About the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Surviving members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers photographed in front of the Odd Fellows Hall at their 1923 reunion in Allentown, Pennsylvania (public domain).

Surviving members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at their 1923 reunion, Odd Fellows Hall, Allentown, Pennsylvania (public domain).

If heavy losses may indicate gallantry, the palm may be given to Colonel Good’s noble regiment, the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers. Upon this command the brunt of battle fell.

American Volunteer, 6 November 1862

Largely forgotten by mainstream historians, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was a Union Army unit which served for nearly the entire duration of the American Civil War. Formed by the fruit of the Great Keystone State’s small towns and cities, the regiment was born on 5 August 1861 when its founder, Tilghman H. Good received permission from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin to form an entirely new regiment in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for additional volunteers to help preserve American’s Union. It ended its service during the early months of the nation’s Reconstruction Era, officially mustering out at Charleston, South Carolina on Christmas Day in 1865, its members receiving their final discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in early January of 1866.

Along the way, the members of this volunteer infantry unit made history, facilitating the enlistment of formerly enslaved African American men, becoming the only regiment from Pennsylvania to fight in the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana, and firmly helping the United States Army to turn the tide of war in favor of the Union during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign across Virginia.

Who Were These Men?

A significant percentage of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were men of German heritage whose families still spoke German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” at their homes and churches more than a century after their ancestors emigrated from Germany in search of religious or political freedom. Others traced their roots to Ireland; one had been born on Spain’s Canary Islands, and at least two were natives of Cuba. In early October of 1862, several African American men who had been freed from slavery on plantations near Beaufort, South Carolina signed on, followed by the enrollment of more formerly enslaved African American men in Natchitoches, Louisiana in April 1864.

Recruited primarily at community gathering places in their respective home towns, the majority of soldiers who served with the 47th Pennsylvania were enrolled at county seats or other large population centers. The youngest was a 12-year-old drummer boy, the oldest a 65-year-old, financially successful farmer who would, at the age of 68, attempt to re-enlist after being seriously wounded in battle while protecting the American flag in combat.

Roughly 70 percent were from the Lehigh Valley—the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton and surrounding communities in Lehigh and Northampton counties. Company C, formed primarily from the men of Northumberland County, was more commonly known as the “Sunbury Guards.” Companies D and H were staffed largely by men from Perry County. Company K was formed with the intent of creating an “all German” company comprised of German-Americans and German immigrants.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

The bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-14 April 1861 (Currier & Ives, public domain).

Many who initially joined this regiment had received their first taste of soldiering as they fulfilled their Three Months’ Service in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to defend the nation’s capital following Fort Sumter’s fall to Confederate forces in April 1861. Honorably discharged, they chose to return to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County during August and September of 1861 to re-enlist. They were led by Colonel Good, as well as Lieutenant-Colonel G.W. Alexander and Major William H. Gausler.

Their exploits were chronicled by Henry D. Wharton, a member of C Company and native of Sunbury, Pennsylvania who provided the following commentary about his company’s captain, John Peter Shindel Gobin, and drummer boy, John Boulton Young, in a letter to his hometown newspaper on 10 September 1861:

Capt. Gobin has the confidence of all our boys for his gentlemanly manners and his kindness to them. He always attends to the wants of the men before his own are gratified. Our ‘little Zouave,’ or ‘Infant Drummer,’ is very well, and is still the ‘observed of all observers.’

Additional letters penned by Wharton are available by clicking HERE.

By 18 September, many of the regiment’s Field and Staff Officers had mustered in, several receiving promotions from the ranks they held during their Three Months’ Service. That same day, William H. Ginkinger received a promotion from his position as a private with Company B to Regimental Commissary Sergeant.

Company Enrollment and Muster Order

According to Lewis Schmidt, author of A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, the 47th Pennsylvania’s 10 companies were mustered in by Captain Jonathan R. Snead of the 5th U.S. Artillery at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg with 911 men (roughly 90 percent of the total number typically required to form a regiment). Those companies were processed as follows:

  • Company F, led by Captain Henry S. Harte from its inception until 18 September 1864 and then by Captain Edwin Gilbert; recruited at Catasauqua, Lehigh County; mustered in 13-30 August 1861
  • Regimental Band No. 1 (Pomp’s Cornet Band), led by Thomas Coates from its inception until the band’s muster out in September 1862; enrolled at Easton, Northampton County; mustered in 14 August 1861
  • Regimental Band No. 2 (brass section of the Allentown Band plus members of the Easton and Siegersville Bands), led by Anton Benjamin Bush from its inception 5 November 1862 until 18 September 1864; recruited from across the Lehigh Valley; mustered in at Harrisburg and/or Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida through June 1863; served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until the end of the war
  • Company C (Sunbury Guards), led by Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin from its inception until 24 July 1864 and then by Captain Daniel Oyster; recruited at Sunbury, Northumberland County; mustered in 19 August 1861-2 September 1861
  • Company D, led by Captain Henry D. (“H. D.”) Woodruff from its inception until 18 September 1864, then by Captain George Stroop until 1 June 1865, and then by Captain George W. Kosier; recruited at Bloomfield, Perry County; mustered in 20-31 August 1861
  • Company I, led by Captain Coleman A.G. Keck from its inception until 22 February 1864 when Captain Keck resigned due to illness, then by Captain Levi Stuber from 1 August 1864 until 23 May 1865 when Captain Stuber was appointed as a Major with the regiment’s central command staff, then by Captain Theodore Mink from 22 May 1865 until the close of the war; recruited at Allentown, Lehigh County; mustered in as the largest company with 102 men on 30 August 1861
  • Company B, led by Captain Emanuel P. Rhoads from its inception until 18 September 1864, then by Captain Edwin G. Minnich until he was killed in action 19 October 1864, and then by Captain William H. Kleckner; recruited at Allentown, Lehigh County; mustered in 30-31 August 1861
  • Company A, led by Captain Richard A. Graeffe from its inception until 18 September 1864 and then by Captain Adolph Dennig; recruited at Easton, Northampton County; mustered in 15-16 September 1861; a group of men from this company served under Captain Graeffe on special detachment in early 1864 as the “Florida Rangers”
  • Company E, led by Captain Charles Hickman Yard, Sr. from its inception until September 1864 and then by Captain William A. Bachman; recruited at Easton, Northampton County; mustered in as the smallest company with just 83 men on 16 September 1861; led company K in the capture of Jacksonville, Florida 5 October 1862 and the capture of the Confederate steamer, Gov. Milton, near Hawkinsville 6 October 1862
  • Company K, led by Captain George Junker from its inception until 22 October 1862 when Captain Junker was mortally wounded in battle, then by Captain Charles W. Abbott from 22 October 1862 until 3 January 1865 when Captain Abbott was commissioned as a Lieutenant-Colonel with the regiment’s central command staff, then by Captain Matthias Miller from 4 January 1865 until the close of the war; recruited at Allentown, Lehigh County; mustered in 17 September 1861; participated in the capture of Jacksonville, Florida with Company E 5 October 1862 and the capture, with Company E, of the Confederate steamer, Gov. Milton, near Hawkinsville 6 October 1862
  • Company G, led by Captain Charles Mickley from its inception until 22 October 1862 when he was killed in action, then by Captain John J. Goebel until 19 October 1864 when he was also killed in action, then by Captain Thomas B. Leisenring until the close of the war; recruited at Allentown, Lehigh County; mustered in 18 September 1861, and
  • Company H, led by Captain James Kacy from its inception until 18 September 1864 when he honorably mustered out upon expiration of his three-year term of service, and then by Captain Reuben Shatto Gardner from 16 February 1865 until the close of the war; recruited at Newport, Perry County; mustered in 19 September 1861.

