Daylight on the morning of Saturday, May 7, revealed that the Confederates had abandoned their lines directly to the front of the 48th. A skirmish force was sent forward and few Confederate prisoners were rounded up, but no substantial enemy line was discovered. It was a quiet day, a relatively quiet day, at least. "On the 7th but little hard fighting was done as we were moving about all day for position," recorded regimental historian Joseph Gould, who added that in the thick Virginia wilderness "It was hard to determine just how our army was fronting and the lines running." Soldiers were marching back toward Fredericksburg; others back to Chancellorsville. Meanwhile, said Gould, "the woods were still burning from the effects of yesterday's fighting, and many of the wounded were burned to death ere they could be removed." The dead were buried and the wounded were placed on wagons, heading back toward Fredericksburg. When it was determined that there was no real danger to their front, the soldiers of the 48th helped to build and strengthen earthworks, and even though they were exposed to the fire of Confederate sharpshooters, the records show no injuries or deaths in the regiment on May 7.
A little after 12:00 noon on May 7, the regiment was pulled from its position and directed to a position between the Wilderness Tavern and the Spotswood House. It later marched east toward Chancellorsville and went into bivouac on the "old battlefield."
It remained there throughout the day on May 8. It soon would become clear to the soldiers that despite the heavy losses in the Wilderness, there would be no turning back.
The rain fell heavily on the night of May 11, 1864 as the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac moved about in the wet darkness, taking up their assigned positions and preparing themselves for the morning attack. Soldiers of Hancock’s 2nd Corps stood poised to assault the Confederate “Mule Shoe” salient; to their left went the soldiers of Burnside’s 9th Corps.
They were to strike the east side of that Mule Shoe while Hancock struck it head-on.
The 48th Pennsylvania were in a reserve position on the second line, watching as the fighting continued to intensify to their front. Then the fateful orders came. Captain Gilbert McKibben of divisional commander Robert Potter’s staff galloped up to Colonel Henry Pleasants and personally directed the regiment forward, directing them to form up in line of battle. The Vermont men were running low on ammunition and soldiers were needed to relieve them on the front.
"The fog lifting," wrote Bosbyshell, "a party of rebels was discovered occupying the fork formed by the banks of the stream." Colonel John Curtin, commanding the brigade, ordered the 48th to advance and the men swept past the flank of the Vermonters and were able to cut off the Confederates' retreat. Several dozen men of the 13th Georgia fell into the Pennsylvanians' hands as prisoners of war. The rest of that regiment was "badly situated and fought desperately to resist the attack," admitted Bosbyshell, but the 48th "steadily maintained its position under a destructive fire of musketry and artillery." Additional Confederate troops soon arrived and the morning fight in the lifting fog was growing "exceedingly lively." But the opposing fire would soon begin to slacken and one man of the 48th yelled out that the Confederates were trying to surrender. Pleasants responded by ordering his men to "Continue firing!" Then, in a wave, the Confederates threw down their arms and ran into the 48th's lines. The regiment captured 200 Confederate soldiers and had caused heavy loss, but their success of that morning would be tempered by heavy losses of their own later on that morning.
Bosbyshell did not write much about the late morning attack, noting only that the regiment "made another assault in the afternoon [it was around 11:00 a.m.], charging forward to the swamp, but being unsupported moved by the flank into the woods, around on to the crest of the hill occupying its former position." Regimental historian Joseph Gould also spoke but briefly on this struggle. However, It was during this second assault, which was made under "a most disastrous fire," that the regiment sustained its heaviest loss. When the smoke lifted and the shooting stopped, 128 soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were either dead or wounded.
Among the slain was Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson of Company G. He was a school teacher from St. Clair who had earned the love and respect of every man in the company; "an able and fearless officer," wrote Bosbyshell. Jackson had been captured at 2nd Bull Run, wounded at Fredericksburg, and wounded again at Knoxville. But on May 12, a bullet tore into his neck and within a matter of minutes he drew his last, painful breath.
Lewis Woods of Company F was also among those mortally wounded on May 12. Joseph Gould remembered paying a visit to a field hospital in the wake of the battle and there he was pained to discover Woods, whom he described as "a big, noble-hearted fellow," laying there in a cow stable "with his brains oozing from a ghastly bullet hole in his head." "As I took the gallant fellow's hand and asked him if he recognized me, his only reply was a smile," said Gould. It was at that moment that Gould's mind raced back to the previous year when the regiment was traveling via steamer from Newport News to Baltimore. Woods had fallen asleep on the deck and Gould, "in a moment of boyish deviltry," clipped off half of his mustache. Now, Gould watched as Woods's life ended in that bloody cow stable near Spotsylvania Court House.
