Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 48th/150th: The Dead of Fort Mahone

150 years ago. . .the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were encamped at Farmville, Virginia, some seventy miles west of Petersburg. From there they would soon set out on their final march, beginning the long journey back home. It was there, at Farmville, on April 10 where the men learned of the previous day's surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.  The men rejoiced at this news; celebration and exultation was widespread. At last the end had come; all felt that soon they would be home and back again with their families. Just a few days later, however, the shocking news of Lincoln's assassination spread through their camps and it "fell like a pall" over the men, said regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell, "causing great sorrow amongst the troops." Joseph Gould recorded that "It would be an utter impossibility to express the feelings of the soldiers of the Union Army when this news was heard. The wild exultations of the prospects of peace were quenched in shame and sorrow." The celebrations were tempered and with heavy hearts, the soldiers of the 48th marched away from Farmville on April 19 and, as Bosbyshell noted, forever "turned its back on the rebellion, and began its journey home."

The regiment quickly traversed much ground. Marching more than twenty miles over each of the next four days, the 48th arrived back at its familiar haunts at Petersburg on April 23. It is not known whether some of the men took the time while there to once more visit the site of their famed tunnel or to once more see the Crater, or to cast another final glance at Fort Mahone. Their opportunity for doing so would have been limited, for the next day, the regiment will arrive at City Point.

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

Passing through Petersburg no doubt conjured up many memories for the soldiers of the 48th, particularly of their fallen comrades, especially now that Lee had surrendered and that they were heading back home. The old battlefields, the silent, unoccupied trench lines looked different now. Years down the road, some of these men would return again to Petersburg to attend the dedication of their regimental monument there; but for most of the soldiers in the 48th, this was their last visit to the battle-scarred ground. . . their last look upon the place where they had spent nearly ten months of their lives and the place where so many of their friends and comrades had fallen.

While every death was mourned, especially heartbreaking were the memories and thoughts of those who had fallen just one week prior to Appomattox, in the regiment's assault on Fort Mahone, which proved to be the 48th's final battle of the war. Those who fell there were the last to fall; the last of the 48th to give their lives upon the field of battle.

In all, sixteen members of the 48th had given their lives at Fort Mahone on April 2, all young men, whose lives were cut far too short.

Colonel George Washington Gowen
(Hoptak Collection) 
Colonel George Washington Gowen. In describing the death of Gowen, Bosbyshell wrote: "So fell one greatly beloved--gloriously at the moment of victory, honored as few have been, mourned sadly by his men; indeed, all who knew his splendid worth and promising future were grieved." On April 15, one week after the guns had fallen silent in Virginia, the surviving officers of the 48th Pennsylvania passed the following resolutions: "Resolved, That although we bow with submission to the Divine will, which has taken him from amongst us, yet we cannot restrain an expression of the feeling of deep regret entertained by this Regiment at his death," and "Resolved, That in the death of Colonel Gowen, this Regiment has sustained a loss which can never be repaired, inasmuch, that he possessed the rare qualities of the perfect gentleman united with those of the brave and efficient officer. Ever attentive to the innumerable wants of his command, courteous to those with whom he had intercourse, and displaying to all a kindness of heart seldom to be met with in the army."
Among the fallen was the regiment's commander, twenty-five-year-old
The remains of George Gowen were escorted to his family's home in Philadelphia and buried at St. Luke's Episcopal Churchyard on Germantown Avenue.

Sergeant John Homer also died on April 2, the result of a wound he had sustained the day before, as the regiment was maneuvering into position for its final assault. Homer had enlisted in September 1861 into the ranks of Company B. He was nineteen at the time, a machinist from Pottsville, who stood 5'7 1/2" in height, had a Light Complexion, Blue Eyes, and Light Hair. When he and the regiment returned home of Veterans' Furlough in the winter of 1864, John Homer got married. Following this last struggle at Petersburg, John Homer's young wife was now left a widow while his remains were buried in Petersburg, where they continue to rest in the City Point National Cemetery.

The Grave of Sgt. John Homer
City Point National Cemetery

Like Colonel Gowen and Sergeant Homer, Corporal James Nicholson had also served in the 48th since the regiment was first organized late in the summer of 1861. A coal miner by profession--and undoubtedly one of the men who did the actual tunneling under the Confederate lines in the summer of 1864--Nicholson volunteered his services on September 11, 1861. He was twenty-four years of age when he enlisted, stood 5'6" in height and was described as having a Dark Complexion, with Blue Eyes, and Light Brown Hair. Nicholson survived four years of battles, making it through 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Knoxville, and all the many battles of the Overland Campaign, only to fall wounded on April 2 at Fort Mahone. In pain, Nicholson was removed from the field and taken to various hospitals where he lingered for three weeks. One wonders what thoughts raced through his mind while in the hospital he learned of Lee's surrender and of Lincoln's assassination. He succumbed to his wound on April 24, long after the guns fell silent.

