Thursday, April 16, 2015

The 48th/150th: Beginning the Journey Home and the Dead of Fort Mahone

Luminaries On The Graves of U.S. Soldiers at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery
Several Soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania Are Buried Here
150 years ago. . .the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were encamped at Farmville, Virginia, some seventy miles west of Petersburg, and from there would soon set out on their last march, beginning a long journey back home. It was there, at Farmville, on April 10 where the men learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.  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 covered a lot of 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.
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Passing through Petersburg no doubt conjured up many memories for the soldiers of the 48th, especially now that Lee had surrendered and that they now heading home. The old battlefields, the now silent, unoccupied trench lines no doubt looked different. 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. These were the last soldiers to fall; the last of the 48th to give their lives in this great struggle to preserve the Union and make good on all the promises of the nation. Those who had fallen at Fort Mahone were, of course, not there to celebrate Appomattox and the triumph of the United States over their rebellious adversaries.
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 W. Gowen
Among the fallen was the regimental commander, twenty-five-year-old 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." 
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 had 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 Poplar Grove National Cemetery.
Like Gowen and 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 no doubt 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.
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 who, in February 1864, decided 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 Louis, 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 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 reinterred 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 seems 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.

Another Albert from the ranks of Company I, 48th, lost his life that April 2; he was Albert Zimmerman, a Farmer, born in Schuylkill County who, on March 15, 1864, volunteered to serve. 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 kid 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 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.

Daniel Barnett's Mother, Elizabeth Barnett
[Hoptak Collection]

Daniel Barnett's Sister Olympia Barnett
[Hoptak Collection]


Daniel Barnett's Sister Annie Barnett
[Hoptak Collection]
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 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.

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