Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Faces of the 48th: Clay W. Evans--129th PA; Company G, 48th PA; and 1st Lt. 31st USCT


Clay W. Evans
(Photographed in 1865 as Lieutenant, 31st USCT) 
John D. Hoptak Collection

I always enjoy seeing a "new" face of the 48th, and just a few days ago, my friend Britt alerted me to a "new" image of a soldier who had served in the 48th Pennsylvania. His name was Clay W. Evans and not only did he serve in the 48th, but he had also served in the nine-month 129th Pennsylvania as well as in the 31st United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the final year of the war. He later became a leading citizen of St. Clair, became sheriff of Schuylkill County and even served a term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. . .along with numerous other positions. Quite a busy life he led. 

Born on February 10, 1844, in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Clay W. Evans was a son of Eliza and Thomas Evans. His paternal grandfather--Lot Evans--was a prominent early settler of St. Clair, just outside Pottsville, and it was there where Clay grew up. He attended the local public schools for a time and worked as a slate picker at a coal mine for a number of years until 1857 when, at age 13, he went to work in Walter Sedgwick's grocery store. He was still thus employed when, in April 1861, civil war broke out. Although only having turned 17 a few months before, and like many a young man, Clay Evans was determined to enlist. He ran away from home, made his way to Harrisburg, and succeeded in enlisting into the ranks of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, at least according to a newspaper account published in 1898, when Evans assumed stewardship of the Schuylkill County Almshouse. It wasn't long, however, before Evans's mother, Eliza, "induced him to return home." Not to be deterred, Evans, in the summer of 1862 and now 18 years of age, once more entered the ranks, this time in Company B, of the 129th Pennsylvania Infantry, a nine-month regiment that was engaged in heavy combat at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Mustered out as a corporal, Evans returned to his home in St. Clair but in February 1864, now twenty years of age, he once more enlisted, this time into the ranks of Company G, of the veteran 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Wounded twice at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 12, 1864, Evans remained with the 48th until the winter of 1864, when he was recommended for and accepted an officer's commission in the 31st United States Colored Infantry. He served with the 31st USCT until being discharged in December 1865. 

Returning to St. Clair, the soon-to-be-twenty-two-year-old Clay Evans went back to work as a clerk. He married two years later, on September 3, 1867, to Emily Allison, also of St. Clair, and the couple had at least three children: Guy Evans (1869-1901); Robert A. Evans (1886-1943); and Cad M. Evans. Setting out on his own in 1872, Clay Evans opened his very own store, dealing in groceries and dry goods. 

Bargains await at Clay Evans' General Store! 
(Pottsville Republican, 9/27/1887)

Evans managed his business for a good number of years and also became very active in the state militia, advancing his way up ultimately to the ranks of major. Civic-minded, Evans also served on the school board, on the St. Clair Borough Council for a number of years, and, finally, as a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, representing Schuylkill County and the Fourth District in the PA State House during the session that ran from 1879-1880. 

Clay W. Evans as a member of the PA State Legislature
(Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives)

And as if all this were not enough, Evans, in 1898, was appointed Steward of the Schuylkill County almshouse, and then from 1899-1906, and again from 1911-1915, he worked as a deputy revenue collector for the IRS. In between (1907-1910), he served as sheriff of Schuylkill County.  Evans was also actively involved in the GAR; was a Mason, and a member of the local Odd Fellows' branch. He sought higher officer, but in 1912 was defeated in his bid for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. 

Evans reportedly enjoyed good health until 1917 when he was stricken by a number of illnesses. The end came on a Friday morning--September 20, 1918. Clay W. Evans--slate picker, store worker, clerk, soldier and officer, veteran of many a bloody campaign, business owner, steward, state representative, sheriff, school board member and councilman, husband, and father--passed away at the of 74. His remains were laid to rest in Pottsville's Charles Baber Cemetery. 

It was certainly a full and busy life Clay W. Evans led. 

Ten months of his 74+ years were spent in the ranks of the 48th Pennsylvania. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

A New Headstone for Colonel Gowen

I was only at Saint Luke's Episcopal Graveyard in Germantown, Pennsylvania, once, and this was many, many years ago. 

I was there to locate the grave of George Washington Gowen, the 48th Pennsylvania's fourth commanding officer, following James Nagle, Joshua Sigfried, and Henry Pleasants. 

I thought I located it. . .but wasn't entirely sure. I found a plot for the "Gowen" family, at least, and I thought I saw the headstone for George but, again, I could not be certain. 

Surely, I thought, for someone born into a very prominent family and for a colonel who was killed in action leading his regiment into battle, George Gowen would have a large and easily recognizable headstone. But such was not the case. 

As it turns out, his grave marker had fallen into great disrepair and was hardly recognizable. 

This is why I was so happy, several weeks ago, to see that Frank Jastrzembski, founder of Shrouded Veterans, and working with Saint Luke's Episcopal Church in Germantown, saw to it that Colonel Gowen get a new headstone.

A New Headstone for Colonel Gowen. . .

Stands now in front of his original stone. 

Twenty-five-year-old George Washington Gowen, the son of Irish immigrants, was killed in action on April 2, 1865, during the 48th's final  battle action of the Civil War at Petersburg, Virginia. Sergeant Patrick Monahan, himself an immigrant from Ireland and Medal of Honor recipient for his heroics at Petersburg in June 1864, remembered Gowen's death vividly: "I saw. Col. Gowen step to the side of Sam Beddall, one of the Color Sergeants, lean over, and speak to him. My impression was that Sam was hurt, and I stepped to the side of the Colonel to take the colors, if such was the case. The Colonel straightened up, and I moved a step out of his way, when a shell, hot from the mouth of one of the rebel guns of Fort Mahone, exploded in our midst. The Colonel fell on his face; I turned him over on his back, and saw that half of his face was carried away. He was killed instantly. Myself and two others of the regiment carried him back to the rebel picket line, where we were relieved by others, and returned to the front; joined the colors, and entered Fort Mahone by way of the embrasure from which the shell had been fired that killed Colonel Gowen."

His remains were later returned to his native Germantown for burial. 

In the early 1900s, the veterans of the 48th placed an impressive statue of Gowen near the spot where he was killed. 

Colonel George W. Gowen
(as commander of Company C and as a pre-war civil mining engineer,
Gowen played a leading role in the tunneling of the 48th's mine at Petersburg) 

The 48th Pennsylvania Monument at Petersburg 
features a bronze statue of George W. Gowen. 

Many, many thanks to Frank Jastrzembski and Saint Luke's Episcopal Church for seeing to the placement of a new headstone for Colonel George Gowen! 

Now. . .I will need to make a return trip to Germantown!