Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Sad End to the Life of Private William Fitzpatrick, Company C, 48th Pennsylvania

By mid-January 1871, newspapers across Pennsylvania were running Mary Fitzpatrick's desperate plea.
She needed help finding her son, William, who, on December 5, 1870, vanished from her home in Greenbury, in Schuylkill County's Heckscherville Valley. William Fitzpatrick was a veteran of the 48th Pennsylvania who suffered from mental illness and his mother now feared greatly for his safety. 

In her call for help, printed in newspapers in Pottsville, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Pittsburgh, we can feel her pain and her desperation: 

From the Pittsburgh Daily Commercial, January 21, 1871: 
"Four weeks since Wm. Fitzpatrick left his mother's residence, while suffering from mental illness, and has not since been heard from. It is feared that he may have encountered some mishap, and information in regard to him can be sent either to Mary Fitzpatrick, New Castle, P.O., Schuylkill County, or to the Miners' Journal. He is about forty years of age, slender, light hair, and is about five feet six inches high. He was a member of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment in the late war." 

Fitzpatrick, a coal miner, served throughout the entirety of the Civil War, enlisting on September 11, 1861, as a private in Company C, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, and being mustered out of service when the regiment was disbanded in July 1865, as a reenlisted veteran volunteer. Remarkably, it appears that Fitzpatrick emerged unscathed, at least physically, from the conflict, suffering no wound or bodily injury during his four years in uniform and the many battles in which he was engaged. There are no pension records for a William Fitzpatrick of Company C, 48th Pennsylvania. But perhaps the war left upon him an indelible mental scar. 

Sadly, by the time the newspapers in Harrisburg and Lancaster and Pittsburgh picked up on Mary Fitzpatrick's desperate plea in mid-to-late January 1871, it was already too late. As it turned out, William Fitzpatrick did not wander too far from home. Instead, he had made his way to an abandoned coal drift in the Wolf Creek Colliery, near his mother's home in the Heckscherville Valley. He walked some two hundred yards into the drift where he must have decided to get some sleep. He removed one boot and one sock, and also his coat, which he folded and placed behind his head as a pillow. 

His body was discovered on Monday, January 8, 1871, by several men who explored the drift that morning; to them, at least initially, it must have appeared that Fitzpatrick was merely asleep, as he was discovered in a reclining position, his head laying upon his folded coat. It was soon revealed that he was, in fact, dead. The coroner determined that William Fitzpatrick, just forty years of age, froze to death. 

From the Harrisburg Telegraph, January 11, 1871

William Fitzpatrick's remains lay at rest in Minersville, in what is now Saint Vincent de Paul Cemetery #1 along Sunbury Street, nearby those of his mother, Mary, who outlived her son by more than thirty years, passing away in October 1901.

The Grave of William Fitzpatrick,
Company C, 48th Pennsylvania