All the other soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania who died at Fort Mahone were relative newcomers to the regiment, having entered the ranks either in 1864 or early in 1865. Eldest among them was Simon George Hoffman of Company K, a thirty-four-year-old carpenter from Auburn, Pennsylvania, who, in February 1864, made the difficult decision to leave his wife Catherine and five young children in order to fight for his country. During the attack on Fort Mahone, Hoffman, the loving husband and father, was shot through the forehead and instantly killed leaving Catherine a widow and leaving eleven-year-old Mary, six year-old- Rosa, four year-old Wellington, three-year-old Lewis, and eight-month-old Simon without a father. Private Hoffman's remains rest in the Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg.

Twenty-six-year-old Private Jacob Reichwein also left a wife and a number of young children behind when he, too, enlisted into the ranks of the 48th in early 1864. Reichwein was born in Germany and was a blacksmith by profession. In September 1861, while so many others were rushing off to war, Reichwein married Catherine Zimmerman and together the two made a home and raised a family in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. Their first child, James Mathias Reichwein, was born in June 1862 while their second, Catherine Victoria Reichwein, arrived on April 1, 1864. It is not known, however, whether Jacob was there when daughter Catherine was born, for a few weeks earlier, on March 8, he had enlisted his services and was mustered into service as a private in Company I, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Reichwein was wounded during the regiment's initial attacks on Petersburg in June 1864. On April 2, 1865, just one day after Catherine Victoria's first birthday, Jacob Reichwein was shot through the head and killed while assailing Fort Mahone. His remains were buried at the 9th Corps Cemetery at Meade Station, Virginia, though they were likely later removed and buried in the Poplar Grove National Cemetery. Young James Mathias and Catherine Victoria Reichwein lost their father; sadly and tragically, they lost their mother less than three years later when Catherine Reichwein died at far too young an age on March 5, 1868. James, five years old, was taken in by a guardian in New Ringgold, while his four-year-old sister Catherine Victoria was taken to Tower City to be raised by another guardian.

Private John Coutts was born in Scotland and had been in the regiment less than two months before he fell dead at Fort Mahone. On February 13, 1865, Coutts, a twenty-one-year-old laborer who stood tall at 5'11" in height, with Sandy Hair, Gray Eyes, and a Fair Complexion, entered ranks as a Private in Company B, 48th. He made his home in Pottsville after emigrating from Scotland, though he would never make it back home.

While Reichwein was born in Germany and Coutts in Scotland, Privates James King and William Donnelly, both of Company H, were natives of Ireland who at some point prior to America's sectional hostilities had set sail across the Atlantic in an effort to find a better life. Donelley, 5'5", with a Dark Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Dark Hair, had found work in the coal mines and listed "Miner" as his occupation so he, too, may have been one of the men who did the actual digging of the Petersburg Mine in the summer of '64. Donnelly entered the 48th in late March 1864 and was killed in action at Fort Mahone on April 2, 1865, along with his fellow native of the Emerald Isle James King. King, it appears, settled in Reading and found work as a Collier. In January 1865, the eighteen-year-old King left that new life behind when he entered the army as a private in Company H, 48th. Killed on April 2, his and Donnelly's final resting place remain unknown.

David McElvie was born in British-America, though had made his way to Pottsville at a young age. He listed his occupation as Laborer when, on March 1, 1864, the twenty-year-old McElvie enlisted into the ranks of Company F, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. McElvie stood 5'3" in height, had a Dark Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Brown Hair. Like so many others in the 48th, McElvie never made it home from Fort Mahone; there is where he, just like Coutts, Reichwein, Donnelly, and King, gave his life fighting for his adopted country all from within the ranks of the 48th.

In addition to King and Donnelly, Company H also lost eighteen-year-old George Uhl, who, like so others had enlisted in early 1864 having become old enough to serve. When the war began, Uhl was fifteen and far too young but the war would wait until he turned eighteen and on March 9, 1864, Uhl became a soldier--a private in the ranks of Company H, 48th. Surviving the storm at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor and having made it through nine months of the siege at Petersburg, Uhl, a Laborer from Pottsville who stood 5'1" in height, with a Light Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Brown Hair, was killed in action on April 2, 1865, at For Mahone.

