Spring and Summer of 1862: Disease, Duty and Another Departure

Sibley Tent (Patent #14740, United States Patent Office, April 22, 1856, H. H. Sibley, public domain).

As spring continued to take hold across Pennsylvania in 1862, turning the Great Keystone State’s colorful, budding trees into soothing havens of green-leafed shade, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry continued to battle their great foe—disease. It was a fight that was made more difficult by the regiment’s challenging living conditions. The weather was warm, the water quality was poor, the mosquitos were plentiful, and hygiene was substandard because the majority of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantrymen continued to live in the close quarters of the Sibley tents that had been erected as “Camp Brannan” in Key West, Florida. (The men of Company F were slightly more fortunate, having been previously ordered to live and work at Fort Taylor.)

As a result, multiple members of the regiment fell ill during the month of April, including First Lieutenant and Regimental Adjutant Washington H. R. Hangen, who was required to temporarily cede his duties to H Company First Lieutenant William Wallace Geety after being admitted to the officers’ hospital at in Key West, and C Company’s Theodore Kiehl and Henry W. Wolfe, who had been confined to the hospital for enlisted men. Deemed too ill to continue serving with the regiment, F Company privates John G. Seider and Samuel Smith were honorably discharged on surgeons’ certificates of disabilities and sent back home.

Meanwhile, other members of the regiment continued to be advanced in rank, including Second-Sergeant Christian Seiler Beard, who was promoted to First-Sergeant, and Private Peter Haupt who was promoted to the rank of Sergeant—while others assumed additional duties, including D Company privates James E. Albert and William Collins, who were assigned to help the fort’s assistant surgeon, William F. Cornick, in caring for the increased number of patients who had been admitted. Then, General Order No. 84 was issued, directing I Company Captain Coleman A. G. Keck and one of his subordinates, Private William Smith, to return home to Pennsylvania to recruit more volunteers to help beef up the regiment’s dwindling ranks.

In addition, several officers from the 47th Pennsylvania were also called upon to conduct a general court martial trial of a lieutenant from the 90th New York Volunteers who was charged with having been absent from his duties without appropriate authorization (known more commonly today as being absent without leave or “AWOL”). Colonel Tilghman H. Good served as the court’s president, C Company Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin served as its general advocate, and H Company Captain James Kacy was one of the men appointed to serve on the court’s judicial panel, which found the 90th New Yorker guilty and directed that he lose roughly two weeks of pay.

April—May 1862

Key West, Florida, circa 1850 (courtesy of Florida Memory Project).

On April 19, the 47th Pennsylvania’s most prolific scribe, C Company Musician Henry D. Wharton, penned a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, from Camp Brannan in Key West:

“DEAR WILVERT:– Having finished a plate of soup, (not a hasty one) enjoyed a piece of ham, cooked in my best style, fried and now luxuriating in a pipe of the best Lynchburg tobacco, I conclude to indite [sic] you a few lines from this most miserable place, Key West.

There are now lying here three very fine vessels captured from Secessia. The cargoes are very valuable, consisting of cotton, coffee, rice, liquor, kerosene and olive oils, leather, and a great many articles of use. I attended the sale of one of the cargoes, and one article I found more numerous than any other—that of hooped skirts. I was curious to know why they had supplied themselves so plentifully with that article, when an old gentleman said that was easily understood, for when the rebels had to run, and in fear of being caught they would make good hiding places, and then he related a circumstance of a Mexican General who, in running away, found crinoline very convenient as a hiding place, but not secure enough for the Lynx-eyed Americans, as the brave gentleman was caught in his wife’s trap.

There has been considerable sickness among the troops, but I am happy to state it is abating. Two members of our company, Theodore Kiehl, and H. Wolf, have been in the Hospital, but are now out and almost ready for duty. They take very readily to their rations when they get back to the company, saying the Hospital is a very nice place to get well in, but no place for grub, as they were as hungry as wolves all the time they were in, or rather when they became better. We have lost eight men from our regiment, by death, since we have been on this island. From what I can learn the diseases were mostly contracted in Virginia, but if they have not, it is a wonder that the mortality is not greater among us, owing to the sudden change of climate, the bad water, hot sun and hard work our men are subjected to.

