Saturday, May 11, 2019

Faithful to Every Duty: The Life and Death of Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson, Company G, 48th Pennsylvania

Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson
(Courtesy of Ronn Palm; Museum of Civil War Images) 
Spring 1861. Twenty-four-year-old Henry Clay Jackson, from St. Clair, in the coal region of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, was looking forward to a career in the classroom. He was enrolled at the Millersville Normal School, studying to become a school teacher. But then civil war came and Jackson--"From a sense of duty and not impulse"--decided to answer his country's call. He left his studies behind and entered the ranks of the Lafayette Rifles, a company recruited largely from St. Clair which soon became Company B, 14th Pennsylvania. Attached to General Robert Patterson's command, Jackson and the 14th saw no action during its three-month term of service. When his term of service with the 14th expired in late July, 1861, Jackson enlisted once more, this time to term a three-year term in the ranks of Company G, 48th Pennsylvania. 

It was not long before Jackson proved himself a brave soldier and a natural leader. Upon his enlistment with the 48th, he was appointed as Company G's Orderly Sergeant and in June 1862, was promoted once more, this time to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, Jackson was among the scores of soldiers of the 48th to fall into enemy hands, having been cut off in an unfinished railroad embankment and caught up in a devastating Confederate counterattack. As a prisoner of war, Jackson was sent south and soon found himself confined in Richmond's Libby Prison where he remained but a short time before being exchanged.  Returning to the regiment, Jackson narrowly survived the struggle at Fredericksburg when a shell burst directly in front of him, so close that it covered his face and neck with powder. He was more badly wounded in combat the following year, at Knoxville, Tennessee, in late November 1863, when a shell fragment tore into his thigh while he was in command of the regimental picket line. 

The Officers Of Company G in 1863
Captain Bobsyshell (seated),
 Lt. Curtis Pollock (standing, left),

and Jackson (Hoptak Collection) 
Having been captured and briefly confined in Libby, having survived a close call at Fredericksburg and a more serious wound at Knoxville, Jackson's luck ultimately ran out during the slaughter that was Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864. While lying prone in the line of battle, Jackson was struck with a ball through the neck, just above the collar bone, with the bullet coming to a stop in his chest. A number of his fellow soldiers carried the stricken lieutenant from the field, among them Sgt. William Auman--who would one day ride with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War." Auman remembered that Jackson was lying next to him when he was hit. "When he was struck he fell against me," related Auman, "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." Indeed, Jackson took his last breath while being carried to the rear. Auman wrote that Private William Atkinson of Company G buried Jackson's remains near where he had fallen, and that he hoped that they would be able to send his remains back home to Schuylkill County for reburial, but this never came about. Instead, the remains of Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson were reinterred after the war and laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia. 


The loss of Jackson was deeply felt in the regiment. In his regimental history, Joseph Gould wrote that Jackson was "a noble fellow," who was "idolized by his men."  Oliver Bosbyshell, who had commanded Company G for much of the war, related that Lieutenant Jackson was "an able and fearless officer," while after the war, Francis Wallace bestowed further praise upon on Jackson in his work, Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County:

"Thus fell Lieutenant Jackson, faithful to every duty, and though sensible to danger and peril, yet braving them with heroic disregard of self. He had determined if his life was spared to remain in the army till the last organized force of 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 Union, and the honor and free institutions of our country."


[Notes: Auman letter printed in Miners' Journal, May 21, 1864; Francis Wallace. Memorial to the Patriotism of Schuylkill County (Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Benjamin Bannan Publisher, 1865): pg. 529; Joseph Gould. The Story of the Forty Eighth (Philadelphia: Alfred M. Slocum, Publisher, 1908), pg. 180; Oliver Bosbyshell. The 48th in the War (Philadelphia: Avil Printing Company, 1895), pgs. 97, 150.