Sergeant William Wells, also of Company F, remembered that just prior to the charge across the swampy ground, John Morrisey approached him and bade him goodbye. Asked why he said that, Morrisey replied that "I shall be killed today." "I chided him, and tried to cheer him up," said Wells, "then suggested that he remain out of the fight. . . .He indignantly refused, and said, 'I have never yet shirked my duty, and will not do it now. After I am dead, write to my sister, Mary, and tell her I died facing the enemy.'" Wells remembered that as soon as the assault began he saw Morrisey shot through the forehead and instantly killed. Later, Wells and a few comrades "dug a hole with the bayonet; wrapped [Morrisey] in his blanket and buried him. Then, upon a piece of cracker-box, we wrote, with a charred stick, his name, company and regiment." One year later, Wells was himself wounded outside Petersburg and was taken to a hospital in Chestnut Hill, PA. As a post-script and as a strange coincidence, while there Wells was visited by Mary Morrisey who was presumably a nurse at that hospital. "[F]inding my name among the new arrivals," said Wells, Mary "visited me, and I delivered [her brother's] dying message to her. She was a poor servant girl in the City of Philadelphia," related Wells, "but I shall never forget her distress."
From just these few examples above, it is clear that the fight at Spotsylvania and its terrible toll left indelible impressions upon the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania. It would prove one their worst battles of the war, at least in terms of numbers lost. The 48th sustained a higher number of casualties at 2nd Bull Run, but many of the 152 soldiers the regiment lost there on August 29, 1862, were either missing-in-action or captured and they would soon return to the regiment. At Spotsylvania, the regiment's casualties totaled 128 soldiers killed, wounded, and missing.
That night, the survivors did their best to recover from the savage contest. They built entrenchments and there, settled in for the night, mourning those lost. They would remain in these works for the next five days.
A listing of the regiment's casualties at Spotsylvania follows. . . .
Killed and Mortally Wounded: (25)
--Louis M. Robinhold
, Company A
, Company A
--John J. Huntzinger
, Company A
--Charles A.T. St. Clair
, Company A
--Sgt. William Kissinger
, Company B
--Cpl. David Davis
, Company B
, Company B
, Company B
--Laurentus C. Moyer
, Company B
, Company B
, Company B
, Company C (Died 5/20/1864)
--Cpl. John Powell
, Company F (Died 5/26/1864)
, Company F
, Company F
, Company F
, Company F
--Lt. Henry Clay Jackson
, Company G
, Company G (Died 5/31/1864)
, Company G 9Died 7/1/1864)
, Company G
, Company H
, Company H (Died 5/24/1864)
--Henry J. Ege
, Company I
--John W. Henn
, Company K
--Sgt. Albert C. Huckey, Co. A, Arm
--Cpl. Charles Brandenburg, Co. A, Knee
--Cpl. Jacob Honsberger, Co. A, Head (slight)
--Morgan Leiser, Co. A, Arm
--Benjamin F.C. Dreibelbeis, Co. A, Arm (slight)
--Charles Hillegas, Co. A, Back
--Sgt. Thomas Williams, Co. B, Concussion by Shell
--Gottleib Shauffler, Co. B, Wrist
--David Deitz, Co. B, Foot
--John Brown, Co. B, Head
--William Neeley, Co. C, Left Leg
--William J. Haines, Co. C, Side
--Murt Brennan, Co. C
--James Coakley, Co. C
--2nd Lt. Henry Stichter, Co. D, Back
--Sgt. Henry Rothenberger, Co. D, Shoulder
--Cpl. Edward Lenhart, Co. D, Arm
--James Deitrick, Co. D, Thigh and Hand (severe)
--Botto Otto, Co. D, Leg, Arm, and Toe
--Perry L. Strausser, Co. D, Right Hand
--George S. Beisel, Co. D, Leg
--William F. Moyer, Co. D, Shoulder
--John Kohler, Co. D, Chin
--Jonas Miller, Co. D, Arm
--Joseph Zeigler, Co. D, Shoulder
--Patrick Cooligan, Co. D, Head (slight)
--Andrew Knittle, Co. D, Leg
--Gustavus H. Miller, Co. D, Leg
--Henry Moyer, Co. D, Side
--Sgt. John McElrath, Co. E, Head
--Cpl. William J. Morgan, Co. E
--James McLaughlin, Co. E, Right Arm
--George W. Schaeffer, Co. E
--David Williams, Co. E, Foot (slight)
--W. Simmons, Co. E, Arm
--George W. James, Co. E, Leg
--W.C. James, Co. E, Arm
--James Meighan, Co. E, Thumb
--Robert Penman, Co. E, Arm