Lieut. Henry Bush, Co. F., in our regiment, died two weeks ago. His company were in the Fort, learning heavy artillery, where he was attacked with typhoid fever—in a few days he was beyond the physicians [sic] skill, and now he is sleeping his last sleep in the strangers [sic] cemetery. His funeral was very largely attended by the military and the masonic fraternity, of which he was a member. Lieut. Bush was beloved by his company—they having presented him with a sword a few days before he was taken sick—and in fact was liked by the whole regiment for his kindness and gentlemanly bearing to the men. As soon as the necessary arrangements can be made his body will be sent to Catasauqua, Lehigh county, where his widow and two little children reside.

Since the promotion of Lieut. Oyster, there has [sic] been some changes in our company, 2d Sergeant Beard has been made 1st Sergeant, and Peter Haupt, of Sunbury, taken from the ranks and promoted to 1st Sergeant. Haupt passed an excellent examination, and I am proud, for Sunbury, to say that he is considered one of the A. No. 1’s on drill in our regiment.

With the exceptions of a few slight cases of sickness, the boys are getting along very well and would be perfectly contented if they were at a place where there could be a chance to have a hand in some of the glorious victories which their brothers in arms are engaged in, and away from this detested spot, where there would be something to relieve the eye beside sea-gulls, pelicans and turkey-buzzards. Excuse the shortness of this, hoping ere long to be able to give you an account of a victory in which Co. C., was engaged….”

* Note: To read more of Henry Wharton’s insights, please see our collection of his letters here.

By mid-April, typhoid fever was claiming one member of the regiment after another. On Saturday April 19 and Sunday April 27, respectively, K Company privates George Leonhard and Lewis Dipple died at the Key West general hospital while E Company Private John B. Mickley died on April 30.

Death ledger entry for Private Lewis Dipple, Company K, “Registers of Deaths of Volunteers,” U.S. Army, 1862 (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

Initially interred in graves numbered nine, ten, and twelve at the fort’s post cemetery, the remains of Privates Leonhard, Dipple, and Mickley were later exhumed for reburial at the Barrancas National Cemetery. Although the process was successfully completed for Privates Leonard and Mickley in 1927, Private Dipple’s remains were handled so disrespectfully that they were later unable to be identified. As a result, they were consigned to a common grave at Barrancas with 227 other “unknown” soldiers.

That same day, General Order No. 26 was announced, directing that:

“I. The troops will be mustered and inspected at 7:45 AM tomorrow morning, 30th inst. April 30, 1862.

II. Immediately after muster, a council of administration to consist of Capt. Harte and officers will assemble to transact such business as regulations require.”

Major-General David Hunter, U.S. Army, circa 1863 (carte de visite, public domain).

Meanwhile, on April 25, 1862, the winds of change had begun to clear the way for long-denied social justice as Union Major-General David Hunter, commanding officer of the U.S. Army’s Department of the South, issued General Order No. 11, which directed that all enslaved men, women, and children in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina be freed immediately:

“Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C. May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.— The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States—Georgia, Florida and South Carolina—heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official) David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.”

Although word of Hunter’s order did not immediately reach members of the regiment, it would eventually be carried in newspapers across America.

Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued to perform their provost and garrison duties in Key West. At the end of April, F Company Private Henry Falk was ordered to take on new duties with the quartermaster while Order No. 21 reassigned H Company Corporal James F. Naylor to the regimental color guard. During the first two days of May, I Company Private William Frack then became Corporal Frack while H Company Private Robert Kingsborough took over quartermaster duties performed previously by Private William O’Brien.

As spring progressed, the weather in Key West became hotter, and the mosquitoes grew even more bold. Even so, the fort’s commanding officer and his subordinates were still able to find a few minutes of relaxation. On May 7, they made time to attend a ball. Corporal James J. Kacey, however, was assigned to fix cartridge boxes around this same time while E Company Corporal George Nicholas was busy dodging disciplinary action, as well as a brush with death:

“I went down to the docks and ask [sic] a Man who owned the Storehouses their [sic] and he said the govemient Seased [sic] them. So I Said I will Sease [sic] the life Boat that laid their [sic]. So I took it up to camp and fixed it up and that got me in trouble I went out Sailing and Missed drill, and got a log to carry, and the next time in the Guard House…. [A] Scorpen Stung me in the finger and I cut a piece out and Sucked it and put Tobacco on it. My arm and hand commenced to Swell Some But Not Much.”