On the very same day the Uhl became a soldier, so, too, did Albert Mack. Like Uhl, Mack was too young to serve when the war first began but in 1864, he was old enough. The records state that Mack was only seventeen when he enlisted on March 9, 1864, as Private in Company I, 48th, but perhaps he was close enough to eighteen to pass. Mack was born in Luzerne County though was working as a Moulder in Pottsville when he enlisted. He stood 5'6" in height, had a Dark Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Brown Hair. Albert Mack very quickly became a veteran, seasoned soldier campaigning through the hellish battles of 1864 but his luck ran out at Fort Mahone when he fell dead during that desperate rush.

Albert Zimmerman, also of Company I, a Farmer born in Schuylkill County who, on March 15, 1864, volunteered to serve, also lost his life that day. He was eighteen years old at the time, standing just 5'1 1/2" in height, with a Fair Complexion, Hazel Eyes, and Brown Hair. His life ended on a Sunday, early in April, 1865, at Petersburg, Virginia. The soldier's young remains were interred in the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, where they continue to rest at Grave #1690.

Yet another young man from Company I died at Fort Mahone; his name was Wesley Boyer and he had become a soldier late in August 1864 when at the age of eighteen he signed up to serve. He was from Pottsville and was a Laborer by trade. He stood 5'4 1/2" in height, with a Dark Complexion, Grey Eyes, and Brown Hair. It is not known as of yet where Boyer was laid to rest and whether his remains made it back home for burial in his hometown of Pottsville. It is, however, believed that Daniel Barnett's body did make it back.

Private Daniel D. Barnett
Killed in Action on 4/2/1865
[Hoptak Collection]
Daniel D. Barnett was also so very young when he left his family behind to become a soldier in the 48th. He was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, but moved with his family to Pottsville when still quite young. He had a number of sisters and a loving mother and father. Still, the eager, young Barnett was determined to do his part to preserve the Union and on February 18, 1864, he became a Private in Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was a Laborer, and was described as standing 5'4 1/2" in height, with a Light Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Brown Hair. Barnett lost his life at Fort Mahone, leaving his family to suffer and mourn his loss. He remains were likely conveyed back home to Pottsville where they rest alongside those of his mother and sister in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery.

The Barnett Family Plot in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery, Pottsville, PA
Daniel Barnett, Sr., and Elizabeth Barnett on left and Daughter Annie Barnett is on right, with cross
It is possible that Daniel Barnett is buried between his mother and sister Annie

While every death was tragic, for those already discussed, with the exception of James Nicholson, death came quickly. These men, like Gowen and Hoffman, were killed instantly, or died shortly after receiving their death wound. They died not knowing about Appomattox or the surrender of Lee and his army. Imagine the terrible heartache, though, the agony and the pain of those who were injured on April 2 but who lingered in hospitals for days or weeks before succumbing. Imagine them laying in a hospital bed while news of the surrender spread, while others outside cheered. Imagine the thoughts going through their minds knowing that their comrades would soon be heading home to see their families and loved ones once more while they lay in pain in a hospital far away from home, hoping they would recover to share in the joy and jubilation and to share in that happy moment of embracing a mother or father or child. For some, though, this moment would never come.

Take Aaron P. Wagner, for example, the nineteen-year-old farmer from Pottsville, who had left home to become a private soldier in Company D, 48th PA on March 3, 1864. Wagner was wounded during the 48th's final battle at Fort Mahone. Carried from the field, young Aaron Wagner would be taken either by rail or via steamer to Washington, D.C. where he would be treated for his injury at the Mt. Pleasant Hospital. He would never recover and on April 15, 1865, on the very same day President Abraham Lincoln died in the same city, Aaron Wagner breathed his last. He remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 13, Site 10485.

The Grave of Aaron Wagner, Co. D 48th PA
at Arlington National Cemetery

And, then, finally was Nicholas Stephens/Stevens of Company B, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. When the war began, young Nicholas Stephens--born and raised in Tunkhannock, in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania--may have well wished to enlist but at that time he had a more important duty to his family. His father has passed away in August 1849, leaving his mother Hannah Stephens a widow with three children to raise and support. Having to help provide for his mother and his two siblings, Nicholas Stephens went to work wherever he could find it. He labored for a neighboring farmer and on a local canal. He was described as robust, rugged, and a hard worker. When he wasn't paid in cash for his labor, he would receive potatoes, coal, or other items from his various employers. By the time the war began in 1861, Nicholas Stephens felt his place was at home helping provide for and support his mother and younger brother Sherman, a boy described as always being in poor physical health. His sister had, by this time, married and moved away from home. When so many others with less responsibility left to fight, Nicholas Stephens remained behind. In early 1864, he was able to purchase a cow for his mother but in September of that year, he was forced into service when he was drafted. To provide cash for his mother, Nicholas sold the cow for $20 and then went off to war, promising to send home whatever pay he got. On September 29, 1864, after what was surely a tear-filled goodbye and parting from his widowed mother and younger brother, Nicholas Stephens became a Private in Company B, 48th PA. The muster roll tells us that he was twenty-one-years of age, who stood 5'6" in height, with a Dark Complexion, Dark Eyes, and Dark Hair. When asked what his occupation was, he said "Boatman." Stephens never received any pay while in service--it was always late in arriving and always months behind. But he served and on April 2 at Fort Mahone, participated in his first--and last--major battle. At some point during the assault, he received a gunshot wound to his right foot. Removed from the front, the injured young soldier was taken to a hospital where hopes were entertained for his recovery. Sadly, Nicholas Stephens passed away on April 20, 1865, almost two weeks after Appomattox and as the surviving soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were beginning on the journey back home.