--Sgt. Richard Hopkins, Co. F, Hand (slight)
--William E. Taylor, Co. F, Hand
--Anthony Carroll, Co. F, Leg
--William S. Wright, Co. F
--James Brennan, Co. F, Abdomen
--Henry Holsey, Co. F, Leg
--William H. Kohler, Co. F, Back
--John Eddy, Co. F, Head
--Jno. T. Reese, Co. F, Arm
--John Crawford, Co. F, Head
--Augustus H. Whitman, Co. F, Leg
--Sgt. Richard M. Jones, Co. G, Head (slight)
--Cpl. George Farne, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Cunningham, Co. G,
--M. Berger, Co. G, Left Arm
--Clay W. Evans, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Grant, Co. G, Arm
--William Maurer, Co. G, Shoulder
--John Kautter, Co. G, Hand
--Patrick Savage, Co. G, Arm
--William Huber, Co. H, Arm
--Benjamin Koller, Co. H, Arm (slight)
--John Klineginna, Co. H, Eye
--Daniel Ohnmacht, Co. H, Arm (slight)
--Albert Davis, Co. H, Thigh
--John Stevenson, Co. H, Groin
--Michael Melarkee, Co. H, Right Shoulder
--Daniel Cooke, Co. H, Foot
--John Cruikshank, Co. H, Hand
--Michael O'Brien, Co. H
--Charles Focht, Co. H
--John Olewine, Co. H, Hand
--Joseph Edwards, Co. H, Finger
--Thomas Palmer, Co. H, Leg
--Sgt. Luke Swain, Co. I, Concussion of Shell, Arms and Legs
--Sgt. Jacob Ongstadt, Co. I, Head (slight)
--Cpl. Daniel Klase, Co. I, Thigh
--Cpl. Wesley Knittle, Co. I, Hip
--Charles Lindenmuth, Co. I, Face
--Francis Boner, Co. I, Leg
--Charles W. Horn, Co. I, Both Legs and Hand
--M. Dooley, Co. I, Both Legs
--W. Tyson, Co. I, Concussion, Head
--Charles DeLong, Co. I, Hip
--Cpl. George Weaver, Co. K, Breast
--David R. Dress, Co. K
--Elias Fenstermaker, Co. K, Finger
--Thomas Fogarty, Co. K, Finger
--Henry Schulze, Co. K, Body
--Franklin Ely, Co. K, Foot
--Simon Hoffman, Co. K, Foot
--Andrew Webber, Co. K, Breast
Missing In Action: (11)
--George Seibert, Co. C
--Edward Ebert, Co. D
--John D. Weikel, Co. D
--William Gottschall, Co. E
--George Kramer, Co. F
--Harrison Bright, Co. H--Returned 6/6/1864
--Michael Scott, Co. H
--Lewis Aurand, Co. H--Returned 6/6/1864
--James Wentzell, Co. H
--W.B. Beyerle, Co. I
--W.B. Shearer, Co. I
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.
|Private Charles A.T. St. Clair|
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 Place|
Arlington 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|
"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.
"Amid sharp and incessant skirmishing, during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth [of May] the trenches and batteries were strengthened and improved in every way possible," wrote regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell. "A strong demonstration to feel the enemy was made on the sixteenth, resulting in northing more than the development of a large force on his part. Skirmish firing was incessant, making life at the front most unhappy."
With little activity and while dodging Confederate skirmishers' bullets--and after burying their own dead and succoring their wounded--many of the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania who had survived the storms at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania wrote letters home, reporting the regiment's actions and identifying the casualties. Several of the men wrote to the Miners' Journal of Pottsville, Schuylkill County's leading newspaper.
Among those who wrote to the Journal were Sergeant William Auman of Company G and Colonel Henry Pleasants. Their reports, as reprinted in Joseph Gould's regimental history, follow:
May 15, 1864
To The Editors of the Miners' Journal:
This is the tenth day of the fighting, and from present appearances it will last for some days yet. The 48th has been under fire for seven days, and were severely engaged twice. At the Battle of the Wilderness, we were engaged and lost three killed and twelve wounded. On the 12th, we had a hard fight on the ground we now occupy. Our regiment was in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily. Lieut. Henry Jackson was killed beside me. He was struck in the neck by a musket ball. 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. The loss in the regiment in that day's fight was one-hundred-thirty-seven, killed, wounded and missing.