Increasingly debilitated by the bug that had recently felled him, the regiment’s founder and commanding officer, Colonel Tilghman Good, finally realized that he would need to distance himself from his men if he were to continue as their leader. In a letter penned to the Assistant Adjutant, Captain Lambert, he asked “permission to leave camp for a few days, to secure comfortable quarters in town, which I have every reason to believe would materially aid in my speedy restoration to health and strength. The Doctor tells me this desirable end can be attained, by taking rest in elevated and comfortable quarters for a few days. In consequence I do not deem it essential to remove to the hospital.”

Good’s decision proved to be a sound one as more and more members of the regiment were felled by disease, including D Company’s Private George Isett. Suffering from chronic diarrhea, he died on Friday, May 16, and was initially laid to rest in grave no. 14 at the post cemetery. Sadly, his remains were also mishandled when they were exhumed in 1927 for reburial, and were also consigned in the unknown grave of 227 Union soldiers at the Barrancas National Cemetery. His grieving comrades honored him by securing publication of the following Tribute of Respect in their hometown newspaper:

“WHEREAS, it has pleased God in his allwise providence, to remove from our midst our friend and brother in arms, Geo S. Isett; therefore,

RESOLVED, that by his death we have lost a warm hearted friend, a true patriot and good soldier, and one whose place cannot be filled among us.

RESOLVED, That we most heartily sympathize with the deceased and hope that he who has thus afficted [sic] them, will be their reliance in time of need.

RESOLVED, That these resolutions be forwarded to the Perry County papers for publication, and a copy be sent to the friends of the deceased.

Signed: George W. Topley, Jesse Meadith, Jacob Charles, George W. Jury, Isaac Baldwin, Committee.”

That same day (May 16), The Athens Post in Athens, Tennessee specifically mentioned the 47th Pennsylvania’s problems with illness in a news article entitled, “Yankees Sick and Dying”:

“A letter from the flag ship Niagara, published in the Providence Press, fears that the warm weather and imprudence and exposure will cause much sickness among the three Yankee regiments stationed at Key West, Florida. ‘Already the 47 Pennsylvania Regiment has lost a number of its members by the typhoid fever, and I am told they have 70 sick.’ They will have plenty of the same sort before August.”

In response to the continuing wave of sickness, H Company Private Daniel Kochenderfer was reassigned to nursing duties at Key West’s general hospital, where he earned $7.75 for the hazardous duty. Two days later, G Company Private Edmund G. Scholl succumbed to typhoid fever. Initially interred at the post cemetery, Private Scholl’s remains would later be returned home to his family when Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet took on the mission of bringing home both Scholl’s body and that of the infant of Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock in 1864. (Both were then reinterred at the “New Allentown Cemetery” on January 30, 1864.)

On May 19, President Abraham Lincoln overturned the emancipation order issued by Major-General David Hunter. His proclamation read as follows:

“Washington [D.C.] this nineteenth day of May,
in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas there appears in the public prints, what purports to be a proclamation, of Major General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:

‘Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C. May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.— The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States—Georgia, Florida and South Carolina—heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official) David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.
Ed. W. Smith, Acting Assistant Adjutant General.’

And whereas the same is producing some excitement, and misunderstanding; therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine— And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States, free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter. To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal— I do not argue, I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves— You can not [sic] if you would, be blind to the signs of the times— I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan [sic] politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any— It acts not the pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Abraham Lincoln”

* Note: During the short time in which Major-General David Hunter’s emancipation order was in effect, thousands of enslaved individuals escaped from horrific conditions across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and made their way to the safety of Union military encampments. In response, Hunter directed his subordinates in the U.S. Army’s Department of the South to create a loose network of social services to provide food, clothing, educational services, medical care, and shelter to the newly free men, women, and children. Hunter then also began advocating for able-bodied Freeman to be allowed to enlist with the Union Army.