The Body of Nicholas Stephens Was Buried Next To Father in the
Gravel Hill Cemetery, Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. His Widowed Mother
Hannah Stephens would receive a pension of $8.00/month for the sacrifice of her son.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The 48th/150th: "Every Heart Was Filled to Overflowing:" The Road To Appomattox & The Surrender of Lee's Army

U.S. Soldiers Stand Atop The Earthworks at the Captured Fort Mahone
April 1865
[National Archives]

150 Years Ago. . .and at long last, Petersburg, which according to Oliver Bosbyshell had been "so long invested, so hotly contested, and so stubbornly defended," had at last fallen. . .On April 3, 1865, United States soldiers entered the city and raised the American flag once more. Further to the north, Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, had also fallen. The Confederate government was on the run, as was Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. Union forces were fast upon their heels and quickly closing in. On April 9, Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

The Appomattox Campaign
[Map by Hal Jespersen,]

For the past 290-some days, since mid-June, 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry had spent its days in the trenches east and south of Petersburg and had participated in a number of engagements during this long tenure. Their final struggle came on April 2, 1865, when they participated in the charge upon Fort Mahone. The regiment had done well and had fought with characteristic doggedness and determination during the assault but though they, along with several other units, were able to pierce the defenses of Fort Mahone, they had a difficult time in advancing from there and had their hands full dealing with a series of equally determined Confederate counterattacks. Further to their left, however, the army's Sixth Corps was able to complete the breakthrough. This, along with other reverses, compelled Lee to retreat. The army soon took up the chase, with the Fifth Corps and Cavalry Corps leading the way. The soldiers of the Ninth Corps also took up the march, forming the extreme right wing of the army, with little time for rest after the long investment of Petersburg and less time to mourn for their comrades who had there lost their lives. By nightfall on April 4, the 48th had arrived at Sutherland; the next day, their route of march took them past Fords and Wellville and all the way to Nottoway Court House, where they encamped for the night. April 7, the 48th had reached Farmville and there learned that the Ninth Corps was now to serve as escorts for some 8,000 Confederate prisoners, including Generals Richard Ewell, Joseph Kershaw, and Custis Lee, who had all fallen into Union at the April 6 Battle of Sailor's Creek. With their prisoners in tow, the 48th set out on the journey to Burkeville on April 8 and it was there, on the morning of April 10, that they heard for the first time the "joyful news" of Lee's surrender to Grant the previous day.
Capturing in words the true sentiment of the men--the elation, the relief--upon hearing of Lee's surrender is an impossibility. No doubt, for the weary veterans, longing to return home, the thought that the war was, at last, drawing to an end, that it would at last soon be over, took a while to sink in. Thoughts of the days at Fort Monroe way back in the fall of 1861 may have crossed their minds, with fond memories of those days before all the slaughter. Perhaps the long-serving veteran troops also thought back to their eight-month stay in North Carolina, or their hard campaigns in Virginia, Maryland, and East Tennessee, to the bloodshed that was 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. The men no doubt shook hands all around and embraced one another and many were the tears that were shed; shed in happiness at the thought that they would soon be heading home, and shed in sadness at the thought of so many of their friends, neighbors, and comrades who had fallen throughout the previous four years. And while it is impossible to accurately capture the feelings of the moment, regimental historian, Joseph Gould, tried when he recorded simply that "The news [of Appomattox] created the greatest enthusiasm amongst the troops. Great, strong, bearded men embraced, and, in many instances kissed each other and shouted. The bands tried to make as much noise as the men, and the greatest joy prevailed. All suffering and hardships that we had undergone were forgotten, every heart was filled to overflowing."
Artist Tom Lovell's Famed Rendering of the Surrender at Appomattox

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 48th/150th: The 48th's Last Battle: The Attack on Fort Mahone: April 2, 1865