We drove the enemy a mile, when we met the 13th Georgia Regiment. We completely annihilated that regiment, taking many prisoners and killing and wounding nearly all the rest. We then charged on the rebel works, but not being supported by the regiment on our right, and being exposed to a terrible cross-fire from the lines of rifle pits and a battery, we were compelled to retire to the left into a wood. Here the left of the regiment was run close to the enemy's earthworks, and a number of our men were shot. We fell back, formed line, and took position on the same ground we were on before we charged. Here we put up breastworks and have been fighting ever since. While I am writing, the bullets are whistling over my head, but as long as we do not expose ourselves, we are quite safe.
|Soldiers' Graves on the Spotsylvania Battlefield|
(Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park: npsfrsp.wordpress.com)
Spottsylvania C.H., May 15th, 1864
Editor Miners' Journal:
Dear Sir: I send you a list of the casualties in the 48th P.V. from the 6th of May to this date. In the Battle of the Wilderness the regiment was hotly engaged on the 6th and skirmished in front on the 7th. On the 6th, 350 men, including nearly all the veterans, skirmished all day on the right, and the rest of the regiment moved with the main portion of the 9th Corps, and were hotly engaged in the centre. The rebel army having fallen back, the 9th Corps was moved to Chancellorsville on the 8th. The 48th was not again engaged until the 12th, when our division advanced toward Spottsylvania on the evening of the 11th, but the battle was not begun until the morning of the 12th. We fought all day, and our regiment having caught three Georgia regiments in a little hollow, with rising ground behind them, which prevented them from retreating, completely annihilated them. We took over two hundred prisoners. One squad of them, which I sent to the rear under Lieut. Bowen, amounted to forty-eight. Afterwards all the troops of the division were ordered to charge, and the 48th advanced in excelled style through an open, marshy ground under heavy fire, but the troops on both flanks giving way, the regiment was moved by the left flank into a ravine in the woods and shielded from the destructive fire of the enemy. Our loss has been heavy, but the 48th has behaved well, and in the action of the 12th, owing to our position on the brow of the hill, five rebels were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners for every man lost by us. Since the 12th, a few men have been wounded by sharpshooters and we still remain on the front line. We have to mourn the loss of many brave men, and one of the best and bravest officers is Lieutenant Henry Jackson.
On May 21, 1864, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania left Spotsylvania behind, though the memories of the sanguine fields there would never drift far from the memories of those who survived the bloodshed. The regiment turned left. . .and continued moving south; after nearly four weeks of unimaginable loss and steady, sustained, and heavy combat, General Grant decided to "keep moving on," attempting once more to place the Army of the Potomac between Lee's still fleet-footed but ever-dwindling Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond.
All through the day and all through the night of May 21, the weary, seasoned soldiers marched, with no doubt the memories of so many of their comrades left behind--buried in the Virginia soil--on their minds. The long march continued on May 22, the men under orders to "march fast." The following day, on May 23, the soldiers heard the sounds of yet another battle ahead, along the banks of the North Anna River. The fighting continued on May 24. That day, the blue-clad soldiers of the 48th crossed the river at Chesterfield Bridge and later assaulted the Confederate defensive lines, "but every attempt to dislodge them," said regimental historian Joseph Gould, "was futile." Oliver Bosbyshell noted that the regiment crossed the bridge under a "heavy artillery fire" then took up a position to the right of Gershom Mott's brigade, of General David Birney's Second Corps division. "A sharp skirmish" ensued, noted Bosbyshell, with "the line moving up well to the enemy." There, the regiment quickly built a strong line of entrenchments, something they had become quite expert at doing. Behind these entrenchments, the 48th continued sparring with Confederate soldiers--equally well-protected--on May 25.
Still more marching and more fighting lay ahead of 48th during the next few days. On May 26
, Potter's Division of the 9th Corps moved forward once more. . and sustained heavy loss. In the moonlight, sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 o'clock, the regiment departed its line, turned around and back-tracked six miles. That day, the regiment lost Corporal Charles Norrigan of Company H, killed in action. Norrigan, a laborer from Pottsville, had served in the 48th since the summer of 1861, when at age 19 he volunteered to serve his country.