Although many of these social justice initiatives were put on hold when Lincoln rescinded Hunter’s emancipation order, the disagreement between Lincoln and Hunter evidently made an indelible impression on leaders of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; just six months later, those 47th Pennsylvanians would pave the way for the regiment to become an integrated one by facilitating the enlistment on October 5, 1862 of several young Black men who were freed from plantations near Beaufort, South Carolina—roughly three months prior to the enactment of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

As May wore on, disease continued to thin the regiment’s ranks. Another member of the 47th to be felled by typhoid fever was B Company Private John Apple who died at Key West’s general hospital on May 21 (alternate date: March 12). Reportedly buried shortly thereafter and then disinterred from grave number 18 at the fort’s post cemetery in 1927, his remains were also among those that were reportedly consigned to a group grave of 228 unknown soldiers at the Barrancas National Cemetery, according to one source but, according to The Allentown Democrat, were returned to Pennsylvania on January 28, 1864 with the bodies of three other members of the regiment and the body of the regimental chaplain’s infant son. Private Apple was subsequently laid to rest at the Union-West End Cemetery in Allentown on January 31, 1863.

Around this same time, Henry Wharton was dusting off the skills he had learned, pre-war, as an employee of the Sunbury American newspaper. Founding a new publication—the Key West Herald, he was able to get the first edition of his newspaper into the hands of his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians by Saturday, May 24.

The newspaper’s release could not have been more timely. A significant number of his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians were in desperate need of reading material as they fought their way back from sickness. Among those ailing at this time were multiple members of Company D, including privates William Ewing, Samuel Kern, Andrew and William Powell, and Emanuel Snyder, Corporal Samuel Reed, and Sergeants William Fertig and George Topley. Of those, Fertig was the only one to be hospitalized. In addition, B Company Teamster Tilghman Ritz developed rheumatism sometime around the month of May, and underwent several weeks of treatment at the post hospital from the 47th Pennsylvania’s regimental surgeon, Elisha Baily. Even though he was treated “successfully” by Baily, however, the condition would continue to plague Ritz for the remainder of his life.

Early June—A Fateful Encounter with Friendly Fire

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

One of the most senseless deaths of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the entire war was a “friendly fire” incident which occurred on June 9, 1862. The day had started out peacefully enough—with weather so inviting that I Company Sergeant Charles Nolf, Jr. and several friends felt compelled to take a stroll along the southern portion of the beach in Key West. Tragically, while gathering seashells for family and friends back home, he was accidentally killed by a member of the 90th New York Volunteer Infantry who had been inexplicably playing around with a loaded rifle in violation of brigade regulations while walking on the same stretch of beach with three other members of his regiment—all three of whom had also been carrying loaded rifles—against regulations. Shot in the forehead, Sergeant Nolf died instantly at the scene. Initially interred at the fort’s post cemetery, his body was among the aforementioned group of soldiers’ remains disinterred and returned to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley by Allentown undertaker Paul Balliet, where they were reburied at the Fairview Cemetery in West Catasauqua in late January of 1864.

On the same day that Charles Nolf departed from the world (June 9), First Lieutenant William W. Geety was released from the hospital having successfully recovered from an attack of bilious fever which had resulted in his confinement beginning May 18. In a letter penned to his wife while recuperating, he described himself as “jaundiced.”

Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, U.S. Army (public domain).

By June 11, I Company Captain Coleman Keck was back home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, hard at work recruiting more men to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the “old men” of the regiment—the veterans—were sensing another change in the winds of fate. That change came on Friday, June 13, via General Order No. 53, which was issued by Brigadier-General Brannan:

“The 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers will hold itself in readiness for immediate embarkation. Company F of this regiment which is detached at Fort Taylor will report at headquarters of the regiment. Each regiment will take six months [sic] supply of medicine and medical stores on embarkation.”

Rumors swirled that the regiment would be shipped to Port Royal, South Carolina in preparation for a Union attempt to wrest control of Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina from the control of the Confederacy.

On Saturday, June 14, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers participated in a review with other members of Brigadier-General Brannan’s troops. According to an edition of the New Era, which was published around this same time:

“The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers under command of Lt. Col. Alexander made a fine appearance. Their marching was perfect and the entire regiment showed the effect of careful drill. A more sturdy, soldierly looking body of men cannot be found, probably, in the service. Col. Good and the officers under his command have succeeded in bringing the regiment to a state of military discipline creditable alike to them and the state from which they hail. The regimental band deserves some mention; there are many bands in the service of greater celebrity, whose performances would not bear comparison with that attached to the 47th Regiment.”