. . .Where Gowen Fell. . .
Fort Mahone Today
Throughout the four years of the American Civil War--by rail, by foot, and on water--the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry traversed nearly 5,000 miles of ground, campaigning in several different theaters of operations, and across seven states. Along the way, the regiment had compiled an extensive service record, participating in nearly two dozen major battle actions of the war and in countless other skirmishes and lesser engagements. The 48th's record banner remains emblazoned with such sanguinary and familiar battles as "2nd Bull Run," "Antietam." "Fredericksburg," "Campbell's Station," "Siege of Knoxville," "Wilderness," "Spotsylvania," "North Anna," "Cold Harbor," and "Petersburg," among others.
Yet it was 150 years today--on April 2, 1865--that the regiment fought in its last battle.
                                                              * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For the past 290 days--since mid-June 1864--the soldiers of the 48th remained in the trenches east of Petersburg. It was a severe trial for the men to endure for so long the hardships of life in the trenches, exposed to the elements, and to the constant artillery and musketry fire. It should never had lasted this long; indeed, just a few days after taking up positions east of Petersburg, the 48th embarked upon its effort at tunneling under the Confederate line. Their undertaking was remarkably successful and it should have led to the end of the siege at Petersburg. If only Meade and Grant and Burnside had handled things differently. Surely not a day went by after the bloody repulse at the Crater that the men of the 48th thought about what could of been; how they should have been at home by now; how they should have been the architects of the grand Union victory. Frustration, even anger and resentment, remained.
Yet with the arrival of spring in 1865, there was a sense that, at long last, the end was near. As regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell noted, "As the spring came on all felt that decisive action would surely ensue." In early March, Lincoln had taken the Oath of Office for the second time while, further south, Sherman and his men were cutting their way through the Carolinas. And at Petersburg, Grant decided that the time had come to strike again at Robert E. Lee and his vaunted, once seemingly-invincible Army of Northern Virginia. During the final days of March and into April, Grant directed his army to extend to the left, toward Lee's right flank and rear. There was a series of running fights, skirmishes, and pitched battles, all of which ended badly for Lee; his lines were stretched far too thin--his army was on the verge of its breaking point. He knew Petersburg and Richmond must surely fall. On April 1, Union forces under Philip Sheridan and Gouverneur Warren won a marked victory at the Battle of Five Forks, inflicting nearly 3,000 casualties upon Lee's ever-dwindling army and, perhaps more importantly, opening the way to sever Lee's only remaining supply line, the Southside Railroad. When Grant learned about this, he knew the time had come; Lee would be desperate. Grant therefore decided to order an all-out assault on the Confederate lines immediately east and south of Petersburg. To carry out this assault, he called upon his Sixth and Ninth Corps.  
The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry formed part of General John Curtin's brigade, in Robert Potter's division, of the Ninth Army Corps, which, since the previous August had been under the command of Major General John Parke. Late on the night of April 1, Parke received orders that he was to attack. He opted to launch the attack directly from Fort Sedgwick--which the men in blue had dubbed "Fort Hell"--and directly upon the Confederate fortification known as Fort Mahone, better known as "Fort Damnation." The Confederate numbers had thinned considerably there, but their defensive line--and especially Fort Mahone--was still quite imposing and formidable. It would be a desperate and deadly struggle, with the men forced to charge across that no-man's land that separated the opposing lines of earthworks and fortifications, broken by abattis and chevaux-de-frise, in the face of a deadly storm of lead and iron. This open, deadly land between Forts Hell and Damnation the men called "purgatory."
April 2, 1865
The 9th Corps's Attack is on far right of map
(Map by Hal Jespersen,
On the night of April 1, the soldiers of the 48th learned of their orders. Their commander--Colonel George Washington Gowen--had been summoned that night to General Curtin's headquarters and there Curtin explained the plan to storm Fort Mahone directly to Gowen and to all of his brigade's regimental commanders. At the end of their meeting, after all arrangements were made, Curtin shook hands with each of his regimental commanders. Gowen, who had taken command of the 48th upon Henry Pleasants's departure in December 1864, was well acquainted with Curtin and as the two shook hands, Gowen reportedly told Curtin that the attack on Fort Mahone would be his last battle, that he had a sense that he would not survive the coming storm. Curtin attempted to disabuse Gowen of this idea and told him that he would place the 48th in reserve. But Gowen objected and insisted that he and his hard-fighting, veteran regiment take their designated--and rightful--place in line.