[Courtesy of Ronn Palm, Museum of Civil War Images]
The regiment then turned south once more, and continued marching all day on May 27
, still trying to side-step around Lee's army. With little rest and little to eat, the 48th once more took up its line of march on May 28
when the regiment crossed the Pamunkey River. Resistance continued to build as the regiment continued its march south, heading onward toward Richmond. Lee was parrying every one of Grant's thrusts. A sharp little fight erupted on both May 30
and May 31
, 1864, near the Totopotomy Creek, at a place called the Armstrong Farm.
After crossing the Totopotomy, the 48th advanced and steadily drove back the Confederate skirmishers, all the way to their main line of defense. "This was, " boasted Bosbyshell, "a short, sharp skirmish most brilliantly executed." The push resumed on May 31 and the regiment advanced facross three-quarters of a mile of the "most difficult ground yet encountered." Just as it was the day before, the advance on that final day of May was well-made and well-executed but it was extremely costly, for it cost the regiment three of its best officers, all to Confederate sharpshooter bullets.
|Lt. Samuel B. Laubenstein|
(Courtesy of Ms. Ardith Kull & schuyllkillhavenhistory.com)
During the advance on that fateful May 31,1864, Lieutenant Samuel B. Laubenstein of Company H was shot and instantly killed. Laubenstein had served in the regiment since the summer of 1861 when he had enlisted at the age of 22. He stood 5'8 1/4" in height and was, by occupation, a clerk. He listed his residence as Pottsville, though his remains were sent back to what was, presumably, his family's home in Schuylkill Haven where they were laid to rest in the Union Cemetery.
The Grave of Laubenstein in the Union Cemetery
Lt. William Hume
Lieutenant William H. Hume was also quite young when he enlisted in the summer of 1861; just 20 years of age. Like Laubenstein, Hume was also a clerk, though he called St. Clair his home. He was shot in the arm during the advance on May 31. The wound may not have appeared dangerous but, as Oliver Bosbyshell recorded, "the trying work of the campaign had so reduced his system that he failed to recover from the shock of the wound" and he would succumb to this wound within a matter of days. Hume's body was sent back home to Schuylkill County for burial and they continue to rest today in the Odd Fellow's Cemetery in Pottsville. "These were good officers," reflected Bosbyshell, who "had proven themselves worthy on many fields of battle."
|The Grave of Lt. William Hume|
Odd Fellows' Cemetery, Pottsville.
While the soldiers of Companies H and B mourned the loss of Laubenstein and Hume, the officers with whom they were most well-acquainted, the entire regiment was shocked and saddened by the loss of its major, Joseph A. Gilmour, who was, said Joseph Gould, "an excellent officer, quiet, unassuming, and as brave as man could be." He was, in short, " a perfect soldier." Oliver Bosbyshell echoed Gould's sentiments when he wrote that Gilmour was "beloved by all who knew his manly worth, one of the first men to offer his services to the government, and one who had from that hour given his entire time in the defense of the nation."
|Major Joseph Gilmour|
(From Gould, The Story of the Forty-Eighth)
Born on June 30, 1834, in Nova Scotia, Joseph Gilmour was the son of Scottish parents who subsequently settled in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. With the outbreak of civil war in April 1861, Gilmour was quick to volunteer his service, and as a private in the Washington Artillery militia unit, entered the nation's capital less than one week after the firing on Fort Sumter. When Gilmour's three-month term of service expired in July 1861, he was selected by Colonel James Nagle to raise a company of infantry, which would form part of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. On September 19, 1861, Gilmour was once again mustered into service, this time as the captain of Company H, 48th P.V.I. He was 27 years of age, and was among the tallest soldiers in the regiment at 5'11". His complexion was listed as dark; his eye color blue, and his hair gray. By occupation, Gilmour was a hatter. Gilmour served with the regiment from the start, rising to the rank of major in July 1863. It was 150 years ago, on that fateful May 31, 1864, and while nearly within sight of the spires and steeples of Richmond, Gilmour was shot in the left knee. It was a painful wound; the kneecap shattered. In a field hospital behind the lines, Surgeon Theodore Christ amputated Gilmour's left leg. From there, he was borne via wagon to White House, Va., then via steamer to the Seminary Hospital in Georgetown, D.C., where he breathed his last on June 9, 1864. Three days later, Gilmour's remains were buried in Pottsville's Presbyterian Cemetery and the occasion, said Bosbyshell, "was marked by a great outpouring of the people, who loved and honored the dead hero."