On June 16, Wharton penned another letter to his hometown newspaper in which he reflected on the untimely, friendly fire death of Sergeant Nolf and provided further insights into the soldiering life in America’s Deep South:

“Great excitement was caused by the accident, and for a time (our boys not knowing the particulars) some of them were determined to avenge their comrade’s death, but an investigation pronounced it accidental, when they were satisfied. Nolf was a young man of excellent character, beloved by all who knew him, and it seems hard that he should be hurried into eternity in such a manner, and that too, when the carrying of loadened [sic] rifles is strictly prohibited.

There is a family in this city [Key West] by the name of Fift. One of them, A. Fift, after making a fortune out of his Uncle Samuel, (U.S.), thought to make another speck by going to New Orleans to his friend Mr. Mallory, one of Jeff Davis’ Cabinet (?) in the manufacture of gun boats. Mallory and he went into partnership. After finishing boats, while at Memphis, with a considerable amount of Confederate funds in his pocket, (specie) he gave them the slip. Some of his indignant southern friends followed the double traitor, caught him and immediate hung him, thus saving the United States the trouble of buying an extra rope after this war is over. His brother, who has grown fat off the government, and at the time giving aid to secesh, wishing to visit a cooler atmosphere, and act the part of a nabob in the North, was a few days ago provided with a passage to New York in a Government steamer, while on the same vessel, a soldier, for want of room, could not send a box of sea-shells to gratify the curiosity of his friends at home. You can draw your own inference….

The paymaster has come at last and paid us off for four months. The sight of money was new to the boys, and most eagerly accepted by them. The Sunbury boys sent most of their pay home to their friends, very glad to do so, showing that, although far away from home, loved ones are not forgotten.

We have received marching (sailing) orders, and before this reaches you, if winds do not play us false, we will be in South Carolina, and probably before Charleston, helping to reduce the place where this foul rebellion first broke out. I will write to you immediately on our arrival, attempting to give you a description of the voyage, and an account of the manner in which Neptune treated the health and feelings of the boys. All is hurry and bustle in camp, striking tents, &c., so much so that I can scarcely write. We are all well. None of the Sunbury boys left behind….”

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began a phased departure from Key West.

A Summertime Occupation of South Carolina

Dock, Hilton Head, South Carolina, circa 1862 (Sam Cooley, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

On Tuesday, June 17, 1862, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania assigned to Companies A, F, and D boarded the schooner “Emilene,” and sailed for Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Also readying for departure this day were the men from Companies B, C, and I, who boarded a brig, the Sea Lark. On June 19, Companies E and H boarded a different ship, which was not identified by regimental clerks in subsequent reports, but was identified in soldiers’ later correspondence as the Tangire. Setting off at 10:02 p.m. in the same direction as their predecessors, they were followed by the men from Companies G and K, who boarded a sloop, the Ellen Benan [identified in later soldiers’ correspondence as the “Ellen Bernard”], and departed at 2 p.m. on June 20—barely dodging the yellow fever epidemic which swept Key West, Florida.

On June 19, just prior to his departure, G Company Sergeant John Gross Helfrich penned a letter to his parents from the Officers’ Hospital in Key West, where he had been assigned as a hospital steward:

“…. We are under marching orders, some of the companies of our regiment have already gone. The reason for our not going together, is owing to not having vessels enough. Those who have left had to embark on small “briggs” & skooners [sic], taking from two to three companies aboard. The place of our destination is ‘Beaufort S. Carolina.’ The two companies of regulars, stationed here, have also left a few days ago; for the same place.

The health of our men is exceedingly good at present, out of our whole regiment there are but nineteen, who are unable on account of sickness to accompany us, which is comparatively, but a very small number, and these as far as my knowledge is concerned, are not dangerously ill; and it is hoped that they may soon be able to follow us.

After we are gone the garrison at this place will only consist of six companies of the 90th Regt. N.Y.V. [90th New York Volunteers]. The other four companies of the above named regt. are stationed at “Fort Jefferson”, Tortugas; some fifty-odd miles from here.

The 91st Regt. N.Y.V. were ordered a few weeks ago, to Pensacola, Fla. So you perceive, that there has been a considerable change made among the military, of late at this place….

Letter from Sergeant John G. Helfrich, Company G, to his parents, June 25, 1862 (used with permission, courtesy of Colin Cofield).

