Thursday, June 15, 2017

A New Face of the Forty-Eighth: Private James Dempsey, Co. F, 48th PA Infantry

It doesn't happen as often as one might think, considering all the many thousands of Civil War photographs that were taken, but I always, always enjoy seeing a "new" face of the Forty-Eighth, a photograph of a soldier I have never seen before. Studying the regiment for the past, oh, I don't know. . .maybe twenty-five years. . .I have only seen photographs of about 200 or so soldiers of the 48th. That out of the more than 1,800 men who served in the regiment at one time or another, so just over 10%. I keep imagining that maybe someday a trove will be discovered; an album or a shoe box filled with them found. Until then, the faces pop up only occasionally, here and there, every now and then. . .

Just last week a friend of mine, Stu Richards, forwarded a photograph one of his friends posted to his facebook wall, a photograph of his Civil War ancestor, James Dempsey, who served in Company F, 48th Pennsylvania, and thus a new face of the regiment was revealed to me. . . 

Private James Dempsey
Co. F, 48th PA Infantry
[Courtesy of Mr. Thomas Dempsey] 

It is a compelling image; of a young man, standing proudly with his rifle--bayonet fixed--in front of a camp-scene backdrop. It shows James Dempsey, who entered the regiment in January 1865, enlisting in Pottsville. He was born in Ireland and one must wonder how recently he had arrived in the United States before donning the uniform of his adopted country. He was twenty-one years of age at the time of his enlistment, stood 5'7" in height, with a Light Complexion, Gray Eyes, and Sandy colored hair. By occupation, he was a laborer. Less than two-and-a-half months after joining the regiment, Dempsey was among the 90 casualties the 48th sustained charging Fort Mahone on that fateful April 2, 1865, at Petersburg. He was wounded in the right thigh, and injury described as "severe." He would recover, however, and on June 7, 1865, by order of the War Department, he was discharged from the service. Dempsey passed away on December 19, 1905, at age 65. 

I wish I knew more about Dempsey in order to paint a more complete portrait of this soldier, but I am happy that I have now become acquainted with another face of the 48th.