|The Grave of Joseph Gilmour|
Presbyterian Cemetery, Pottsville
Francis Wallace, in his tribute to soldiers from Schuylkill County, recorded that Gilmour lay his "bright life on the altar of his country--a martyr to the cause nearest and dearest to his generous heart." A First Defender with the Washington Artillery, Gilmour subsequently led Company H of the 48th at Newbern, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam and during the siege of Knoxville, while at the rank of major, he commanded the entire regiment "with coolness, excellent judgment, and consummate ability." After his death on June 9, said Wallace, the "body of the dead hero was brought to Pottsville and interred on Sunday afternoon, June 12, 1864, with Masonic ceremonies and military honors. The funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed in Pottsville--a tribute of love for the man. The last moments of Major Gilmour were attended by Chaplain W.H. Keith, who ministered to the departing soul with brotherly affection. After death he had the body embalmed and dressed in uniform. The flowers placed on the lamented Major's breast by the kind hand of the Minister of God, were yet fresh when the coffin reached Pottsville, and formed a band of sympathy between the unknown friend who had placed them there and the relatives and friends of the deceased."
|Portrait of Gilmour on his Tombstone. . .|
It was perfectly evident that as May turned to June the slaughter would continue and once more the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania would find themselves in the midst of heavy battle-action, on a blood-stained field, this time at an obscure Virginia crossroads northeast of Richmond named Cold Harbor. Already during the past month, since crossing the Rapidan on May 4 to its crossing of the Totopotomoy on May 30, the regiment had lost nearly 200 soldiers.
On that June 3, 1864, at Cold Harbor, another 68 were destined to fall. . .
|"On To Richmond"|
Long after the war, Sergeants Alexander Reid and William Wells, respectively of Companies G and F remembered well the carnage of Cold Harbor:
Reid: "Skirmishing and artillery firing took place daily, and on the 3rd of June we were very actively engaged at Shady Grove Church. It rained a little the night before, and after a breakfast of coffee and hardtack we dried our blankets at the fire, and at seven o'clock in the morning had formed in line of battle, Company E being deployed as skirmishers to the front. The ground over which we had to advance was a clear field, and at once we were ordered to advance, guide centre, the skirmishers in our front. The crossed the gully which intervened between us and the enemy; we followed closely after; and, as the skirmishers arose on the high ground again, they met those of the enemy, drove them back on their entrenched line of battle and took a few prisoners out of an old log house, who had not had time to get away. Before we got into action we could Winlack's heroes, the skirmishers dropping fast from the destructive fire of the enemy. Company E falling back into line, we were ordered to halt and commence firing, the enemy being about eighty yards to our front, behind a line of breastworks, with a battery. Things soon became lively for all hands.
"In addition to the heavy infantry firing from the enemy, we were subjected to a galling fire of grape and canister. We threw up a line of breastworks in a very short time, and occupied them the rest of the day. The following morning, June 4th, Companies G and F were ordered by Colonel Pleasants to the enemy's line, which, on reaching, we found evacuated, and saw nothing but some new-made graves, many dead battery horses and a limber chest, left by the enemy. We advanced as skirmishers for a mile beyond, and found nothing but one lonesome straggler in a farm house, and then returned to the regiment."
Wells: "We had fallen back from Armstrong's Farm, where Major Gilmour had been wounded on May 31st, in accordance with Grant's inevitable movement, 'from right to left,' and on June 2nd, stacked arms in a large open field, near a fine country mansion, standing back some distance from a well-defined country road. Batteries, baggage wagons and ambulances were parked back of, and around, the mansion, while General Officers, probably Grant and Meade, and their staffs, unmounted, stood around. If I remember rightly, a violent storm, accompanied by much lightning and thunder, burst upon us early in the afternoon. In the midst of this, a heavy discharge of shot and shell poured into us from the woods beyond the road, showing that the enemy had followed our line of march, and had opened upon us with the intention of surprising and stampeding the entire combination, troops, batteries, ambulances, wagons, etc., but they were soon undeceived, for, as if by magic, everything became active. The horses had not been detached from the guns, wagons, nor ambulances; therefore, it was the work of a few moments for the latter to move to the rear, and the former to the front. Mounted officers flew over the field from right to left, muskets were unstacked, and the troops were moved rapidly to the front: a rapid transformation from peace to horrid war, as the entire surroundings evidently indicated as much surprise to general officers as to the men. It seemed but a few moments before we were lying along the road, some firing and others, with the small intrenching shovels, bayonets, tincups, anything that could remove dirt, throwing up intrenchments, for the troops had learned their value by sad experience, while our batteries in the rear literally filled the woods with bursting shells. The enemy evidently failed in their object, for they soon gave up their attack, but not before we had a strong work erected. The next day, the 3rd, the entire line was advanced, as the enemy had fallen back to a strong line of works erected during the night. . . .