Training and Early Service

Camp Curtin (Harpers Weekly, 1861; public domain).

Camp Curtin (Harper’s Weekly, 1861, public domain).

Following a brief training period in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, the men of the 47th were ordered south to Washington, D.C. Upon their arrival by rail, they were granted a brief respite at the Soldiers’ Retreat in the nation’s capital before being marched off to their new camp.

Stationed roughly two miles from the White House, they pitched tents on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown, and made “Camp Kalorama” their home beginning 21 September. Henry Wharton penned another update to the Sunbury American on 22 September:

After a tedious ride we have, at last, safely arrived at the City of ‘magnificent distances.’ We left Harrisburg on Friday last at 1 o’clock A.M. and reached this camp yesterday (Saturday) at 4 P.M., as tired and worn out a sett [sic] of mortals as can possibly exist. On arriving at Washington we were marched to the ‘Soldiers Retreat,’ a building purposely erected for the benefit of the soldier, where every comfort is extended to him and the wants of the ‘inner man’ supplied.

After partaking of refreshments we were ordered into line and marched, about three miles, to this camp. So tired were the men, that on marching out, some gave out, and had to leave the ranks, but J. Boulton Young, our ‘little Zouave,’ stood it bravely, and acted like a veteran. So small a drummer is scarcely seen in the army, and on the march through Washington he was twice the recipient of three cheers.

We were reviewed by Gen. McClellan yesterday [21 September 1861] without our knowing it. All along the march we noticed a considerable number of officers, both mounted and on foot; the horse of one of the officers was so beautiful that he was noticed by the whole regiment, in fact, so wrapt [sic] up were they in the horse, the rider wasn’t noticed, and the boys were considerably mortified this morning on dis-covering they had missed the sight of, and the neglect of not saluting the soldier next in command to Gen. Scott.

Col. Good, who has command of our regiment, is an excellent man and a splendid soldier. He is a man of very few words, and is continually attending to his duties and the wants of the Regiment.

I am happy to inform you that our young townsman, Mr. William Hendricks, has received the appointment of Sergeant Major to our Regiment. He made his first appearance at guard mounting this morning; he looked well, done up his duties admirably, and, in time, will make an excellent officer. Our Regiment will now be put to hard work; such as drilling and the usual business of camp life, and the boys expect and hope an occasional ‘pop’ at the enemy.

On the 24th of that same month, the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry finally became part of the U.S. Army when its men were officially mustered into federal service with all of the pomp and circumstance one could expect.

Chain Bridge across the Potomac above Georgetown looking toward Virginia, 1861 (The Illustrated London News, public domain).

On 27 September—a rainy day, the 47th Pennsylvania was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of Brigadier-General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvania was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps, and continued on for roughly another mile before being ordered to make camp.

The next morning, they broke camp and moved again. Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had crossed a day earlier, they re-pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated fairly close to the headquarters of Brigadier-General William Farrar Smith (also known as “Baldy”), and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac (“Mr. Lincoln’s Army”). Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped to America’s Deep South.

Once again, Company C Musician Henry Wharton recapped the regiment’s activities, noting, via his 29 September letter home to the Sunbury American, that the 47th had changed camps three times in three days:

On Friday last we left Camp Kalorama, and the same night encamped about one mile from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side of the Potomac from Washington. The next morning, Saturday, we were ordered to this Camp [Camp Advance near Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia], one and a half miles from the one we occupied the night previous. I should have mentioned that we halted on a high hill (on our march here) at the Chain Bridge, called Camp Lyon, but were immediately ordered on this side of the river. On the route from Kalorama we were for two hours exposed to the hardest rain I ever experienced. Whew, it was a whopper; but the fellows stood it well — not a murmur — and they waited in their wet clothes until nine o’clock at night for their supper. Our Camp adjoins that of the N.Y. 79th (Highlanders.)….

We had not been in this Camp more than six hours before our boys were supplied with twenty rounds of ball and cartridge, and ordered to march and meet the enemy; they were out all night and got back to Camp at nine o’clock this morning, without having a fight. They are now in their tents taking a snooze preparatory to another march this morning…. I don’t know how long the boys will be gone, but the orders are to cook two days’ rations and take it with them in their haversacks….

There was a nice little affair came off at Lavensville [sic], a few miles from here on Wednesday last; our troops surprised a party of rebels (much larger than our own.) killing ten, took a Major prisoner, and captured a large number of horses, sheep and cattle, besides a large quantity of corn and potatoes, and about ninety six tons of hay. A very nice day’s work. The boys are well, in fact, there is no sickness of any consequence at all in our Regiment….

Sometime during this phase of duty, as part of the 3rd Brigade, the 47th Pennsylvanians were moved to a site they initially christened “Camp Big Chestnut” for the large chestnut tree located within their lodging’s boundaries. The site would eventually become known to the Keystone Staters as “Camp Griffin,” and was located roughly 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

On 11 October, the 47th Pennsylvania marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads. Also around this time, companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops. In his letter of 13 October, Henry Wharton described their duties, as well as their new home:

The location of our camp is fine and the scenery would be splendid if the view was not obstructed by heavy thickets of pine and innumerable chesnut [sic] trees. The country around us is excellent for the Rebel scouts to display their bravery; that is, to lurk in the dense woods and pick off one of our unsuspecting pickets. Last night, however, they (the Rebels) calculated wide of their mark; some of the New York 33d boys were out on picket; some fourteen or fifteen shots were exchanged, when our side succeeded in bringing to the dust, (or rather mud,) an officer and two privates of the enemy’s mounted pickets. The officer was shot by a Lieutenant in Company H [?], of the 33d.

Our own boys have seen hard service since we have been on the ‘sacred soil.’ One day and night on picket, next day working on entrenchments at the Fort, (Ethan Allen.) another on guard, next on march and so on continually, but the hardest was on picket from last Thursday morning ‘till Saturday morning — all the time four miles from camp, and both of the nights the rain poured in torrents, so much so that their clothes were completely saturated with the rain. They stood it nobly — not one complaining; but from the size of their haversacks on their return, it is no wonder that they were satisfied and are so eager to go again tomorrow. I heard one of them say ‘there was such nice cabbage, sweet and Irish potatoes, turnips, &c., out where their duty called them, and then there was a likelihood of a Rebel sheep or young porker advancing over our lines and then he could take them as ‘contraband’ and have them for his own use.’ When they were out they saw about a dozen of the Rebel cavalry and would have had a bout with them, had it not been for…unlucky circumstance – one of the men caught the hammer of his rifle in the strap of his knapsack and caused his gun to fire; the Rebels heard the report and scampered in quick time, much faster than they did at ‘Falling Waters’ when the ‘Bloody 11th’ was after them.

