Sunday, March 25, 2018

A "New" Face of the 48th: William Wainwright Potts, Captain, Company D

Sometimes many months will pass, sometimes even a year or more, before I happen upon, discover, stumble over, locate, or be sent or directed to a "new" image of a 48th Pennsylvania soldier--or at least one I have never seen before--but lately, well, a number have been revealed; indeed, a relatively good number over the past year or so. Some have been identified, such as Lt. Michael Kistler,  Private James Dempsey, and Private Henry Jenkins. Others, unidentified. It is always a great thrill for me, having studied this regiment for so long--having pored over the rosters and muster rolls so many, many times--to see a "new" face from the regiment, to go along with name. As I have written many times before, this is not a very common thing, or at least not as common as one may suppose or assume. Indeed, after more than twenty years of actively seeking images of 48th Pennsylvania soldiers, I have located approximately 200. That's 200 out of the 1,860 men who served in the unit, or just 11%. Well, just a few days ago, Mr. Bill Clark very kindly shared with me via this blog his ancestral/family genealogy page, which includes biographical data and even an image of his 48th PA ancestor, Captain W.W. Potts, of Company D. 

Captain William W. Potts
Company D, 48th PA 
[Courtesy of Mr. Bill Clark] 

William Wainwright Potts was born on June 10, 1831, in Columbus, Burlington County, New Jersey, the second child and first son born to Aaron and Rebecca Potts. Sometime when William, presumably, was still young, the family relocated to Schuylkill County, settling in Pottsville, where Aaron and Rebecca would continue to raise their family, which will grow to include three more children, two girls and another boy, Charles Potts, who, like his older brother William would serve in the Civil War.

On May 5, 1853, William Wainwright Potts, not quite twenty-two years of age, married Mary Jane Welch who, over the next 18 years would deliver eight children, though, sadly, four of them would not survive infancy or childhood. Mary Jane passed away at the young age of 37 in the spring of 1871, perhaps from complications from childbirth. Her remains were laid to rest in Pottsville's Presbyterian Cemetery. 

Although his occupation is recorded as a 'moulder,' or mold maker, in the regimental records of the 48th, his obituary noted that he was a well-known hotel keeper in the city, and an 1857 article in the Mining Record and Pottsville Emporium recorded a rather interesting tid-bit or anecdote relating to William Potts. Potts, as the article stated, was the proprietor of the White Horse Restaurant. Apparently in June of that year quite a remarkable thing happened--worthy of headlines in the local paper. "On last Wednesday evening about 10 minutes after 10 o'clock," the article recorded, "Mr. William Potts, proprietor of the White Horse Restaurant, opened an immense Absecum salt Oyster, containing forty-seven pearls, varying in size from a pin's head to a very large pea--also a miniature goose of gold, on which was inscribed, 'Buy your clothing at the store of Mr. David A. Smith, on Centre Street, Pottsville, Pa." 

With the outbreak of civil war in 1861, thirty-year-old William W. Potts offered his services and that summer was mustered in as 1st Lieutenant, Company D, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. He stood rather tall, at 5'11" in height, had a "light" complexion, and dark eyes. Upon Daniel Nagle's elevation from captain of Company D to regimental major in November 1861, Potts was promoted to captain and served in that capacity until his discharge in January 1863. Potts was discharged due to a disability and it would seem he was not with the company for the final few months of 1862, since Lt. Curtis Pollock of Company G, would temporarily command Company D at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Potts was likely in poor health. 

Charles Potts, William's younger brother, served as a lieutenant in the nine-month 151st Pennsylvania Infantry--the "school teacher's regiment." On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, during whitch the 151st suffered tremendously high casualties, Lt. Potts was captured. He spent the next fourteen months in captivity but survived the ordeal and returned home.  

Lieutenant Charles Potts, 151st Pennsylvania
[Courtesy of Mr. Bill Clark] 

After William's discharge from the 48th in January 1863, he returned to Pottsville. In 1873, two years after the death of Mary Jane, he remarried.  His second wife, Eliza Noble, gave birth to six more children, three of whom would die in childhood. Thus, of William Potts's fourteen children, seven would not live to maturity. With this and with the death of Mary Jane, tragedy certainly seemed to have shadowed William Wainwright Potts. 

William remained active in the community and in veteran's affairs, taking a leading role with the Grand Army of the Republic. He would die rather young, due to complications from diabetes, passing away at age 62 in January 1894. His remains were interred in Pottsville's Charles Baber Cemetery. 

My thanks go out to Mr. Bill Clark for so generously sharing your family ancestry with me, and for giving me the opportunity to see yet another face of the 48th. 

Full-Size Image of Captain Potts
[Courtesy of Mr. Bill Clark] 

William Pott's Grave
Charles Baber Cemetery, Pottsville, PA 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A New Face of the 48th? Help Identify Who This May Be!

Last week, Buck Zaidel, an acquaintance of mine who is a Civil War image collector and co-author of Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories, shared with me an image from his collection, purportedly of a 48th Pennsylvania soldier, or at least, as he said, that is how it was sold to him. Although there is no concrete identification of the soldier's identity either on or that came with the quarter plate image, I told Buck that "at first glance," this fella certainly "has the look" of a 48th PA soldier.