". . . .in no other engagement of the 48th did they expend more ammunition than in this battle; besides, our line was so close to that of the enemy's battery that we were subjected to the bursting of our own shells; so much so, that our batteries were compelled to move their position further to the right, where the fire enfiladed the enemy guns but one had been destroyed, and, to finish the job, a gun was drawn by hand around the right of the 48th and soon dismounted this one. With nightfall the battle ceased. In one company of the 45th Pennsylvania, on our left, all the officers had fallen, a corporal alone being left in command. The 48th in this fight was on the extreme right of the army. Advancing on the 4th, thirty-nine dead horses and the dismounted battery, together with several hundred small arms, were found behind the rebel works; while the dead, wounded and dying, lay thick around. The enemy had fled during the night, evidently in haste, though they had tried to remove their disabled guns by hand. To increase the efficiency of their works, they had placed many of their dead on top, the commander of the battery among them. Our fire must have been very effective, for the trees in the woods behind them showed our firing to have been very low."
|Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW|
In a letter to editors of Miners' Journal, Colonel Henry Pleasants recorded that, once more, the regiment had been engaged in a heavy fight and that they had suffered severely. He also boasted however, with a bit of exaggeration, that the Confederates to their front had retreated and, "judging from the number of dead and quantity of arms left behind on the field, their loss in our immediate front must have been over one thousand. We exploded one of their caissons; another was left behind, and over thirty artillery horses lie dead in front of the 48th."
In his report, Pleasants also included a list of the killed and wounded, the names of those who fell 150 years ago. . . from June 1-June 3, 1864:
Killed/Mortally Wounded: (16)
*George Betz: Company A (Died June 7, 1864)
*David Williams: Company E
*Sgt. Thomas Tosh: Company E (Died July 7, 1864)
*Daniel Reedy: Company E (Died June 6, 1864)
*James Bradley: Company F
*Edward Pugh: Company F
*William Smith: Company F
*Corporal Alexander Govan: Company G
*James Allison: Company G
*Joseph Alexander: Company H
*John Clark: Company I (Died June 8, 1864)
*William J. Price: Company I
*Benjamin B. Kershner: Company I
*Jeremiah Willouer: Company I (Died June 22, 1864)
*George Dresh: Company I
*Jacob Lauby: Company K
*William Koch: Company A
*John Hegg: Company A
*Simon Snyder: Company A
*Elias Lins: Company A
*Corp. Monroe Heckman: Company A
*James D. Ash: Company A
*Samuel Eckroth: Company A
*Isreal Britton: Company A
*Sgt. Samuel Strauch: Company B
*Sgt. Robert Campbell: Company B
*1st Lt. Charles Loeser: Company C
*2nd Lt. William Clark: Company C
*Patrick Farrell: Company C
*John Dolan: Company C
*Thomas Boyle: Company C
*Daniel Boyer: Company E
*John Clemens: Company E
*Robert Beverage: Company E
*Patrick Brennan: Company E
*Charles Quinn: Company E
*Albert Cummings: Company E
*Sgt. James Easton: Company F
*Cpl. Robert D. Paden: Company F
*George H. Jones: Company F
*Jacob Kuhns: Company F
*William E. Duffy: Company F
*Cyrus Haines: Company F
*James Hoult: Company F
*Sgt. Charles F. Kuentzler: Company G
*Cpl. John Hatton: Company G
*William Martin: Company G
*John C. Benedict: Company H
*Sgt. Henry Bernsteel: Company H
*Cpl. Henry C. Matthews: Company H
*Cpl. William A. Lloyd: Company H
*Joseph Hayes: Company H
*Anthony O'Donnell: Company H
*James Welsh: Company H
*William Davis: Company H
*Edward Metz: Company H
*1st Sgt. Oliver A.J. Davis: Company I
*Sgt. Jacob Ongstadt: Company I
*Cpl. E.C. Kehl: Company I
*Peter Keller: Company I
*William Owens: Company I
*John H. Cooper: Company I
*William Kramer: Company I
*H.W. Haas: Company K
*Milton Nagle: Company K
*William G. Keiser: Company K
*Thomas Hudson: Company K
|Currier and Ives Depiction of the Battle of Cold Harbor. . .|
"A heavy rain storm during the night made every one most uncomfortable," wrote regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell of the night of June 2-3, 1864. By the morning, the rain had ended and the soldiers, before forming up into line, attempted to dry their clothing and blankets by their wood fires. Then, the orders came. . .Colonel John Curtin was to lead his brigade into the fight and storm the Confederate lines to his front. The soldiers of the 48th, many with damp clothes and hurriedly swallowing whatever pieces of hardtack may have been left in their haversacks, fell into line of battle, on the far right of Curtin's line; indeed, the regiment was on the extreme right flank of the entire Union army. The attack, boasted Bosbyshell, "was made with great vigor, and the enemy' skirmishers were driven across the creek, and some prisoners were captured. The advance continued over the creek--the enemy was routed out of houses and outbuildings, as well as some breastworks that were within a few yards of the road running to Shady Grove and Cold Harbor." This, as the soldiers of the 48th were about to discover, was the main line of the Confederate army. Harry Heth's Confederates lay to their front and a "rebel battery" that was, said Bosbyshell, "exceedingly annoying." The soldiers readied themselves for the general advance. . .