The First Fatalities

The first member of the 47th to die was a child, John Boulton Young. A drummer with the 47th Pennsylvania’s C Company And favorite among the men, “Boulty” (alternatively “Boltie”) was just 13 years old when he succumbed to the ravages of Variola (smallpox) at the Kalorama eruptive fever hospital in Georgetown on 17 October 1861. His coat and drum have been lovingly preserved since that time, and were displayed as part of a special exhibit by the Northumberland County Historical Society in April 2013. Boulty’s superior officer, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, was deeply saddened by the event as evidenced by his letters home from this period [excerpted in Gobin’s biographical sketch in the “Officers” section of this website].

Sergeant Frank M. Holt was another early casualty. A 23-year-old who had left behind the farming life in Amherst, New Hampshire to enlist, he had been hospitalized at roughly the same time as Boulty, and ultimately succumbed to Variola (smallpox) at the same eruptive fever facility on 28 October.

Pageantry and Hard Work

Meanwhile back at Camp Griffin, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review. Held on 22 October 1861, the event was described by Schmidt as “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.”

In a letter penned on 17 November, Henry Wharton revealed more about the daily lives of his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians:

This morning our brigade was out for inspection; arms, accoutrements [sic], clothing, knapsacks, etc, all were out through a thorough examination, and if I must say it myself, our company stood best, A No. 1, for cleanliness. We have a new commander to our Brigade, Brigadier General Brannen [sic], of the U.S. Army, and if looks are any criterion, I think he is a strict disciplinarian and one who will be as able to get his men out of danger as he is willing to lead them to battle….

The boys have plenty of work to do, such as piquet [sic] duty, standing guard, wood-chopping, police duty and day drill; but then they have the most substantial food; our rations consist of fresh beef (three times a week) pickled pork, pickled beef, smoked pork, fresh bread, daily, which is baked by our own bakers, the Quartermaster having procured portable ovens for that purpose, potatoes, split peas, beans, occasionally molasses and plenty of good coffee, so you see Uncle Sam supplies us plentifully….

A few nights ago our Company was out on piquet [sic]; it was a terrible night, raining very hard the whole night, and what made it worse, the boys had to stand well to their work and dare not leave to look for shelter. Some of them consider they are well paid for their exposure, as they captured two ancient muskets belonging to Secessia. One of them is of English manufacture, and the other has the Virginia militia mark on it. They are both in a dilapidated condition, but the boys hold them in high estimation as they are trophies from the enemy, and besides they were taken from the house of Mrs. Stewart, sister to the rebel Jackson who assassinated the lamented Ellsworth at Alexandria. The honorable lady, Mrs. Stewart, is now a prisoner at Washington and her house is the headquarters of the command of the piquets [sic]….

Since the success of the secret expedition, we have all kinds of rumors in camp. One is that our Brigade will be sent to the relief of Gen. Sherman, in South Carolina. The boys all desire it and the news in the ‘Press’ is correct, that a large force is to be sent there, I think their wish will be gratified. Our boys are all well and I am happy to inform you that the small-pox is completely exterminated from our Regiment.

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

Springfield rifle, 1861 model (public domain).

On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review overseen by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward, Brannan ordered that new Springfield rifles be obtained and distributed to every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.

1862 — 1863

Rendering of Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida, Harper's Weekly, 1864 (public domain).

Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida (Harper’s Weekly, 1864, public domain).

Ordered to move from Camp Griffin, Virginia back to Maryland in early January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left their encampment at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, Virginia, they were sent by rail to Alexandria and then, via the steamer City of Richmond, to the Washington Arsenal in Washington, D.C. There, they were reequipped, and marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped aboard cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they quartered at the Naval Academy’s barracks. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.

By the afternoon of Monday, 27 January 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ready to depart for America’s Deep South, per the directive of Brigadier-General John Milton Brannan. Ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers, the enlisted men boarded the Oriental first, followed by the officers. At 4 p.m., they steamed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to its status as a key supplier of food for the Confederacy, as well as the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.

Arriving at Key West in early February 1862, the men of the 47th (now equipped with Springfield rifles) were assigned to protect Fort Taylor. During the weekend of Friday, 14 February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers introduced their presence to Key West residents via a regimental parade through the streets of the city. That Sunday, men from the regiment also mingled with the locals at church services across Key West.

When on duty, they felled trees, built roads and strengthened the fortifications at the federal facility.

Fort Walker, Hilton Head, South Carolina, circa 1861 (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, public domain).

Next ordered to Hilton Head, South Carolina from mid-June through July, they camped near Fort Walker before relocating to the Beaufort District, Department of the South, roughly 35 miles away. Frequently assigned to hazardous picket detail north of their main camp, which put them at increased risk from enemy sniper fire, the members of the 47th Pennsylvania became known for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing,” and “received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan,” according to historian Samuel P. Bates.

Detachments from the regiment were also assigned to the Expedition to Fenwick Island (9 July) and the Demonstration against Pocotaligo (10 July).

Sadly, the first man from the regiment to die in South Carolina was Private William Ellis, an immigrant who fell ill with fever in late July, and passed away at the Union Army’s General Hospital No. 3 in Beaufort on 1 August 1862, according to Schmidt. Private Ellis left behind a widow and two young daughters.

Another who perished there during this time was Private Private Henry Kline, a laborer from Easton who was claimed by chronic dysentery.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., the bean counters were busy tallying up the costs of a war now entering its second year. Deeming regimental bands an unnecessary expense in light of rising federal expenses, the U.S. Congress passed legislation on 17 July 1862 ordering that all such bands be promptly, but honorably mustered out. Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. War Department effected this change via General Order 91, issued on 29 July 1862. As the musicians of Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry packed and readied for their return home in early September 1862, the 47th’s commanding officer, Colonel Good, expressed both disappointment and respect in a letter to the ensemble:

Headquarters 47th Regt. P.V.
Beaufort, S.C., Sept. 9, 1862

Gentlemen of the Band,

In accordance with an enactment of Congress and an order from the War Department, you have been regularly mustered out of the service of the United States, and are consequently detached from the regiment. I had vainly hoped when you were with us, united to do battle for our country, that we should remain together, to share the dangers and reap the same glory, until every vestige of the present wicked rebellion should be forever crushed, and we unitedly return again to our homes in peace, and receive of our fellow creatures the welcome plaudit, ‘well done’.

But fate has decreed otherwise, and you are about to bid ‘farewell’, and in taking leave of you, gentlemen, I beg leave to compliment you on your good deportment and manly bearings whilst connected with the regiment, and when you shall have departed from amongst us the sweet strains of music which emanated from you and so often swelled the breeze during dress parade, shall still ring in our ears.

Invoking heaven’s choicest gifts upon you collectively and individually, I bid you god speed on your homeward voyage and through all your future career. May your future course through life be as bright and happy as your past has been prosperous and safe.

I am, Gents,
Your obedient servant,
T. H. Good
Col. 47th Regt. Penna. Vols.

J.H. Schell's 1862 illustration showing the earthen works which surrounded the Confederate battery atop Saint John's Bluff along the Saint John's River in Florida (public domain).