After Helfrich settled into his new quarters at Hilton Head, South Carolina, he penned the following update to his parents on June 25:

“Having first arrived at our place of destination spoken off [sic] in my last, I will now give you a brief description of our passage to this place.

We left Key West, on the 19th inst., about mid-night in the brigg [sic] “Ellen Bernard,” and arrived at this place yesterday (the 24th) at one o’clock p.m. having had a very pleasant voyage, not the slightest accident having occurred, and the men seem to get accustomed to riding at sea, as but a few had what is generally called ‘seasickness’. Our regt. was put on four small vessels, the ‘Sea Lark’, ‘Emaline’, “Tangire’ [handwriting difficult to read] & ‘Ellen Bernard, the second last named, has up to this time, not yet arrived, having started about 4 hours ahead of us. She had three companies aboard & the hospital baggage.

The weather is not quite so hot here as where we come from, but I think it will perhaps make a material change in a few days, as the ground is at present cooled off by the rain….

Since our arrival on this island we learned that a pretty severe fight came off about eighteen miles from here, at a place called ‘James island’ at which our boys seem to have got the worst of it as the hospital at this place contains a great many of the wounded.

Our boys are all eager for a fight, and no doubt they will get a chance to show their fighting abilities ere long, as it is rumored that an assault is to be made on ‘Charleston’ at an early date. Troops are coming and going every day, I am told, and I should not be surprised if we had to go away from here in a day or so.

You must excuse me for writing with red ink as it was the only article of the kind within reach.

I am in the full enjoyment of health at present, hoping you are the same.

I will enclose forty dolls. which I will send to you for safe keeping, until I return home, which will be ere long I reckon. Write soon, as I am anxious to hear from you….”

* Note: The letters of Sergeant John Helfrich are used with permission of Colin Cofield and his family who generously provided copies for use in documenting the history of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. To read more of his insights, see our collection of Helfrich’s letters here.

Bay Street Looking West, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862 (Sam A. Cooley, 10th Army Corps, photographer, public domain).

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry did not remain in the Hilton Head-Port Royal area long, however; on July 2, the regiment departed for its new assignment—provost (military police and judicial) duties in Beaufort, South Carolina. Still assigned to the command of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan, the 47th Pennsylvanians performed those duties as part of a combined occupying force that included the: 6th Connecticut under Colonel J. L. Chatfield, the 8th Maine under Lieutenant Colonel J. F. Twitchell, three companies of the 4th New Hampshire under Major J. D. Drew, the 7th New Hampshire under Colonel H. S. Putnam, the 55th Pennsylvania under Colonel R. White, the 1st Connecticut Battery under Captain A. P. Rockwell, three batteries of the 1st U. S. Artillery under Captain L. L. Langdon, three companies of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry under Captain A. H. Stevens, Jr., and a detachment of the 1st New York Engineers.

In fairly short order, however, members of the 47th Pennsylvania were once again dogged by diseases and other ailments. During the month of July, the following members of the regiment were among those who sought medical treatment:

  • Private George Nichols, Company E (admitted July 14, 1862 for treatment of a hernia);
  • Private Andrew Burke, Company E (admitted July 17, 1862 for treatment of a boil);
  • Private Peter McLaughlin, Company H (admitted July 18, 1862 for treatment of a sprain);
  • Private William Ward, Company E (admitted July 18, 1862 for treatment of a carbuncle);
  • Private Luther Bernheisel, Company H (admitted July 23, 1862 for treatment of a funiculus condition);
  • Private John Bruch, Company E (admitted July 24, 1862);
  • Private John Richards, Company E (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of a febrile condition);
  • Second Lieutenant William Wyker, Company E (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of diarrhea);
  • Corporal Joseph Schwab, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of bilious remittent fever);
  • Sergeant William Hiram Bartholomew, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862); and
  • First Lieutenant George W. Fuller, Company F (admitted July 26, 1862 for treatment of piles).

August

As summer wore on, disease continued to fell still more members of the regiment. Among those hospitalized were:

  • Private Israel Reinhard, Company G (admitted August 6, 1862 for treatment of bilious remittent fever);
  • Corporal Solomon Wieder, Company G (admitted August 6, 1862 for treatment of otitis);
  • Sergeant Robert Nelson, Company H (admitted August 7, 1862 for treatment of intermittent fever);
  • Private Charles Rohrer, Company H (admitted with August 8, 1862 for treatment of diarrhea); and
  • Sergeant James Hahn, Company H (admitted August 10, 1862 for dysentery).