|Captain William Winlack|
. . . .It began at 7:00 a.m. Company E--Captain William Winlack's company--led the way as skirmishers. Swiftly the company swept across a cleared field, with the main body of the regiment following closely behind. "The skirmishers pushed rapidly on through a deep gully, with the regiment in close touch, and as the high ground was reached, the enemy's skirmishers were encountered. Company E's boys went at them with a will, and savagely drove them back on their entrenched lines." Then, the Confederates let loose a staggering volley; a "destructive fire" and many Company E men fell to the ground. They fell back behind the rest of the regiment, still advancing, and this is when "the engagement became general and severe." Advancing to within 80 yards of the Confederate position, the men hastily threw up some entrenchments while continuing to keep up a continuous fire. All the way, the Confederate battery belched forth its shot and shell. "The howling and shrieking of the grape and canister poured into the regiment made up a regular 'inferno,' causing the very flesh to creep with horror!"
The Confederate line was too strong and the casualties too heavy to continue the assault. Orders went out, suspending further offensive operations. The soldiers held on, as best they could, in their new line of defensive works.
|Corporal Alexander Govan|
Killed at Cold Harbor
The following morning, June 4, Colonel Pleasants directed Companies G and F to advance. Creeping forward over the scarred landscape, the soldiers of these two companies reached the Confederate earthworks, only to find them deserted. "A number of new-made graves, eight or ten dead battery horses, and a limber chest marked the abandoned line. The advance was continued for a mile beyond--a straggling Johnny was found in a farm house and brought back to the regiment a prisoner. The appearance inside of, and around the position occupied by the rebels, indicated a severe drubbing and evidenced great loss."
Yet the 48th sustained a heavy drubbing as well, particularly in the ranks of Company E, and as the survivors dug in yet again and secured yet another position, some began burying their dead comrades.
Others wrote letters home, including Lt. Curtis Pollock, of Company G, who wrote the following to his mother, Emily Pollock, in far-away Pottsville. . .
On the Skirmish Lin about 10
I was very much pleased to receive your letters, the one of the 20th a few days ago and the one of the 27th yesterday. We had another severe engagement yesterday and lost pretty heavily. Alex Govan and James Alison were killed. Both were hit in the head and killed almost instantly. Sergt. C.F. Kuentzler was wounded severely in the arm. John Hutton was struck on the back of the fingers and cut a little. He will be back to the Company today. William Martin was struck in the ankle and bruised pretty badly. The loss in the Regt. is 10 killed and 42 wounded I do not know anything new and have no idea what is going on. The Rebs we were fighting yesterday left again last night and we are now out as skirmishers but there are no Rebels in front of us. John Hodgson is well and quite anxious to hear from home. He has not had a letter for some time. [Edward] Flanagan and [John] Humble are all right. I had a ball cut a piece out of the top of my hat yesterday and knocked it about ten feet from me. It is the nearest I have ever had a ball come to me. Hoping you are all well, I remain
Sadly, Pollock's luck would soon run out. Thirteen days later, he would be struck down and mortally wounded some twenty miles south of Richmond and during yet another bloody campaign, this one aimed at Petersburg.