J. H. Schell’s 1862 illustration showing earthen works surrounding a Confederate battery atop Saint John’s Bluff along the Saint John’s River in Florida (public domain).

On a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Rebel troops at their heavily protected camp at Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River area. Trekking and skirmishing through roughly 25 miles of dense swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured artillery and ammunition stores (on 3 October) that had been abandoned by Confederate forces due to the bluff’s bombardment by Union gunboats.

Companies E and K of the 47th were  then led by Captain Yard in the 5 October capture of Jacksonville, Florida. Steaming aboard the Darlington a day later, those same companies captured the Gov. Milton, a Confederate steamer docked near Hawkinsville.

Recruitment Broadside, U.S. Colored Troops (1 January 1863, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain).

Recruitment Broadside, U.S. Colored Troops (1 January 1863, U.S. National Archives, public domain).

On 5 and 15 October 1862, respectively, the 47th Pennsylvania made history as it became an integrated regiment, adding to its muster rolls a Black teen and several young to middle-aged Black men who had endured plantation enslavement in Beaufort, South Carolina:

  • Just sixteen years old at the time of his enlistment, Abraham Jassum joined the 47th Pennsylvania from a recruiting depot on 5 October 1862. Military records indicate that he mustered in as “negro undercook” with Company F at Beaufort, South Carolina. Military records described him as being 5′ 6″ inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and stated that his occupation prior to enlistment was “Cook.” Records also indicate that he continued to serve with F Company until he mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 when his three-year term of enlistment expired.
  • Also signing up as an Undercook that day at the Beaufort recruiting depot was thirty-three-year-old Bristor Gethers. Although his muster roll entry and entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File in the Pennsylvania State Archives listed him as “Presto Gettes,” his U.S. Civil War Pension Index listing spelled his name as “Bristor Gethers” and his wife’s name as “Rachel Gethers.” This index also includes the aliases of “Presto Garris” and “Bristor Geddes.” He was described on military records as being 5′ 5″ inches tall with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, and as having been employed as a fireman. He mustered in as “Negro under cook” with Company F on 5 October 1862, and mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina on 4 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service. Federal records indicate that he and his wife applied for his Civil War Pension from South Carolina.
  • Also attached initially to Company F upon his 15 October 1862 enrollment with the 47th Pennsylvania, twenty-two-year-old Edward Jassum was assigned kitchen duties. Records indicate that he was officially mustered into military service at the rank of Undercook with the 47th Pennsylvania at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and then transferred to Company H on 11 October 1864. Like Abraham Jassum, Edward Jassum also continued to serve with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers until being honorably discharged on 14 October 1865 upon expiration of his three-year term of service.

More men of color would continue to be added to the 47th Pennsylvania’s rosters in the weeks and years to come.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper's Weekly in 1865.

The challenging environment of the Charleston & Savannah Railroad was illustrated by Harper’s Weekly in 1865 (public domain).

From 21-23 October 1862, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel T. H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander, the 47th next engaged the heavily protected Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina—including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge. Losses were significant, and were described in the reports of multiple commanding officers involved at the Battle of Pocotaligo. Among the casualties from the 47th that day were Captain Charles Mickley, who was killed in action, and Captain George Junker, who was mortally wounded. Reuben Gardner and First Lieutenant William Geety were also wounded, but survived. (Geety had been in charge of H Company that day due to the absence of Captain Kacy, who had been ill and was recuperating at a Union hospital.)

Private Nathan George and 17 other enlisted men also died; another 114 were wounded.

The 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head on 23 October, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South, Major-General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, who died from yellow fever on 30 October. The Mountains of Mitchel, a region of the South Pole on Mars discovered by Mitchel in 1846 while working as an astronomer at the University of Cincinnati, and Mitchelville, the first Freedmen’s town created after the Civil War, were both later named for him.

The men of the 47th Pennsylvania were the soldiers given the high honor of firing the salute over his grave.

On 1 November 1862, the 47th Pennsylvania helped another Black man escape from slavery near Beaufort when they added thirty-year-old Thomas Haywood to the kitchen staff of Company H. Described as a 5′ 4″-tall laborer with black hair, black eyes and a black complexion, he was officially mustered in as an Undercook at Morganza, Louisiana on 22 June 1864, and served until the expiration of his own three-year term of service on 31 October 1865.


Much of 1863 for the 47th was spent protecting federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I garrisoned Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K were stationed at Fort Jefferson off Florida’s coast in the Dry Tortugas.

 Fort Jefferson's moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C.E. Peterson, Library of Congress; public domain)

Fort Jefferson’s moat and wall, circa 1934, Dry Tortugas, Florida (C. E. Peterson, Library of Congress, public domain).

The time spent in Florida by the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers was notable not just for the battles fought, but for the men who were claimed by diseases for which their bodies were unprepared. Fourth Sergeant Andrew Bellis, increasingly unable to turn out for duty, was reduced in rank to Private and finally died on 23 February 1862. Privates William Eberhart (9 May 1863) and Leonard Frankenfield (24 June 1863) both perished in Florida. Privates John Powell, Jr., George C. Watson and Solomon J. Diehl lost their individual battles with disease in 1862 and 1863, respectively. Their bodies were interred at Key West initially, but later transferred with others to the Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola.

It was also during this phase of service that Rafael Perez enlisted for military duty with Company C of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, enrolling on 20 May 1863. A native of Cuba, Perez had emigrated with his father, Ygnacio (or “Ignacio”), to Florida sometime before 1860. The federal census for that year documented the pair’s residency in Key West, as well as the father’s employment as a cigar maker. Although military records stated that Rafael Perez was 18 at the time of his enrollment, the census and other sources indicate that he may have been 16 or younger.

Also that year, the residents of Key West paid their respects to the regiment by presenting a sword to Colonel Tilghman H. Good. The 17 May 1918 edition of The Allentown Democrat recorded what happened to the weapon as follows:

Another gift [to the Lehigh County Historical Society] includes the sword, belt and sash presented by the citizens of Key West, in 1863, to Col. T. H. Good, commanding the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers. This was given by his widow to the Allen Rifles, Company D, Fourth regiment, N. G. P. [National Guard of Pennsylvania], formerly commanded by the colonel, and is now turned over to the society by them.


In early January 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was ordered to expand the Union’s reach even further by sending part of the regiment north to retake possession of, and rehabilitate, Fort Myers, which had been abandoned in 1858 following the U.S. government’s third war with the Seminole Indians. Per orders issued earlier in 1864 by General D. P. Woodbury, Commanding Officer, U.S. Department of the Gulf, District of Key West and the Tortugas, that the fort be reclaimed to facilitate the Union’s Gulf Coast blockade, Captain Richard Graeffe and a group of men from Company A were assigned to special duty, charged with expanding the fort and conducting raids on area cattle herds to provide food for the growing Union troop presence. Graeffe and his men subsequently turned the fort into both their base of operations and a shelter for pro-Union supporters, escaped slaves, Confederate Army deserters, and others fleeing Rebel troops. According to Schmidt:

Capt. Richard A. Graeffe, accompanied by Assistant Surgeon William F. Reiber, commanded the main portion of Company A which boarded ship on Monday, January 4 and sailed the following day, Tuesday, for Fort Myers, on the Caloosahatchee River fifteen air miles southeast of Charlotte Harbor. The company was transported on board the Army quartermaster schooner Matchless, after having embarked the day before, and was accompanied by the steamer U.S.S. Honduras commanded by Lt. Harris, and with Gen. Woodbury aboard. Lt. Harris was directed to tow the Matchless if necessary.