The month of August was particularly hard due to typhoid fever, which felled locals and soldiers alike in and around Hilton Head, Beaufort, and Port Royal. Yellow fever then also descended on Hilton Head. One of the protective measures employed by members of the regiment at this time, according to a letter penned by Private Alfred C. Pretz, was “liquid ammonia … kept in the office for the purpose of washing the skin where the little stingers [mosquitos] have sown their venom.”

Robert Barnwell Rhett’s home, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1860s (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

It was also unbearably hot. In a letter to family and friends, C Company Captain Gobin noted that:

“The thermometer to-day has fallen to a respectable number … The weather for the last few weeks has been beyond conception. It was sweltering until Saturday a cool breeze from the North sprung up, and we have enjoyed two comfortable days … Every day last week until Saturday, it ranged from 100 to 110 degrees in our tents, and from 98 to 105 the coolest place you could find…. Our pickets at Seabrook, a few days ago, discovered the rebels throwing up earthworks, and the general impression is that a simultaneous attack will be made by their land forces. News has been received here for some time, of their concentrating large forces of the latter at Grahamsville and Pocotaligo….

But it was these two sentences of Gobin’s letter which provided the most illuminating details about what life was genuinely like for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who were now truly part of an occupying army in America’s Deep South:

“We occupy the house of Senator Rhett, which is one of the finest in the place. A large portion of the furniture is still in it, as is also a portion of his library. It is a magnificent residence, surrounded by orange trees and flowers of the most gorgeous colors. I presume he never intended it for the occupancy of Yankee Court Martial.”

Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was, in fact, a powerful, longtime, pro-slavery, pro-secession activist. A native of Beaufort, South Carolina who began his professional life as a lawyer, he quickly became a vocal critic of the Tariff of 1828 (the “Tariff of Abominations”) while serving as a member of the South Carolina state House of Representatives (after he was first elected in 1826). Resigning that seat to become South Carolina’s Attorney General in 1832, he was subsequently elected to represent South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives (1837). A supporter of John C. Calhoun, Rhett ultimately parted ways with him when he came to believe that Calhoun was too moderate.

“The Union Is Dissolved” (South Carolina’s secession from the United States as announced by the Charleston Mercury, December 20, 1860 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

By the mid-1840s, Rhett had worked his way into an even more powerful role, becoming the de facto leader of the fire eaters—South Carolina’s increasingly vocal, pro-secession movement. Opting not to seek reelection in 1849, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in December of 1850, but resigned that seat in 1852 when his efforts to advance the cause of secession stalled. He then turned to journalism. Purchasing the Charleston Mercury during the 1850s in partnership with his son, Barnwell, he used that newspaper to fan the embers of secession into a raging wildfire—going so far as to call for South Carolina to secede if U.S. voters selected any Republican candidate as the next President of the United States.

As a result, after Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first term, South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860—just as Rhett had hoped. Rhett then lobbied multiple southern states to meet in Montgomery, Alabama in order to form a new country—one that he envisioned would be made up entirely of slaveholding states.

During what historians now refer to as the Montgomery Convention, Rhett played a key role in drafting a new constitution for the Confederate States of America (CSA). Among his contributions to that document were a stipulation that all future CSA presidents would serve six-year terms and wording that would prohibit future CSA leaders from levying tariffs; however, he failed in his attempt to remove wording that declared foreign slave trade to be illegal, and also failed at adding a provision that would have required all CSA states to allow the practice of slavery.

However, the sun was already beginning to set on his political career. By the time the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers arrived in Beaufort, Rhett had lost the support of many fellow Confederates after having repeatedly denounced CSA President Jefferson Davis in the Charleston Mercury. Knowing that his hometown of Beaufort had fallen to the U.S. Army and that his Beaufort home had been commandeered for use by the 47th Pennsylvania for provost actions only served to stoke his anger and frustration.