Meanwhile, the soldiers of the 48th were maneuvering in the darkness, eventually taking up position to the left of Fort Hell. In their haversacks they carried three days' rations, consisting mostly of sugar, coffee, and hard bread, remembered Sergeant William Wells of Company F. Although it was spring, it was still early enough in the season for the nights to be rather cold and the recent rains had turned much of the trench lines into muddy pits. And so, exposed to the chilly air and with their boots and pants damp and covered with mud, the soldiers of the 48th, having arrived at their designated jumping-off point, broke ranks and. . .waited. Surely a strange mix of foreboding and relief coursed through the regiment that night, with the usual anxiety and fear that came before any big fight but this time tempered by the thought that this might just be the battle that at last ends the war. One more battle, one more fight. . .then they could finally go home. No doubt the thought of loved ones back at home filled their thoughts as the men waited for the inevitable orders to attack. Through the darkness some of the men may have strained to see their objective, Fort Mahone, looming like a dark shadow before them, only a few hundred yards to their front. To their right, on the other side of Fort Hell were the men of Hartranft's Third Division, Ninth Corps, also awaiting the orders to advance; at the same time, to their left, further to the south and west, soldiers of the Army of the Potomac's veteran Sixth Corps were also taking up positions.
To better their chances, Grant decided to precede the infantry assault with all-out artillery bombardment. Throughout the night of April 1, the artillerists manning the cannons all along the Union lines east and south of Petersburg prepared for what would be a massive and memorable artillery barrage. As they wheeled their guns into position--and as the gunner's adjusted their elevating screws and got good range--an eerie silence descended upon the lines. It was already past midnight; Sunday, April 2 had dawned. Few got any sleep that night; many may have tried but the anxiety was much too pronounced. Most of the men were lost in their thoughts. For the moment, in the dark, in the trenched, all was quiet. Then, suddenly, a lone voice rang out. A soldier, described as "some irrepressible Irishman from Company C" shouted for all to hear, "Boys, we're going to early mass." This broke the tension and "caused the boys to laugh," remembered one veteran, "when they did not feel much like it."
It was not long after this that the artillery opened fire and it would be an experience the soldiers of the 48th would not soon forget. Joseph Gould, regimental historian, later recalled that "Orders had been issued on the night of the 1st that all batteries on the line should open their guns to cover the advance of the infantry. The roar of the signal gun at the Avery house found all the artillerymen at their posts and anxious to end the war. The bombardment grew furious as it increased along the whole line, from north of Petersburg to Hatcher's Run. The rebel guns replied with vigor, and this bombardment was the most terrific experienced on that front. The sight was one rarely seen. From hundreds of cannons, field guns and mortars came a stream of living fire as the shells screamed through the air in a semi-circle of flame, the noise was almost deafening." The men marveled at the sight, awed by the shells streaking light and flame across the dark night skies; no doubt the ground under them trembled. The bombardment was to last until 4:00 a.m., when the infantry would then charge forward. . .but at 4:00 o'clock it was still so dark that the men would not be able to see. The assault was delayed another half an hour, while the artillery barrage resumed.
Then, at long last, came the appointed time. . .at 4:30 a.m., orders raced their way along the soldiers in blue. The men rose to their feet, stretched their legs and quickly fell into line, taking deep breaths and wiping the sweat from their palms. Potter's division of the Ninth Corps, which would lead the attack from the left of Fort Sedgwick while Hartranft's men attacked on the right, took up position, stacked up and stretched out eighteen-regiments deep. Making their way forward, the regiment passed around the rear of Fort Sedgwick, through trenches that were muddy and, in places, nearly knee-deep with water. Making their way across the Jerusalem Plank Road, the battle lines were formed and through the misty fog of that fateful dawn, the men began their charge forward.
Alfred Waud Depiction of the Ninth Corps's Attack on Fort Mahone
(Harpers Weekly)
Gould wrote that that morning the soldiers of the 48th were "eager to be avenged for the repulse at the explosion of the mine eight months before." Very succinctly he recorded that the men "fought like demons; and, in the teeth of the storm of grape, canister and musketry, plunged into the field and charged without flinching, until they reached the inside of the enemy lines." The fields over which they advanced were swept with a destructive fire but it took only a matter of minutes before the 48th made their way across "purgatory." Their advance was soon stalled, however, when they reached the Confederate abattis and cheaveux-de-fries immediately in front of Fort Mahone. One man, known only as "R," wrote that confusion ensued when the necessary halt was made in order to remove these obstructions and during this confused halt, "the enemy poured a destructive fire both from infantry and artillery" upon the stalled 48th. "Here the regiment was massed," recorded Sgt. Wells, "seeking a passage and forcing their way through as fast as the pioneers cut away the obstructions." The pioneers, who led the way with their axes, worked feverishly to cut through the abattis and cheaveaux-de-fries, but with each passing moment, men were falling. Sergeant Patrick Monaghan later declared that here, the "regimental front was rapidly diminishing." In the dirt and mud, in the damp mist of that early April morning, all was chaos, madness, slaughter. . .
Surgeon William R.D. Blackwood (center)
Library of Congress
In the midst of this, William Robert Douglass Blackwood, the regimental surgeon, was conspicuous in his bravery. As the action raged the hottest, twenty-five-year-old Blackwood, a native of Ireland and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, made his way repeatedly to the front  to help remove severely wounded officers and soldiers from the field, all while under a heavy fire from the enemy. Thirty-two years later, in July 1897, Blackwood's most distinguished gallantry at Fort Mahone would earn him a Medal of Honor.