Punta Rassa was probably the location where the troops disembarked, and was located on the tip of the southwest delta of the Caloosahatchee River … near what is now the mainland or eastern end of the Sanibel Causeway… Fort Myers was established further up the Caloosahatchee at a location less vulnerable to storms and hurricanes. In 1864, the Army built a long wharf and a barracks 100 feet long and 50 feet wide at Punta Rassa, and used it as an embarkation point for shipping north as many as 4400 Florida cattle….

Capt. Graeffe and company were disembarked on the evening of January 7, and Gen. Woodbury ordered the company to occupy Fort Myers on the south side of the Caloosahatchee, about 12 miles from its mouth and 150 miles from Key West. Shortly after, [a detachment of men from the 47th Pennsylvania’s A Company stationed on Useppa Island] was also ordered to proceed to Fort Myers and join the main body of Company A, the entire command under direct orders of the General who was in the area…. Gen. Woodbury returned to Key West on the Honduras prior to January 19, and the command was left in charge of Capt. Graeffe who dispatched various patrols in search of refugees for enlistment and for activities involving Confederate cattle shipments.

Company A’s muster roll provides the following account of the expedition under command of Capt. Graeffe: ‘The company left Key West Fla Jany 4. 64 enroute to Fort Meyers Coloosahatche River [sic] Fla. were joined by a detachment of the U.S. 2nd Fla Rangers at Punta Rossa Fla took possession of Fort Myers Jan 10. Captured a Rebel Indian Agent and two other men.’

Schmidt notes that Graeffe’s hand drawings show there were roughly 12 buildings “primarily situated along the river, with a log palisade protecting those portions not bounded by the Caloosahatchee; the whole in a densely wooded area and entered through an opening on the southeast protected by the river on the west near the area of the wharf, and a log blockhouse on the east.” During this phase of duty, which lasted until sometime in February of 1864, Graeffe’s A Company men subsequently added more structures and fortifications. They also captured three Confederate sympathizers at the fort, including a blockade runner and spy named Griffin and an Indian interpreter and agent named Lewis. Charged with multiple offenses against the United States, they were transported to Key West, where they were kept under guard by the Provost Marshal—Major William Gausler, third-in-command of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared in 2010 for the Everglades National Park partially documents the time of Richard Graeffe and the men under his Florida command this way:

A small contingent of 20 men and two officers from the Pennsylvania 47th Regiment, led by Captain Henry Crain of the 2nd Regiment of Florida, arrived at the fort on January 7, 1864. A short time later, the party was joined by another small detachment of the 47th under the command of Captain Richard A. Graeffe. Over a short period, increasing reinforcements of the fort led to increasing cattle raids throughout the region. A Union force so far into Confederate land did not go well with Confederate loyalists. The fact that so many men stationed at the post were black soldiers from the newly created U.S. Colored Troops was particularly aggravating. The raids were so antagonizing that the Confederates created a Cattle Guard Battalion called the “Cow Cavalry” to repulse Union raiders. The unit remained a primary threat to the Union soldiers carrying out raids and reconnaissance missions from Brooksville to as far south as Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers.

Meanwhile, all of the other companies of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had already left on the regiment’s history-making journey to Louisiana.

Boarding yet another steamer—the Charles Thomas—on 25 February 1864, the men from Companies B, C, D, I, and K of the 47th Pennsylvania headed for Algiers, Louisiana (across the river from New Orleans), followed on 1 March by other members of the regiment from Companies E, F, G, and H who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Upon the second group’s arrival, the now almost fully reunited regiment moved by train on 28 February to Brashear City before heading to Franklin by steamer through the Bayou Teche. There, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps, and became the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign of Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks.

Unable to reach Louisiana until 23 March, the men from Company A were effectively placed on a different type of detached duty in New Orleans while they awaited transport to enable them to catch up with the main part of their regiment. Charged with guarding and overseeing the transport of 245 Confederate prisoners, they were finally able to board the Ohio Belle on 7 April, and reached Alexandria with those prisoners on 9 April.

Red River Campaign

From 14-26 March, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry headed for Alexandria and Natchitoches, Louisiana, by way of New Iberia, Vermilionville, Opelousas, and Washington. From 4-5 April 1864, the regiment added to its roster of young Black soldiers when Aaron, James, and John Bullard, Samuel Jones, and Hamilton Blanchard (also known as John Hamilton) enrolled for service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Natchitoches. According to their respective entries in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives and on regimental muster rolls, the men were then officially mustered in for duty on 22 June at Morganza. Several of their entries noted that they were assigned the rank of “(Colored) Cook” while others were given the rank of “Under Cook.”

Often short on food and water throughout their long, grueling trek through enemy territory, the men encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansifled (8 April 1864, public domain).

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain).

On 8 April, Second Lieutenant Alfred Swoyer and 59 others were cut down at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield). The next day, 68-year-old Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was wounded in action during the fierce fighting at Pleasant Hill, along with Sergeant William Pyers, Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Alexander and Joseph Benson Shaver.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers had been ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner and son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were  forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines and block another Confederate assault.

During this engagement, the 47th Pennsylvania succeeded in recapturing a Massachusetts artillery battery lost during the earlier Confederate assault. Unfortunately, while mounting the 47th Pennsylvania’s colors on one of the recaptured caissons, Color-Sergeant Benjamin Walls was shot in the left shoulder. As Walls fell, Sergeant William Pyers saved the American flag, preventing it from falling into enemy hands. Both Walls and Pyers survived the day and continued to fight on with the 47th, as did Private Joseph Shaver, who went on to survive the war, be honorably discharged and become a Methodist Episcopal minister.

This image from the 4 March 1865 edition of Harper's Weekly depicts life at Camp Ford. The largest Confederate Army prison camp west of the Mississippi. (Source: Harper's Weekly, 4 March 1865; public domain).

Harper’s Weekly depicted life at Camp Ford, the largest Confederate Army prison camp west of the Mississippi (4 March 1865, public domain).

But there were many in the 47th who were less fortunate, including several whose bodies were lost during the fighting and never recovered, others whose bodies were buried in unmarked graves at the Chalmette National Cemetery, and still others who were captured by Rebel troops during the fighting and held as prisoners of war, including Private James Downs, Sergeant James Crownover and William J. Smith. Crownover, Smith and 15 other 47th Pennsylvanians, several of whom (like Crownover) had been wounded in action, were marched and moved by train roughly 125 miles across Louisiana and over the Texas border, where they were then imprisoned at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, the largest Confederate prison camp west of the Mississippi River. This, too, was a history making moment, as the 47th became the only Pennsylvania regiment to have men held at Camp Ford, the largest Confederate prison camp operating west of the Mississippi River.

