer also died in a Washington, D.C. hospital, a victim to the wound he received at Spotsylvania. He was ten years younger than Armstrong when he volunteered to serve in Company G, 48th PA. The 19-year-old was studying to become an engineer in Pottsville when he decided to leave that behind and answer his country's call. He passed away on May 31, 1864 and was buried at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Plot A-816-62. Like Spencer, William Williams, also of Pottsville, was also 19-years-old when he signed up to fight with Company G, 48th PA. He stood 5'7", had a Light Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Dark Hair. He was killed-in-action at Spotsylvania on May 12.

Private James Spencer's Headstone
Alexandria National Cemetery

Pottsville, the seat of Schuylkill County and largest city in the county, lost a number of its sons at Spotsylvania. In addition to those already mentioned, the city also listed Abraham Benscoter and Joseph Chester among those they lost as a result of the May 12 action at Spotsylvania. Chester was 36-years-old when he enlisted on March 3, 1864. He was born in England but was a practicing engineer in Pottsville when the war broke out, standing at 5'9" in height, with a Light Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Light Hair. While some sources list his date of wounding at May 15, Chester died of his injuries on May 24, 1864. Like Chester, young Abraham Benscoter enlisted into the ranks of Company H, 48th PA, on March 3, 1864, at the age of 18. He was among the shorter soldiers in the regiment, standing at just 5'1 1/2" in height. By occupation, he was a "Laborer." He was a soldier for just 71 days before falling dead at Spotsylvania on May 12 1864.

The Possible Grave of Private Joseph Chester
The U.S. Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery

The Grave of Pvt. Abraham Benscoter, Co. H, 48th PA
Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Grave #529


Private Henry J. Ege, Company I
(From Ege Family Collection)
Private Henry J. Ege was also just 18 years of age when he decided to leave his family and his Orwigsburg home behind to march off to war with Company I, 48th Pennsylvania, in March 1864. And like Benscoter, Ege was a soldier for just over two months before being killed in action at Spotsylvania. His remains were buried on the field by his comrades, but shortly after the end of the war, Ege's family traveled down to Virginia, claimed his son's remains, and brought them back to Orwigsburg, where they are still at rest today. Read more about the life and death of Private Ege here.
Private Ege's Grave in Orwigsburg, PA

Death did not discriminate. We have seen the young and the old fall; the native born and the foreign born. Private John W. Henn was born in Prussia and in 1864, when he entered the service he was 44 years of age. He was a boat builder, though not from Schuylkill County. Instead, he had made Norristown, PA, his home. For whatever reason, Henn enlisted to fight and on May 12, he became Company K's only fatality at Spotsylvania.

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