While Gobin and other officers of the 47th Pennsylvania were busy with their judicial activities, regimental physicians and their soldier-patients continued their war against disease. Writing to superiors from the 47th Pennsylvania’s headquarters in Beaufort, South Carolina on August 31, Assistant Regimental Surgeon Jacob H. Scheetz reported that:

“Remittent Fever has prevailed to a considerable extent. It was characterized by a daily exacerbation and remission. The greater number of those afflicted with it, presented the following symptoms: A general feeling of lassitude for two or three days, with partial loss of appetite, followed by chills and flashes of heat alternately; cephalgia, felt principally over the orbits, of a sharp lancinating character, sometimes, however, described as a dull, aching, heavy sensation. The eyes were most generally suffused, skin sallow, tongue coated, thirst, anorexia. The bowels in the greater number of cases were torpid, but in others disposed to looseness; there was a tenderness over the right hypochondriac and epigastric regions, frequent nausea, and sometimes vomiting. The pulse ranged from 85 to 115 per minute. The skin was hot and dry during the exacerbations, moist and flacid [sic] during remissions. The urine was generally high colored, and caused frequent complaints of a scalding sensation while voiding it, and there was a continual complaint of pain in the back and extremities, etc. The treatment which was found most beneficial was to administer a mercurial purgative in cases in which the bowels were torpid; when there was nausea, twenty grains of ipecacuanha were combined with it. After the intestinal canal had been acted upon, five grains of quinine were given four to six times daily. When there was diarrhea, half a grain of opium or five of Dover’s powder were given with each alternate dose. When the peculiar effects of the quinia were apparent the disease rapidly yielded. The epigastric tenderness, when severe, was treated with sinapisms and opiates. The diet was light as possible.”

Scheetz also noted that, “Diarrhea prevailed considerably,” and added that the “cases were uniformly mild … unaccompanied by any febrile symptoms, and yielded to treatment very readily”—a protocol which “consisted of vegetable astringents and opium, tannic acid, and catechu being the astringents principally used.”

“Dysentery also assumed a mild type, very few cases presenting much febrile actions. The treatment consisted in administering two grains of tartar emetic with half an ounce of epsom salts, and following it with a combination of acetate of lead and opium or more frequently two drachms of castor oil and forty drops of laudanum three times daily.”

Early to Mid-September

U.S. Army insignia for the Tenth (X) Army Corps, which would have been sewn onto uniforms of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as a badge and displayed on a flag.

As summer wound down, two major changes were made to Union Army operations which would dramatically reshape the lives of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers for the remainder of 1862. The 47th Pennsylvania was attached to the newly formed Tenth Army Corps (X Corps) after it was formed as a new army corps on September 3. On September 16, the Tenth Army was then placed under the command of Major-General Ormsby M. Mitchel when he took over command of the U.S. Department of the South from Major-General David Hunter.

As a direct result of those changes, before the month was out, disease would no longer be the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s primary foe.

 

Sources:

  1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
  2. Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, et. al. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series I, Vol. I, pp. 123-125: “The Destruction of Slavery.” New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  3. Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, et. al. Free at Last: A Documentary History of Freedom, Slavery, and the Civil War, pp. 46-48. New York, New York: The New Press, 2007.
  4. Farrell, Michael. “History of the Formation of the Tenth Army Corps,” in “Department General Order No. 2 (Series 2013-2014, August 15, 2013).” Boca Raton, Florida: Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (Department of Florida).
  5. Hunter, Major-General David. Abstract from Return of the Department of the South, Major General David Hunter, U. S. Army, commanding, for July 31, 1862,” in The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Civil War: Chapter XXVI: “Operations on the Coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Middle and East Florida, Apr. 12, 1862-Jun 11, 1863: Correspondence, etc.: Union.” Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1885.
  6. Lincoln, Abraham. “Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, May 19, 1862, #90” (rescinding Major-General David Hunter’s Emancipation of Enslaved Persons in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina via General Order No. 11), in “Presidential Proclamations” (Series 23, Record Group 11). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  7. Miller, Steven. Proclamation by the President,” in “Freedmen & Southern Society Project.” College Park, Maryland: University of Maryland, College Park (History Department), June 19, 2020.
  8. Reynolds, Michael S. “Rhett, Robert Barnwell,” in South Carolina Encyclopedia. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, October 25, 2016.
  9. “Registers of Deaths of Volunteers” (1862 U.S. Army death ledger entries for multiple members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  10. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
  11. “Yankees Sick and Dying.” Athens, Tennessee: The Athens Post, May 16, 1862.

 

 

 

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