Confined as POWs in deteriorating conditions while often subject to harsh treatment by Confederate officers and guards, most of the 47th Pennsylvanians survived to be released during prisoner exchanges in July, August or November 1864. But at least two enlisted men from the 47th died in captivity. Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore.

The 47th Pennsylvanians remained at Grand Ecore for a total of eleven days (through 22 April 1864), where they engaged in the hard labor of strengthening regimental and brigade fortifications in a brutal climate. They then moved back to Natchitoches Parish where they arrived at 10 p.m. that night in Cloutierville, after marching 45 miles. En route, the Union forces were attacked again—this time in the rear, but they were able to end the encounter fairly quickly and continue on.

The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed just to the left of the “Thick Woods” with Emory’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Division as shown on this map of Union troop positions for the Battle of Cane River Crossing at Monett’s Ferry, Louisiana, 23 April 1864 (Major-General Nathaniel Banks’ official Red River Campaign Report, public domain).

The next morning (23 April 1864), episodic skirmishing quickly roared into the flames of a robust fight. As part of the advance party led by Brigadier-General William Emory, the 47th Pennsylvanians took on Brigadier-General Hamilton P. Bee’s Confederate Cavalry in the Battle of Cane River (also known as “the Affair at Monett’s Ferry” or the “Cane River Crossing”).

Responding to a barrage from the Confederate artillery’s 20-pound Parrott guns and raking fire from enemy troops situated near a bayou and on a bluff, Emory directed one of his brigades to keep Bee’s Confederates busy while sending the other two brigades to find a safe spot where his Union troops could ford the Cane River. As part of the “beekeepers,” the 47th Pennsylvanians supported Emory’s artillery.

Meanwhile, other Emory troops found and worked their way across the Cane River, attacked Bee’s flank, and forced a Rebel retreat. That Union brigade then erected a series of pontoon bridges, enabling the 47th and other remaining Union troops to make the Cane River Crossing by the next day. As the Confederates retreated, they torched their own food stores, as well as the cotton supplies of their fellow southerners.

In a letter penned from Morganza, Louisiana on 29 May, Henry Wharton described what had happened to the 47th Pennsylvanians during and immediately after making camp at Grand Ecore:

Our sojourn at Grand Ecore was for eleven days, during which time our position was well fortified by entrenchments for a length of five miles, made of heavy logs, five feet high and six feet wide, filled in with dirt. In front of this, trees were felled for a distance of two hundred yards, so that if the enemy attacked we had an open space before us which would enable our forces to repel them and follow if necessary. But our labor seemed to the men as useless, for on the morning of 22d April, the army abandoned these works and started for Alexandria. From our scouts it was ascertained that the enemy had passed some miles to our left with the intention of making a stand against our right at Bayou Cane, where there is a high bluff and dense woods, and at the same attack Smith’s forces who were bringing up the rear. This first day was a hard one on the boys, for by ten o’clock at night they made Cloutierville, a distance of forty-five miles. On that day the rear was attacked which caused our forces to reverse their front and form in line of battle, expecting too, to go back to the relief of Smith, but he needed no assistance, sending word to the front that he had ‘whipped them, and could do it again.’ It was well that Banks made so long a march on that day, for on the next we found the enemy prepared to carry out their design of attacking us front and rear. Skirmishing commenced early in the morning and as our columns advanced he fell back towards the bayou, when we soon discovered the position of their batteries on the bluff. There was then an artillery duel by the smaller pieces, and some sharp fighting by the cavalry, when the ‘mule battery,’ twenty pound Parrott guns, opened a heavy fire, which soon dislodged them, forcing the chivalry to flee in a manner not at all suitable to their boasted courage. Before this one cavalry, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Div., and Birges’ brigade of the second, had crossed the bayou and were doing good service, which, with the other work, made the enemy show their heels. The 3d brigade done some daring deeds in this fight, as also did the cavalry. In one instance the 3d charged up a hill almost perpendicular, driving the enemy back by the bayonet without firing a gun. The woods on this bluff was so thick that the cavalry had to dismount and fight on foot. During the whole of the day, our brigade, the 2d was supporting artillery, under fire all the time, and could not give Mr. Reb a return shot.

While we were fighting in front, Smith was engaged some miles in the rear, but he done his part well and drove them back. The rebel commanders thought by attacking us in the rear, and having a large face on the bluffs, they would be able to capture our train and take us all prisoners, but in this they were mistaken, for our march was so rapid that we were on them before they had thrown up the necessary earthworks. Besides they underrated the amount of our artillery, calculating from the number engaged at Pleasant Hill. The rebel prisoners say it ‘seems as though the Yankees manufacture, on short notice, artillery to order, and the men are furnished with wings when they wish to make a certain point.

The damage done to the Confederate cause by the burning of cotton was immense. On the night of the 22d our route was lighted up for miles and millions of dollars worth of this production was destroyed. This loss will be felt more by Davis & Co., than several defeats in this region, for the basis of the loan in England was on the cotton of Western Louisiana.

After the rebels had fled from the bluff the negro troops put down the pontoons, and by ten that night we were six miles beyond the bayou safely encamped. The next morning we moved forward and in two days were in Alexandria. Johnnys followed Smith’s forces, keeping out of range of his guns, except when he had gained the eminence across the bayou, when he punished them (the rebs) severely.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for the officer who oversaw its construction, Lt.-Col. Joseph Bailey, this timber dam built by the Union Army on the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana facilitated Union gunboat passage (May 1864, public domain).

Having finally reached Alexandria on 26 April, they learned they would remain at their latest new camp for at least two weeks. Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Bailey, they were assigned yet again to the hard labor of fortification work, helping to erect “Bailey’s Dam,” a timber structure that enabled Union gunboats to more easily make their way back down the Red River. According to Wharton:

We were at Alexandria seventeen days, during which time the men were kept busy at throwing up earthworks, foraging and three times went out some distance to meet the enemy, but they did not make their appearance in numbers large enough for an engagement. The water in the Red river had fallen so much that it prevented the gunboats from operating with us, and kept our transports from supplying the troops with rations, (and you know soldiers, like other people, will eat) so Banks was compelled to relinquish his designs on Shreveport and fall back to the Mississippi. To do this a large dam had to be built on the falls at Alexandria to get the ironclads down the river. After a great deal labor this was accomplished and by the morning of May 13th the last one was through the shute [sic], when we bade adieu to Alexandria, marching through the town with banners flying and keeping step to the music of ‘Rally around the flag,’ and ‘When this cruel war is over.’ The next morning, at our camping place, the fleet of boats passed us, when we were informed that Alexandria had been destroyed by fire – the act of a dissatisfied citizen and several negroes. Incendiary acts were strictly forbidden in a general order the day before we left the place, and a cavalry guard was left in the rear to see the order enforced. After marching a few miles skirmishing commenced in front between the cavalry and the enemy in riflepits [sic] on the bank of the river, but they were easily driven away. When we came up we discovered their pits and places where there had been batteries planted. At this point the John Warren, an unarmed transport, on which were sick soldiers and women, was fired into and sunk, killing many and those that were not drowned taken prisoners. A tin-clad gunboat was destroyed at the same place, by which we lost a large mail. Many letters and directed envelopes were found on the bank – thrown there after the contents had been read by the unprincipled scoundrels. The inhumanity of Guerrilla bands in this department is beyond belief, and if one did not know the truth of it or saw some of their barbarities, he would write it down as the story of a ‘reliable gentleman’ or as told by an ‘intelligent contraband.’ Not satisfied with his murderous intent on unarmed transports he fires into the Hospital steamer Laurel Hill, with four hundred sick on board. This boat had the usual hospital signal floating fore and aft, yet, notwithstanding all this, and the customs of war, they fired on them, proving by this act that they are more hardened than the Indians on the frontier.