Blackwood Removing Wounded From The Field
From Deeds of Valor
Meanwhile, at the front, the attack bogged down; the 48th still stalled in their advance. Alongside the regimental colors was Colonel George Gowen, waving his sword and shouting encouraging words, doing all in his power to keep the men moving forward. But it was at this moment that Gowen's premonition came to fruition. Monaghan--whose braver at Petersburg the previous summer earned him a Medal of Honor--remembered seeing Gowen lean over to talk with Sgt. Samuel Bedall, who was carrying the flag. Gowen then "straightened up" remembered Monaghan, "when a shell, hot from the mouth of one of the rebel guns of Fort Mahone, exploded in our midst." Gowen instantly fell forward, directly on his face and when Monaghan turned him over he discovered that half of Gowen's head had been blown away. Indeed, Gowen's blood and brains were splattered on the flag carried by Beddall. Along with two others, Monaghan carried Gowen's lifeless body back to the captured Confederate picket lines further to the rear.  
Colonel George Gowen
Killed in Action April 2, 1865
In this initial charge, only a handful of soldiers actually made it to within the earthen walls of Fort Mahone. Perhaps seeing Gowen fall inspired them to keep going; either way all who did were either gunned down or captured. Most of the regiment fell back to reform. While there, General John Curtin, the brigade commander, made his way into the ranks of the reforming 48th. Exhausted, Curtin, a fellow Pennsylvania, leaned upon his sword and called out, "Let us make one more charge for the honor of the Old Keystone State!" And around him, the 48th gathered. Curtin turned to Sgt. Wells and to Corporal Howard Haas of Cressona and asked them to find the colors. Soon, Wells and Haas returned with Sergeants Beddall and William Taylor, "two of the best and most gallant men in the regiment," said Wells. With this nucleus formed, said Wells, the soldiers of the 48th, "without much regard to Company formation," soon charged back across purgatory and toward Fort Mahone. The soldiers "advanced with loud and continuous cheering to the assault, determined to avenge Colonel Gowen's untimely death. Over, around, and through the remaining obstructions with wild shouts they fly, and over the moat, already filled with dead and dying, they reached the glacis of the fort, and, muzzle to muzzle, patriot and rebel, blaze into each others faces, the guns in the fort being now useless."
Sergeant Samuel Beddall, one of the youngest soldiers in the regiment,
carried a flag during the Attack on Fort Mahone
(From Gould)  