I think you will agree that it is a rather striking, somewhat unusual image. It shows a young soldier with a sturdy build who has the look of a fun-loving prankster, posing for a photographer, holding up a piece of hardtack, his camp cup, and a spoon with some kind of food (rice?), while his rifle and knapsack lie nearby, making it clear what he believed better depicted or illustrated a Civil War soldier's life.

But if this is, indeed, a 48th Pennsylvania soldier, then who can it be? 

Unidentified Soldier
[Courtesy of Mr. Buck Zaidel]

There are, of course, a good number of clues. Someone, at some point, tinted the image a bit, and used what appears to be a gold paint to highlight the soldier's hat brass, buckle, and initials on his knapsack. The '48' is clearly visible on his knapsack, as are the initials "W.M." We can also see a company; it looks at first glimpse like "Co. C," although, on closer inspection, it could very well be "Co. E," especially since the "C" in "Co." looks much different than the letter next to it. Another clue, perhaps, is on his right arm; there may be chevrons there, indicating the rank of corporal, or it may just be a fold in his uniform. But let's just go with the initials upon the knapsack. 

Examining the roster of the 48th, we find only one--just one--soldier in all of Company C who had the initials, "W.M." and that was Private William Miles who joined the regiment on January 25, 1865, at age 35, who stood 5'7" in height and who, promptly, deserted two months later, on March 28, 1865. It does not seem likely that the soldier in the photograph is Miles, since Miles was with the regiment for only two months and since the soldier in the image appears younger than 35, or at least that's how he appears to me.

So perhaps it does say "Co. E" on his knapsack. Let's look at who had the initials "W.M." within the ranks of Company E, 48th PA. . .

There were seven members of that company with these initials, and they were:

1. William McKay/Mackey: Date of Enlistment: 8/20/1861; Age at Enlistment: 30; Height: 5'4; Complexion: Dark; Eyes: Blue; Hair: Sandy; Occupation: Engineer; Residence: Schuylkill Co.; Notes: Killed in Action 2nd Bull Run, 8/29/1862.

2. William J. Morgan: Date of Enlistment: 8/20/1861; Age at Enlistment: 23; Height: 5'9; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Brown; Hair: Sandy; Occupation: Coal Miner; Residence: Schuylkill Co. ; Date of Discharge: 7/17/1865; Notes: Wounded at Spotsylvania, 5/12/1864; Wounded Petersburg, 4/2/1865; Veteran

3.William McElrath: Date of Enlistment: 2/7/1864; Age at Enlistment: 17; Height: 5'5; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Hazel; Hair: Light; Occupation: Laborer; Enlisted in Pottsville; Born: Schuylkill Co.; Date of Discharge: 2/6/1865; Notes: Wounded Petersburg, 9/11/1864; Arm Amputated; Discharged on Surgeon's Certificate. 

4. William Matthews: Date of Enlistment: 3/22/1864; Age at Enlistment: 23; Height: 5'7 ¾; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Grey; Hair: Sandy; Occupation: Waterman; Enlisted in Philadelphia; Born: Ireland; Notes: Deserted, 3/24/1864 in Philadelphia

5. William Moose: Date of Enlistment: 11/24/1861; Age at Enlistment: 26; Height: 5'6 ¾; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Brown; Hair: Chestnut; Occupation: Boatman; Residence: Schuylkill Co. ; Notes: Wounded 2nd Bull Run, 8/29/1862; Died in Pottsville

6.William Mullen (Sr.): Date of Enlistment: 2/25/1864; Age at Enlistment: 45; Enlisted in Pottsville; Born: Ireland; Date of Discharge: 2/15/1865; Notes: Discharged on Surgeon's Certificate

7. William Mullen (Jr.): Date of Enlistment: 3/26/1865; Age at Enlistment: 19; Height: 5'2 ½; Complexion: Light; Eyes: Grey; Hair: Dark; Occupation: Laborer; Enlisted in Pottsville; Born: Ireland; Date of Discharge: 7/17/1865; Born: 1847; Died: 3/13/1919; Philadelphia, PA; buried as William M. Crossen; buried Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, Delaware County, PA 

From these seven possibilities, I feel confident we can strike at least two immediately from the list. William Matthews (who was with the regiment only two days and likely did not have the time nor the opportunity to pose for a photograph!), and William Mullen, Sr., who was 45 years of age at the time of his enlistment. 

This, then, leaves us with William McKay, William Morgan, William McElrath, William Moose, and William Mullen, Jr. But perhaps we can also strike Morgan from the list since the roster shows him as standing at 5'9" in height; taller, it would seem, than the soldier in the photograph. If we do eliminate Wm. Morgan from the list of possibilities, then we are left with four: McKay, McElrath, Moose, and Mullen, Jr. And this, of course, is predicated on the thought that the soldier in the photograph served in Company E. . .and in the 48th Pennsylvania

I would love to get your thoughts on this. . .Based on the descriptions alone, does the soldier in the photograph match any of the four? 

Personally, I cannot reach any definitive conclusion, only that it might be McKay, or that it might be McElrath, or Moose, or Mullen, Jr. And that is, of course, if this does show a Co. E, 48th PA soldier.

But please do let me know your thoughts; Buck and I would greatly appreciate any insight here!