On Sunday, May 15, we left the river road and took a short route through the woods, saving considerable distance. The windings of Red river are so numerous that it resembles the tape-worm railroad wherewith the politicians frightened the dear people during the administration of Ritner and Stevens. – We stopped several hours in the woods to leave cavalry pass, when we moved forward and by four o’clock emerged into a large open plain where we formed in line of battle, expecting a regular engagement. The enemy, however, retired and we advanced ‘till dark, when the forces halted for the night, with orders to rest on their arms. – ‘Twas here that Banks rode through our regiment, amidst the cheers of the boys, and gave the pleasant news that Grant had defeated Lee.

“Sleeping on Their Arms” by Winslow Homer (Harper’s Weekly, 21 May 1864).

Having entered Avoyelles Parish, they “rested on their arms” for the night, half-dozing without pitching their tents, but with their rifles right beside them. They were now positioned just outside of Marksville, Louisiana on the eve of the 16 May 1864 Battle of Mansura, which unfolded as follows, according to Wharton:

Early next morning we marched through Marksville into a prairie nine miles long and six wide where every preparation was made for a fight. The whole of our force was formed in line, in support of artillery in front, who commenced operations on the enemy driving him gradually from the prairie into the woods. As the enemy retreated before the heavy fire of our artillery, the infantry advanced in line until they reached Mousoula [sic], where they formed in column, taking the whole field in an attempt to flank the enemy, but their running qualities were so good that we were foiled. The maneuvring [sic] of the troops was handsomely done, and the movements was [sic] one of the finest things of the war. The fight of artillery was a steady one of five miles. The enemy merely stood that they might cover the retreat of their infantry and train under cover of their artillery. Our loss was slight. Of the rebels we could not ascertain correctly, but learned from citizens who had secreted themselves during the fight, that they had many killed and wounded, who threw them into wagons, promiscuously, and drove them off so that we could not learn their casualties. The next day we moved to Simmsport on the Achafalaya [sic] river, where a bridge was made by putting the transports side by side, which enabled the troops and train to pass safely over. – The day before we crossed the rebels attacked Smith, thinking it was but the rear guard, in which they, the graybacks, were awfully cut up, and four hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Our loss in killed and wounded was ninety. This fight was the last one of the expedition. The whole of the force is safe on the Mississippi, gunboats, transports and trains. The 16th and 17th have gone to their old commands. 

It is amusing to read the statements of correspondents to papers North, concerning our movements and the losses of our army. I have it from the best source that the Federal loss from Franklin to Mansfield, and from their [sic] to this point does not exceed thirty-five hundred in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the rebels is over eight thousand.*

* Note: Disease continued to be a truly formidable foe, claiming yet more members of the 47th Pennsylvania. On 17 May, Private Josiah Stocker died at the University General Hospital in New Orleans. Sergeant John Gross Helfrich, and Privates Joseph Smith and T. J. Helm, would also later die on 5 August, 2 September, and 21 September, respectively. All four now rest in marked graves at the Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard Parish.

After the surviving members of the 47th made their way through Simmesport and into the Atchafalaya Basin, they moved on to Morganza, where they made camp again. According to Wharton, the members of Company C were sent on a special mission which took them on an intense 120-mile journey:

Company C, on last Saturday was detailed by the General in command of the Division to take one hundred and eighty-seven prisoners (rebs) to New Orleans. This they done [sic] satisfactorily and returned yesterday to their regiment, ready for duty. While in the City some of the boys made Captain Gobin quite a handsome present, to show their appreciation of him as an officer gentleman.

Wharton also provided the following update regarding Company C, which had rejoined the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania on 28 May 1864:

The boys are well. James Kennedy who was wounded at Pleasant Hill, died at New Orleans hospital a few days ago. His friends in the company were pleased to learn that Dr. Dodge of Sunbury, now of the U.S. Steamer Octorora, was with him in his last moments, and ministered to his wants. The Doctor was one of the Surgeons from the Navy who volunteered when our wounded was sent to New Orleans.

While encamped at Morganza, the nine formerly enslaved Black men who had enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania in Beaufort (1862) and Natchitoches, Louisiana (April 1864) were officially mustered into the regiment between 20-24 June 1864. The regiment then moved on once again, and arrived in New Orleans in late June.

As they did during their tour through the Carolinas and Florida, the men of the 47th had battled the elements and disease, as well as the Confederate Army, in order to survive and continue to defend their nation. But the Red River Campaign’s most senior leader, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, would not. Removed from command amid the controversy regarding the Union Army’s successes and failures, he was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. He later redeemed himself by spending much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for the people of Louisiana.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Battered but not out following their time in Bayou country, the men of the 47th were still able and willing to fight. On the 4th of July 1864, they received new orders, directing them to return to the East Coast, which they did—but in two stages.

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c. 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

U.S. Steamer McClellan (Alfred Waud, c.irca 1860-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

According to 47th Pennsylvania historian Lewis Schmidt, ‘’Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I, composing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and half of the 4th division, sailed from Algiers … at 1 PM on Thursday, July 7. Companies B, G and K of the 4th and 5th divisions remained behind at Morganza, La. under command of Capt. Harte, for want of transportation, and would not arrive in Washington until July 28.”

Upon their arrival in the Washington D.C. area, Captain J. P. Shindel Gobin of Company C (“Sunbury Guards”) and the 47th Pennsylvanians who had returned with him received a surprising morale boost when they saw President Abraham Lincoln in the flesh, a tale later recounted by Gobin.

Afterward, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I from the 47th joined up with Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia where they assisted, once again, in defending the nation’s capital during the Battle of Cool Spring, and helped to drive the Confederate Army from Maryland. On 24 July, Gobin was promoted to the regiment’s central command staff, and awarded the rank of Major. On 2 August, the men Companies B, G and K were reunited with their comrades when they rejoined the main part of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia.

Valor in the Valley

It was while attached to the Middle Military Division, U.S. Army of the Shenandoah from August through November of 1864—under the leadership of legendary Union Major-General Philip H. Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, that the members of the 47th Pennsylvania would display their greatest moments of valor. Of the experience, Company C’s Samuel Pyers said it was “our hardest engagement.”

Records of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers confirm that the regiment was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia in early August 1864, and engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a mimic warbeing waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.

From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville. On 5 September 1864, Captain Daniel Oyster, commanding officer of the regiment’s color-bearer unit (Company C), was wounded in action in the left shoulder in a post-battle skirmish.

Image of the victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces. Kurz & Allison, circa 1893. Public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress: LC-DIG-pga-01855 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1753 (color film copy transparency).