Sergeant Patrick Monaghan
Removed the Lifeless Body of Gowen from the Field

Sergeant William Wells
Wounded During Final Stage of Battle
(From Gould)
The 48th poured up and over the walls of Fort Mahone. Nearby swept forward the 39th New Jersey Infantry. Captain John Williams of Company F was fearful the 39th's flag would be captured and so shouted out, "Forward, boys, and save the Jersey colors!"  With one more determined push, the 48th swept through Fort Mahone. "Hand to hand, butt to butt, bayonet to bayonet the fight continued," said Wells. It was not long before the Confederate line broke, the men fleeing to the rear. Fort Mahone had been taken. The 9th Corps's attack, however, soon bogged down in the maze of entrenchments behind Fort Mahone. They would struggle to hold onto their foothold, for Confederate General John Gordon would spend much of the rest of that Sunday launching determined counterattacks to wrest Fort Mahone back from the boys in blue. Further to the west, however, the soldiers of the Sixth Corps enjoyed greater success in punching through and routing Lee's men from their entrenchments and later that evening, a defeated Robert E. Lee ordered an all-out evacuation of Petersburg. The ninth-month-long siege was at last over.

Modern-Day Image of the Location of Fort Mahone
The Monument of the 48th Pennsylvania pictured here was placed near the spot where Gowen Fell
150 years ago today, on Sunday, April 2, 1865, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry fought its last battle of the Civil War. They had succeeded in breaking into Fort Mahone and driving the Confederates from this formidable position but the regiment had paid a dear and heavy price. In the aftermath of the fight, it was recorded that eleven men--including Colonel Gowen--were killed or mortally wounded in the assault, with another fifty-three men wounded, and twenty-one either captured or missing. Several of the wounded would later succumb to their injuries, bringing the total fatality count up to sixteen.
Private Daniel Barnett
Co. E
Killed 150 Years Ago Today At Petersburg
(Hoptak Collection)
The casualties sustained by the 48th 150 years ago today, in the regiment's final battle of the war--the Assault on Fort Mahone at Petersburg--follows:
Killed/Mortally Wounded: (16)
Colonel George Gowen
Sergeant John Homer, Co. B
Nicholas Stephens, Co. B
John Coutts, Co. B
Cpl. James Nicholson, Co. C
Aaron P. Wagner, Co. D
Daniel D. Barnett, Co. E
David McElvie, Co. F
James King, Co. H
William Donnelly, Co. H
George Uhl, Co. H
Albert Mack, Co. I
Albert Zimmerman, Co. I
Wesley Boyer, Co. I
Jacob Reichwein, Co. I
Simon Hoffman, Co. K
Wounded: (53)  
John Adams, Co. A (slightly, in foot)
1st Sgt. John Watkins, Co. B (severe, in thigh)
Sgt. Robert Campbell, Co. B (slight, in wrist)
William H. Ward, Co. B (slight, in thumb)
Robert Jones, Co. B (severe, in face)
George Seibert, Co. C (severe, in head)
Casper Groduverant, Co. C (slight, in shoulder)
Albert Kurtz, Co. C (severe, in thigh)
James F. Martin, Co. C (slight, in finger)
Paul Dehne, Co. C (slight, in hand)
Sgt. Henry Rothenberger, Co. D (severe, in eye)
Cpl. Levi Derr, Co. D (slight, in foot)
Jacob Schmidt, Co. D (severe, in head)
Edward McGuire, Co. D (slight, in finger)
Joseph Buddinger, Co. D (slight, in shoulder)
Chester Philips, Co. D (slight, in shoulder)
Thomas Wische, Co. D (slight, in head)
Cpl. William Morgan, Co. E (slight, in leg)
William James, Co. E (slight, in arm)
Robert Meredith, Co. E (severe, in right knee)
Frederick Goodwin, Co. E (severe, in right hand and neck)
Thomas Hays, Co. E  (slight, in wrist)
2nd Lt. Henry Reese, Co. F (slight, in arm)
Sgt. William Wells, Co. F (severe, in shoulder)
Cpl. John Devlin, Co. F (severe, in hand)
James Dempsey, Co. F (severe, in leg)
John Crawford, Co. F (slight, in leg)
Peter Bailey, Co. G (slight, in hand)
John Droble, Co. G (severe, in right shoulder)
Patrick Daley, Co. G (slight, in finger)
Nicholas Fers, Co. G (severe, in left thigh)
Thomas Howell, Co. G (slight, in abdomen)
Thomas Smith, Co. G (slight, in thigh)
John Wright, Co. G (severe, in thumb)
George Kane, Co. G (severe, in leg)
1st Lt. William Auman, Co. G (severe, in mouth)
Sgt. Peter Radelberger, Co. H (severe, right arm and breast)
Willoughby Lentz, Co. H (slight, in shoulder)
George E. Lewis, Co. H (slight, in thigh)
Benjamin Koller, Co. H (slight, arm)
Cpl. Henry Matthews, Co. H (slight, in arms)
2nd Lt. Thomas Silliman, Co. H (severe, in throat)
Jonathan Mowery, Co. I (severe, both thighs)
Charles C. Wagner, Co. I (severe, right leg)
Joseph Shoener, Co. I (severe, right leg)
John Road, Co. I  (severe, right leg and wrist)
Henry Goodman, Co. I  (dangerous, in face)
Benjamin Kline, Co. K (slight, in back)
Paul Snyder, Co. K (slight, in back)
Jacob Ebert, Co. K (severe, in thigh)
David Philips, Co. K (slight, in side)
Jno. Williams, Co. K (slight, in arm)
Joseph Wildermuth, Co. K (severe, right shoulder)
Captured/Missing In Action: (21)  
Sgt. Isaac Fritz, Co. B
William Reppert, Co. B
Michael Kingsley, Co. B
Lewis Kleckner, Co. B
Henry Rinker, Co. B
Daniel Hurley, Co. B
Cpl. James Hannan, Co. C
Samuel Kessler, Co. D
1st Sgt. John McElrath, Co. E
Cpl. George W. James, Co. E
Daniel McGeary, Co. E
John O'Neil, Co. E
Patrick Galligan, Co. F
Sgt. James McReynolds, Co. I
James Mullen, Co. I
Theodore Pletz, Co. I
John Oats, Co. I
Thomas J. Reed, Co. I
William Pelton, Co. K
John Marshall, Co. K
George Showers, Co. K
*Information from Joseph Gould, The Story of the Forty-Eighth, Oliver Bosbyshell, The 48th In The War, and Stu Richards,