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union Army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces (Kurz & Allison, circa 1893, U.S Library of Congress, public domain).

Inflicting heavy casualties during the Battle of Opequan (19 September 1864; also spelled “Opequon” and known as “Third Winchester”), Sheridan’s gallant men pried the valley open by forcing the stunning retreat of Early’s Confederates—first to Fisher’s Hill (21-22 September) and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack. A fair number of respected modern day historians believe that, without these successes by Sheridan and his men, Abraham Lincoln would not have been reelected to a second term.

In the aftermath, Colonel T. H. Good and Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Alexander mustered out of the 47th on 23-24 September, their contributions to a grateful nation more than sufficient. It was also during this time that Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s crop-production infrastructure.

This strategy, understandably viewed as inhumane by many today, paved the way for Sherman to follow suit during his march to the sea, and proved invaluable during Sheridan’s time in the Shenandoah Valley. Early’s Confederate army, successful throughout most of its surprise attack at Cedar Creek on 19 October, was eventually forced into peeling off, soldier by soldier, small group by ever growing numbers of larger groups, to forage for food rather than press the fight. Sheridan’s forces were then able to rally and win the day.

But it was a costly engagement for Pennsylvania’s native sons. The 47th experienced a total of 176 casualties alone during the Cedar Creek encounter, including: Captain Edward Minnich (killed at Cedar Creek 19 October), Captain John Goebel and Corporal Thomas Miller (both mortally wounded at Cedar Creek 19 October), and Privates Samuel E. Birdinger (a blacksmith from Easton), Thomas J. Bower (an Easton shoemaker), James Brown (a Sunbury carpenter), Jasper B. Gardner (a conductor from Sunbury), Lawrence Gatence, George W. Keiser (an 18-year-old farmer from Sunbury), and Joseph Repsher (a 24-year-old laborer from Philadelphia who had enlisted in February 1864)—all killed in action at Cedar Creek on 19 October.

Sergeant William Pyers, the very same man wounded while taking up the colors as comrade Benjamin Walls fell at Pleasant Hill, also departed from the field of battle forever that day.

Corporal Timothy M. Snyder, wounded in 1862 at Pocotaligo, suffered another wound at Opequan or Fisher’s Hill—this time in the knee. Captain Daniel Oyster, wounded at Berryville on 5 September, was wounded again at Cedar Creek on 19 October.

Still more were captured and held as POWs, including Private Ben Zellner. Several died in captivity. Privates Martin M. Berger and Franklin Rhoads were claimed by disease while held by the Confederates as prisoners of war at the notorious Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.

On 23 October 1864, Company I became another integrated company within the regiment with Order No. 70, which directed that John Bullard be transferred from the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company D to I Company. Bullard, who had mustered in as a Cook while the regiment was stationed in Louisiana, would continue to serve with I Company for the duration of the war and muster out with his regiment on Christmas Day in December 1865.

On 4 November, Major J. P. Shindel Gobin of the 47th’s Company C (“Sunbury Guards”) was again promoted—this time to Lieutenant-Colonel. Private William S. Keen died of fever on 1 November. A 37-year-old shoemaker from Easton, he had just joined the 47th in February.

Stationed at Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December, the 47th headed for outpost duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia five days before Christmas. They did so, however, without Private Emmanuel Beaver. Beaver, who had enlisted just weeks before the Battle of Cedar Creek, survived the intense fighting only to be claimed by disease on 21 December.


Receiving his final promotion, J. P. Shindel Gobin became a Colonel in January 1865; Company K’s Captain Charles Abbott made Lieutenant-Colonel.

Matthew Brady's photograph of spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. (Library of Congress: Public domain.)

Spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865 at the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Assigned first to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army of the Shenandoah in February, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers continued to enroll and muster out men over the next several months. One who joined at this pivotal moment in American history was Emanuel Guera, a 26-year-old dentist who had been born in Cuba and mustered in as a Private with Company H at a recruiting depot in Norristown, Pennsylvania on 10 March 1865.

Encamped near Washington, D.C., the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were moved back to the city on 19 April to defend the nation’s capital again—this time following Lincoln’s assassination. Sunbury Guardsman Samuel H. Pyers was one of those given the high honor of protecting the late President’s funeral train as part of the guard from Washington, D.C. to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Relay House in Maryland. Letters home from several other members of the 47th and from the commanding officer of the prison where the Lincoln assassination conspirators were held and tried confirm that at least part of the regiment was also assigned to guard duty at or near the prison on 9-10 May and possibly earlier.

While serving in Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I was promoted to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central command during this phase of duty.

On their last swing through the South, the 47th served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June as part of the 3rd Brigade, Dwight’s Division, Department of the South, and at Charleston and other parts of South Carolina beginning in June. On 19 June, Private Emanuel Guera was honorably discharged under the provisions of General Order No. 77, which had been issued by the U.S. Office of the Adjutant General in Washington, D.C. on 3 May 1865.

The 9 August 1865 edition of the New York Times provided an update regarding the Union Army’s occupation of Charleston, South Carolina. Major Stuber was one of the officers listed in this article, and was described as: “Assistant Provost-Marshal Maj. LEVI STUBER, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.”

Garrisoning the city with the 47th Pennsylvania at this time were the members of the 165th New York Volunteers, companies of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, and the members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. The first military unit assembled in the North comprised of Black soldiers, the trailblazing 54th was renowned for its gallantry, which was celebrated in the 1989 movie, Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick. The Academy Award-winning film was brought to life by James Horner’s inspiring musical score featuring The Boys Choir of Harlem.

Duties for the 47th Pennsylvania during this period were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including removing armaments from southern forts, rebuilding railroads and regional infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the war, and general civil operations in the absence of functioning local governments.

Several men from the 47th Pennsylvania even helped to restore a free and functioning press. The 7 October 1865 edition of The Leader, Charleston’s newspaper, reported that:

The prospect of an early issue looked dubious…. It was a streak of good fortune that made known our wants to the printers of the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, doing duty in this city; and with characteristic devotion to the cause of freedom, John G. Snyder, and Luther Horn, of Easton Pa., and Joseph Hartnagel of New York city came forward and volunteered their services. Edwin Coombs, Esq., formerly editor of the Mass. Atlantic Messenger, also gave us valuable aid.

But for the assistance of the ‘boys in blue’ our issue must have been delayed much longer. We shall ever cherish their friendship, and trust when their term of enlistment shall expire they will receive a hearty welcome to the old Keystone State.

Finally, on Christmas Day, 1865, the men of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers began to be honorably mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina. For some, it took a few weeks longer. Most received their final discharge papers at Camp Cadwalader in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 9 January 1866.

Their leaders at the time were Brevet Brigadier-General John Peter Shindel Gobin, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Abbott, and Major Levi Stuber.

Of Note:

When given the opportunity for discharge or reenlistment, more than 500 of the 47th volunteered to continue the fight to preserve the Union and eradicate slavery across America. Their valor, pushed to the footnotes of history for more than 150 years by those choosing to write about better known regiments fighting in better known battles, was no less impressive than that of those who fought and died with other regular army and volunteer regiments.

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